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Although given prominence in the context of the current World Trade Organization (WTO) trade negotiations, trade reforms are generally a component of a wider set of economic and institutional reforms. The complexity of reform packages, the wide variation in policy sets, the context within which they are used, and the thoroughness with which they are followed through, makes it extremely difficult to isolate the impact of specific trade reforms on the food security status of developing countries.

As yet, there is no clear consensus on answers to general questions, such as “will developing countries benefit from reduced agricultural protection in economies of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)?”, let alone more specific questions which might include “how can developing country governments best promote smallholder agriculture in the new global environment, and what form of special and differential treatment might be required to allow them to do so?”

In many cases, “successful” reforms have been achieved not in isolation, but as a consequence of associated policy implementation. In drawing lessons from reforms that are perceived to have benefited food insecure groups, or at the very least, not to have disadvantaged them, it is therefore important to identify the complementary policies that facilitated the process of adjustment to more productive activities, and any compensatory policies that acted to alleviate the transitional losses that insecure groups may otherwise have faced.

A clearer understanding of the often-obscured effects of trade reform on food security is therefore vital if the drivers of further reform are to result in changes to the benefit of insecure and vulnerable groups in poor countries.

Objectives of the publication

The purpose of this publication is to inform the research that underpins policy analysis, and the negotiations and/or prescriptions that follow, such that these enhance, rather than worsen, the food security status of poor countries. It is intended to be complementary to the existing literature that explores the linkages between trade liberalization, economic openness and poverty, but which does not explicitly explore the implications for food security.

The publication contributes to understanding these relationships by:

Scope of the publication

Other contemporary publications investigating the impact of trade reforms tend to relate their potential effects to all economic sectors. It is recognized that reforms in sectors other than agriculture can have far more significant impacts in terms of both poverty reduction and, via changes in levels of incomes or employment, on food security. However, the primary focus of this report is on the agriculture sector and the impact that trade reform can have on its ability to contribute to improved food security in the context of wider structural changes that result from reforms.

This focus is justified by explaining the multiple avenues by which agriculture can determine and enhance both national and household food security. While any trade agreement that changes the balance between liberalization and protection for a good or service in an economy can affect levels of food security, agriculture related reform is especially relevant because: (i) agriculture is one of the central contributors to food security in most developing countries, both via its direct contribution to the availability of food, and indirectly as a key engine of economic development and hence improved access to food, and (ii) agriculture is one of the most heavily distorted sectors in many countries and has, as a result, received significant attention in recent rounds of trade negotiations.

Structure of the publication

The publication comprises four Parts. Parts I to III contain a series of edited papers prefaced by an overview chapter which draws out the key issues and sets them in the broader context of contemporary literature. The reader may therefore obtain the key points from these overview chapters (Chapters 1, 6 and 11) and then refer to the individual supporting chapters for further detail.

Part I introduces theories and definitions related to the concept of food security and its measurement, and to the gains from trade liberalization, before discussing how trade and food security are related at a theoretical level. It provides a conceptual background that governs thinking behind international trade negotiations.

The main purpose of Part II is to identify specific issues and debates, which have, as yet, received inadequate attention in research, and more notably, in international policy fora. The overview chapter (Chapter 6) introduces current debates relating to globalization in the context of the imbalance between developing and developed countries in levels of agricultural protection. It then describes the key role that agriculture plays in securing enhanced food security, a role that is often overlooked in international economic negotiations. Policy analyses and prescriptions that follow from, and have indeed been based upon, the orthodox understanding of the theory introduced in Part I are then examined. The implications in terms of stabilization and structural adjustment at an economy-wide level are then set out, followed by a more focused discussion of the agriculture sector. Specific areas of orthodox policy that may be misguided are discussed, with a particular focus on the often neglected role of institutions that allow the sector to maximize its contribution. Some of the assumptions commonly made about the competitiveness of domestic and global market conditions are examined. The way in which changes in these conditions affect incentives and opportunities within food systems, often to the detriment of the most vulnerable households, are explained.

Part III discusses both the types of methodological approach that have been used in analysing the impact of economic and trade liberalization, and the implementation of policy and institutional reforms in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Transition Economies. The objectives of these studies are first, to identify systemic differences across regions in terms of the type and degree of reform, and their impact on agricultural performance; and second, to highlight specific issues which might be analysed in further research.

Drawing upon the ideas developed in Parts I to III, Part IV comprises two chapters that provide a framework for further research. Chapter 16 presents a framework for conceptualizing and clarifying the relationship between reform, the strength of the response of the agriculture sector to that reform, and the resulting potential impact on food security. The framework is then used to generate a series of researchable questions. Chapter 17 proposes a series of steps for operationalizing the conceptual framework within a research agenda.

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