73 Trade, Investment and Food Security

Designing Rules for Sustainable Food Systems

Organizers

  • Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI)
  • International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
  • UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN)

Abstract

Policies and laws that govern trade and investment can have profound impacts on strategies for promoting food security and nutrition. While trade and investment can bring a range of benefits that may help to increase inclusive economic growth and improve livelihoods, secure greater access to food at more stable prices, and open or expand markets for smallholders, these benefits are not automatic. Where trade and investment are poorly governed, increased flows can undermine states’ food security commitments and obligations, enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), binding international human rights treaties, and other legal and policy instruments. Given the profound implications that trade and investment agreements can have, calls for improvement of these legal regimes have increased in recent years. As trade and investment agendas and policies are reformed, strong consideration must be given to food security and nutrition objectives to enable meaningful and effective alignment of trade, investment and food security policies and obligations.

This side event will provide an opportunity for multistakeholder interactive dialogue on a range of issues, including: regulatory shifts and policies needed to ensure food security and improved nutrition; ways in which these regulatory shifts and policies may be impacted by trade and investment; and possible options for resolving or avoiding negative impacts or conflicting priorities/ obligations created or exacerbated by the trade and investment regimes.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Susan Bragdon, Quaker UN Office (QUNO) (Moderator)
  • Liliane Ortega, Permanent Representation of Switzerland to FAO, IFAD and WFP
  • Nana Osei-Bonsu, Ghana Private Enterprise Federation
  • Jesse Coleman, Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI)
  • Carin Smaller, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
  • Shiney Varghese, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)

Summary

Policies and laws that govern trade and investment can have profound impacts on strategies for promoting food security and nutrition. While trade and investment can bring a range of benefits that may help to increase inclusive economic growth and improve livelihoods, secure greater access to food at more stable prices, and open or expand markets for smallholders, these benefits are not automatic. Indeed, where trade and investment are poorly governed, increased flows can undermine states’ food security commitments and obligations, enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in binding international human rights treaties. Given the profound implications that trade and investment agreements can have on global and national sustainable development priorities, calls for improvement of these legal regimes have increased in recent years. As trade and investment agendas and policies are reformed, strong consideration must be given to food security and nutrition objectives to enable meaningful and effective alignment of trade, investment and food security policies and obligations.

This side event provided an opportunity for multi-stakeholder discussion of these issues. Representatives from civil society, academia, the private and public sectors joined to provide their insights on: the implications of international trade and investment for food security and nutrition; the impacts of associated legal regimes on the governance of investment in agriculture, and on the ability of host states to work towards achievement of food security and nutrition objectives; and the challenges facing policy makers in seeking to bring about greater coherence across trade, investment, and food security agendas.

Susan Bragdon opened the discussion by posing a range of questions regarding trade and investment rules, and their implications for achieving food security and improved nutrition. How have trade and investment rules impacted various stakeholders’ abilities to achieve food security and improved nutrition? What are states doing to adapt and reform trade and investment rules to changing circumstances and needs? And, critically, what can policy makers do to design trade and investment rules that align with food security and nutrition objectives and obligations?

Liliane Ortega spoke about the linkages between governance decisions and food security, and presented findings from a case study in Southeast Asia. Liliane’s presentation highlighted the critical links between food security, sustainable livelihoods, and tenure security.

Nana Osei-Bonsu provided a private sector perspective on agricultural investment, highlighting the potential for greater collaboration between the public and private actors in the agricultural sector, and the need for more investment in research and innovation to address critical challenges facing the agricultural sector.

Jesse Coleman spoke about implications of international investment agreements and investor-state arbitration for the ability of states to regulate in the public interest and realize sustainable development objectives, including with respect to food security and improved nutrition. Jesse’s presentation also provided an overview of some of the options available to policy makers seeking to address these implications.  

Carin Smaller elaborated on the implications of the investment law regime by highlighting a recently registered investor-state claim concerning a large-scale agricultural investment in Tanzania. Carin’s presentation also highlighted the risks and opportunities associated with the recent push for establishment of agricultural growth zones across Africa, a strategy designed to incentivize large-scale private investment in agriculture.

Shiney Varghese provided further detail on the impact of investor-state arbitration on realization of the right to water and, relatedly, on food security and improved nutrition. Shiney’s presentation emphasized the need for reform of the investment regime, and alignment of the regime with human rights obligations.

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • To achieve food security and improved nutrition, greater alignment of trade and investment rules with these objectives, and related obligations, is critical.
  • More generally, trade and investment rules at various levels must be aligned with sustainable development objectives, human rights obligations, and other public interest objectives. Greater policy coherence must also be achieved at various levels, along with protection of host state regulatory space.
  • Reform of the trade and investment regimes must be undertaken with a view to promoting development that is sustainable – trade and investment agreements must be seen as means, not ends, in this context.

Further information

Side Event - 73 - Trade, Investment and Food Security