Edited by Marta Marson, University of Turin and OEET

International trade of food and agricultural commodities has long been attracting the interest of development economists. In the XX century and after the second World War, the main focus was on the role of the nature and direction of these flows in determining the structural features of the economies involved and their mutual relationships. Structuralist economists highlighted the issue of the worsening terms of trade for developing countries. They argued that international trade worked against ‘Third World’ countries that relied on exporting primary products and on importing manufactured goods. They challenged the idea of mutual benefit maintained by the neoclassical theory, argued about an unfair transfer of economic gains. The world economy was made up of a centre and a periphery, and their relations, with the central role of trade, tended constantly to reproduce the conditions of underdevelopment and to widen the gap between the two.

Newsletter n. 19 | July 2021 - Download PDF

 

International trade of food and agricultural commodities has long been attracting the interest of development economists. In the XX century and after the second World War, the main focus was on the role of the nature and direction of these flows in determining the structural features of the economies involved and their mutual relationships. Structuralist economists highlighted the issue of the worsening terms of trade for developing countries. They argued that international trade worked against ‘Third World’ countries that relied on exporting primary products and on importing manufactured goods. They challenged the idea of mutual benefit maintained by the neoclassical theory, argued about an unfair transfer of economic gains. The world economy was made up of a centre and a periphery, and their relations, with the central role of trade, tended constantly to reproduce the conditions of underdevelopment and to widen the gap between the two.

More recently, also in consideration of the sustained demand for commodities expressed by emerging economies and China particularly at the beginning of the XXI century, the positions became smoother. The possibility of agro-based industrialization and, more generally, of development strategies in which structural change is based on competitive advantage in primary commodities, was reconsidered by policy makers and observers. Moreover, international trade of food and agricultural products gained attention for its implications for food security and sustainability of the food systems, under a social, economic, and environmental perspective. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on economies and caused a sharp decrease in global trade, with international trade of food also declining in early 2020. For this newsletter we collected three contributions from recent pieces of research about food trade in the present global context, with specific focus on developing countries and emerging economies.

The first article is Water consumption and crop prices: an exploratory global data-driven study. In this article Benedetta Falsetti, Elena Vallino, Luca Ridolfi and Francesco Laio explore interactions between economic and environmental issue through food prices. They present results from the analysis of the local farm-gate prices of some important crops worldwide in order to assess whether they reflect the value of water used to grow them. They also consider how international trade may affect the consistency of prices with water intensity and water scarcity. The second article is Sicurezza alimentare e commercio internazionale dei paesi in via di sviluppo. In this article Donatella Saccone, Marta Marson and Elena Vallino present some research findings on the impact of trade openness on undernutrition and showing how cereals exert a positive impact on food security but only under specific conditions (this article is in Italian). The last article is COVID-19 and Agricultural Trade: The Way Forward. In this article Adriana García Vargas focuses on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on international food trade and prices and on the policies adopted by countries as reaction, also providing important policy recommendation for international cooperation in the coming future.

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