Is agriculture compatible with free trade?
This article examines the relationship of free trade with agriculture in view of agriculture's distinctive features in the following three ways. First, agriculture produces a wide array of local and national nonmarket goods and services (in addition to market commodities) collectively known as multifunctionality of agriculture. Second, agriculture is intimately associated with global public goods of grave importance to humanity such as climate change, sustainability, and food security (poverty/hunger) in developing countries that require transnational cooperation to minimize free-rider and consequent under-provision problems. Third, embodying the first and second problems, agriculture plays distinctively different roles across countries. Specifically, this article views the global agriculture as consisting of four broad groups of countries with widely divergent needs from agriculture. This article concludes that the above agriculture-related problems are too diverse and complex to be left to free trade. When the global community is too much preoccupied with the illusive mission of agricultural trade liberalization, the great danger is that such preoccupation may distract it from effectively addressing the agriculture-related problems of the 21st century in a timely manner that pose imperative challenges to humanity. The governance for global agriculture should prioritize managing/taming such global problems rather than squandering time for unworkable liberalization of agricultural trade.
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