Redesign - Trade

The Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC, 1994) used food security, community health and agro-ecological frameworks to set out how trade agreements need to be redesigned if health and sustainability are the ultimate public policy objectives.

The Science Council of Canada raised the issue of food self-reliance as part of a sustainable agricultural system as an important policy question in the late 70s (Science Council of Canada, 1979), but little policy work has been done. In this section, we briefly examine the ecological and economic foundations for self-reliance and review what limited evidence exists of the success of this approach.

"Self-reliance in socio-economic systems has its analogue in natural systems. As a general rule of natural process, energy (and subsequent action) are captured or expended as close to the point of origin as possible." (Meeker-Lowry, 1988:167).

Redesign strategies, therefore, are based on the creation of self-reliance and the trading of surpluses once domestic needs have been met. Regarding the conceptual economic foundations of self-reliance, Daly and Cobb (1989) have argued that in classical comparative advantage theory, the greater the degree of self-sufficiency of trading units, the greater control each unit has over the terms of trade and the greater the likelihood of benefits accruing to all units. This holds provided that there is a degree of confidence and mutual concern among the members of a community or political system that permits some degree of specialization so that a wide range of goods and services can be provided (but not at the cost of community needs and community control as happens under our current system). They argue forcefully that this mutual concern can not realistic exist beyond national borders, and is, in fact, more likely to exist at a regional (or sub-national) level. "Hence, basic self-sufficiency in agricultural production should normally be a goal of national policy" (Daly and Cobb, 1989:269). The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food (2020) has set out similar principles for trade in a report to the UN General Assembly on the right to food in the context of international trade law.

There would still be trade, but only once basic domestic requirements were satisfied.  The operationalization of Demand-supply Co-ordination (see Goal 2) is critical to identifying what can be provided domestically vs. through importation and what will be in excess for export.  This would require withdrawal from existing trade arrangements as set out in Substitution, but new kinds of trade deals could be constructed to facilitate movement of goods once optimal self-sufficiency was achieved. These are more likely to be bilateral arrangements or small multilateral ones of a regional nature (see UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, 2020).  However, some coherence across such agreements would be important and an international agency, perhaps a revamped WTO or the FAO Committee on Food Security (see Goal 10 on the Right to Food).  The reversion to GATT approaches (see Substitution) permits the possibility of reconstituting the commodity agreements, which governed agricultural trade pre-Uruguay Round and to some extent mitigated corporate power, as right to food agreements. to "be adopted to deal with severe market disruption; their aim would be limited to price stabilization and not price increases; and importing and exporting countries would have equal voting power."  (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, 2020:21). They would set rules for seasonal tariffs and labour movement within a right to food framework. GATT Article XX(h) (commodity agreements) would exempt such right to food agreements from the most problematic GATT rules.