Trends in world agricultural and food trade

Produced by: 
Universidad del Pacifico
Available from: 
August 2014
Paper author(s): 
Hector Emilio Maletta
Agricultural - Natural Resource Economics

International commerce in agricultural and food products is an important component of food security and, for many developing countries, an essential part of their economic development. Agricul­tural pro­ducts (which may be food or non-food) are imported or exported by most countries. Cer­tain views equate food security with self-sufficiency, and thus regard import­ation of food as a mark of food in­security at the na­tional level, but the internationally accepted de­fi­ni­tion of food secu­rity does not share those views. Food security is nowadays defined as a situation in which all people at all times have access to ad­e­quate food; the food that is to be accessed may be produced domestically or im­ported. Thus exporting and importing food (and other agricultural products) is nowadays considered as a key element in achie­ving food security.

This pa­per re­views tenden­cies in the amount and content of agri­cultural and food trade sin­ce the early 1960s, at the world scale and for major world regions, using a metric of world-ave­ra­ge unit values based on 2004-2006. It finds that during the past half century, whilst agricultural production trebled, agricultural tra­de increased by a factor of eight. At region level, only the Americas (North and Latin America) are net exporters of agricultural and food pro­ducts, whereas the other major regions (Europe, Asia and Africa) are net importers. It also finds that recent surges in agricul­tural and food commodity prices (2007-08 and 2010-11) have not dis­rup­t­ed the physical amounts traded, as ini­tially feared.

A Me­­­thodological Ap­pendix at the end of the pa­per provides detailed in­for­mation on sources and me­thods. Supplementary Information avail­able on­line includes an Excel file containing estimates of reference world-average unit values for over 350 traded items for the ba­se period 2004-2006. Results are mainly based on the detailed country-level time series on agri­cul­tural and food trade annual flows for the period 1961-2011, con­tained in FAO­STAT, the FAO sta­tis­tical information system on food and agriculture.


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