MENA Food Trade Relations and Tropical Countries

The academic journal Food Security has just published a special section about MENA Food Trade Relations with Tropical Countries. It contains papers from a conference in Barcelona that was organized in January 2015 by CIDOB and the OCP Policy Center.

The introduction with a short description of all papers is open access and can be accessed here.

“The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is not only the largest oil exporter of the world, it is also its largest food importer. This import dependence will grow, given limited water and land resources on the supply side and population growth and more diversified diets on the demand side. In contrast to earlier food regimes, an increasing share of the MENA’s staple food imports such as corn, soybeans, palm oil, poultry, rice and sugar comes from tropical countries such as Brazil and Indonesia, where dramatic agricultural expansion has taken place. Other tropical regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa have looked to emulate such agricultural experiences, which are often based on large-scale and input intensive farming models. While such expansion processes have increased trade options of major importers such as the MENA, China and Japan, they have also had questionable ecological and socio-economic implications in the respective tropical countries.

Against this backdrop Eckart Woertz and Martin Keulertz set the scene in the opening article by analyzing food trade patterns of the MENA and the relative importance that tropical countries play in MENA food supplies. Their trade contribution has changed over different food regimes and now encompasses staple foods such as corn, rice and soybeans beside classical tropical export commodities. Woertz and Keulertz also discuss agricultural investment flows from the MENA to the tropics, associated political and socio-economic issues, a pronounced implementation gap of such investments and how they relate to MENA food security strategies. One of their conclusions is that food trading houses, storage strategies and brownfield investments in developed agro markets are more important as a trend than the widely publicized intention to acquire land in greenfield projects in developing countries.”

Special Issue on Land Acquisitions in SE Asia

The journal International Development Policy which is edited at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and is open access has just published a special issue on land acquisitions.

Beside theoretical articles it has a special focus on South-East Asia and the cultivation of industrial crops like rubber.

Martin Keulertz and I have contributed an article about States as Actors in International Argo-Investments where we compare the Gulf States with China and governments in agro exporter nations such as Brazil, Russia and Thailand.

Commodities Trade in the Atlantic Space

I have just returned from the Atlantic Dialogues conference 2014 that has been organized by the German Marshall Fund and the OCP Policy Center.

In terms of food security issues it was quite interesting that considerable know-how transfer is taking place between Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa and that Morocco tries to position itself as fertilizer provider of choice to both agricultural regions. (On this issue also see my recent article in Third World Quarterly about Mining Strategies in the MENA).

The Atlantic Dialogues conference is in its third year now and adds a south-south dimension to the notion of Atlantic Space. This year a conference volume has been published that can be downloaded here.

This chart in my article about the transatlantic trade in agricultural and mineral commodities highlights some interesting facts.

The following conclusions can be drawn for the transatlantic trade in commodities:

  • Mineral fuels dominate the global trade of commodities, the Atlantic Space is no exception.
  • No country in the word is energy independent. There is a varied trade of refined products besides the trade in mineral fuels. Some crude oil exporters like Nigeria, Angola, Mexico, and Brazil are net importers of such refined products. Net importers of crude oil like the United States and the EU, on the other hand, are net exporters of refined petroleum products.
  • China has developed into a major importer of mineral fuels, oil seeds, ores, and precious metals from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America. Yet despite this widely publicized rise of China, the Atlantic trade in commodities is still a dominant factor in global comparison.
  • The transatlantic trade ties in commodities are particularly close between North America and LAC, on the one hand and between Europe and Africa on the other hand. Trading relations between North America and Africa and between the EU and LAC are also substantial. The focus of this North-South trade is on mineral fuels, ores, precious metals, oil seeds, and tropical agricultural products like cocoa, coffee, and fruit. There is not only a lively trade of refined products from North America and the EU to Africa and LAC, but also between the two northern blocs of the Atlantic Space.
  • In comparison, South-South trading relations lag behind in the Atlantic Space. However, because of its underdeveloped agricultural potential, Africa is a major importer of cereals and sugars, which partly come from LAC, and Morocco has developed into a major supplier of fertilizers to Brazil.

Increasing Gulf LATAM Ties

Interesting article in the FT about the increasing ties between the Gulf and Latin America. Agriculture ranks high beside investments in mining and other companies.

Al Gharrafa, a subsidiary of state owned Qatar Holding now holds about 10 percent of the shares of Adecoagra. The company has investments in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and Pampas Humedas, an affiliated company of US billionaire George Soros is a major shareholder.

Such investments are part of a larger trend. If Gulf countries actually put money on the table and not just announce investments it is rather in developed agro-markets and in partnership with experienced local partners. In contrast investments in risky developing countries like Sudan have not materialized in many cases.

As Brazil and other developed agro-exporters like Thailand or Ukraine have put limits on foreign land ownership to keep cash producing assets national, partnerships are also the vehicle of choice to participate in their farming operations.