Latin American agri-food community, and … why not?

In Europe, it all started with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the Treaty of Paris, which included Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The treaty was signed on April 18, 1951 and entered into force on July 23 of the following year. This date marks a historic event: it is the first time that six European states agreed to follow the path of economic integration. But it wasn’t easy. Europe — and the entire world — suffered the horrors of a world war and the loss of tens of millions of human lives before they tried. And they succeeded. Who can doubt today that the European Union is a global political and economic power.
According to EUR-Lex, the objective of ECSC, the European Coal and Steel Community, “… as stated in Article 2 thereof, it was to contribute, through the common market in coal and steel, to economic expansion, employment and the improvement of living standards. The institutions were to ensure the regular supply of coal and steel to the common market by ensuring fair access to the means of production, ensuring the establishment of the lowest prices and the improvement of working conditions. To all this must be added the development of international exchanges and the modernization of production… […] … By creating a common market, the Treaty established the free movement of products without customs duties or taxes. It prohibited discriminatory measures or practices, subsidies, State aid or special burdens on States and restrictive practices” (EUR-Lex; Official EU website; “Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, ECSC Treaty”). Can you imagine what would happen if we exchanged the words in this text”charcoal” and “steel” by “food” y “Latin America”? It gives me hope that yes we can and yes, I think we should try.
In this regard, it should be remembered that the government program of the then candidate Gabriel Boric – now president-elect – proposed a foreign and commercial policy with Surnames” such as “feminist”; “turquoise and green”; “decentralized” and “participatory” proposing, also, the possible revision of trade agreements, and emphasizing through the text the need for greater cooperation and regional integration. I’m not sure how much of this is still part of the future president’s government program and how he tries to carry it out. It would be tragic if we were to miss this new opportunity, if the daily pressures distract us from the proposed direction and if this programme soon falls into oblivion. Today’s events in Ukraine put even more pressure. Below, I will try to argue how and why we should move forward on the integration project that outlined candidate Boric’s program.
To begin with, I propose that we try to go beyond the little we have achieved – so far – in terms of regional trade and start a new conversation on integration, now with a more limited focus and focused on a dynamic and relevant sector for Latin America, such as agricultural and food trade. The ultimate goal is to create a “Agri-food Community of Latin America/South America”. I have no illusions. It will not be easy to realize a project of this nature and, more than one country “will put sticks in the way“. However, I am convinced that it is possible to achieve that goal. It is within our reach. In examining the text quoted above, it essentially proposes two central areas of work to achieve the ultimate goal of a “common market” which would lead to economic expansion, more employment, better working and living conditions, and access to coal and steel at reasonable prices. Thus, for the development of these industries and the creation of the common market, it was first proposed “level the court“, promoting international trade, the free movement of both products, the elimination of restrictive and discriminatory measures or practices and, at the same time, modernize production. And so began ECSC, then reached the European Union of 27 members. Notable!
We can “level the court” in the production and agri-food trade, and modernize the industry. There are several reasons that lead me to get excited about a project of this nature. To begin with, agri-food exports contribute almost a quarter of the commercial exchange within the group of countries that make up the LAIA, standing out as the most active sector in commercial matters: about $28,222 million dollars, annual average during 2018 – 2020 (Codes HS01-24; HS44 and HS47; UN – ITC database). I believe that this exchange allows for greater interaction and, with the right stimuli and conditions, can also lead to the creation of the basis for a “barrier-free agri-food market” and then move towards a “common market” and economic integration. In this industry there is an enormous space for cooperation because– despite being the sector with the greatest relative commercial exchange within the LAIA – it is the one that faces the greatest challenges to continue developing in a sustainable way, prospering economically and socially, and creating jobs of “quality“.
In addition, agri-food production is the economic sector with the greatest regional coverage within the countries in Latin America and all of them have– with differences, by the way – a broad base of agricultural and food production, and of peasant and/or native population. Population that has – with some differences from country to country – an important participation of women in the work of agri-food production. In addition, it should be remembered that rural areas, their population and peasant economies have been the least “Benefited” with the current existing trade arrangements in Latin America. This must not continue to happen.
I see no problem with the idea of trying”level the court” in the area of agri-food trade in Latin America – it is very uneven for the rest – and even less problems, in trying to modernize agri-food production. With this, moreover, we will be in a better position to compete internationally, face the climate crisis and incorporate environmentally friendly production methods compatible with international animal welfare standards. We can also try to achieve other objectives such as creating better conditions for regions and SMEs to integrate into commercial exchange, improving working conditions in industry, in particular for peasant women, other minorities and indigenous peoples, as well as ensuring food supply (a topic much discussed these days).
For now, I propose to illustrate the “court level“. I am convinced that there is a wide field for regional cooperation here. The “level” should cover two areas of work: harmonize and standardize the rules and regulations applied to agri-food trade between participating countries, as well as modernize commercial institutions, so that it can collectively and cooperatively resolve the challenges that will be faced. All this is a practical, effective and realistic way to increase regional exchange and cooperation, to “take the leap” to integration. The possible work areas in the scope of rules and regulations are numerous. For now, by way of illustration I can mention, for example, the zoo and phytosanitary regulations; hygiene and food safety; technical standards and norms; registrations and audits of establishments; customs inspections and controls of food, as well as the elimination of discriminatory or trade-restrictive measures or practices.
Harmonize and standardize the enforcement of trade rules is necessary, but it is not enough, it is only the beginning, but an essential beginning. Without it, we will stagnate and cling to the “each on their own“. And — once again — economic integration will be just a speech.  This first phase must necessarily be accompanied by the modernization of institutions commercial of the countries that finally participate. We have already mentioned this in the case of Chile. Despite the work already carried out, the current commercial institutions in the Region account for and respond , mainly – to the needs of a model of “unilateralist integration” to globalisation and cointernational trade. To begin with, the institutionality that we will have to “reconstruct” shall facilitate and ensure the correct application of the rules”Harmonised” and “standardized”. More importantly, it must lead and ensure the fulfillment of additional objectives: the new institutionality cannot be exclusive and must promote the active inclusion and participation of the regions, as well as their SMEs, peasant agriculture, agriculture of indigenous peoples and ancestral foods in international trade. In addition, it must ensure food security and the sustainability of agri-food production in the region, promoting the use of crops and plantations, as well as production methods that mitigate the effects of the climate crisis.
And, to conclude, we want to propose that the countries that can do more, put something more on the table of conversations, such as, for example, leading the initiatives and activities developed in the field of technical cooperation and training, as well as in institutional strengthening and development. Let’s go Tigers, let’s work…!

The content expressed in this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.

Original source in Spanish

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