The Trade-ification of the Food Sustainability Agenda


This contribution argues that the food sustainability agenda in global food governance arrangements is becoming ‘trade-ified’. It shows that international trade has become normalized in these settings not only as being compatible with, but also as a key delivery mechanism for, food system sustainability. The paper first explains the rationale for this dominant narrative, which revolves around the efficiency gains from trade. Second, it outlines two important critiques of this approach – one that stresses the need to look beyond food as an economic commodity, and one that reveals the internal flaws of trade theory – which together provide important counterpoints to this dominant narrative. Third, the paper offers three interrelated explanations for why trade continues to be presented as a key ingredient to food sustainability despite the weaknesses of the dominant approach: institutional fragmentation in global food governance; the carryover of previous normative compromises regarding trade and the environment in other governance settings; and the influence of powerful interests.


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