Free Trade Zones

Eat globally

Charlotte Janssens thinks it can. An agricultural trade researcher at the Belgian University of Leuven, she has created dozens of global maps of food production, studying how it would change under multiple combinations of climate change predictions and future trade regimes. His maps revealed that more extreme climate change will lead to a significant drop in food productivity in climate-vulnerable regions such as Africa and Asia. It wasn’t entirely surprising. But what caught his attention was that under restrictive business scenarios, these nutritional black holes will only get bigger. In these scenarios, regions already vulnerable to climate change would also struggle to import much-needed food.

In 2020, it publishes its results in Natural climate change. If the global temperature increase reaches 4 degrees Celsius and we maintain our current trading system, by 2050 there will be 55 million undernourished people in the world (mainly in Africa and Asia), found Janssens. If trade restrictions were then tightened further – meaning higher tariffs on imports, making food more expensive to trade and slowing its passage around the world – that number would rise to 73 million. The result, says Janssens, is that “if you impose [trade] restrictions, they can really increase the effects of climate change on hunger.

On the other hand, his analysis found that more liberal trade scenarios – where food moves more freely across borders through reduced or removed tariffs – can increase the necessary flow of nutrients to regions struggling with lower food prices. local productivity due to climate change. In fact, with freer trade, the number of undernourished people due to climate change drops to 20 million worldwide. This suggested that his intuition was correct: trade can play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change. “We were very excited about the initial results, as they suggested important policy implications,” she recalls.

Janssens is not the only one to see the real implications of these results. Many studies have shown that free trade is an adaptation we desperately need in a warming world. According to a 2015 research article published in Food safety, if trade barriers increase, then by 2050 global undernourishment could increase by a quarter. A year later, researchers at the German Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam determined that global economic losses resulting from the impact of climate change on agriculture could be reduced by 65% ​​by the end of the year. end of the century, if we allowed free trade almost entirely. Similarly, in 2018, a team of American and Belgian researchers highlighted the role trade already plays in redistributing nutrients from surplus to deficit regions around the world: more protectionist trade policies would disrupt these nutrient pathways, with serious consequences for tens of millions of people, he warned.

Food trade can soften the blow of climate shocks, even within national borders. Because domestic trade is stripped of tariffs that often restrict international flows, it can offer rare insight into how the free movement of food directly protects people from climate shocks, says Sandy Dall’Erba, agricultural economist at the ‘University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “There are a lot of complications in modeling that just disappear. So you can really assess much more accurately how weather events and climate change can actually affect production and trade.

Dall’Erba decided to study this in the American context, where four different climate zones and increasingly extreme weather events create an interesting indicator of the global effects of climate change on food systems. It is not uncommon for extreme weather in the United States to destroy crops and leave individual states dependent on their neighbors for short-term imports. To predict how this relationship will play out in the future, Dall’Erba began collecting data on U.S. interstate trade flows, which he overlaid with climate change projections to determine how extreme weather would affect productivity in every state, and in every state where it trades with.

What he discovered is that free trade in food between states will mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on farmers’ incomes and local food security. For example, if soybean yields in Texas and Tennessee are adversely affected by rising temperatures, those states may have to buy more imports from Illinois, which will remain relatively temperate due to climate change.

Its numbers (published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics in 2021) are striking. Dall’Erba calculated that by 2050, interstate commerce will have a mitigating effect worth $14.5 billion. It turns an expected loss of $11.2 billion without trade into a profit of $3.3 billion with trade, relative to the average historical value.