Saturday, May 13, 2017

China's Agricultural New World Order

China has announced ambitious plans for international cooperation in agriculture that aims to create a new world order in agricultural production, technology, and international trade.

"Vision and Action for Building 'One Belt One Road' Agricultural Cooperation," appeared in its Farmers Daily newspaper with authorship attributed to the Ministry of Agriculture, National Development and Reform Commission, and China's State Council. It was posted May 12, 2017, just in time for the "One Belt, One Road" to be held in Beijing May 14-15 with dozens of world leaders in attendance. "One Belt One Road" is China's initiative to revive ancient trade routes between Asia and Europe, and which also run through poor countries in Asia and Africa. In addition to building railways and other logistic infrastructure and investing in factories, China hopes to take the lead in sharing its successful experience in agriculture with the "belt road" countries, lower barriers to trade, share information and technology, and work together on plans, financing, and rewriting the rules of international trade.

The vision for agricultural cooperation is described as an exploration of new models for global governance. The lengthy essay lays out China's motivation, principles and actions for solving world hunger, fostering a new era of rising agricultural trade and investment, promoting sustainable development, and cross-border sharing of technology and information. The document says the complicated global economy and China's increasing interconnections with international agricultural markets create a great opportunity for China's "Belt Road" initiative.

According to the document,
"China wants to do whatever it can to bear much greater responsibility, contributing Chinese wisdom in building up the international food and agricultural governance system, and sharing China’s experience with countries along the belt-road path to make a much greater contribution to agricultural development and economic growth." 
The document says “One Belt One Road” runs through the Asian, European and African continents. It connects the "active East Asian economic sphere with an ancient history of agricultural development" on one end with the "European economic sphere where modern agriculture has a clear advantage" on the other end. In the middle is "a vast hinterland of abundant agricultural resources with huge development potential, each region with its own advantage in agricultural resources, technology, production capacity, and markets with strong complementarity."

One Belt One Road focuses on six major economic corridors:

  • Asia-Europe land bridge 
  • China-Mongolia-Russia 
  • China-Central Asia-West Asia 
  • China-Southeast Asian Peninsula 
  • China-Pakistan 
  • Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar.

It does not include the American continent, but the magnanimous document insists that no countries are excluded. The document invites companies from all countries to invest in One Belt One Road.

China's concept of agricultural cooperation encompasses government-government exchanges, research institutes and companies. The document recommends a "3-in-1" platform in which all three types of entities collaborate. It also calls for exchanges of technical and management personnel, germplasm, and agricultural policy dialogues. Exchanges of farmers and private organizations are also encouraged.

The document calls for streamlining inspection and quarantine procedures, working together on prevention and control of animal and plant diseases, promoting cross-border e-commerce. China also proposes to rewrite trade rules, mandate traceability systems and "jointly regulate market behavior."

China's international agricultural cooperation strategy offers few specifics. It calls for "strengthening" existing multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, FAO, WTO, and various regional organizations in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as new institutions like the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank created by China. The strategy also aims to use existing meetings and forums on international development and food security while also developing new platforms such as a “One Belt One Road” agricultural cooperation partnership mechanism, an "agricultural planning research exchange platform," and commissioning a “one belt one road” web site with agricultural resources as "platforms for mutual sharing."

The most concrete (no pun intended) proposals are to set up agricultural technology parks, demonstration centers, and training bases overseas. It also mentions a pilot program to build domestic agricultural foreign-opening cooperation districts in China.

The ambitious document is packed with idealistic rhetoric about addressing global nutrition and food security, "sharing", respect, equality, and mutual interests. It contains some I'd-like-to-teach-the-world-to-sing verbiage about "moving forward hand-in-hand" toward a future of agricultural abundance and sustainable, and green development. Rhetoric about "south-south cooperation" evokes Mao's abortive attempts to become a leader of the nonaligned countries which was the genesis of China's original round of foreign aid projects during the last century.

Breaking the global dominance of the United States is an unspoken theme of the "Belt Road" project and the agricultural cooperation initiative. The document identifies the global financial crisis in 2008-09 and market fluctuations due to financial speculation as responsible for the complex global economic situation, without blaming the United States by name. While the United States is never mentioned, the "multipolar world" subtext suggests that the world needs a magnanimous, sharing, wise China to create an alternative to the U.S.-dominated agricultural trade and multilateral organizations.

This is rich, coming from a country that keeps grain reserves a "state secret," hides soil contamination problems, arrests people for reporting facts published in newspapers, routinely responds to questions about its policies at the WTO with one-word answers, and has a decades-old policy of turning agricultural imports and exports on and off like a faucet to "balance" domestic supply and demand.

1 comment:

Godfree Roberts said...

"This is rich, coming from a country that keeps grain reserves a "state secret," hides soil contamination problems, arrests people for reporting facts published in newspapers, routinely responds to questions about its policies at the WTO with one-word answers, and has a decades-old policy of turning agricultural imports and exports on and off like a faucet to "balance" domestic supply and demand."

Oooooh! Bad, bad China!

Imagine keeping your grain figures secret after surviving a 24-year grain embargo! Bad, bad China!

Imagine hiding your soil contamination by setting up a special fund to tackle soil pollution, as well as a separate fund to help upgrade technology and equipment in the heavy metal sector. The government will also continue to eliminate outdated heavy metal capacity, the cabinet said. Last year, the environment minister said 16 percent of China's soil exceeded state pollution limits. Treatment costs for heavy metal or chemical contamination are high, and China has struggled to attract private funds for soil remediation.According to Reuters calculations, the cost of making all of China's contaminated land fit for crops or livestock would be around 5 trillion yuan ($760 billion), based on average industry estimates of the cost of treating one hectare. Bad, bad China!

Imagine arresting people for reporting facts published in newspapers! You'll have to imagine this one, I'm afraid, because it is an imaginary piece of fake news. But bad, bad China anyway!

Imagine routinely responding to questions about its policies at the WTO with one-word answers. Pearl-clutching? But bad, bad China anyway!

And imagine turning agricultural imports and exports on and off like a faucet to "balance" domestic supply and demand." The very thought makes me sick to my stomach so bad, bad China!

And so does this: "The urge to teach someone a lesson seldom inspires sound policy. The lessons learned are too often one's own. So it is with President Carter's 1980 grain embargo. Soviet food supplies have been little affected. U.S. illusions about its own "food power" have been properly dispelled.

The idea of U.S. food power over the Soviet Union was an inevitable diplomatic by-product of U.S. grain sales to the Soviet Union, which had grown very large over the past decade, seemingly in proportion to large and growing Soviet needs. The President finally decided to use this putative power on January 4 of this year, when he suspended delivery of all U.S. grain sales to the U.S.S.R. in excess of the eight million tons guaranteed under the terms of a 1975 bilateral agreement. His announced purpose was to punish the Soviet Union for its military occupation of Afghanistan, begun in late December 1979. Never before had U.S. food exports to the U.S.S.R. been suspended in pursuit of a noncommercial, foreign policy objective. Now, at last, the "food weapon" had been taken from the shelf. For all who cared to watch, a definitive test of its effectiveness was at hand."