Thursday, June 29, 2017

China Leads BRICS Agricultural Cooperation

China voiced its aspiration to catalyze international agricultural cooperation at a meeting of BRICS agricultural officials hosted in Nanjing this month. In his keynote address, China's agricultural minister offered China's model of intertwining government, research institutes and agribusinesses to promote a tangled mix of foreign aid and commercial investment as a model for cooperation in agriculture among emerging "BRICS" countries.

On June 16, 2017, China hosted the 7th meeting of agriculture ministers from BRICS countries  (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in Nanjing. The 200 attendees included agricultural officials, scientists, and agribusiness leaders from the five countries, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the New Development Bank. The first BRICS agriculture meeting was held in Moscow in 2010. Other meetings have been held in Brasilia, Pretoria, Delhi, and Chengdu.

The forum included 20 speeches on agricultural support policies, science and technology, trade investment, and information sharing. China's Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu gave the keynote address, and the forum was chaired by Vice Minister Qu Dongyu. The themes of this year's meeting were "innovation and sharing" and "together fostering new drivers of agricultural development."An action plan for BRICS agricultural cooperation for 2017-2020 was drawn up at the meeting.

In his address, China's Minister Han praised the rapid growth in agricultural trade among BRICS countries over the last 7 years as a bright spot amidst the tepid recovery of the global economy since the world financial crisis. He bragged about China's success in boosting farm output and the important role of science and technology. But he also pointed out that China expects to have a growing need for agricultural imports in coming years that will create opportunities for BRICS countries.

According to Minister Han, China has succeeded by following Chairman Xi Jinping's exhortation to make the countryside strong, rich, and beautiful as a necessary first step to make the whole country strong, rich, and beautiful. Mobilizing the enthusiasm of rural people, strengthening farm infrastructure, protecting the environment, and institutional innovation are inseparable from external opening and cooperation in agriculture, Han said.

Han then offered China as an exemplar of the critical importance of international cooperation: "...our concepts of mutual respect, open tolerance, mutually beneficial cooperation formed a new pattern of agricultural international cooperation that benefits all parties and operates on multiple levels," Mr. Han told his BRICS audience.

Han cited several ways that China models strong international coordination in agriculture. China has established agricultural cooperation mechanisms with 60 countries and with international organizations like FAO, OIE, and WTO. China's outbound agricultural investment has grown rapidly to 1300 companies with business in 85 countries, and investment has progressed from resource development to collaborative joint ventures. China's 50-percent growth in agricultural imports from BRICS countries since 2010 has created opportunities for Brazilian soybeans, South African wool, Russian seafood, Indian cotton.

Han pointed to China's flourishing cooperation in science and technology and its foreign aid. China has hosted thousands of foreign students, visiting scholars and participants in short-term training. China is sending out agricultural advisors and training technicians and managers through 270 projects on farm machinery, improved breeds, and chemical fertilizer, raising the level of agricultural development in aid recipient countries.

Minister Han offered several recommendations for stronger agricultural cooperation:
  • Governments should actively push trade liberalization, reduce trade barriers, and remove limits on investment, and standardize agricultural cooperation management, and give strong support to company operations to free up energy for international cooperation in agriculture. 
  • The scientific community should actively participate in BRICS agricultural cooperation to address climate change, promote cost-effective agriculture, sustainable development, maintain food security.
  • Han praised companies as the main drivers of agricultural cooperation. He urged companies to create brands, spread new technology, develop new industries, reduce natural risks, market risk, security risk, and enrich farmers.
Until now, China's agricultural investment strategy has been all about China's interests: ensuring China's food security and making sure China's imports benefit Chinese businesses. Chinese officials are now recasting their agricultural investment campaign as a noble crusade to work hand-in-hand to address global poverty, fight climate change and ensure global food security. Have Chinese officials had a conversion experience or is this their way of dispelling worldwide suspicion about their investors?

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