Agricultural Trade

International trade in agricultural products has been on the rise, with exception of the slumps during the global financial crisis of 2008-09 (FAO 2017a). Agricultural trade will undergo further transformation because of the disproportionate influence of climate change on the productivity and competitiveness of different regions. Countries that are projected to suffer from productivity declines because of climate change are also expected to increase the import of agricultural products. For example, countries in West Africa are projected to increase imports by 7.7% by 2050, and India will increase imports by 20.4% (FAO 2018a). In the short-term agricultural trade will function to address shortfalls in production, and in the long-term, with appropriate policy support, can lead to shifting agricultural production towards efficient and more sustainable patterns globally. While policies encouraging the adaptive role of trade should be encouraged to improve access and affordability of food, it is crucial to recognize that such measure may harm vulnerable populations such as small-scale farmers in the medium to long-term.

However, this has been associated with significant regional differences in the types and volumes of traded commodities. For example, a decrease in regional productivity and competitiveness has been linked with a substantial increase in imports, particularly in Africa. Brazilian exports for example, are valued 150% higher than African ones, even though they were similar in the 1980s (Beyerlee et al. 2013 p.27). It is further notable the lack of regional trade in regions like South Asia (<5% of total trade) and sub-Saharan Africa (22%) (Kathuria and Mathur 2018).

  • Global value of agricultural trade has increased from USD 0.5 trillion to 1.5 trillion in 2017 (
  • Agricultural trade is expected to slow down over the next ten years, but this will not impact the share of production being traded. Only 1% of produced fresh dairy products, 40% of vegetable oils and soybean, and 31% of fishery production, will be traded internationally (OECD/FAO 2016)
  • Only 23% of food produced globally is traded through the global markets (D’Odorico et al., 2014)
  • Wheat, soybean, and maize make up 50% of the caloric trades, but account for only 21% of the monetary value (MacDonald et al. 2015).
  • Globally, 41% of agricultural export value is concentrated in exports from the EU (MacDonald et al. 2015)
  • Despite a global increase in trade, most of the food consumed in a country is produced domestically; net imports range from 0-20% of domestic supply in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and China (FAO 2017)