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The Promise and the Perils of Agricultural Trade Liberalization: Lessons from Latin America
By Mamerto Pérez, Sergio Schlesinger, and Timothy A. Wise, with the Working Group on Development and Environment in the Americas

Download Policy Report: English | Portuguese | Spanish
Download Executive Summary: English | Portuguese | Spanish
Download Book (170 pages): Spanish

Based on seven country-studies examining the promise of export agriculture and the perils of trade liberalization for small-scale farmers in Latin America, the authors of this collaborative report call for a thorough review of agricultural trade and development policies in the region. The project assesses Mexico’s performance under NAFTA; the South American soybean boom in Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia; and the impacts of rising imports on small-scale farmers in El Salvador, Bolivia, and Brazil. The authors suggest that the most important policy reform Latin America needs now is a much more selective and careful management of international trade, particularly in agriculture.

Among the report’s main findings:

  • Agriculture and rural development remain important economically.  More than 20% of Latin American residents still live in rural areas, as does a large portion of the region’s poor, with an estimated 58 million rural residents (46% of the rural population) living below the $2/day poverty line. Sustainable rural development for local and regional markets is critical to reducing poverty.
  • Export agriculture, through expanded access to global markets, is not by itself a reliable engine for broad-based development that benefits the rural population.  South America’s soybean industries are undeniable winners from global trade liberalization, but few of the benefits go to rural communities.  Based on high-input, industrialized monoculture farming, employment and wages have both declined despite rising production. 
  • Ecological harm from agricultural expansion onto sensitive lands leaves lasting damage. The “extractive” model of soybean cultivation is unsustainable, squandering the region’s natural assets for short-term private gain.
  • Smallholder agriculture can be made more productive and can serve as the catalyst for integrated rural development and poverty reduction.  With appropriate government investment, many small-scale farmers can increase their productivity, meeting critical domestic food needs while reducing poverty.
  • Governments need to play an active role that emphasizes productivity and breaks from the prevailing focus on anti-poverty programs.  The withdrawal of government investment in favor of targeted anti-poverty programs relegates rural communities to the role of welfare recipients rather than food producers. 
  • It is critical to recognize, enhance, and reward smallholders’ role as stewards of the rural environment.  The deregulated market fails to recognize the contributions of small-scale farmers to the maintenance of a healthy and productive environment.  Government policies need to find ways to reward these critical ecological services – seed diversity, watershed management, soil preservation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, etc.

The 32-page report was jointly published by GDAE and the Washington Office on Latin America. A Portuguese edition of the full report  is now available and GDAE will publish a Spanish edition early in 2009.  The report and a three-page executive summary are available for download below.  The full papers on which the report is based are available as Working Group Discussion Papers in the original languages in which they were prepared (mostly Spanish). The edited papers are collected in the Spanish volume, La Promesa y los Peligros de la Liberalización del Comercio Agrícola: Lecciones de América Latina, por Mamerto Pérez, Sergio Schlesinger, y Timothy A. Wise.  Se puede descargar el libro entero aquí o cada capítulo de la página español.

Download Policy Report (PDF) English | Portuguese | Spanish
Download Executive Summary (PDF) English | Portuguese | Spanish
Download Book (170 pages) (PDF) Spanish

For a Spanish version of this page, click here
For a Portuguese version of this page, click here

For Events and Press Coverage of this report, click here


Discussion Papers
See full Discussion Paper Series

“The Limited Promise of Agricultural Trade Liberalization,” Timothy A. Wise, Working Group Discussion Paper DP19, July 2008. Download paper (English). Download book chapter (Spanish). A later version was published as "Promise or Pitfall? The Limited Gains from Agricultural Trade Liberalisation for Developing Countries."

"Promise or Pitfall? The Limited Gains from Agricultural Trade Liberalisation for Developing Countries," by Timothy A Wise, Journal of Peasant Studies, vol. 36, no. 4, December 2009. Download paper. (NOTICE: Author Posting. (c) Routledge, 2009. This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.)

Inercia Estructural Y Globalización: La Agricultura y los Campesinos Más Allá del TLCAN,” Fernando Rello, Working Group Discussion Paper DP20, July 2008. Download paper (Spanish). Download book chapter (Spanish).

“Soja: El Grano que Sigue Creciendo,”
Sergio Schlesinger, Working Group Discussion Paper DP21, July 2008. Download paper (Portugese). Download paper (Spanish). Download book chapter (Spanish).

Expansión de la  soja  transgénica en la Argentina,” Miguel Teubal, Working Group Discussion Paper DP22, July 2008. Download paper (Spanish). Download book chapter (Spanish).

La soya en Bolivia, ¿el “grano de oro” que no brilla?Mamerto Pérez, Working Group Discussion Paper DP23, July 2008. Download paper (Spanish). Download book chapter (Spanish).

La liberalización del comercio agrícola en Bolivia o el desmantelamiento de la agricultura campesina,” Mamerto Pérez and Yara Pérez, Working Group Discussion Paper DP24, July 2008. Download Paper (Spanish). Download book chapter (Spanish).

Liberalização Comercial e Agricultura Familiar No Brasil. A Experiência das Décadas de 1980 e 1990,” Nelson Giordano Delgado, Working Group Discussion Paper DP25, July 2008. Download paper (Portugese). Download book chapter (Spanish).

Apertura y desregulación en Centroamérica: Los impactos en la agricultura familiar campesina de El Salvador,” René Rivera Magaña, Working Group Discussion Paper DP26, July 2008. Download paper (Spanish). Download book chapter (Spanish).


Working Group Members

Nelson Giordano Delgado – Professor and researcher at the Department of Development, Agriculture and Society at the Institute of Social and Human Sciences, Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Mamerto Pérez – Independent researcher from Bolivia who has published extensively on rural development.

Fernando Rello – Professor of Economics at the National Autonomous University of México.

René Rivera Magaña – Director of Regional Economic Development at FUNDE, the National Foundation for Development, in El Salvador.

Sergio Schlesinger – Independent researcher based in Brazil and regular consultant for the Federation of Organizations for Social and Educational Assistance (FASE) and with Food and Water Watch.

Miguel Teubal – Economist and senior researcher with the National Council on Scientific and Technical Research at the "Gino Germani" Research Institute of the University of Buenos Aires and a consulting professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences.  He has written extensively on foreign debt, the world food crisis, the problems facing the agricultural sector, and hunger and poverty in Latin America and in Argentina.

Timothy A. Wise – Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, and Researcher in the institute’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program.

This web page is hosted by the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University in the United States, one of the sponsors of the Working Group.
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