New Chicago Council Report Presents Roadmap for U.S.-Africa Trade Policies to Advance Food Security and Benefit U.S. Farmers and Agrifood Businesses

March 3, 2015
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs today released recommendations on how U.S. trade policy could advance food security in Africa and position American businesses to tap a burgeoning African agriculture and food market, which is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030.

The report, Grow Markets, Fight Hunger: A Food Security Framework for U.S.-Africa Trade Relations, presents evidence that an effort by the United States focused on bolstering regional trade and harmonizing food standards and regulations across countries would drive economic growth while improving the availability and affordability of nutritious foods throughout Africa.

“This year, the U.S. government is working to complete two landmark trade agreements and renew Trade Promotion Authority and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA),” said Ivo H. Daalder, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “The United States would miss a significant opportunity if it did not leverage these efforts to position U.S. businesses to take advantage of Africa’s growing agriculture and food market, a region to which U.S. agricultural exports have increased by 200 percent in the last decade.”

The Council recommends that the U.S. government build on the AGOA Forum by creating a U.S.-Africa Food Dialogue to advance regional economic integration; reduce technical regulations and standards barriers to agriculture and food trade; and implement trade facilitation measures. The report also asks Congress to expand staff at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative focused on agriculture and food issues and to empower the newly created Under Secretary of Trade at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lead interagency activities on agriculture and food trade with Africa. The report also includes specific recommendations on how to amend AGOA to better support African agriculture and direct U.S.-Africa regional trade talks toward investment agreements.

“The U.S. government has wisely invested approximately $1 billion annually since 2008 in generating growth in Africa’s agriculture and food sector to advance global food security,” said Doug Bereuter, president emeritus of The Asia Foundation and co-chair of the Council’s project on global food security. “More Africans can gain access to a reliable and affordable source of food if we can align U.S. trade policies with its food security investments.”

Eighty percent of Africans work in the agriculture and food sector, and one quarter of the continent’s total population is chronically undernourished. In spite of this, current U.S. trade approaches to Africa have limited food security benefits and also do not benefit American farmers and agrifood businesses as much as they could. The United States focuses largely on bilateral trade in the mining and manufacturing industries, neglecting the development of harmonized standards, cohesive regulatory frameworks and the agriculture and food sector writ-large. In 2012, only 0.6 percent of Africa’s agriculture and food exports, which totaled $52 billion, went to North America.

“African and American farmers and agrifood businesses stand to make big gains if we can increase regional trade in Africa through tackling some of the inconsistencies in standards and regulatory frameworks,” said Dan Glickman, former U.S. secretary of agriculture and cochair of the Council’s project on global food security. “We need to make more headway in reducing the cost of moving agricultural products and food within and between countries.”

The Chicago Council study recommends that U.S. trade policy focus on five goals to advance food security and position U.S. businesses to benefit from Africa’s rapidly growing future food market:

  • Enable access to modern seeds and technologies by smallholder farmers
  • Move food more cheaply and efficiently across African borders
  • Eliminate barriers to regional markets that can help feed Africa
  • Improve the legal environment for responsible investment in African agriculture
  • Reduce vulnerability to ad hoc government interventions that restrict African countries’ ability to import affordable food.
This report is the latest in a series of Chicago Council studies on global food security and the role of agriculture and food in low- and middle-income countries. Previous reports have informed policies on climate changescience and innovationinternational development and non-communicable diseases.