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The impact of agricultural trade on labour markets, The impact of agricultural trade on labour markets

A new ILO/UNCTAD book highlights the role of agricultural trade in creating jobs and alleviating poverty around the world.


GENEVA – A new book edited by UNCTAD and the International Labour Organization (ILO) stresses that agricultural trade can be an opportunity for creating jobs and alleviating poverty around the world.

Shared Harvests: Agriculture, Trade and Employment” was released today. The book, which resulted from research coordinated by UNCTAD and the ILO and financed by the European Union, urges that higher policy priority be given to farming. It is based on a collaboration between UNCTAD and the ILO, as well as on a technical cooperation project entitled, “Assessing and addressing the effects of trade and employment,” managed jointly by the European Commission and the ILO. 

The findings from the project show a strong link between poverty reduction, on the one hand, and effective agricultural production and trade, on the other. They also emphasize that farming has a key role to play in the economy when it comes to employment creation. 

Agriculture employs more than a billion people in developing countries, which represent 48 per cent of their labour force. 

The book analyzes the impact of agricultural trade on labour markets in developing countries and, in particular, how it affects the creation and destruction of jobs in the agricultural sector. Developing countries now account for 37 per cent of agricultural trade, up from 30 per cent in 2000. Given that many agricultural workers are members of poor households – for example, 96 per cent of agricultural workers in Guatemala earn less than the minimum wage – the relationship between trade and jobs in the agricultural sector is highly relevant for poverty reduction and broader development strategies. 

The book includes a series of case studies at the country, regional and global levels on the employment impacts of agricultural trade. It discusses how concerns about employment in agriculture are reflected in national trade policies and in regional and multilateral trade agreements. In addition, the book attempts to shed light on how changes in productivity, food security, rural–urban migration, skills and domestic regulation affect the relationship between trade and employment in agriculture. 

The evidence presented indicates that agricultural trade is unlikely to produce job “miracles” or lead to dramatic job losses. A moderate multilateral liberalization scenario, for example, predicts a decrease in agricultural employment in developed countries of about 0.6 per cent and an increase of about 0.25 per cent in developing countries. 

However, agricultural trade can be an opportunity for development and employment, the book concludes. It also highlights the importance of social protection in reducing the vulnerability of agricultural workers and recommends targeted promotion of agricultural productivity to enhance competitiveness in global markets.


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