Last month, members of the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Touching on issues from eradicating hunger and poverty, to achieving gender equality, to combating climate change and its impacts, this new set of global goals charts a path toward a sustainable future. 

During the ceremony, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that the 2030 agenda “compels us to look beyond national boundaries and short-term interests and act in solidarity for the long-term.”  I believe the same is true of global trade if we are to sustainably feed the over 9 billion people that will inhabit our planet by 2050. 


All early forecasts indicated 2015 was to be the breakout year for the global economy.  

Yet, all signs now point to another disappointment.  World Trade Organization economists reduced their estimation of commercial activity for 2015 from 3.3 to 2.8 percent – the fourth consecutive year trade growth has fallen below 3 percent.

This decline in global trade, however, should be of no surprise, given slower moving economies across much of the world.

China has witnessed significant volatility in its stock market and its currency fell by some 4.4 percent against the U.S. dollar this summer.  China’s Finance Minister suggests the economy is entering a “new normal” – a growth rate of around 7 percent over the next several in contrast to decades of double-digit growth.

Other countries are experiencing similar struggles. Brazil’s economy is in recession, inflation remains a serious problem, unemployment continues to rise, and the stock market reached a 6-year low.

Unfortunately, the impact of these downturns is no longer local.

With rapid globalization, the slowing of economies can be felt around the world.  As the second largest global economy, China’s slowing economic growth affects all the markets with which China trades and invests.  For example, when the Chinese economy purchases less due to economic challenges, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and other trading partners are immediately affected.

The impact of these economic downturns and their ripple effects are even more troubling as we consider changing diets and increasing food demand in countries that are already struggling with food insecurity.  Countries unable to meet their domestic food demand will increasingly rely on the movement of food and agricultural products around the world.  And, we must strive to make this movement more open and equitable between food deficit countries and the surplus producers. 

The same is true with respect to accessing the technology and equipment farmers everywhere need to increase their yields, their incomes and to improve overall food security.  But, many unnecessary cross-border barriers exist today.  For example, shipping a spare tractor part from South Africa to Kenya can take as long as 21 days - a trip that should be only a few hours or a day at most. 

These are the economic and food security challenges we face without the expansion of global trade and further removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Fortunately, global leaders are working toward the completion of two trade agreements that would help realize Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s message of looking beyond national boundaries.

The just-concluded Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, involving the U.S. and Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, promises significant strides in growing trade across a region that represents nearly 40 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and already is the market for 44 percent of U.S. total exports.

Likewise, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP would strengthen trade between the U.S. and European Union member countries, which together account for nearly half of global economic output.  Although still a work in progress, TTIP is intended to expand markets, increase investment, and generate jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Each of these agreements, along with continued multilateral trade liberalization efforts, is critical to spurring our global economy and, in turn, helping ensure that we will be able to feed the growing planet.

During this promising time of implementing a new sustainability agenda for the next 15 years, let’s ask policymakers and leaders in the U.S. and across the world to move beyond our parochial protectionist instincts and to keep the global good firmly in sight.  Global trade is critical to catalyzing the economic development necessary to ensure sustainable food security and to enjoy a healthier and more productive world. 

We must embrace this exciting time of global change and move quickly with the work ahead.

Penn is the chief economist of Deere & Company and former under secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the Department of Agriculture (2001-2006).  He is also a member of the DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Innovation and Productivity.