Value Chains and Tropical Products in a Changing Global Trade Regime

Date period
1 May 2008

SummaryIn the last decade, the commodity issues have re-emerged as central to development initiatives and poverty alleviation strategies. The objective of this Issue Paper by Charles Mather is to contribute to this debate by providing an analysis of the value chains of four tropical commodities (bananas, sugar, cut flowers and palm oil) in a rapidly changing global trade environment. The author seeks to provide insights on the different ways the significant changes occurring in the structure and governance of commodity chains ultimately affect producers’ income and production sustainability. He also suggests recommendations to improve these two variables.

The value chain approach has become an increasingly important framework for examining changes in the global trade of commodities and their implications for primary producers. Rather than describing the broad patterns of global exchange and assessing their consequences for producers and consumers exclusively through market mechanisms and equilibrium price changes, the global value chain (GVC) framework encompasses the production, processing, distribution and marketing of specific globally-traded commodities, and identifies the main stakeholders involved at each stage. It also highlights governance patterns (how these different stages are coordinated) and specifies the role of lead firms in determining market access, defining products and value across the chain (Schmitz, 2005).

The commodity studies in this paper focus on four themes: changes in the geography of production, changes in chain governance, new developments in trade agreements and their impacts on primary producers in different developing countries, and initiatives towards sustainable production, ethical trade and worker welfare. With regard to changes in production, the paper provides insights into new developments in the production of bananas, sugar, palm oil and cut flowers, which have been driven by changes in trade agreements and new investment patterns. In several of the commodities concerned, an important development has been the rise of new low cost producers who will play a role in shaping the global market for these commodities.

This paper was produced under an ICTSD dialogue and research project which seeks to address the opportunities and challenges of the full liberalisation of trade in tropical and diversification products, and explores possible areas of convergence between different groupings and interests in WTO negotiations. The project seeks to generate solutions-oriented analyses and possible policy responses from a sustainable development perspective.