Nationalistic capitalism and the food crisis

China Dialogue | June 03, 2008

Different countries have divergent approaches to international trade, and these are changing the way food is bought and sold. As world leaders meet in Rome this week to discuss soaring prices, C Paskal considers China’s approach.


In an era of food-supply scarcity, it is only logical that crops are included in nation-to-nation deals. For example, one would expect China to add food crops, or farm land, into its growing number of arrangements with African nations, which could explain part of China’s support for Robert Mugabe in that potential breadbasket, Zimbabwe (one report states that China has already received rights to farm 250,000 acres, or 1,000 square kilometres, of corn in southern Zimbabwe). Already in countries such as Laos, Congo, Indonesia and Cambodia, Chinese companies are farming products that will go straight to the home market (sometimes using Chinese labour), and the Chinese government is exploring making the purchase of farmland in foreign countries central government policy. What that means globally is that large quantities of wheat, corn, rice and other crops will never make it to the open market.

In this new reality, countries in which policymakers don’t have control over strategic assets (oil, gas, uranium, shipping lanes and, increasingly, water and crops) are potentially at a geopolitical disadvantage when it comes to trying to out-negotiate countries practising nationalistic capitalism. This is not a statement on the relative morality of varied economic approaches. It is just a statement of the obvious. A Russian government that has the ability to cut off energy supplies to Europe must be taken much more seriously than one that simply gets a drilling fee from transiting multinationals. In an increasingly shifting geopolitical world, it’s a very big negotiating advantage indeed.

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