At a keynote address at the Financial Times Commodities Global Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Cargill CEO spoke about the rise of populism, protectionism and the importance of open trade.
The UK is set to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March, setting in motion its two-way divorce process with the EU (read more on about this on our sister title Meat Trades Journal). With US President Donald Trump in power, combined with a surge in populism across Europe, MacLennan stressed the world was at a critical tipping point in international trade policy.
He suggested some people felt international trade was making lives “worse, not better” by contributing to job losses and social inequality.
Trade: not the reason for hardship
On the contrary, the CEO of Cargill, one of the largest private companies in the US, said international trade was a net job creator: more than half of America’s manufacturing workforce depended on exports for job security and nearly 50% of all manufactured goods were sold to 20 countries that had eliminated barriers through free trade agreements, he said.
“Trade is not the reason so many citizens face hardships around the world, but it has become a convenient excuse,” MacLennan told global commodity leaders in Switzerland.
“The success of our companies, our employees and the wider world depends on us making a strong, collective stand for trade.
“It’s our shared responsibility to stand up for trade because it’s good for people and communities. Trade facilitates prosperity and peace by helping us connect and share talent, ideas and markets.”
Protection does “more harm than good” and economic powers are weakened on both sides when trade is restricted, said MacLennan. But free trade cannot be the only solution to what many see as growing social and economic inequality and alone will not bring back jobs lost to lower cost labour abroad, automation, more efficient technology or changing consumer demands.
He said that industry needed to invest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education to strengthen the number of specialist workers in the agriculture sector.
To do this, Cargill will invest $13m this year in education programmes in a bid to develop STEM education and ensure those studying specialist subjects see agriculture as a desirable sector to work in.