Nontraditional Agricultural Exports Essay

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Nontraditional agricultural ex ports (NTAEs) are agricultural products that have not previously been consumed or planted as cash crops in a country. NTAEs include fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, and spices. NTAEs are growing in importance globally because of their economic value; they make up the overwhelming majority of trade taking place in the horticultural and floricultural sectors of both producer and consumer countries. Fruits, vegetables, and flowers have formed the bulk of this new trade. Traditional agricultural exports (TAEs) vary from country to country as do the value of NTAEs. However, NTAEs are growing in great volume and value while TAEs are growing at stable rates. For example, between 1997 and 2001, soybean and sugar exports from Brazil, which are TAEs, grew 55 percent. In this same time period, however, Brazilian NTAEs of cantaloupes, grapes, mangos, and other crops grew 145 percent.

In recent years, most agricultural production in Central America and the Caribbean has been consumed locally. However, new crops of NTAEs in these areas have grown enormously. For example, the production of asparagus, eggplants, onions, shallots, green peas, green beans, and tomatoes have exploded in volume and value as trade items. Many of the NTAEs produced today are not traditional foods in the areas in which they are produced. This means that these foods are exported to urban markets in some of the wealthier, industrialized countries of the Northern Hemisphere. The positive result is that Third World countries have a new source of income that does not compete with foods consumed locally.

East Asia is a region new to the production of NTAEs. Historically Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines have been large producers of fruits and vegetables for local consumption. However, great volumes of fruits such as pineapples, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, and vegetables such as asparagus are now being grown for export.

Countries in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia, are great producers of mangos, which were once not considered a fruit for the wider market. However, the introduction of the mango into colder regions of the world has created a new export market; as a result, a common and traditional fruit has become a new NTAE.

In Central and South America, many new crops that were never grown in the area before are now being grown as NTAEs. NTAEs have a limited market appeal in these regions. As a result, trade links between these nations and the United States and Europe are growing exponentially. The impact of NTAE production in Central America is noteworthy as local farmers have profited from the growth significantly. For example, Mayan Indians, who had no exports previously, are growing broccoli, snow peas, cauliflower, and berries in the Guatemalan central highlands.

Researchers have studied the production of NTAEs and have found that despite some problems, local farmers are positive about the opportunity to produce for export. South America is now a growing center of NTAEs that are counter-seasonal. Apples, pears, grapes, and other fruits are grown in the spring-summer-autumn, which is opposite to the autumn-winter-spring of the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, many traditional foods consumed in the Northern Hemisphere are available fresh during normally off-seasons. The health benefits of fresh produce available counter-seasonally is a significant factor in their marketability.

NTAEs are often the subject of import regulations and tariff restrictions. As long as traditional fruits, such as apples, are imported counter-seasonally, import tariffs are kept low unless they are opposed by domestic producers who want to protect their own production centers. The export of fresh, cut flowers has evoked some opposition from Northern Hemisphere growers who produce cut flowers in hothouses. For example, Colombia is now the world’s second-largest exporter of flowers after the Netherlands. Because floriculture is labor intensive, the higher labor costs in the Netherlands are challenged by lower cost floriculture production in Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru, Bolivia, and various African and Asian countries.

The Uruguay Round of Agricultural Agreement (URAA) discussions sought to limit the growth of trade restrictions on NTAEs, as many countries have developed complex, restrictive trade policies. To reduce restrictions so that freer markets can exist has been the subject of many international discussions. The European Union has been a leader in restricting imports or in creating trade barriers such as import quotas.

Other concerns expressed by many interest groups in the Northern Hemisphere are fears that exploitative labor practices or the unregulated use of pesticides and herbicides will affect the conditions of production in Third World countries. Testing for residual levels of pesticides or herbicides in accordance with the standards set by the Codex Alimentarius is being used to restrict the importation of NTAEs in some instances. Many countries are applying sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures to food imports. More than 270 SPS measures were adopted for fruits and vegetables between 1995 and 2000. The basic rules for using these heath standards have been established by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In an unusual move, in many countries the public laws on food safety are being surpassed by importing companies. Grocery stores have a vested interest in food safety. A single outbreak of an infectious agent sold in their stores could have a devastating business impact in the near future and the long term. Resulting liability suits can also be very expensive. Therefore, private agencies are creating inspection standards far exceeding those followed by public authorities.

While many observers predict a bright future for NTAE growth, some critics of capitalism and globalization argue that NTAEs have negative social consequences. The “market friendly” orientation of increasing export conditions has led to domination by small numbers of international export companies in many NTAE sectors. The flood of these products simultaneously onto global markets has also resulted in dramatic price declines. While this is a boon for the relatively wealthy consumer in the developed world, to a farmer in the underdeveloped world, it means more effort and energy in exportoriented production for less return. Whether a boon or bane, NTAE expansion has definitely resulted in the ubiquity of historically unusual products stocking supermarket shelves.


  1. Sheldon Annis and Anne Byers, eds., Poverty, Natural Resources, and Public Policy in Central America (Transaction Publishers, 1991);
  2. L.O. Copeland and R.H. Leep, Nontraditional Field Crops: Canola!Rapeseed and Lupins (Michigan State University, 1992);
  3. Philip The Global Restructuring of Agro-Food Systems (Cornell University Press, 1994);
  4. Peter Veit, Africa’s Valuable Assets: A Reader in Natural Resource Management (World Resource Institute, 1998);
  5. Joachim Von Braun, David Hotchkiss, and Maarten D. Immink, Nontraditional Export Crops in Guatemala: Effects on Production, Income and Nutrition (International Food Policy Research Institute, 1989).

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