New publication: Global Food Trade Beyond the ‘Standards’ Debate

Congratulations, Amely Bernzen, on the publication of your dissertation on organic value chains!


More and more products in western consumer markets today are imported, increasingly from developing countries. Yet, as distances to suppliers increase, monitoring and tracing product and process qualities along global supply chains back to the source have become increasingly challenging tasks for companies at the downstream end of the chain. Particularly importers risk legal sanctions or negative media coverage in case products are non-compliant with local requirements. The problem of uncertainty becomes even more urgent as highly specific quality designations come into play. The aim of this dissertation is to contribute to this discussion by providing an improved understanding of how formal and informal institutions – analysed in particular through a Convention Theory (CT) lens – are employed by importers of highly sensitive products in mitigating uncertainties in cross-border relations with their suppliers. This is achieved through a comparative empirical case study of firms importing certified organic food into Germany and Australia. Article 1 in this collection, “‘Sustainable Standards’? How Organic Standards in the EU and Australia Affect Local and Global Agrifood Production and Value Chains”, contributes to literature on food and environmental standards and discusses the impact of (supra-)national organic standards effective in Germany and Australia on different actors along the value chain. Article 2, “Reassessing Supplier Reputation in International Trade Coordination. A German and Australian perspective of Global Organic Food Networks”, deals with the multiple facets of reputation in international trade relations and how it can help to mitigate uncertainties across large distances. Article 3, “Conventions in Cross-Border Trade Coordination. The Case of Organic Food Imports to Germany and Australia”, provides a comprehensive discussion of which conventions within the CT framework are employed by Australian and German importers to overcome quality-related uncertainties in cross-border trade. The final Article 4, “Australien als ‘Global Food Superpower’? Landwirtschaft und Lebensmittelsektor Australiens im Wandel” (Global food superpower? Changes and current challenges in Australia’s food industry), looks at Australia as a case of the changing global character of agricultural and food production and trade, using a value chain perspective to outline these processes. Furthermore, it discusses how the unique Australian environmental situation, related natural risks, and political as well as structural factors currently question Australia’s future as the next Global Food Superpower. Overall, the empirical results affirm that formal institutions such as standards and third-party certification have gained increasing significance over the past two decades. Simultaneously, however, this study argues that these are not enough to overcome uncertainties in trade. Informal institutions like trust, reputation, values related to social and environmental welfare as well as business mentality and culture are likewise approaches that are employed. It is further shown that standards do not necessarily lead to reduced differences in product quality perceptions between suppliers and importers. Also, there seem to be changes in the interpretation of the organic designation, as particularly newer firms reduce the process standard more and more to product quality characteristics. At the same time, ‘dedicated’ companies with intensive holistic supplier relation management, unlike some decades ago, are not restricted to those that focus only on organic products. Conceptually, it is concluded that CT is a useful complementary approach to other frameworks for value chain and production network analyses, particularly due to its strengths to paint a differentiated picture of uncertainty as well as quality designations.

Her dissertation can be downloaded here.

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