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Antonio Walker

President, Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura de Chile, Chile


 


To begin contextualizing the whole international audience, what is the National Agriculture Society (Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura)? Could you describe its main mission and accomplishments?


The National Agricultural Society is one of the oldest agricultural chambers in the world, founded in 1838.

Our main objective is to foster an environment of development and promotion of agricultural and forestry activities, to achieve greater competitiveness and business sustainability, and to create a country with better opportunities and quality of life in the rural world.

Among the outstanding achievements of the SNA is the promotion of the creation of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1924, the first agricultural school in the country and the introduction of technology in Chilean farms. It is the founder of the country's largest and most prestigious business chambers.

Since 1893, the SNA has ensured the preservation and development of the Chilean Horse breed, nationally and internationally, maintaining the integrity and purity of the Chilean breed through the safeguarding and protection of the National Registry of the Chilean Horse based today on DNA.

In 1936, we founded "Radio Agricultura", one of the oldest radio stations in the country. This radio station has the most significant market share among entrepreneurs, businesses, and sports fans.

In areas related to rural development in Chile, we established an educational foundation, "SNA Educa". Since 1976, it has managed 20 educational establishments throughout Chile and provided quality education to more than 12,000 students.


In relation to that, what is the impact of agriculture in Chilean economy?


The Chilean agriculture sector extends beyond the farm business to include a range of farm-related industries. In Chile, the sector comprises the forestry, cattle, fishing, and food and beverage industries; this extended sector contributed roughly US$ 33 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022, a 14 per cent share. This sector extension is a more modern view since no food and other related industries could exist without farm production. Furthermore, this expanded sector must coordinate to compete and be sustainable globally. So it is better to analyze and measure together.


The output of farms contributed US$ 8.5 billion of this sum—about 3.6% of GDP. But as mentioned above, agriculture's overall contribution to GDP is more extensive than 3.6 per cent because agricultural sectors rely on complementary industry inputs to contribute added value to the economy.


Could you provide detail on the relevance that agricultural products export have in Chile? In that sense, is the international scenario favorable for the national industry?


A third of our country's exports correspond to the agricultural, forestry, livestock or fishing sectors. Annually, we export nearly US$30 billion in products from these industries to more than 160 countries worldwide.


In the long term, we see business opportunities in sustainable production, especially in a world where we will be required incrementally to produce more with less land, less water, a smaller carbon footprint, etc.


We also see that the developing world's population is increasing the demand for fresh and better-quality food. Since we are in the Southern Hemisphere and most of the demand is in the north, we can supply these markets in their winter.


Regarding this, what is the role of Asia in this scenario? Do you believe politics should be prioritized in order to strengthen even more the bonds in this region?


Our leading Asian agricultural partner is China, mainly fresh fruit. We send more than 40% of our exports to this destination. Today, our great mission is to continue consolidating China as our great partner and diversify our grow in emerging markets, such as Japan, Southeast Asia and India.

Chile ratified the TPP11 (The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership - CPTPP, also known as TPP11) in 2022, which has opened several of these markets to us. In addition, we already have free trade agreements with China, Japan, and some Southeast Asian countries, and we are expanding our partial trade agreement with India. These countries are where we will see the most significant growth. China may stop its accelerated growth, but we expect India and Southeast Asia to continue growing fast. Because of the extraordinary growth of Asia, we need to continue prioritizing trade opening policies with Asia to access this growing population that demands quality products like ours.


How does SNA face the progress of climate change and the effects this might have on the agricultural development? Do you all believe that is necessary to make changes towards an agricultural practice that is more sustainable?


We see sustainability as a central objective of agricultural and forestry businesses. This aim will allow producers striving to be more sustainable to reach new markets and find new business opportunities. We want to differentiate ourselves through our good environmental and social practices and by feeding the population of Chile and the world with sustainable, healthy and quality food.

In the context of the global environmental and climate crisis, the private sector is committed to further improving production, nutrition, the environment, people's quality of life and profitability. In our last chamber meeting, where all chambers of agriculture and related industries met, we agreed to move towards a national agricultural sustainability strategy of excellence.


Finally, how is agriculture favored with the reduction of the inflation in Chile? How would this affect the growth of the industry during 2024?


The main effect of lower inflation will be relief for consumers from high prices. From an agricultural point of view, we expect interest rates to fall, allowing for more robust investment in the sector. Another effect will be that the dollar will strengthen, favoring our agricultural export business since the US interest rate will likely fall more slowly than the rate in Chile.


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