Mitigating impacts of Covid-19 on food trade and markets

Joint Statement by QU Dongyu and Roberto Azevedo, Directors-General of FAO and WTO 

27 March 2020, Rome/Geneva – The sealing of national borders in response to COVID-19 could have unintended consequences on global food security. That raises concern. Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods. While countries have a legitimate right to enact policies to halt the accelerating pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on trade in food.   

When acting to protect their citizens, countries should implement the least trade-restrictive measures to do so. Some of the new border restrictions put in place could break the food supply chain. They could hamper the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extend border delays for food containers, resulting in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste. If such a scenario were to materialize, it would disrupt the food supply chain, with particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food-insecure populations.

Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market. Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility. We learned from previous crises that such measures are particularly damaging for low-income, food-deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organizations to procure food for those in desperate need.

We must prevent the repeat of such ‘beggar thy neighbour’ policies. It is at times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital. In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible to avoid food shortage. Consumers must continue to be able to access food within their communities under strict safety requirements, in particular the neediest amongst them, such as the elderly and children.

We must also ensure that information on levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as food prices, is available to all in real-time. This reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers and traders to make informed decisions. Above all, it helps contain panic buying and the hoarding of food and other essential items.

Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world.  We must not let our response to COVID-19 create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.

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