World Bank warns against food trade restrictions

23 April 2020

The World Bank has urged G20 nations to avoid import and export restrictions or hoarding stocks in the wake of the coronavirus. 

In a statement made at the virtual meeting of G20 agriculture ministers, Mari Pangestu, managing director for development policy and partnerships at the World Bank, said global grain production and stocks were at near all-time highs, making restrictions and building up national stocks unnecessary.

“Let’s not repeat what happened in 2008 when trade restrictions amplified world food price spikes and caused 130-155m more people to fall below the poverty line, especially in the most vulnerable countries,” she said.

Pangestu added G20 nations accounted for a large share of food trade so its actions would have significant global impact at a time when supply chains have broken down and the poorest and most vulnerable countries were being threatened by food insecurity.

She said it was necessary to ensure that the supply chains for food continue to flow and function safely, including considering food, agriculture inputs and food-related logistics as essential so they are prioritised.

“We are working with governments and international partners to closely monitor domestic food and agricultural supply chains and how the loss of employment and income is impacting people’s ability to buy food,” she said. 

“We are building on existing projects and deploying short and long-term financing to help countries provide social safety nets, preserve the functioning of supply chains and ensure that farmers can meet the demand of local consumers during the pandemic.”

A report by the Global Network Against Food Crises showed at the end of last year, before the Covid-19 crisis, 135m people in 55 countries and territories already faced acute food insecurity, and required urgent action. 

In addition, 183m people were classified as being at the cusp of acute hunger and at risk of slipping into crisis or worse if faced with a shock or stressor, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the report said.

Trade associations from the UK food and drink supply chain have called on the government to ensure they could continue to provide essential supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

The US has announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to provide $19bn to help farmers and ranchers, and to maintain the integrity of the food supply chain.

Secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue said: “The American food supply chain had to adapt, and it remains safe, secure, and strong, and we all know that starts with America’s farmers and ranchers.”

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