An increasing number of countries are placing priority on securing food for their own nation and restricting exports. They are apparently concerned about the stagnation of production amid the spread of infections with the new coronavirus.
If such moves expand, the world’s stable food supply system could be shaken. It is hoped that food-producing countries will restrain themselves and cooperate with each other in an appropriate manner.
According to Japan’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, exports are being restricted in at least 13 countries, including Russia, Turkey and Vietnam. Items covered in such restrictions are mainly grains such as wheat and corn.
World Trade Organisation rules prohibit the control of exports unless there is a critical shortage of food supplies within that country.
In a statement issued after an emergency videoconference, the agriculture ministers of the Group of 20 major economies called for restraints on export restrictions, saying such moves “could lead to excessive food price volatility in international markets and threaten the food security”.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, which has been providing agricultural assistance globally among other measures, also participated in the conference.
It is significant that major countries and regions recognise the importance of a stable food supply.
What is important is to protect developing countries that suffer from severe food shortages.
Africa, for example, has a large population to feed, with one in five people suffering from malnutrition even in normal times.
The situation could worsen if agricultural production faces declines due to the spread of the infections, coupled with export restrictions in the food-producing countries.
Meanwhile, a huge outbreak of locusts in Africa and the Middle East is wreaking havoc on agricultural crops. If the situation is left as is, the development of a food crisis is a possibility.
The G20 economies and other major countries need to make every possible effort to help developing countries through ways such as food aid and the promotion of the agriculture industry.
Japan depends on imports for wheat and many other grains, but so far Japan has seen little impact. This is because such countries as the US, Australia and Brazil continue to export to Japan.
Japan has a state stockpile of agricultural products and is self-sufficient in rice. The situation should be dealt with calmly.
The Japanese government must cooperate with private enterprises such as trading companies to ensure stable food supplies.
Around the world, the division of labour has been established not only in the manufacturing supply chain, but also in agricultural products and processed foods. It would not be beneficial for food-producing countries to cause this framework of interdependence to collapse.
There have also been protectionist moves regarding medical supplies such as masks and protective suits. Japan should persistently emphasise that free trade is indispensable for stable growth in the global economy.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK