Global Leaders Vow To Resist Food Export Barriers

By Alex Lawson
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Law360 (April 21, 2020, 2:48 PM EDT) -- Having already committed to resist unnecessary trade restrictions on medical and safety equipment during the novel coronavirus outbreak, G-20 leaders on Tuesday made a similar vow to keep agricultural trade flows as open as possible during the crisis.

After a virtual conference, agriculture ministers from the G-20 nations issued a joint statement committing to "guard against any unjustified restrictive measures that could lead to excessive food price volatility" as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the global economy.

Following the lead of the G-20 trade ministers, the agriculture leaders said that any food export restrictions should be confined only to emergency situations and structured to be as minimally disruptive as possible.

"We agree that emergency measures in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary, and that they do not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global food supply chains, and are consistent with World Trade Organization rules," the agriculture ministers wrote.

The coronavirus pandemic and the economic strain that has followed has forced governments around the world to balance the needs of their own citizens with the need to craft a global response.

World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevêdo sat in on the agriculture ministers' Tuesday meeting, underscoring that balance and calling for cooperation among the leaders.

"We must avoid measures that could change the current outlook and lead to supply shortages in the future," the director-general said, adding that "the COVID-19 health crisis is already a major economic and social crisis. Let's not add a food security crisis."

Russia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and Cambodia were among the handful of countries that imposed some form of limited food export restrictions soon after the initial wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Peterson Institute for International Economics researcher Cullen Hendrix in late March charted the rise of export restrictions on staple grains in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, concluding that the measures may have inflated rice and wheat prices by 45% and 30%, respectively.

"Export restrictions are blunt instruments that further exacerbate the problems they were designed to address," Hendrix wrote.

--Editing by Jack Karp.

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