Trade restrictions making food crisis worse: World Bank

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FILE – A combine harvests wheat, Aug. 5, 2021, near Pullman, Wash. How to prevent food insecurity and skyrocketing prices globally as Russia continues its war in Ukraine will be the marquee topic of discussion at the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Bans and restrictions on food exports are “counterproductive” against the global food crisis and drive rising domestic prices “even higher,” World Bank directors said Wednesday. 

In a blog post, World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships Mari Elka Pangestu and Managing Director of Operations Axel van Trotsenburg called for export restrictions to be “halted and reversed” to combat the worsening crisis.

The current price surge has been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain bottlenecks, the high cost of energy and other global issues, but is exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, a top global food supplier. The conflict not only disrupted production in Ukraine but also blocked critical ports in the Black Sea.

The directors compared this year’s crisis with the global food crisis of 2008, during which 36 countries imposed export restrictions. As of June 2022, 34 countries have active restrictions.

Bans imposed since the start of the war in Ukraine have increased the price of rice by more than 12 percent, of wheat by 9 percent and of maize by about 6 percent, a World Bank report found. 

Between mid-2007 and mid-2008, the global food crisis saw an increase in the price of rice by as much as 180 percent, of wheat by 120 percent and of maize by 70 percent.

In 2020, Ukraine was the world’s fifth-largest supplier of wheat, and Russia was the top exporter of fertilizer.

In early June, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres gave remarks warning that, “without fertilizers, shortages will spread from corn and wheat to all staple crops, including rice, with a devastating impact on billions of people in Asia and South America, too.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also sounded alarms about a global famine risk if Ukraine is unable to export its wheat. 

“The war in Ukraine has created needless suffering for the most vulnerable people everywhere,” wrote the World Bank’s Pangestu and van Trotsenburg in their blog post, calling for countries to lift “misguided” export restrictions. 

“The global community has a duty to cooperate fully to expand the flow of food across the world.”

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