Governments tighten their grip on global food stocks, driving up prices

In a speech last week, Janet L. Yellen, the secretary of the treasury, said the pandemic and the war revealed that America’s supply chains, while efficient, were neither safe nor resilient. While warning against “a completely protectionist leadership”, she said the US should work to reorient its trade relations towards a large group of “trusted partners”, even if it means slightly higher costs for businesses and companies. consumers.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, said in a speech Wednesday that the war “rightly” added questions about economic interdependence. But he urged countries not to draw wrong conclusions about the global trading system, saying he had helped drive global growth and provided countries with important goods even during the pandemic.

“While it is true that global supply chains can be subject to disruption, trade is also a source of resilience,” he said.

The WTO has opposed export bans since the early days of the pandemic, when countries including the United States began introducing export restrictions on face masks and medical products and only gradually removed them.

Now, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a similar wave of food-centered bans. “It’s like déjà vu again,” said Mr. Evenett.

Protectionist measures have spread from country to country in a particularly noticeable way when it comes to wheat. Russia and Ukraine export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, feed billions of people in the form of bread, pasta and packaged foods.

Mr. Evenett said the current wave of trade barriers on wheat began when the war’s protagonists, Russia and Belarus, cracked down on exports. Countries along an important trade route for Ukrainian wheat, including Moldova, Serbia and Hungary, have therefore started to restrict their grain exports. Finally, the main importers with food safety problems, such as Lebanon, Algeria and Egypt, have implemented their own bans.