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WTO, UNFAO, WHO call for keeping food trade flowing amid COVID-19 restrictions

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New Delhi:  Heads of WTO, UNFAO and WHO have asked all countries to ensure that trade-related measures taken to combat coronavirus don’t disrupt food supply chain as millions of people globally are dependent on international trade for food security and livelihoods.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, Director-General (DG) of World Trade Organization (WTO) Roberto Aevedo, Director-General of UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) QU Dongyu, and Director General of World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security.

“When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain.

“Such disruptions including hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, result in spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste,” it said.

The statement said food trade restrictions could also be linked to unjustified concerns on food safety.

Expressing concerns, it said uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage in the global market.

“Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility…In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortage,” it said.

The DGs also asked countries to ensure that information on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as food prices, is available to all in real time as it will reduce uncertainty and allow producers, consumers and traders to make informed decisions.

“Above all, it helps contain ‘panic buying’ and the hoarding of food and other essential items,” it said. “We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.”

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