The role of trade in keeping the world fed

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released data that proved that COVID-19 hasn’t destroyed our global trade, even though it has definitely complicated things due to geopolitical developments. Supply chain dependencies and priorities within countries changed and restrictions were placed on the export of critical items as countries began to navigate the spread of COVID-19.

In 2020, food and beverage exports have increased 5.8 per cent, led by seven per cent year-on-year increase in food product manufacturing. The results are in – demand for safe, high-quality, Australian-produced food still remains strong in these uncertain times. This is great for our food manufacturers and growers, the essential businesses keeping the supermarket shelves stocked.

Trading in the current environment
A strong international trade system is crucial to maintaining global food security. The fact is that trade stabilises food prices and supply volumes and thereby helps improve social stability, particularly in countries with higher levels of poverty, or where there are more variable agriculture production conditions. During the 2007-08 food price crisis, restrictions by countries on exports of certain commodities led to increases in world food prices and intensified the impact on food insecurity and poverty. So far, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, such crises have been averted and the trade flows have continued.

According to an ABARES study, Australia is ranked among the most food secure nations globally and as one of the top 10 countries for food affordability and availability. It should also serve as some comfort to Australian consumers that we are not going to run out of our everyday supplies and food that we need. About 11 per cent of the food and beverages Australians consume by value is imported. Many of these are ingredients that Australia is unlikely to produce in any quantity for the foreseeable future. Cocoa, for example, which is used in making chocolates. For Australians to continue to have a Tim Tam with their tea or coffee, the country must continue to trade and import those key ingredients.

As the pandemic continues, some grocery shortages might occur, but this isn’t a sign of a lack of food. For example, in Victoria the shortages are due to temporary disruption to logistics and operations to ensure compliance requirements set out by authorities. Australia produces enough to feed the entire population three times over – Australians do not need to panic.

Global challenges and what we should do?
What can we do to make sure Australians continue to be spoilt for choice and have access to our preferred grocery products? We can learn. The first step is Australia must continue its efforts in strengthening global trading systems and work with international trading partners to achieve resolutions to interruptions to global supply chains. Special arrangements need to be secured for two-way trade under crisis conditions.

When Australians refer to business as usual and the future hopefully waiting for us post COVID-19, the country needs to remain committed to working on securing trade agreements with a focus on getting equivalent access. In any future, a secure, rules-based international trading system backed by reliable supply chains is a must for stability and security of food supply.

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