Some of the long-lasting negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic are still affecting South Africa’s agricultural production and exports, and the activities of seafarers and fishers around the world: in fact, the total value of South Africa’s exportable agricultural commodities declined by 8.8% (even though favorable weather conditions are positively affecting production), and up to 300,000 seafarers are stranded on their ships because many countries still refuse to let sailors come ashore and carry out crew changes. Meanwhile, the US is preparing an import ban on tomatoes and cotton coming from Xinjiang, over the alleged forced-labor abuses on Uighurs.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
The coronavirus pandemic has posed serious challenges to South African farmers, as commodities prices are volatile, imports and exports have been constrained and specific subsectors are still suffering from trading restrictions (the meat industry, for example). The result of these issues is that the value of the country’s exportable agricultural commodities has decreased by 8.8% to USD 9.8 billion. However, the conditions have slightly improved recently, thanks to favourable rains and weather (which helped the farmers increase their summer crop plantings), but South Africa has still not regained its FMD (foot-and-mouth disease)-free status since last year, and therefore it cannot export certain red meat products.
The coronavirus pandemic led countries to close borders and refuse to let sailors come ashore to carry out crew changes (the process whereby seamen are replaced by new ones as their contracts expire): to date there is still no solution in sight, and in fact last month the International Transport Workers’ Federation estimated that around 300,000 seafarers were stranded on their ships, working past the expiration of their contracts. For example, a merchant seaman from the Philippines, who normally hauls corn, barley and other commodities around the world, has not had shore leave in half a year.
The US Customs and Border Protection has prepared orders to block cotton and tomato imports from China’s western region of Xinjiang, over alleged forced-labour abuses on Uighur Muslims. In fact, according to the United Nations, 1 million Uighurs held in camps have been put to work in Xinjiang. China denies mistreatment of the Uighurs and claims that those camps are actually vocational training centres whose objective is to fight extremism. The import bans would cover the entire supply chains for cotton and tomatoes (therefore including yarn, textiles, apparel, tomato paste and other regional exports).
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
The price of fresh fruits and vegetables in Morocco has recently increased, penalizing the customers: according to the wholesalers, such increase was caused by the dysfunctions in the country’s marketing channels and by the fact that September lies halfway between the summer harvest and the autumn harvest. In Jamaica, on the other hand, consumers have been forced to turn to fish and turkey because of a shortage of poultry meat in the country, that is said to be caused by an excessive consumption of chicken. Finally, the imports of fresh fruit in the United States (mainly from Mexico, Peru and Chile) have declined in July, according to the USDA’s figures.
Wholesalers in fresh fruits and vegetables in Casablanca, Morocco, deny being at the origin of the price increases that hit the city at the beginning of September, penalizing the consumers’ purchasing power. The wholesalers received a smaller volume of agricultural products from farmers in this period, compared to last year, but they blame the price increases on the dysfunctions of the marketing channels in the country. The volume of harvested fruits and vegetables decreased by 13% year-on-year: more in particular, fruits shipments fell by 20%, while vegetables shipments decreased by 6%.
Retailers and shopkeepers in Jamaica are currently rationing chicken due to a shortage of poultry meat in the marketplace, which led the consumers to turn to other protein sources, such as fish and turkey. The main factor fuelling such shortage of poultry meat is said to be the switch from the consumption of protein sources such as beef and pork to chicken: in fact, one of the major producers of chicken meat in Jamaica reported selling more chicken meat in August than it did in the same period last year, despite the fact that many restaurants and hotels are still closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, the imports of fresh fruit in the United States fell by 14% year-on-year in July, reaching a total value of USD 857 million. The decrease was driven by declines in avocados and bananas imports, respectively by 32% and 15%. In terms of the different fresh fruit suppliers, on the other hand, the imports from Mexico (which normally supplies around a third of the total fruits to the US in July), Peru and Chile have all decreased, respectively by 14%, 14% and 39%.
A new program that aims at boosting traceability in Hong Kong’s food and beverage enterprises was recently announced by GS1 Hong Kong: thanks to this program, the businesses will develop a roadmap for better food safety management, building up their reputation and winning consumers’ trust. Meanwhile, the World Food Program has donated several key items to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and mitigate the risk of a second wave in Malaba, on the border between Uganda and Kenya.
A Hong Kongese company that advocates supply chain global standards has recently launched the Quality Food Scheme Program, which aims at encouraging food and beverage enterprises to adopt more stringent measures in accordance with international standards in terms of management, control and traceability. Furthermore, in response to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Program will provide companies with disease prevention advice, including training on how food safety management could be uplifted through the implementation of risk management control technologies.
The World Food Program (WFP) has donated 10 computers, 10 hospital beds, 10 biometric scanners, 10 digital cameras, 10 computers tables, 10 office swivel chairs and 100 plastic chairs to aid in the coronavirus response at the Malaba border post, in eastern Uganda. Furthermore, the government of Uganda’s decision to keep its borders open to the flow of food commodities throughout the pandemic has enabled the WFP to continue assisting around 1.4 million people in the country, including 1.2 million refugees (who are mostly women and children under the age of 18).
A strengthening of the trade relationship between the United States and Pakistan could benefit both countries: the former would ensure stability in the region and overtake any potential adversary, while the latter would see an improvement in investments, interconnectivity and entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, regardless of the outcomes of the negotiation for a trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, Ireland’s agri-food sector (and, more in particular, its fishing industry) will be impacted by new regulations and restrictions.
Since the United States are entering an era of great power competition, its relationship with the South Asian countries will be very important to ensure the stability of the region and to confront any threats from potential adversaries. This could be done while promoting regional prosperity through trade policies that foster interconnectivity, investment and entrepreneurship: for example, Pakistan, which is a youthful and populous country, has the potential to grow economically, and yet it remains reliant on expensive imports and on uncompetitive textile exports, and its agricultural sector is hampered by worsening water shortages.
Regardless of the outcome of the trade negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union during the Brexit transition period, change will arise for the Irish agri-food industry, starting from January 2021. For example, all Irish fishing vessels that land into ports in Great Britain will be subject to additional illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing requirements, and they will only be able to land in ports designated by the UK for third country landings. Furthermore, the seafood sector in Ireland could be especially impacted by Brexit, depending on the outcome of the negotiations on an agreement in the area of fisheries between the EU and the UK.