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World Economic Forum: FAO Director-General speaks against food trade restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic

30 March 2020, Rome – FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, today invited the World Economic Forum (WEF) to work with the UN agency in protecting and strengthening food supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Director-General noted that supermarket shelves were currently stocked, despite the lockdowns imposed by many countries to slow the spread of the virus. But he warned that a protracted pandemic could strain food supply chains, thereby impacting farmers, processing plants, shipping services, retailers and others.

“As countries combat the coronavirus pandemic, they must also make every effort to keep the gears of their food supply chains moving, specifically the logistic part of the value chain which is today the major concern because of the lockdowns,” Qu said. “Restricting trade is not only unnecessary, it would hurt producers and consumers and even create panic in the markets.”

He stressed the importance of working together with the private sector, governments and farmers to identify the bottlenecks in the logistical part of the value chains of both staple and high value commodities. He added, that this was essential to keep the food value chain alive.

Qu said FAO will be organizing virtual meetings with key stakeholders to work together, hand-in hand, to help reduce the uncertainty on the logistics of the food value chain.

The FAO Director-General spoke at a panel discussion organized via video conference by the WEF, bringing together major institutional leaders including Gilbert F. Houngbo, the President of IFAD, David Nabarro, the Special Envoy for the World Health Organization on Covid-19, Lawrence Haddad, the Executive Director of the Global Alliance to Improve Nutrition, and many other global key actors to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on food security and on food value chains.

Qu noted that unlike the 2007-2008 global food crisis, scarcity was not an issue this time, but that the problem lies with logistics. He said there are sufficient stocks of staple commodities and very favourable prospects of harvest so commodity exporters should make every effort to find solutions and minimize logistical disruptions.

He noted, however, that the shipping industry was already reporting slowdowns due to port closures, and logistical hurdles, which could disrupt supply chains in the coming weeks.

“Countries have to find best ways to strike a balance between the need to keep production going and the necessity of protecting the workers and resolving logistical problems,” Qu said.

The FAO Director-General said the pandemic had created an opportunity for FAO and the WEF to identify the weak spots in global supply chains of staples and high value commodities and to find joint solutions to major bottlenecks.