Food Coalition

Enhancing intra-regional trade to address disruptions during and after COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis will have an unprecedented impact on global and regional trade. According to the WTO, world merchandise trade might fall by as much as 32 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic. The simultaneity of significant supply and demand shocks and the global nature of both makes the current situation unlike any other food or health crisis in recent times. Enhancing both intra- and inter-regional trade and improving access to markets can be crucial for mitigating the impacts of shocks like the current COVID-19 pandemic, reducing trade transaction costs, boosting farm incomes and promoting productive capacities in both exporting and importing countries.

The North Africa and the Near East region trades significantly less than would be expected based on its economic, cultural, and geographical characteristics. The low levels of intra-regional trade typically result from policy barriers and limited policy coordination e.g. limited harmonization/ mutual recognition of procedures demonstrating SPS compliance; limited use of digital solutions in the application of trade procedures; and ad-hoc trade restrictions that are not based on market intelligence. Access to markets is also hampered by physical constraints e.g. lower productive capacities, limitations in laboratory capacities assessing compliance with food safety standards, as well as marketing and trade infrastructure.

The region has made some steps towards regional integration including the removal of intra-regional tariffs under the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) and the adoption of low common tariffs by the GCC countries. The region is also highly dependent on food imports especially for staple food items such as cereals and sugar and is therefore vulnerable to global market disruptions. This high dependency on food imports expose countries in the region to disruptions in international food supply chains. In the context of COVID-19, three types of difficulties might be expected: i) drop in global food availability and price volatility; ii) policy interventions by major food exporters that might restrict food exports; and iii) disruption in global supply chains because of air or sea freight logistical difficulties.

Priority Areas of work: Trade and Food Safety Standards
SDG: 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-being, 5. Gender Equality, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 17. Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Level: Regional
Region: Near East and North Africa
Country: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates
Budget: USD 5 million


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