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Soaring food import prices threaten world’s poorest, FAO warns


By Gus Trompiz

PARIS (Reuters) – Global food import costs are expected to hit record highs this year, putting pressure on many of the poorest countries whose economies have already been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Thursday United Nations Food Agency.

These high costs could persist for an extended period as almost all agricultural products have become more expensive, while a recovery in energy markets could raise the costs of production for farmers, the Food Organization said. and agriculture (FAO).

“The problem is not that the world is facing higher prices,” Josef Schmidhuber, deputy director of FAO’s trade and markets division, told Reuters.

“The problem is the vulnerable countries.”

The global food import bill, including shipping costs, is expected to reach $ 1.715 billion this year, up 12% from $ 1.530 billion in 2020, FAO said in its semi-annual report on Thursday. on the food outlook.

While the growth in agricultural trade during the pandemic has shown the resilience of international markets, the rise in prices since the end of 2020 increases the risks for some import-dependent states, he added.

Countries classified as low-income, food-deficit countries by the FAO are expected to see food import costs jump 20% this year, with economies dependent on tourism in a particularly precarious position, the agency said.

International aid organizations have already warned of rising numbers of undernourished people around the world, as the pandemic has exacerbated conflict-related food insecurity and poverty in states like Yemen and the United States. Nigeria.

The FAO monthly food price index hit a 10-year high in May, reflecting strong increases for grains, vegetable oils and sugar.

A separate index of food import costs, including transport costs which have also skyrocketed, hit a record high in March this year, exceeding levels seen in previous food price spikes in 2006 -2008 and 2010-2012, FAO said.

Inflationary pressures have led countries like Argentina and Russia to impose export restrictions.

CHINESE MAS TRADE

The FAO does not publish a forecast for its price index, but its projection of import costs for 2021 assumed prices would remain high, Schmidhuber said.

“Eventually agriculture will return to normal but it will take some time,” he said.

A sharp increase in the volume of staple food imports last year had already pushed up global import costs by 3% to a record high.

The exceptions were beverages and fish products, which are more sensitive to economic conditions and have been affected by supply chain difficulties, FAO said.

Chinese imports have been a driver of agricultural demand and prices over the past year, in part reflecting Beijing’s efforts to rebuild its pork industry after an outbreak.

Chinese imports of maize (maize) in the upcoming 2021/22 season are expected to reach 24 million tonnes, according to FAO forecasts. This would mean that China, which is expected to quadruple its corn imports to 22 million tonnes in 2020/21, would remain the world’s largest grain importer.

A recovery in Chinese pork production is expected to reduce world trade, offsetting the growth in beef and poultry flows to keep the overall meat trade stable this year, the FAO added.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Alexander Smith and Pravin Char)

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