The COVID-19 outbreak has raised new challenges for the food sector. The global food markets have so far remained well-balanced with no shortage of food staples, but the measures adopted to fight the pandemic caused disruption in the food supply and value chains.
The measures adopted to fight the pandemic have disrupted the food sector, especially for high-value products that require more labour. The lockdowns and distancing measures have created labour shortages at various stages of the supply chain, such as harvesting, processing, and distribution. The situation has also put extra pressure on the agri-food sector logistics with blockages to transport routes and long queues at border checks. Restrictions on goods transport have, in turn, affected international trade in agri-food products.
Following the outbreak, 14 members and three observers of the WTO adopted export restrictions on foodstuffs but only three of them notified the WTO. The Extraordinary G20 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting agreed that emergency measures should be, “Targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary.” Since then, concerned about the resilience of the food supply chains and protectionism, WTO members have released multiple statements calling for an open and predictable trade for food.
At this stage, it appears that the impact of the COVID-19 on the food sector should be less severe and shorter than for other industries. However, reinforcing food security has become a priority for many, including the EU, even despite the fact that the EU has traditionally been a net food exporter.
It is interesting to note that the newly published Farm to Fork Strategy, which aims to make food systems more sustainable and resilient, now includes a contingency plan for ensuring food supply and food security. At the same time, the Commission has also announced its intention to set up an EU Food Security Observatory that will improve the knowledge base, monitor and report on the EU’s capacity to assure the availability and affordability of food supplies.
In the post COVID-19 world, EU businesses will, more than ever, need to source products efficiently and cost effectively. Open and sustainable trade policies will play an important role in supporting the global transition to sustainable food systems.
On 29 April, amfori participated in an Ethical Trading Initiative food and farming COVID-19 virtual think-tank where all participants highlighted the extra pressures the pandemic had put on food supply chains in various parts of the world. The advocacy team will continue to monitor policy developments on this issue.
At the same time, amfori is also supporting its members during the pandemic by sharing information, resources, and recommendations on the impact of the virus in supply chains and by creating a specific Taskforce on the issue.