Countries impose export bans on food commodities in wake of COVID-19

Various countries around the world have banned exports of certain food commodities, including edible oils and oilseeds, to protect domestic supplies in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan announced on 2 April that it would restrict exports of sunflowerseeds, soyabeans and rye until 30 June, effectively from 12 April, according to Reuters.

Serbia had also banned exports of unprocessed sunflowerseed, sunflower oil and semi-processed oil as part of new measures to combat COVID-19, reported on 17 March.

Top wheat exporter Russia approved a 7M tonne quota for grain exports from April to June. The move, announced on 2 April, was unlikely to have a strong market impact as this was the volume the country had been expected to export for the period, Reuters quoted traders as saying.

Number 3 world rice exporter Vietnam had also temporarily suspended rice export contracts until 28 March to check if it had sufficient domestic supplies, while Ukraine’s economy ministry said it was monitoring wheat exports and would take necessary measures if required, Reuters said.

Ann Berg, a veteran agricultural trader and independent consultant, told Bloomberg that the extreme measures enforced worldwide by governments to tackle COVID-19 could spill over to food policy.

“You could see wartime rationing, price controls and domestic stockpiling,” she said.

Industry experts stressed that staple crops such as soyabeans, corn, rice and wheat were available in abundance and nations had no reason to stockpile, urging nations to cooperate during the coronavirus crisis.

“Given the problem that we are facing now, it’s not the moment to put these types of policies into place,” said Maximo Torero, chief economist at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organzisation. “On the contrary, it’s the moment to cooperate and coordinate.”