The global food import bill is expected to increase to US$1.94tn this year – higher than earlier estimates, according to a new report by the United Nations (UN)’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The new forecast in FAO’s Food Outlook report would mark an all-time high and a 10% increase compared to the record level in 2021, the organisation said on 11 November.

However, the FAO expected the pace of the increase to slow down in response to higher global food prices and depreciating currencies against the US dollar, two factors which impact the purchasing power of importing countries and, subsequently, the volumes of imported food.

The bulk of the increase in the bill was accounted for by high-income countries, due mostly to higher world prices, while volumes were also expected to rise. Economically vulnerable country groups were being more affected by the higher prices, with, for example, the aggregate food import bill for the group of low-income countries expected to remain almost unchanged although a 10% volume decrease was forecast, pointing to a growing accessibility issue for these countries.

“These are alarming signs from a food security perspective, indicating importers are finding it difficult to finance rising international costs, potentially heralding an end of their resilience to higher international prices,” the report from FAO’s Markets and Trade Division said.

The Food Outlook report, which breaks down food trade patterns by food groups, warned that existing differences were likely to become more pronounced, with high-income countries continuing to import across the full spectrum of food products, while the focus in developing regions was increasingly on staple foods.

Against this backdrop, the FAO welcomed the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s approval of a Food Shock Window as an important step to ease the burden of soaring food import costs among lower income countries.

The Food Shock Window will provide, for a period of a year, a new channel for emergency financing to member countries that have urgent balance of payment needs due to acute food insecurity, a sharp increase in their food import bill or a shock to their cereal exports.

The FAO’s Food Outlook, which is published twice yearly, also assesses global expenditures on imported agricultural inputs, including fertilisers. The global input import bill was expected to rise to US$424bn this year, a 48% increase compared to last year and as much as 112% compared to 2020, due to higher costs for imported energy and fertilisers.

Imported energy and fertilisers were particularly relevant in import bills, the FAO said, and put pressure on low-income and lower middle-income countries.

As a result, some countries could be forced to reduce input applications, which could lead to lower agricultural productivity and lower domestic food availability.

“Negative repercussions for global agricultural output and food security” were likely to extend into 2023, the FAO said.

In addition, the Food Outlook publishes reviews of market supply and trends for the world’s major foodstuffs, including cereals, oil crops, sugar, meat, dairy and fish. It also looks at trends in ocean freight rates.

“Supplies of most of these major commodities are at, or close to, record levels but multiple factors point to tighter markets ahead,” the FAO said.

For oilseeds, global production was forecast to rebound and reach an all-time high in the 2022/23 marketing year, with increased outputs of soyabean and rapeseed expected to offset an expected drop in sunflowerseed production.