GENEVA: Food supply chains must be protected from any trade-related measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, the heads of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and UN food and health agencies said on Tuesday (Mar 31), warning of possible shortages and price spikes.

They voiced concern that disruptions to the movement of agricultural and food industry workers or food containers could result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste and said protectionism was also a risk.

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“Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market,” said WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo, and the heads of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization Qu Dongyu.

“Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility.”

Such measures are particularly damaging to low-income, food-deficit countries and aid agencies’ food procurement for those in desperate need, the joint statement said.

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It is at times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital, the statement said, adding that information on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices, should be made available to all in real time.

“This reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers and traders to make informed decisions. Above all, it helps contain ‘panic buying’ and the hoarding of food and other essential items,” the statement said.

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“Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world,” said the statement.

“We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.”

Azevedo said last week that WTO projections show the economic downturn and job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic would be worse than the 2008 recession.

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