Food Protectionism Likely to Increase: Economist

Mar 03, 2021
There is likely to be an increase in food protectionism around the world as more governments seek to serve their own interests first, according to a Rabobank economist.
Speaking virtually as part of this year’s Canadian Crops Convention, Jan Lambregts, head of RaboResearch Global Economics & Markets, said the combination of such factors as rising food prices, general inflation, poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic will make for a volatile mix in certain countries, pushing governments to take steps toward ensuring food supplies.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we pretty quickly see more of that (food protectionism),” he said.
Lambregts drew parallels between the situation today and that of the Arab Spring, a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s. The protests were at least partially in response to a low standard of living and rising food prices amid a backdrop of relatively better times in other parts of the world.
Grain export curbs have already been implemented in Russia for the 2020-21 marketing year, which have contributed to a rally in wheat prices and stirred concerns about food inflation worldwide. Seemingly protectionist measures have also been enacted in Ukraine and are being considered in Argentina as well.
“If they get food prices wrong in many of these countries, that has immediate backlash for (the governments),” Lambregts said. “And if they are seen to allow exports to occur. . . that is devastating I think for any government.”
Such food protectionism is part of a larger trend that has taken hold, especially amid the pandemic, Lambregts said, with most countries protecting their vaccines and supply of personal protective equipment until their own people are made safe first.
“Whereas we previously thought, ‘my own country first’ was a terrible term, now this is a fairly acceptable in the context of COVID and the context of food. It’s quite an amazing change from some 10-15 years ago.”
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