No food shortage in sight, except that …
With the pandemic, anxiety around access to food can be seen everywhere in the West. Panic buying by people in confinement has already demonstrated the fragility of supply chains as supermarket shelves are emptying in many countries, including Canada. Seeing the tablets fill up across the network, many consumers feel reassured. Time and again, specialists try to reassure the population by repeating that food security will never be compromised as long as the border remains open. However, as the worst of the pandemic remains to come, anything can still happen.
The good functioning of the taming chains is ensured by the goodwill of the countries to want to share their wealth and their knowledge with others. Trade is based on the principle that no one can be good and efficient in everything. Being a Nordic country, Canada suffers from a certain climatic disadvantage, and its relations with other partners abroad allow its agri-food economy to fill in various gaps. We buy and sell with the world and the same goes for other countries. Countries depend on each other. A simple and fundamental principle.
But in times of crisis, this principle can easily be forgotten. Some states sometimes react very badly when fear takes over and dictates their decisions. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, every effort has been made to keep trade flows as free as possible, especially to avoid food shortages. Essentially, the message of the United Nations (UN) and many governments around the world including Canada and the United States share this notion.
The UN has even stressed with conviction that when it comes to protecting the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measure does not disrupt the food supply chain. But the World Agency also delivered a more provocative message in its press release this week, revealing that the world is likely to face a food shortage if the authorities fail to manage the COVID-19 epidemic properly.
For now, the course is maintained on the opening of markets and trade without interruption. But governments around the world are trying to curb the spread of COVID-19 by limiting population movements, international trade and food supply chains are beginning to show signs of slowing down. Agriculture worries about the thorny issue of foreign workers, the transformation notes disturbances caused by impromptu factory closings, the trucking which ensures the link between the links of the chain is sometimes slowed down by more increased road surveillance, the whole chain is tested.
Without question, the world is on the verge of a major slowdown in the trade in agrifood goods. It feels everywhere. Borders are weakening day by day and the United Nations has done well to call people to order, especially now. Uncertainty about the availability of food can literally trigger a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the world market.
And for us, the United States is the most worrying. The number of positive COVID-19 cases among our neighbors to the south is becoming alarming, as is the number of deaths. To add to this, more than 10 million Americans have lost their jobs in the past two weeks, unheard of. These figures are very scary. And unfortunately, we all know how fear can influence Americans … Just look at the wall erected on the US-Mexico border. It is still unlikely that border complications will arise on the North American continent, but it is not impossible.
Things are already getting complicated all over the planet. Russia has issued a government decree establishing an export quota for certain grains until the end of June, as its virus cases escalate. The correlation between the number of cases identified and the nervousness of governments is very strong. Hopefully our North American governments will remain calm.