Food Supply Chain Disruptions And Trade Protectionist Measures Amid COVID-19 Pandemic Could Cause Major Food Shortages Across Asia

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 | 2662 Views

In light of the increasing number of nationwide lockdowns and border restrictions today, Food Industry Asia (FIA) and the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA), the regional associations representing Asia and ASEAN’s food and beverage (F&B) industries respectively, are jointly calling upon governments across the region to ensure the unhindered production and supply of food and beverages as each country tries to contain the outbreak of COVID-19.

In Asia, and especially across ASEAN, the rapidly developing countries already face significant food security challenges and current measures in containing COVID-19 that directly and indirectly impact the agri-food supply chain will only place further stress on food value chains.

During a lockdown, if governments across the region put in place policies that hinder production across supply chains as well as trade barriers, this could lead to regional food shortages, especially when looking across the world and seeing the continued but unnecessary panic buying behaviour.

In tandem with its call to protect the unhindered flow of food, FIA and AFBA are also requesting for governments in the region to recognise the continued production and supply of food as an essential product and service. As more countries in the region tighten border access and restrict the movement of non-essential goods, the categorisation of all food and beverages must remain as essential to ensure a continuous food supply. The availability of workers to support production is critical with the necessity of all industry players to reinforce efforts to keep employees safe and healthy.

This is especially critical as the food supply chain is a complex web that involves producers, agricultural inputs, transportation, other logistics, availability of workers and so much more. Constraints in any one area will have significant knock-on effects throughout country and regional supply chains.

While AFBA and FIA recognise the need for governments to take extraordinary and unprecedented measures to protect its population from COVID-19, the issue at hand is the delay and disruption of manufactured food and beverage products, ingredients, raw materials, and packaging for domestic consumption and for exports. Significant delays in manufacturing and distribution will slow down the entire food supply chain and effectively contribute to a shortage of essential goods.

Matt Kovac, Executive Director of FIA, said, “If severe restrictions are imposed by countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will cause a ripple effect on the regional food supply chain.

“We need public and private consultation for any decision around the supply of food because without both parties talking to each other, the impact on a country can be very harmful. Governments must work with the food industry in this time of crisis to categorise food and beverages as essential, understand the implications of disruptions and delays, and try to ensure that production and supply chains are unhindered as much as possible. Health and safety is of paramount importance to all but so is an unhindered supply of food to all citizens.

“FIA is calling for governments to keep their countries’ food production at full capacity where possible and for borders to remain open for food and beverage supply. A failure to do so will have serious negative consequences for the region.”

At the same time, restrictions on the movement of workers to and from food manufacturing facilities is hampering the production of food and beverage products needed to meet consumer demand, which is heightened in the face of this changing environment.

The key role that governments need to play to ensure a stable food supply is ensuring that the manufacturing of food and beverage products, ingredients and other raw materials, as well as distribution by the retail sector, can continue uninterrupted. They also need to ensure that travel restrictions, including border management controls, do not result in the disruption of food supply chains.

In this difficult time, it is highly important that governments assure consumers that they will have access to essential food. This can be achieved by maintaining stable food production, and access to workers, agricultural supply lines, transportation and logistics during this time of crisis.

Reiterating the need for an uninterrupted production and movement of food supply, Mr Abdul Halim Saim, President of AFBA, said, “We are starting to see disruptions in the food supply chain, such as bottlenecks, when transporting food. Each country should review their existing food security policy as more needs to be done. Policy makers should involve the food and beverage sector in the process.”

ASEAN’s food value chain is not only crucial for ensuring food security, but also a major driver of GDP and employment in the region. In terms of GDP, the food value chain contributes around US$500 billion of economic output, which is around 17 per cent of ASEAN’s total GDP. The share of jobs is even higher, accounting for 34 per cent of the total labour force.

“Any restriction of movement, including the workforce, will affect the stability of food production. The situation has now been exacerbated by the global increase in demand for food. Even the slightest measure affecting the free movement of people and goods will strain the global food chain further.” Mr Abdul Halim added.


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