Export bans abroad threaten to push sky-high food prices even higher

Source: The Hill | May 20, 2022 | Tobias Burns

Soaring food prices both in the U.S. and abroad have prompted countries to ban exports of core agricultural commodities, pushing up domestic food prices and leading agronomists to wonder what additional crops could face supply constraints on their way to grocery stores.

Food inflation in the U.S. is already at a 40-year high, with the annual index for consumer food prices up 9.4 percent in April — the largest 12-month increase since 1981 — according to the Department of Labor.  

Meat, poultry, fish and egg prices increased by more than 14 percent over the last year, the biggest jump since 1979.

India’s partial ban on wheat exports announced over the weekend increased the winter wheat crop prices by more than 8 percent before leveling off slightly on Wednesday. The decision compounded a crunch on the commodity set off by the war in Ukraine, often referred to as the breadbasket of Europe.

“There was some general thinking that India was going to be able to fill a lot of that supply gap that Ukraine historically filled, but it’s less likely to fill it this year,” Mark Jekanowski, a research economist with the Agriculture Department and chairman of its World Agricultural Outlook Board, said in an interview.

“The news that India banned their exports — that drove prices even higher and suggests global supplies are tightening even more,” he said. 

Ukrainian officials have been calling attention to the country’s ample food stocks that have been rendered inaccessible by the Russian military invasion, now in its 12th week.

“If you see increasing prices and shortages of flour and grain in your country, the reason is because Russia attacked Ukraine. We have a lot of agricultural products, the entire crop from 2021, in our warehouses ready to be shipped around the world,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said last week.

“The only reason why we are not doing it is because Russia continues blocking our ports and not allowing exports,” he said.

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