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Global food import bill is likely to decline in 2019, but the poorest and most vulnerable countries will not be the prime beneficiaries, according to a new UN report. Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) latest Food Outlook projects worldwide food imports to drop 2.5 percent in 2019 to $1.472 trillion.
Mostly developed countries would enjoy the lower costs, according to the report, while the import bill for sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise. And while lower unit costs of food imports suggest that more food could be purchased for the same amount of money, that gain is cancelled out in almost all the Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries, whose currencies are weakening against the US dollar, the primary unit in international trade transactions.
Coffee, tea, cocoa and spices account for almost half the predicted decline, while the bills for sugar and cereals – despite declining international prices for the latter – would be broadly unchanged. Better news for vulnerable countries is the anticipated lower bills for vegetable oils, which typically are major imported items for them.
Published twice a year, FAO’s Food Outlook assesses market and production trends for an array of foods including cereals, fish, sugar, oil crops, milk and meat. The current edition also has special reports on the global impact of the spread of African Swine Fever and the outlook for banana, avocado and other tropical fruit exports from the Latin American and the Caribbean region.
The new Food Outlook also offers FAO’s first supply and demand forecasts for 2019/20, with detailed assessments of market prospects for wheat, maize, rice, fish, meats, dairy, sugar, and various types of vegetable oils.
It also offers updated information about emerging changes to the map of global food production and trade. Notable highlights are that India and the Russian Federation are consolidating their recent ascent to top status as the world’s largest sugar producer and wheat exporter, respectively, overtaking Brazil and the United States. Also highlighted is Brazil’s rapid emergence as the world’s No. 2 maize exporter, with its global market share rising from less 1 percent only a decade ago to now over 25 percent.
While per capita sugar consumption is growing, it appears to be levelling off in developed nations and is subject to increasing regulatory attention – including taxes targeting sweetened beverages – and a shift in consumer preferences. This raises questions about a sector where international prices are below production costs almost everywhere. Brazil is expected to use almost two-thirds of its sugarcane harvest to produce ethanol, up from 53 percent last year.