While the WTO permits countries to restrict exports of agricultural products in certain circumstances, history is replete with examples of price swings being exacerbated by the imposition of export restraints on food. As reviewed in a recent post, Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused already high food prices to spike to all time highs in products like wheat where Ukraine and Russia are major exporters. April 19, 2022: Recent estimates of global effects from Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/19/recentestimates-of-global-effects-from-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/; March 30, 2022: Food security challenges posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/30/food-security-challenges-posed-by-the-russian-invasion-ofukraine/.
While many WTO Members are urging the WTO membership to avoid imposition of export restraints at the present time to reduce food insecurity, a number of countries have shut down exports to protect their domestic consumers. India, which is the world’s second largest producer of wheat and had been looked to to help reduce the challenges in Africa and Asia from Ukraine’s inability to get grain harvested or exported, has faced very high temperatures this spring. In the last days, it has reversed its position of increasing exports to help countries in need to the position of shutting off exports immediately with the exception of volumes under contract and with a possible willingness to work with countries with food security issues. See Reuters, India bans wheat exports as heat wave hurts crop, domestic prices soar, May 15, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/india-prohibits-wheat-exports-with-immediate-effect-2022-05-14/ (“India banned wheat exports on Saturday days after saying it was targeting record shipments this year, as a scorching heat wave curtailed output and domestic prices hit a record high. The government said it would still allow exports backed by already issued letters of credit and to countries that request supplies ‘to meet their food security needs’.”); Washington Post, India bans wheat exports amid soaring global prices, May 14, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/05/14/india-wheat-banukraine/ (“In a Commerce Ministry order, Indian officials said they made the decision after considering India’s own needs and those of neighboring countries. India’s food security was ‘at risk’ because of surging international prices, the ministry said. The announcement was an abrupt reversal weeks after Indian officials and international analysts talked up the possibility of India’s significantly ratcheting up exports to fill the gap created partly by the war in Ukraine. International food prices have soared to record highs in recent months, putting pressure on billions of people, particularly the world’s poorest, officials at the United Nations have warned.”); ABC News, India open to exporting wheat to needy nations despite ban, May
15, 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/india-open-exporting-wheat-needy-nations-ban84728532 (“India on Sunday said it would keep a window open to export wheat to food-deficit countries at the government level despite restrictions announced two days earlier. India’s Commerce Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam told reporters the government will also allow private companies to meet previous commitments to export nearly 4.3 million tons of wheat until July. India exported 1 million tons of wheat in April.”); The Times of India, Explained: Why India has banned wheat exports despite big trade plans, May 14, 2022, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/explained-why-did-india-ban-wheat-exportsdespite-big-trade-plans/articleshow/91565703.cms; Hindustan Times, G7 criticises India decision to stop wheat exports: Germany, May 14, 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/g7-criticises-india-decision-to-stop-wheat-exports-germany101652533657311.html (“‘If everyone starts to impose export restrictions or to close markets, that would worsen the crisis,’ German agriculture minister Cem Ozdemir said at a press conference in Stuttgart.”).
Press accounts indicate that China’s wheat production for this year is uncertain because of weather considerations as well. See New York Times, War and Weather Sent Food Prices Soaring. Now, China’s Harvest Is Uncertain, May 12, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/11/business/china-wheat-food-pricesinflation.html (“Ukraine’s wheat exports have been mostly halted since Russia’s invasion, while drought has damaged crops in India and the United States. China’s upcoming harvest is another concern.”).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture develops periodic forecasts for production and consumption of major agricultural crops. USDA released its latest global forecast for various crops for 2022-2023 including wheat on May 12, 2022. See USDA, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, May 12, 2022, https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/wasde/wasde0522.pdf. The description of wheat supply and demand is copied below.
“WHEAT: The outlook for 2022/23 U.S. wheat is for reduced supplies, exports, domestic use stocks, and higher prices. U.S. 2022/23 wheat supplies are projected down 3 percent, as lower beginning stocks more than offset a larger harvest. All wheat production for 2022/23 is projected at 1,729 million bushels, up 83 million from last year, as higher yields more than offset a slight decrease in harvested area. The all wheat yield, projected at 46.6 bushels per acre, is up 2.3 bushels from last year. The first survey-based forecast for 2022/23 winter wheat production is down 8 percent from last year as lower Hard Red Winter and Soft Red Winter production more than offset an increase in White Wheat production. Abandonment for Winter Wheat is the highest since 2002 with the highest levels in Texas and Oklahoma. Spring Wheat production for 2022/23 is projected to rebound significantly from last year’s drought-reduced Hard Red Spring and Durum crops primarily on return-to-trend yields.
“Total 2022/23 domestic use is projected down 1 percent on lower feed and residual use more than offsetting higher food use. Exports are projected at 775 million bushels, down from revised 2021/22 exports and would be the lowest since 1971/72. Projected 2022/23 ending stocks are 6 percent lower than last year at 619 million bushels, the lowest level in nine years. The projected 2022/23 season-average farm price (SAFP) is a record $10.75 per bushel, up $3.05 from last year’s revised SAFP. Wheat cash and futures prices are expected to remain sharply elevated through the first part of the marketing year when the largest proportion of U.S. wheat is marketed.
“The global wheat outlook for 2022/23 is for lower supplies and consumption, increased trade, and lower ending stocks. Global production is forecast at 774.8 million tons, 4.5 million lower than in 2021/22. Reduced production in Ukraine, Australia, and Morocco is only partly offset by increases in Canada, Russia, and the United States. Production in Ukraine is forecast at 21.5 million tons in 2022/23, 11.5 million lower than 2021/22 due to the ongoing war. Canada’s production is forecast to rebound to 33.0 million tons in 2022/23, up significantly from last year’s drought-affected crop.
“Projected 2022/23 world use is slightly lower at 787.5 million tons, as increases for food use are more than offset by declining feed and residual use. The largest feed and residual use reductions are in China, the European Union, and Australia as well as a sizeable decline in food use in India. Projected 2022/23 global trade is a record 204.9 million tons, up 5.0 million from last year. Imports are projected to rise on increased exportable supplies from Russia and Canada more than offsetting reductions for Ukraine and Australia. Russia is projected as the leading 2022/23 wheat exporter at 39.0 million tons, followed by the European Union, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Ukraine’s 2022/23 export forecast is 10.0 million tons, down sharply from last year on reduced production and significant logistical constraints for exports. India is expected to remain a significant wheat exporter in 2022/23. Projected 2022/23 world ending stocks are reduced 5 percent to 267.0 million tons and would be the lowest level in six years. The largest change is for India, where stocks are forecast to decline to 16.4 million tons, a five-year low.”
With likely reduced availability of product globally and with reduced stocks of wheat on hand, the G7, led by the EU and US, are working to find ways to help Ukraine move its wheat production to export despite Russia’s closure of the Black Sea. Such efforts if successful will reduce the global damage done on food security on products like wheat. As reviewed in my last post,
“The EU is working to facilitate movement of Ukrainian agricultural products by land through EU member states. But the main challenges are the blockage of Black Sea ports by Russia and the reported theft of agricultural products and equipment from Ukrainian farms and depots. See, e.g., CNN, Russians steal vast amounts of Ukrainian grain and equipment, threatening this year’s harvest, May 5, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/05/europe/russia-ukraine-grain-theft-cmd-intl/index.html; Voice of America, Russian Blockade of Ukrainian Sea Ports Sends Food Prices Soaring, May 7, 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/russian-blockade-of-ukrainian-sea-ports-sends-food-pricessoaring/6561914.html; Politico, EU plans to help Ukraine’s food exports dodge Black Sea blockade, EU farm chief warns Russia wants to portray itself as feeding the poor, while it destroys Ukraine’s farmland. May 10, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-plans-to-boost-ukraines-food-exports-black-sea-blockade/.”
May 11, 2022: Less than five weeks to the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference — what are likely deliverables?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/05/11/less-than-five-weeks-to-the-wtos-12th-ministerialconference-what-are-likely-deliverables/.
Hopefully, India will in fact work to facilitate exports to many of the nations dependent on wheat from Ukraine in the coming months to help reduce the food insecurity flowing from Russia’s war in Ukraine. But the announcement on Friday of banning exports is a concerning signal and will likely lead to even higher prices for wheat in the coming weeks and months.
Terence Stewart, former Managing Partner, Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart, and author of the blog, Current Thoughts on Trade.
To read the full commentary from Current Thoughts on Trade, please click here.