By Hallie Gu and Emily Chow
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The global coronavirus pandemic threatens to cause a huge shock to international food trade and trigger a new food crisis, a top agriculture official in China said on Monday.
The comments came as coronavirus outbreaks roiled global agriculture supply chains and upended trade, and after some countries restricted exports of main grains and increased procurement for reserves.
“The fast spreading global epidemic has brought huge uncertainty on international agriculture trade and markets,” said Yu Kangzhen, China’s deputy agriculture minister.
“If the epidemic continues to spread and escalate, the impact on international food trade and production will definitely worsen, and might trigger a new round of food crisis,” Yu said during a video conference on the country’s agriculture outlook.
The pandemic and measures some countries took to secure domestic supplies have inhibited normal trade and supplies, and caused some major price fluctuations, Yu added.
The coronavirus pandemic, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has infected 2.3 million people and killed 159,000 people worldwide.
Strict lockdowns and quarantines to control the coronavirus outbreaks have disrupted China’s supply chains and made it difficult for many industries to find enough workers, delayed poultry and pig production in the world’s top meats market.
Though China has sufficient grains to meet domestic demand, some other import-reliant farm products like soybeans and edible oils may be impacted by the global pandemic, Yu said.
China’s exports of aquaculture, vegetables, and tea will be affected due to the disease, Yu added.
Speaking at the same conference, Agriculture Minister Han Changfu ruled out a food crisis in China, saying it had the confidence and ability to secure supplies of grain and other major agricultural products.
While the pace of domestic virus transmissions has slowed, China is focusing on infections from overseas arrivals as it guards against a major resurgence and monitors the spread in northeastern Heilongjiang province.
“The risk of imported coronavirus is still huge and will put considerable pressure on livestock production,” Yu said.
China is also fighting with the deadly African swine fever, which has slashed its pig herd by at least 40% and is still spreading. The country has reported 13 new cases of African swine fever since March.
“African swine fever risks have significantly increased, as pig production recovery accelerates and more piglets and breeders get transported,” Yu said.
China’s farmers, lured by good profits and a series of government policies, have sped up efforts to rebuild pig herd.
Pests, drought and floods also present harsher threats than usual to output this year, Yu added.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)
(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Emily Chow; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry)