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Being vigilant, proactive and greater resilience are needed to address the supply chain obstacles and connectivity exposed by COVID-19, a new report from the APEC Policy Support Unit says.

APEC Policy Partnership on Food Security chair Dato' Haslina Abdul Hamid said: “The pandemic is adding pressure to food security in the region.

“We must pursue coordinated initiatives to keep food trade open, facilitate connectivity, and expedite customs clearance of food products,” Hamid said.

The policy brief, Food Security Response Measures to COVID-19, analyses multifaceted challenges throughout the entire food system, from production to distribution and market access. It identifies the economic issues affecting food security and puts forward policy recommendations to strengthen regional food security.

The report notes that COVID-19 caused major disruptions particularly those that require intensive use of labour, such as meat processing facilities and fruit and vegetable packing plants. Outbreaks among food production workers and the unavailability of temporary migrant workers could impact the economy’s ability to produce food.

APEC Policy Support Unit senior analyst Carlos Kuriyama said: “Member economies need to ensure that reductions in production capacity do not occur in multiple food sectors at the same time, which could potentially cause a breakdown in the overall domestic and international food supply chain.”

The report looked at exports, saying while most major seaports in the region remained open, analysis showed substantial delays in shipping times for sea freight due to reduced container capacity as well as stringent border measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

To tackle distribution bottlenecks, the report recommends that APEC member economies establish clear guidelines at ports of entry concerning the mobility of shipping crews and other transport workers, as well as expediting customs clearance.

Policymakers are also encouraged to accelerate wider applications of digital technology at the border.

“Accelerating the adoption of digital tools will also help address the notable shift in consumer patterns of food products,” the report said. It highlighted the case of small-scale farmers and fishermen in the region who have turned to e-commerce and mobile money for the first time in order to connect with buyers and suppliers.

The report further recommends APEC economies to consider food trade as an essential component of food security and to avoid protectionist measures such as export restrictions and policies which are not based on evidence and scientific risk assessment.

Agriculture and food ministers and senior representatives will meet virtually at the Ministerial Policy Dialogue on Food Security on 27 October.

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