Southeast Asian leaders committed to keep the flow of agricultural products unimpeded and refrain from using “unjustified” trade barriers as the region grapples with the impact of the El Nino dry spell.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations also agreed to boost a mechanism for the quick release of emergency rice reserves, according to a declaration dated September 5. The 10-member bloc is also working on joint statements with Australia, Canada and India to strengthen food security and nutrition in response to crises.
The pronouncement should help ease pressure on governments as they look to shore up supplies of rice, a critical part of the diet of billions of people from Asia to Africa. Asean counts producers like Vietnam and Thailand among its ranks.
Hotter and drier weather has hit stockpiles of the staple, while India, the world’s top shipper, has imposed export restrictions on each variety of the grain, tightening world supply further. Southeast Asian nations have resorted to subsidies and price caps to manage the limited supplies of rice as soaring costs fan inflation.
Companies are likewise exploring ways to share expertise to mitigate the impact of El Nino on crops, or even co-invest in projects aimed at food security, according to ASEAN Business Advisory Council chair Arsjad Rasjid.
“Do not just think for the country. Do not just think for large corporations, with all these food estates. Make sure you do not leave anybody behind,” Rasjid said.