In a speech last week, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the pandemic and war had revealed that US supply chains, while efficient, were neither secure nor resilient. While warning of a “full protectionist trend,” she said the United States should work to reorient its trade relations toward a wide range of “trusted partners,” even if that means somewhat higher costs for businesses and consumers.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization, said in a speech on Wednesday that the war “justifiably” added questions about economic interdependence. But she urged countries not to draw wrong conclusions about the global trade system, saying it has helped drive global growth and provided countries with important goods even during the pandemic.
“While it is true that global supply chains can be vulnerable to disruptions, trade is also a source of resilience,” she said.
The World Trade Organization has argued against export bans since the early days of the pandemic, when countries including the United States began imposing and gradually removing export restrictions on masks and medical goods.
Now, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked a similar wave of bans focused on food. “It’s like deja vu again,” Mr. Evenet said.
Protectionist measures move from country to country in a way that is particularly evident when it comes to wheat. Russia and Ukraine export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, Feeding billions of people In the form of bread, pasta and canned foods.
Evenet said the current wave of trade barriers to wheat had begun with the two war heroes, Russia and Belarus, clamping down on exports. Then countries along a major Ukrainian wheat trade route, including Moldova, Serbia and Hungary, began to restrict their wheat exports. Finally, major importers with food security concerns, such as Lebanon, Algeria and Egypt, put their own bans into effect.
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