How Could Trade Policy Better Address Food System Shocks?

This report examines how trade policy can help governments anticipate and respond to food system shocks while avoiding harm to producers and consumers in other countries. It also makes the case that major importing and exporting nations have a particular responsibility to help safeguard the stability of global food markets.

By Jonathan Hepburn, Kulthoum Omari-Motsumi, Carin Smaller, Zakaria Zoundi on March 31, 2021
  • Governments must start taking a forward-looking approach to policy making and trade rules, keeping firmly in their sights the question of how trade policy can respond to and anticipate food system shocks.


Shocks to the food system, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can disrupt supply chains, exacerbate unemployment, and reverse progress fighting hunger and poverty. Climate scientists have also warned that shocks associated with more frequent and intense extreme weather events are among factors set to destabilize markets and undermine food security in years ahead. This paper looks at how trade policy can better address food system shocks, and makes 13 recommendations, structured around four key public policy objectives:

  1. Ensuring food access and availability for poor consumers
  2. Safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods in the event of sudden price depressions
  3. Improving how food markets function by allocating resources more equitably and sustainably
  4. Rebuilding trust and confidence in global norms and institutions