Food Export Bans Increase Across Southeast Asia

Exporting fears, not food . . . 

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced this week that the country would stop exporting approximately 3.6 million chickens every month starting from June 1, stating that “the government’s priority is our own people.” Although Malaysia exported more than 49 million live chickens last year, the export ban seeks to curtail rising prices amid domestic shortages, soaring prices, and logistics disruptions. This decision will disproportionately impact Malaysia’s neighbours, with Singapore importing nearly 34 per cent of its chicken supply from Malaysia.

Short-term shocks, long-term reverberations . . .

Malaysia is not the only country restricting exports over rising food costs. India banned wheat exports after a severe heatwave and is now restricting sugar exports, while Indonesia only recently lifted a ban on palm oil exports. These measures were implemented in response to short-term supply chain pressures exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has stressed supply chains already affected by the pandemic. But some Southeast Asian countries are still struggling to address food production issues that predate the pandemic. For example, climate change and intensive droughts have limited crop productivity in Thailand, while the Philippines experienced rice shortages even before COVID-19.

From food insecurity to food nationalism?

Some experts consider these export restrictions as examples of food nationalism, in which governments use bans or hoard food supplies to “protect their citizens.” The emphasis on self-sufficiency is not unfounded; rising food prices and increased scarcity can spark social unrest. Others believe addressing food insecurity in Southeast Asia requires interconnected solutions. During yesterday’s World Economic Forum meeting, the Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, Lê Minh Khái, proposed the development of a food innovation hub for Southeast Asia. Whether proposed strategies such as sharing digital improvements in agricultural production come to fruition under such an initiative, much will remain at stake for global food supply chains.