Rethinking the global food crisis: The role of trade shocks
Although fundamental factors were clearly responsible for shifting the world to a higher food price equilibrium in the years leading up the 2008 food crisis, there is little doubt that when food prices peaked in June of 2008, they soared well above the new equilibrium price. Numerous arguments have been proposed to explain overshooting, including financial speculation, depreciation of the United States (US) dollar, low interest rates, and reductions in grain stocks. However, observations that international rice prices surged in response to export restrictions by India and Vietnam suggested that trade-related factors could be an important basis for overshooting, especially given the very tangible link between export volumes and export prices. In this paper, we revisit the trade story by closely examining monthly data from Thailand (the largest exporter of rice), and the United States (the largest exporter of wheat and maize and the third largest exporter of soybeans). In all cases except soybeans, we find that large surges in export volumes preceded the price surges. The presence of these large demand surges, together with back-of-the-envelope estimates of their price impacts, suggests that trade events played a much larger and more pervasive role than previously thought.
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