Đây là nguyên bản của bài viết mới đây của tôi trên Vietnam Financial Review. Ý tưởng dựa theo một số bài viết của VoxEU, ADB, và FAO.
The Pork Peril
The swine influenza outbreak in Mexico is not a good sign for any one. Since the first fatality on April 13, it has claimed more than a hundred lives after just two weeks, and the death toll does not seem to slow down. In a world with a raging financial and economic crisis that has just foreshadowed a lingering food crisis, a health crisis may have the worst ever impacts.
All the financial and economic news have driven the food crisis out of media coverage. While we are no longer at the peak of food prices as back in 2008, the food market is yet to return to normalcy. Recent reports from FAO and the ADB warn that Asia, and thus the whole world, are still not too far from food shortage. Cereal price still remains at a level comparable to the later part of 2007, which is 50% above the decreasing trend of food prices during more than a decade before the recent price surge.
The subsistence need of the poor means that demand for staple in developing countries would not drop much, even when the economy is heavily hit by the current crisis. In fact, the drop in income can shift consumption from other categories to food, thereby increase food consumption in a hard time, a counterintuitive phenomenon that has happened many times in history.
In light of the food shortage concern, the Mexican influenza is potentially fatal, not only because it is a direct health threat, but also because it menaces to bring the world back to a food shortage chaos that no country could deal with in this economic downturn.
If the novel virus continues to spread, food protectionism would quickly take over the current food trade system. Such policy is well justified by health concerns, as restriction of food and human mobility has been proven the best way to prevent the spread of an epidemic before a vaccine is discovered. But it would also plunge the world back to a state of imbalanced food markets. Food prices would increase substantially, especially in poor, traditionally food-importing countries.
Sizeable developing countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam would face a double disastrous crisis: a contraction of consumption good demand due to the dip in exports, and a contraction of basic food supply. Here, two minuses do not make a plus, as the combined crisis means a drastic blow to the urban poor, the factory workers who suffer from revenue loss and less affordable food. Worse, they would be in contrast with some of their compatriots who could make trade profits out of food price spreads. Deprived of all means, the destitute urbanites would become politically explosive and rebellious. The crisis will escalate.
Even when the swine flu does not become pandemic, the fear of flu itself may already trigger those dire consequences. The dreadful images of the Mexican situation have already prompted many countries to shut their doors on pork imports, reinstitute strict controls on tourists, and prepare to launch radical quarantine campaigns should the malign virus travels to their territory.
It is important to realize the magnitude of this imminent risk, so that appropriate measures could be implemented in time, not only to prevent the spread of the disease but also to assuage the side effects of such prevention. Countries should coordinate on policies facilitating trade and food production in times of need. This is also another reason to include strong temporary subsidy for agricultural products in stimulus packages.Farmers in Vietnam have had bitter experiences how a chicken disease resulted in human, social and economic tragedies. Let us hope the pig has a brighter destiny.