The food crisis: Quotas and secret deals

Rising agricultural prices are eliciting interventionist reactions:

Vietnam’s government announced here on Friday that it would cut rice exports by nearly a quarter this year. The government hoped that keeping more rice inside the country would hold down prices.

The same day, India effectively banned the export of all but the most expensive grades of rice. Egypt announced on Thursday that it would impose a six-month ban on rice exports, starting April 1, and on Wednesday, Cambodia banned all rice exports except by government agencies…

Rice is unusual among major agricultural commodities in that most of the major rice-consuming countries are self-sufficient or nearly so. Only 7 percent of the world’s rice production is traded across international borders each year, according to figures from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome…

Vietnam, Egypt and India all limited rice exports last year, but the limits were much less drastic and were imposed much later in the year, after much more rice had been shipped.

Meanwhile, states secretly move to secure supplies:

Governments are racing to strike secretive barter and bilateral agreements with food-exporting countries to secure scarce supplies as the price of agricultural commodities jump to record highs, diplomats and cereal traders say.

The moves coincide with a significant tightening of the global food market as leading exporters of agricultural commodities ban foreign sales. The government-to-government contracts could bypass those restrictions, diplomats say.