Global Trade Sputters, Leaving Too Much Here, Too Little There

Most food producers have been designated as “essential” businesses, and continue to operate even through the pandemic. But some have lowered their output to comply with social distancing measures. And some farms and companies are also seeing shortages of truck drivers and migrant laborers, who typically plant and harvest fruits and vegetables.

Mr. Gold of the National Retail Federation, which includes Walmart, Target and other major food retailers, said it was too early to say whether consumers could see shortages of some food items in the coming months. But he said that states needed to coordinate to ensure that all links in the food supply chain remained open and continued to function.

“It’s not just the manufacturing facility, it’s the farm, the trucking facilities, the distribution facility,” Mr. Gold said.

Around the world, other lockdowns could portend shortages in metals and medicines. In South Africa, a lockdown has idled the world’s biggest mines for platinum and palladium. In India, which provides 40 percent of the American generic drug supply, as well as many of the active pharmaceutical ingredients that go into making medicines, health experts warn that stay-at-home orders could disrupt the supply of pharmaceutical products to the United States.

India barred exports of a few key drugs last month, but reversed the curbs this week under intense pressure from the United States. A nationwide lockdown could still complicate the process of making and distributing essential drugs, said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

By Friday, 75 governments had already put limits on exports of medical supplies, according to tracking by Simon Evenett, a professor of international trade at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Those governments include the United States, which officially imposed its own ban on exports of respirators, gloves and surgical masks this week, joining the European Union, India, China and Turkey. These items now cannot leave the United States without the approval of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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