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Trade Risk and Food Security

We study the role of international trade risk for food security, the patterns of production and trade across sectors, and its implications for policy. We document that food import dependence across countries is associated with higher food insecurity, particularly in low-income countries. We provide causal evidence on the role of trade risk for food security by exploiting the exogeneity of the Ukraine-Russia war as a major trade disruption limiting access to imports of critical food products. Using micro-level data from Ethiopia, we empirically show that districts relatively more exposed to food imports from the conflict countries experienced a significant increase in food insecurity by consuming fewer varieties of foods. Motivated by this evidence, we develop a multi-country multi-sector model of trade and structural change with stochastic trade costs to study the impact and policy implications of trade risk. In the model, importers operate subject to limited liability and trade off the production cost advantage against the risk of higher trade costs when sourcing goods internationally. We find that trade risk can threaten food security, with substantial quantitative effects on trade flows and the sectoral composition of economic activity. We study the desirability of trade policy and production subsidies in partially mitigating exposure to trade risk and diversifying domestic economic activity.

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