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Last Updated:[17-02-2010 06:32:28 EDT] Zoom in Zoom out Back to Tradenews

GCC Becomes the Largest Food Importer

tradenews According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the GCC is the biggest importer of food in the world by buying more than 90 percent of its total needs. The GCC’s very high reliance on external food sources virtually pushes 36mn people of the region at the mercy of global price fluctuations.

The food imports have considerably risen in the last few years in view of the increase in population as well as water scarcity and hostile land conditions. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are already developing arable lands and food processing units in several Asian and African countries in a bid to overcome the snowballing global food shortages.

Harish Rupani, managing director of Equinox Trading, a food products trading company, told the Gulf News that growing food locally was not a viable option for the UAE as it costed three or four times more to grow local crops than it did to import. Dubai, the UAE’s commercial hub is one of the largest re-exporting centres in the world, and it traded in 2008 about $1.2bn worth of food-related items.

In the recent estimates by the Business Monitor International (BMI) indicate that food expenditure in the UAE reached $6.7bn in 2009. And it has been forecasted that it would grow by close to 3 percent in the current year.

The heavy dependence by the GCC on food imports also makes it the most vulnerable to not only price variations but also to increasingly changing food policies of the exporting countries such as blanket ban on exports of certain food commodities which are scarce in those markets.

The Standard Chartered's most recent food report claims food prices are at a historic high and rising, around 80 percent higher than the low mid-2002 levels. Rupani said that prices of sugar and rice had tripled over the past five years.

The BMI is understood to have learned that the UAE government is making numerous efforts to increase the number of food processing plants in the country. The government has invested about $1.4bn into the food sector since 1994, and there are 150 food processing plants operational in the UAE today.

By Jose Roy

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