The importance of good data: Pacific food trade

Over the past century, the basic characterisation of the Pacific food system has transitioned from one of subsistence and abundance to one that relies on imports of staples and highly processed foods. This transition has intensified over the past 20–30 years with drivers including trade liberalisation, population growth, rural-urban migration and changing lifestyles. Consequently, the food system is now vulnerable to the vagaries of international markets and the region has some of the highest rates of non-communicable diseases in the world.

To respond to this dilemma across national, sub-regional and regional levels requires reliable data on food and beverage imports and exports for Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs). However, national food and beverage trade records across most PICTs contain irregularities that prevent any meaningful analysis or policy development. Having reliable food trade data would allow, for example, an understanding of how changing imports of sugars and processed foods contributes to health outcomes, or how COVID-19 has affected food security and the importation of different foods.

Research led by the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong in collaboration with the Pacific Community and the University of Sydney, is working towards addressing this information gap by developing the Pacific Food Trade Database (PFTD).

This research funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, uses source data from BACI (Base pour l’Analyse du Commerce International), an international trade database (found here: http://www.cepii.fr/CEPII/en/cepii/cepii.asp), that improves on United Comtrade data through several modifications, including standardising trade quantities and using both import and export records.

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