Food Price Volatility and Domestic Stabilization Policies in Developing Countries

Christophe Gouel

Chapter in NBER book The Economics of Food Price Volatility (2014), Jean-Paul Chavas, David Hummels, and Brian D. Wright, editors (p. 261 - 306)
Conference held August 15-16, 2012
Published in October 2014 by University of Chicago Press
© 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

When food prices spike in countries with large numbers of poor people, hunger and malnutrition are very likely to result in the absence of public intervention. Government actions often take the form of direct interventions in the market to stabilize food prices, which goes against most international advice to rely on safety nets and world trade. Despite the limitations of food price stabilization policies, they are widespread in developing countries. Price stabilization policies arise as a result of international and domestic coordination problems. At the individual country level, it is in the national interest of many countries to adjust trade policies to take advantage of the world market in order to achieve domestic price stability. When countercyclical trade policies become widespread, the result is a thinner and less reliable world market, which further decreases the appeal of laissez-faire. A similar vicious circle operates in the domestic market: without effective policies to protect the poor, food market liberalization lacks credibility and makes private actors reluctant to intervene, which forces government to act. The current policy challenge lies in designing policies that will build trust in world markets and increase trust between public and private agents.

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w18934, Food Price Volatility and Domestic Stabilization Policies in Developing Countries, Christophe Gouel
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Shenggen Fan
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