International trade is a huge part of the global food supply chain, but it can be tricky to measure how much of the world’s food is imported and exported and how much is actually grown locally.
Some economists, however, have begun to examine food trade data to better understand how it can help reduce food insecurity.
One example is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which has released data showing how much food is grown and processed in China.
But as food prices continue to rise, there’s little demand for food that doesn’t have to be processed, which makes it hard to gauge how much can be grown locally and what the impact on food prices will be.
What’s more, many food exports are considered low- or middle-income countries and thus unlikely to attract a great deal of foreign investment, which may have a significant impact on global food prices.
The trade statistics show that in the past decade, China has expanded its agricultural sector and exported more than $9 billion worth of agricultural products.
In 2017, China exported $2.9 billion of agricultural goods and consumed about $8 billion of food.
The trade data are not perfect, however.
For example, some countries, such as India and Brazil, are exempt from data collection because they are either exporting less than $1 billion or because they have a large trade surplus.
So the data does not capture the full extent of food exports and imports, said Richard Cogdell, director of the Global Trade Policy Program at the Center for International Policy.
There are also trade barriers in some countries.
For instance, the United States has a trade surplus with Mexico, which accounts for about two-thirds of the trade deficit between the two countries.
However, the trade data should not be used to judge the extent of a country’s food trade.
“It is a useful tool to measure the extent to which a country is exporting food and other agricultural products,” Cogdsaid.
This article is from the August 2017 issue of TIME.