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A customer shops at a grocery store in Beirut, Lebanon, on Dec. 7, 2020.

MOHAMED AZAKIR/Reuters

World food prices rose for a seventh consecutive month in December, with all the major categories, barring sugar, posting gains last month, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar, averaged 107.5 points last month compared with 105.2 in November.

The November figure was previously given as 105.0.

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For the whole of 2020, the benchmark index averaged 97.9 points, a three-year high and a 3.1-per-cent increase from 2019. It was still down more than 25 per cent from its historical peak in 2011.

Vegetable oil prices continued recent strong gains, jumping 4.7 per cent month-on-month in December after surging more than 14.0 per cent in November. For the whole of 2020, the index was up 19.1 per cent on 2019.

FAO said supply tightness in major palm oil producing countries had pushed prices up, while trade was also impacted by a sharp hike in export duties in Indonesia. Prices for soy oil rose partly because of prolonged strikes in Argentina.

The cereal price index posted a more modest 1.1-per-cent rise in December from the month before. For all of 2020 the index averaged 6.6 per cent above 2019 levels.

Export prices for wheat, maize, sorghum and rice all rose in December, moving higher in part due to concerns over growing conditions and crop prospects in North and South America as well as Russia, the Rome-based FAO said.

The dairy index climbed 3.2 per cent on the month, however, over the whole of 2020, it averaged some 1.0 per cent less than in 2019.

In December, all components of the index rose because of strong global import demand triggered by concerns over drier and warmer conditions on Oceania’s milk production as well as high internal demand in Western Europe.

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The meat index pushed up 1.7 per cent last month, while its full-year average was 4.5 per cent below that of 2019. FAO said poultry quotations rebounded in December, partly owing to the impact of avian influenza outbreaks in Europe. However, pig meat prices fell slightly, hit by the suspension of German exports to Asian markets after African Swine Fever outbreaks.

Bucking the rises in other indices, average sugar prices dipped by 0.6 per cent in December. For 2020 as a whole, the subindex posted a most 1.1-per-cent gain on 2019 levels. FAO said the relative firmness of latest data reflected a surge in imports by China and increased demand for refined sugar from Indonesia.

FAO did not issue an updated forecast for worldwide cereal harvests in January. Its next estimate is due in February.

Last month, FAO revised down its forecast for the 2020 cereal season for a third month running, cutting it to 2.742 billion tonnes from a previous 2.75 billion tonnes.

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