G8 takes first step against food price speculation

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CISON DI VALMARINO, Italy: The Group of Eight rich nations took a first step Monday towards combatting price speculation that has helped pushed up the cost of basic foods, sparking riots in poor countries.

The G8 agriculture ministers called for a study into setting up a global system to stockpile essential foodstuffs, following three days of talks in northeastern Italy joined by key developing countries.

“We call upon the relevant international institutions to examine whether a system of stockholding could be effective in dealing with humanitarian emergencies or as a means to limit price volatility,” the ministers said in a final declaration.

Host Italy led calls for action to tackle commercial price-fixing, and both Rome and Paris advocated the global stockpiling of essential foodstuffs at the talks, which were joined by the G5 agriculture ministers of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.

French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said Sunday that an international system to manage food reserves would “fight against speculators preying on primary foodstuffs, which is scandalous.”

He said the world needed the sort of supply management systems that operate across the European Union, adding: “There are no excuses for not reacting a billion people are suffering from hunger.”

Skyrocketing prices for basic foodstuffs last year triggered riots in some poorer nations around the world, putting cartels that seek to drive up the price of crops such as rice in the firing line. Ministers from Argentina, Australia and Egypt also attended the talks, as well as officials from bodies including the African Union, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank.

The G8 ministers also lamented that the world is “very far” from attaining the UN goal on malnutrition. “The 2000 Millennium Declaration aimed to halve the proportion of the world population facing poverty and undernourishment by the year 2015; the world is very far from reaching this gal, according to the alarming data provided by the relevant international bodies,” they said.

Food prices “are still above previous lows in many countries,” the ministers said. “Structural factors may affect prices over the medium term, and increased volatility and demand raise important questions about food security for the future,” they said.

While recession has cooled soaring prices, officials say it offers only a temporary respite, while activists complain that only a fraction of the 22 billion dollars (17 billion euros) in aid announced at a UN food agency summit in Rome last June has been disbursed.

The ministers also repeated calls for more investment in agriculture. “We believe that more should be done to increase the quantity and enhance the quality of agricultural production,” the statement said, calling for increased “public and private investment in sustainable agriculture.” On the issue of biofuels, the statement said: “Renewable energy production must be increased in a sustainable manner (such that it) does not compromise food security.”

Courtesy: The News


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