G20 Finance Ministers Kick Off Meeting In Paris After Groups Call For Food Price Issues To Be Addressed

“G20 [finance] ministers gather in Paris Friday to hammer out common criteria for measuring global economic imbalances at a two-day session that host France hopes will lead to an overhaul of world finance,” Agence France-Presse reports (2/18).

Ahead of the meeting, some groups urged the G20 to address food price inflation, the BBC reports. John Lipsky, first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said, “There is great concern over the obvious high volatility of basic commodity prices especially food.” In addition, more than 100 international organizations “led by the World Development Movement (WDM) have signed a statement warning the G20 of what they see as the dangers of unchecked speculation. Julian Oram of the WDM said: ‘By taking action now to curb excessive speculation on food, G20 leaders could save lives, reduce chronic hunger and prevent civil and political unrest'” (2/18).

Meanwhile in a speech to a closed U.N. General Assembly session on Thursday, Bruno Le Maire, France’s agriculture minister, criticized “speculation on world hunger” and said the world could see food riots like those that occurred in 2008, Deutsche Welle reports.

“We are all very worried about the risks posed by the world food crisis, all very worried by the growing volatility of world agriculture prices,” Le Marie said. “If we don’t find concrete, rapid and efficient solutions, we will see new food riots,” he added (2/18). “Le Maire was laying out to the General Assembly France’s agenda for the Group of 20 top developed and developing economies, of which it currently holds the chair. Taming volatile commodity prices is one of the goals of French President Nicolas Sarkozy,” Reuters reports. “The price rises have been blamed on extreme weather, rising populations and loss of farming land, but Le Maire said they had been worsened by speculation, poor information on commodity stocks and sudden decisions by countries to halt exports,” the news service adds (Worsnip, 2/18).

On Tuesday, members of the Africa Progress Panel (APP) asked Sarkozy “to put Africa’s development at the heart of his G20 presidency,” PANA/Afrique en ligne reports. During a meeting with Sarkozy and other French ministers, the APP focused on four priorities: development of transportation, energy and communication infrastructure; improvement of food security; changes for the global economic system; and incentives to promote good governance, accountability and transparency.

“Led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the panel told President Sarkozy that lack of reliable infrastructure is a major barrier not only to development but also to regional integration, trade, and economic diversification,” the news service reports. “The G20 countries must develop coherent and coordinated policies to increase productivity and mitigate the risks from price volatility without distorting markets,” the APP said at the meeting (2/16). An APP press release lists the members of the panel (2/14).

“Indonesia will ask the Group of 20 economies to pressure financial market players to not speculate on food prices, after rising costs for staples such as rice drove inflation in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy to a 21-month high last month,” Reuters reports. “Indonesia wants the G20 forum to be able to put pressure so there will be no speculators – the financial and non financial industry who speculate on food commodities,” Agus Martowardojo, Indonesia’s finance minister, said earlier this week (Rahadiana, 2/16).

News Outlets Examine Impact Of Rising Food Prices In Africa, Arab World

NPR’s Morning Edition looks at the role food prices have played in the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. “Many governments in the Arab world subsidize the purchase of food already, but not nearly enough to counteract higher prices. If those governments now increase those food subsidies again in response to the rising discontent, they will be hard pressed to improve delivery of other public services. The policy challenge is complicated, but the basic economic problem is simple: The supply of food is not enough to meet the demand,” NPR reports. The story includes comments from: Abdolreza Abbassian, the chief food and grain economist for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization; Bruce Babcock, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University; Joseph Glauber, chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and World Bank President Robert Zoellick (Gjelten, 2/18).

The Christian Science Monitor examines how recent food price spikes could affect Africa. “Here in Africa, where many people spend as much as 60 to 80 percent of their income on food, higher food prices don’t mean cutting costs. They mean spending the same amount for less food. In a word: hunger. But that’s the short term,” the publication writes.

“In the longer term, a sustained global trend of rising food prices – caused in part by growing demand from China and in part by crop failures in Russia, Pakistan, Australia, and Sri Lanka – may have generated more investment in the poor but agriculturally rich nations of Africa, spurring on better food production and better food security for both Africa and the West.” The article looks at the implications of increased investment in African agriculture and writes about some of the short-term challenges (Baldauf, 2/16).

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