July 3, 2008

Warming Up for G-8 Summit: (4) Food Crisis

G-8 Eager to Tackle Food Crisis at Toyako Summit

Tokyo, July 3 (Jiji Press)--Japan, chair of this year's Group of Eight summit, has added the global food crisis to the meeting's agenda, hoping that the G-8 countries will send what Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda calls "a strong message" to the world on ways to tackle the problem.

This will not be an easy task to accomplish, however, as indicated by the recent failure of a U.N.-sponsored food summit in Rome due to disagreements about such issues as the handling of biofuels.

Complicated Background

Over the past year, grain prices have soared 1.5 to three times and there have been riots in more than 10 countries, including Haiti and Senegal, over the lack of food.

U.N. World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran has dubbed the problem of high food prices a "silent tsunami" threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger.

Behind the problem are various factors, including bad harvests resulting from global warming-caused droughts and floods, ballooning food demand in emerging economies such as China and India, a surge in biofuel production, and large inflows of speculative money to food markets as a result of confusion in U.S. financial markets.

Because these factors reflect various aspects of the global economy, working out measures to address them is a challenging task.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged the leaders gathered in Rome in early June to remove barriers to food exports for humanitarian purposes and to build a more profound international agreement on the handling of biofuels.

But countries like Argentina that implement export regulations as well as big biofuel exporters such as Brazil and the United States remained preoccupied with their own issues.

Although the participating countries pledged in a declaration issued on the final day of the summit to take "urgent and coordinated action" to combat the negative impacts of soaring food prices, with regard to biofuels, they did not go beyond affirming the need to conduct "in-depth studies" and foster "a coherent, effective and results-oriented international dialogue."

The declaration was soft on the removal of barriers to food exports, simply reaffirming "the need to minimize the use of restrictive measures that could increase volatility of international prices."

In a speech at the Rome summit, the High-Level Conference on World Food Security, Fukuda announced Japan's plans to extend 50 million dollars to support food output growth and to release 300,000 tons or more of its imported rice stocks to help ease soaring global food prices, on top of already announced emergency aid worth 100 million dollars.

Fukuda then urged each nation to refrain from implementing food export regulations and promote research and use of biofuels made of nonfood crops.

Narrowing Down Focus

Unlike the Rome summit, where debates among the leaders of some 150 countries became bogged down, the upcoming G-8 summit, to be held July 7-9 in Japan's northern resort town of Toyako, Hokkaido, will see the food problem discussed by only eight nations with the focus on a few important points.

According to a Japanese Foreign Ministry official, there is no disagreement within the G-8 group about the need to prepare for the negative effects of the food problem, not only on poverty in developing countries but also on the global economy. The eight countries are also in accord about the need to implement both short- term and long-term measures to tackle the food crisis, the official said.

Specifically, G-8 leaders will discuss details of steps cited by the Rome summit, such as stepping up financial aid to developing countries, supplying poor farmers with seeds and fertilizer to support them on a short-term basis and strengthening investment in agriculture technologies.

Like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has proposed a global partnership on food and agriculture, each G-8 leader is expected to take the initiative in the discussion about the food problem at the upcoming summit.

As there is a possibility that the United States will reiterate its arguments on biofuels it made at the food summit in Rome, however, it remains uncertain whether the G-8 leaders will be able to send a message that differs significantly from the Rome declaration, a Japanese diplomatic source said.

On the issue of export regulations, the focus will be on Russia, which removed its grain export duties from July.

"To tackle globalized problems such as the food crisis, a new institutional design needs to be built," said Jitsuro Terashima, chairman of the Japan Research Institute.

With the G-8 countries facing the challenge of building a bulwark against the "silent tsunami," Japan, as chair of the upcoming summit, bears a heavy responsibility for forging an agreement.END

(c) 2008 Jiji Press English News Service. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.