News / Economy

Food Prices Top G-20 Farm Ministers Meeting Agenda

High food prices have pushed an estimated 44 million more people into poverty in the past year, according to the World Bank. France says taming food price volatility is one of its major goals as current head of the Group of 20 leading and emerging economies. For the first time, G-20 agriculture ministers will meet in Paris from June 22-23.

The reasons and remedies for today’s volatile food prices are complex, says French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire, and finding consensus among the G20 members has been a challenge. "I think at the beginning of the negotiation I was quite pessimistic," he said.

For example, there are contentious debates over the role of price speculation in the commodity markets. Investors have poured billions of dollars into these markets in just the past few years. Critics say that is fueling sharp spikes in prices. Le Maire says that while the investors profit, the developing world feels the pain. "Nobody can accept to have speculation on the poorest countries in the world, on the poorest people in the world," Le Maire added.

France is leading calls for more regulations on commodity trading.

But many economists are not convinced that would help. They say the evidence does not prove the case that the flood of new investment money is really behind the price spikes.

Le Maire says this has been one of the most difficult areas of discussion. But he is hopeful the agriculture ministers can find common ground. “After 10 months of negotiation, I really think that a consensus among G-20 members is not out of reach,” he said.

Le Maire says he would also like to see G-20 members reach a consensus to oppose export bans in response to crises. Russia suspended its wheat exports last summer after a serious drought cut its harvest by a third. Although the move was intended to protect Russia’s own food supplies, it was widely condemned for contributing to this year’s run-up in wheat prices.

Shenggen Fan, head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says he does not expect the G-20 to pledge to keep markets open.  “I think probably we will not reach certain agreement. But maybe some language will be there. Countries should be discouraged to use export bans to safeguard their own domestic food security. By doing that they will starve their neighbors,” Fan said.

Fan says there may be an agreement to exempt humanitarian food supplies from a ban, but not much more.

One of the biggest and most controversial issues in the food security debate that will likely not be addressed is the role of biofuels. National policies in the United States, Europe and Brazil support the use of food crops to produce fuel. Fan is one of many critics. “We know that biofuel has been a major cause of [the] last two rounds of food price increases. So, we do need to take urgent actions to prevent further expansion of biofuel production,” Fan said.

But these industries have strong domestic political support, and France did not include biofuels on the agenda for the Paris meeting.

On the positive side, analysts say the G-20 ministers might agree to set up an emergency grain reserve that can provide food supplies in humanitarian crises.

And there may be another financial commitment to help developing-world farmers become more productive. G8 leaders pledged $22 billion for this purpose in L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009.

But experts estimate that only about a quarter of that money has been delivered so far, and budgets are extremely tight in many G-20 countries. Charlotte Hebebrand of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council says wealthy countries should break the habit of over-promising and under-delivering.

“I think countries are going to lose credibility when these ambitious pledges are announced to great fanfare and then they are not implemented,” Hebebrand said.

On some levels, experts say what is most significant about the G-20 agriculture ministers meeting is that it is happening at all. Agriculture has been a neglected issue for years, which is part of the reason for the current crisis. The next challenge for the farm ministers, they say, is to convince their bosses to keep food security high on the agenda.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7305
JPY
USD
101.53
GBP
USD
0.5830
CAD
USD
1.0656
INR
USD
60.075

Rates may not be current.