G20 agrees on ways to tackle global food prices, but critics say not enough

Updated On: Jun 24, 2011

Agriculture ministers from the G20 group of nations have agreed a series of measures they hope will reduce food price volatility and boost supplies.

Following a two-day meeting in Paris, agriculture ministers from the world's largest economies agreed to adopt a new collective rapid response system to help calm any spikes in prices. There will be a transparent system to monitor food output around the world and track global supplies.

G20 countries will also set up emergency food reserves, engage in more research into new wheat strains and create emergency mechanisms to deal with drought in producer countries. Humanitarian aid has been excluded from export restrictions, and the implementation of humanitarian food aid stocks will be explored.

Report: G20 Farm Ministers Take Steps to Control Food Prices [Voice of America, 23 June 2011]

Many of these plans will go into effect immediately.

But there was no final agreement on new rules to tackle food price speculation. The issue will be looked into, but any moves to target speculators in food commodity markets will only be approved by G20 finance ministers at a later date. France has led the call for tough action on speculation, which it blames for artificially raising food prices worldwide. But the United Kingdom and other countries think the focus should be on better aligning supply and demand rather than market regulation.

Report: G20 agrees measures to tackle high global food prices [BBC News, 23 June 2011]

The accord is being hailed as a rare case of international consensus in the area of food and agriculture, where countries usually disagree because of divergent interests.

However, the G20 agreement has been slammed by non-government organisations. Critics say the accord is too timid. For example, it does not address the controversial issue of biofuels, which take up land that could be used to grow food.

"Fixing the global food system and ending the food price crisis requires major surgery, yet the G-20 produced little more than a sticking plaster," said Jean-Cyril Dagorn, a policy advisor for international charity Oxfam.

Report and Analysis: G20 agriculture ministers dodge the big questions on food prices[Guardian, 23 June 2011]

Global food prices have hit all-time highs over the past year, and many fear another food crisis like in 2008. Bad weather and natural disasters have cut supplies of many staple crops.

Demand from a growing and increasingly affluent world population, as well as high energy costs and slowing global productivity gains, are also expected to keep prices relatively high for years to come. A recent United Nations study predicted that prices will be 20 percent higher for cereals and up to 30 percent higher for meat in the coming decade, compared to the past ten years.

The World Bank says that since June last year, rising and volatile food prices have led to an estimated 44 million more people living in poverty. It estimates that there are close to one billion hungry people worldwide.

Report: G-20 announces measures to stabilize food prices [Associated Press, 23 June 2011]

A Singapore delegation attended the meeting at the invitation of France, acting as a representative for non-G20 states. The delegation was lead by Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.

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