World powers eye emergency food meeting; action doubted

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
By Paul Martin

By Gus Trompiz and Nigel Hunt
Mon Aug 13, 2012

Leading members of the Group of 20 nations are prepared to trigger an emergency meeting to address soaring grain prices caused by the worst U.S. drought in more than half a century and poor crops from the Black Sea bread basket.

France, the United States and G20 president Mexico will hold a conference call at the end of August to consider whether an emergency international meeting is required, aiming to avoid a repetition of the food price spike that triggered riots in poorer countries in 2008.

Yet even as the third grain surge in four years stirs new fears about food supply and inflation, many say the world’s powers are no better prepared to rein in runaway prices. Apart from a global grain database, which has yet to be launched, and the Rapid Response Forum that authorities are considering convening for the first time, the G20 has few tools.

Instead, it must intervene through influence, perhaps urging the United States to relax its ethanol policy in response to the crisis – difficult only months before a presidential election that may be won or lost in Midwest farm states – or urging Russia not to impose an export ban, as it did two years ago.

“Beyond words, expect little from the G20 on rising food prices,” said Simon Evenett, a former World Bank official who is now professor of international trade and economic development, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He described the G20’s record on trade as “feeble.”

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