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July 10, 2008

G8 leaders against food export bans

Leaders from the Group of Eight industrialized nations,while meeting in Japan on July 8 urged food producing countries to scrap restrictions on food exports, saying such measures exacerbate the global food crisis and hinder the delivery of food aid to those in need.

In a statement at the end of the second day of the three-day summit meeting, the G8 officials called it “imperative” to lift bans on food exports.

Their language was clearly more forceful than the message from a U.N.-hosted food summit in Rome in June calling for minimizing food export restrictions. The G-8 leaders’ sharper wording underlined how concerned they are about soaring food prices, which are fueling inflation and undermining years of global efforts to reduce poverty.

“It is … imperative to remove export restrictions and expedite the current negotiation at the World Trade Organization … aimed at introducing stricter disciplines on these trade actions.” Capping or banning food exports could “prolong and aggravate the situation, and hinder humanitarian purchases of food commodities,” the statement said.

The G8 nations, for their part, are “determined to take all possible measures in a coordinated manner,” including addressing the needs of “the most vulnerable people.” Multiyear steps will include boosting the world’s agriculture investment, helping farmers become more productive, promoting agricultural research and development, and improving infrastructure like irrigation systems, transportation and quality control.

The G8 comprises the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, Canada and Russia.

In recent years, countries such as Vietnam, Argentina, Indonesia, Brazil, India and Egypt have adopted various export restrictions on crops such as rice and wheat. Such limits have played a role in causing the prices of soy beans, wheat and corn to double over the past year, analysts say.

Other factors have also played a role. Soaring crude oil prices, for example, have made it more expensive to transport food. An influx of speculative money into the commodities markets - partially as a result of the U.S. housing crisis making financial markets a riskier place to invest - has also pushed up food prices.

The G8 leaders’ food statement didn’t call for the cessation of the biofuels development, a position opposed by the U.S., a major producer of such fuels. But the statement said governments must “ensure the compatibility of policies” between biofuels production and food security. Biofuels include ethanol, made from sugar or corn. The G8 officials also called for the promotion and development of “second-generation biofuels” from non-food plant materials and inedible biomass.

Wall St. Journal

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