G8 farm ministers plot world food strategy

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Reuters | Fri Apr 17, 2009

By Svetlana Kovalyova

PIEVE DI SOLIGO, Italy (Reuters) - Farm ministers of the Group of Eight meeting in Italy this weekend aim to forge a strategy to secure food supplies and stabilize prices, as rich nations scramble for acreage abroad to feed their people.

But tensions caused by the pull toward protectionism may also simmer at the first-ever meeting of G8 farm ministers and their counterparts from major developing nations.

The idea of creating a global grain reserve was likely to be on the agenda, said host Italy's Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia.

"We want to come out of the meeting with concrete facts, not just talks," Zaia said.

The ministers will seek ways to boost farm productivity and rein in speculative trade in agricultural commodities -- a major cause for surging food prices last year leading to a food crisis with riots and raising the number of hungry people in the world to nearly one billion, he said.

Zia said ministers would spare no effort to avert a new food crisis.

"We are talking about food security, hunger in the world and (protection) of product identity," Zaia said on Friday ahead of the meeting which will run from April 18 to April 20.

But he gave few other details of the plan and it remained unclear whether the ministers would come up with some concrete financial proposals.

PROTECTIONISM FEARS

Zaia hinted at potential frictions with U.S. and Russian agriculture ministers over curbs of some Italian exports.

Economic crisis has highlighted tensions in trade relations. Poorer countries push for pulling down trade barriers, but richer nations are keen to protect their markets.

For instance, Russia, a major poultry importer, aims to become self-sufficient in poultry and pork in two years.

Finding a balance between a drive to liberalize global trade and a newly strengthened protectionism would not be an easy task, Elisabeth Gauffin, vice president of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP), told Reuters.

"It is easy to say: we'll close the borders and look after ourselves ... But we have a global challenge and we need global solutions," said Gauffin who chaired an international farmers conference in northern Italy on Friday.

Zaia said he would continue his campaign to protect typical Italian foodstuffs -- like Italian cheese Parmigiano Reggiano -- on the international markets flooded with fake "Italian-sounding" products.

Ministers and farmers seem to agree on the need to boost farm output, especially in developing countries to ensure there is enough food supplies for everyone.

But Gauffin said there was a threat of "second-generation colonialism" in growing purchases of overseas farm land by richer countries, such as Saudi Arabia, South Korea and China, to feed their own people.

"You can fear that it is just grabbing resources and making poor countries even poorer," she said.

The G8 includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United States. Farm ministers from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Australia and Egypt have been also invited. (Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova; Editing by William Hardy)
Original source: Reuters
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