Economic forum focuses on food crisis

June 17th, 2008 - 7:34 am ICT by IANS  

Kuala Lumpur, June 16 (DPA) Business leaders and government ministers called Monday for international action on soaring food prices at an economic forum in Malaysia’s capital while governments were blamed for causing most of the hikes. “It is imperative that issues such as water and food do not become impediments to Asian development,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said in a video speech to delegates at the World Economic Forum on East Asia, held in Kuala Lumpur.

“I appeal for more agriculture development and the support from governments] to see it through,” he said.

Fukuda said he would focus on the need to boost agricultural production and access to clean water as well as climate change at the July 7-9 summit on Hokkaido, Japan, of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations and Russia.

“Without a safe water supply, good health cannot be achieved, and without access to water, there can be no development,” he said.

Earlier, speakers blamed government policies for the soaring prices of food, claiming that government subsidies had distorted agricultural prices.

“We are seeing lots of distortions in the market, and we are just paying the price for some of these distortions,” said Michael Roux, chairman of the Australian investment bank Roux International.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of the Swiss-based multinational food company Nestle, said two-thirds of food price hikes were due to government policies.

He said about 10 percent of food price increases are due to the spiraling cost of fuel and another 10 percent to changing lifestyles.

Brabeck-Letmathe blamed about one-third of the food price gains on governments promoting biofuel production while another third was due “to political decisions to stop exports,” he said, referring to countries such as Argentina, Kazakhstan and Ukraine that have curbed food exports.

The remaining 10 percent was due to speculators, he said.

The two-day World Economic Forum on East Asia, which ends Monday, is an annual gathering of business leaders, politicians, policymakers and analysts.

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