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France calls emergency G20 ag meeting for mid-October

France has called an emergency meeting of G20 farm ministers for mid-October to discuss curbing price swings on grain markets, the French president’s office said, after a year of drought and record prices renewed fears of a crisis in food supplies.

France currently presides over a grains body created last year under the Group of 20 major economies and it has made several proposals in recent days, including the development of strategic stocks and a halt in the expansion of biofuels that use food crops.

Paris said in a statement it was calling a meeting of a Rapid Response Forum under the G20 agriculture body, AMIS, for the United Nations’ World Food Day, Oct. 16.

It issued the statement after talks between French President Francois Hollande and Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"They (Hollande and da Silva) proposed that the Rapid Reaction Forum, created by the G20, meet at the level of agriculture ministers in mid-October in Rome on World Food Day," the statement said.

The forum would follow a scheduled AMIS meeting earlier in October at which officials from G20 countries would discuss measures to curb supply and demand imbalances in agricultural markets, it said.

The worst drought in more than 50 years in the U.S. has sent corn and soybean prices to record highs and, coupled with drought in Russia and other Black Sea exporting countries, has raised fears of a global food crisis such as the one that led to rioting in poor countries in 2008.

The G20’s AMIS structure does not have clear scope for action and has mainly been conceived as a co-ordination body to prevent knee-jerk policy moves, such as export bans by individual countries that have been blamed for worsening price swings in grain markets.

France chairs AMIS until the start of October, when the U.S. assumes the rotating presidency.

Strategic stocks

The FAO’s chief gave his backing to France’s push for strategic agricultural stocks, an idea that Hollande has revived after French officials floated it to G20 countries last year.

"The FAO fully supports this initiative," da Silva told reporters after meeting Hollande, saying that countries could not act alone in creating food security but had to co-operate.

"We know from our previous experience that it’s impossible to have food security in one country. We need food security for all. And that’s the meaning of these strategic stocks," he said.

The FAO’s chief said current high prices would now lead countries to raise production, echoing comments he made last week when he said there was no need to panic about global prices.

"We are looking for the future to see, at the beginning of next year, a very good harvest," da Silva said, adding that the prospect of improving supply would provide a good opportunity to develop strategic reserves.

France has not specified how and where it would develop such food stockpiles, and in what way they would differ from an existing G20 proposal to have emergency humanitarian reserves.

Analysts have been sceptical about the idea of reserves on a global scale because they are costly to run, particularly as grain has a shorter storage life than commodities like oil.

Speaking in Moscow, France’s agrifood minister said a priority would be increasing transparency on existing stocks to remove a source of speculation.

As part of its call to rein in volatility in food commodities, France has also proposed a halt in the expansion of biofuels that use staple crops like corn.

This has dovetailed with calls from the FAO for a pause in biofuel development and a revised European Union proposal to limit the share of crop-based biofuels in the bloc’s renewable energy targets.

— Gus Trompiz and Julien Ponthus write for Reuters from Paris.


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