July 21, 2008

Asean: WTO Doha Round key to avert food crisis


Southeast Asia, home to the world's number one and number three rice-exporting nations, said a successful conclusion to the WTO's Doha Round of trade talks will be key to overcoming a crisis caused by rising food prices, a draft statement showed Friday (July 18).

"With the completion of negotiations within reach, we urged all WTO members to show strong leadership and flexibility when addressing all the key issues," the draft said, referring to the World Trade Organization.

WTO officials are meeting in Geneva this weekend in a bid to cobble a deal to save talks aimed at adding billions to the global trading regime.

Doha would "be a critical factor in overcoming the serious international situation caused by recent price escalation," the draft read.

Developing countries such as India and Brazil want the EU and the US to reduce farm subsidies, which they say are holding up talks and opening up agricultural markets.

Thailand and Vietnam are world's number one and three rice-exporting nations. Rice prices have tripled this year, and shortages have emerged in the region.

Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo said he hoped Asean nations would be able to create a food safety net, based on international prices, within the region.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will issue a communique July 21, ahead of high-level security discussions with its counterparts from the US, China, Japan, the EU, among others.

Their delegates will hold meetings in Singapore over the next week to discuss issues including the global food shortage, free trade agreements, and the state of international financial markets.

"While the risk of sudden rapid deterioration in the near term has somewhat abated, we stressed the importance of ensuring sound fiscal and monetary policies," the Asean draft said, referring to the risk from sub-prime mortgages in the US.

The draft also said Asean will encourage further progress toward free trade pacts involving Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, and India.

Asean is eager to implement its own economic partnership with Japan, an agreement that will eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of trade between the bloc and the world's second-largest economy.

It is also aiming to craft its own free trade area, and create an EU-style community - without the single currency.

"Besides economic benefits, the FTAs (free trade agreement) between Asean and its dialogue partners are also strategic linkages that will bind our regions even closer together," the draft said.

Asean comprises Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and Myanmar. It has a combined GDP of US$1.3 trillion and population of nearly 600 million.

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