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Call to boost food output


BRUSSELS: The EU’s top trade official said on Thursday that rising world prices for food must be tackled with trade deals that encourage developing nations, particularly in Africa, to boost food output.

E.U. Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said the world’s agricultural producers should shy away from export restrictions or bans that would not help deal with “a longer term structural trend ... as population grows, as demand for food grows.” He was speaking to the European Parliament’s trade committee.

Trade deal

Mr. Mandelson said a world trade deal and the EU’s trade pacts with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries could help increase food production by boosting agricultural trade and drawing substantial investments in farming in the developing world.

“Giving them the means and the markets to exploit those advantages is the best way to address the issue of food supply in the long term in particular for the poorest countries,” he said.

“Export taxes, quotas or bans do not make economic or development sense. In the case of basic agricultural commodities, they make even less sense,” he said. He defended the EU’s controversial agreements with former colonies that aid group Oxfam claims do little to fight poverty.

Just half of the countries that make up the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group, which include some of the poorest in the world, have signed or initialled so-called Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU.

Efforts to meet a December 31 deadline set by the World Trade Organisation for reaching regional trade pacts with all countries in the ACP failed. The WTO had ordered the 27-nation EU to end 30-year preferential trade ties with the former colonies after it deemed they were unfair to nations excluded from the arrangement.

Many of those that did sign up to a phased-in free-trade pact, including the opening up of services and investment markets, were richer countries, including the entire group of 15 Caribbean nations.

Mr. Mandelson said the pacts would prove themselves to critics and show that freer trade would help these countries become more prosperous.

“They’re not simply trade agreements although they are using trade for the purpose of development,” he said. “They are addressing very directly ... the needs of developing countries.”

He said officials from these countries were under immense pressure to resist change and hang on to “outdated trade arrangements.”

The EU wants to shift to a system where it will open its markets immediately but will allow African, Caribbean and Pacific regions to do so more gradually over 15 years.

Market access

On top of greater market access, the EU has pledged some $2.9 billion in new aid to develop trade infrastructure and food safety standards. The ACP nations will also benefit from $34 billion in aid over the next seven years.

Meanwhile, the World Bank’s top official for Africa said soaring food and energy prices threaten to derail economies in Africa by encouraging governments to take “knee-jerk” reactions to cope with the stress. — AP

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