The Group of Twenty (G-20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors was established in 1999 in Germany to discuss key issues in the global economy. The G20 countries are:
Republic of Korea
United States of America
The 2011 meeting in France will be important for our readers because a prior meeting in June 22-23 will see G20 agriculture ministers seeking a deal on improving global food security amid increasing global commodity prices.
Some of the aspects to be discussed include:
-More transparency on food supply chains. President Nicolas Sarkozy has blamed speculators for food price inflation that fed unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.
-Better sharing of information on food commodity markets across G20 nations – which could help reduce speculation.
-More regulation of financial markets linked to raw materials.
-Ease export restrictions for humanitarian aid. The possibility of creating emergency humanitarian food reserves – e.g. development of regional storage facilities – will also be discussed.
-The launch of the Agricultural Price Risk Management facility. This is a new World Bank-backed instrument, which would provide up to $4 billion to help farmers in developing countries hedge the sales of their products in cases where prices rise or fall sharply. This instrument also addresses the issue of high up-front costs and limited or no access to financing by farmers in poor countries, which keeps them out of international markets.
Groups such as Oxfam are calling for restrictions in the production of biofuels, including the removal of subsidies for biofuels production and the development of contingency plans to adjust their biofuels targets when food supplies are endangered.
The World Food Programme (WFP), the food-aid arm of the United Nations, is proposing that G20 countries share market information through a database, the Agricultural Markets Information System (AMIS), which would be housed at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with a secretariat that includes WFP, the World Bank and others.
Australia’s role in food security is important in several fronts: a) as an effective food producer and marketer; b) as a provider of training and education in agri-food; and c) and a delivered of aid through its many organisations, including AusAid, ACIAR and World Vision Australia. Australia also delivers aid through its participation in the WFP. The Australian aid programme will deliver about $4.8 billion on development assistance during 2011-12. This is an estimated 0.34% of Gross National Income for the year. and will continue to grow to reach 0.5 % of the national income by 2015.
Given this commitment from the public purse, the Australian Government is also obliged to push for better trade conditions for Australian producers. Trade Minister Craig Emerson recently stated that “The single most-powerful means of dealing with the food security problem is through agricultural trade liberalisation” and that free trade “[..] enables food production to concentrate in those areas that are most productive at producing food” “[..]That means a greater amount of food at lower cost. That’s the equation that countries worried about food security are looking for: quality and price. Specialisation through free trade in agricultural products enables both of those to be achieved - that is, greater quality at lower price.”
Minister Emerson believes that Australia’s efficiency in agricultural production meant it could become “the food bowl of the world”, notwithstanding the problems of Murray-Darling Basin - and clearly, notwithstanding the relatively low public investment in agricultural R&D, which has been shown to be a factor slowing down agricultural efficiency itself.