A Weekend to Start Fixing the World

As Finance Ministers Convene Here, Multiple Crises Test Their Ability to Cope

Financial markets are tumbling. The world economy is starting to sputter. Food prices have shot up so far, so fast, that there are riots in the streets of many poor nations.

It’s a hard time to be one of the masters of the global economy.

Those leaders — finance ministers from all over the world — are gathering in Washington this weekend to sort out their reactions to the most profound global economic crises in at least a decade. The situation could reveal the limitations that international economic institutions face in dealing with the risks inherent to global capitalism.

“There’s got to be something coming out of the weekend, a way to visibly assume public responsibility for trying to limit the damage that financial markets can do to our society,” said Colin Bradford, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The pressure is on politicians this weekend to come up with an answer. . . . What is the power structure going to do about this?”

The Group of Seven finance ministers of major industrialized countries meet today, and the governing boards of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank will meet tomorrow and Sunday. Their agendas: in the case of the G-7 and IMF, countering the breakdown in financial markets; in the case of the World Bank, food inflation that threatens to drive more of the world’s poorest people into starvation.

Read moreA Weekend to Start Fixing the World

Food riots fear after rice price hits a high

Shortages of the staple crop of half the world’s people could bring unrest across Asia and Africa, reports foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont

A global rice shortage that has seen prices of one of the world’s most important staple foods increase by 50 per cent in the past two weeks alone is triggering an international crisis, with countries banning export and threatening serious punishment for hoarders.

With rice stocks at their lowest for 30 years, prices of the grain rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to record highs and are expected to soar further in the coming months. Already China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed tariffs or export bans, as it has become clear that world production of rice this year will decline in real terms by 3.5 per cent. The impact will be felt most keenly by the world’s poorest populations, who have become increasingly dependent on the crop as the prices of other grains have become too costly.

Read moreFood riots fear after rice price hits a high

World Bank Expects More High Food Prices

Rising food prices, which have caused social unrest in several countries, are not a temporary phenomenon, but are likely to persist for several years, World Bank President Robert Zoellick says.

Strong demand, change in diet and the use of biofuels as an alternative source of energy have reduced world food stocks to a level bordering on an emergency, he says.

Speaking to reporters Monday before the bank’s spring meeting this coming weekend, Zoellick said the 185-member World Bank would work with other organizations to deal with the crisis by seeking ways to help farmers, especially in Africa, to increase productivity and improve access to food through schools or workplaces.

“This is not a this-year phenomenon,” he said, referring to the price spike. “I think it is going to continue for some time.”

Read moreWorld Bank Expects More High Food Prices

World warned on high food costs – BBC NEWS

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he is deeply concerned about the sharp rise in global food prices.

Mr Ban said the trend would hinder progress towards the millennium development goals (MDGs), which aim to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) and other agencies may be forced to ration food aid, he said in a BBC interview.

He said shortages might be eased by a “green revolution” to transform farming methods in Africa.

Global food prices have risen by 40% in nine months and food reserves are at their lowest for 30 years.

The WFP is facing a $500m (£248m) shortfall in its attempts to feed 73 million people this year.

Read moreWorld warned on high food costs – BBC NEWS