Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sarko's regulation crusade makes modest progress

President Sarkozy of France has been on a crusade to regulate agricultural commodity markets and he made modest progress at a two-day G20 conference in Paris last week. France made food security and commodity regulation a centrepiece of its G20 presidency after the 2007-8 food crisis and the rise of more than a third in global food prices over the last year.

France was able to secure a diluted deal to recommend that G20 finance ministers tackle the regulation of financial commodities markets. The communiqué agreed at the end of the Paris summit echoes an earlier deal by finance ministers to study limiting the number of contracts speculators can hold.

However, some argue that commodity markets bring a much needed liquidity to the farm sector. Last week the World Bank took the rare step of encouraging developing countries to buy insurance in the derivatives market against sudden changes in food prices with a deal that would allow the nations to hedge some $4bn worth of commodities.

The World Bank has struck a deal with investment bank JPMorgan who would offer simplified hedging instruments to the private sectors of developing nations, including farming co-operatives and food processing companies. The World Bank would underwrte $200m in credit risks while JPMorgan will take on a similar amount. It is anticipated that other banks will join later. Some critics would, of course, just see this as evidence that the World Bank is hand in glove with global capitalism.

The real problem with the G20 summit is that it backed away from action on biofuels and export bans. The subsidised encouragement of biofuels has boosted food prices. Marie Brill of ActionAid said it was a shame that the G20 had ignored a clear recommendation in a commissioned report from international groups to remove subsidies and mandates for biofuels. There are, of course, powerful interests in the US in particular linked to biofuels which are seen as a means of underpinning American energy security.

On exports, a report from the World Bank and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said that 'export subsidies by major food exporters had strong destabilising effects on international markets' and recommended that the G20 use them as a last resort.

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