G20 countries close in on farm deal

G20 leaders are said to be on the verge of a deal aimed at curbing volatile agricultural commodity prices. The group of 20 top nations is meeting in Paris.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy said he wanted an agreement that would avoid a repeat of the 2007-08 surge in food prices.

But agriculture ministers are split on whether this should be achieved by boosting agricultural output or clamping down on commodity trading.

A partial agreement is unacceptable to France, which holds the G20 chair until November 2011.

President Sarkozy is adamant that any agreement must pave the way for “global governance of agriculture” ahead of French presidential elections next May.

Meanwhile, French farm minister Bruno Le Maire has reiterated that he would prefer no agreement at all, rather than a half-hearted attempt.

The NFU has acknowledged there is a strong case for greater transparency and availability of market data to better understand agricultural markets.

But it would be reluctant to sign up to measures that undermined the operation of derivatives markets and the ability of farmers to hedge their price risks.

Meanwhile, non-governmental organisations, including Oxfam, have called on G20 ministers to remove biofuel subsidies, warning that they spark price volatility.

Oxfam is also calling on G20 ministers to reconsider the case for food reserves so that vulnerable countries can better manage the impact of price spikes.

“An early draft of the G20 communiqué, leaked last week, did not go far enough in trying to tackle food price volatility,” said Oxfam campaigner Katia Maia. “We hope ministers will be bolder at the meeting.”