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Monday, April 7, 2008

Donors agree to cooperate on aid

G8 considers rising food prices as next major worry


Staff writer

Group of Eight development ministers and emerging donors such as China and South Korea acknowledged Sunday in Tokyo the importance of cooperating on assistance to developing countries.

The G8 member countries "and new donors agreed on the importance of sharing the same values when providing financial aid" to the developing world, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said at a joint news conference as he wrapped up a two-day meeting on helping chronically poor nations.

Eight emerging donors — Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea and South Africa — were invited to the development ministers' meeting.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, federal minister for economic cooperation and development of Germany, which chaired the G8 summit in Heiligendamm last year, said the G8 members launched a dialogue with the emerging donors last year to build common understanding about aid policies.

Japan, as the chair of this year's G8 summit, used the two-day gathering to urge the emerging donors to be more transparent in their aid policies and to coordinate their efforts with those of advanced nations.

Western countries have criticized China's policy of disseminating massive financial aid to resource-rich nations in Africa and other developing countries without taking into account the recipient nations' bad governance and human rights abuses.

Rising food prices, which could have a major impact on people in developing nations, are another concern shared by the G8 ministers.

"The problem of rising food prices is an issue that we need to prioritize," Wieczorek-Zeul said.

"If prices of staple foods in the global market rise by 1 percent, this would jeopardize the stability of the world's food market and is said to affect 16 million people," she said, adding that the G8 members should concentrate their efforts to support agriculture in developing nations in Africa and elsewhere.

On April 2, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick warned in a speech in Washington that sharp rises in food prices will prompt riots in developing countries.

"Since 2005, the prices of staples have jumped 80 percent. Last month, the real price of rice hit a 19-year high; the real price of wheat rose to a 28-year high and almost twice the average price of the last 25 years," Zoellick said at a seminar organized by the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit think tank working to reduce global poverty.

The World Bank estimates that 33 countries around the world face potential social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices.

The United Nation World Food Program, which supports people in developing nations through food distribution, is urging wealthy countries to provide financial assistance to the organization because skyrocketing food prices are making it difficult to secure enough food for distribution.

Seeking cooperation with new cash-rich donors is a prime goal for conventional donors struggling with tight foreign aid budgets.

"We are encouraged by the greater role of new players in development cooperation," the G8 ministers said in a statement.

Foreign Ministry officials stressed use of word the "encourage" as a sign that shows the G8's eagerness to cooperate with emerging donors.

On Friday, the 22-nation Development Assistance Committee in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that the total amount of official development assistance provided by member countries fell 8.4 percent in real terms year-on-year to $103.7 billion in 2007.

Japan, the world's biggest aid donor until 2000, slipped to fifth place among the 22 donors as the country saw its ODA drop by 30 percent in real terms from a year earlier amid a budget squeeze.

"We remain firmly committed to working to fulfill our commitments on ODA, in particular with regard to doubling aid for Africa (from 2004) by 2010," the G8 ministers said in the statement.

Komura also expressed determination to reverse Japan's dropoff in aid, although he fell short of giving a specific amount of increase and how he would achieve it.



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