UN holds key meeting on food price concerns

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) organised an extraordinary meeting in Rome sparked by global fears about high food prices, according to a BBC report.

Friday’s meeting was to include Russian grain executives. Moscow banned exports after its harvest was hit by drought.

Flooding in Pakistan and China has added to pressure on the market.

Price rises have already sparked riots in Mozambique and are prompting fears of a massive price spike similar to that of 2007-8.

The FAO is not calling this a crisis summit, eager to steady nerves after the Russian grain export ban, says the BBC’s international development correspondent David Loyn.

The UN agency has stressed that the current situation is very different to the food crisis two years ago. Prices are currently lower, production levels higher and stocks more abundant than during the 2007-8 period.

However, experts in Rome will try to find a way to restore stability and head off another price spike, which caused riots across the world two years ago.

Global grain prices remain at a two-year high and are still rising. Rising incomes in developing countries have also boosted demands for meat.

Top FAO officials describe prices as stubbornly high and say the financial crisis is straining the ability of the poor to cope.

The agency also warns that prices in future are likely to be more volatile.

Officials say governments should consider more regulation of food markets and maintaining emergency stocks.

The FAO’s own monthly index of food prices has risen by 25% since early last year.

The UN said of the meeting: “Delegates will share information on recent market instability and examine the role of market information and transparency for crops such as grains and rice.”

Rises will be felt more keenly in developing countries, where food makes up a bigger proportion of household spending.

Obama tells Medvedev vote on nuke pact due soon

President Barack Obama assured Russian President Dimitri Medvedev Sunday that a vote in the U.S. Senate on the new START nuclear treaty should occur when Congress returns, calling it a “top priority” of his administration.

“I reiterated my commitment to getting the START treaty done during the lame-duck session,” Obama said. He made the assertion during an appearance with his Russian counterpart after they held talks Sunday morning on the sidelines of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama, Japan.

The treaty is pending in the Senate, which is due to return next week for a postelection session. There has been resistance to the pact, principally from minority Republicans.

Obama declined to answer a question during a picture-taking session about whether his administration was putting more money on the table to maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile in order to win GOP support for the pact.

Obama also said he believes Medvedev is reforming the political system in Russia and is moving the country forward. He said he supports Medvedev’s pursuit of membership in the World Trade Organization — a point the Russian leader reinforced as he and Obama appeared briefly before reporters and camera crews. He said he is “working closely” with Medvedev to gain Russia’s entry into the WTO.

Both Obama and Medvedev spoke of a close relationship they have and called each other friends and partners. Obama extended thanks to Moscow for cooperation on Afghanistan and on a host of international issues ranging from the Middle East to Sudan.

“We think that Russia has been an excellent partner,” Obama said.

Said Medvedev: “It has been very pleasant for me to have this meeting and discuss a whole range of bilateral and multilateral issues with my colleague. Indeed, we have a very good relationship. We understand each other very well. It’s very important to attain agreement on a whole range of issues.”

In Washington, a congressional aide briefed on White House plans for getting the START treaty ratified told The Associated Press that the administration was offering to add $4.1 billion in funding for the U.S. nuclear arsenal between 2012-2016. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, said the plan was outlined to Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who is seen as the key to winning enough votes to ratify the treaty.

The additional money would come on top of an additional $10 billion the administration had already agreed to over 10 years.

The administration is scrambling to get enough Republican support in the Senate to ratify the New START treaty before the Democrats’ majority shrinks by six in January. In a sign of the urgency of the administration’s pitch, government officials traveled to Kyl’s home state of Arizona to brief him on the proposal, the aide said. Officials also briefed Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.

“This is a huge increase,” said Daryl Kimball, head of the private Arms Control Association. He noted that it is not certain that Congress will approve the funding, which will in any case have to be appropriated over time for each of the years in the proposal.