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Sun, Apr 6 06:25 PM
By Yoko Nishikawa
TOKYO (Reuters) - Development ministers from the world's rich nations on Sunday called for action to confront soaring food prices, which they say hurt developing nations as well as donors' efforts to help them.
Ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations said development assistance needed to be strengthened and partnership between traditional donors and new donors, such as emerging Asian countries, increased.
But rising food prices, which were not on the official agenda for the meeting and partly for that reason did not make it into the chair's summary statement, became a hot topic on the second day of the two-day meeting in Tokyo.
"Spikes in food prices cause serious problems for development as a whole, especially for Africa, and we shared the view that this is something the international community needs to tackle," Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, who chaired the meeting, told a joint news conference by the G8 ministers.
"The problem of food will directly hit lives of poor people. We reached a common determination that there is the need to take necessary steps," he added, without specifying details.
Earlier this month, World Bank President Robert Zoellick called for a new coordinated global response to deal with spiralling food prices exacerbating shortages, hunger and malnutrition around the globe.
Severe weather in producing countries and a boom in demand from fast-developing countries have pushed up prices of staple foods by 80 percent since 2005. Last month, rice prices hit a 19-year high; wheat prices rose to a 28-year high and almost twice the average price of the last 25 years, Zoellick added.
Alain Joyandet, France's secretary of state for cooperation and French-speaking countries, told the G8 news conference France was concerned about the rising cost of food, which he said could affect donors' aid programmes.
Some Asian countries that attended "outreach meetings" with the ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia on the sideline said problems of rising food prices should be taken up at a G8 summit on July 7-9 in Japan, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
But the official said there had not been enough time to discuss any concrete steps to tackle food prices this weekend.
The ministers' meeting, which lays the groundwork for development issues at the G8 summit, took place halfway into the calendar for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight globally agreed targets to be reached by 2015.
The goals, set in 2000, range from halving the number of people living in poverty on less than $1 a day, to providing universal primary education and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Experts say most countries may fail to meet them -- a concern expressed by Komura on Sunday.
The development ministers also expressed concerns about a decline in global official development assistance in 2007 from a year earlier, citing latest OECD figures.
Komura said Japan, which slipped to fifth place from third in overseas aid spending in 2007 as it cut such assistance by 30 percent, was determined to reverse a decline in its official development assistance, but did not give any timeframe.