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5 Apr 2008

Group vows to be vigilant' on inflation

Asean finance ministers, during their annual meeting in Vietnam, pledged Friday to be vigilant in the fight against inflation, as soaring food and fuel prices hit households across the region and threaten to spark public unrest, reported AFP.

Ministers from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations met in the Vietnamese city of Danang, looking for ways to cope with the price hikes as well as a global economic downturn.

The meeting came just days after the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank both cut the region's growth forecast for 2008 -- in part over the surging inflation that has hit two essentials, rice and oil, especially hard.

In a statement to close the annual meeting, they said they had discussed the turbulence on world markets and the potential for a much longer and sharper slowdown than expected.

"We remain vigilant against these risks and resolved to maintain sound fiscal and monetary policies, while continuing to implement policies that will sustain domestic demand as an important anchor of growth," they said.

Many experts believe the region will be able to weather the turmoil better than in times past, in particular during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

World bank managing director Juan Jose Daboub told AFP there was cause for "cautious optimism" in the region despite the possibility that slowing demand in the United States will undercut a major export market for the region.

"East Asia's strong, long run of growth has not been driven by year-to-year fluctuations in world demand, but rather by improvement in productivity, innovation, quality control, education and skills," he said.

"These underlying strengths of East Asian economies will neither be undone by the financial turmoil nor by a slowing global market."

But he stressed that nations still had a tricky task ahead, not least because of the mounting food prices that are having a strong impact on the region's many impoverished.

The benchmark rice variety in Thailand, the world's number one rice exporter, has gone up 52 percent in the last month alone, according to the country's association of rice exporters.

In part because of those soaring costs, this week the Asian Development Bank and World Bank both reduced their growth forecasts for the region, excluding Japan.




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