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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        3  March 2011

Asean agrees on rice reserves

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The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their dialogue partners, China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to establish rice reserves in each country.

To prevent a repeat of the mistakes made during the 2008 food crisis, they agreed to stabilise the rice prices without making "sudden and demonstrative procurements" that could trigger panic among trade members.

The ASEAN trade ministers finished their two-day meeting in Vientiane with a commitment to help each other build rice reserves to settle price fluctuation in the commodity while keeping an eye on the impact of the Middle East crisis on oil prices.

Addressing a joint press conference at the end of the meeting, Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, who chaired the meeting, said the Asean governments had agreed to sign the ASEAN-plus-3 rice reserve agreement in early October, "during our chairmanship" of Asean.

Under the agreement, Asean and the three partners would contribute 787,000 tonnes for the rice reserve, with all Asean members contributing a total of 87,000 tonnes, Japan 250,000 tonnes, China 300,000 tonnes and South Korea 150,000 tonnes.

Indonesia will contribute 25,000 tonnes to the reserve.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, food prices went up by 3.4 percent from December and to its highest level since 1990. Meanwhile, the World Bank's food price index shows a 15 percent increase in food prices between October 2010 and January 2011, only 3 percent below its 2008 peak.

Mari warned ASEAN countries not to repeat the experience in 2008 when Vietnam suddenly limited its rice export and the Philippines rushed to buy up stocks.

"œWe should refrain from steps that cause panic and disruption," Mari was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying.

Asean trade ministers also discussed the issue of increasing energy prices, including the possible inflationary impact of political crises in the Middle East, especially Libya. Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said more discussions were needed on the Middle East crisis and its impact on oil and gas prices.

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It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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