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June 23, 2008

Japanese expert urges Asean to reform food policies
Asean member countries need to reform their food policies to create food security and strong capacity to address the skyrocketing prices of rice due to the current global food crisis, Indonesian state news agency Antara quoted a Japanese agricultural economic expert as saying Saturday.

"A reform in the food policies also has to do with the future interests of Asean which is striving to create an Asean economic community as a dynamic region and a strong segment of global supply chain," Professor Keishiro Itagaki of the Tokyo University of Agriculture said at a one-day workshop organized by the Association of Indonesian Students (PPI) in Japan.

For its part, Asean member countries needed to establish close cooperation with one another by building a new mechanism including their involvement in one free trade area, he said.

In connection with a reform in their rice policy, Asean member countries needed to reduce duties on and quotas of rice imports in stages, he said.

The measures were a manifestation of their responsibilities for creating international food stability, particularly in keeping rice stocks at an appropriate level, he said.

"For Asean itself, exchanging information among its member countries on the estimate of rice supplies, demands and stocks is inevitable," he said.

Sharing Itagaki's views, the agricultural attache at the Indonesian Embassy in Tokyo, Pudjiatmoko, underscored the need for the regional grouping to form joint rice stocks to avoid a food crisis that might affect any of its member countries in the years to come.

"The time has come for Asean member states to do so, particularly to maintain their economic growth," he said.

Itagaki said Japan could play its role both in providing outlets for rice market in the country and in financing the formation of Asean joint rice stocks.

Japan could also provide Asean member countries with expertise on how to produce rice of high quality, he said.

"Japan can also play a role in helping rehabilitate irigation systems and facilities in Asean member countries as well as in helping create a pattern for disseminating information on rice supply and demand in Asia," he said.

He further said rising demand for rice in Asia's fast growing economies, China and India, development of agricultural product-based bio-energy, and climate change-induced harvest failures were responsible for the skyrocketing prices of the staple.

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