World Bank urges nations to avoid food export bans

Tue Aug 10, 2010 5:54am GMT

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Bank on Monday urged countries to refrain from imposing policies that could trigger a new global food price crisis as drought-hit Russia said it could extend a grain export ban into next year.

World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters the sharp spike in grain prices since last week did not amount to a crisis yet, but emphasized increased food price volatility would hurt poorer countries.

She said the poverty-fighting institution would activate a food fund when the World Bank board, currently in recess, reconvened in early September in case the situation worsened.

Grain prices have soared since last week after Russia, the world's No. 3 wheat producer in 2009/10, banned grain exports as the worst drought on record ravaged crops across the Black Sea region and concerns grew about supplies from dry weather in Western Australia.

In Ukraine, the world's sixth-largest wheat exporter, grain exports are facing delays after the introduction of a new system of customs controls last week, while bad weather there could cut crop and exports forecasts.

Okonjo-Iweala said the World Bank was conducting a survey of vulnerable countries amid reports that exporters had cancelled wheat contracts to Bangladesh and were reviewing contracted wheat supplies to Egypt, the world's largest wheat importer.

She said flooding in India, Pakistan and China had also raised food supply concerns.

"We don't see a crisis yet and are hoping to head it off by asking countries not to undertake policies that will precipitate a crisis," she said in an interview.   Continued...

<p>An unidentified government official sits on sacks of wheat donated by the U.S. at a food distribution point near Jijiga, eastern Ethiopia December 1, 2009. REUTERS/Barry Malone</p>
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.