P.S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: Union Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath on Monday suggested that a “rice summit” be held to evolve steps to ride out the gathering crisis on this commodity front.

Mr. Nath, who discussed the issue with the leaders of Thailand, later told The Hindu over the telephone from Bangkok that rice-exporting countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and also India had a role to play, from “the suppliers’ point of view,” in the search of a solution.

Noting that “the food crisis is bigger than the sub-prime [banking] crisis,” he said issues concerning food, fuel, and fertilizers were of prime importance to the global economy at this stage.

The food crisis, marked by riots in some countries, could also pose challenges to “fragile democracies” in Africa and elsewhere.

Support for Thailand

It was in this context that India would “support Thailand’s leadership” for the convening of a “rice summit.” Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice, followed by Vietnam, while India and China are also key players on this commodity scene.

Mr. Nath, who held talks with Thai Deputy Prime Ministers, Mingkwan Saengsuwan and Suwit Khunkitti, was assisted by Ambassador to Thailand and U.N. ESCAP, Latha Reddy, among others.

A sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled by Mr. Nath at the United Nations offices in Bangkok, on the occasion of the ESCAP conference on energy security. He exchanged views with Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, who represented his country at the function.

Mr. Nath said efforts were under way to clinch the India-Thailand free trade agreement by the year end. As for India’s trade pact with the ASEAN, the two had now begun to “sprint along the last 100-metre stretch in a marathon.”

Doha round

On the Doha Round of trade talks, it was time the developed bloc came up with some tangible proposals on agriculture, easily the “most distorted” domain. While the conclusion of the Round was certainly important, “the content is equally important,” he maintained.