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The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum has drafted a report painting a cautiously optimistic picture of the region’s food situation for the medium- and long-term, despite increasing demand due to rising per capita incomes and population growth.

The report, a copy of which was obtained Sept. 10 by The Japan Times, will be presented at the ninth annual meeting of the APEC ministers, scheduled for Nov. 21 and 22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The talks will be followed by an informal summit of top APEC leaders.

At an Osaka summit in 1995, the leaders pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region’s population and rapid economic growth are expected to sharply increase food and energy demands and put pressure on the environment. They agreed to put the related issues on their long-term agenda and to consult further on ways to initiate joint actions to ensure the region’s economic prosperity will be sustainable.

At last year’s APEC summit in Subic, the Philippines, APEC agreed to a proposal by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to set up a special team to assess future trends in food supply and demand in the region and make policy recommendations. The Task Force on Food, jointly chaired by Japan and Australia, has met five times this year and drafted a report on the medium- and long-term food outlook for the Pacific Rim.

The report says APEC’s food outlook and the challenges it faces are a major part of the world’s concerns and must accordingly be considered in a global context.

The report says agricultural economists are, in general, guardedly optimistic about the global agricultural outlook. Their projections, based on quantitative models, show that production will keep pace with population growth and the increase in demand generated by rising incomes. Per capita food consumption will increase slightly as agricultural production grows at a slightly faster rate than the population, it says. As a result, real agricultural prices will fall somewhat over the next 10 to 20 years.

“APEC Asia continues to be the bright spot,” the report says. “Asian diets will continue to diversify, shifting proportionately from grains to meats, fruits, vegetables and processed foods. Feed grain consumption is forecast to increase rapidly as grain consumption shifts to wheat-based food. With these changes in diet in Asia, agricultural imports rise. This also increases exports of APEC economies with a comparative advantage in agriculture and exportable surpluses.

“Significantly, the (Asia-Pacific) region has not experienced a peace-time famine or critical food shortage in the past 30 years,” the report continues. “It has, therefore, been able to meet the food challenges of one of the most extraordinary periods of rapid economic growth in world history.”

The report cautions, however, that optimism about the future should be tempered by several factors, rising environmental pressures among them. Others that may dim the bright outlook include the challenge of raising yields as the benefits of massive agricultural R&D investment start to level off. Income, as well, must continue to rise among the region’s poor so their nutritional needs can be turned into effective demand, the report says.

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