G-20 finance chiefs pledge to tackle rising food crisis, but remain split over Russia's role in it

The finance ministers and central bankers did not issue a joint statement after the meeting. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Finance chiefs from the Group of 20 largest economies (G-20) committed to tackling the worsening food insecurity, but remained deadlocked over Russia's role in the crisis during the two-day meeting in Bali that ended on Saturday (July 16).

The finance ministers and central bankers did not issue a joint statement after the meeting, but agreed with most points in the chair's summary - which covered various issues from macroeconomic stability to sustainable finance - produced by host Indonesia.

Russia's war in Ukraine is "an issue members cannot reconcile", said Indonesia's Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati at a media briefing.

During the talks, financial leaders from Western countries accused Russian economic technocrats of complicity in Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, while also pointing to the war as the cause of the current global economic headwinds.

Russia, on the other hand, blamed Western sanctions for blocked food shipments and surging energy costs.

All members agreed that "a lot of attention, and intervention, and policy" is needed to improve and correct the supply disruption in order to address the current food security issues, Dr Sri Mulyani said.

This, she added, will be carried out by removing trade restrictions and protectionism to ensure the smooth flow of food from producing countries to those in need. "That's certainly a very strong signal from all of us," she noted.

Dr Sri Mulyani also said that in order to yield "a very concrete action", members will consider establishing a joint cooperation between finance and agriculture ministers.

This would be similar to the collaboration between finance and health ministers that generated the financial intermediary fund (FIF) for pandemic prevention and preparedness, which received additional pledges of up to US$1.28 billion (S$1.8 billion) at the meeting.

Indonesia, which has upheld an "independent and active" foreign policy, has sought a balance within the group, where relations have been frayed by the Ukraine war amid mounting economic pressures from rising inflation.

While Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, other G-20 members, such as China, India, and South Africa, have refrained from condemning Russia.

Moscow's invasion of Ukraine overshadowed previous meetings of the grouping, including last week's gathering of foreign ministers, which did not produce a joint statement at its conclusion.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov was in Bali for the meetings, and there was no reported walkout by officials as he addressed the meeting on Friday.

At the July 8 meeting of G-20 foreign ministers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov left the meeting during what he called "frenzied criticism" from the West against Russia.

Ukraine's Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko, who addressed the meeting on Friday virtually at the invitation of host Indonesia, underlined that Russia's invasion of his country "clearly marks the end of the existing world order", and demanded "more severe targeted sanctions" against Moscow.

Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Russian representatives at the gathering that they are responsible for "war crimes in Ukraine".

"It is not only generals who commit war crimes; it is the economic technocrats who allow the war to happen and to continue," she said Friday.

In the opening session on Friday, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who attended the two-day meeting in person, condemned Russia's "brutal and unjust war", saying Russian officials shared responsibility for the "horrific consequences" of the war.

In another session on food security, she also blamed Russia for a global crisis of food insecurity marked by soaring prices of food, fertiliser and fuel.

She said Moscow’s actions – including the destruction of agricultural facilities, the theft of grain and farming equipment, and blockage of Black Sea ports – were tantamount to using food as a “weapon of war”.

Dr Yellen, during her bilateral meetings with senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Africa and Singapore on Saturday, called for countries to support a price cap on Russian oil to limit the flow of cash to its military, the Treasury said.

Singapore was among a few non-G-20 member countries invited, represented by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong in Bali.

The G-20 on Saturday discussed digital finance, green economy, cryptocurrencies, international taxation, and post-pandemic financial stability, among other issues.

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