French minister warns of price challenge in Asia and Europe

Asian and European economies face major challenges from soaring fuel and food prices and global financial turbulence, said France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde at an Asia-Europe Meeting in South Korea.


"Of course, we would all prefer to be triple-A economies but indeed we are facing triple-F challenges," France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde told an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) of finance ministers.

Host nation South Korea is grappling with a crippling strike by truck drivers against high oil prices, the latest in a series of global protests against rising food and fuel costs.

"We have important economic and financial challenges in common," Lagarde said in a keynote speech to the two-day meeting on the resort island of Jeju.

"Adverse shocks have affected our economies. So far, Euro area growth has been resilient, and Asia as well, even if the impact of recent turmoil may affect all economies."

Lagarde said there were clear concerns "about prices of food and prices of fuel and social unrest that results from such movements.

"This is indeed amplified and far more dramatic in emerging economies and in the developing world, but clearly this is the issue we share."

The Group of Eight finance ministers meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka warned Saturday that high oil and food prices pose "a serious challenge to stable growth worldwide" and may worsen poverty and stoke global inflation.

The Jeju meeting is being attended by finance ministers or their deputies from 27 EU countries and 16 Asian nations, plus officials from six international organisations.

Apart from fuel and food, they are also debating recent global financial turmoil sparked by the US subprime mortgage crisis.

"We certainly want to develop further growth and improve the resilience of the Euro area," Lagarde told the meeting.

"That has been made particularly urgent because of the financial crisis that we have gone through. We want to improve the coordination of regulators."

Lagarde said low interest rates have helped Europe cushion external shocks but she was "anxious and worried" because of inflation.

"We want better supervision and better surveillance generally. We believe that will certainly reinforce the strength of the Eurozone in the face of financial challenges," she said.

In addition to food, fuel and finance, the three main ASEM agenda topics will be regional economic integration, market-based approaches to climate change and cooperation on infrastructure finance and microfinance.

Lagarde urged Asian nations to work to persuade their people of the benefits of economic integration, saying Europe had failed to do this effectively.

Irish voters last week rejected the Lisbon Treaty, the latest attempt by the European Union to strengthen its institutional framework.

"I think that one of the mistakes that we have made in terms of fostering and promoting integration has to do with communication," she said.

"When you move towards better integration, make sure that you always along the way communicate the positive outcome of that integration."

She cited as benefits job creation, greater investment flows and the role that the European Central bank has played to ease the global financial crisis.

Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, called for an intercontinental partnership to manage the "second generation" of globalisation.

"I would like to see a strategic partnership between Europe and Asia in a way that the new wave of globalisation could be better managed than the first wave, in which a very few of us (countries) were integrated into the globalisation process to take benefits," he said.

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