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Food, energy security on table at big Europe-Asia meet
by Staff Writers
Godollo, Hungary (AFP) June 6, 2011

Forty-six nations from Asia and Europe gathered here Monday eyeing ways of averting a global food crisis and fresh nuclear disasters, but looked set to diverge on human rights or a new boss for the IMF.

Fom tiny Laos to EU powerhouse Germany, foreign ministers from the Asia-Europe ASEM group -- representing 60 percent of the world's population and GDP -- kicked off two days of talks on what they described as "non-traditional security challenges".

The opening ceremony was postponed after a storm wreaked havoc to power systems at the venue, the 18th century Godollo castle outside the Hungarian capital best known as the residence of the Austro-Hungarian empress Sissi.

Ranging from organised crime and piracy on the high seas, to natural disasters and migration from crisis spots, ministers stepped into the talks putting food and energy top of the agenda.

"We have more demand for food in the world than we currently can supply," said Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. "We have a responsibility for the planet to show the leadership to fix this problem. Otherwise, we are going to have a crisis."

In the wake of Japan's triple disaster in March, the country's foreign minister Takeaki Matsumoto said "Japan would like to raise those issues."

"We have to employ the highest safety standards in nuclear energy, and also step up work on renewable energy," he said. "We also have to use fossil resources in an environmentally friendly way."

With China looking at up to 100 cities with populations of over five million in just a few years, energy security was a global challenge, ministers said.

But the ASEM meeting will also exchange views on regional developments, including the EU's assessment of the uprisings unfurling across north Africa, as well as recovery from the financial crisis.

Ministers from China and Myanmar, whose rights records are a recurrent sore point at talks with their European partners, made no statements on arrival.

"Our aim is to foster political dialogue, reinforce economic cooperation and promote cultural cooperation between Asia and Europe," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

ASEM groups the EU, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand and Russia -- or four billion people representing over 60 percent of world trade.

France's bid to parachute Finance Minister Christine Lagarde into the IMF seat suddenly vacated by Dominique Strauss-Kahn is certain to come up at the meetings -- and cause some friction.

"This is an area of great importance," said Indian Foreign Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna.

Developing countries are irritated over the gentleman's agreement which has always seen an American head the World Bank and a European head the International Monetary Fund.

Lagarde is due to travel to India this week as part of her tour to solicit emerging nations' support for her bid to lead the IMF. She was in Brazil last week -- one of several emerging economic powers seeking an end to Europe's stranglehold on the powerful post.

Last month, India and Brazil were among the so-called BRICS group of emerging economic nations that also includes Russia, China and South Africa, which slammed Europe's grip on the IMF.

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