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FAO: Global food prices remained steady in August

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Global food prices remained steady in August, the United Nations food agency said Thursday, but warned that “the game is not over” as it was only the beginning of the harvest season.

An overall FAO index of food prices averaged 213 points last month, the same level as in July when it had jumped by six percent due to droughts in major exporters the United States and Russia, the Food and Agriculture Organization said.

FAO deputy director David Hallam told a press conference in Rome: “There is a great deal of talk about whether we have some kind of food crisis emerging. There is no strong evidence to suggest that in the price data.”

But he added there was a risk speculators would re-enter the commodities markets, a sign that prices may still rise.

FAO Assistant Director General Laurent Thomas warned that 22 countries, mostly in Africa, are in protracted crisis and said the world must be prepared for food shortages.

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A statement released by the organisation said that “although still high, the FAO index currently stands 25 points below its peak of 238 points in February 2011 and 18 points below its August 2011 level.

A sub index that measures cereal prices averaged 260 points in August, also unchanged on the month, “with some increases in wheat and rice offsetting a slight weakening in maize,” the statement said.

Key agricultural regions in the United States that had been hit by drought have now benefitted from rainfall, while Russia has indicated it would not restrict exports despite a smaller crop in its key farming regions.

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FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva warned however that “we need to keep vigilant on the prices because we are just starting the season,” adding “the game is not over.”

Hallam noted that US maize (corn) “production was expected to increase by about 10 percent this year, in practice it’s fallen 13 percent, so that was quite a shock.

“Given that the US accounts for more than 40 percent of world exports of maize, that’s a significant development,” he said.

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The FAO said maize crops were expected to drop to 864 million tonnes in 2012, a decline of 20 million tonnes from 2011, following the US drought, its worst in around 60 years.

The agency noted that meat prices averaged around 170 points last month, up four points from July. Although meat prices showed an uptick across the board, the main increase was in pork and poultry, which depend on cereal-based diets.

Several panel members condemned the role financial speculation played in inflating food prices in 2008.

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“What is clear is that previous price volatility … including price spikes, has been largely due to … excessive speculation. So far, this time round we have seen limited price speculation,” said Jomo Kwame Sundaram, UN assistant secretary general for economic development.

But Hallam warned that speculators could be poised to once again make forays into commodities markets.

On Wednesday, Egypt — the world’s largest wheat importer — set another tender to buy wheat, leading to a strengthening of European cereal prices on global commodities markets Thursday.


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US sanctions Chinese oil trader for violating Iran restrictions: Pompeo

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The United States is placing a leading Chinese oil importer on its sanctions blacklist for trading in Iranian crude, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday.

"As part of that maximum pressure campaign, I am announcing that the United States is imposing sanctions on the Chinese entity Zhuhai Zhenrong and its chief executive Youmin Li," Pompeo said in a speech.

"They violated US law by accepting crude oil," he said.

The announcement was the latest step by Washington to ratchet up economic pressure on Tehran over its alleged military activities in the Middle East and its nuclear program by taking aim at business partners.

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A French inventor aims to soar across the English Channel this week on a jet-powered "flyboard", despite authorities warning the stunt is a danger to shipping.

Former jet-skiing champion Franky Zapata has pledged to go ahead on Thursday on his device, which can reach speeds up to 190 kilometres an hour (118 mph).

It will come 10 days days after the entrepreneur wowed crowds when he flew above the Champs-Elysees boulevard in Paris in front of President Emmanuel Macron for the annual July 14 military parade.

But authorities are divided over the daredevil venture, which will mark 110 years to the day since Frenchmen Louis Bleriot made the first aeroplane flight across the Channel.

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Meghan McCain snaps at Sunny Hostin for daring to disagree with her about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Meghan McCain slammed President Donald Trump for hurling racist abuse at four Democratic congresswomen to heighten divisions in his rival party, and then framed the debate in the exact same way he has.

The conservative co-host on "The View" condemned the president's statements urging the four first-year lawmakers to return to their home countries as racist, and then complained that one of their chiefs of staff had accused moderate Democrats of turning a blind eye to racism.

"I think the politics of this is fascinating," McCain began. "We spent our entire week last week talking about how racist and xenophobic the original comments and the chants were, and I stand by that statement."

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