Asia should play central role in solving crisis

Rapid rise in the price of oil, rice and other agricultural products have set off riots. (REUTERS)

Asia must start playing central role in an emerging centre of world power in finding solutions to crises such as the surge in fuel and food prices because global institutions like World Trade Organisation are proving to be impotent, business leaders said.

The comments came at the annual World Economic Forum on East Asia, a high-profile gathering of business and government leaders, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

As economic clout drifts away from the United States and Europe to Asia it must spearhead the resolution of economic crises, said Yashwant Sinha, India's former finance minister.

Global institutions that deal with economic problems are looking "pretty out of date", Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius told the forum's first session.

"I believe that the international institutions we have at the moment – including the World Trade Organisation – are woefully inadequate in dealing with the global challenges," said Sinha.

He gave the example of the crisis in the world stock markets stemming from the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the United States.

Had the crisis occurred anywhere in Asia or Latin America, a "huge team" from the IMF would have descended there with advice, just as it did during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, Sinha said.

"There is a major regulatory failing in the US. What is the IMF doing about the US? Nothing," said Sinha, also a former foreign minister.

"Global institutions are inadequate. They are not responding to global challenges," he said, highlighting record-high crude oil prices, which reached nearly $140 last week before settling at $134.86 on Friday.

Rapid raise in the price of rice and other agriculture products have also set off riots and protests from Africa to Asia and elevated fears of a global food crisis.

"I would say that this is where there is an opportunity for Asia. There are a whole host of things that Asian nations can do together. We must start writing the rules of the game," said Sinha, now a member of parliament.

Asian countries must help each other in dealing with crises because the US can no longer be expected to be "the locomotive of the global economy", said Yoshimi Watanabe, Japan's minister of financial services and administrative reforms.

"The Asian countries are in the same boat, we share the same destiny," he said.

Asia, led by India and China, will define the global economy in the future, thanks to its insatiable demand for consumer goods, investment opportunities and rapidly growing economies, those attending the forum were told.

"The shift in the economy around the world has been dramatic," Lord Peter Levene, chairman of London-based Lloyd's, the world's biggest insurance market, told reporters before the start of the conference.

"If you are travelling in Europe and the US, there is a feeling of doom and gloom. Here you step off the plane and it is the opposite."

 

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