Page last updated at 10:30 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 11:30 UK

Food prices focus at Peru summit

By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima

A man ties sugar cane on top of a truck in Grantier, Haiti (file image)
Prices of key staple crops - like rice and wheat - have risen

Leaders from 50 European, Latin American and Caribbean nations are meeting in Peru to address poverty and the rise in world food prices.

There have been few signs of compromise in trade negotiations ahead of the summit. Talks will be held in private.

Simmering regional conflicts in Latin America threaten to overshadow any final agreement.

Some 50,000 police have been drafted in for the summit, the fifth meeting of its kind in 10 years.

Even before his arrival in Lima, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has already ruffled feathers both in Latin America and Europe.

Free trade push

He has upped his hostile rhetoric towards Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and he has accused the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, of being supported by the same German political right as supported Adolf Hitler.

A worker collects wheat on the outskirts of Islamabad

This does not bode well for his talks with the heads of state on Friday when they meet to hammer out their final declaration.

This is probably why Peru's government has made sure that all the meetings are being held behind closed doors.

Political divisions within Latin America are also holding up trade negotiations.

The European Union wants the region to open up their markets, but several Latin American nations are extremely resistant.

Britain's Foreign Office Minister for Latin America, Kim Howells, said it would be a mistake not to liberalise trade.

"In a number of Latin American countries there's a rhetoric which is putting off investment in those countries, no question about it, and I don't think it's doing anybody any good," he said.

"It's certainly not doing the people of those countries any good, but the way to solve it is through dialogue and by keeping our trading markets open."

Direct negotiations

Bolivian President Evo Morales is probably one of those dissenting voices.

On touching down in Lima, he went straight to an alternative forum known as the People's Summit where he played in a football match, scoring a goal. He showed his solidarity with the indigenous and labour groups which had organised the alternative summit, before speaking at the official event.

He suggested Latin American countries hold referendums on whether they would accept a free trade agreement with the EU - which he described as an instrument of domination.

Peru's President Alan Garcia, who has been trumpeting his country's booming economy, has indicated he would be happy to leave trade blocs behind and negotiate directly.

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