JOINT MEETING OF THE NINETIETH SESSION OF THE PROGRAMME COMMITTEE AND THE ONE HUNDRED-AND-FOURTH SESSION OF THE FINANCE COMMITTEE
Rome, 17 September 2003
Meetings of the Committee on Commodity Problems (CCP) and of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG)
1. The 124th Session of Council considered the reports of the 64th Session of the Committee on Commodity Problems1 (CCP) and the 17th Session of the Committee on Agriculture2 (COAG), and noted that CCP had attracted relatively limited participation from developing countries. It welcomed the Secretariat’s examination of the possibility of combining meetings of CCP and COAG in order to achieve efficiency savings and improved participation, and of alternative means by which sessions of CCP might be made more effective. Furthermore, it looked forward to the opportunity to consider detailed proposals at its Session in November 2003, following consideration by the Programme and Finance Committees.
2. This paper examines the mandate and membership, format and cost, and possible alternative arrangements for periodic sessions of these two Committees to achieve efficiency savings and improved participation. It does not consider the merger of the two Committees, as the Council did not question their purpose and mandate.
3. Council is assisted by several technical committees as established in the basic texts3, including CCP and COAG, which provide policy advice and serve as global fora for discussion of issues within their separate and distinct mandates.
4. The mandate of CCP4 is to keep under review commodity problems of an international character affecting production, trade, distribution, consumption and related economic matters, to prepare a factual and interpretative survey of the world commodity situation, and to report and submit suggestions to Council on policy issues. The Secretariat is provided by the Commodities and Trade Division of the Economic and Social Department.
5. The mandate of COAG5 is to conduct periodic reviews and appraisals, on a highly selective basis, of agricultural and nutritional problems; advise the Council on the overall medium- and longer-term programme of work of the Organization, and review the biennial programmes of work and their implementation, relating to agriculture, food and nutrition, with emphasis on the integration of all social, technical, economic, institutional and structural aspects related to agriculture and rural development; and to review specific matters relating to agriculture, food and nutrition on request by Conference, Council, the Director-General or any Member. The Secretariat is provided by the Office of the Assistant Director-General of the Agriculture Department, and the mandate of COAG covers the work of the Agriculture, Economic and Social, and Sustainable Development Departments, as well as some of the work of the Technical Cooperation (policy assistance) and General Affairs and Information (WAICENT and other technical information dissemination activities) Departments.
6. Membership of CCP and COAG is voluntary and open to all Members of the Organization on a biennial basis. Separate membership lists are maintained for each Committee. Members’ representatives to sessions of COAG should be senior officers highly qualified to contribute actively to a multidisciplinary consideration of the subjects on the agenda6, and it is in the interest of Members to send suitably qualified representatives to sessions of CCP.
7. CCP held its first session in 1950 and, while the basic texts provide for the possibility of annual meetings7, sessions have been held biennially since 1975. Sessions have been held at FAO Headquarters since 1951 but could, in principle, be held elsewhere. COAG meets biennially at FAO, Rome, and held its first session in April 1972. For the last four sessions, COAG has had a slightly higher number of Members and rate of attendance, and about the same rate of representation from capitals, as compared with CCP (see Table 1). Reflecting its broader mandate, COAG also has a much higher number of non-Member observers and overall participants at its sessions.
Table 1. Attendance at Meetings of CCP and COAG
|No. of member countries in the biennium||No. of countries attending||Percent attendance||No. of member countries represented from capital||Percent from capital||No. of non-members attending (all types)||Total of number of actual participants registered|
8. Sessions of each Committee follow a standard format: a formal agenda, prepared by the Director-General in consultation with the Chair and agreed by the Committee; supporting papers prepared by the Secretariat; plenary meetings for discussion of agenda items, with full interpretation; and a report prepared by a drafting committee and adopted in plenary for transmittal to Council.
9. The agendas, timetables and duration of sessions of CCP and COAG differ in line with the separate mandates of the Committees.
10. CCP usually has four substantive agenda items: the state of world agricultural commodity markets, the medium-term outlook, policy developments, and international action on agricultural commodities, markets and trade. COAG has had from six to nine substantive agenda items in three main areas: review of FAO’s programme of work in the food and agricultural sector (contributing to the programme and budget process), selected development issues (prior to the fifteenth session, these were sectoral issues), and other substantive matters.
11. CCP sessions are four days in length, comprising five plenary meetings and one drafting committee meeting. COAG sessions are five days in length comprising eight plenary meetings and up to four drafting committee meetings.
12. In recent years, the Secretariats have organized side events outside of the formal meetings of the two Committees. These allow for less formal interaction among participants, including experts and representatives from non-governmental and civil society organizations, on specific topics pertinent to the mandates of the Committees.
13. The direct non-staff costs to the Secretariat of servicing sessions of CCP and COAG arise from standard charges for in-session interpretation, translation and printing of documents, and general operating expenses. The actual cost is directly proportional to the number of meetings held and the length of documents prepared, with some variation for time-sensitive translation rates and the timing of side events. In some cases, specialized consultants are hired to prepare documentation. Table 2 summarizes the costs of holding the last three sessions of each Committee, which have held steady, except for the sessions in 2001, when COAG had less documentation than usual and CCP had more.
Table 2. Cost of Meetings of CCP and COAG
|Session||Dates||Interpretation||Translation and printing||Direct cost of preparing papers (consultants)||Misc meeting costs||Extra cost for side events||Total non-staff cost of session|
14. The direct costs to Members arise from the time and travel costs of participation of representatives from capitals, and/or the time of participation of Permanent Representatives based in Rome, as well as the time necessary to review documentation and prepare for debate on each agenda item. These costs are directly proportional to the number of agenda items and the length of meetings, and may vary according to the complexity of items under discussion and size of delegations.
15. As noted above, the main costs to both FAO and Members are directly proportional to the number of agenda items and meetings in a session, with variations based on the complexity of items under discussion. Thus the only opportunity to significantly reduce costs to the Secretariat is to restrict the agenda and/or discussion so as to reduce the number of meetings and papers within a session. Members’ cost savings could arise from reduced overall span of sessions with fewer substantive agenda items, and from sending the same representative(s) to combined meetings of the Committees.
16. The scope for reducing the agendas and thus the number of meetings within a session is limited. As the mandates of the two Committees are separate and distinct, there is no evident scope for reducing the agendas based on overlap of subjects covered.
17. For COAG, the standing item on the programme of work is linked to the Organization’s programme and budget process, and Members [Council] value COAG’s technical review of both the Medium Term Plan and a preliminary extract of the Summary Programme of Work and Budget. Future sessions of COAG are expected to review a more substantive Programme Implementation Report as well. Increased attention to this item alone could require a reduction in the number of selected development issues on the agenda to stay within the existing eight plenary meetings. Further reduction in development issues tabled, so as to lower costs, would severely limit COAG’s coverage of its broad sectoral and cross-sectoral mandate. Space is also needed on the agenda to consider Other Matters that require attention by the Committee, as requested by Conference, Council, the Director-General or Members.
18. CCP faces a similar constraint, as there are a number of formal items to be covered at each session. Receiving reports of the intergovernmental groups and the Consultative Sub-Committee on Surplus Disposal would absorb at least half a day, and so the time remaining would limit the scope for serious discussion of technical items. Discussions of substantive technical issues could be focused more in special consultations that would then be reported to CCP. While these consultations have indeed proved to be an excellent vehicle for this kind of discussion, there is the danger that the role of CCP would become limited to a receiver of reports for endorsement with the corresponding limitation on the opportunity for serious intergovernmental discussion of major issues. This would obviously constrain the CCP from fulfilling its mandate, but would also render CCP less attractive, and would run counter to the aim of improving participation.
19. Any savings to Members would depend upon the same representative(s) attending throughout combined meetings of CCP and COAG (for those who are members of both Committees). It is evident that the mandates of the Committees need specialized technical representation by Members: on agricultural commodities and trade for CCP; on other aspects of agriculture, food and nutrition for COAG. Thus is it unlikely that one representative could cover both Committees while at the same time contributing to an improved level of technical debate. In fact, Members have indicated that more and/or alternative-format meetings should be held, and that ways to increase participation, interaction and debate by Members should be found.
20. Stimulating greater participation, especially by developing countries and from capitals, is more of an issue for CCP. Measures to encourage improved participation in CCP were introduced in 2003 and the success recorded will be built upon in subsequent sessions, so it may take some time for the benefits to show in enhanced participation. Side events organised during the CCP session and the commodity consultation held immediately prior to the session attracted a favourable response from Members attending. The need to improve the relevance and technical standard of documents prepared has also been recognised, and delegates agreed that the 64th session of CCP showed a marked improvement over previous sessions and that the quality of the documents provided the basis for better debate.
21. There is some scope for more radical alternative arrangements for CCP sessions within existing rules of procedure, which might be considered. These include the possibility of holding CCP meetings in alternate years to those of COAG to avoid the ´meeting fatigue´, of which many CCP delegations complained this year. It would also be possible to hold CCP meetings outside Rome in countries of major importance in world commodity trade. This approach contributes greatly to the success of meetings of the CCP´s subordinate bodies, the intergovernmental commodity groups (IGGs), through adding focus and emphasising the importance and relevance of topics discussed.
22. A promising innovation is the organization of side events and special consultations in parallel with the formal CCP and COAG meetings, including opportunities for presentations from and interaction with outside experts and representatives of civil society organizations. The consultation organized in association with the 64th session of CCP was very well received. Council noted that the seven side events held in conjunction with the 17th session of COAG provided an opportunity for less formal interaction among participants and encouraged the Secretariat to continue this practice8. To further enhance participation in future sessions, more of these extra events could be included and given a higher profile as an integral part of the programme, such as was done in the 16th session of the Committee on Forestry.
23. Based on the standard session format, the possibilities of back-to-back or joint sessions of CCP and COAG are explored as alternative arrangements for achieving efficiency savings and improved participation. These alternative arrangements aim to combine sessions for structural savings, and to incorporate a reduction in the number of meetings, agenda items and papers, bearing in mind the negative effects of such arrangements on the effectiveness of the Committees and on the level of participation and debate.
24. In back-to-back sessions, one Committee would start its session in the next available slot after the other Committee has completed its session. In this approach, there are no structural means to reduce the total length of sessions. The main savings accrue to Members who send one delegation. Two possible scenarios are:
25. In a joint session, separate agendas would be maintained and meetings would be co-mingled, either devoting a given morning or afternoon meeting to the agenda of one Committee, or mixing agenda items in a given meeting. It should be noted that such an arrangement would be procedurally complex, since each Committee has its own bureau, secretariat, membership list and report. A possible structural saving would be to use all available meeting slots for plenary or drafting committee meetings, thus reducing the total length of the combined sessions by one day, with marginal savings to Members. For example, the current combined number of twelve plenary and five drafting committee sessions could be held Monday to Friday and the following Monday and Tuesday, including evening sessions, with report adoption on Wednesday. As with back-to-back sessions, savings for the Secretariat would only be generated if the agenda, number of meetings and papers were reduced.
26. In considering possible alternative arrangements for combining meetings of CCP and COAG, the Joint Meeting may wish to note the separate and distinct mandates of these two Committees, the standard meeting format used, and the limited scope for achieving savings within the alternative arrangements without damaging the ability of the Committees to address their mandates and promote improved participation.
27. Furthermore, the objectives of efficiency savings and improved participation may be in conflict, since:
28. In relation to measures to improve the effectiveness of CCP, and specifically to enhance participation from capitals of developing country members, the Joint Meeting may wish to comment on the steps already taken in the organisation of the 64th Session. It is proposed to continue to improve the relevance and quality of technical documentation, to exploit linkages between agendas, and to expand the interactive format of meetings including through greater use of side and parallel events. However, the Joint Meeting may also wish to consider the desirability of holding CCP sessions in alternate years to those of COAG, and/or the holding of CCP sessions outside FAO Headquarters as possible additional means of enhancing participation. The latter option would obviously have cost implications, whereas opportunities of extra-budgetary support may be explored to address them.
1 CL 124/6
2 CL 124/9
3 Art. V para 6
4 G.R.O. XXIX
5 G.R.O. XXXII
6 G.R.O. XXXII.5
7 G.R.O. XXIX
8 Report of 124th Session of Council, Item 6 Report of 17th Session of COAG.