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Press Release 99/10

UN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION CONVENES MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE TO HELP SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES MEET THE CHALLENGES OF ECONOMIC CHANGE, ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION AND NATURAL DISASTERS; FAO PROPOSES PLAN OF ACTION


Rome, 11 March - A special Ministerial meeting on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will convene in Rome to consider action against global financial turmoil, a changing trade regime, environmental threats and natural disasters. They will also take up a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Draft Plan of Action aimed at helping agriculture, fisheries and forestry in SIDS countries. FAO estimates the annual cost of implementing the Plan at $180 million.

The Special one-day Ministerial Conference on Agriculture in Small Island Developing States will be held at FAO Headquarters on 12 March.

According to FAO, because of their size, Small Island Developing States are generally more vulnerable than larger countries to natural disasters, economic and financial turmoil and environmental problems such a global warming.

The FAO Draft Plan of Action proposes assistance programs for some 30 SIDS countries* and four low-lying coastal states** threatened by rising seas. The programs focus on five major areas: agricultural trade, intensification and diversification of agriculture, fisheries, sustainable management of land, water and forestry resources and environmental protection and strengthening national institutions.

Agricultural exports of SIDS countries tend to be concentrated in a small number of commodities and markets. Most do not have comparative advantage in overall agricultural production, though some show comparative advantage in particular agricultural commodities, and in fishery and forestry products.

According to FAO: "The trade liberalisation that is occurring as a result of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture will have important consequences for the Small Island Developing States, bringing new challenges and offering fresh opportunities. Small Island Developing States exports will experience an erosion in tariff preferences and will face stiffer competition. On the other hand, the Uruguay Round opens up opportunities both in primary commodities as well as in higher value processed products for low-cost competitive producers, including many of the Small Island Developing States."

The SIDS countries "that are most dependent on agricultural exports for a significant part of their export earnings have suffered from a long run decline in real world market prices, and a slow growth in world demand for their major agricultural products. Because of the high reliance of their agricultural exports on preferential agreements," warns FAO, "Small Island Developing States are exposed to some risks from multilateral trade liberalization, and some of them fear that the coming round of negotiations will increase their exposure to such risks. This would in turn affect their import capacity, including food."

The FAO Draft Plan of Action would help SIDS countries respond to the new trade challenges and would assist them to undertake short-term adjustments that would, among other things, allow the countries to take full advantage of the current preferential trade opportunities and also of the Uruguay Round openings.

A combination of large-scale commercial production of a limited number of export crops and a traditional smallholder sector producing food crops mostly for local consumption have long characterized Agriculture in many Small Island Developing States. However, according to FAO, SIDS countries today recognize the challenges of global competitiveness and they "are looking for opportunities to diversify their economies, especially in the agricultural sector, in order to maintain and/or increase their resource base more rationally and sustainably. "

The FAO Draft Plan of Action would assist SIDS countries to establish an "enabling environment for agricultural intensification and diversification." It would ensure that support services for agriculture are in place and allow domestic producers to respond to new challenges by encouraging governments to pursue policies that facilitate the adoption of new technologies and encourage agricultural productivity and diversification into new products.

Other aspects of the FAO plan would assist SIDS countries to improve fisheries conservation and management, develop aquaculture and inland fisheries and improve post-harvest fish management, marketing and processing.

In Forestry, the plan would promote the conservation and sustainable use of land and water resources and enhance environmental protection by strengthening environmental monitoring and integrating environmental values and concerns into the development process. It would also improve disaster preparedness by promoting measures to reduce the impact of hurricanes and cyclones on agriculture and coastal fisheries. The Plan would assist the countries to assess their national meteorological and hydrological services and support early warning systems at national and regional levels.

Following discussions, the Agricultural Ministers are expected to act on the Plan in a scheduled evening meeting on 12 March.

*Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cook Islands, Cuba, Cyprus, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu.

**Belize, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana and Suriname.

* * * * *

Please visit the special Small Island Developing States Web Site at: http://www.fao.org/sids, where the full FAO Draft Plan of Action is available

For further information contact:

John Riddle - Telephone: (00 39) 0 348 - 23 41 145 (The initial zero is dropped when dialing from outside Italy) or, E-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


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