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Press Release 99/76

THE UN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION WARNS AGAINST AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES AND PROTECTIONISM IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES


Rome, December 2, 1999 -- Calling food production "arguably the most vital of human activities," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned that "continued high levels of support and protection in some higher-income countries adversely affect the agriculture of other countries by depressing commodity prices" and undermining agricultural investment, which harms farmers in the developing world.

FAO Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen is leading the FAO delegation to the Seattle Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to argue for world food security. In remarks released in advance of delivery at the meeting, he said that FAO wants reform in the regulatory framework governing international agricultural trade to be conducive to food security for all.

"For many low-income food deficit countries, priority for agricultural development is the surest and quickest means for combining sustained economic growth and poverty alleviation with enhanced domestic food production", said Mr. de Haen, adding that the key challenge for developing countries in the upcoming reform process "is to ensure that the international regulatory framework governing agricultural trade will contribute to their agricultural development and food security."

Acknowledging that trade contributes to food security by providing exporting countries with foreign exchange and by enabling others, including many of the poorest countries, to consume more than they produce, Mr. de Haen said that consumers in importing countries have sometimes benefited from the resultant surpluses but over the longer term the depressed prices have led a number of net food importing countries to neglect their own agriculture in public policies.

In developing countries, agriculture strengthens food security in three ways. It generates rural income, increases foreign exchange through agricultural exports and increases food production for domestic markets.

According to Mr. de Haen's remarks, increased food production for domestic markets is of fundamental importance for the least developed and net-food-importing developing countries whose food import bills rose steadily during the 1990s.

According to FAO, for agriculture to be successful in both the export and domestic markets, the reform process needs to help countries improve competitiveness, particularly by improving access to export markets and bolstering productivity. Progress has been made in reducing tariff barriers on unprocessed tropical products like coffee, tea and cocoa. However, says the UN agency, many more developing countries would benefit if similar improvements in market access were granted for other agricultural products such as temperate zone horticulture, sugar, cereals and meat, as well as for processed agricultural products.

FAO said that sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade, "continue to pose a problem for market access." The UN agency called for greater involvement on the part of developing countries in setting international standards and urged those countries to improve their capabilities to apply and enforce international standards.

"Harmonization of national standards with science-based international standards is in the interests of all," FAO said. "Developing countries, in particular, need time, resources and technical capacity to adjust their domestic agricultural regulatory systems to comply with such standards. This would not only enable them to respond more expeditiously to emerging export opportunities but would also benefit domestic consumers and protect animal and plant health."

According to Mr. de Haen, "FAO's primary goal is the reduction of undernourishment throughout the world and food security for all. The continuation of the agricultural trade reform process, and the development of science-based standards to guide and facilitate that trade, are critical for achieving this goal."

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For more information on FAO activities related to trade negotiations, please visit our web site at: http://www.fao.org/ur/

Contact: John Riddle
Telephone: (39) 06 57 05 32 59
e-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


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