CL 116/INF/5



Hundred and Sixteenth Session

Rome, 14-19 June 1999



1. The Council at its 115th Session1 considered the following options for the modification of the general debate by Heads of Delegation at the Conference in order to allow for greater interaction among Ministers:

    1. Holding the Session in two stages (the first at Senior Official level, the second at Ministerial level).
    2. Setting aside one or two days for Ministers and Heads of Delegation to hold an open debate on a specific subject or subjects of international importance selected by the Council in June.
    3. Selecting a few topics which Ministers could address in separate but simultaneous meetings.

2. The Council did not adopt any of these options, but agreed to return to this matter at its June 1999 Session and requested that a paper on the financial and scheduling implications of Option c) be submitted to the Joint Meeting of the Programme and Finance Committees in May 1999.

3. The Joint Meeting agreed that the General Debate, consisting of statements by Heads of Delegation, should continue to be structured as at present. In addition, and on an experimental basis, it recommended that half a day be set aside as early as possible in the Conference for Ministers to discuss a subject of common interest, with the timing and subject of the meeting to be proposed by the Council in June. This meeting would take place instead of the General Debate in Plenary on that day only. Furthermore the Joint Meeting requested the Secretariat to prepare for the Council a document explaining the implications of the proposal2.

4. Other UN agencies besides FAO have felt it desirable to try to promote interaction among Ministers at Conference Sessions, yet have not arrived at a completely satisfactory formula. Accordingly, the approach recommended by the Joint Meeting (i.e. to start on an experimental basis with a half-day meeting) is in line with the general search for a solution within the UN system.

5. The provisional timetable of the Conference3 shows that four days (15-18 November) have been reserved for Statements by Heads of Delegation. This is consistent with the Council decision that voting for Council elections and the budget should take place at the end of the first week of the Conference, that is, on the Friday.

6. The Council decision to limit the duration of statements to five minutes has facilitated the scheduling of statements during the General Debate, despite the significant reduction in Conference time. However, experience shows that, because meetings do not always start on time nor do all speakers respect the limit, in practice the average time required for each speaker is between 10 and 12 minutes. If all the 176 FAO members were to take the floor, not including observers, a total of 30 hours speaking time would be required. This would exceed present availability of 24 hours (four days at six hours per day) assuming that meetings start on time and no evening or night meetings are held.

7. In the circumstances, holding a half-day meeting at the beginning of the Conference and instead of the General Debate would reduce even further total speaking time availability. In addition, Ministers expecting to make their declarations early in the Conference proceedings might not be in a position to intervene at a later stage. Furthermore, since the number of delegation heads wishing to speak is changeable and cannot be determined beforehand, it would not be possible to plan adequately for late meetings if required, in view of the reduced time.

8. The Director-General fully shares the desire of members to increase interaction at the level of Ministers during Conference. The choice of a thematic subject by Council, bearing the broad interest of the membership in mind, would facilitate the free flow of ideas and exchange of views. However, in view of time constraints, the Director-General believes that the experimental half-day meeting proposed for the 1999 Conference should be held after the General Debate has concluded and all members wishing to address the Plenary have had an opportunity to do so.

9. On the assumption that not all members would request speaking time in the General Debate, the Secretariat would arrange for the General Debate to be concluded in three and a half days (some speakers can also be given the floor during the afternoon of the previous Saturday, time permitting, as foreseen in document CL 116/11"Arrangements for the Conference"). The half-day meeting devoted to an exchange of views among Ministers would then be scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday. This timing would also permit participants to take into account issues and points raised by heads of delegation during the General Debate and Commission discussions. In order to maintain the informal character of the exchange of views and avoid additional costs, there would be no substantive report on the half-day meeting.

10. It might be possible to schedule the half-day meeting for Ministers earlier in the Conference if there was agreement that this be done in parallel with, that is not interrupting, the General Debate. The advantage of this would be to facilitate the preferences of those Ministers wishing to address Plenary in the early stages of the General Debate. However, in order to accommodate this alternative the meeting of one Commission would need to be suspended for the selected half-day, since there are no other meeting rooms in FAO capable of accommodating all delegations.


1  CL 115/19

2  CL 116/4

3  CL 116/11 Appendix B