Hundred and Nineteenth Session
Rome, 20-25 November 2000
PROPOSED REFORM OF THE GENERAL DEBATE AT CONFERENCE
1. In September 1998 the Joint Meeting of the Programme and Finance Committees examined the Working Procedures of Conference Sessions and considered options for the modification of the general debate by Heads of Delegation in order to allow for greater interaction among Ministers, namely:
2. In November 1998 the Hundred and Fifteenth Council Session, while generally agreeing that it would be desirable to achieve greater interaction among Ministers, did not adopt any of the options proposed under paragraph 1 above.
3. In response to the Hundred and Fifteenth session of the Council's request, the Joint Meeting in May 1999 examined two alternative possibilities: (a) Three Simultaneous Ministerial Meetings without parallel Conference sittings; (b) Three Simultaneous Ministerial Meetings with parallel Conference sittings. Under both scenarios it was assumed that country statements would continue to be delivered in Plenary and thus the additional meetings, while providing for greater interaction, would not in fact replace the General Debate. Both alternatives would result in supplementary costs for servicing additional meetings as well as timetable constrictions.
4. In June 1999 the Council at its Hundred and Sixteenth session requested the Joint Meeting of the Programme and Finance Committees to further examine the possible reform of the General Debate at Conference. Since such a review could not be implemented in time for the 1999 Conference Session, the Joint Meeting in September 1999 decided to postpone consideration of this item to 2000 and to submit a report thereon to the Hundred and Nineteenth Council session.
5. In May 2000 the Joint Meeting examined the proposal to set aside half a day early in the Conference for delegation heads to have round table discussions in order to promote greater interaction among Ministers.
6. In September 2000 the Joint Meeting further examined the proposal of setting aside half a day early in the Conference for delegation heads to have round table discussions following the "closed door meeting" formula used during the 2000 Regional Conferences. This was seen as an initial step towards moving away from the traditional practice of the Conference dedicating four days to statements in Plenary, and to encouraging an intellectually stimulating debate that would lead to greater commitment to the Organization at ministerial level. The Joint Meeting noted that the Council at its Hundred and Nineteenth session will have before it a series of options for the format to be used at the Thirty-first session of the Conference, taking into account that the Council may also decide to use the latter session as a forum for World Food Summit: five years later. The Committees also discussed the merits of the format adopted for the United Nations Millennium Assembly (New York, September 2000), in which four separate regionally-represented round tables were attended by Heads of State and Government. The delegate of the United Kingdom conveyed his government's willingness to finance an expert study on the available options.
7. In response to the Joint Meeting's request, and bearing in mind the Hundred and Fifteenth Session of the Council's decision that the duration of the Conference should not be further reduced, three alternatives are proposed:
a) General Debate focuses on the State of Food and Agriculture
Under this alternative the General Debate in Plenary would continue to deal with the State of Food and Agriculture, with Delegation Heads being invited to concentrate their statements on this item which could be placed in the context of thematic issues of interest to all Members. It may be noted that the General Debate has undergone streamlining measures over recent years with speaking time reduced to five minutes for each Head of Delegation since 1997, thereby encouraging greater focus in the statements delivered and consolidating the practice of committing longer statements to the Verbatim Records.
b) Half-day Round Table Discussion
The half-day could be scheduled at the beginning of the Conference and be held instead of the General Debate. In this scenario the overall availability of speaking time would be reduced and ministers expecting to deliver their statements early in the Conference proceedings might not be in a position to intervene at a later stage.
Alternatively, the half-day could be scheduled earlier in the Conference if there was agreement that this be done in parallel with the General Debate. In this case the meeting of one Commission would need to be suspended for the selected half-day given the limited number of meeting rooms in FAO large enough to accommodate the full membership.
It may also be noted that the size of the Organization's membership would per se constitute a limit to an open exchange and interaction among Ministers at such a full session.
c) Four Half-day Round Table Discussions
One way of maintaining the level of participation at round table meetings at levels that allow interactivity would be to schedule multiple discussions and limit the attendance to no more than fifty participants. Such an option would have other practical implications such as a delay to the start of substantive work in the Conference to allow for the additional meetings to take place, and cost increases due to the servicing of such meetings.
The feasibility of organizing these meetings also appears doubtful given the tight scheduling of Ministers' travel to Rome and the need to make sure they are available to participate in the decision-making process for the key issues which are dealt with by the Conference in the very first days of its sessions. The objective of the exercise would be defeated if Ministers were not able to attend more than one such meeting due to the limited time they are able to stay in Rome.
8. The Council is invited to decide which of the options outlined above it would recommend. The selected option would then be incorporated in the document on Arrangements for the Thirty-first session of the Conference which will be submitted to the Council session in June 2001.
9. It is understood that the option selected would be implemented at the 2001 Conference session on an experimental basis and that further adjustments based on actual experience may be required for the 2003 Conference session.
10. It may be noted that, should the Council decide that the 2001 Conference be used as a forum for the World Food Summit: five years later, ad-hoc arrangements would need to be made.