10 December 2003, Rome -- The governing Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that ended its 32nd Session last night, decided to limit the terms of office of future FAO Directors-General. Starting with the election in 2005, FAO Directors-General "should be appointed for a term of six years, renewable only once for a further term of four years."

The Conference of agriculture ministers and senior officials also voted FAO a 2-year budget of $749 million, a cut of $51 million in real terms due to inflation and changes in currency exchange rates.

FAO's budget was frozen from 1994 through 2001 at $650 million and increased in 2002-2003 to $651.8 million. To maintain the same purchasing power, FAO would have needed a budget of $800.3 million for 2004-2005.

Commenting on the outcome of the Conference, Chairman Jim Sutton, Agriculture and Forestry Minister of New Zealand, said: "I think the fact that we got complete consensus on the budget is a good thing, even though we can agonize over changes in the value of the US dollar and I think we can be satisfied that the Organization is sufficiently funded to maintain a good level of work, increasing the effectiveness of what it does."

He added that a budget that provides almost $100 million more than the previous two years was a "worthwhile achievement, giving the Organization a little more wriggle room in what had become a very tight situation," with agreement to split contributions between the two major currencies the euro and the dollar.

The Conference re-elected Mr. Aziz Mekouar of Morocco as independent Chairperson of the Council for the next two years. Members of the FAO Council, which consists of 49 member states, were also chosen. The Council is FAO's governing body between sessions of the Conference.

During the Conference, delegates debated FAO's proposed Programme of Work and Budget and considered FAO's call for intensified action to combat illegal fishing and for increased support for Small Island Developing States.

A series of side events allowed detailed examination of issues such as the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, expected to come into force early in 2004, and the use of science and technology to improve water management in Africa and the Near East.

The Conference voted to admit four new countries to the Organization, bringing FAO's membership to 187 countries and the European Community. The newly admitted countries are: Micronesia, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Ukraine.

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad delivered the McDougall Memorial Lecture, saying: "Instead of free trade, we must insist on fair trade and we must insist that in the virtual global nation, those who benefit from it must pay their dues so the poor can also derive some of the benefit." He proposed a global tax on multinational corporations to fund the development of infrastructure in poor countries.

During the Conference a number of Round Tables took place, providing senior officials from member states with the opportunity to examine key issues in agriculture, trade, fisheries and forestry. The topics were:
  • the role of water and infrastructure in ensuring sustainable food security;
  • developments in international trade negotiations on agriculture and their implication for food security;
  • the dimension of food safety in food security.

John Riddle
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53259