World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/80

    11 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by Mr. H. de Haen

Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department

(Speaking as an Observer)

    On behalf of the Director-General of the FAO, Dr. Jacques Diouf, it gives me great pleasure today to address you at this first Ministerial Conference of the WTO following the historic meeting at Marrakesh two years ago.

    I should like to concentrate my address on the outcome of the World Food Summit concluded on 17 November in Rome. This Summit, which was attended by delegations from 186 countries, including 82 Heads of State or Government, 30 Deputy Heads and 57 Ministers, adopted the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and a Plan of Action. The basic objective of the Summit was to raise political awareness of the problem of hunger which currently blights the lives of over 800 million fellow human beings. The Summit reaffirmed the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger and adopted the immediate objective to reduce the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015. To achieve this, the Plan of Action lays the foundation for concerted action at all levels required. It underlines that the vast majority of those who are undernourished, either cannot produce or cannot afford to buy enough food. Therefore, the importance of poverty eradication and policies towards sustainable agriculture, fishery, forestry and rural development for food security is particularly emphasized.

    But before I refer in some more detail to the trade aspects of the Summit Plan of Action, I should like to mention that, in recognition of the multifaceted character of food security, the commitments made by the Summit cover a much wider range of actions, including inter alia an enabling political, social and economic environment, prevention of and preparedness for natural and man-made emergencies, and promotion of optimal allocation and use of public and private investments for food and agriculture. Within this range of actions, commitment three underlines that participatory and sustainable food, agriculture, fishery, forestry and rural development policies and practices are essential to adequate and reliable food supplies - and this in considering the multifunctional character of agriculture. In fact, the economic and social development of the rural sector is recognized as a key requisite for the achievement of food security for all.

    The Summit took full cognizance of this week's meeting here at Singapore and, while the Summit did not negotiate on trade matters per se, it did consider that, together with appropriate domestic economic and social policies, trade was a key element in achieving food security. Indeed, one of the seven commitments of the Summit was to ensure that food, agricultural trade and overall trade policies are conducive to fostering food security for all through a fair and market-orientated world trade system.

    In order to meet the challenges of and utilize the opportunities arising from the international trade framework, Members of the WTO committed themselves at Rome to pursue the implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreement, which will improve market opportunities for efficient food, agricultural, fisheries and forestry producers and processors, particularly those of the developing countries.

    Moreover, the international community as a whole has pledged to continue to assist countries adjust their institutions and standards to food safety and sanitary requirements and to promote technical and financial assistance to improve agricultural productivity and infrastructure of the developing countries particularly the low-income food deficit countries, in order to optimize the opportunities arising from the international trade framework. FAO will continue to play its part through its technical programmes to assist in the sanitary and phytosanitary area, on national agricultural policy and through our various programmes, particularly the Special Programme on Food Production in Support of Food Security in LIFDCs to boost food production.

    Regarding sanitary and phytosanitary measures, FAO has fully supported the objectives of the Uruguay Round Agreements aimed at removing unjustified and arbitrary technical barriers to trade in food and agricultural products, whether these are sanitary and phytosanitary measures or other technical barriers. This was also the objective behind the establishment of the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme in 1962. Food-related measures which are necessary for public health, the facilitation of trade, prevention of deceptive practices and general consumer protection are necessary activities of governments, and the additional emphasis on the rights of countries to apply such measures, as outlined in the new Uruguay Round Agreements, is welcome.

    International trade in food and agricultural products has an annual value of more than US$300 billion. Many millions of dollars are wasted each year as foods not conforming to legitimate food safety and consumer protection requirements are rejected or detained at the point of import. The objective of FAO's food control programmes is to ensure that domestic food supplies and foods entering international trade meet the minimum essential quality and safety requirement specified in Codex standards.

    FAO has strengthened its programme of scientific expert consultations to provide the essential risk analysis which underpins Codex standards, guidelines and other recommendations. It has strengthened the overall Codex programme, and has provided additional support to developing countries by helping them organize national Codex Committees and contact points. FAO has also strengthened its technical assistance programme to help countries meet their obligations and exercise their rights under the Agreements. It will continue its activities at the high level of input.

    FAO has established the Secretariat for the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to deal with the harmonization of phytosanitary measures and information exchange.

    Since its establishment a few standards have been approved, including guidelines for pest risk assessment and the establishment of pest free areas. A number of further standards are under development. Currently, the IPPC itself is under revision to bring it in line with modern plant protection practices and to include SPS concerns. It is hoped that the revised Convention will be adopted by the FAO Conference in November 1997. The Organization stands ready to assist developing countries in meeting the future requirements of the SPS Agreement in this important field.

    As a standard setting organization FAO has been encouraged by the extent of the cooperation between the WTO Committees on SPS and TBT and the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the IPPC. As also suggested by the United Kingdom delegation during this Ministerial Conference, FAO pledges its full commitment to continuing and enhancing this cooperation.

    The Summit's Plan of Action also goes into the trade-related aspects of sustainability, which itself will be one of the main pillars of food security in the years ahead. At the Summit the international community has agreed to endeavour to ensure the mutual supportiveness of trade and environmental policies in support of food security, looking to the WTO to address the relationship between WTO provisions and trade measures for environmental purposes. Every effort should be made to ensure that environmental measures do not unfairly affect market access for the food and agricultural exports of developing countries. The Summit Plan of Action emphasized the need to conduct international trade in fish and fishery products in a sustainable way.

    FAO will continue to provide technical assistance to its member countries, on request, to meet their obligations under the Uruguay Round, particularly the TRIPS Agreement. In developing their national policies and programmes, countries may well wish to take into account and utilize international agreements and codes of conduct which the FAO members have negotiated and adopted, including those related to the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Relevant negotiations on access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, the sharing of benefits and the realization of farmers' rights are ongoing in the intergovernmental FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, for the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity. These are especially relevant for the TRIPS Agreement, particularly Article 27.3(b) and matters related to trade and the environment.

    One very important recommendation in the Plan of Action of the World Food Summit is that the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries should be fully implemented. FAO has been an active participant in the work carried out in the Committee on Agriculture as a follow-up to the Decision. In particular, this included an analysis of the definition of food importing countries and provision of related data to the Secretariat and to Member countries. We stand ready to continue these working arrangements in the future.

    As for the appropriate forms of assistance, clearly this would depend on the particular circumstances of the recipient country and, in this connection, the Plan of Action calls on governments and the international community, as appropriate, to examine WTO-compatible options and take any appropriate steps to safeguard the ability of importing developing countries, especially LIFDCs, to purchase adequate supplies of basic foodstuffs from external sources on reasonable terms and conditions.

    The Plan of Action also recognizes prominently the other component of assistance called for by the Decision. It calls for the international community, in cooperation with governments and civil society, to promote financial and technical assistance to improve the agricultural productivity and infrastructure of developing countries, especially LIFDCs, in order to optimize the opportunity arising from the international trade framework. This type of assistance has a lasting impact on the capacity of affected countries to respond to their food security problem and contributes to their self-reliance.

    Apart from these concerns of the food importing countries, the Plan of Action also places considerable emphasis on the need for food exporting countries to act as reliable sources of supply to their trading partners and give due consideration to the food security of importing countries especially the LIFDCs. The food exporters are called upon to reduce food export subsidies and refrain from using export restrictions in line with their Uruguay Round commitments and to administer all export related trade policies and programmes responsibly with a view to avoiding disruptions to world food trade.

    The Summit also refers to the continuation of the reform process for agriculture in conformity with the Uruguay Round Agreement, particularly Article 20. In this context governments commit themselves to ensure that developing countries are well informed and equal partners in the process working for effective solutions that improve their access to markets and that are conducive to the achievement of sustainable food security. For our part, we in FAO stand ready to assist developing countries in this endeavour.

    FAO has developed close working relationships with the WTO in the past two years. We are attending each other's meetings, we have provided technical assistance to help Member countries in their implementation of the various agreements, activities that we plan to strengthen, and we have enjoyed close working relationships with your Secretariat throughout. We look forward to a continuation of these close and useful relationships in the future.