Food Security Declaration weak on substance

Please find below a report of the outcomes of the FAO High Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, which was held in Rome on 3-5 June 2008.

It was published in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) #6492 on Tuesday, 10 June 2008, and is reproduced here with permission.

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Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
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10400 Penang



Weak Declaration after lost fight on substance at Food Summit

Rome, 7 Jun (Neth Dano) -- The Food Security Summit held at the Food and Agriculture Organisation ended with a Declaration after several days of wrangling over some issues, that led to a bland document that said little or left out the critical issues debated at the plenary and roundtables of the meeting.

The Declaration was the most disappointing part of the High-Level Conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, held in Rome on 3-5 June, which was aimed at galvanizing global action to tackle the food price crisis as well as to discuss agriculture and climate change and the effects of biofuels.

The FAO Conference attracted more than 3,000 participants, including 43 heads of government and state, many more Ministers of Agriculture, and hundreds of officials, NGOs and journalists.

At the plenary and roundtables, the biggest issue debated, often hotly, was the factors causing the food price increases, with political leaders and UN agency chiefs (particularly, the FAO director-general) advancing often conflicting views on the role of biofuels, financial speculation, and unfair trade practices, especially the developed countries' huge agricultural subsidies.

One victim of this focus was the original major theme of the meeting - the link between agriculture and climate change. This was the subject of a roundtable, but was eclipsed in the plenary and the fight over the Declaration.

The four-page Declaration on World Food Security was adopted at 9:30 pm on 5 June, more than a day past the set schedule and after heated verbal skirmishes in the Committee of the Whole (COW) on procedural and substantive issues that went on to almost midnight on 4 June and in several sessions on the last day.

Observers and critics commented that the Declaration failed to meet the world's expectations for the international community to urgently respond to the global food crisis. The compromise language and the intention to avoid the most controversial issues substantially toned down the urgency of the responses that the Declaration was supposed to convey to the world public.

For example, the human right to food was almost absent from the text, and only an intervention by Algeria at the COW enabled this concept to enter the Declaration, but only weakly and in the Preamble. This most basic principle on which food security should be based had been more directly treated in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security in 1996 and the World Food Summit: Five Years Later in 2002.

The current Declaration, however, only mentioned in its Preamble: "recall the Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security." The Declaration also notably evaded dealing with the most controversial aspects on the role and effects of biofuels, which had dominated much of the statements of the heads of state and the discussions in the roundtables and sidelines of the Summit.

Several heads of state and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon proposed the adoption of international standards or criteria for the sustainable production of biofuels. Others, notably Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, objected to the unfair criticisms on biofuels.

In the only paragraph on biofuels in the Declaration, the challenges and opportunities of biofuels were recognized as a medium and long-term measure to address food security, energy and sustainable development needs. It weakly called for in-depth studies, the need to exchange experiences on biofuels technologies, norms and regulations, and the need for an international dialogue on biofuels among the different actors to attain food security and sustainable developments.

The Declaration also did not include reference to unfair trade rules and imbalances in global trade relations nor the speculation in the commodities market, which had been raised by many speakers at the Summit. Nor did it refer to sustainable agriculture or organic farming as an important way forward to reducing the Greenhouse Gas emissions arising from conventional chemical-based agriculture as well as a way to promote small-scale farm incomes, which had been discussed at a roundtable. It also did not propose any important action to respond to the urgent food price situation or the climate change challenge or the need to reform the highly subsidized agriculture of developed countries.

At the meetings to negotiate the Declaration, the US and EU proposed to adopt a Chair's text without amendment. This was objected to by the GRULAC (the Latin American and Caribbean) group that raised procedural and substantive issues.

Cuba raised the "magic" played by the US in dropping reference to respect of multilateralism and international laws on not using food as an instrument for political and economic pressures. Venezuela was adamant in wanting to make clear reference to UNFCCC as the basis for climate change commitments. Argentina articulated well the need to address "all measures" that could result to food price volatility instead of just "restrictive measures" (which had been put there especially by developed countries critical of export restrictions on food).

These countries, supported by GRULAC, registered their strong reservations on the Declaration, but eventually did not block consensus at 9:40pm on 5 June. All three said that the Declaration will reinforce the current injustice in the food system, the domination of the superpowers and the injustice to developing countries. Argentina said that the Declaration is based on wrong diagnosis of the problem, thus the solutions will not really address the root causes of the problem.

The US and the EU appeared to be among the most satisfied with the result. In the debate, they were most notably quiet, taking the floor to stress that they moved for the adoption of the draft text without any amendment, except for factual and technical corrections. In its closing speech, the US even expressed its satisfaction that the Declaration promotes "further liberalization" and promises higher investment of agriculture research (by which observers thought it was referring to biotechnology research). Ecuador concluded that most developing countries are not at all happy with the Declaration but opted to stay quiet in the "spirit of consensus".

Despite the dissatisfaction expressed by countries on the resulting Declaration, the delegates acknowledged that the Summit provided an opportunity for the global food crisis and the factors behind it to be highlighted and given a high profile, especially with the attendance of over a thousand journalists.

The conference helped the UN's Rome-based food agencies - the FAO, IFAD and the World Food Programme - to generate financial pledges for their projects. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, in the final Plenary, announced some $5 billion worth of pledges which included the $1.2 billion of the World Bank, $1 billion by the African Development Bank, and $1.5 billion of food aid announced by the US. The Chair, who is from Congo, at the final session, said he "hopes that these pledges will result in financial mechanisms that are affordable and accessible to developing countries".

The draft text of the Declaration on which negotiators worked on at the Summit had been produced by the Co-chairs of the Informal Open-ended Contact Group from Jordan and the US. They had authored the draft in reference to their earlier six-page report with draft textual language (including some issues within brackets) which arose from weeks of lengthy negotiations by the Rome-based diplomats.

The Chair of the Committee of the Whole (COW) of the Summit, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, presented the draft text at the meeting of the committee of the whole (COW) in the second evening of the Summit and appealed to the Delegates to adopt the document "on block", without amendments. He explained that the urgency of the food crisis situation requires urgent action from the international community and the meeting cannot afford to delay the adoption of the Declaration by opening the discussion to long debates and numerous amendments that would take up days and nights.

The Asia Group, Africa Group, the Near East, North America, and the EU agreed to adopt the draft text without amendments. The small island developing states (SIDS) wanted only an additional paragraph on the Mauritius Strategy for the sustainable development of the SIDS, and this was later adopted. Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela, supported by the Group of Latin America and Caribbean (GRULAC), raised some issues which were the same ones that had been within brackets in the earlier Co-Chairs' report.

Argentina raised a number of concerns on the process of discussions on several occasions during the COW session, pointing out the "lack of information on what's going on" and the lack of clarity on how to proceed. It proposed to delete the adjective "restrictive" to describe "measures that could increase the volatility of international prices" that need to be minimized, which is one of the Immediate and Short-term measures identified in the Declaration to address the global food crisis. [The "restrictive measures" were referring to restrictions on exports of food products.]

Argentina reasoned that such measures are not limited to restrictive ones since over-liberalized measures and financial speculation can also result in price volatility. It demanded for an explanation on the part of regional groupings and countries that are supposed to be against the deletion of the word "restrictive" on the reasons behind their position, but received no response from any delegation.

The Chair argued that opening up a debate on a substantive issue in the COW would further delay the adoption of the Declaration. Argentina then proposed that the word "restrictive" be at least bracketed since there had been no country opposed the proposal to delete it.

Cuba questioned the deletion of the sentence "We reaffirm the importance of international cooperation and solidarity, as well as the necessity of refraining from unilateral measures not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations and that endanger food security", which had appeared in brackets in the working draft. It said this sentence is a mere reiteration of what is already contained in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security adopted by FAO member-states in 1996 which was later reaffirmed in the declaration on World Food Summit: Five Years Later. It blamed the US co-chair of the contact group for making the sentence "disappear in thin air, like magic", and lambasted the US for the decades-long food blockade on Cuba that it said had put at risk the right to food of the people.

Venezuela insisted in making reference to the commitments of countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the lone paragraph on climate change and food security, reasoning that it will help reinforce the commitment of the international community, particularly the developed countries, to address the challenges of climate change that have contributed to the current food crisis.

At the meeting of the COW in the evening of 4 June, GRULAC, led by Mexico, requested for a 30-minute suspension to allow the group to consult with capitals and the heads of their delegations, and consolidate their positions on the draft text. The Chair initially refused the request, explaining that there is no time since it was already late. Bolivia and Venezuela appealed to the Chair to allow the suspension, which the Chair again refused, prompting some delegates from Latin America to lose their temper and raise their voices from the floor.

The Chair then allowed for a 20-minute suspension of the session. When the session resumed, GRULAC again presented its concerns on the issues raised by Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela, and proposed that the discussions on these be referred back to the open-ended informal contact group. This was vigorously opposed by Japan and Egypt. The Chair decided to suspend the session to the next morning.

In the final session of the COW, Argentina explained its reservation, stating that the Declaration had used "wrong diagnosis of the problems as basis for actions". The text had failed to take into account the root causes of the global food crisis, namely, the imbalances in the world trade regime, unfair trade caused by the trade-distorting subsidies and trade barriers in developed countries, the conditionalities imposed by the international financial institutions, and the speculation in the financial and commodities markets that result in the food price volatility in the global market. It said that these factors which contribute to increasing the trade deficit and poverty in developing countries are the reasons why investments in agriculture have been going down over the past few decades.

In explaining its reservation, Cuba said the text represents a lack of political will of the developed countries to sustainable development, singling out the US as the only country that is blocking any reference to the right to food. It said that the document does not provide an objective analysis of the basic causes of hunger, such as the trade-distorting agricultural subsidies and monopoly of production in developed countries, the consequences of financial speculation on the food crisis, the use of grains as biofuels, and the impacts of the production and consumption patterns of developed countries.

It questioned why other countries refused to include a reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and the UNFCCC in the draft Declaration, and went to attack the "criminal blockade" imposed by the US on Cuba which is a clear violation of the principle of not using food as an instrument of political and economic pressures.

Venezuela, in its statement, regretted that the "opportunity is lost" to move forward. The food situation is rooted to structural problems linked to the unsustainable production and consumption in developed countries that is the major cause of climate change that affects developing countries most. It lamented that the draft text shows a "lack of genuine humanitarian spirit" and "lack of real commitment" to address the root causes of the problem. It noted that the text represents a "move backward" especially on the part of countries that are blocking any reference to the UNFCCC in the draft Declaration, and criticized "unilateral domination by one country" in the discussions.

Before the COW adopted the draft text of the Declaration which was later passed on to the High-Level Segment Plenary for adoption, Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela requested that their reservations on the text be registered in the proceedings and their explanatory statements be included as annexes to the official report.

All three stated that, despite their reservations on the draft text of the Declaration, they are not blocking the consensus in adopting it. Nicaragua and Ecuador threw their support behind the statements made by Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela. Ecuador stated that there are actually many countries that have reservations on the draft text who opted to remain silent in the spirit of consensus, and their silence should not be taken as full agreement. Germany enjoined other countries to respect the position of the three countries and to ensure that their explanatory statements be included as annexes to the final report on the Summit. +