Jun 20, 1986


ROME, JUNE 18 (IFDA/ESSMA BEN HAMIDA) -- Despite the hopes raised at the start of the World Food Council's 12th. Ministerial session here, very little progress was achieved towards solving the wide-ranging agricultural trade conflicts between the major exporters and particularly the EEC and the U.S.A.

Ministers and senior agricultural officials of the 36 member countries of the Rome-based WFC, which include the U.S.A. and EEC member countries, failed Wednesday to make progress on the controversial issues on international agricultural trade. The session was held behind closed doors.

The increasing tensions between the major exporting countries have had a negative impact on world food security and third world development efforts. The trade conflicts of the north depress world agricultural commodity prices, deny market access to third world exports, lower their foreign exchange earnings and, moreover, discourage local food production.

All participants at the meeting - including the U.S. and the EEC which are the two major exporters - agreed that the escalating grain-subsidy war is having an adverse impact on the third world.

But none of them showed the least readiness to move towards a negotiated solution.

Although all of them welcomed the opportunity to have "frank" discussions behind closed doors, between countries of the north, south, west and east, several countries still believe that trade issues should be negotiated in appropriate fora such as GATT and also through bilateral discussions.

However it has become evident, according to the WFC President, Henri Nallet, that GATT is not sufficient to solve world agricultural trade problems and that there is a pressing need to find a more suitable forum in which to lay the ground for solutions.

"We cannot escape, even if we wish to, from the political debate on agricultural policies and world agricultural production, between the major producing countries, the new exporting countries and third world countries suffering from (...) deficits", Nallet, the outgoing French Minister of Agriculture, told the press Wednesday.

Recalling the present situation of both over-supply and under-demand in world markets, Nallet warned that concertation of agricultural policies between all the countries concerned is essential. Failing this, present trends will lead to the explosion of the system.

"The problems will not be solved by technicians and directors of divisions" he said, "they have to be handled at a senior political level. Only a political solution is possible", he added.

According to a WFC document, 25 countries collectively account for about 80 percent of both food supply and demand it is they who hold the key, through their national policies, to improvements in international food markets, which affect all importing countries and particularly the poorest among.

Two major producers, the U.S. and the EEC, have been threatening to escalate their grain-subsidy war which began in 1981, as a result of rising production due to market interventions and trade restrictions.

Both U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Richard Lyng and Italian Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Filippo Maria Pandolfi agreed on the need to liberalise agricultural trade and share the necessary sacrifices equitably in order to allow a better deal for the third world.

Lying, however, announced that because earlier complaints about excessive protection and subsidisation of agricultural trade had not been heeded, his country is "now engaging vigorously in some of the practices which we so strongly criticised in the past".

"The U.S.", he said, is "determined to regain a substantive (...) of the agricultural exports we have lost during the past five or six years".

At a press conference, Lyng stated that U.S. policy, under the new 1985 farm law, is becoming "more aggressive than conciliatory".

He expressed the belief that the industrialised countries will begin to "act in unison" to make world agricultural markets "more open and rational". The alternative is economic chaos, he warned.

Summarising the results of the closed-door meeting, Nallet indicated that the third world countries with heavy food deficits do not go along with the U.S. concepts of free trade. They need to maintain certain forms of protectionism to safeguard their production.

Other third world countries with heavy foreign debts to pay off are seeking a certain form of trade liberalisation and fiercely criticised the subsidy policies in other countries which they do not hesitate to ably themselves.

Nallet suggested that African countries should build regional cooperation to increase food trade between them and implied that international aid should be given to help build appropriate regional institutions to this end.

The World Food Council, he said, has initiated activities to foster regional cooperation in Latin America and Africa and will continue to do so in the future.