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Summit on food – big on talk, short on answers

The global food crisis was the subject of a heated 3-day meeting of world leaders in Rome this week. To mark the end of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s summit, representatives from 183 countries signed a declaration on June 5 to increase investment in agriculture, strengthen global relief and hold further trade talks. The hardest hit nations expressed frustration over the weakness of the final declaration, which is watered down to bring all signatories to the table. Concrete strategies to address concerns over biofuel production and export restrictions were not included.

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Story Transcript

REKHA VISWANATHAN (VOICEOVER): The global food crisis was the subject of a heated three-day meeting of world leaders in Rome. Representatives from 183 countries signed a declaration on June 5 to increase investment in agriculture, strengthen global relief, and hold further trade talks, as initial talks proved contentious. United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon called on all nations to ease agricultural export restrictions. Kenyan Agricultural Minister William Ruto seconded his call and urged that protectionist policies be done away with.

WILLIAM SOMOEI RUTO, KENYAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER: I think the rich countries, the developed world, should instead open their markets and remove restrictive regimes and protectionist regimes. And, in fact, the same way they have a loyal market for their produce in the third world, their industrial produce, they should be reasonable enough to open up their markets so that agricultural products from the developing world can find their place in their markets.

VISWANATHAN: While some leaders ask that trade restrictions be reconsidered, the United States has refused to consider lifting its trade embargo on Cuba. Argentina also resisted efforts to discuss easing export restrictions, as it has imposed a hefty tax on key agricultural exports. Leaders and representatives from the hardest-hit nations expressed their frustration over the weakness of the final declaration, which is watered down to bring all signatories to the table. Concrete strategies to address concerns over biofuel production and export restrictions were not included.

MARY CHINERY-HESSE, CHIEF ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF GHANA: The food crisis which the world faces today is so serious that it would be disastrous for the survival of mankind if the conclusions reached at this historic summit suffer the same fate. It is our fervent hope that for once the rhetoric will be moved to definitive action.

VISWANATHAN: While Ghana pushed for firm commitments from participating nations, US Agricultural Secretary Ed Schafer backed the US’s stance on resisting agreements that would counter US trade policy.

ED SCHAFER, US AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: No agreement’s better than a bad agreement, always. But, you know, if nothing else, nations came together to recognize the problem.

VISWANATHAN: Though this back-and-forth is not unusual at world policy summits, the urgency of the crisis has caused a great deal of concern worldwide. Millions teeter on the verge of starvation, and millions more make the hard choice to sacrifice other necessities in order to put food on the table.

SADIA SHAFI (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): If we did not get this food, our children would die, we would be forced to move to the bigger cities, but we would not earn enough money.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.