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Address by the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr. Janez Drnovšek at the 60th anniversary of the FAO

Rome, Italy, 10/17/2005  |  speech

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audioAddress by the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr. Janez Drnovšek at the 60th anniversary of the FAO (2.6 MB)

1. Despite the many documents, commitments, conferences and practical efforts devoted to it, hunger and malnutrition continue to represent a global tragedy. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, hunger is increasing, and it also remains persistent in many other regions of the world. More than a quarter of the children in the developing world are malnourished. Halving hunger is the Millennium Development Goal on which we are falling behind – a fact which remains largely neglected or ignored.

2. Because hunger occurs in many forms, only some forms of hunger can be seen on television during crisis situations, such as the one recently in Niger. But many people around the world are suffering from chronic malnutrition that cannot be seen on television. Even today, as we speak, it is predictable that in the coming months the hunger crisis will re-emerge in West African countries with poor harvests. Will we lose the race against time again?

Click to enlarge3. Hunger is both the cause and effect of poverty. It coincides with and reinforces the problems of health, education and gender exclusion. In order to get the Millennium Development Goals back on track, a significant immediate increase of financial assistance, technical assistance, improved access to rich and developed markets, along with greater debt relief, is necessary. The developed part of the world must allow global markets in agriculture to finally start working for the world's poor, too.

4. In my speech at the UN in September I emphasized the need to reach a fair agreement in the Doha Round by the end of this year, with no additional conditions on the developing countries attached. In the area of agriculture, ending export subsidies, reducing import tariffs and abolishing the illegal practice of dumping, which drives down the price of local producers, could help improve farming prospects in many developing parts of the world. Non-tariff barriers to rich and developed markets must also be eliminated. As calculated by Oxfam, improving access to world markets by just one percent each for Africa, East Asia, South Asia and Latin America could lift 128 million people out of poverty.

5. The current international trade regime is unfair and unjust. Agricultural subsidies, import tariffs and dumping of agricultural surpluses show the extent of the double standards of the developed part of the world. Therefore, the European debate on the new financial perspective must be closely linked with the debate on the future development of agriculture in the developing world. The only remaining areas for limited financial support of agriculture in Europe should be organic farming, environmental protection and rural development in remote areas. There is no reason not to include developing countries' farmers in the schemes of support for organic farming, food safety and quality. European agriculture reform must take place now. According to the OECD, as a result of agriculture reform in 2003, the average tariff-equivalent of agriculture protection fell by just 2 percentage points, from 57 to a still unacceptably high 55 percent.

Click to enlarge6. Intensive negotiations in the Doha Round continue. It is possible to agree with the US Trade Representative that without deeper tariff cuts the Doha Round cannot be successful. The EU should accept this challenge. Sensitive products on both sides of the Atlantic, such as cotton in the US and sugar, milk and dairy products in the EU, must be addressed, too; otherwise, the Doha Round becomes too narrow in scope. According to World Bank economists, 92 percent of the benefit from agricultural liberalization to the developing countries will come from tariff cuts by the rich countries. On the other hand, we must be careful to include not only the most competitive agricultural producers in the developing countries, but also those who currently cannot compete on the world markets. Special attention must be dedicated to the urban and suburban poor in the poorest countries of the world who may suffer in the first period of agricultural liberalization. Despite all the complexities of the Doha Round, the developing part of the world is entitled to a fair agreement that would substantially boost its prospects for development.

7. In making efforts to complete the Doha Round, we should bear in mind what Mr. Kevin Watkins, the director of UNDP's Human Development Report Office has said: "...unless the Doha Round negotiations get serious, whole sections of humanity will be denied a share in the prosperity created by global integration."

Click to enlarge8. Climate change will continue to deteriorate the already abysmal conditions of farming in many of the developing countries.

9. The hunger crisis expanded this year. According to certain leading international experts, donor countries and international financial institutions require that the developing countries cut their investments in basic village infrastructure and vital inputs for farming in order to secure debt repayment. Impoverished villages cannot cope with drought, the high cost of organic and chemical fertilizers, irrigation and long-term climate change. As some leading experts realize, the help of rich countries to alleviate hunger by sending food is welcome and necessary; however, providing financing, water-management techniques, improved seed varieties and sound agricultural advice would be better to secure the long-term sustainability of these villages, millions of farmers and their families.

10. The present global imbalances are not only disastrous, but also unsustainable. Hundreds of millions of people in different developing countries suffer from hunger, malnutrition and disease. Impoverished villages throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Asia cannot produce enough food for their families and for the markets. Only a systematic long-term approach, generous financial support, technical support and improved access to the markets can change this sad picture. The world has the resources, knowledge and capabilities to raise the developing countries out of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. And the world has the responsibility to do so. We are all interconnected in this world. It is not possible to continue the present patterns without increasing international problems, tensions. And finally, the suffering would spread from the developping countries to the developped world. We must act together and in time.

Thank you.
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