17 February 2011
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Agricultural Priorities for G-20 Presidency of France

 


The dangerously high volatility of global food prices would be a major target of the French presidency of the Group of 20 (G-20), which would actively promote concrete solutions during 2011, France’s Agriculture Minister pledged at a Headquarters press conference today.


“We all have the moral obligation to succeed when it comes to fighting volatility in food prices,” Bruno Le Maire, Minister for Agriculture, Food Supply, Fisheries, Rural Areas and Regional Development, said, following an exchange of views in the General Assembly and a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  “It’s not a time for discussion; it’s a time to take decisions,” he added, pointing out that everyone agreed on the dangers, particularly for developing countries.


Citing the fluctuation of wheat prices on the French wholesale market, from €100 to €260 a ton this year, the Minister said that in the consultations he had pursued so far, everyone had agreed that demand would continue to rise exponentially, while production would only increase mathematically, owing to climate change, the conversion of lands to other uses and other factors.  In 2010, 40 million people had suffered from hunger and it would only get worse, he said, noting that increasing production was just barely keeping up with rising demand.  One climatic event, such as flooding in the Russian Federation, could cause prices to skyrocket, he said, warning that hunger, food riots and instability could be the result.


The key would be to re-launch investment in global agriculture in order to increase independent agricultural capacity in developing countries, he said.  Global cooperation was crucial for that purpose and for preventing price spikes.  Greater exchanges of information and technical assistance were needed, with transparency concerning global food stocks.  At present, no one knew how much wheat, corn or other commodities were actually stocked by various countries, which increased price volatility.


He, therefore, proposed an unprecedented exchange of information on grain stocks, pointing out that among the G-20 countries there was currently no cooperative mechanism on agriculture.  The French presidency wanted one established to help limit export restrictions, he said, adding that it also wished to see financial markets dealing with agricultural commodities regulated in a manner that did not go against the market, but rather improved it.  “It is unacceptable that there should be speculation on hunger in the world,” he said.


Welcoming proposals from all States, he stressed that regional perspectives were particularly important, adding that he also wished to work closely with such agencies as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in order to make the current system work more effectively.


Responding to questions, he said the solution would include official development assistance (ODA), other aid and private investment, noting that, just like industry, agriculture required massive investment.  The G-20 presidency would work closely with international financial institutions and French banks to ensure that markets worked effectively, but without interfering negatively with their mechanisms.


The aim was to help countries of the global South to develop autonomous production capacities, he continued.  The idea was not to have the North feed the South, but to increase production in the latter while improving the functioning of the global system.  He described as “dangerous” any model of production that increased production but failed to raise food independence in the South, such as the trend of buying or renting land in developing countries for agricultural production benefiting countries of the North.


Asked how other G-20 members would react to the notion of market regulation, he said the Group had reached a consensus that the situation was serious and there was the goodwill required to achieve solutions.  For the first time, all agriculture ministers would be meeting in Paris this coming June to agree on concrete responses.  However, food stock transparency was “a delicate question for many”, he cautioned.  He said he would soon be going to the Russian Federation for consultations and felt that country was open to cooperation.  On market regulation, the United States Government had already put several regulations in place that even the European Union did not yet have.  The question was to find regulatory instruments that would not go against the market, he said.  “We’re not here to make the markets Marxist.”


He also stressed the importance of taking the views of South American countries into account, adding that he was not making proposals for the benefit of European agricultural producers, France being the largest.  Concerns were quite different from one country or continent to the next, he said.  The idea of global cooperation was new and would take time, he said, adding that it was difficult but necessary.


Asked what was different between his proposals and all those that had followed the 2008 food riots, he said the latter had been “classic emergency responses”, proposing various kinds of financing to make food available.  The French G-20 presidency, however, wished to create a new global agricultural situation.  Partly because of the financial crisis, new and more efficient solutions were necessary to address structural realities.


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For information media • not an official record