OECD countries back sustainable agriculture

EU, US ministers in "frank" exchange over wider goals of agricultural policy

Agriculture ministers from 26 industrialised countries adopted new principles for achieving sustainable agriculture today, at the close of a two-day meeting in Paris. "Agro-food" policies should be "multifunctional," they agreed - for the first time according to one minister - supporting environmental protection and the viability of rural areas and addressing food safety concerns as well as achieving more focused agricultural and trade objectives.

Organised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the meeting has come at a key moment in the European and international agricultural policy debate. The European Commission is due to propose a fundamental reform of the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) later this month, and a new round of global farm trade liberalisation talks will begin next year.

Dutch agriculture minister Jozias van Aartsen, who chaired the meeting, said today that a key achievement had been acceptance by "nearly all ministers" of the "multifunctional character" of agriculture. Following a "frank and open" debate, he said, ministers had reached "a broad consensus that in many countries agriculture has a broader role to play than just producing foods and fibre".

Tensions are reported to have been high on the issue. The EU and Japan argued for agricultural policies and price support mechanisms in certain situations to achieve other policy goals. The USA and Australia, who want to accelerate the pace of agricultural trade liberalisation, are worried that these could be used as a cover for protectionism.

US agriculture secretary Dan Glickman told journalists today that there were "sharp differences" between countries. He said the USA accepted that countries should be able to provide assistance to farmers or protect their environment. "It's a question of doing it in a way that does not muck up the flow of goods on the international market place."

Ministers also held informal talks on increasing public concern about food safety and quality issues, such as mad cow disease, pesticides and genetic engineering. Divisions have been reported between some who favoured a precautionary approach and others who stressed the need for strong scientific justification for any policies.

EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler said today that the goals and principles adopted in Paris would support the Commission's objectives for CAP reform and the need to take a multifunctional view of agriculture.

Meanwhile, pressure on the EU to focus the CAP reform on environmental protection and rural development has mounted with the formation of a five-member coalition of NGOs. The group called for up to three-quarters of CAP spending, which accounts for half of the EU's annual budget, to go towards these goals.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00.

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