Food Aid Convention revisions under study

by Morton Sosland
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LONDON — Likely revisions leading to a possible new convention on food aid under the International Grains Agreement received attention at the recent meeting of the Food Aid Committee in London at the offices of the International Grains Council. Any modifications, which would be subject to formal negotiations among the parties to the convention, would look to ways of "further enhancing" the effectiveness of the current Food Aid Convention and the committee’s role in overseeing the convention and food assistance programs.

Consideration of major changes in the convention, in effect since 1999, has been held in abeyance awaiting the outcome of negotiations under the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization. One of the main sticking points in the Doha talks has centered on food aid and its impact on commercial trade. With the Doha negotiations near final collapse, it was apparent that changes in the Food Aid Convention may have to be made without agreement within the W.T.O.

The I.G.C. described the talks as follows:

"During two days of informal meetings, members of the Food Aid Committee exchanged views on the objectives and structure of a possible new convention, although any formal negotiations would have to take into account the outcome of the Doha Round. It was also recognized that there is room for improvement in the operation of the committee within the current convention, especially in such areas as information sharing and donor coordination.

"Moreover, members agreed to further examine how the committee’s effectiveness could be enhanced by expanding the list of eligible products and by reviewing certain Rules of Procedure, for example those covering donations of fortified products and micronutrients.

"The committee therefore agreed to hold further informal discussions in early 2009."

The committee also agreed in principle that the Food Aid Convention 1999 should be extended for another year from its present expiration on July 1, 2009.

At its 99th meeting, chaired by Hiroshi Oka of Japan, the committee examined the current global food situation and the latest position regarding food emergencies, while also considering the possible new convention. Noting recent sharp declines in international grain prices and transportation costs, committee members said deteriorating global financial and economic conditions posed new problems for vulnerable people in several developing countries. It also pointed to the difficulties caused by continuing volatility in grain prices as well as relatively high levels still ruling in some countries where local shortages rule.

"While the World Food Programme reported a record level of donor support in 2008, with a doubling of funding compared to the prior year, resources need to be mobilized urgently to deal with several complex food emergencies, notably in the Horn of Africa, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe," the committee said.

Several committee members led a discussion of recent food aid policy changes, including those aimed at further improvement in the quality of food aid and ensuring it is targeted to meet the needs of those who are most vulnerable. The discussion recognized that the approach often needed is multi-faceted, including assistance to improve agricultural productivity.

Committee members voiced support for the multilateral initiatives stemming from the July G-8 summit in Japan and the U.N. High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. In particular, attention was given to the Global Partnership for Agriculture and Food, which was created to assure "that there would be continued high-level policy attention to global food security issues."

Members of the Food Aid Convention reported that the total amount of assistance provided in 2007-08 reached 7 million tonnes in face of

"the enormous challenges posed by the surges in food prices in 2007 and in early 2008." That total compared with the combined minimum obligations under the convention near 5 million tonnes.

In addition, considerable additional budgetary resources had been made available by governments in order to meet their obligations.

At 7 million tonnes, the 2007-08 shipments represented a continuation of a recent downward trend, from the recent peak of 10,283,000 tonnes in 2001-02 to 8,925,000 in 2005-06 and 7,515,000 in 2006-07. In acknowledging the downward trend, the Secretariat cited the many changes that have occurred in food assistance especially in recipient countries as well as the complexities introduced by internal disputes and transportation and infrastructure problems. In some cases, the cost of delivering assistance exceeded the actual cost of the donated food.

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