Saturday, June 07, 2008


Hunger summit leaps the free-trade barrier

Tracy Wilkinson in Rome, smh

June 7, 2008

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A WORLD summit on hunger almost collapsed when Latin American countries objected to a final, watered-down resolution designed to boost agriculture and control soaring food prices.

But the declaration was adopted with about 180 countries pledging late on Thursday to work to eliminate hunger and secure access to food "for all, today and tomorrow" through urgent actions including the easing of trade barriers and the supply of seeds and fertiliser to poor farmers.

The resolution did not contain stronger language sought by critics of biofuels, which are strongly supported by the Bush Administration.

The three-day summit was called by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as an emergency response to food prices that officials say could threaten nearly 1 billion people with starvation.

UN officials said between $US20 billion ($20.8 billion) and $30 billion a year was needed to fight hunger, which can trigger social and political unrest.

Numerous issues split the delegates and at times a final agreement seemed elusive.

Led by Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela, a revolt by much of Latin America dragged negotiations past the original deadline and frayed the nerves of some participants. One African delegate chided her colleagues for creating the "appearance of grandstanding … as people are dying."

But the Latin American delegates said the declaration was paying lip service to the starvation crisis. They noted that the final document did not condemn subsidies maintained by wealthy nations or challenge the price-aggravating control exercised by big agricultural companies.

Argentina and Venezuela argued that the free-trade policies being promoted risked exacerbating poverty and hunger in Latin America. Argentina was especially forceful in objecting to language, which remained in the final document, that criticises export curbs similar to the ones it has imposed.

Venezuela protested the resolution as "a step backwards" because it treated the food-price crisis as the result of a convergence of factors rather than as a result of structural flaws in capitalism.

The summit declaration "frankly neglects the vital needs of those who suffer from hunger," the Cuban delegate, Orlando Requeijo Gual, said.

Another point of dispute was biofuels. The US delegation, led by its Agriculture Secretary, welcomed the declaration's support for further study, timid language compared with the restrictions that some countries had sought.

The secretary-general of the convening UN organisation, Jacques Diouf, said the gap between supporters and opponents of biofuels was too wide.

"The main thing is we brought attention to this problem" of hunger, he said. "It's an economic problem, a political problem. It's a problem of peace and security if you don't address it."

Los Angeles Times