Venezuela: World Food Summit “A Missed Opportunity”

Venezuela, along with Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, criticised the final declaration of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Summit in Rome on Thursday, arguing that the document failed to identify the true causes of rising food prices.
World Food Summit in Rome (Cuba Headlines)

Caracas, June 6, 2008, ( – Venezuela, along with Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia, criticised the final declaration of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Summit in Rome on Thursday, arguing that the document failed to identify the true causes of rising food prices, such as agricultural subsidies and unequal trade policies imposed by developed countries.

The declaration at the summit, which saw some 6.5 billion dollars pledged to boost agricultural production in developing countries, vowed to cut “by half the number of undernourished people by no later than 2015.”

However, the Latin American nations objected to the lack of concrete measures within the document and its failure to mention the need to cut subsidies and tariffs in developed nations.

The Argentine government, which was the first to criticize the declaration, said in a statement: “Appropriate cures can’t result from mistaken diagnosis… Argentina is formally registering its dissatisfaction with a text that, while dealing with the question of food security, doesn’t include a single reference that uses the term ‘agricultural subsidies’.”

“The elevated production and exportation subsidies and the application of exorbitant trade barriers, as well as conditions imposed by international financial organisations on developing countries, are the principal reasons why the correct signals have not been sent so that farmers in the poor countries maintain their commitment to agricultural production,” the statement continued.

Venezuelan ambassador to the FAO, Gladys Urbaneja Duran, also objected to the document saying it lacked a “genuine humanitarian spirit,” and aimed to present world hunger as merely a circumstantial crisis, when in reality it reflects a structural problem linked to the capitalist system and its mode of production and consumption.

The current food crisis “is the biggest demonstration of the historical failure of the capitalist model,” Urbaneja argued in the debate yesterday.

Urbaneja rejected the position of the US delegation, which claimed the reason for the current food crisis was rapidly increasing demand from India and China.

“The main reason for the rise in food prices isn’t growing demand from the Indian and Chinese markets, or the rise in petroleum prices,” she countered, “The main reason is that food has been turned into yet another object of market speculation.”

The key factors weakening local economics in developing countries are free trade treaties and the flooding of markets by US produce Urbaneja said.

According to FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, between $11 billion and $12 billion a year is spent on agriculture subsidies and restrictive tariff policies.

In the absence of “clear commitments” the Venezuelan delegate feared that the final declaration could become a “significant setback.”

“We missed an opportunity to take a firm and clear step in the struggle against the scourge of hunger,” Urbaneja concluded.

Since the beginning of 2007, world food prices have increased 60 percent, sparking riots in more than 30 countries, including Cameroon, Haiti, and Egypt that depend on imported food.

Another key debate at the summit was the question of bio-fuels. Bio-fuels are promoted by the US as an alternative to fossil fuels; however, others argued that bio-fuel production, as well as being environmentally damaging, diverts vast amounts of land and resources from food production and will exacerbate the food crisis.

The declaration simply stated that bio-fuels present both “challenges and opportunities” and called for further research.

Orlando Requeijo, Cuban vice-minister for foreign investment and economic cooperation, criticised the US’s “sinister bio-fuels policy” and said the outcome is the result of a “lack of political will from northern countries to promote a just and lasting solution to the world food crisis.”

While the Latin American countries did not block the adoption of the final text, they presented their criticisms and objections in a separate addendum.

In a further statement yesterday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said “concrete responses” were necessary “in order to obtain concrete results in the short, medium, and long term.”

“In the face of the international food crisis… the Bolivarian Government of President Hugo Chavez has advanced with concrete projects, both within our country and through the framework of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas [a fair trade treaty initiated by Venezuela as an alternative to the US backed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas],” he sustained.

The Venezuelan government has made efforts to minimize the impact of the world food crisis within the country through the government subsidized food chain, Mercal, and PDVAL, a state owned food distribution company, and two months ago signed a food security treaty with ALBA member nations.

Maduro assured that Venezuela would raise further concrete proposals at upcoming multilateral meetings, including the next PetroCaribe Summit and an Agro-Food Summit soon to take place in Venezuela.

“These series of proposals will allow the construction of a response to the agricultural and food crisis from the perspective of a new, advanced social model of solidarity, which will overcome the limitations of the international capitalist system of production and consumption that has brought humanity to the biggest food crisis known,” he said.