At the Agriculture Ministers’ meeting


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This weekend the G8 countries’ Agriculture Ministers met, in Cison di Valmarino, Italy, to discuss the pressing urgency of the world food emergency. ONE’s Francesco Oddone brings us analysis of this historic event on the ground:

Hope and a bit of scepticism: it is with a combination of these conflicting feelings that I approach Cison di Valmarino – 60 km from Venice, birthplace of Italian Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia – set in a beautiful hilly landscape in a region with great agri-food traditions.

There is definitely much hope for this G8 agriculture Ministers’ meeting which is an absolute first. the fact it is taking place shows how important food issues have become in the highest policymaking circles. The recent food crises, precursor of the larger economic one, has shown just how precarious the global system is when market speculation overtakes peoples’ basic needs. Having leaders from the North and the South, as well as the most relevant international organisations openly discussing the problems should certainly be considered in a positive light.

On the other hand, at least one thread coming out of the first day of the meeting certainly calls for some caution, or even suspicion. Mr Zaia’s call for some form of “shield” for Northern growers (his specific example was about Thai vs. Italian rice producers) cannot but be identified as potentially damaging protectionism that goes against the South’s opportunities to escape the vicious cycle of underdevelopment through trade. It is trade itself that can open the path for sustainable growth by providing reliable sources of income which can be locally re-invested. Blocking that route in times of a severe economic downturn does not seem an enlightened way to proceed, especially when it would harm people in the poorest countries that have had least to do with the crisis.

Work on the meeting’s outcome document is still in progress as of Sunday evening: there is talk that the document that might be approved by the G8 + G5 + 3 (Argentina, Australia, Egypt). That will depend on whether fundamental questions such as northern protectionism can be resolved during the next few hours.

-Francesco Oddone

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