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Thursday, March 06, 2003

Yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the world's wealthiest nations to stop subsidising their farmers as a first step toward dealing with famine in Africa.

Annan said to a contact group from the G8 nations (made up of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy and Russia) that the world's governments had to deal with the structural causes of a looming famine as well as the lack of food itself.

They also need to do more to develop agriculture, improve the global marketplace for farm goods and bolster the fight against AIDS, which is rapidly killing off farmers while creating a generation of orphans in Africa.

Annan said "Achieving these goals will require significant additional resources + investment" and he called on the rich nations to "recognize that agriculture is an essential pillar of development" and that "dismantling the agricultural subsidies from rich countries, which currently total more than $300 billion a year" will be necessary in order for "Africa [to] be able to achieve truly sustainable agricultural production."

So far the US has agreed to "move toward ending farm subsidies and trade barriers", the EU + US have agreed "to reduce tariffs + subsidies which hinder world commerce" and France (one of the major beneficiaries of EU subsidies) has called on developed nations "to observe a moratorium on subsidizing farm exports destined for Africa".

Although these pledges sound most promising, it has to be remembered that there has not yet been an agreement in world trade talks on winding down farm subsidies, leaving developing countries increasingly frustrated at the difficulty of getting their agricultural goods into markets in the developed world, particularly in highly protected Europe + Japan.