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PRESS CONFERENCE ON G-8 CONTACT GROUP ON FOOD SECURITY IN AFRICA

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

5 March 2003

The Group of Eight (G-8) Contact Group’s ministerial-level meeting on food and security in Africa had been held to give momentum to the search for solutions, rather than to replace those who were already working in the field, Pierre-Andre Wiltzer, Minister for Cooperation of France, said today at a Headquarters press conference.

Sharing highlights from the proceedings, he said that three topics were discussed: emergency food aid; structural problems that prevented African countries from producing their own food supplies; and the effects of external problems, such as disease and war, on the food crisis. No decisions had come out of the meeting. Instead, there had been a productive exchange of views, which would allow heads of State to later make informed decisions.

Speaking after Mr. Wiltzer, Alan Larson, Under-Secretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs of the United States, said that United States President George W. Bush had made food security a high priority and had requested a budget of over $1.2 billion for emergency food assistance. The President had also supported initiatives developed by USAID, which would strengthen national capabilities to support agricultural development in Africa and improve access to credit and technology by African farmers. He added that today’s meeting had served as a launch for the G-8’s efforts to catalyse the work of international organizations currently tackling African food security.

Asked how the current climate vis-à-vis Iraq would affect Franco-American business relations, Mr. Wiltzer responded that there was no reason to confuse the topic at hand with other issues. The important thing was that both countries shared a common determination to find the best solution regarding to African food security. Mr. Larson, acknowledging that France and the United States did not agree on everything, concurred that the two countries shared a commitment to food security.

Responding to a question about how French policies towards the Iraq situation might affect its influence in Africa, Mr. Wiltzer said that the recent Franco-African Summit in Paris and French President Jacque Chirac’s successful visit to Algeria demonstrated a continued strong bond, regardless of the situation in Iraq.

When a correspondent claimed that there had been no agricultural development in Africa since the 1940s and questioned the relevance of the G-8 meeting, Andrew Natsios, Administrator of USAID, took the floor. He said that it was not fair to generalize concerning all of Africa. Mali, for example, a functioning democracy, had established food security and was, therefore, not experiencing famines. Other countries, such as Botswana, Cape Verde, and Mauritius, had also made significant progress following democratization.

Mr. Wiltzer agreed that Africa was not homogeneous, and he emphasized that some famines were due to certain conditions, e.g. floods, civil wars, and

droughts, rather than neglect from the developed countries. He added that there was no universal solution for every situation encountered.

Asked about French and American agricultural subsidies hurting African farmers, Mr. Larson said that moving towards the elimination of market access barriers and trade subsidies would be a positive development. However, the G-8 initiative’s purpose was not to replace the work of the World Trade Organization.

Fielding a question about the United States offering genetically modified food to Africa, a move that had supposedly been criticized by a United Nations representative, Mr. Natsios responded that he was not aware of any such criticism from the United Nations. He added that the United States had been producing biotech maize and soybeans for seven years and did not distinguish between supplies intended for its home population and those reserved for overseas aid. Many Americans, including their President, ate biotech foods, and other countries had the right to decide whether or not they wanted to, as well.

Asked how the G-8 approach differed from other current international efforts in the arena, Mr. Larson acknowledged that there were, indeed, many organizations presently addressing food security issues. However, unfortunately, international organizations and agencies did not always have the political profile and support they deserved and needed. In that context, the G-8 leaders could provide impetus and drive.

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