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Release No. 0352.07
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TRANSCRIPT OF REMARKS BY ACTING AGRICULTURE SECRETARY CHUCK CONNER TO THE UNITED NATIONS FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION

Rome, Italy November 19, 2007

Mr. Chairman, Director-General, Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honor and a pleasure to be here in the Eternal City, and to join my colleagues from all over the world at this 34th Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

I am proud to represent the United States of America as we review the state of food and agriculture and the mission of this vital organization.

It is no coincidence that both the current priorities and future mission of FAO are bound to our actions over this week-long conference. More than 60 years have passed since FAO was founded to serve as the world's Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Nutrition.

Our charge now is to make FAO strong in the decades ahead to carry out that mission.

FAO is a vital and essential global organization that facilitates the participation of developing countries in the global agricultural economy, provides a forum for addressing the emerging global challenges facing agriculture, and speaks on behalf of farmers and those who benefit from agriculture.

Changing environments and needs, however, require that every organization undertake periodic examinations of its operations. The first independent external review in FAO's 62-year history highlights a widely-held perception that FAO must change-organizationally and financially-to regain the full confidence of its members.

To no one's surprise, the report also found a talented and dedicated corps of specialists around the world who undertake their unique mission with all sincerity and rigor.

If I may, I would like to thank one of those dedicated individuals today-FAO Deputy Director-General David Harcharik.

He has given nearly 40 years of dedicated service to people in need around the world. The United States thanks you for your contributions to this organization, and wishes you a happy retirement.

In all of our discussions about FAO and its future, our goal must remain clear-and we cannot lose sight of this-we must seize the moment and undertake changes swiftly-without equivocation or needless delays.

The Independent External Evaluation (IEE) lists 110 recommendations in its report.

Rather than spend time debating the merits of individual recommendations, we should adopt the report as a whole and then direct our energies to equipping FAO and its leadership with an Immediate Action Plan.

Such a plan must be both achievable and measurable, and we can surely gather our collective resources to develop it.

To provide stability for FAO while we pursue this important work, we need to approve a sustainability budget that preserves current staff levels, funds the Technical Cooperation Program, and provides adequate funding to priority programs, including those that are priorities for developing countries.

It is no surprise to any of us at this meeting that sustained growth requires greater economic opportunities.

Those opportunities come most readily from expanded trade. Increased trade-whether it is local, regional, or global-provides people with more money to buy food, afford better housing, and send their children to school.

FAO is an essential player in helping all countries participate in global agricultural trade. The standard-setting bodies of Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Commission have laid out an objective, impartial foundation for all of us to follow.

Without them, the global agricultural trade system could not function effectively. The United States believes that these bodies must be supported to the fullest extent possible.

Other areas where FAO can have the greatest global impact include transferring knowledge on agriculture-related issues, leading the world on agricultural emergency preparedness and response, providing trade capacity building assistance, fostering information-sharing, and building professional relationships. In these ways, FAO can enable real change for all of our countries.

Standards based on sound science, as well as trade capacity-building and information-sharing, become fully realized when supported by a free and fair system of trade.

The WTO Doha Development Round represents a strong engine to drive economic growth and reduce poverty in each country. That is why a successful conclusion to the Doha Round-based on these principles of free and fair trade-is imperative, and the United States supports such a conclusion.

The world today presents a host of complicated agricultural issues that know no border. New plant and animal diseases, as well as other sanitary and phytosanitary concerns, threaten the safety of our people and international commerce.

As we discuss FAO's budget and the IEE findings, I hope that we remain fully aware of our cooperative potential when it is deployed most effectively.

The United States believes that FAO's mission is vital. And the IEE process has provided a unique opportunity for us to work toward a more relevant, focused, and effective organization. Together, we can forge a fresh path. I look forward to embracing that worthy goal with all of you, on behalf of the United States.

Thank you.