World Environment News
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South Africa says farm subsidies obstacle to UN summit

Date: 11-Jun-02
Country: SOUTH AFRICA
Author: Ed Stoddard

Ministers meeting last week on Indonesia's tropical resort island of Bali failed to agree a draft action plan for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), to be held in Johannesburg from August 26 to September 4.

Dubbed Earth Summit 2, the conference will seek to find ways to slash poverty and narrow the North/South income gap without inflicting irreparable harm to the environment.

"The main areas of disagreement revolved around the trade and financing provisions of the plan - the so-called 'economic platform' of the document," South African Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Valli Moosa said in a statement.

"Developing countries insist that a poverty eradication strategy should not ignore the most important causes of poverty, among them unfair terms of trade and, in particular, the lack of market access for agricultural products from poor countries," Moosa, who headed South Africa's delegation in Bali, said.

Poor countries, especially in Africa, reacted with alarm last month to a new U.S. law to protect America's farmers, saying the legislation made a mockery of Washington's calls for the continent to embrace free trade.

Moosa's comments echoed those of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. At the start of a U.N. food conference in Rome yesterday Annan urged wealthy countries not to subsidise agriculture.

"By allowing poor countries to sell their agricultural products in rich countries one of the biggest obstacles to poverty will be eradicated," Moosa said.

But he added that the preparations had so far produced a "global consensus on the main framework of the (Earth) summit".

He said that there was agreement to find a concrete programme of action in the areas of water, sanitation, energy, health, food security, biodiversity and education.

Environmentalists have been scathing about the Bali talks, accusing the U.S. in particular of diluting the action plan in a bid to put profits ahead of the planet's health.

South Africa says more than 100 heads of state and 60,000 delegates are expected to attend the WSSD and related meetings in Johannesburg.

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