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Statement to the World Food Summit

Rome, November 15-17, 1996.

H.E. Mr. Davíð Oddsson
Prime Minister of Iceland
Statement to the World Food Summit

Mr. Chairman

I would like to I express my gratitude to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization for the invitation to attend this important Summit on food security, as well as to thank the Italian Authorities and the City of Rome for their devotion and hospitality.

Mr. Chairman

Rapid advances in science and technology during the 20th century have resulted in previously unparalleled increases in food production in large parts of the world. This has not, however, been a global trend. There still exists the contradiction between abundance on the one hand and persistent hunger and malnutrition on the other. Furthermore, population growth projections, environmental degradation and uncertainty regarding the Earth}s resources add to the urgency of resolving an untenable situation.

The attainment of global food security is not an isolated objective. It is closely interlinked with poverty eradication and enablement, human rights and good governance, gender equality, a balanced population growth, development cooperation, and economic growth within a framework of sustainable resource use. These are all issues which have been addressed by the United Nations, some in recent international conferences, and their conclusions are indirectly reflected in the Summit}s draft declaration. The deliberations in Rome will add a very basic human dimension to these larger issues and place food security firmly on the international agenda.

Mr. Chairman

My country depends for its livelihood mainly on fisheries and I wish to use this opportunity to draw attention to several issues related to fisheries and their importance for world food supplies in coming years.

Iceland has gained valuable experience in managing living marine resources and a resource-based economy over the past decades. Some of the lessons we have learned apply to the management of fisheries in both national and international contexts. We have learned, for example, that scientific research into the marine environment and individual fish stocks is indispensable to a sustainable management programme. We have also learned that decisions on allowable catches must be in accordance with sound scientific advice and that these decisions must be effectively implemented, administered and monitored.

Economic and ecological goals are inseparable in the long term. Moreover, the management system adopted for the fisheries sector must be conducive to economic efficiency and dynamic development within the sector.

The potential of world fisheries to provide an even greater share of the nutrition required for present and future generations is considerable, but first the trend towards growing over-exploitation must be reversed and fish stocks must be managed constructively.

Constructive management of the world}s marine resources means, among other things, that no resource should be excluded from utilization except on a sound scientific basis. The preclusion of certain species from sustainable harvesting is wasteful and inconsistent with constructive management. Opposition to limited utilisation of marine mammals despite firm evidence that the stocks in question are abundant, is environmentalism carried beyond reason and beyond the principle of sustainable development. The same applies to pelagic industrial fisheries.

In many industrialized countries, the fisheries sector is regarded as a matter of social concern, important mainly for relatively poor areas. As a consequence, the fishing fleets and related industries are granted state subsidies and international trade in marine products is obstructed by barriers and tariffs.

A direct relation exists between state subsidies in many indurstrialized countries and the over-exploitation of fish stocks. The abolition of state subsidies would not only help rationalize the overall management of the important food resources in the oceans, but it could also remove price distortions and thereby strengthen the fisheries sector in countries which have to compete with state-subsidized fleets and firms. Free Trade in fisheries should be promoted.

It also deserves to be mentioned that many economists have pointed to a correlation between increased state subsidies to the fisheries sector and a worsening economic performance.

Another essential step towards the rational utilization of the world}s marine resources is for the nations of the world to agree on rules to govern fishing on the high seas. Since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea came into being, states have been aware that its provisions were insufficient to deal with problems of over-fishing on the high seas.

At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 it was decided a to convene a conference under the auspices of the United Nations with a view to promoting effective implementation of the provisions of the Law of the Sea on straddling and migratory fish stocks.

The subsequent agreement, which was opened for signature in December last year, provides a good opportunity for nations with legitimate interests to reach agreement to establish and strengthen regional organizations to control fishing in their respective areas.

States which utilise the same stock must agree on a total allowable catch and divide it among those which have a real interest. In dividing the total allowable catch, the coastal states concerned have special rights, in particular those which depend heavily on fisheries.

Fishing on the high seas, just like fisheries within coastal jurisdictions, must be under effective and accountable surveillance and control.

The issue of high-sea fishing is not only a matter of economic and commercial interest to the states involved. It must be placed squarely in the context of future food security.

Mr. Chairman

Iceland}s bilateral development cooperation consists mainly in assisting developing countries in relation to fisheries policy and human resource development within the marine sector. This has demonstrated both the acute need for official cooperation in this field and the beneficial growth potential of such cooperation, when it is guided by the principle of sustainability and by long-term economic objectives.

My government is determined to continue this effort. To underline this, Iceland will become host to the new United Nations University}s Fisheries Training Programme from the year 1998. The programme will offer comprehensive curricula, ranging from Fisheries Policy and Planning to Management of Fisheries Companies and Marketing.

It is our hope that trainees will return to their home countries better qualified to promote both sounder marine resource management and greater professionalism within the fisheries sector.

Mr. Chairman

Another condition which we must meet if the world}s oceans are to continue to serve as a lasting food source for all of humanity is to protect the marine environment.

It is a well known fact that over the years the oceans have been used as a dumping site for toxic substances. As was pointed out in the Habitat Agenda, there is increasing evidence to suggest that many environmental contaminants and persistent organic pollutants in the sea work their way into the food chain, compromising the health of present and future generations.

The implementation of a number of internationally agreed measures is urgently required for halting the degradation of the marine environment and to preserving the oceans, which, together with the soil, are the world}s single most important natural source of nutrition.

It is also relevant to recall that more than half of the world}s population lives in coastal areas. The degradation of the marine environment is a direct health threat to many people, particularly those who lack the material base to protect themselves and their families.

Population growth and efforts to increase food production have harmed the environment. Soil is being lost at alarming rates, deserts spread rapidly, large volumes of dangerous gases are released into the atmosphere and untreated waste accumulates.

The consequences of erosion and degradation have been particularly dire in countries where people rely directly on the produce of the soil for their subsistance.

Soil erosion is a major concern in Iceland. Many of our formerly vast grasslands have turned into deserts, due to a combination of natural disasters and misuse, but the steps taken to halt this destruction have been effective.

In light of our experience in fighting soil erosion, we have offered FAO our cooperation in supporting soil conservation in countries facing soil erosion under similar conditions. This would be primarily on-the-job training to provide an opportunity to study the effective methods of combatting soil erosion which have been developed in Iceland. In this context, Iceland, in cooperation with FAO, is convening an international conference on desertification in 1998.

Mr. Chairman

It is imperative that this World Food Summit of Heads of Governments make a firm commitment to ensuring that all possible measures be taken to secure adequate food for all in the future. We must increase our cooperation, both bilateral and multilateral, and give precedence to programmes and projects which enhance the sustainability of the world}s natural resources. We should not hesitate to review the work and the methods of multilateral development agencies. At the same time we should reward progress with financial support.

The World Food Summit both draws on and complements previous United Nations Conferences. It has focused attention on the most destitute segment of human society, those who suffer from hunger and malnutrition. It is important to convey a clear message from Rome and our message must be that we can set ourselves no other objective in relation to food insecurity but to eliminate it altogether.

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