OECD agriculture ministers meet to adjust group's goals

By JERRY HAGSTROM

For the Capital Press

PARIS -- In a move with implications for the 2012 farm bill debate in the United States, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is shifting its focus from reforming agricultural subsidies in developed countries toward helping those governments address climate change, renewable fuels and global food security.

When the OECD, which is composed of 31 wealthy, market-oriented democracies, held its first meeting of member country agriculture ministers since 1998 in February, the ministers concluded that higher commodity prices and global hunger showed a need to address different issues, Ken Ash, the director of the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate, said in an interview at the group's headquarters in the French capital.

Although agriculture ministers from the United States, Europe and other big subsidizers have often clashed with ministers from Australia, New Zealand and some other member countries that subsidize much less, the February meeting "was positive rather than critical and argumentative," said Ash, a Canadian citizen who has worked at OECD since 1999 and became a director in 2009.

OECD has been a big player in the farm subsidy reform movement since the 1998 meeting when the agriculture ministers were concerned that farm subsidies encouraged overproduction and interfered with markets. At their direction, the OECD staff in 2001 began producing an annual estimate of farm subsidies country by country.

Reformers all over the world have used the report in their campaigns to reduce subsidies or at least change their structure so that farmers are not rewarded for planting too much. But as worldwide demand has grown in recent years, commodity prices have risen, government price-related payments to farmers have gone down, and the reform movement has lost some of its energy.

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