OECD Secretary-General

2016 OECD Meeting of Agriculture Ministers - opening remarks


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

7 April 2016

Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery)



Distinguished Ministers,


Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 2016 Agriculture Ministerial. It has been over six years since agriculture ministers last met at the OECD and, in my opinion, today’s meeting comes not a moment too soon!


First, I would like to thank the French Minister for Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry, Stéphane Le Foll, and the US Secretary for Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, for agreeing to chair this important event.


Major opportunities lie ahead…if we can overcome the challenges


Let me begin by saying that the agro-food system faces considerable challenges – but also major opportunities. The world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. This means more demand for a varied and nutritionally balanced diet. And at the same time, the rapidly evolving bio-economy will further increase demand for food and agricultural products.


But – and of course, there has to be a “but” – these opportunities are not simply there for the taking. There are some challenges that we must first overcome.


The agriculture sector will face rising competition for alternative uses of increasingly limited land, water and biodiversity resources. It will have to adapt to the unpredictable effects of climate change. It must continue to safeguard human, animal and plant health. And – in many developing countries in particular – it is expected to contribute more to rural community well-being, overall economic growth, and widespread poverty alleviation.


It is time to capitalise on the momentum of recent events


Agriculture – and issues that closely impact it – have been the focus of significant international scrutiny over the course of the past year:

  • At the WTO’s 10th Ministerial Conference last December, governments took the important step of eliminating export subsidies, but were unable to make progress on other issues.
  • The Paris Agreement on Climate Change aims to limit global warming while agreeing that this should be done "in a manner that does not threaten food production".
  • The new Sustainable Development Goals call to end hunger, achieve food security and promote sustainable agricultural productivity improvement by 2030. This is about lifting 800 million people out of extreme poverty in about 800 weeks.

And we have heard similar messages again and again, at the G20, APEC, ASEAN and elsewhere, for a renewed focus on sustainable productivity growth and for reductions in food waste. 


We need to capitalise on the momentum of these major international events and others. The OECD has a long history of accompanying governments in their efforts to improve agricultural and food policies. Please use this meeting to tell us how we should continue to do that in the years to come.


We need a seismic shift in policy – towards long-term investments


The agriculture and food system has the potential to contribute significantly to global solutions in all these areas – if we allow it to. Time and time again, the sector has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to respond to shifting needs and challenges. But we need a seismic shift in policy, away from short-term and often market- and trade-impeding policies, to long-term investments that will help the sector to become more competitive, to achieve sustainable productivity growth, and to cope with climate change. This Ministerial provides a precious opportunity for us to explore how to achieve this shift.


There is much work to be done, however. Policies have already begun to change in many countries. But international and domestic policy settings are still not adequately tuned in to emerging needs. Every year, we evaluate policies for 49 countries, representing 88% of global value-added in agriculture. Together, these countries provide 550 billion Euros every year to support their agriculture sectors. But less than one-third of this amount aims to improve sector productivity sustainability, and resilience. So you can see the scale of the challenge ahead.


We urgently need coherent and consistent policies that target agricultural productivity growth, sustainable resource use, and preservation of the environment. Better innovation policies and systems. Trade policies that nurture well-functioning and integrated markets and that contribute to more inclusive growth. And we need more, not less, international co-operation and knowledge-sharing.


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


It is not often that we have the chance to gather around the same table, as we do today and tomorrow. I hope we can use this meeting to help seize the opportunities I described at the outset. And in this endeavor, the OECD is with you. This is, after all, about Better Policies for Better Lives.



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