Remarks by Angel Gurría
OECD, Paris - Tuesday 3 July 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Director-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to launch this year’s Agricultural Outlook with José Graziano da Silva. This is the 14th Outlook that we have produced jointly with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation: our long-standing collaboration has ensured that we have stayed at the leading edge of the challenges facing the agricultural sector. The publication projects production and prices of all major agricultural products. An ambitious undertaking indeed.
In 2008 at my first Agricultural Outlook launch as OECD Secretary-General, the global community was in the middle of a major food crisis. We were dealing with unprecedented levels of market volatility and spikes in food prices.
Ten years on, global agricultural markets look very different: production has grown by over 30% for maize, soybeans and oilseed products, as well as poultry meat, and by at least 10% for most other commodities. Cereal stocks have climbed to an all-time high, reaching roughly 250 billion tons – high enough to feed the world population for nearly four months.
Over the last decade, global demand for food has increased significantly, with the world’s population growing by 12% and the rising incomes in emerging economies boosting the per-capita demand for food, most notably in China. But that effect is expected to slow down, as the scope for future increases in consumption diminishes. For most commodities, demand growth will average only a little more than that of the world’s population growth in coming years. Trade in agriculture and fish products are expected to grow at about half the rate of the previous decade.
We have made great progress from where we stood a decade ago, but let me be clear: we are not out of the woods yet! Let me highlight two areas where further actions are needed.
The main constraint on global food security is not fundamentally a question of supply. Rather, it is ensuring that food that is already available on domestic and international markets is accessible to poor people. Many poorer countries with rising populations and limited land resources will become increasingly dependent on food imports to feed their people. That’s why the international community must ensure that exporters and importers alike have access to an open and predictable trade policy environment.
This is particularly relevant for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the focus of this year’s special chapter in the Outlook. Many countries in the MENA region spend 50% or more of their export earnings on food imports; and rising food demand and limited land and water resources imply an increased dependence on imports for basic food commodities in coming years.
The second challenge I want to highlight relates to production.
The abundance of food supplies provides a window of opportunity for governments to focus on improving the sustainability of production from the world’s 570 million farmers. The Sustainable Development Goals call on all countries to promote sustainable agriculture by 2030 in order to ensure access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food for a growing world population.
This will mean not just producing more food, but also doing so with less water and the same amount of land, while making a meaningful contribution to climate change mitigation.
The OECD stands ready to work with stakeholders, with Governments and, of course, with the FAO to help respond to these global priorities.
Alongside the Agricultural Outlook, the OECD also monitors agricultural policies in over fifty countries and the extent to which they contribute to a productive, sustainable and resilient food system. Our latest Monitoring report, released one week ago, shows that most agricultural support policies continue to be poorly aligned with the objectives they set out to achieve; and in some countries, reliance on measures that distort production and trade is even increasing.
The OECD is also working with global fora like the G20 to improve transparency, risk assessment and policy co-ordination through tools like the G20’s Agricultural Market Information System.
Despite the challenging times we are living in, or rather because of them, we must redouble our efforts to support an open and well-governed international trading system – including for food, agriculture and fisheries products. This is a core element of the Making Trade Work for All study that the OECD delivered only last year.
Before concluding let me share with you a concern that is pressing for both of our organisations. Just in the past few weeks we have seen trade tensions escalate, impacting a number of important agricultural products. While the impacts of restricting specific bilateral trade are not necessarily large in global terms, if those restrictions persist or spread to other markets, investments will also be affected and the costs to societies will in the end be enormous.
As was highlighted by so many Ministers and Leaders at the recent OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on Reshaping the Foundations of Multilateralism, international economic co-operation remains our best hope, in fact our only hope, to meet the daunting challenges facing the global trading system today.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted that in these challenging times the partnership between the OECD and FAO is stronger than ever. The issues we face today cannot be tackled alone. As farmers themselves understand only too well, in an inter-dependant and fragile eco-system, you have to tread very carefully to get the balance right.
I hope that this collaborative annual Agricultural Outlook can empower all stakeholders with the evidence-based market information and policy guidance to design, develop and deliver better agricultural policies for better lives. Thank you.
OECD work on Agriculture