Dodwell in SOM1 Moscow - Post 9

February 16, 2012


EcoTech meeting on Food Security

One of APEC’s most improbable acronyms - SCE-COW – produced an unexpectedly fertile opportunity for inputs from ABAC on Thursday. SCE-COW stands for Steering Committee on EcoTech – Committee of the Whole. I must be frank – I walked into the huge meeting room wondering what on earth I was going to learn in this “COW”.

Much was procedural and dull but a Russian presentation on plans for pursuing the Food Security priority allowed a robust discussion of arrangements for the newly-created Policy Partnership on Food Security. This allowed , me to reiterate points forcefully made at the PPFS Management Council meeting that I reported on almost two weeks ago:

  • In nominating up to three business representatives from each APEC economy, facing a deadline of March 1 for submission of nominations, we need the cooperation of senior officials in expediting their endorsement of nominees.

  • We need to make sure the PPFS is not entirely packed by representatives of food producing companies: we need food consumers, retailers, and farmer groups also represented to make sure the group balances both the demand side, and the supply side.

  • Presentations on the Food Security policies of ASEAN, and of the G20, and of APEC’s own food-sector-related working groups, underscored the need for the PPFS to home in on challenges not currently being addressed. APEC’s think tank – the Policy Support Unit (PSU) is close to completing a study of such gaps, with the plan to present findings in Kazan in May. Dennis Hew, head of the PSU, agreed he would try to present to ABAC2 in Kuala Lumpur, to help ABAC in preparing its Food Security priorities for the year.

  • Australia, New Zealand and others emphasized the need to give early priority to “post-harvest food loss” – the issue of food waste. While no-one will set the PPFS’s priorities before they meet for the first time in Kazan, it seems the food waste issue could be a good place for the PPFS – and ABAC – to start.

  • An Indonesian presentation on  “the Blue Economy” – sustainable use of the Pacific Ocean – underscored the need for the PPFS to give appropriate attention to fish stocks and sustainable fishing, rather than allow its agenda to be dominated by the challenges faced by the farm sector. The “Blue Economy” issue is set to be prioritized by a recently-established Working Group – the Ocean Fisheries Working Group (OFWG). I suggested that it would make sense for the OFWG to “feed” this issue into the PPFS.

No sooner had this discussion come to a close when the issue of “cross-cutting issues” allowed for a good discussion on the APEC Travel Facilitation Initiative tabled and supported at APEC3 in San Francisco last September. This ambitious initiative aims to tackle a broad range of headaches that beset the tourist or business traveler whenever they decide to fly internationally on a plane. The aim is to make air travel a more efficient and less stressful experience. The problem is that to achieve this, at least five APEC working groups would need to work together – and at least three of them are over-ridingly concerned with border security, rather than making air travel less painful. On ABAC’s behalf, I said this was an important initiative that needed to be coordinated by one lead body in APEC – and that this lead body should not have a security remit. The natural candidate might be the Tourism Working Group, but I think we need to leave our APEC officials to sort this out.

After tackling the issue of how to manage complex cross-cutting issues, SCE-COW rolled up sleeves to talk about streamlining and coordinating Working Group activity – which means trying to merge or exterminate some of the working groups. A Japanese representative noted that APEC now has more than 30 working groups, and hosts more than 100 meetings a year, creating huge and costly demands on member economies. And if this is a headache for Japan, imagine how Papua New Guinea or Brunei manage! Whether or how groups will be merged I can’t at this point predict, but it was good to listen to officials addressing the issue with some determination.

Oh, and there were several quite formal requests for ABAC voices to be heard in a wide range of Working Groups. I think some Senior Officials meeting with us next week will want to address this issue. We have been warned.

Cars covered by thick snow

As temperatures have soared to a positively balmy minus 8 degrees, the streets have turned to seas of slush - which u have to wade through every time you cross a road.


* Read Dodwell's latest post from SOM1 Moscow


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