Ministry for Foreign Affairs
External Trade Department
9 - 13 November 2001
Address by Mrs. Valgerdur Sverrisdottir,
Minister of Industry and Commerce
Non-trade concerns are central to the ongoing reform process under the Agreement on Agriculture and I welcome this opportunity to briefly underline a few key elements to which the Government of Iceland attaches great importance in the context of further negotiations within the multilateral trading system.
Iceland is of course firmly committed to the Agreement on Agriculture and the continuation of the reform process as stipulated by Article 20. This entails that progressive agricultural trade liberalization must take into account the different interests and sensitivities of all Members, developed and developing alike, and strive to strike the appropriate balance between trade and non-trade concerns. In addition, non-trade concerns need to be addressed in a holistic way as these are horizontal issues integral to the entirety of the Agreement on Agriculture and not exterior factors that can be dealt with separately in the abstract.
The core function of Icelandic agriculture remains to provide the population with a secure supply of safe, quality food. Self-sufficiency in the provision of food to the degree our resources and production conditions allow is a perfectly legitimate objective for us to pursue as an independent nation and this should not be unduly compromised. It should nevertheless be noted that Iceland is highly dependent on international food trade and that imports constitute more than half of domestic consumption in calorific terms.
Our way of farming in harmony with our natural environment is similarly important and should not be needlessly jeopardized. Icelandic agricultural products are safe, wholesome and produced in accordance with the highest environmental and animal welfare standards. There is growing consumer demand worldwide for such quality product. But in addition to food and fibre, agriculture also provides a range of public goods from which it cannot be disassociated. Markets may offer little by way of substitutes and the multilateral trading system must accommodate this reality in a meaningful manner.
The contribution of agriculture to rural development cannot be overstated and this certainly holds true for Iceland. A vibrant agricultural sector is needed to preserve rural viability and economic activity in the sparsely populated countryside. Agriculture is similarly interwoven with our environmental values and objectives, whether those may relate to the preservation of biodiversity and agricultural landscapes or the pursuit of soil conservation and afforestation. The farmer is indeed central to all. The agricultural sector also acts as a guardian of important cultural values, which may be eroded if the sector does not receive the support different conditions may call for.
We look forward to working with other Members towards a constructive, balanced outcome of the agriculture negotiations that ensures that non-trade concerns are adequately addressed and the diversity of country situations are appropriately acknowledged.