represented by Robert Schmidt and Franziska Weil
The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is the descendant of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) that had been established through Resolution E/RES/37 (IV) in 1947. Back then, colonial powers dominated the Commission but the states in the region were soon able to increase their influence. As the largest regional commission reporting to the Economic and Social Council, today ESCAP consists of 53 Members, including countries in Asia and the Pacific as well as former colonial powers such as the UK, France and the Netherlands as well as further Associate Members.
During the agenda-setting process, most delegations decided to stick with the proposed setting. Our proposed agenda was:
- Developing Regional Strategies to Combat the International Food Crisis;
- Investing with Conscience: the Role of Microfinance and Green Business in the Region; and
- Managing an Aging Population.
Due to time constraints however, we were only able to debate the first agenda topic and briefly touched the second point.
On the first day of our conference, we were introduced to the rules of procedures and some formalities were to be clarified. The major decision made was that one delegate would get the chance to chair the meeting. The debate on the international food crisis started with a formal debate and speeches. Fortunately, most delegates were aware of the importance of the topic in the region and were prepared to work co-operatively. Unfortunately for Australia, many of the Pacific Island States such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were not present. We were thus lacking some of our most important partners in the region and had to try to gain support for our strategies among other delegates. Also, New Zealand’s delegates did not appear very eager to co-operate with their Australian partners. Yet many other delegates were aware of Australia’s importance in the region and eager to exchange ideas on how to find short as well as long-term strategies to combat the international food crisis.
Debates often occurred in informal caucusing and delegations with two people had an advantage since delegates could split up and work on different resolutions. For Australia, a few important partners throughout the conference were the Republic of Korea, Micronesia, Indonesia and Turkey.
Two topics that divided the Commission were the questions of whether to completely ban first generation biofuels and how to deal with the problem of biofuels in general. Since second generation biofuels are made of non-eatable plant remains they no longer constitute a threat to global food market prices. Still, their production and use raised some controversy among the delegates, although we were lobbying very much for that technology – keeping in mind its contribution in terms of CO2 reduction. Another topic that many delegations found difficult to deal with and that was still highly important to the Australian Delegation was the question of trade liberalisation. We had to negotiate with many other delegations that were strongly opposed to cutting down trade barriers and reducing subsidies. In particular, the presence (and to some extent dominance) of EU countries such as the Netherlands, France and the UK as well as the United States meant this topic continued to be very delicate. Also, some smaller Pacific countries were quite apprehensive.
Ultimately, six draft resolutions were introduced and throughout voting procedure five of them were passed. Many of the draft resolutions dealt with the same topics but focused on specific aspects like improving infrastructure, reducing transportation costs, encouraging regional productivity in agriculture and enhancing agricultural knowledge in the region by sharing technological knowledge. One draft resolution placed a specific focus on the situation and the problems women in the Asian-Pacific region encounter when food prices rise. Australia has been very eager to participate in discussions on these topics and moreover advertising the further liberalisation of trade within the framework of the Doha Round. Even if the Australian Delegation was not able to put in a clause referring to the reduction subsidies, the draft resolution that we worked on most contained an admittedly quite weak clause about the promotion of trade liberalisation. The Japanese Delegation tried to cut out that clause during voting procedure but failed to do so.
All in all, Australia was able to promote many of its incentives in the Commission. Although not able to reach all of maximum outcomes, also because of the diverse background of many countries, the Australian Delegation was content with the development of negotiations in the Commission.
We noticed to quite an extent that Australia is somewhat lost in regional diplomacy since it is neither a Member of ASEAN nor regarded as the regional hub for the Pacific or ‘part of the family’ it sees itself, despite its geographical position in the Asian Pacific region. This cannot only be explained by highlighting Australia’s mostly European background since the Asian Pacific influence is increasingly growing.
Yet, since diplomacy is about compromising to a certain extent, we are satisfied with the outcomes that have been achieved.