ROME – The leaders of the World Trade Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations pledged to cooperate on fair trade in the food trade to improve nutrition and enhance small producers’ access to global agriculture markets.

José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the FAO, and his WTO counterpart, Roberto Azevêdo, met at an event held at FAO headquarters in Rome. The two leaders stressed that global trade must be fair and balanced in a way that supports the capacity of local communities to produce their own food while allowing small producers access to goods and services they need.

“We look forward to ensuring fair trade of agricultural and food products through this stronger (FAO-WTO) cooperation,” Graziano da Silva said. “On the one hand trade is likely to play an increasing role in meeting the growing demand from food-deficit countries. On the other hand, greater trade openness may undermine the capacity of local people to produce their own food.”

The role of agriculture, especially in developing nations, will be a topic of much discussion at the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, scheduled for Dec. 15-18, the FAO noted. Issues for discussion will include addressing trade restrictions, the need to minimize domestic agricultural subsidies and the need to eliminate export subsidies.

Azevêdo expressed hope that some agreement would be reached on the issue of export subsidies as this would mark “an extremely significant breakthrough,” especially important for developing and least developed countries.

In addition to discussions at the ministerial conference, Graziano da Silva and Azevêdo reiterated the need for the WTO and FAO to cooperate more on trade and food safety, including a joint publication that deals with sanitary and phytosanitary measures aimed at curbing the spread of plant and animal diseases during transport for trade. The WTO and FAO also are planning to deepen cooperation on the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), initiatives to help countries implement the Codex Alimentarius or “Food Code,” which harmonizes international food standards that protect consumer health and promote fair practices in food trade.