High-Level Meeting Discusses Improving Food for Peace Program
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Efforts are being made behind the scenes to straighten out some of the bureacratic snarls that critics say have marred the overseas flow of U.S. farm products under Food for Peace programs.
Agricultural and business leaders met last Tuesday with Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng and Peter McPherson, administrator of the Agency for International Development, to see what might be done to improve the aid program, also known as P.L. 480.
The 13-member group was led by former Agriculture Secretary Orville L. Freeman, who is president of the Agriculture Council of America, a private organization representing a cross-section of the nation’s agricultural sector.
Winston Wilson, president of U.S. Wheat Associates, an overseas market development organization, also attended. One of the objects, he said in an interview, was to seek better coordination between AID and USDA in the scheduling of Food for Peace deliveries to foreign countries.
One of the problems, he said, has been an apparent attitude in AID, a State Department agency, that it makes little difference whether commodity shipments are bunched together at the end of a fiscal year or spread out over the entire 12 months.
Field personnel with Food for Peace at the receiving end of the aid program should be encouraged to ″press harder for early programming″ of commodities, Wilson said.
″We don’t feel pumping up P.L. 480 is going to solve all the export problems,″ he said. ″We think there are some areas where it could be more useful ... but our primary focus is still trying to get commercial sales pumped up.″
Both Lyng and McPherson were ″very interested in making it work a little better,″ Wilson said, adding that McPherson indicated he was prepared ″to emphasize that fact to folks out in the field.″
Wilson said Lyng seemed ″a little surprised that the early programming had slipped a cog″ and was causing problems in the flow of P.L. 480 commodities. There had been some problems a few years ago, he said, but the program improved and now has slipped again.
″In terms of people having complaints that there was too much bureaucratic foot-dragging and gamesmanship going on ... in the field, McPherson wasn’t very shocked because some of us have been ringing their bell about this for the last six months,″ Wilson said.
The interest in Food for Peace operations by AID and USDA has been generated partly by the long slide in U.S. farm exports, currently estimated at a decade-low of about $26 billion, down 40 percent from six years ago when they were at a record $43.8 billion.
A day after the meeting with Freeman’s group, Lyng testified on Capitol Hill that ″expansion of U.S. agricultural exports continues among the highest priorities of this administration.″
The Food for Peace program, he said, carries an administration budget proposal for next fiscal year of $1.4 billion, which would provide about 7.8 million metric tons of commodities. Total U.S. commodity exports this year are estimated at about 114 million tons.
Lyng said the 1988 dollar level would be down somewhat from this year’s spending but that lower commoditity prices will keep the actual volume of food aid ″well above the levels of the late 1970s and the early 1980s.″
Freeman has advocated a ″monetization″ of P.L. 480 commodities sold to some of the Third World countries under concessional credit terms. In those cases, the government of a country would be allowed to sell some of the commodities locally and use the proceeds for carrying out approved development projects.
Wilson and Claiborne Crain, executive director of Agriculture Council of America, said the monetization proposal was mentioned at the meeting but represented only a small part of the discussion, and no commitments were made.
Crain said the agencies have standing authority to increase the use of commodities in Third World development and that all it would take is a decision by the administration to do so.
Where might such a program be used? Crain said, ″In almost any of the Third World countries where there is a cash shortage, monetization can be used to help, as far as development is concerned.″
But it must be kept in mind that ″the purpose of development is to move countries into cash-customer status″ so they can buy what they want, whenever they want it, he said.