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Preliminary Observations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Ever, on her mission to the Argentina 12-21 September 2018

End of Mission Statement

21 September 2018

Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,

I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official visit to the Republic of Argentina, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 12 to 21 September 2018.

The objective of my mission was to evaluate the realisation of the right to food in the country. The following statement outlines my preliminary findings based on the information gathered during my visit. My final report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2019.

Firstly I would like to thank the Government of Argentina for the invitation to visit the country and for the excellent cooperation during my visit. I appreciate the spirit of openness with which I was able to engage in dialogue with the authorities both at the national and provincial level and with many other actors of the society.

During my stay I met with Government representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice including the Secretariat of Human Rights, the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior. I further met with the Secretariats of Labour, Agroindustry and of Health.

I further met the interim head of the Ombudsman’s Office and his team and key members of Congress.

I conducted field visits to two Province, Buenos Aires Province and Chaco Province and was received by the local authorities. In the Buenos Aires –Province I met with small scale farmers in La Gran Plata – that demonstrated impressive agro ecological practices and I visited La Isla Maciel, in the municipality of la Avellaneda, here spoke to community members, mothers, young men and children who see themselves forced to turn to voluntary soup kitchens for their daily meals.

In the Chaco province in the North-east of Argentina I visited the homes and members of the Qom- indigenous community both in the urban and the rural areas. I also visited two primary schools and a local hospital.

Throughout the visit I met with representatives from international organizations, academia, the UN system and representatives from a range of civil society actors.

I am most grateful to the OHCHR National Human Rights Advisor, FAO, UNDP and other UN-colleagues for their invaluable support both in the preparation of and during the visit. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who took the time to meet with me, particularly those who shared their personal experiences, their contributions have been vital to the success of my visit.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we are all aware Argentina is facing a situation of economic and financial crisis. This current emergency situation can have a direct impact on the poverty levels and peoples livelihoods and leads me on this occasion to assess some of the more directs impacts on the Argentinean population’s right to food. I will also analyse the more structural and long-term issues related to the realization of the right to food in Argentina.

Argentina is an upper middle-income country and has one of Latin America's biggest economies, although it has also a large impoverished sector of its society. Argentina has vast natural resources in energy and agriculture. It is endowed with extraordinary fertile lands and has great potential for renewable energy. It is a leading commodity producer with large-scale agricultural and livestock industries.

In mid-2018, Argentina experienced a series of shocks combined with economic vulnerabilities that exerted immense pressure on the peso. One such shock is the severe drought impacting soy production—Argentina’s main export and a key source of government revenue—which reduced Argentina’s agricultural economic output by almost a third. Argentina has since reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) establishing a fiscal arrangement designed to address the financial crisis.

All Government officials I have met with have ensured me that there will be no impacts on social protection schemes due to this agreement that contains a clause guaranteeing this. I do however believe that the indirect impacts of the economic crises cannot be underestimated and all necessary means should be taken to ensure that people’s rights and livelihoods are not adversely affected by declining purchasing power and increasing food prices. My concerns are with not only the most vulnerable groups but also of the impacts on Argentina’s large middle class. I am aware that during the 2001 financial crisis and during its aftermath enormous numbers of Argentinians fell below the poverty line. A repetition of this experience should be avoided at all costs.

I wish to recall that all human rights are interconnected and the right to food cannot be achieved without the right to adequate housing, education, health for all including migrants, indigenous peoples, peasants, children and elderly.

As a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Argentina is required to utilize “the maximum of its available resources” to ensure the full realization of the rights enshrined therein, including the rights to food, health, education, social security and work. The implication of this is that the State is obliged to ensure that these rights are adequately satisfied before using public resources to achieve other State objectives unrelated to human rights, such as debt service. At the very least, the State must ensure the attainment of minimum essential levels of each economic, social and cultural right.

On a different note, Argentina lacks updated official data and other statistical materials capable of providing reliable data on hunger and poverty for recent years, a period covering almost 10 years, which makes more problematic a correct analysis of the situation related to the realization of the right to food.  In relation to this visit in specific the latest survey on food and nutrition habits was done in 2004 -2005 and the latest survey of the agricultural sector in 2002. This is not acceptable from the viewpoint of understanding the needs and policy shortcoming relating to food security.

There are ongoing efforts on behalf of the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) to rebuild the National Information System, which I strongly encourage.  There is also work related to a national agricultural census. These initiatives would be of help to those seeking to help Argentina recover in an equitable manner from the current economic crisis with least disruptive effects on the right to food. 

1. Legal Framework

Argentina has ratified all the core international human rights instruments. The 1994 constitutional reform explicitly gave constitutional status to several international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and further provided for those treaties to be considered as complementing the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

As a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Argentina has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food and has committed itself to undertake the appropriate steps, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, as articulated in Article 2/1 and Article 11 of the Covenant.

Argentina is also party to other core international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, all of which contain provisions explicitly linked to the right to adequate food.

Justiciability of economic social and cultural rights, including the right to food, entails that potential victims of violations of these rights are able to file complaints before an independent and impartial body, in request of adequate remedies and its application. I congratulate Argentina for at the international level being one of the few countries that ratified the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2012) to provide citizens access to justice in case of human rights violations.

Despite a wide range of well formulated and well-intended legal structure and strategies to ensure the realisation of the right to food Argentina does not have an explicit constitutional protection on the right to food in domestic level and hence lacks the opportunity to address right to food-issues in a comprehensive and multi-dimensional manner. I therefore insist on the need for a comprehensive framework law on the right to adequate food, with clear guidelines to promote and implement this right that includes food sovereignty for all. This could also promote more efficient institutional coordination.

2. National Food Security Plan

The National Food Security Plan was created in 2003 by Law 25.724.

The Plan’s lines of actions include a) the use of a cash transfers program for food purchases. b) Fund transfers to the provincial government to support school feedings and to support local organisations activities that provide community feedings. The fund transfers are accompanied by educational activities that address food and nutrition to promote family and child development.

The plan also includes several complementary programs, including: The Families and Nutrition Program, which contributes to the development and strengthening of families regarding nutrition, food and health care from a holistic approach;  The Community Approach Program, which promotes the development of community organizations that provide food services; The Pro-Huerta Program, which promotes access to a healthy diet through autonomous production of fresh food for personal, family and community consumption; and The Food and Nutritional Education Program, which focuses on skill generation to transfer attainment of information into behaviour and habits that foster healthy eating.

With regard to the school feeding program, the current economic crisis seems to have a negative impact on the quality of the food due to the rising food costs. School feedings are imperative from children and in particular in times of crisis there should be further strengthened in order to ensure children’s access to adequate and nutrition’s food. During the visit I have observed an increasing number of people going to soup kitchens, or skipping meals, and children being forced to rely for their daily meals entirely on school feeding programmes.

Universal child allowance

In 2009, a universal child allowance (Asignación Universal por Hijo) for all children under 18 years of age was introduced with the goal of reducing poverty and improving the welfare of children. The current amount per child is 1684 pesos and the program benefitted over 4.000 000 in 2018.  A similar program from pregnant women includes a further 79 000 people. The programs in total reach 59 per cent percent of the rural population and in many cases represent the sole fixed income for families which allows their food consumption planning.

There seems to be a constant effort to improve the efficiency of the program and to adapt it to the current reality. Nevertheless, I am concerned that some of the social benefits exclude certain marginalized and disadvantaged groups, such as migrants and their children as you need a certain time of residence in the country before having right to access. I am also concerned that these programs will not suffice given the changing economics context. I was informed that these programs adapt to the increases in inflation rates and adapt to the changing economic realities and I hope that these efforts will be further increased.

 3. Normative framework of right to adequate food

A. Availability of Adequate Food Agricultural sector and policies

The agricultural sector contributes to just below 10 per cent of gross domestic product. Argentina is a leading producer of soybeans, cereals, vegetables, as well as honey, lemons, beef and sunflower seed oil  and produces enough food to provide enough food for its 42 million population. In recent decades, Argentina’s production profile has become less diverse, with certain commodities, and particularly, soy and derivative products, replacing others. Most agricultural production occurs in the Pampas region, which is one of the six most agriculturally productive areas in the world. The surface cultivated with soy has now increased to 19 million hectares, which is 56 per cent of the cultivated area in Argentina.

This year’s unprecedented drop in expected production due to drought has caused Argentina to increase soybean imports. In March 2018, imports reach a historic high of almost a million tonnes. This highlights the vulnerabilities of the agricultural sector. The current crisis can provide an opportunity to further diversify and reform the sector

Family Farming

Despite land concentration with the expansion of agribusiness, family farming has persisted in Argentina. 72 percent of all farming establishments in Argentina are in the family farming sector which includes activities such as agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry production, agro-industrial artisan production, traditional harvesting, handicrafts and rural tourism and it represents around 20 percent of agricultural GDP.

Family Farming represents around 250,000 productive establishments that involve 2,000,000 people (approximately 5 per cent of the country's total population) according to the data of the National Agricultural Census 2002. They produce around 40 percent of vegetables for the Argentinean domestic market.  

Many small-scale farmers have been unable to take advantage of Argentina’s growing agricultural economy as industrial agriculture is under the control of a few large companies. Lack of access to credit due to high interest rates prevent most small –scale farmers from access to investment in the agricultural sector.

In 2014, Argentina enacted Law No 27.118, intended to promote family farming. Although this norm establishes an adequate normative framework for the recognition and protection of family farming, it was approved on December 17, 2014 without proper financing and it has not been regulated since than by the government. Despite this legal protection, civil society notes a lack of regulation and enforcement of the Family Farming Law at the provincial level, as well as a lack of legislative treatment on the Family Farming Purchase Regime Project.
During interviews with officials at the Ministry of Agroindustry, I observed a tendency of support geared towards the industrial agricultural model with the Family Agriculture sector facing severe cuts in support, personnel and their budget, including the lay-off of almost 500 workers and experts. I strongly encourage that programmes are strengthened in order to support and protect this crucially important sector.
Also tax schemes in the agricultural sector should protect small scale farmers and their right to adequate food and not only advantage the industrial export sector.

Livestock

While livestock remains an important part of Argentina’s agricultural economy, and culturally acceptable food, increased investment in soy for export has caused a shift in production trends, with meat and dairy produced primarily for domestic consumption.  Cattle grazing in the Pampas region has been replaced by soya crops. About 90 per cent of cattle breeding is geared to the domestic market, with each inhabitant consuming an average of 132 pounds of meat each year.

Fisheries

While commercial fisheries have not provided a direct source of food for the Argentine population due in part to dietary preferences favouring meat, fisheries have offered a significant source of employment throughout the country. The country’s biggest fishing fleet is based at Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires province, where much of the workforce is informally employed. The Argentine hake fishery in the Patagonia region is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world and has ranked first in total catches for both volume and value in recent decades. The hake fishery includes more than 50 per cent of Argentina’s fishing vessels, providing about 12,000 direct jobs, and accounting for 40-50 per cent of fisheries exports in recent years.

As part of the Government’s most recent economic initiatives to attract long-term investments, the Argentine government plans to launch a public tender by the end of 2018 to allocate concessions to farm salmon. In three to four years, salmon production in the Terra del Fuego province is expected to increase to 40,000 metric tons by 2020. It is important to take into consideration the environmental impacts of such a large-scale project.

Agro-ecology

During my mission I had the opportunity to visit farms in the greater Buenos Areas- area that practice agro-ecology. Agro-ecological practices have shown to be successful in many parts of the world, not only producing impressive yields but also promoting environmentally friendly practices and promote local producers. Agro-ecology as such represents an important alternative to industrial, monoculture agriculture which should be seriously considered by the Government in order to achieve diversification, sustainability, important inputs for the school feeding program, the protection of natural resources, management of climate change and protection of small scale farmers.

B. Accessibility of Adequate Food
Poverty reduction and food security 

Poverty is closely linked to food insecurity. According to the World Bank, Argentina was the top performer in the region in reducing poverty between 2004 and 2008. Incomes of the bottom 40 per cent grew at an annualized rate of 11.8 per cent compared to average income growth of 7.6 per cent. This trend continued but slowed after 2008.

The last official statistics available indicated a poverty rate of 25.7 per cent in the second half of 2017 and extreme poverty at 4.8 per cent. Inequality remains high  with a Gini index of around 0.42 and important segments of society are still excluded from the country’s economic development, and more than 1,5 million people still live in a situation of poverty, and almost 700 000 in a situation of extreme poverty (just below 10 percent of the population).  The Northeast is the poorest region of the country, led by the Province of Chaco that I had the opportunity to visit where poverty reached almost 40 per cent. The greatest numbers of poor people of Argentina live in the Greater Buenos Aires, the most populated region in the country.

Since the end of last year and in parallel with the economic crisis, poverty rates have begun to increase at an alarming level in particular affecting children. It is assumed that in 2018 poverty will increase with respect to 2017, mainly due to economic crisis and Argentina's peso tumble.

Social Protection

Argentina has large social protection programs and an important part of the country’s national budget is geared towards these schemes. Public expenditure in social transfers experimented a constant growth in the last decades. The main component was the expansion of the pension fund, but the expenditure in anti-poverty policies has also grown. Although these programs have been subject to scrutiny recently, I believe social protection programs are helping the most vulnerable segment of the society to survive in times of emergency.

Indigenous people

Over the years, as a result of the expansion of agricultural activities, including the soybean expansion, and other discriminatory policies, indigenous families have been moved out of the areas where they lived, and in some cases have had to migrate to nearby cities to look for work, often suffering from systematic discrimination. The clearing of land as part of the expansion of agricultural activities has also severely limited the availability of and access to game and fish and plants.

In my visit to Chaco I did some follow-up to the 2007-decision, following a case that the Ombudsman brought before the Supreme Court, involving a number of deaths of members of the Qom indigenous people in the region known as “El Impenetrable”.

In that case, extreme levels of malnutrition and neglect on behalf of the national and provincial governments had been denounced. The Supreme Court ordered the national and provincial governments to take a series of actions to ensure that the inhabitants of the region receive health care and adequate food. This case illustrates the importance of the role of the Ombudsman and it is key that an Ombudsman should be appointed as soon as possible that he or she is able to bring cases of human rights violations including right to food, to justice for the sake of the protection of human rights.

C. Adequacy:

Stunting and wasting

According to the Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2017 between 2014-2016 Argentina had a prevalence of undernourishment of 3,6 per cent of its population (1.6 million), and it registered an increase of 0.1 million undernourished people in the year.  Figures on stunting and wasting are not readily available and as mentioned above the latest survey on food and nutrition habits was done in 2004 -2005 with a new one underway.
This lack of sufficient statistic hinders a proper analysis of under nutrition- levels in the country.

Overweight, obesity and malnutrition

The Argentine diet tends to show a food monotony with a concentrated consumption in a small number of food groups and three main staples: beef, milk and bread. Argentina is one of the world’s leading consumers of beef. Conversely, consumption of fruits and vegetables remains low, with only 6 per cent of the population consuming the amount of fruits of vegetables recommended by the Dietary Guidelines of the WHO.

Consumption of highly-processed foods products rich in fats, sugar, salt, and additives, have also contributed to poor nutrition, particularly among children and adolescents. Argentina consumes the highest yearly amount per capita of ultra-processed products 194.1 kg in its region and leads the consumption of soft drinks with 131 liters per capita per year.

As a result, Argentina is one of the countries in the region with the highest rates of both childhood and adult obesity. 40 percent of children and adolescents in Argentina are currently overweight and 60 percent of adults, further 7,3 per cent of children under five being obese, the highest rate of child obesity in Latin America.

In 2016, the government announced a comprehensive plan to address the prevalence of overweight and obesity rates among children and adolescents. The plan called for a “multi-component strategy with the different ministries that includes education, awareness, and social marketing.” Some specific policies include industrywide agreements on sugar and sodium levels, nutritional labeling, taxes on sugary beverages and other foods with low nutritional value, and training municipalities to create health food programs. It is crucial that nutrition policies are comprehensive, targeting all forms of malnutrition, including obesity, and micronutrient deficiency, and they should adequately be supported financially.

Marketing and Advertising

Although Argentina has regulations on content of advertisements, they have not been effectively enforced in order to address the issues of obesity and poor nutrition. There are no specific regulations related to advertisements of food and beverage targeted at children, or restrictions regarding nutritional criteria. Children under the age of 12 are exposed to more than 60 advertisements for products with low nutritional value, even when they are mainly viewed through programs or channels specifically directed at them.

Labelling

Argentina’s regulations with respect to food labelling and health and nutritional claims also fail to meet international standards. The Argentine Food Code requires food manufacturers to show information on ingredients, origin, and expiration date as well as nutrition panel, but does not require the declaration of sugars, making it difficult for consumers to make healthier choices.

Breast-feeding

According to the latest available figures, 43 percent of mothers reportedly breast-feed exclusively for the first six months. Concerns about health impacts from breast milk substitutes are spreading. Law no. 26 873 for the promotion and awareness of breastfeeding, regulated in January of 2015, establishes a prohibition on the advertising modified milk for children younger than 2 years old, in accordance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Yet reports indicate that companies that produce milk formulas misleadingly advertise “growth formulas” in breach of the law. Reports also allege that companies fail to comply with WHO guidelines that extend the prohibition on advertising substitutes up to 3 years of age.

I welcome the endorsement of the law on the protection of breastfeeding, which is key to ensuring adequate nutrition of babies, in accordance with recommendations by the World Health Organisation. I however urge that stronger efforts be made to ensure that this law is implemented, coupled with strategies to promote and enable exclusive breastfeeding, in particular during the first six months of a child’s life.

D. Sustainability:

Genetically modified organisms and seed protection

Argentina is one of the leading producers of genetically modified seeds and produces 14 per cent of the world’s total biotech crops. Argentina has more than 22 million hectares of agricultural regions dedicated to the growth of soybean (around 95 per cent), cotton and maize using genetically modified technology.

Argentina’s 1973 Seed Law allows farmers to use seeds generated from previous harvests for future plantings. This position is at odds with the position of Monsanto (currently Bayer)—the world’s largest supplier of GM soybean seeds—leading the corporation to withhold its new varieties of soybean seeds from Argentina in 2016. In 2018, however, Argentine farmers reached an agreement with the corporation, through which farmers will now pay perpetual royalties when they replant genetically modified seeds made by Monsanto in exchange for receiving the company’s newest biotechnology.

Genetically modified organisms are regulated in Argentina under the General Law on Seeds and Phytogenetic Creations Ley de Semillas y Creaciones Fitogéneticas and the Law on the Promotion of the Development and Production of Modern Biotechnology Ley de Promoción del Desarrollo y Producción de la Biotecnología Moderna. I recommend the State to create plant banks in order to maintain a genetic diversity of seeds and to ensure access to equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such genetic resources. This is further important to protect traditional seed exchanges among farmers to promote food sovereignty. 

Pesticides:

With the increase in genetically modified organisms-production and the agrichemical industry in Argentina, herbicide, pesticide and insecticide use has soared. The last 25 years has witnessed an almost tenfold increase in the use of pesticides, from 38 to 370 million kilo, with a cultivation area increase of 50 per cent from 20 million hectares to 30 million hectares.

Glyphosate, which in 2015 was declared by the World Health Organization as a probable carcinogen, is applied in Argentina indiscriminately without the due consideration to the existence of schools and villages.  Pesticide use hardly regulated and often ignored FAO international standards. Company guidelines or provincial laws do not issue advance warnings to surrounding communities. As a result, I was informed of dramatic loss of lives and an increase in cases of life threatening diseases.

A study carried out by the University of La Plata found that the majority of the population consumes fruits and vegetables that have been applied with agrochemicals. Pesticide exposure can have very dangerous impacts on human health, with children and pregnant women being particularly vulnerable to their effects.

Widespread use of pesticides at such high frequency and intensity have raised concerns about how exposure in women of reproductive age and those who are pregnant may lead to the exposure of infants by way of breast milk. The National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI) conducted a study of mothers who had given birth in hospitals in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. The study found that breast milk of these mothers contained levels of pesticides 15 per cent higher than those deemed safe by the law.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to directly and scientifically link a variety of serious health issues to a particular pesticide. Moreover, many countries, including Argentina seem to lack effective monitoring systems to regulate the pesticide industry and control their use by the agribusiness. This lack of monitoring and redress could amount to human rights violations if not addressed properly.

Argentina has not introduced a law or program for the reduction of pesticide use in agricultural production, nor to provide redress to populations who are exposed to contamination. There have been only two cases--Loma Senés and Ituzaingó Annex—in which producers were brought to trial and held liable for pesticide contamination.

In 2013, the Buenos Aires- province introduced a restriction on the use of pesticides near cities in an effort to protect citizens’ health. This measure prohibits aerial spraying in areas defined by municipalities or in the two-kilometre boundary between urban and rural areas.

I learned about an initiative of good practices in reference to the use of pesticides it however seems to lack proper accountability mechanisms.

Deforestation

Argentina is devoting more agricultural land to soy production and soil depletion and land degradation are becoming of increasing concern. More than 3 million hectares of forest were destroyed in the past decade to make space for grain production and livestock. Argentina has an approximate rate of deforestation of around 27 million hectares per year.

The 2007 Law 26,631 on Forest Protection was an extraordinary case of participation by civil society in public policy, and today is an important tool for this country to meet its international commitments, in the fight against climate change and for the conservation of biodiversity.

But despite the entry into force of the law, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ranked Argentina among the countries with the largest forest area lost between 2010 and 2015. But they warn that deforestation continues in areas where it is banned, and that the national government has shown a strong lack of interest in enforcing the law, reflected in the lack of funds necessary to finance conservation policies.

According to government estimates, only 37 percent of the soil is restored after soy cultivation. With the expansion of grain cultivation, animal production has intensified causing further environmental consequences.

In the context of large-scale industrial agriculture, it is vital that development plans and policies take into account the true cost of particular farming methods on soil and water resources, and the impact of environmental degradation on future generations, rather than focusing only on short term profitability and economic growth. 

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen,
While much more could be said on a range of issues, including commending the Government for its good policies and programmes, let me finish with some preliminary remarks and recommendations that will be addressed in more detail in the final report presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2019.

I trust that the Government will give priority to designing and implementing effective policies and reforms with the participation of all relevant segments of society aimed at ensuring the right to adequate food and will do all in its power to avoid negative impacts of the financial crisis on the most vulnerable members of society.  It is important to maintain social peace to put together experts regardless of their ideological views to find a correct, sustainable and just solution for all.  This outlook should also infuse efforts to reform the current tax system, restructure governmental institutions, and reorganize effective social protection remedies.

I also noted that Argentina adopted a National Human Rights Plan in December 2017. I recommend that it is implemented in full consultation with a wide range of civil society representatives.

I reiterate the importance of family farming to achieve the goal of adequate and healthy food for all Argentinians. Family farming should be promoted as a high priority in a diligent manner. This is the only way to achieve a balance between current robust industrial agriculture and the developing agro-ecological production system. Achieving this balance is the only way to reach a sustainable and just solution for the people of Argentina.  

 I am convinced that Argentina could improve the current situation and make impressive strides in attaining food and nutrition security for everyone as soon as possible, to avoid further suffering, while at the same time keep working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals in due course.

Finally, I wish to reiterate my commitment to continue the dialogues initiated during this visit. I look forward to working with the Government and civil society representatives in a spirit of cooperation on the refinement and implementation of my recommendations.

ENDS