As part of its ongoing work on private law and agricultural development, a UNIDROIT Working Group is currently developing, in collaboration with FAO and IFAD, an instrument on agricultural land investment contracts. Information regarding the background on this work and its current status, including Working Group meeting summaries and documentation, is provided below.
The Governing Council, at its 91st session (Rome, 7-9 May 2012), authorised the Secretariat to pursue consultations and preliminary work with a view to the possible preparation, in the future, of an international guidance document on agricultural land investment contracts, taking into account, in particular, the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts.
Subsequently, in a memorandum for the Governing Council regarding the Work Programme for the 2014-2016 triennium, the Secretariat noted that several international initiatives then underway touched upon this area from various angles and varying degrees of depth, most notably the preparation, within the FAO Committee on World Food Security, of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Foods Systems ("CFS"-"RAI Principles"). The Secretariat suggested that the work on land investment contracts should await adoption of the CFS-RAI Principles and build upon the experience acquired in developing the UNIDROIT/FAO/IFAD Legal Guide on Contract Farming.
Following the adoption of the Legal Guide on Contract Farming at its 94th session (Rome, 6-8 May 2015), which is available via this link, the Governing Council discussed potential future work in the area of private law and agricultural development together with representatives of FAO and IFAD, who indicated a willingness to continue collaborating on future work in this regard. The Governing Council instructed the Secretariat to undertake a stocktaking exercise and feasibility study on land investment contracts, in order to decide whether UNIDROIT’s particular expertise would be of additional benefit in this field.
The Secretariat conducted the requested stocktaking exercise and feasibility study, which was submitted to the Governing Council at its 95th session and is available at this link. The feasibility study indicated that, although other existing international instruments and policy documents contained important policy guidance on investments in agricultural land, UNIDROIT could use its private law expertise to build upon such instruments and documents and prepare, in collaboration with the Rome-based agricultural development agencies of the United Nations system and other institutions, valuable legal guidance for farmers, investors, governments, and other stakeholders. As agricultural land investment contracts are complex and deal with various areas of law, the added benefit and impact of detailed yet concise legal guidance on this subject matter could be significant. The feasibility study discussed this in detail and identified legal issues that could be considered for coverage in the possible guidance document.
The Governing Council took note of the feasibility study and decided to recommend that the General Assembly include the topic of an international guidance document on agricultural investment contracts in the UNIDROIT Work Programme for the 2017-2019 triennium and assign it a high level of priority.
Consistent with the Governing Council’s recommendation, the Secretariat organised, together with FAO and IFAD, an informal meeting held with experts and interested stakeholders at FAO on 20 October 2016, during the Committee on World Food Security’s 43rd plenary session (Rome, 17-21 October 2016). The meeting’s purpose was to raise awareness about UNIDROIT’s work in this area and to solicit input on the scope, content and form of the possible instrument on agricultural land investment contracts. The input received, moreover, was taken into consideration in the formation of the Working Group and was provided to that Group once constituted for its first meeting (Rome, 3-5 May 2017).
The General Assembly endorsed this recommendation at its 75th session, on 1 December 2016.
WORKING GROUP MEETINGS AND CURRENT STATUS
The Working Group on agricultural land investment contracts has thus far met twice. Summaries and documentation for each of the meetings are included below.
In addition, an informal meeting is to be held with experts and interested stakeholders during the Committee on World Food Security’s 44th plenary session (Rome, 9-13 October 2017) to raise awareness about the future instrument and to seek input on it. The Working Group’s next meeting is to be held in Rome on 25-27 April 2018.
The Working Group's first meeting took place at UNIDROIT’s seat in Rome on 3-5 May 2017, with the objective of receiving expert input to better define the contours of the work, in particular with respect to the possible scope of the instrument, thereby allowing both for the organisation of future work and for consultations with a broader group of experts and stakeholders. In particular, the Working Group discussed, inter alia, the following:
• UNIDROIT and its work thus far on private law and agricultural development;
• general considerations in relation to the work on agricultural land investment contracts, in particular the notion of such contracts; the alignment of the work with existing initiatives, including the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of National Food Security (VGGT) and the CFS-RAI Principles; co-operation with the UN agricultural development agencies, non-governmental organisations, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders; and the objective and target audience of the future instrument;
• the structure of the future instrument and identification of issues to be covered, including the scope, content and form of the instrument; and
• the organisation of future work.
The documentation for the first meeting includes:
• Inf. 1 rev. - Draft annotated agenda
• Doc. 1 rev. - Preparation of an international instrument on agricultural land
investment contracts: A preliminary outline of issues
• Doc. 2 - Report on the first meeting
The Working Group’s second meeting took place at UNIDROIT’s seat in Rome on 13-15 September 2017. The Working Group discussed recent developments and general considerations in relation to the work, in particular with respect to the future instrument’s scope and target audience and its alignment to existing initiatives (e.g. the VGGT and CFS-RAI Principles); examined in detail the draft outline of the future instrument, proposed revisions to that outline and initial drafting contributions for certain chapters; and discussed the organisation of future work, including possible events and other means for raising awareness about the work, consulting stakeholders and seeking their input.
The documentation for the first meeting includes:
• WG2 Inf. 1 rev. – Draft annotated agenda
• Doc. 3 – Report on the second meeting (forthcoming)
The next meeting of the Working Group is to be held at UNIDROIT’s seat in Rome on 25-27 April 2018.