256. Memorandum From the Executive Director of the Domestic Council (Cole) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • World Food Policy

You requested that I staff a proposal made by Secretary Dent suggesting a Presidential plan for world food policy which was brought [Page 888]to your attention by Julie and the Milligans (Tab A).2 I have solicited the views on this initiative of Secretaries Shultz and Butz, Chairman Stein, Peter Flanigan and Ambassador William Eberle. It is our joint recommendation that, while the substance of the recommendation is a good idea and is already being carried out, it is not yet the right time to make it a major public initiative.

Background

Your Administration has launched two major international initiatives in the last three years, both of which relate directly to the proposal for a "Nixon Plan for Food Policy." The first in time was the call for a new round of multilateral trade negotiations (in which agriculture would be a key element). Then, at your direction last year, Secretary Kissinger proposed to the United Nations that it convene a World Food Conference. This Conference, to be held in November of this year, will prove of particular importance to both the American farmer and consumer, who are justifiably confused and worried about the future food supply and demand situation.

Discussion

It is crucial that the United States, as initiator of the World Food Conference and with so much at stake in the trade negotiations, take the lead in establishing the direction which they will take. We are, therefore, developing initiatives for cooperative action among nations to help solve world food problems. Our strategy will be to press for the adoption of some general principles on food production and delivery through trade and aid at the World Food Conference. We will then try to translate these into operational commitments in the trade negotiations.

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The question of timing of when we formally propose possible new initiatives such as an agreement on new trade liberalization, on international food stockpiling, and improvement of emergency food relief and food production capabilities, is crucial. Our chances for concrete success at these international conferences rest, to a great extent, on our ability to negotiate new international understandings on such issues. A premature initiative risks possible rejection and consequent embarrassment for you if you proposed a personal world food plan too soon. On the other hand, there is an equal danger in waiting too long before the World Food Conference convenes, because we would then have to overcome foreign positions which might become increasingly firm and unchangeable.

The Council on International Economic Policy is coordinating the Administration’s work on a set of proposals for U.S. policy and a general negotiating strategy for the World Food Conference. We plan to float some of our ideas tentatively at the World Food Conference Preparatory Committee Meeting this June. If all goes well, we would then prepare a formal policy approach in time for the World Food Conference. If our international soundings indicate resistance to certain ideas in our package, we can in this way consider then how to modify them to bring about as broad a basis for support as possible, or if necessary whether to push our ideas independently.

Recommendation

I recommend that you not commit your personal prestige to a Presidential plan for world food policy at this time. There is much still to be done in the development of a long-term, well coordinated food policy. There is disagreement even among the agricultural experts on the nature and extent of the food problem in the next few years. This difference of opinion is reflected politically in positions taken by various interest groups and members of Congress on trade problems as well as farm legislation. Almost any proposal you make on world food policy now would be the subject of intense, and unnecessary, domestic and international political controversy.

We will continue our efforts to coordinate the development of policy options for you in preparation for the World Food Conference. We would hope to be able to announce a "Nixon Plan" on world food policy by late summer. Secretaries Shultz and Butz, Chairman Stein, Peter Flanigan and Ambassador Eberle, and NSC concur with my recommendation.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member & Office Files, President’s Office Files, President’s Handwriting, Box 26, March 1974. No classification marking. Sent for action. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates Nixon saw it.
  2. Attached but not printed are a December 1973 Department of Commerce paper entitled "World Food Supply and Demand: A Need for Coordinated Action"; a January 8, 1974, memorandum from Scowcroft to Domestic Council Associate Director Richard Fairbanks arguing against the establishment of a Cabinet level food council chaired by the President; a January 3, 1974, letter from Butz to Fairbanks detailing the bureaucratic work underway on the world food problem; and a December 14, 1973, letter from Dent to Haig urging a Presidential world food policy initiative. On January 22, Julie Eisenhower sent a copy of the Commerce paper to her father with a note that reads: "Dear Daddy, You probably have already considered a reference to a coordinated food policy in your State of the Union address, but in case the proposal for a Nixon plan for food policy missed you, I am sending this paper. I am enthusiastic about the idea because 1) people are wary of inflation (increased food productivity would lessen inflation), 2) you are known as a ’peace president’—thus food for international goodwill; 3) famines and starvation as a common occurrence are just around the corner. If you’ve seen a paper like this before, just toss it out. Sorry to bother you but I wanted to try to help you achieve the action-oriented State of the Union you are working for. I love you!" (Ibid., President’s Office Files, Box 25, President’s Handwriting, Jan 16–31, 1974) On January 25, Nixon wrote to Cole: "This idea—from Julie + her friends—The Milligans—has a great deal of appeal to me. Will you staff it out—+ give me a recommendation around the middle of February." (Ibid.)
  3. The President approved the recommendation. He also underlined the phrase "Nixon Plan" and circled "Flanigan" and "recommendation" in the final paragraph, drawing a line down to the bottom of the memorandum, where he wrote: "Be sure I announce it in a major speech when the timing is right."