Many developing countries are heavily dependent on the export of just one or two commodities and see their earnings rise and fall according to the fluctuations of the world prices of their products. As a consequence, international agreements concluded in the framework of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) attempt to support or stabilise the production of certain commodities. These agreements generally cover three aspects: prices, quantities and mechanisms (production quotas, buffer stocks and so on). The producer countries see these agreements on commodities chiefly as a way of guaranteeing export earnings and ensuring a certain level of income for their producers, whereas importers view them as a way of guaranteeing supply of a given quantity of a product at a price set in advance. The agreements differ from one product to the next, some aiming at better marketing and heightened competitiveness, others involving attempts to intervene in the free play of market mechanisms at world level.
The United Nations Common Fund for Commodities supports the operation of agreements on certain commodities, which are regulated by organisations with specific responsibility for them. To this effect, the Fund has two "windows", one contributing to the financing of buffer stocks and national stocks coordinated at international level and managed by international organisations with specific responsibility for certain commodities; the other supporting measures other than storage (for example research and other measures seeking to improve productivity and marketing). The European Union is a member of the Fund on the same footing as its Member States [Agreement and Decision 90/373].
The Member States of the EU are importers of most of the commodities covered by world agreements. During the seventies, they tended to negotiate the terms of these agreements individually rather than as members of the EU. However, after the fourth UNCTAD Conference in Nairobi in 1976, at which a draft "integrated programme" for commodities was outlined, the EU has taken an active part in negotiating and managing many world agreements, including those on copper [Decision 91/179] and tin [Decision 91/178], jute and jute articles [Agreement and Decision 91/51], coffee [Agreement and Decision 2008/579], cocoa [Agreement and Decision 2011/634], rubber [Agreement and Decision 96/704], tropical timber [Agreement and Decision 96/493 and Decision 2007/648], cereals [Agreement and Decision 96/88 and Decision 2009/393], olive oil and olives [Agreement and Decision 2005/800], and sugar [Agreement and Decision 92/580 and Decision 2009/394].
Since 1986, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) acts, on the one hand, as a forum for the exchange of views on industrial development policies in Third World countries and on cooperation with the more developed countries, and on the other, as the implementer of cooperation programmes revolving around the marketplace and enterprises. The Commission, which represents the EU in UNIDO, shows strong interest in the activities of this organisation in the restructuring of formerly centrally planned economies.
The European Union also participates in the work of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), whose main tasks are the establishment of some order in international trade in agricultural produce, the replenishment of food stocks following the droughts of recent years and the fight against hunger in the world. In November 1991, the ministerial Conference of the FAO recognised the EC/EU as a member "sui generis", stating its views through the Commission on all matters coming within its sphere of competence, such as forestry or development, and alternately with the Member States. In addition the EU can now accede to any convention or agreement concluded under the aegis of the FAO.