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U.S. to Rejoin

Staff Report

The State Department officially expressed U.S. intent to rejoin the International Coffee Organization (ICO), confirming widespread industry speculation. The decision marks the culmination of an intensive effort by the global coffee industry led by the National Coffee Association (NCA), and effectively ends the decade-plus absence of the world’s largest coffee consuming nation from the table of global dialogue on industry issues. The decision paves the way for the U.S. to act as a positive force in fostering a sustainable future for the global coffee industry by improving life and competitiveness in the producing world.

“We firmly believe that U.S. membership in the ICO is pivotal to developing a coherent global strategy that addresses the needs of growers throughout producer nations and ensures the future sustainability of the coffee industry,” said NCA president and c.e.o. Robert F. Nelson. “The NCA looks forward to U.S. contributions to an integrated approach that involves governments and the private sector worldwide and engages the ICO to leverage limited resources to exponentially increase benefits at the producer level.”

High-Level Announcement
The long-awaited decision was announced at a Washington press conference by E. Anthony Wayne, Assistant Secretary of State for Business and Economic Affairs. Also addressing a standing-room-only crowd of U.S. and international officials, dignitaries and press were ICO executive director Nestor Osorio, Colombian Ambassador Alberto Moreno, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Agricultural Affairs James M. Murphy, Jr., U.S. Congressman Sam Farr, NCA president & c.e.o. Robert F. Nelson, and Specialty Coffee Association of America executive director Ted Lingle, with introductions by Karen Harbert of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which hosted the program. In a visible show of support from the producing world, ambassadors to the United States from Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua were also on hand for the event.

Assistant Secretary of State Wayne remarked that the decision reflects U.S. concerns about the impact of falling prices on producers and aims to help small- and medium-size producers around the world thrive. Previous objections were overcome by ICO reforms establishing a more market- and development-based approach. Wayne added that U.S. presence will help counter the influence of the cocaine industry in producing countries where coffee production has become economically difficult.

Global Possibilities
U.S. participation in the ICO is a major symbolic as well as practical boon for international efforts to address shared issues and achieve long-term sustainability. More than just another vote among 64 participating nations, ICO membership demonstrates that the U.S. is indeed concerned about the future of the global coffee industry and the quality of life and socioeconomic stability of producers. It also undoes the conspicuous absence of the world’s biggest consuming nation.

With a seat at the table, the U.S. can directly engage its influence to further sustainability goals and make a significant difference in the lives of farmers. The large U.S. industry and consuming public will contribute broader perspective and greater resources to existing ICO efforts. U.S. presence can also help set a positive agenda to help producers become more competitive in the global marketplace, with an emphasis on market transparency, capacity building, diversification and other free-market oriented approaches to current and future challenges.

ICO participation could also facilitate coordination of the efforts of agencies such as the USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with ICO initiatives, helping government investments reach local and regional sustainability initiatives in more strategic and targeted ways. The U.S. can also be a strong voice to help protect producing nations from additional burdens on trade advocated by other consuming nations and provide a positive counterbalance on the demand side of the coffee equation.

Joint Effort
The U.S. decision results from over two years of intensive work by the NCA, individual U.S. firms and representatives of producing countries with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Trade Representatives Office, USDA, USAID, the National Security Council, and other agencies and government officials, to persuade a resistant administration that the ICO is a different organization that the one it left years ago.

Today, under the sixth International Coffee Agreement, the ICO engages formalized, private-sector participation, private-public cooperation and adherence to free-market principles. Gone are the old economic clauses that the U.S. government said favored certain producing countries and that had continued to be a perceptual stumbling block to rejoining the organization.

The ICO, headquartered in London, is the main intergovernmental organization for coffee, bringing together producing and consuming nations to address the issues facing the world coffee industry through international cooperation. It strives to make a practical contribution to the world coffee economy and to improving the standard of living throughout the producing world. As an intergovernmental body with formalized private-sector involvement, the ICO has the unique ability to identify, implement and enforce realistic, workable options that can effectively address the future in meaningful ways to strengthen the industry and the viability of farmers throughout the world.

Tea & Coffee - November/December, 2004

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