I.G.C.: information provider or policy maker?

by Teresa Acklin
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Debate arises at conference on future role of International Grains Council.

   By Diane Montague

   A clear difference of views on the role of the International Grains Council, formerly the International Wheat Council, emerged at the Council's world grain conference in Helsinki, Finland, in late June. The difference promises to pose an early challenge for Germain Denis, the Council's new executive director who assumes his duties in September (see World Grain Update on page 59).

   On one side are the members who believe the new I.G.C. could become more involved in world grain policies as the trade situation changes following implementation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade pact. This view, however, is strongly opposed by the United States.

   Backing an expansion of the I.G.C.'s role was Alain Moulinier, the director general of Office National Inter-professionnel des Cereales, the French state grain organization. Mr. Moulinier said during a question and answer session at the Helsinki conference that there was an increased need for a dialogue on grain between producer and consumer countries.

   “In a more liberal market where there is a need for closer contact, there is an important role for the I.G.C.,” he said.

   Mr. Moulinier said that although the GATT negotiations clearly had improved the clarity of trade, safeguards were needed in the food sector and that this was an area in which the I.G.C. could play a role.

   Earlier, Mr. Moulinier, saying ties between France and Canada were very close, had welcomed the appointment of Mr. Denis, who had been Canada's assistant deputy minister for foreign affairs and international trade.

   Opening the conference, Kalevi Hemila, Finland's minister of agriculture, said the Council had played an important role in international cooperation in the grain sector by trying to stabilize markets through international agreements. He welcomed the agreement on the new 1995 Convention, which brought together wheat and coarse grains. The new Convention took effect on July 1, 1995, when the I.W.C.'s name changed to the I.G.C. to reflect the inclusion of coarse grains.

   “These two interests cannot be looked at in isolation from each other,” Mr. Hemila said.

   However, any suggestion that the new I.G.C. should take more of a policy-making role is likely to be strongly opposed by the United States and could cause its ongoing membership in the Council to be questioned. Chris Goldthwait, general sales manager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, insisted the Council should continue its role of data collection and analysis.

   “Now more than ever, the strong unbiased and international ability of the I.G.C. should be enhanced because of changes in the world grain trade and the expansion of privatization,” Mr. Goldthwait said.

   The timeliness, relevancy and high quality of the grain trade and market information coming regularly from the Council's staff is second to none, he said. But he disagreed with suggestions the Council should take a more policy-oriented role. “We think the policy making role belongs to the new World Trade Organization,” Mr. Goldthwait said. “To have the I.G.C. take on a policy role would jeopardize its reputation as an unbiased provider of information. We cannot risk that loss.”

   And he warned that a change in the I.G.C.'s objectives could raise questions about continuing U.S. membership in the Council.

   “In the current environment in many governments — including our own— to reduce and eliminate duplication of efforts, the I.G.C. would become a prime target for budget cuts,” he said.

   Diane Montague owned and edited the U.K.'s leading agribusiness trade weekly, Agricultural Supply Industry, for 22 years. She now concentrates on freelance writing and consulting.