Wide-ranging influence

by Meyer Sosland
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Brussels-based COCERAL has been the European grain trade’s eyes and ears since 1958

by Chris Lyddon

Under the Common Agricultural Policy, day-to-day decisions that have an enormous effect on grain markets throughout Europe and elsewhere are made in the city of Brussels, Belgium.

The city is the epicenter of a massive lobbying effort, with around 15,000 lobbyists and 2,600 special interest groups operating there. A large number of them are trade associations, and one of the most effective, by any objective measure, is COCERAL, the body representing European cereals, rice, feedstuffs, oilseeds, olive oil, oils and fats and agricultural supply.

COCERAL’s origins stretch back to 1958, a time when the grain trade was quick to realize the importance of communicating its point of view.

"When the EEC (European Economic Community) was founded, one of its first goals was to set up a Common Agricultural Policy," Chantal Fauth, COCERAL’s secretary general, told World Grain. "Traders from six countries set up a committee of the associations."

COCERAL grew from the former Union Européenne des Grains (European Grain Union), which was a much more informal group. "In time, the EEC became the E.U. and expanded from six members to 25 and nearly 27 now," Fauth said, referring to the planned accession of Bulgaria and Romania. "All the traders in the Union Européenne des Grains became members of the committee. Effectively, the Union ceased to exist."

COCERAL’s members are national trade associations. In France, for example, it includes the exporters’ group, SYNACOMEX; the trade group, FNA; and the olive oil traders’ group, FEDICO — COPEXCO. The Dutch group, Koninklijke Vereniging Het Comité van Graanhandelaren (Royal Dutch Grain and Feed Trade Association), is a member as is the Polish Grain and Feed Chamber.

What is now the E.U. grew from six to nine member states in 1973, to 10 in 1981, 12 in 1985, 15 in 1995 and 25 in 2004. Trade associations from outside the E.U. joined as associate members. Currently, COCERAL has two non-E.U. associates: the Romanian trade association, ARCPA (Asociatia Romana a Comerciantilor se Produse Agricole), and the Swiss group grain and feed trade association, VSGF.

UNISTOCK, which represents agribulk stores, became a full member of COCERAL and now has its secretariat located at the COCERAL premises. ANGO (Association du Négoce des Graines Oléagineuses, Huiles et Graisses Animales et Végétales et leurs Dérivés de la Communauté Economique Européenne), which represents oilseeds, olive oil, oils and fats traders, and UCEPPCE (Union du Commerce des Engrais et Produits Phytosanitaires de la Communauté Européenne), which represents agricultural supply trade, joined in 1997.

In 2003, three other groups joined as affiliate members: Euromalt, which represents the European malting industry; Euroflour, which represents the European Flour Exporters’ Committee; and Euromaisers, which represents the European maize milling industry.

Fauth said the basic purpose of COCERAL is to "represent and promote the interests of the trade." A primary part of that role is to keep the European grain trade informed about pending legislation. Today, that involves more than keeping an eye on the market management mechanisms of the CAP.

"There are so many things influencing their activities, and they are so diverse, which wasn’t the case before," Fauth said. "There’s the whole body of legislation on food and feed safety, GM issues and environmental issues. Those are becoming more and more important. When new regulations are coming, we have to defend their members’ position and lobby the Commission in the direction we want."

Because legislation has become more diverse, COCERAL is talking more to the Directorates General that run E.U. policy. "I started here 14 years ago, and at that time the main contract was DG Agri (Agriculture and Rural Development)," Fauth said. "Its role is becoming less and less important. We are having more and more to do with DG Sanco (Health and Consumer Protection) and DG Environment.

"There is less and less market management. The rules are so clear-cut. You have quotas for everything on the import side. On the export side, refunds will disappear in the short term, even if the WTO doesn’t succeed."

COCERAL’s relationship with DG Agri goes back nearly 50 years, and officials on both sides say the relationship has been beneficial.

"DG Agri is always very keen to have our crop figures and balance sheet," Fauth said. "Sometimes the Commission tells us they find us more reliable than other bodies. Our figures are always very important to them.

"We are also members of a lot of advisory groups in DG Agri, which means we can present our opinions. We also have a lot of bilateral contact. There’s no problem with contacting them."

Fauth said COCERAL also has good contacts with DG Sanco, particularly those units most relevant to its business.

"We have close contacts with the directors of the units, especially for food and feed hygiene, feed legislation and biotechnology," she said.

Those contacts have proved useful in some difficult situations. "For example, we had to find a way forward in the BT 10 corn crisis two years ago" she said. "We also dealt with the problems over bone spicules in corn gluten feed."

COCERAL also maintains a close relationship with the Directorate General responsible for external trade, monitoring both the World Trade talks and bilateral agreements. Fauth said COCERAL regrets that an agreement in the current Doha round of trade talks has yet to be reached.

"We would have preferred to have a deal in the WTO," she said. "Bilateral agreements make life more difficult." Fauth said she’s convinced the overwhelming majority of her members be- lieve in free trade. "They would like as much free trade as possible," she said. "They would like not to have any market management from the commission, but this is not a short-term aim."

The advent of biofuels means that COCERAL’s already wide remit is continuing to grow. At present, the group is monitoring the situation, and Fauth believes it will have an increasing impact on COCERAL members. "It’ll have a tremendous impact on commodities," she said.

COCERAL has also taken a more proactive role in helping European grain trading work properly. "Already in 2000, we set up our own European Code of Good Trading Practice," she said. "Now food hygiene legislation requires each sector to have its code. We think that our code could become recognized for trading activity."

Already 309 trading companies are listed by COCERAL as being certified under the HACCP-based code, which was originally designed to avoid the duplication of food safety schemes in the E.U. market.

COCERAL President Andrew Barnard, who is operations director of Grainfarmers, a U.K. farmer-owned grain business, believes COCERAL is highly effective. "I think it does an excellent job of representing the interests of the European grain and feed associations in terms of dialogue with the Commission on future legislation and informing its member associations about the substantial amount of legislation that is being formed and amended on a dayto-day basis," he said.

He said the European legislation on mycotoxins, which appeared in July, is a classic example of how COCERAL and the Commission work together. "We put in a lot of lobbying for those standards to be practical," Barnard said. "They worked based on scientific information and we provided it. The commission sees us as the route to the grain sector and they do consult with us on a regular basis."

Chris Lyddon is World Grain’s European editor. He may be contacted at chris.lyddon@ntlworld.com.