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The Coffee Consumers Caucus.

The coffee consumers caucus

"What I simply want," Jeff Harris emphasized, "is for the United States to recognize coffee as an important political subject ... to go beyond the bean." Jeff Harris, of the Harris/Ragan Management Corporation, has created a Coffee Consumers Caucus to pursue his policy goals. Recently, a luncheon was held in Washington, D.C., just four blocks from the White House. The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal conducted the following interview with Harris:

One of the first questions asked is whether the Coffee Consumer Caucus is supported by foreign interests, especially coffee-producing nations. Harris indicated that, "most of our clients have Latin American interests, such as Panama." According to a Harris/Ragan brochure, the firm represents the Panamanian Ministry of Commerce and Industry as well as the Foreign Policy Association of Panama. However, he did not say that his present clients or other Latin American nations, such as Colombia and Brazil, had any specific interests in the Coffee Consumers Caucus.

"We invented the Coffee Consumers Caucus as a process rather than organization," Harris said. "If you go to a political convention there are numerous caucus meetings that you can attend if you believe in their issues. The Coffee Consumers Caucus simply creates a position and those interested in it, can participate."

What are the Coffee Consumers Caucus' positions relative to U.S. coffee policy? Harris outlined the following five policy points:

1. Automatic Quota Adjustments; Bring together the world's best economic and management talent to assist the International Coffee Organization in devising a self-regulating formula to adjust future quotas to changing tastes and market conditions.

2. Universal ICO Membership; Link implementation of future U.S. bilateral trade agreements, with nations that are not now members of the International Coffee Organization, to membership in the ICO or strict adherence to its principles.

3. Effective Production Controls; Urge producing countries to institute effective forms of production limitations on coffee growers - and provide direct or third-country assistance where appropriate to reach this goal - to bring annual supplies more consistently into line with anticipated demand.

4. Effective Limitations on Speculation; Institute mechanisms in the principal coffee trading markets to reduce speculative investments in coffee futures among non-coffee professionals.

5. Broaden Policy Consultations; Add knowledgeable individuals - those not associated with the National Coffee Association or directly involved with coffee to the U.S. government's trade advisory panels to ensure that broader U.S. political interests are taken into account by U.S. policy makers and negotiators.

"When the quotas lapsed in July of 1989, I was extremely upset because I felt it was detrimental to U.S. Policy," Harris said. He was and still is concerned that U.S. coffee policy is not "honest," and cites the following example:

"It makes no sense to learn that the former U.S. Trade Representative and now the Secretary of Agriculture, Clayton Yeutter, suggested that Colombia would be better off over the next 30 years without the (coffee) Agreement, even though it might suffer in the short run. It makes even less sense that the U.S. would commit some $85 million in tax dollars toward helping Colombia in its anti-drug activities, while allowing that country to lose some $400 million in revenues that had come primarily from U.S. private sector purchases of coffee. Because of these examples, we wonder why the State Department isn't assuming a more dominant role in the creation of U.S. coffee policy?"

Harris pointed out that U.S. coffee policy seems to be "overly protective of the coffee position of the Central American states - even looking the other way when substantial Salvadorian, Honduran, and Guatemalan sales to non-member nations were made at far below quota trading prices in violation of the Agreement."

Harris said that "While U.S. roasters had to pay high prices for premium beans restricted in availability by the quota system, nonmember countries could acquire the very same quality beans at far lower prices on the open market. They could also sell this coffee to Western European roasters for hard currency at prices below quota prices." This situation, he pointed out, produced a "remarkable irony," in that, "Socialist countries were using the mechanisms of a market economy to gain a significant commercial advantage over capitalist countries forced to abide by a marketing mechanism common in many socialist countries."

The Coffee Consumers Caucus plans to continue its efforts to change U.S. and foreign coffee policy throughout 1990. One of their chief concerns is to broaden the representation of consumer interests that may effect U.S. policies by the Administration through the Trade Representative. "We need to have coffee consumer interests, health interests, financial interests other than the National Coffee Association (NCA), to open up the range of opinions in the development of U.S. coffee policies," Harris said.

John Chwat is a partner in Chwat/Weigend Associates, a Government and Public Relations firm in Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:new lobbying organization for coffee industry
Author:Chwat, John
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Feb 1, 1990
Previous Article:Coffee & Perestroika: what will the 90's bring?
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