Thursday 13 June 2024
  • La Cimbali

ICO, Gerardo Patacconi about the change of the headquarters: “It is an open and undefined competition, but Italy is a good option”

Pataccone: "The next meeting will be in mid-September in London with the meeting of the International Coffee Council, which will be the occasion to analyse the details of the proposals gathered. At that point member countries may decide if and how to move.”

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MILAN – Gerardo Patacconi, head of operations of the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) since January 2018, is back to talk about the hypothesis of the organisation’s change of headquarters from the United Kingdom to Italy, going into the details of this operation still in its embryonic phase.

From London to Rome in 2027: Patacconi, why is the Italy of espresso a candidate at this historic moment as the next headquarters of the ICO? What are the advantages of choosing this country over other members of the Organisation, or England itself?

“At the moment we are still talking about a hypothesis, but the process has started under the impetus of two requirements: first of all, the new International Coffee Agreement was approved in 2022 and is currently being ratified.

We still operate under the previous 2007 agreement, which is in the process of being replaced, and this transitional period led to the need to see if it would be possible to renew the expiring lease of the London office.

However, the space in London needs to be refurbished and this could not give us the certainty of staying. So we carried out a cost analysis to study the best place for the ICO to move to, taking into account costs such as rent, and salaries – each country has its own grid determined by the United Nations – and then favouring locations where there is strong diplomatic representation of our member countries (Rome, Geneva, London itself or others).

The members themselves were then asked who was willing to host the ICO, and we received a proposal from the Italian government, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to consider the possibility of moving our headquarters to Rome. This is only the beginning, because Italy will coordinate with its European partners: the expression of Italian interest must be formalised also taking into account the discussions that will take place within the specific EU committees in Brussels.

Other countries have come forward, without the formality of a letter but showing interest in hosting us.

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For the time being we are organising to stay in London for another four years, but with the option to move in March-April 2027 if there are more convenient alternatives from an economic and strategic point of view.

Meanwhile, other countries could come up with cheaper alternatives to London. In Italy, the cost of rent would be zero, which is quite advantageous compared to the high amount we currently pay in London, with a budget impact of 15%, together with a reduction in the staff item that has very high salaries to be proportionate to the high cost of living in London.

Between Rome and London there would be a cut of around 30%.

One thing I want to clarify: in the International Coffee Agreement of 2007 and in the subsequent one, the seat of the Organization is London, United Kingdom, unless the Council decides otherwise. The UK representative has confirmed his interest in keeping the ICO in London in the medium and long term, so we will see.”

What should be in the member countries’ proposal?

“The example we used was that of the ICCO – a relocation process that lasted over 7 years – which moved from London to one of the producing countries (Côte d’Ivoire). This was done through a series of steps that we have to follow: first is to receive a formal proposal, which has to include the provision of a space, the possibility of interaction with the local reality, and a series of advantages related to the specific country, such as cost, integration in a broader international system, and interest in coffee. We have not yet received proposals from the countries of origin but they may come too.

The Council will then decide which proposals would be the most strategic and beneficial with respect to participation in the ICO. I would like to add that this is a moment that sees a renewed interest in the ICO that was not there in the past, because of our great efforts to respond to the big challenges in the coffee sector, from sustainability, to combating deforestation, from a decent income for producers, to transforming the sector through, circular economy, regenerative agriculture and digitalisation.

Challenges that we are also able to address thanks to the integration of the private sector through the public-private task force with governments and world leaders in the sector.

Now ICO is much more attractive and several countries are offering to host it.

It is an open and undefined competition: the next meeting will be in mid-September in London with the meeting of the International Coffee Council, which will be the occasion to analyse the details of the proposals gathered. At that point member countries may decide if and how to move.”

What would this change of location mean for the coffee sector, which is already significant in Italy?

“From the point of view of image return, a country on the world coffee stage acquires a certain relevance. The relationship that the ICO already has with the industry and the Italian government would be further strengthened, bringing in new resources. The ICO Council, which takes place twice a year, would be an interesting gathering for donors, industries, and governments.”

Is Rome as international and strategic a city as London?

“Absolutely. With the big advantage that we already collaborate with other Rome-based organisations such as FAO and IFAD, and all the coffee-producing countries already have diplomatic representation in Rome – each flanked by an agricultural specialist who can dedicate himself to coffee – in addition to the cost savings.”

Sustainable development and commitment are one of Italy’s strengths, underlined by the Director General for Development Cooperation Stefano Gatti himself: so how would our country now have the strength to support the countries of origin all along the chain for a more economically and socially sustainable future?

“Absolutely. There is a great effort by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs precisely on coffee and sustainability. ICO works very closely with the Ministry and we can confirm that Italian interest and commitment is tangible in supporting the producing countries. We are directly involved with other partners: Italian leadership on this raw material is evident and the commitment made at international level is exemplary.”

Would you be happy with this change of location?

“I would be very happy, beyond the fact that I am Italian. London is a beautiful city but equally expensive and complex: for example, most of the staff here live outside London and commute. In any case, I think Italy is a good option from a political, economic and strategic point of view.”

CIMBALI

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