BOGOTÀ – The appointment of Max Fabian as President of the Ico Council took place in Colombia’s capital, at the Corferias AgroExpo conference centre, on Friday 7 October. A singular coincidence: the appointment to such an important position for the coffee world came on the same day as his birthday and it represents a significant turning point for the Ico, with the approval of the new international agreement.
In this regard, Fabian’s predecessor, Ivan Romero Martinez, had declared on the eve of the event: “The new appointment marks a new era for the Ico, its members, the world coffee sector and its producers”.
Immediately after his election to the office, we reached to Fabian to ask him what makes this appointment so important.
Fabian, what are the salient novelties with your appointment and how will they affect the coffee supply chain?
“The main novelty of my appointment as President is a clear and greater involvement of the private sector in the Ico. Now entrepreneurs, together with other private entities, will be approached in a different way than before. Both Vanusia Nogueira, the new executive director of Ico, and myself come from this very field. This is an important signal, because these positions used to be held by high-level bureaucratic figures, such as ambassadors. We are the first who do not come from the public sector, from bureaucracies.
But it is not only my appointment that is significant: the broader reform of the Ico wants closer cooperation with the private sector. To this end, a new “Board of Affiliated Members” will be established to include all those who want to engage with Ico to impact the sector. Once the new agreement comes into force, it will have an official say in the decisions that the Ico will make in its appropriate fora. For one year, as a private entrepreneur, I will occupy this position, putting my experience at the service of the organisation. In addition, there will be this new body that will be able to express ideas, proposals, and the needs of privates. The Ico will thus become the first among the “International commodities’ bodies” to do so. Intelligently and towards novelty.
Of course there are some important countries in the sector that are not currently part of the Ico, such as the United States, Guatemala or Uganda, and this is a pity. This new set-up could hopefully attract them back into the organisation. They could see the Ico as a single table and connected to the private sector, to discuss coffee issues globally. We already have other subjects tha meet to discuss coffee issues, but they do not yet work at the same table. Instead, in the new Ico this process wants to become structural. The new agreement has not yet been implemented, but this is the plan: Vanusia Nogueira’s
appointment, as well as mine, marks the Ico’s will to go in this direction.
All the international criticalities that coffee has to face, also because of the different rules that govern each country in the world, are determined by a freedom that can create a certain distortion at a global level. But now the ICO wants to become the main place to discuss.
This is a good opportunity: many problems in the coffee supply chain stem precisely from the inhomogeneity. We move from globalisation to a partial “reshoring”: you can’t just produce at a low price, logisitics also have their value in costs, but also in time and reliability, so we tend to go in the opposite direction. A global market can often be distorted. What has been missing so far is an agora where we can all discuss together and where privates are no longer relegated to a “secondary” role. And this could be a good reason to see the return of those who decided to leave Ico in the past.”
Fabian, is the switch to the private sector new or has it already happened in the past?
“The private sector had already been involved in the past through two bodies: the “private public task force” and the “private sector consultative board”. There was already a path started towards today’s direction, but never before had it been thought of creating a body like the BAM, dedicated to private entities, bringing the voice of this body in an official way up to the top of the Ico, thus giving it (shared) decision-making power.”
How will the agreement boost the Ico and its role?
Fabian: “The moment the private sector can try to solve its problems together with the public in the Ico, the organisation’s operability will be enhanced. All the various associations at public and private level will certainly remain relevant, and the former will have its own decision-making weight. But the discussion will be structural and permanent: it will not be the individual association that will have to speak for example to the European Union, in the various directorates-general, to discuss the various problems that may also involve the producing countries.
If this exchange takes place on the Ico table, where all these actors are already present and know each other, learning to constantly relate to each other in a human and trusting manner, everything will become easier. This facilitates problem-solving, in the interest of both parties. The interest of the public is not very different from the interest of the private sector, both of which want the sector to develop. The former would like to impose a few more rules and vice versa the latter would like to be freer, but there must be balance for proper development.”
The appointment of Max Fabian to the Ico represents a turning point…
“Yes, it symbolises it because never before has someone coming from the private sector been appointed in this role. Am I ready? Always. It will be quite a commitment, which will take its time, but on the other side there is a competent structure on which I can rely on.”
Let’s go back to the United States, which exited the ICO 4 years ago followed 2 years ago by Guatemala: this year Uganda denounced its uselessness and inability to influence global trade mechanisms and criticised its coffee classification system as unfair and outdated.
What answers will the new Ico now know to prevent further abandonment of excellence and encourage the return of others?
“In method: creating private-public dialogue in a structural manner is in itself a demonstration that there is potential for effective and efficient action by Ico with a view to the development of the sector. No one can be forced back into the organisation, but Ico today is not self-referential. We will have to work to ensure that the tools available are used to the full. The means are there: Guatemala, if it has a problem with an international implication, could discuss it at the Ico. Exactly as the United States could do. With us they will find all the interlocutors. Some movements are desirable”.
How, by strengthening private involvement, will the Ico be able to provide systemic answers to problems?
“With Ico opening up to the private sector, which can present certain needs directly to the public, which in turn can discuss its needs and rules with the other side, the answer is already in front of us.”
Concrete spin-offs at the governance level with the evolution of the public-private task force and the private sector advisory board?
“The BAM, the new body that includes any private entity, also has a direct say in governance.”
What kind of contribution can Ico make in steering the sector towards sustainable development models?
How can it contribute to the pursuit of the goals set by the Onu?
“On this point, the European Union is leading the way. But Brussels is often confronted with the realities in the producing countries, which are different, varied, and one has to take into account the needs of each area. In between there is the private sector, which operates and stimulates trading, the coffee trade in the consuming countries. In all this, sustainability must not be utopian: we would like to make every step sustainable, but we have to get down to the practical level. And that means dealing with those who then have to implement the different operations, from the producing countries, through privates to the consumers. With Ico we can facilitate the transition towards sustainability goals, which are practical and substantial, as well as achievable.”
A point on Italy: what role is it called upon to play in the sector?
“Italy is important: in Europe it is the second importer and second processor, and one of the world’s leading players together with Brazil, the United States and Germany. Among consumer countries, ours is absolutely relevant. Italy speaks in a coordinated manner at the Ico, with the European Union. Its role is important for what it represents in the coffee industry and its development, as well as an important outlet market.
Our nation has been a protagonist in this world for many years and the fact that I am Italian and now have this opportunity as a private individual, is significant. I have been called and I respond with pleasure, aware of honours and burdens.”