Michel Arrion, Executive Director of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) : « Increasing the income of small producers remains a priority »

Michel Arrion, who was appointed head of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) at the end of September 2018, took up his duties on January 1st 2019, succeeding Jean-Marc Anga of Ivory Coast. For the new number 1 of ICCO, increasing the income of small producers is a priority that is not only an ethical imperative, but also a condition for economic sustainability and, therefore, the future of the cocoa sector.

Ressources : What worked in your favour to get the position of Executive Director of ICCO ?

Michel Arrion : The ICCO is composed of two groups of member countries: on the one hand producers and on the other consumers. In its 45 years of existence (ICCO was created in 1973 in London to implement the first international cocoa agreement negotiated in Geneva at the United Nations International Cocoa Conference, editor’s note), this structure has been headed almost exclusively by members of producer countries. The European Union provided executive management for only nine years. It considered that since the headquarters had been transferred to Abidjan and an Ivorian had previously led the organization for nine years, it was now the turn of a European to assume these functions. In the final race for the post were a Spanish and a Belgian. The EU asked the producer countries to choose and they appointed me by consensus, probably considering that I had a much more African profile than the other candidate in the running.

R. : What are the activities of the ICCO and what are the main lines of its various activities?

M. A. :In the 1970s, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development sought to establish commodity management bodies, which were very important for developing countries. We were then in the context of decolonization, about ten years after independence. These countries were looking for the third way in the non-aligned movement. It was at this time that the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) was created to promote the industrialization of newly independent countries whose economies were heavily dependent on commodities such as agricultural or mining products, which were particularly volatile. To counter price volatility, it was therefore decided to create structures to regulate the market and stabilize prices. Initially, the organization was to buy and sell cocoa, coffee, cotton, sugar. When prices went down, it bought and when they went up, it sold. This is exactly what we have tried to do in the EU with the common agricultural policy. But it was found that it was much more complicated and that it was not only by selling and buying that prices could be stabilized, particularly in the case of an international organization whose administrative burdens did not favour rapid decision-making. Often, we realized that we were reacting against the current. We could meet three or six months later, when the prices were already reversed. After about twenty years, this function of managing buffer stocks was abandoned. The focus has been exclusively on the link between trade and development, emphasizing the desirability of keeping these organizations as forums for dialogue between producers and consumers, but with a greater focus on the Millennium Development Goals, now known as the Sustainable Development Goals. The ICCO therefore aims for international cooperation between the 22 main producer countries and the 30 consumer countries, including the 28 countries of the European Union, plus Switzerland and Russia. As the main international body collecting and providing information and studies on cocoa production, consumption and distribution (economic studies, forecasts, market analyses, statistical production, project management, etc.), ICCO attaches particular importance to the sustainability of the sector and the means of its implementation.

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