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 US rejoining ICO no magic wand for coffee farmers

05 de Abril de 2004

By Martha Sanchez

BOGOTA, Colombia, April 5 (Reuters) - The return of the United States to the International Coffee Organization would not be a "magic wand" for suffering growers but it would bolster political decisions at the international body, the group's executive director said.

The United States, the world's largest coffee consumer, said last month it was considering rejoining the ICO. Washington left the ICO more than a decade ago, arguing that the organization wanted to control prices artificially through quotas.

"We must not think that if the United States decides to rejoin the ICO everything is going to change overnight with a magic wand. But it is very important that the United States sit at the table to listen and find solutions," Nestor Osorio, executive director of the ICO, told Reuters in an interview late on Friday.

Low international coffee prices, caused by a world glut, have plunged growers around the world into poverty. In Colombia, the world's second-largest producer, low prices are pushing farmers to grow cocaine crops instead of coffee.

The United States played a prominent role in founding the ICO in 1963, aiming to boost standards of living in poor coffee-producing countries which might have been tempted by communism during the Cold War.

Based in London, the ICO has tried unsuccessfully to boost prices through such initiatives as a drive to destroy bad coffee and a global campaign to promote consumption. But these plans have had little effect due to the absence of the United States, which imports 20 million 60-kg bags per year.

Coffee producing nations including Colombia have criticized the United States for taking a laissez faire attitude toward their crisis. They say the United States should be more active in improving the lot of millions of poor growers if it wants to stop the drug trade and the spread of terrorism.

Osorio said the United States had some objections to ICO Resolution 407, which calls for removing bad coffee, but said he was optimistic about Washington rejoining his group.

"The United States is not against improving quality, but they want it to be more flexible and to be enforced on a voluntary basis," Osorio said.

Osorio said the days of market intervention are gone.

"We are not talking of price intervention anymore. (A decision by the United States to rejoin the ICO) is more a political gesture to take part in the decision-making and help solve the coffee crisis," Osorio said. ((Reporting by Martha Sanchez, editing by Jim Marshall; Reuters Messaging:; +571 634 4144)

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