Dáil Éireann - Volume 557 - 13 November, 2002

Written Answers. - Coffee Production.

  87. Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the consideration the Government and the EU have given to the coffee crisis affecting 25 million producers across the developing world as detailed by Oxfam Ireland. [21542/02]

  113. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland will use its position on the Security Council of the United Nations to propose or support the calling of a special UN conference on the current coffee crisis affecting 25 million producers in a number of developing countries; if his attention has been drawn to the consequences of increasing margins between origin, price and retail price for countries such as Uganda, one of Ireland's special bilateral aid countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21430/02]

  183. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland will use its position on the Security Council of the United Nations to propose or support the calling of a special UN conference on the current coffee crisis, affecting 25 million producers in a number of developing countries; if his attention has been drawn to the consequences of increasing margins between origin price and retail price for countries such as Uganda, one of Ireland's special bilateral aid [495] countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21429/02]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): I propose to take Question Nos. 87, 113 and 183 together.

  While the Security Council has specific responsibilities in relation to the maintenance of international peace and security, it does not have primary responsibility within the UN system for dealing with economic and social issues such as the impact on developing countries of volatile commodity prices.

  The recently-published OXFAM report, Mugged: Poverty in Your Coffee Cup, performs the important service of drawing attention to the fact that the livelihoods of 25 million coffee producers are affected by the fall in the price of coffee. There are indications that long-term prospects are grim and that developing country farmers, mostly poor smallholders, are now selling their coffee beans for much less than they cost to produce.

  I have noted the recommendations in the OXFAM report that the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, develop a long-term integrated strategy to tackle the problem of commodities and to organise a major international conference on coffee with the International Coffee Organisation by February-March 2003.

  The economies of some of the poorest countries in the world are highly dependent on trade in coffee. In Uganda, the livelihoods of roughly one-quarter of the population are in some way dependent on coffee sales. According to World Bank figures, in 2000 Ugandan coffee exports amounted to 43% of total exports.

  There is almost no coffee processing in Uganda so the export price depends on the demand from the major coffee processors. There are four main global coffee roasters which determine the market price for the non-processed crop. The price farmers in Uganda currently receive is US$200 per tonne compared to US$ 3,000 per tonne in 1994. The fall in the price of coffee is almost entirely due to a glut on the world market due to the entry of new producing countries, such as Vietnam.

  Already, following the publication of the OXFAM report, the International Coffee Organisation, ICO, of which Ireland, along with the other EU member states, are members, has put in place the coffee quality improvement programme on 1 October 2002. This programme aims to improve the supply of quality coffee on world markets by adopting minimum standards for exported coffee. This measure will improve market equilibrium and help to eliminate the presence of low quality coffee from the market. The ICO has also commenced the implementation of a diversification programme in the Caribbean region to assist farmers and help alleviate poverty. A number of market development activi[496] ties aimed at increasing consumption in both producing and consumption are also in the pipeline.

  The relevant EU expert working group is considering the crisis in the coffee market, including contacts with OXFAM, with a view to the preparation of a paper for consideration by Ministers at next week's General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18-19 November 2002. In addition, the issue is under consideration at the United Nations where member states are currently considering a draft resolution on commodities that addresses a number of the issues raised by OXFAM.

  I welcome the opportunity of the forthcoming discussion by Ministers at the GAERC to consider how the EU can best assist the developing countries most affected by the volatile coffee price. In the long-term, the international community needs to assist those developing countries whose export sectors are overly dependent on a small number of primary commodities to diversify. Ireland will participate fully in any measures to alleviate the coffee crisis.