The agricultural commodities market has frequently experienced wild price fluctuations. Since many developing countries are highly dependent on commodities to generate export revenue, such fluctuating prices regularly impact negatively on their development. The production of raw and semi-finished products directly determines the incomes and living conditions of millions of people who clearly have no way at all of influencing the situation.
Back in the 1970s, a series of agreements setting up international commodities markets were concluded at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the aim being to stabilise prices by applying quota mechanisms to exports and buffering stocks. But because the operation of these mechanisms proved controversial, they gradually came to be abandoned.
The agreements and organisations in question still exist, but bit by bit they have mutated into forums where producer and consumer countries can exchange information about the global commodities market and consult each other on various topics.
In recent years, the crisis that hit the coffee and cotton sector prompted a resurgence of interest by the international community. Specifically, the European Union drew up both an Action Plan on Agricultural Commodity Chains, Dependence and Poverty and a proposed European Union/Africa Partnership on Cotton.
The respective international commodity organisations (ICOs) are as follows:
- International Coffee Organisation (ICO), London
- International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO), London
- International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO), Yokohama (Japan)
- International Grains Council (IGC), London
- International Sugar Organisation (ISO), London
- International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), Paris
- International Rubber Study Groups (IRSG), Singapore
- International Jute Study Group (IJSG), Dacca (Bangladesh)
- International Olive Council (IOC), Madrid
- International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), Washington
- International Copper Study Group (ICSG), Lisbon
- International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG), Lisbon
- International Nickel Study Group (INSG), Lisbon
- International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Beijing
Belgium is a member of these organisations, either directly or via the European Union (Working Party on Commodities - PROBA), with the exception of the Party on Nickel and INBAR. However, Belgium has not been a member of ICAC (cotton) since 1 July 2015, but the EU's membership of this organisation is currently under discussion.
Just lately, Belgium - which has always embraced the principle of sustainability - has also shown conspicuously greater interest in securing greater transparency in the commodities sector, primarily by implementing a traceability system and establishing good governance in the mining industries (EITI initiative and OECD Due Diligence Guidance), in Central Africa in particular. Such improved governance and transparency and the fight against illegal exploitation are also intimately linked to conflict prevention.