Grain conferences emphasize different trade approaches

by Morton Sosland
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While it may be a bit of a verbal stretch, the temptation is great to call events last week, one in London, England, and the other in St. Petersburg, Russia, dueling grain conferences. In London, the International Grains Council’s annual conference celebrated the 60th anniversary of the agreement that created the Council. Several days earlier, the first World Grain Forum was held in St. Petersburg under auspices of the Russian government. The latter, promised as a new annual event, centered on rationalizing the global grain situation while proposing an export cartel to assure returns for producers of grain.

The choice of "dueling" to describe these two reflects primarily how different were their themes. Both drew large crowds, from governments and trade. For the I.G.C., the focus was on the Council’s great success in providing essential information about grains (wheat, coarse grains, oilseeds and rice) and as a place where governmental issues affecting global trade in grain may be discussed, debated and resolved.

Like other elements of Russian domestic and foreign policy, the St. Petersburg conference sought to establish the growing importance of Russia and its Black Sea neighbors in grain marketing. Forecasts pointed to sharp expansion in crops and exports, including a rising share of world trade originating from this sphere. Most telling was the proposal to set up a cartel of Black Sea grain exporters, whereas the I.G.C. audience heard praise for fostering open and competitive trade in grains.

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