A Sweet Commodity
Diplomat interviews the Executive Director of the International Sugar Organisation, José Orive, on his role and the future of the industry
1. When did you become Executive Director of the International Sugar Organisation (ISO)? Can you give a brief rundown of your career and how you got to this position today?
I began this new, motivating challenge as Executive Director in January 2014. Previously, I served as Executive Director of the Central American Sugar Association (AICA), and represented the region’s sugar industry at various international organisations and conferences. Before that I was the Guatemala Trade Representative and Chief Negotiator for international trade agreements, which prepared me for this present role.
2. Can you tell us about your childhood and schooling? Did your upbringing influence your choice of career? Have any of your family members had a background in law, sugar or even diplomacy?
Brought up and schooled in Guatemala, I was also educated abroad, which opened my eyes to the importance of working within a global arena. I have family members who worked as diplomats and lawyers, and they inspired me to pursue these more international fields, opening a window for me into the ‘global village’ that we experience today.
3. Can you briefly outline the main functions of the International Sugar Organisation for our readers?
The ISO is the largest intergovernmental commodity organisation, providing first-class, unbiased research and market analysis to our members. We are a neutral body, which is hugely important to us; not only is this valued by our members, it is also useful to the many institutions, companies and trade bodies that buy our information and attend our international events. The ISO exists to administer the International Sugar Agreement of 1992, the objectives of which are as follows:
to ensure enhanced international cooperation in connection with world sugar matters and related issues;
to provide a forum for intergovernmental consultations on sugar and on ways to improve the world sugar economy;
to facilitate trade by collecting and providing information on the world sugar market and other sweeteners;
to encourage increased demand for sugar, particularly for non-traditional uses.
This internationally negotiated agreement allows the ISO to be flexible and proactive so that the needs of our members can be met. We are a service-oriented organisation, assisting our members and providing them with the most advanced information, and facilitating contacts. We encourage as much active participation from members as possible, as we believe that this is the best way to achieve optimal value from their membership.
The ISO plays a positive and active role as a mediator, moderator, and a think-tank for its members. It is a consolidator of opinions, views and positions of member governments, with the final aim of making the sugar community and those who work with the commodity as sweet as the commodity itself!
The ISO also holds annual seminars each November in London; this year is its twenty-third year. This seminar has become the event for industry leaders, government ministers, opinion makers and financiers to attend, to listen to presentations of the highest calibre and to meet their counterparts from over 70 other nations.
4. What are your main plans and priorities for your role as Executive Director of the ISO? What are the main projects that you’re currently working on?
My priorities comprise providing the best possible service to our ISO members, focusing on the fresh challenges brought about in today’s agro-industrial globe, and continuing to strengthen our organisation as a catalyst for positive change. Sustainability is one of the key areas in which we must concentrate, with the view of enhancing our members’ ability to make sound decisions based on firm data, statistics and evidence. Sugar faces many obstacles at present, and the communion of interests we can achieve at ISO mean we can successfully reach our common objectives.
5. How have your years of experience working in Guatemala’s Embassy in Washington DC helped with your role today?
My time in Washington DC was perhaps the starting point of my international career – most significantly, I learned about the key importance of forging consensus amongst the diverse interests that presented themselves.
6. How many countries are members of the International Sugar Organisation? How does the organisation work with the embassies and high commissions in the UK?
The ISO has 88 member countries (including 28 in the EU), covering all five continents. It is the largest intergovernmental commodity body, and has strong links with the member countries’ embassies and high commissions in London, many of whom send high commissioners and ambassadors to our meetings to represent them. In many cases in the UK, the embassy or high commission is our first contact with a government, and provides a way to establish secure links with ministries back in their home countries.
7. What do you think is the International Sugar Organisation’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
Our biggest challenge remains providing the highest quality of professional service, while recognising the multiple realities of the countries that form part of ISO. This requires innovation, creativity and above all respect for the different situations that the various regions throughout the world experience.
8. What do you think has been the most memorable day or event of your career to date? (Good or bad.)
The joy of family and the gift of seeing my children evolve into young men is a magical experience that I treasure every day of my life.
9. Are there any particular hobbies that you enjoy and why?
One of the unique benefits of the chance to be in London is watching sports and being able to access so much culture; from football to theatre and art exhibitions, my horizons continue to grow in colour.
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