Justice and State Department officials are to meet shortly to formulate a policy on industry advisers on participating U.S. negotiating teams for international commodity agreements, according to documents released yesterday.
The departments' review of industry participation was triggered by Rep. Fred Richmond (D-N.Y.).
Richmond raised the issue of the possible conflict of interest of such advisers - some of whom were involved in negotiating the 1975 International Coffee Agreement - with both executive agencies last year. Richmond released yesterday correspondence on the issue from his office, the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, the State Department and the Civil Services Commission.
In letters to Richmond and the State Department, Justice Department officials said participation by ten coffee brokers, traders and roasters in the U.S. delegation to the 1975 taks did not violate the federal conflict-of-interest statutes.
It did, however, present "an appearance of impropriety that should be avoided in the future," Thomas H. Henderson, chief of the public integrity section of Justice's criminal division, wrote to Lee Marks, deputy legal adviser in the State Department.
Both Henderson and John Shenefield, chief of Justice's Antitrust Division, said in a letter to Richmond that Justice officials were pleased that the State Department was considering "codifying" a policy on such participation and that Justice aides would like to meet with State officials before it is completed.
Richmond repeatedly has charged, throughout his 14-month review of world coffee prices that participation by business and lack of consumer representation at the 1975 coffee talks resulted in an agreement that did nothing to ease soaring coffee prices. The increases followed the July 1975 frost that nearby wiped out the Brazilian coffee crop.
At a press conferecne yesterday, Richmond charged, "What is clear is that the industry members of our coffee talks teams were selected by State to serve a dual function - their own interests in maximizing profits and our nation's interests in guaranteeing a steady, cheap supply of coffee for American consumers. These dual functions are not compatible and, in fact, the consumers' interests have been sacrified."
Shenefield also said in his letter to Richmond that his division could find no evidence that the U.S. coffee industry had violated antitrust laws or conspired to raise coffee prices.
"Absent specific allegations of anti-competitive activity . . . we are not able to undertake an investigation," he wrote. "It is our understanding that the concern of domestic coffee interests throughout the recent price fluctuations, as well as during the negotiation of the agreement, has generally been aimed at reducing recent high coffee prices," the letter continued.