I had the chance to chat on Jan. 19 with Stephen Whitney, president and chief executive officer of the Ottawa-based Fruit and Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corp.
9:40 a.m. Tom Karst: Stephen, thanks for taking time today for a chat!
9:41 a.m. What do you find yourself working on this week at the DRC?
9:42 a.m. Stephen Whitney: No problem. Year-end financials and preparing for some upcoming meetings related to licensing and arbitration destination inspection and financial risk mitigation
9:44 a.m. Tom: It sounds like there are a lot of facets to what the DRC is involved with. For those in the trade that aren't familiar with your group, how would you describe your mission?
9:46 a.m. Stephen: To provide the North American produce trade with harmonized standards, procedures and services to avoid and resolve commercial disputes in a timely, cost-effective manner
9:47 a.m. Tom: That is a tight and concise description. Well done. As you think about the 10 years that DRC has been around, what do you think have been its major accomplishments?
9:52 a.m. Stephen: 1. Doing what we were created to do - that is keeping our eye on the ball so to speak. We were created to promote fairness in the trading relationships across the marketing chain and I think we have succeeded. We resolve 85% of all disputes without arbitration within an average of 41 days and we provide timely, affordable and enforceable arbitration services.
2. We have focused on additional activities that are designed to improve destination inspection services in Canada and provide a model for Mexico
9:54 a.m. 3. We have worked on promoting the need for a financial risk mitigation tool like the PACA Trust within a Canadian context
9:55 a.m. Tom: That may dovetail into my next question. What are some goals that you have for DRC for the future?
10:05 a.m. Stephen: Continuing to improve our services and working on initiatives which will promote our vision of fair and ethical trade in produce in North America. (e.g. standardizing destination inspection services, harmonizing grade standards, finding and promoting a suitable mechanism that could be put in place in Canada and Mexico to offer similar protection to the PACA trust. We also plan to undertake more educational activities across North America and to work with key industry associations. We plan to build on a couple of pilots that we have run with industry associations where we build our membership by providing complementary services to their
10:07 a.m. Tom: Interesting. I've kept you a while today, so I appreciate your time. One more question, this one a little off the industry topic. Where did you grow up and what "life lessons" did you learn from your father or mother?
10:08 a.m. Stephen: I grew up in Abbotsford, Quebec on the side of Mount Yamaska - a small community where my family grew and packed apples. Life lessons â family and friends are the most important thing in life, having passion for what you do, standing up for what you believe in, living within your means and paying your bills!.
One more observation Tom; while the DRC has accomplished a lot over the last 10 years there is one disappointment. When we were created there was an expectation that we would succeed in weeding out all those bad apples who hurt the legitimate trade. Unfortunately, we have not been as successful as we would have liked. There are still those who continue to operate in a fashion which hurts the market and we will continue to work with the authorities to find ways of mitigating this risk. So stay tuned. There are some things coming down the pike that may help.
10:10 a.m. Tom: Very good. Thanks again for your time, Stephen.