Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fairtrade needed more than ever

I'm saddened but not surprised to hear that the Geneva talks on World Trade have ended without an agreement. Europe and the USA simply refuse to acknowledge that our subsidies to farmers produce agricultural products at a price with which poor farmers in developing countries can't compete. All that China, India and other developing economies ask is Fair trade on a level playing field. They wanted to be able to protect their farmers too. But that couldn't be allowed could it!
At least for the thousands of producers around the world who are selling under the Fairtrade mark there is hope. They know they have a future. Unfortunately their neighbours may not be so fortunate. So don't just read this, make sure that you look for the Fairtrade mark when shopping and ask when you can't find it. It's the only deal in town at the moment for the poor producers of the world. We can make the difference with a little bit of effort.


Julian H said...

Hello Maureen, good to see this issue being brought up on the LD blogosphere.

I have a couple of issues with your post, though. Firstly, you imply that the breakdown is the purely the fault of wealthy nations whilst governments in poorer nations simply ask for "Fair trade on a level playing field". Now, whilst I openly condemn governments of wealthy nations for not doing more to encourage free trade (in my opinion, the US and EU should unilaterally open their markets) it is strange to suggest that governments in poorer nations are not to blame for blocking trade.

Many of these governments are extremely illiberal and keep their populations in poverty by blocking trade and enterprise (and indulging corruption). In your own post you name the Chinese government - which of course is still incredibly oppressive (and, frankly, murderous). The idea that these governments are enlightened and wish to encourage liberal trade and development is entirely incorrect.

The less-developed world is plagued by oppressive governments with a zeal for protectionism. In sub-Saharan Africa the average tariffs for food and agriculture imports are around 33%. In fact 70% of the world's tariffs are imposed by less-developed countries. Many governments in Africa have large tariffs on medicines - even sometimes when they are DONATED. I should stress, also, that these tariffs are not simply imposed on imports from wealthy countries - they equally block trade between less-developed countries themselves.

The only way out of poverty for these countries is to develop into more liberal democracies, with governments that embrace free trade, are relatively free from corruption and can instil the fair rule of law. The tragedy of 'the Third World' is that people therein have been subjected to bad, oppressive government for several centuries (partially, of course, by European imperial adventurers) and are still having their lives ruined by governments such as those in Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Sudan, DR Congo and so on.

As for Fair Trade products, these are not designed to correct tariffs. Rather they are seen as an alternative to free trade - and like tariffs, they distort the market. I have more on this here.

Maureen Rigg said...

Julian, where have you been all this time? This is by no means the first mention of Fairtrade on my blog and it certainly won't be the last!
I'm sorry I didn't make myself clear - I am not an apologist for the repressive governments of China or the UK, nor do I imply that they are equally bad! I am passionate about giving the poor producers of the world a fair chance. So-called Free trade is not free because the developed countries have such a head start and subsidise our producers to a huge degree. Fairtrade gives small-scale, poor producers a chance.
However, the comments slot isn't really appropriate for an essay so I'll stop there.

Jo Hayes said...

Maureen, I strongly agree with you about the value of choosing Fairtrade. On the grand scale it's terrible that the trade talks failed and makes me feel powerless, but at a personal level at least I can do my best to help producers get decent prices by choosing Fairtrade. The products are nice, too. I have a very nice woven shopping bag for instance...