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By Victor Ruiz/AP

A worker carries off a fence outside the site of the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico, on Monday.


Defeat for U.S.; win for farmers

By Susan Ferriss
Cox News Service

September 16, 2003

CANCUN, Mexico - Within hours after the surprise collapse of World Trade Organization talks Sunday, members of the U.S. trade delegation were jetting home in defeat.

At the other end of the power spectrum, small Latin American coffee farmers, African cocoa producers and others rejoiced in the failure to reach a new agreement to eliminate trade protections and open countries to more corporate investment.

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They also were able to use the meetings of the powerful 148-member organization as a showcase for modest but growing efforts to make global trade fairer for developing countries' farmers, who are on the lowest rungs of the international trade ladder.

A few miles from the convention center where WTO delegates met, fair trade enthusiasts gathered to show off coffee, chocolate, tequila, Nepalese jewelry and Panamanian and Peruvian woven clothes whose profits go more directly to producers rather than middlemen.

International aid and development groups, like Oxfam, are worried that the globalization of trade - the opening of countries' markets - is creating a "race to the bottom" that is driving down prices for commodities like coffee and chocolate and making farmers in poor countries vulnerable to greater exploitation.

To combat this, a global network called the Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International has established a way to certify that products are produced in a fair manner, without labor abuses, and with prices that are higher because of their quality or because they are organic.

The push is on to get more products with fair trade labels in retail stores as diverse as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to Safeway, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.

The U.S. doughnut chain, which includes 3,500 franchises, announced this year that its new espresso drinks would use 100 percent "fair trade" coffee beans, a decision that Oxfam praised.

"Fair trade makes a big difference to us. With fair trade sales, we've been able to get villages potable water, sanitation facilities and more money to invest in other economic activities," said Appiah-Kubi Abraham, who was in Cancun to promote the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa bean cooperative, which unites 40,000 farmers in Ghana.

The farmers in Ghana earn about $400 a year from their cocoa. But because their cocoa sells at higher than normal world prices, the farmers earn a surplus. They have an agreement to set aside some of that surplus to invest in infrastructure, such as a public well, or projects to develop new sources of income and reduce their dependency on cocoa.

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