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Farmers, pushing for fair trade, delight in death of WTO talks

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By Susan Ferriss

MEXICO CITY STAFF

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

CANCN, Quintana Roo -- 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, it was considered a victory. 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.

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

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

To combat this, a global network called the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International has established a way to certify that items 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, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts.

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

Cocoa production is under scrutiny, with reports of child labor and slavery in west Africa, where a large share of the world's cocoa is produced.

The Washington, D.C.-based Fair Trade Federation estimates that commerce that met fair trade standards surpassed $400 million last year, translating into an extra $30 million for producers in about 40 countries. While still small, it represents a 44 percent jump in such trade over last year.

Sales of fair trade coffee increased in the United States by an estimated 46 percent between 2001 and 2002. In Europe, where the concept is popular, overall fair trade sales increased by more than 100 percent in Austria, France and Norway during that period.

sferriss@coxnews.com


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