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