MEPs in bid to promote fair trade

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Series Details Vol.12, No.14, 20.4.06
Publication Date 20/04/2006
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By David Cronin

Date: 20/04/06

MEPs will next week call for a new EU strategy to promote fair trade products from poor countries.

The European Parliament's development committee is to debate a report by German Green member Frithjof Schmidt calling on the European Commission to issue a non-binding recommendation on fair trade.

This follows a 2005 statement by Peter Mandelson, the European commissioner for trade, that the possibility of having EU standards on fair trade should be assessed.

Schmidt said that he was not seeking any legally binding measures at the moment, as these "could be counterproductive".

"But there must be clearly defined standards on what is fair trade and what could get labelled as fair trade," he added.

The Bonn-based Fair Trade Labelling Organisation, which is run by a coalition of charities, is the main group responsible for assessing whether products comply with fair trade criteria. In recent years, some multinational firms have been awarded the fair trade label after agreeing to buy crops from small-scale producers, rather than relying entirely on large plantations. Nestlé, for example, launched a fair trade brand of coffee during 2005. That was despite reports that Nestlé is one of the firms most subject to consumer boycotts because of allegations that its marketing techniques for baby milk powder has undermined efforts to promote breast-feeding in poor countries.

The fair trade movement has estimated that sales of fair trade produce in Europe rose from EUR 260 million to EUR 660m in 2000-05.

Schmidt's report states that "in order to eliminate the risk of abuse", fair trade must comply with such criteria as a guarantee that producers in poor countries are paid decent wages, that social standards set by the International Labour Organization are respected and that environmental protection is ensured.

Schmidt also noted that the Cotonou agreement, which underpins EU relations with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc, enables the Union to provide aid for fair trade.

Anja Osterhaus from the Fair Trade Advocacy Office in Brussels said that the EU should "not necessarily set criteria" for fair trade. "But it should be supportive of efforts to clarify what fair trade is as part of an inclusive process with the fair trade movement and based on the experience of the fair trade movement," she added.

The EU now provides about EUR 3m per year to organisations promoting fair trade. But Schmidt said that the example set by the German government, which allocates EUR 300m each year in aid for fair trade, could be followed more widely in Europe.

A Commission official said, however, that promoting fair trade had not featured prominently in recent discussions on EU aid to ACP countries.

Article anticipates the debate at the European Parliament's Development Committee (DEVE) of a report by German Green member Frithjof Schmidt calling on the European Commission to issue a non-binding recommendation on fair trade, scheduled for 24 April 2006.

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