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Thursday, 16 September 2010

Fair trade is growing but Africans lag behind

Despite its minuscule share of world trade, fair trade is a booming business, importing certified foodstuffs and products from all over the world to Northern supermarkets. But there is increasing concern that this growth is yet to benefit poor countries in Africa. The movement to ensure decent prices and working conditions for producers in the developing world represents less than one percent of global commercial exchanges. But, according to the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations, one of its main promoters, “the sales of fair trade certified products have been growing with an average of almost 40 percent per year in the last five years”. Between 2007 and 2008, global sales grew by 22 percent, reaching €3.6 billion in 2009. In the same year, in spite of the global financial and economic crisis, fair trade sales in France alone increased by 10 percent. But fair trade’s expansion in terms of sourcing from poor countries in Africa has been much slower. “It is obvious that fair trade does not focus enough on least developed countries,” says Christophe Eberhart of Ethiquable, a cooperative that imports fair trade foodstuffs to France from African least developed countries (LDCs). One of Ethiquable’s initiatives supports vanilla farmers in Comoros, an island state off the eastern coast of Africa. The cooperative buys their flavouring vanilla pods at €100 per kilogram, instead of the market prices of €25. Fair trade statistics do not disaggregate production figures by region, or by countries’ income category, which makes it hard to see the extent to which fair trade benefits LDCs. Moreover, “it is much easier to implement fair trade in countries such as Costa Rica, Thailand or India than in many sub-Saharan countries”, Eberhart contends. Most fair trade success stories hailing from the South are from South America and Asia, rather than Africa. The Fairtrade Labelling Organisations’ 2009 report lists a growing number of consumer prizes awarded to fair trade products. Among an estimated 6 000 products, Bolivian vodka, Ecuadorian spicy banana chips and other niche delicacies were endorsed. But no African goods made the list. The Fairtrade Labelling Organisations have developed a standard that applies not only to producers but also to traders. Its certification body, FLO-CERT, audits and certifies producers and traders before sales start. But limited resources and market structures make it almost impossible to check the entire chain from African fields to supermarket shelves. Still, networks are expanding rapidly. The World Fair Trade Organisation now claims 600 member organisations in 70 countries. It is estimated that 1.5 million workers and producers participate in fair trade in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Source: Trade Law Center of Southern Africa