On Saturday 5th July some 40 members of the Herne Hill and Dulwich Trade Justice Initiative met with our local MP, Rt Hon Tessa Jowell to express their concerns about the way in which current tariff rules and trade negotiations threatened the livelihoods of millions and the development of indigenous agriculture and businesses in the poorest Third World countries.
Exports of, for instance, EU subsidised Italian tomato paste has already put Ghanaian tomato growers out of business as we know from our frequent contacts with the Ghanaian Trade Justice initiative, who are urging us on.
In 2002 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that the special advantageous tariff arrangements enjoyed by the 76 former colonies of European powers, the ‘African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACPs) since the EU was established, were incompatible with WTO rules and had to end by 31 December 2007. They were to be replaced by “European Partnership Agreements” (EPAs) whereby both parties would agree to reduce tariffs on goods entering their country. But the EU and ACP countries do not have the same negotiating muscle or knowledge and yet the ACP countries are now locked in negotiations which will include opening up their services’ markets.
Fearing the loss of their existing export markets, and under threats of reduced aid and other commercial pressures, some 36 ACPs have “initialled” EPAs. But these should be scrutinised by independent experts and fully debated in the UK and European Parliaments so that we know what is being ‘negotiated’ on our behalf. President of the EU, Barroso indeed undertook at the EU-Africa Summit in December 2007 to re-open negotiations on contentious EPA clauses.
With European commercial interests pressing their governments, through EPAs to open up access to services such as water, insurance, banking, telecommunications etc, the UK Government policy is that this should only be allowed if those countries specifically request it. We have as yet to see this negotiated as an EU wide undertaking, binding on all members.
The position of Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner, is that freeing trade can only benefit developing countries, but surely only if it takes place at a speed which enables less developed economies to adjust. Embryonic agricultural businesses can, as has already happened, be wiped out by sophisticated, and often CAP subsidised, competition. In addition poor countries will have to cut 80% - 90% of their tariff income, meaning less money for key areas such as health, education and infrastructure.
Tessa Jowell listened with sympathy and understanding to the concerns expressed and advised how best to put these to the Secretary of State for Trade and International Development, Douglas Alexander, at a meeting she had agreed to lead on 16 July.
At the meeting the Secretary of State said he was well aware of concerns expressed in the Make Poverty History and Trade Justice campaigns including fears about over-rapid liberalisation. He believed that the UK Government was a leader on these issues. Reciprocity for markets did not mean symmetry – because goods from the South are freely allowed into Northern markets, the reverse need not necessarily be the case. The Government had put £500million into African agricultural production and he reiterated the clear position that inclusion of services in EPAs should only be at the request of the ACPs and not forced upon them. The UK had also initiated the Extractive Industries Agreement to require companies in that sector to demonstrate responsible behaviour in these activities.
The views expressed by the delegation were extremely useful to Ministers negotiating in a European or International context. Concerned colleagues in other countries should speak to their ministers. Negotiations over the next few weeks and months would be crucial for Trade Justice.
Tessa Jowell pressed for a parliamentary debate in the autumn to report on progress and Mr Alexander responded positively, also agreeing to meet the delegation again next year to review the state of play.
Herne Hill and Dulwich Trade Justice Initiatives include representation of some 14 local Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist/United Reformed and Baptist churches and has been campaigning and publishing newssheets of Trade Justice issues since 2005.
Another issue on which we campaigned is ensuring that supermarkets give suppliers in developing countries a fair deal. The good news is that the UK Competition Commission has recommended the creation of an ombudsman to do just that, but we now have to convince the Government to act.
But while campaigning by letter, e-mail and demonstration is one practical action, choosing to purchase fairly traded goods is something everyone can do. It is encouraging that apparently 70% of people now recognise the Fairtrade Mark, with Fairtrade sales reaching nearly £500million in 2007 and a challenging target of £2billion by 2012.
Locally, supermarkets are stocking ever more Fairtrade goods and a Fairtrade shop is open on weekdays and Saturdays at Christchurch at the top of Barry Road. A number of churches also sell Fairtrade goods.
The benefit to Third World producers selling through Fairtrade is that they not only receive an assured fair price but also a premium which can be used to improve production or to benefit the community, for instance with health or education facilities. They can also call on Traidcraft Exchange, the charitable arm, which advises on technical and marketing matters.
Whilst campaigning on EPAs and supermarkets means being in for the long haul, anyone favouring Trade Justice can “shop Fairtrade” and do their bit for the world’s poorest.