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Fair Trade

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have to recognise and celebrate World Fair Trade Day on 12 May.

My Lords, the UK Government support the aims of the fair trade movement and recognise the enormous difference that fair trade can make to disadvantaged communities and its contribution to sustainable development. We have not been invited to become involved in World Fair Trade Day. However, the Government would like to congratulate the London Borough of Waltham Forest on recently receiving fair trade status, which is being celebrated at one of the UK events on 12 May.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that fair trade and trade justice are still the great hope of civilisation for the millions of people in impoverished countries who are seeking through such practices to bring themselves out of poverty and, by obtaining a fair price for their products and services, to challenge rich and prosperous countries to assist them? Will he use his good offices to encourage all government departments to embrace fair trade initiatives and practices and to mount an international campaign for fair trade by championing positive procurement policies to assist in this vital and majestic cause?

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work in this area to ensure that a range of fair trade products are available in the Houses of Parliament, including your Lordships’ House. I also thank him for his work in international development. I certainly agree with his sentiments about supporting people in developing countries. As he will know, between 2002 and 2007, DfID has given more than £1 million of support to the Fairtrade Foundation, and the UK is in the lead in the fair trade movement. It is very welcome that, between 2005 and 2006, UK fair trade sales increased by about 50 per cent with sales now estimated at about £300 million. That is benefiting 368 producer groups from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia who are selling to the UK market. We would like to see that success replicated across the globe.

My Lords, a successful Doha round would go a long way towards creating fairer trade rules for the developing world. What recent representations has the Minister made to Peter Mandelson, the European Trade Commissioner, to ensure that European tariffs and farm subsidies will not continue to hold back the Doha trade round and reduce the export earnings of the developing countries to which the noble Lord referred?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that my department and the Government are working closely with the European Commission to ensure that the Doha trade round is a success for the reason she outlined.

My Lords, further to that question, what concrete steps have been taken towards completion of the Doha round since substantive negotiations were resumed in February? Is the noble Lord aware of any proposals by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to promote fair trade that will be tabled at the G8 summit at Heiligendamm?

My Lords, negotiations are ongoing and the agenda is still being established for the G8 in Germany. Rather than going into further detail, it would be better if I wrote to the noble Lord.

My Lords, having been involved in the issue as the chairman of a charity, I saw how direct marketing by people making panama hats in Ecuador enabled them to increase their income per hat from less than £1—I think it was about 50p—to many pounds. Can the Minister say what proportion of the money in fair trade goes directly to the producers and how much to operating the system?

My Lords, the fair trade standards are laid down to ensure that organisational, social and environmental criteria are met so that producers can be certified as fair trade producers. Smallholder co-operatives and other organisations must be instruments for the social and economic development of their members. Issues such as standards of employment and health are also incorporated in the standards. Price is a question of negotiation, but the system is such that the fair trade criteria establish a minimum guaranteed price for the producer that covers its costs of production and ensures a living wage for the workers and growers. That can vary, but obviously it is tailored to the particular needs of the producers.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the number of local councils around the country that have passed resolutions to become fair trade councils? Is it possible to collate these figures and to publish them as a means of encouraging people and raising awareness of the importance of fair trade at a local level?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very important point. I can tell your Lordships’ House that, as of 23 February 2007, there were 262 UK fair trade towns, cities, boroughs, villages, zones and islands, and that 219 UK towns are working towards fair trade status. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the more we can do to publicise that and to encourage that example, the better.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the principles underlying fair trade should also apply to trade in this country? I am thinking particularly of the problems facing the farming industry, and I declare an interest as a farmer.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Of course, we have regulatory authorities and competition authorities to ensure that that is the case.

My Lords, can we perhaps have a slightly less ambitious target and, instead of trying to change the whole world to fair trade, persuade the House of Lords to take fair trade bananas in the Bishops’ Bar? I have been active on this several times but, so far, without success.

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that we should be looking at that, and I hope that the appropriate committee of the House is investigating it. I understand that we have been trying to purchase fair trade bananas for the Bishops’ Bar and think that it should be looked at as a matter of urgency.