Aileen Burmeister makes the case for new trade deals which are fair to everyone
Nobody wants to think that things they have bought have contributed to human suffering. People in Wales, and across the UK, have long rallied to promote trade being fair for all: from free person, not slave grown, cotton products in the 1800s, to boycotts of Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s and the growth of Fairtrade products from the 1990s. Wales became the world’s first Fair Trade Nation in 2008 and today, government, business and civil society at all levels continue to show support for Fair Trade.
Trade is an important part of countries’ relationships with each other and, when done fairly, can be a foundation for creating long-term and sustainable livelihoods for poor producers and farmers. Unfortunately many trade deals end in creating unfair rules and tariffs which keep people in developing countries trapped in poverty and only able to export raw products.
For more than 60 years, the Fair Trade movement has worked to demonstrate that an alternative and fair way of trading that benefits all is possible.
As the UK withdraws from the EU, trade is one of the most contentious areas. Trade and Customs Bills have been laid in Parliament but it is still unclear what the process of negotiating new trade deals might be, and what the impact of not having or of transferring trade deals across from the EU will have on Wales, the rest of the UK and other countries around the world. Whatever the outcome, there will be a large impact on Wales and on our international relationships.
Farmers and workers in developing countries could suffer if new trade deals with the UK impose barriers to them exporting products to us. The EU currently has decent trading terms with many developing countries but the UK could do even better.
After much civil society campaigning last year the UK Government made a commitment to carry over the EU commitments for duty-free market access to the world’s 48 officially designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs): the countries that produce 79% of the tea we drink. This was a great commitment, and has since been put into the Customs Bill, but it hasn’t clarified things for developing countries not classified as LDCs like South Africa, India and Colombia. We’d like these preferential schemes to be available to other vulnerable economies.
As it currently stands, Wales will have no say in future trade deals made by the UK Government even though new deals could impact some of its current legislative areas and Wales may have to pay private companies recompense for legislative decisions made by the National Assembly. This is due to possible Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), controversial mechanisms present in several current international trade deals, such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). This enables foreign investors to take States to ‘closed’ international tribunals if they believe a policy undermines their profitability.
For example in 1997, Canada was taken to tribunal by an US chemical company for banning MMT, a toxic additive that was already banned in the US. The case was settled within the private tribunal system and Canada paid the company, lifted the ban on MMT, and had to state that MMT was safe. Other examples of ISDS being used against countries’ policy decisions include: raising the minimum wage of public sector workers in Egypt; placing a moratorium on fracking in Canada; preventing environmental degradation in El Salvador, and and taxing and regulating high sugar junk food in Mexico.
For too long, trade deals have been agreed without proper scrutiny or accountability to the public. It is too easy for social and environmental considerations to be ignored and the voices of poor communities dismissed. We must make sure our future trade is guided by poverty reduction, sustainable development and democracy.
We must raise our voices in support of fair trading arrangements in the future. Both in the interests of Wales and those of our friends in South and Central America, Africa and Asia who grow our coffee, make our clothes and stitch our rugby balls.
In Wales, we should push this case with gusto. So many groups throughout Wales have direct relationships with communities, schools, hospitals, NGOs and universities in Africa and across developing countries. Farmers in Wales and across the world deserve fair treatment and fair prices. Not only were we the world’s first Fair Trade Nation, our Well-being of Future Generations legislation requires all levels of government to be globally responsible.
Fair Trade Wales is working with partners across the UK to advocate for new trade deals which benefit everyone. Through our network, our key suggestions are to:
- Secure and improve market access for developing countries in ways that support their development priorities – in line with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
- Ensure trade deals are negotiated with a proper democratic process, including scrutiny from Parliament, devolved administrations, civil society and the public
- Carry out impact assessments of each negotiated trade deal with larger economies, investigating how they will affect smaller economies, not just economically but also environmentally and socially.
Of course the Welsh Government must stand up for the interests of Wales as debates on new trade deals progress, but we hope that it, and Welsh MPs, will also remember the millions of people around the world relying on us to engage in trade which is fair and supports their economic development.
Fair Trade Wales is part of the Hub Cymru Africa partnership which is funded by the Welsh Government.
Photo by Morgan Sessions on Unsplash
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