New EU trade policy agenda: “Business as Usual” despite clear message from European citizens

9 November 2010 (Brussels) - The European Commission (EC) issued a Communication “Trade, Growth and World Affairs” today.[1] Despite the clear support to ethical considerations in trade by European Union citizens, the European Commission has failed to translate the EU citizens’ views into the EU trade agenda.

Are some EU objectives more equal than others?

On 16 March 2010, Commissioner for Trade Mr. Karel De Gucht stated “I see trade policy for developing countries as one of my key objectives for the years to come....We can and have to help developing countries make the most of the market access on offer, develop their capacity to expand their trade and best use trade to reduce poverty”[2].

Six months after the encouraging statement by Commissioner De Gucht, the Fair Trade movement is disappointed to see that the new EU trade agenda presented today by Commissioner De Gucht is merely “business as usual” from the former EU Global Europe trade strategy. The new EU trade agenda continues to focus almost exclusively on opening markets for European companies; including measures to ensure European companies have undeterred access to raw materials and public procurement markets from third countries. While it mentions sustainable development, it focuses on its environmental pillar, ignoring that sustainable development is based on economic, environmental and social pillars.

The Fair Trade movement has repeatedly called for an EU trade agenda that includes all three pillars of sustainable development at its heart. To effectively contribute to poverty reduction, a balanced trade agenda should allow policy space for governments in the global South to ensure food sovereignty, build local and regional markets, protect natural resources, and add value to their products.

Fair Trade Advocacy Office Coordinator, Sergi Corbalán stated “Today’s Communication is a missed opportunity to fully address how trade policy can help to achieve the wider objectives of the European Union, including poverty reduction and sustainable development in Europe and abroad, as laid down in the Treaty of Lisbon”.

Are EU citizens only bargain-hunters?

The Fair Trade movement is disappointed that the EC Communication states that one of the three benefits of trade for Europe is « increasing consumer choice at lower prices ».

Former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson stated “Fair Trade teaches us that consumers are not condemned to be only bargain-hunters … Fair Trade reminds us that trade is about people, their livelihoods, their families, sometimes their survival”.[3]

The EC public consultation for this new trade agenda reflected a widespread call to recognise and support Fair Trade, a civil society-led initiative, as a tool and best practice in building more just and responsible production and trade. The summary contained many references to Fair Trade including that, “Fair Trade is a different way of doing trade, it is not about aid, and it is not fundamentally about consumer-assurance issues”.[4]

An accompanying official Eurobarometer study of EU citizens also shows that “Almost 40% are willing to pay more for products if they were produced under certain social and environmental standards or to support a developing country” [5] . It concludes on this point “there is a strong social conscience among EU consumers. Many of them, although they are active consumers of products made from outside the European Union, are at the same time aware of the drawbacks of international trade and are not prepared to buy a product just because of its price. (…) Europeans cannot be considered passive consumers: social and ethical concerns are among their criteria when buying a product or a service. This may need to be factored into decision-making relating to future trade policy priorities”.

“We call on the European Commission to translate the EU citizens´ support to ethical considerations in trade into specific follow-up measures to introduce greater equity in International trade”, said Sergi Corbalán.

The Fair Trade Advocacy Office speaks out for Fair Trade and trade justice with the aim to improve the livelihoods of marginalised producers and workers - especially in the South. The office is a joint initiative of the main European and International Fair Trade Networks: Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International FLO, World Fair Trade Organization WFTO, and European Fair Trade Association EFTA. These three networks bring together over 2 million Fair Trade producers from more than 60 countries, 20 labelling initiatives, hundreds of specialized Fair Trade importers, 3000 world shops and more than 100,000 volunteers.

Contact: Hilary Jeune. Fair Trade Advocacy Office. Rue Fernand Bernier 15 – 1060 Brussels – Belgium. Tel: +32 (0) 2 543 19 23. Email: jeune[at]fairtrade-advocacy.org.

Download the press release as a PDF.

 


[1] EU Communication Trade, Growth and World Affairs. Trade Policy as a core component of the EU’s 2020 strategy. COM (2010) 612/4: http://ec.europa.eu/trade/trade-growth-and-jobs/
[2] Speech (16 March 2010) by Mr De Gucht available from: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2010/march/tradoc_145890.en%20-%20ftw.pdf
[3] The Fair Trade Agenda, Speech by Peter Mandelson at the PES Conference on Fair Trade. European Parliament, Brussels, 22 June 2005
[4] Summary of submissions on EU trade strategy: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2010/september/tradoc_146556.pdf
[5] Page 35 of EC Eurobarometer “International Trade report” http://ec.europa.eu/trade/trade-growth-and-jobs/public-opinion

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