Monday, February 25, 2008

Fairtrade damned further

Following on from yesterday's reports on Fairtrade, a comment on the Daily Telegraph website makes for sobering reading - about the reality of Fairtrade:
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"I was the acting Chief Exective of the largest independent coffee and tea trader in the world in the early 1990's and found all that you have mentioned and even worse to be true. I want to highlight some of your points toward the end of your article to make clear that the mega-growers also ship and sell their lower quality beans into the Fairtrade markets through brokers and receive the subsidized "charity price" from the "socially responsible" rather unquestioning public. This is exactly what was meant to be avoided, and it is done in huge volumes. This type of illegal activity is almost impossible to police at the level where it occurs, and where supervision has been pursued it has either failed or been simply too expensive to maintain (especially when the bribes at the storage and market delivery locations are factored in). So what happens is that the small farmers end up competing directly with the mega-producers for "shelf-and-mouth" space, which is a losing battle and exactly the opposite of what was intended to occur. Please, everyone, do not buy Fairtrade unless you (or somone you completely trust) can track your purchase back from the cup in front of you to the fields/farmers that the beans (or other produce) came from."
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So there you have it, Fairtrade markets get exploited by the large producers that Fairtrade lovers so abhor, and it is difficult to thwart this.
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One of the most damning criticisms I have of Fairtrade is that it diverts attention from the REAL "fair" trade issue - opening up of markets. Perhaps the most wealth generating and liberating move that could be made for people in developing countries would be for both developed and developing countries to open up their markets.
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Developed countries need to end export subsidies that mean their producers undercut those from competitors, they also need to end prohibitions, quotas and tariffs on imports so that the most efficient producers have a fair shot at the wealthiest markets. Developing countries need to abolish legal monopolies on imports and infrastructure, open up internal markets to competition and remove prohibitions, quotas and tariffs on imports, especially those that can aid in improving productivity.
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Fairtrade diverts attention from the fight to remove these barriers to productivity and wealth, by claiming that fiddling with prices can make people wealthier.
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Of course those in poorer countries should not be maltreated, should not have their property stolen, should not be expected to work in extremely dangerous conditions, but the answers to this are complex, and lie significantly in having governments which apply a rule of law, which protect individual rights and property rights.
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So what is "fair"? Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph today notes how the word "Fair" has been misused by the left and is now used as a synonym for equality of wealth, yet is highly destructive.
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She said:
... even more dangerous is the peculiarly lethal principle of "fairness" that seems to prevail in the NHS (or at least at the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which determines what treatments the NHS may use): if everyone can't have it, no one should. On this basis, procedures and medications that could save or transform individual lives must be barred if they cannot be made available to every patient who might conceivably benefit from them.
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Once again, "fair" must mean "the same": so the breast cancer patient who is a young mother may be denied the drug that could lengthen her life because it would not be feasible to provide it for all the breast cancer patients who are over 80, and if she offers to pay for the drug herself she may be barred from receiving any NHS treatment (because it is "unfair" for her to use her own money to buy what others cannot afford).
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How have we come to accept such vindictive uses of the word "fair"?
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Of course it was initially the fault of the Left and its special pleading lobbies, which - like some Fairtrade promoters - had a lot to gain. But the Right has been complicit: it has surrendered words like "fairness" and "opportunity" - and accepted caricatures of other words such as "selfish" and "greedy" - with scarcely a murmur of dissent."
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Indeed. Expect John Key this year, and David Cameron two years from now to talk about fairness a lot - and both will be peddling the status quo.

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