Fair Trade Federation Conference, Washington D.C.

Written by Cafe Campesino on Apr 1, 2002 in NEWSLETTER, Trips |

Ahh…it’s a mighty heady feeling to participate in something that reconfirms the values you hold near and dear. And that’s just what happened when Bill and I ventured to Washington, DC, in early April for the Fair Trade Federation Conference. More than 125 folks from all around the country, including producers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and concerned citizens came to American University to hear speakers and attend sessions on fair trade, sustainability and globalization. Being purveyors of fairly traded coffee, the Café Campesino team is always keenly interested in spreading the fair trade message, but we sometimes forget that many others are “on the bus” with us in this effort. So it was extremely gratifying to have the opportunity to discuss, brainstorm, and share tactics with individuals who are as committed as we are to fair, mutually-beneficial trade with partners in developing countries.

The vibe at the conference was as electric as the buzz you get from a steaming cup of Café Campesino coffee (shameless plug), starting with the Keynote address on Friday night by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (http://www.citizen.org/trade). In her highly informative presentation, punctuated here and there by humorous accents, Lori demystified the technical trade jargon surrounding NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO (identified in the handy Pocket Trade Lawyer guide she left us with) and articulated a simpler language that each of us could use in our own communities to explain the workings of these organizations. But it’s not just the language of global trade that’s flawed. It’s the trade agreements themselves, which have resulted in social, economic, and environmental deprivation. The trade models set forth by the IMF over the past twenty years have actually resulted in a decrease in per capita income growth. Current WTO documents were meant to follow a commercial market rule that one size fits all — and transnational corporations (no surprise) determined the size. In fact, the WTO documents were drafted by 500 transnational corporation representatives and eleven labor union reps, without any participation from representatives of NGO, environmental, social justice or women’s organizations. So how do we promote trade that benefits both the U.S. and our trading partners? Lori says that both producers and consumers need to be part of the solution. Producers must offer alternative trade choices and empower choice selection. Consumers must demand change and exercise the political tools at their disposal. And the biggest political tool of all is economic. As consumers, we have an awesome power to create social change. Our vote is with our wallets. When we buy fairly traded goods, we influence the political process, promote fairness between high GDP and low GDP countries and help to create a global economic paradigm shift. It may sound trite, but working together, we can build a better world.

One of the weekend sessions I attended was just as invigorating. It was a fair trade zones procurement workshop in which panelists from Global Exchange, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Traditions Café and World Folk Art and Co-op America led a lively discussion about transforming municipalities into Fair Trade Zones that not only support fair trade, but also human rights, environmental sustainability and economic justice. In a growing movement, committed activists across the country have begun to pressure their elected officials to pass resolutions against corporate globalization, lift purchasing restrictions, establish a city code of conduct and adopt ethical by-laws. By building coalitions, creating sub-committees that evaluates tax dollar expenditures and proposing ethical purchasing statutes, concerned citizens can show state and local governments how fair trade practices empower communities. And with the right tools, they can justify that environmentally and socially responsible procurement is actually more economical for city commerce, utilities and recreation, as it promotes energy/water conservation, recycling, composting, sustainable landscaping, renewable energy, and the purchase of local foods. Once a Fair Trade Zone has been established, its proponents can use the media to expand its visibility. With increased visibility comes accountability, which in turn establishes greater public recognition and compels other municipalities and public sectors to adopt similar policies. It’s a domino effect for the forces of good! Global Exchange offers a host of resources for establishing Fair Trade Zones in your local community on their website at: http://www.globalexchange.org/ftzone/index.html.

If you believe as we do that all workers deserve a fair wage, healthy working conditions, and to learn a skill that will lead to economic empowerment, then we invite you to support the fair trade movement by becoming a Friend of Fair Trade. You’ll find more information about joining the Fair Trade Federation and the Fair Trade Resource Network at http://www.fairtradefederation.org and you can review the categories and benefits of support at http://www.fairtradefederation.com/friends.html

You can also learn more about trends in fair trade by visiting this link: http://www.fairtradefederation.org/2002trends.htm

— Daniel Pistone

Before the conference began, I attended Senate Lobby Day, where with other FTF members, I lobbied specific “swing vote” senators to oppose Fast Track ‘Trade Authority’ legislation. Those of us in the fair trade arena oppose Fast Track because we believe in the people’s right to have a voice in trade agreements that affect our country and our lives — rather than handing this power exclusively to the executive branch. The vote will probably hit the Senate floor this summer…and in all likelihood will (unfortunately) pass. It seems that most Senators and Representatives either feel that the Executive Branch should be given trade negotiating powers or they fear that they will appear to be anti-business and anti-trade if they vote against fast-track. But those of us participating in Lobby Day plowed ahead regardless, knowing that a journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step. We visited with six senate reps — three of whom will vote against fast track and we thanked them, because their vote will probably be very unpopular with a vocal portion of their constituency — exporting businesses. Several of the Senate aides revealed that their meeting with us — FTF reps — was a most pleasant relief from their typical meeting, in which a rich man sits across the table, banging on it and shouting that “you will ruin my life if you pass/don’t pass this legislation.” It’s the “rich man” (or his proxy) that they hear from most often. But the most revealing portion of my first day of lobbying was the realization that we do have a voice in how our representatives vote — IF we exercise it. No, we can’t all lobby our senators and representatives in person, but we can make our opinions count, by calling, e-mailing, writing letters and participating in organizations like the Fair Trade Federation that represent the values we cherish.

Then on Friday, April 5th, it was on to World Bank Education Day, where I participated in a round table with World Bank Senior Economist Ataman Aksoy and Ron Layton, WB consultant, and attended a WB NGO Liaison Presentation with William Reuben, Director of NGO and Civil Society Unit. I came away with the impression that these folks agree in principle with fair vs. free trade. All state that their institution is changing, moving from the grand project ideals of 60’s and the structural adjustment models of the 80’s and 90’s to support of micro-loans and micro enterprise projects today. This wasn’t what we expected to hear. We went in ready to debate the relevance of their macroeconomic systems and they immediately stated that they understood that many of their projects haven’t worked, readily admitting that their top down, deal-with-the-government-only approach, could easily encourage corruption and misappropriation of funds. This issue, the World Bank’s track record and future direction, is causing great debate within the organization. One of the economists compared the bank to a large ship intent on changing course — you turn the rudder and then kick back and wait. For this reason, I believe that we need to maintain public protests of World Bank policy — but we should also acknowledge signs of change within the Bank and develop mechanisms for continued dialog with the organization.

If you’d like to dig a little deeper, check out the World Bank site at http://www.worldbank.org.

Other sites worth checking out:

— Bill Harris

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