Fairtrade producers in developing countries around the world need assurances their commodities can be traded tariff-free when Britain leaves the European Union – otherwise there will be major fallout.
That is the message from campaigners, including Fairtrade Foundation, Traidcraft, Oxfam and the Trade Justice Movement, who handed in a 38,000-strong petition to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, late last week.
“Along with Fairtrade Foundation and Global Citizen, we’ve ask our supporters to sign the petition to Liam Fox which has been handed in. Obviously we’ve had to do that a little bit earlier than expected because of the General Election as we wanted to make sure it is on the desk for the new Secretary of State for Trade after the election, whoever that is,” Traidcraft campaign manager Mary Milne tells PBUK.
“The campaign calls for the government to make sure the needs of developing countries are taken into account as we leave the EU because the UK imports about 34 billion of products from developing countries every year. In terms of our market that is quite a small percentage but for some of the countries involved, like Kenya or Guatemala, Belize, that is quite a big percentage of their export.
“We’re quite concerned about some of the policies that we’ve got at the moment as part of the EU because unless the government takes action, those policies will cease to exists as we leave the EU and that could impose significant tariffs on the businesses that import those goods which makes them less competitive and has a knock on effect.”
The campaigners primary concern is for the growers behind fairtrade products like banana, sugar, cocoa, green beans and many more.
“Obviously our concern is for the people who are producing those goods and that they will lose their livelihoods. We are talking about many different products but the tariff regimes on different products are different and it’s all quite complicated.
“But it is a number of products including things are not necessarily imported on fairtrade terms, but certainly things like green beans, sugar, bananas are affected.
We have some proposals, lots of different things the government could do, but our simplest proposal is they just offer a deal to the poorest countries where they allow products in without any tariffs and that in effect, will be replicating something the EU has already called the Everything But Arms Scheme which allows products from the very poorest countries to come in tariff-free.”
Milne stresses that this simple approach doesn’t even involve negotiations, something that formally the British government is not allowed to do in any case until it officially leaves the EU.
“We believe that would be quite simple if our government was able to do that for a range of economically vulnerable countries. It wouldn’t involve negotiations and it would just make an immediate difference.
“We would like the government to make that commitment prior to UK leaving the EU.
“We recognise the government has a lot of difficult things to do in terms of Brexit and we just don’t want them to sleepwalk into a situation where lots of people lose out.”