Archive for the 'Fair trade' Category

Jan 26 2012

Fair versus Free Trade as means to promote Economic Development

Fair trade schemes aim to get more of the money we spend on our stuff into the hands of the workers in less developed countries where they originate. Some examples of goods produces in fair trade cooperatives in poor countries include fruits, tea, coffee and cocoa. Some handicrafts and textiles are also available from Fair trade programs as well.

It is estimated that approximately 7.5 million producers in the developing world participate in fair trade programs, producing $5 billion worth of output.

According to the European Fair Trade Association, fair trade is

a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.

Fair Trade organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade”.

Fair trade as a strategy for economic development is controversial, as many argue that either fails at raising the incomes of the farmers it is supposed to serave or that it incentivizes farmers to remain in the low-productivity agricultural sector rather than seeking higher productivity jobs in manufacturing, thereby contributing to poverty in poor countries.

Below are two videos that proclaim the benefits of free trade. After watching the videos, discuss the benefits of fair trade with your class.

On the other side of the issue are several economic arguments against the use of fair trade as a strategy for economic development. First listen to this 19 minute discussion between EconTalk’s Russ Robert’s and Duke University’s Mike Munger over the role that Fair Trade coffee plays in promoting economic development.

Next, read the two articles below a

Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Fair Trade programs at promoting economic development.
  2. Outline the possible advantages of a country specializing in manufactured goods instead of primary products.
  3. What factors explain the growth in importance of multinational corporations over recent decades? Illustrate your answer where possible by making reference to your own or other countries. Do multinational corporations work in favor of or against the interests of Less Developed Countries?
  4. To what extent has the international trading system contributed to economic growth and development in less developed countries?
  5. Discuss the view that increased trade is more important than increased aid for less developed economies.

6 responses so far

Apr 03 2009

Global fiscal stimulus and the plight of Africa: what’s really needed, more aid or more trade? Africa: G20 Leaders Promise Billions for Low-Income Nations

While the G20 leaders meet in England to formulate their plan for increasing aid to Africa, the message from the continent seems to be that not aid, bur more trade, foreign direct investment and the establishment of free markets is the key to achieving meaningful economic growth and development. Dambisa Moyo explains the problem with aid on Colbert Nation on April 1:

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What, exactly do the G20 leaders have planned for the less economically developed nations of Africa in the $1.1 trillion global stimulus package?

The leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies, recognizing that the global financial crisis has “a disproportionate impact” on vulnerable people in poor countries, have promised to make hundreds of billions of United States dollars available to these countries as part of a $1.1 trillion plan to rescue the world economy.

In a communiqué released by the Group of 20’s London Summit on Thursday, the leaders announced what they called “a global plan for recovery on an unprecedented scale.”

They said the rescue package would include resources totalling $850 billion, to be channelled through global financial institutions, “to support growth in emerging market and developing countries by helping to finance counter-cyclical spending, bank recapitalisation, infrastructure, trade finance, balance of payments support, debt rollover, and social support.”

Outlining allocations for materially poor nations, they promised:

  • An increase in lending of at least $100 billion by multilateral development banks, including loans to low-income countries;
  • An amount of $50 billion for social protection, to promote trade and to safeguard development in low-income countries; and
  • The selling of gold reserves to help the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provide $6 billion for the world’s poorest countries over the next two to three years.

The increase in aid from the rich world to sub-Saharan Africa comes mostly in the form of loans from the IMF and the World Bank. Development aid such as this is meant to help poor countries improve their human capital through investments in education, health and infrastructure. Historically, loans from the “multilateral development banks” have been made on the condition that the recipient nations adopt certain “structural adjustment policies”:

Some of the conditions for structural adjustment can include:

Critics of such SAPs, which developing countries are forced to adopt as conditions of receiving loans from the IMF and World Bank, say that they limit the extent to which the poor country can direct the loan money towards combating poverty, reducing inequality, and thereby achieving meaningful economic development for the poor.

Recently TIME magazine had an article in which the efficacy of such financial aid from the rich world to the poor world is challenged.

Africa is hopeless, a place of war and famine seemingly populated almost entirely by tyrants and children with flies in their eyes. According to this view, if Africa generates any kind of growth, it is in suffering — and in the overseas aid sent to address that, now a $40-billion-a-year industry. Naturally, with a new appeal every year and a new disaster every other, some people have begun to wonder if all that money is doing any good. They argue that aid creates dependence, fuels corruption, undermines democracy and stifles development.

Aid in any form, at a fundamental level, positions Africa as a dependent child, and the “rich world” as the paternalistic benefactor. Aid, despite the good intentions of the west, does little to do promote meaningful economic development in poor countries:

Though it rarely occurs to Westerners who’ve been instructed that Africa needs their help, charity is humiliating. Not emergency charity, of course: when disaster strikes, emergency aid is always welcome, whether in New Orleans or Papua New Guinea. But long-term charity, living life as a beggar, is degrading. Andrew Rugasira, 40, runs Good African Coffee, a Ugandan company he set up in 2004 to supply British supermarkets under the motto “Trade, not aid.” He is emblematic of a new generation of African antiaid, antistate entrepreneurs. For Rugasira, aid not only “undermines the creativity to lift yourself out of poverty” but also “undermines the integrity and dignity of the people. It says, These are people who cannot figure out how to develop.” Aid even manages to silence those it is meant to help. “African governments become accountable to Western donors,” says Rugasira, “and Africa finds itself represented not by Africans but by Bono and Bob Geldof. I mean, how would America react if Amy Winehouse dropped in to advise them on the credit crisis?”

The G20 nations should keep this view of aid in mind as they further develop their plans to help the poor nations of the world achieve economic growth and development. Trade, not aid, is what Africa needs to achieve meaningful progress towards economic development, defined as an improvement in the quality of life, health, education, and incomes of the people of a nation. Despite over $40 billion a year of aid that has flowed into Africa over the last decade, it is foreign investment and trade that has only recently led to sustained economic growth for the continent.

In 2006, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, foreign investment in Africa reached $48 billion, overtaking foreign aid for the first time. That gap has only widened, reflecting a quadrupling of foreign investment since 2000. As the senior adviser in Africa for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), David Nellor, noted in a report last September, sub-Saharan Africa today resembles Asia in the 1980s. “The private sector is the key driver,” wrote Nellor, “and financial markets are opening up.” War is down. Democracy is up. Inflation and interest rates are in single digits. Terms of trade have improved. Crucially, said Nellor, “growth is taking off.” The IMF puts Africa’s average annual growth for 2004 to ’08 at more than 6% — better than any developed economy — and predicts the continent will buck the global recessionary trend to grow nearly 3.3% this year.

Despite the platitudes from Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Ban Ki Moon about the “disproportionate impact” of the financial crisis on the poor nations of the world, it is Africa that is likely to achieve economic growth this year, even while the rich nations of the world enter recession. It is little thanks to aid that the people of Africa are finally experiencing meaningful growth; rather, the economic ties between the continent and, not the West, but China, have fueled this movement towards higher incomes and quality of life. Perhaps it’s more and fairer trade, not aid, that Africa needs now. And maybe that’s what we in the West need too in this time of economic chaos.

2 responses so far

Oct 21 2008

Fair trade vs. free trade: the problem with “dumping” / World – Anti-dumping investigations soar

Free trade is good, right? This sentiment is one that economists typically agree with wholeheartedly. The mutual gains from free trade among nations that specialize in the goods for which they have the comparative advantage results in increased global output and consumption among trading nations. That, at least, is the basic premise of free trade.

But is there such a thing as unfair free trade? The World Trade Organization, whose mission is the removal of barriers to trade among all the world’s nations, thinks there is such a thing as unfair trade. Under certain circumstances, the WTO allows member nations to place protective tariffs on particular imports, and recently, more and more nations have taken action to protect their domestic markets from unfair trade practices of their trading partners:

The number of new anti-dumping investigations soared by nearly 40 per cent in the first six months of this year, the World Trade Organisation said on Monday, reflecting increased trade tensions as the credit crunch began to take its toll on the global economy.

Between January and June 16 WTO members started 85 new investigations compared with 61 in the first six months of 2007. China was the target of nearly half the probes, a jump of 75 per cent over the same period last year.

Under WTO rules, countries can put duties on unfairly priced imports that are sold in export markets more cheaply than at home. But until this year dumping actions had seemed to be on a downward trend, with 164 investigations in the whole of last year compared with over 200 in 2006.

Anti-dumping actions, once mainly taken by rich countries against poor ones, have become a tool increasingly used by developing nations while industrialised countries have increasingly become targets…

The EU was the third-ranking target in the first half of the year, after China and Thailand. Canada, the US, New Zealand and Norway also had investigations opened against their exports.

The WTO said the main products affected were base metals (21 investigations), textiles (20) and chemicals (10).

The number of new measures taken as a result of anti-dumping probes also rose in the first six months of 2008, with 54 measures against 51 measures in the same period in 2007. India applied duties in 16 cases, with the EU some way behind in second place.

China was again the main target followed by Taiwan, the EU, South Korea, Russia and the US.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would a country want to keep cheap imports out of its domestic markets? Don’t cheap goods make consumers happy?
  2. Does dumping refer to the sale of a country’s goods below the importing country’s costs of production or the costs of production in the country where the good is made? Why does this distinction matter?
  3. When a nation protects its domestic market from dumping, is the principle of comparative advantage being undermined? Discuss.

140 responses so far

Mar 04 2008

“Fair Trade” coffee and economic development

In recent years coffee consumers may have noticed more and more cafes are offering “fair trade” coffee as an option. Usually, for an extra 10 or 20 cents per cup, you can get a beverage made from beans that were grown by farmers earning living wages and working in safe and sustainable environments. In some cases, “fair trade” coffee is of higher standards, representing a higher quality product. The premium paid by consumers, in theory, will eventually result in better standards of living for coffee farmers and their families.

Mike Munger, chair of Duke University’s economics department, argues that “fair trade” products, while they may represent good intentions, probably don’t do much to help poor farmers. While the full podcast offers even more reasons, the clip below presents one clear explanation of why “fair trade” may actually make poor farmers worse off.

Another interesting point Munger goes on to make relates to one of the models of economic growth we have been studying in IB Economics: the Lewis dual-sector model of structural change. According to the model, the path towards economic growth, which should create conditions that lead to economic development, requires the transition of workers from the low-productivity agricultural sector to the capital-intensive, high productivity manufacturing sector.Lewis Model of Growth

China, in its own economic growth, has demonstrated the success of this model, which involved rural to urban migration, employment of surplus labor from the farming sector in the industrial sector, giving workers access to capital, increasing productivity, output, income, saving, and investment, putting an economy on a path towards growth and development.

According to Munger, “fair trade” premiums paid to poor farmers create a disincentive for a farmer to migrate to the higher productivity industrial sector that may be emerging in his country. In essence, coffee drinkers in the rich world are offering a subsidy to farmers in the poor world aimed at keeping them poor. If the path to wealth and prosperity requires the transition to a capital-intensive industrial economy, then subsidies to poor farmers are only reducing the likelihood that they’ll achieve significant increases in income and savings.

Munger’s views are compelling, if a bit hard for a socially conscious, well-intentioned coffee lover like myself to swallow. I like to think that I’m helping farmers in the developing world when I drink “fair trade” coffee. If anything, Munger has at least made me think a bit harder about the true impact of the premium I pay when I choose “fair trade” next time I walk into Starbucks.

For the full podcast, click here: Munger on Fair Trade and Free Trade – EconTalk with Russ Roberts

8 responses so far