Page 3164 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 24 August 2005

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Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch with a man called Davinda Sharma who is an Indian advocate of fair trade. Mr Sharma had appalling stories about farmers in India—hundreds of thousands of farmers suiciding, farmers going under, farmers who cannot feed their families, farmers whose crops fail and farmers who get paid very poorly for their crops, for their livelihood. We all know that World Trade Organisation meetings, and there is one next month in Hong Kong—Australia is part of the Cairns Group so in this one we are bit on the side of the angels—are about getting the US and Europe to drop their subsidies, because that effectively closes their markets to developing countries that have all been exhorted to take up export-oriented agricultural policies. It also gives their products an unfair advantage around the world. Australia is having this problem, too. We cannot get our goods into those markets and I believe the US Free Trade Agreement will not make an iota of difference to that.

Fair trade would pay farmers for at least the value of the work they put into producing products, and it would even the playing field so that developing countries could trade on with countries like the US and even Australia. As consumers, we are only one part of the picture—the last stop if you like. The big picture of food production includes regional, global and bilateral trade agreements, which are often influenced in various ways by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. For instance, in Indonesia during the 1998 economic crisis the structural adjustment program inflicted on Indonesia by the IMF and World Bank committed them to greater and greater export-oriented policies, to austerity measures and so on. That has exacerbated the poverty of many groups in that country, and that is just one example from around the world.

The policies of these bodies—WTO, IMF and World Bank—work together to groom market-oriented approaches that favour the growing of cash crops over subsistence crops. The aim is to bring everyone into the economy. We live in a world of agribusiness oligopolies. Just as the majority of company profits end up in the hands of the few, much of the world’s food is produced by a few multinationals. They would number fewer than the fingers on my hands. These large companies, not being local to the area where the food is grown, generally have little regard for soil and water degradation, chemical build-up from pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, and they provide little economic sustainability for the producers.

As an Assembly, we can set an example. We have the opportunity to be the first and the only Australian parliament to take steps on an official level to make trade fair, thereby helping poorer farmers from developing countries rather than exploiting them for our caffeine habits. Taking this step will not only set an example for businesses, organisations and residents of the ACT, and other government departments, but also show leadership to other parliaments around Australia by showing them that it is an easy, feel-good, step to take. Fair trade certification allows ordinary people to know that they are purchasing products that support the communities where the product is grown and made. They know that with their purchase they are making a decision for social justice, ecological sustainability and economic security, thereby protecting the human rights of women, children and indigenous people to be free of exploitation in the production process. In Africa, for instance, women make up 80 per cent of Africa’s farmers.

Fair trade is not only about ensuring that workers are paid properly: there is also an important ethos running through the process to change some of the production practices

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