R. Rose
February 16, 2007
The EPA and bananas Pt:2

(Securing and expanding our Fairtrade advances)

The last week of February and the first week of March this year are being commemorated as FAIRTRADE FORTNIGHT in Britain, the market for our Fairtrade banana exports. Since these now constitute about 88 per cent of all vital transatlantic banana exports, we can well understand why the St. Lucian National Fairtrade Committee chose “FIG FINISAN FAIRTRADE” (the creole way of saying that there would be no banana industry today without Fairtrade) as the theme for its recently held Annual General Assembly.

Last week we looked at the background to the battle to secure a favourable market regime for our bananas. Fair-trade has given the banana industry a respite, enabling growers to receive a viable return and in turn allowing the banana industry in the Windward Islands to survive in an increasingly difficult and competitive market.{{more}} From July 2000, when WINFA began shipments under the Fairtrade label, the Fairtrade initiative has grown from a tiny trickle to be THE main chanel of the industry. The guarantee of a price not below the cost of production along with the payment of a social premium has revived confidence among farmers.

At a time when farmers were deserting the industry in droves, it is Fairtrade which has been able to hold the fort. In 2001, the first full year of Fairtrade exports from the Windwards, a total of 4700 tonnes of bananas were exported under this label with an estimated retail value of 7 million pounds sterling. By the end of 2005, this had grown to 25, 5000 tonnes worth 26 million pounds. The more than 3300 registered bananas farmers in 48 groups today now account for almost 90 per cent of sales and more than US$2 million additional in social premiums for community projects.

The challenge to maintain a firm foothold in the European/British market is thus not a theoretical question but a real flesh-and-blood on concerning the livelihood of our people. In negotiating and trade treaty with the European Union, such as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), these interests must be central to the concerns of SVG and the Windward Islands as a whole. Fairtrade alone, by itself, CANNOT SAVE THE INDUSTRY. There must be appropriate arrangements, not only within the EPA but also between the EU and whatever other free-trade treaties it signs, with Latin American nations or with African banana-producing regions. With out adequate safeguards, even the Fairtrade initiative will not be enough. Our government must continue to press for transitional arrangements to safeguard the smallest and must vulnerable countries.

After all, the EU itself has adopted that approach towards producers in Martinique and Guadeloupe, our neighbours who happen to be classified as “European producers because of their colonial status. Recognizing this, the EU claims:

“Production of bananas is disadvantaged in particular by the remoteness, insularity, small size and difficult topography of these regions. Local banana production is an essential element of the environmental social and economic balance of the rural areas in those regions (Council Regulation 2013/2006).

We are in almost an identical situation. The argument made for those countries cannot be discarded in the EPA where the Windwards are concerned. Our Governments and negotiators must stand firm.


But our future is not only affected by external factors. Internally too we must put our house in order so that we can best confront the challenges and be able to take advantage of any opportunities offered. The old, outdated structures, approaches and mechanisms which have outlived their usefulness can no longer be defended on the grounds of political expedience or of preserving what is considered the traditional territorial prerogative of some persons or institutions. Every mechanism, every institution, Fairtrade included, must be able to justify its existence, to demonstrate that it ADDS VALUE, that it is vital to enhancing the livelihood of the producers and preserving and developing the industry itself.

Over the past decade we have had many efforts which premised radical reform. Every one was cut short of the target, each attempt compromised to appease the perceived affected interest of some. We can no longer afford this. Indeed, we never could have. But as the margins grow thinner, as competition increases even in Fairtrade, every layer of fat must be exorcised, every bit of waste expunged. There is NO ROOM for self-interest.

Our farmers must face up to the harsh reality of the market and realize that they must ORGANIZE to do for themselves what they depend on others to do, inefficiently in many cases, for them. They must now develop the capacity to perform these tasks, efficiently and with reducing costs. They must empower themselves to take their own future in their hands. That, not handouts or subsidies, is the message of Fair-trade.