International Trade: Free, Fixed, or Fair

In the view of its proponents, free trade as promoted by the United States and other leading industrial powers is the swiftest and surest route to global economic development. But in from the perspective of many in the developing world, it is the most effective means of extracting natural resources, exploiting low-wage labor, and producing goods from the world’s poor at the lowest cost while keeping the value added for those who already have more than enough. In response to these critiques, a market-based fair trade movement has sprung up in recent years from international development aid, social, religious and environmental organizations seeking to establish a more level playing field for international commerce. Focusing initially on such products as handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate and flowers, certified fair trade accounted for $4 billion in 2008. Though still a tiny fraction of global trade, in some commodities it represents 20-50% of the total volume. Criticized from the right as a subsidy that constrains free trade and from the left as too timid a response to the inherent inequities of the global trading system, fair trade is still in its infancy but growing by more than 20% a year. In this program we hear about the challenges of growing the movement from the founder of a leading fair trade certification organization and a farmer whose products are fair trade-certified.

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