Fair trade is not for wimps
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
THE Financial Times called the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon
for the 60th anniversary of Christian Aid
(News, 29 April) a “comic cliché”. His crime, apparently, was not to have
been enthusiastic enough about the benefits of free trade and liberal economic
theory. Instead, he did what “leftish” clerics are wont to do: “wringing his
hands about social problems”.
What total rubbish. What I heard in that sermon was Dr Williams accepting
the basic principle that trade is the engine of wealth creation, and arguing
that “universal trade liberalisation may offer fresh markets and promise
overall increases of wealth”.
Notwithstanding the qualification “may”, even the Globalization Institute,
whose attack on fair trade was the point of departure for Dr Williams’s
consideration of trade justice, welcomed the sermon. “I’m delighted that the
Church of England is starting to recognise that the debate is more complex than
first imagined, and this sermon is an encouraging step,” said its president,
What Dr Williams rightly complained about was that many in the West talk
about free trade, but are unprepared to deal with its real consequences, even
in their own businesses. “The rich protect their markets while talking about
the virtues of free trade,” he said.
Only last week, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) confirmed that EU sugar
exports were illegal. After complaints by a number of poorer sugar-producing
countries, the WTO has found that Europe has been dumping millions of tonnes of
subsidised sugar on the global market, thus depressing the world price. No
wonder poorer countries are unable to compete. If there is a moral
responsibility for our new Government, it is surely that we must increase
market access for poorer countries.
Even so, Dr Williams was recognising that freeing trade comes at a cost.
After the WTO ruling, the sugar producers Tate & Lyle saw their share price
fall by 15.5p. That’s a measure of the cost for the West — a cost we continue
to try to avoid paying. For a developing country, and specifically for
individuals and families with no state social security to fall back on, the
cost is often devastating — as it can be for the environment, too.
Despite its capacity for overall wealth creation, when the lives of many
vulnerable people are at stake, the unquestioning adherence to free trade is a
dangerous extremism. To suggest that an acknowledgement of this social cost is
limp-wristed Anglicanism is a cheap shot, unworthy of the FT.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney.