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EU should not make any changes to its banana import regime

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The 2nd International Banana Conference, held under the theme “Reversing the race to the bottom”, wrapped up in Brussels Saturday with a call for the European Union not to make any changes to its banana import regime until the European Commission has undertaken “a full evaluation of the economic, social and environmental impacts of different tarification and supply management scenarios for EU banana imports.” {{more}}

Attending the important forum was a 26-member delegation of government officials, farmers organizations, banana companies and trade unions from the Windward Islands, Jamaica and Martinique. The event saw some 200 persons from 40 banana producing and consuming countries participating in the event.

WINFA Coordinator Renwick Rose had been selected to deliver the closing address to the forum. He is still in Europe but sent these releases which we reproduce in place of his usual commentary.

The EU should not make any changes to its banana import regime until the European Commission has undertaken “a full evaluation of the economic, social and environmental impacts of different tarification and supply management scenarios for EU banana imports.”

That was a call issued by the Second International Banana Conference held in Brussels, 28-30 April. The conference brought together governments, traders, supermarkets, producers, workers, consumers, EU officials and campaigners. It was convened by a broad coalition of trade unions, farmers’ organisations and concerned consumers.

The conference urged the nine Latin American banana-exporting countries that have requested WTO arbitration on the EU’s proposed changes, and the suppliers from the EU-associated African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to “give priority to the process of negotiation both amongst themselves and with the EU in order to find consensus over reform of the EU banana regime.”

Consensus-building on this issue should be with “the participation of civil society actors represented in this conference.”

Among the other points in the statement as put to the conference:

A multi-stakeholder forum should be created to tackle the social, economic and environmental issues in the industry.

Government trade policies should promote sustainable production. Possible options include “differentiated tariffs linked to social and environmental criteria and recycling banana tariff income into an international investment fund for sustainable development.”

The right to organise and bargain effectively must be fully respected by companies and enforced by governments. Voluntary codes and certification schemes are no substitute for labour legislation and enforcement.

Research and development programmes are needed to improve occupational health and safety in the industry, as well as its environmental impact. Governments and international institutions should promote programmes to benefit small producers, notably through stable markets, better market access and fair trade.

Supermarkets should dialogue with each other and all stakeholders in the sector to “seek mechanisms which guarantee fair prices”. Consumer education campaigns should be launched to increase understanding that prices should promote sustainability”.

The final statement issued from this important conference noted that:

Participants in the Second International Banana Conference held in Brussels from April 28-30, 2005:

Welcome the initiative taken by the organisers to convene the Second International Banana Conference;

Acknowledgethat structural overproduction in the international market, coupled with the accelerated search for a cheap banana by big retailers and the consequent pressure on production and producers, is creating a situation of permanent crisis for the workers, producers and, increasingly, even for the marketing companies;

* that the downward spiral in buying prices has been passed on to the men and women working on the plantations and to small producers. It has been directly responsible for migrant and/or contract workers displacing permanent local jobs and has led to increased poverty in most banana exporting communities. In many cases this has led to a deteriorating quality of life for workers and small farmers, and to health and environmental damage. To be continued.

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