Rupert Schlegelmilch, Head of Unit, European Commission, DG Trade

On the occasion of the international fair trade conference hosted by the King Baudouin Foundation on 28 May 2003, Mr Schlegelmilch said the Commission supports fair trade initiatives and it is making an effort to find ways in the world trading system to ensure that fair trade products remain competitive.

To what extent is fair trade a priority for DG Trade? What
does DG Trade do to advance it?

We have been looking at this issue to see what
can be done from the trade side. The real issue for fair trade is
getting more demand but trade rules might help a little bit in
creating demand or improving the competitive position of a product.
We are looking at certain issues, such as the possibility to give
trade preferences or, on the defensive side, whether we are running
into problems with the Fair trade labels. At Cancun, what we need
to do more than anything else is build awareness. We want to do a
whole day on sustainable trade, which will include something on
fair trade. The Commission will go on record that we support these
initiatives and we are trying to find ways in the world trading
system to ensure that fair trade products remain competitive and
that they are not being attacked under WTO rules.

The other issue is much more an internal issue:
what more could the EU do internally to give more status to these
labels and to ensure that once a product has such a label, it gets
preferential or better treatment. That is something DG Trade cannot
do alone because it will affect the Internal Market rules and, as
you know, we deal with third country relations. But as my
colleagues from DG Employment and DG Development have said, this is
something that has also appeared on their radar screen. So there is
certainly serious work going on within the Commission on this
issue.

Is the Commission planning new legislation in this
area?

It is a bit early to say whether there would be
legislation on this. We have various instruments but we will have
to see whether we can get a better standing for or give more
recognition to these labels. How we would do that legislatively
that I do not know as I am not an expert on internal labelling
rule-making but in a couple of months we might have a much clearer
answer on that.

How do other major players in the WTO, such as the U.S. and
Japan, approach fair trade?

The Americans haven’t been vocal on fair trade
in the WTO. Their focus is on market access for the classical
environmental goods such as cleanup technology, water purification,
but much less something like fair trade. They also tend to be
hesitant to clarify further what labelling rules should and should
not be able to do in the WTO because their main concern is that if
we start such a discussion there might actually be more constraints
than we have now, not more security. We believe that’s not the
right interpretation.

The Japanese have a big interest, particularly
in fish, but how exactly that should be addressed is a big issue in
the WTO. The Japanese themselves believe their sustainability
objectives relating to fish management, can be better pursued in
forums other than the WTO, such as the FAO. They have not been very
vocal on fair trade as a tool in the trade context.

Could you please explain the role of Sustainable Trade and
Innovation Centres, whose launch was announced a few months
ago?

This is basically a private initiative which we
support, and on which more information is available on the European
Partners for the Environment (EPE) website. Their idea is to bring
together more producers in the South and more consumers in the
North and they want to be a platform where the two sides meet. They
do awareness building, create contacts, focus on specific products,
such as textiles, and bring together buyers and suppliers. It’s an
initiative where public support and private enterprise come
together.

Based on your personal encounters with local experts, how
important is fair trade for the EU accession countries?

They’re getting interested, let’s put it that
way. I am sure that civil society is also very concerned about some
of these issu es. I don’t think fair trade is a big issue in these
countries yet from what I’ve seen but that can change rather
quickly. They are very interested in the WTO negotiations as far as
trade and the environment goes, which is the subset of these
issues. They actively participate in the internal preparatory
meetings which we organise for the acceding countries to help them
better cope with the negotiation items in the WTO.

Rupert Schlegelmilch is Head of Unit responsible for
sustainable development and dialogue with civil society in DG Trade
of the European Commission.

 

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