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January 27, 2010

Trading Development

First Ever Arab Fair Trade Forum to Create Business Networks and Social Change

Trade forumFair trade remains “a relatively new topic in the Middle East and Arab states,” said Eman Hadweh, Program Officer at the Bethlehem University Institute for Community Partnership (ICP), in her remarks at the first ever Arab Fair Trade Forum. “An economic and social movement aimed at alleviating global poverty and promoting the continuity of trade in a fair manner,” she explained, it “arose in the wake of World War II, when many European institutions began to assist the people of poor countries by importing their products to be sold in global markets at fair prices.”

The ICP Fair Trade Development Center (FTDC) has been working to help small businesses in Palestine benefit from this international movement. And, with the launch of the Arab Fair Trade Forum on December 5-7, 2009, the FTDC and the Palestinian Fair Trade Network seek to establish networks that help producers throughout the Arab world enjoy the benefits of fair trade.

Trade forumThe conference, held in Amman, Jordan, was designed to raise awareness of fair trade by sharing experiences with the movement in Palestine and elsewhere in the Arab world, explained Husam Jubran, FTDC Project Manager. Participants also discussed the obstacles they faced trying to gain fair trade certification for their companies and products.

Establishing a regional fair trade network, said Mr. Husam, will “put Arab trade on the commerce map” and give Arab producers a greater voice in the certifications processes that are applied to their products. A greater stake in these channels for international commerce means entrée to more official marketing routes for Arab goods, allowing producers better access to established trade channels rather than relying on personal business connections for the distribution of their goods.

Trade forumCreating a greater “export orientation” will also improve the sustainability of Palestinian small businesses and the Palestinian economy as a whole, said Moussa Rabadi, ICP Director. An ICP study on Palestinian small business needs led to recommendations that there be more trade agreements established with foreign countries, based on findings that only 9.5% of the study sample exported their goods to countries besides Israel. Another study recommendation was that development approaches create more alliances to reduce costs associated with new market entry, suggesting that small businesses would benefit from links with each other and from membership in international organizations.

"By helping our partner cooperatives become fair trade certified we provide them with a very efficient development tool," said Jamil Hijazin, FTDC Project Coordinator. "Through the mechanisms of fair price and premium price, farmers and producers will be able to sustain a sound level of living and produce their products in a manner that is fair to women, children, the environment and workers. In addition, the premium, which is paid to the producers and farmers on top of the product price and assigned for cooperatives and community development, is yet another advantage to be added to a long list of benefits of being fair trade certified."

Trade forumBut unlike other business interventions, the fair trade approach is not only about growing profits. Forum participant Fady Daw, of Adonis Valley in Lebanon, explained that his company’s mission includes protecting the land, advancing authentically Lebanese food, supporting rural tourism and spreading the company concept within Lebanon. The company identity places “stress on creativity, authenticity and purity in the production process,” he said.

In fact, an Arab fair trade network can help address a range of development problems, noted Ms. Eman. With products that can be marketed through fair trade networks, the Arab world has a mechanism to help alleviate poverty; protect women, children and the environment; and create links between the Arab and Western worlds.

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