Author Archives: Julian Harris

Opinion: Gin-swigging Geldof joins chorus of calls for free trade

A BBC chin-wag with Bob Geldof was a predictable part of the G20 coverage, and culminated perhaps equally predictably, with ‘Sir Bob’ confessing that he’d been knocking back gin. He then peevishly crushed a plastic up and chucked it on the ground.

Sounds like my kind of evening.

Nonetheless, some of his sentiments, if not so predictable, were especially pertinent. On the importance of trade, he said:

Look, probably the great unsung triumph so far of the twenty-first century was the lifting of 400 million Chinese people out of extreme poverty—through trade.”

Furthermore, he urged governments to stop erecting …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

Ming wants to trade away poverty – and now you can too

Commendations to our good man Sir Menzies Campbell, who yesterday posted the following message of support for the “Trade Out of Poverty” campaign:


Our former leader states:

We must realise that trade is the key to alleviating poverty in the world.

However, he warns that due to the current political climate, trade “is set to decline sharply and it will hit the poorest hardest unless we act now to open up new opportunities.”

In this vein I

Posted in News | Tagged | 1 Comment

Should liberals back Fair Trade: an LDV debate (Part 2)

We’re midway through Fairtrade Fortnight (23rd February – 8th March), and so Lib Dem Voice is running two articles asking the question, ‘Should liberals back Fair Trade?’, putting two opposing viewpoints to our readers. Yesterday, Lib Dem MP John Pugh made the case for fair trade. Today Lib Dem member Julian Harris takes a critical look.

As liberals, we are internationalist in our outlook. I didn’t join the party to moan about a neighbour’s roof extension, and I doubt you did either. If you’ll excuse the clichéd sanctimony—we want to make the world a better place.

Hence many among us instinctively support Fairtrade products, and have been gleefully purchasing them during the current Fairtrade Fortnight. It seems to make perfect sense: we believe that trade is good, and this is even better, giving a helping hand to the world’s poorest people.

This is a noble sentiment, but how about the facts—is Fairtrade really helping the most impoverished and vulnerable?

According to a 2008 report, just one country—Mexico—produces a quarter of all Fairtrade coffee, and has the largest number of Fairtrade producer organisations in the world (over fifty). Mexico’s GDP per capita is around $15,000. Compare this with many African countries where it is under $1,000, such as Ethiopia ($871) and Burundi ($371). Burundi has no Fairtrade-certified producers; Ethiopia has just four, in spite of being home to over 60 million people working in agriculture.

But isn’t Fairtrade at least in theory a good idea that could be expanded beyond middle-income countries, and into the poorest regions?

Economist Tim Harford calculated that only 10 per cent of the Fairtrade premium makes its way to producers, most of it eaten up by retailers. Further, according to the international Fairtrade organisation itself, only one fifth of crops produced on Fairtrade-certified farms actually get sold at Fairtrade rates. And even when this fraction of a fraction is passed on, it benefits only land-owning producers, and not the underprivileged manual labourers who work on farms.

The Fairtrade idea is largely based on price fixing, with a minimum price guaranteed for the producer signed up to the scheme. When farmers can only shift one fifth of their crops into this scheme, it makes sense for them to keep the best produce to sell on the free market, where there are incentives for better quality products. The shoddy produce will end up in the Fairtrade section, which partly explains the brand’s reputation for mediocre goods.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 21 Comments

Conference: it’s the Conservatives, stupid

New think-tank-stroke-consultancy Liberal Vision launched their first report at a fringe meeting yesterday lunchtime. Julian H, of Orange by Name was there…

12:55pm on Monday and liberals, lots of them, streamed into the subterranean Harry’s Bar in the Highcliff Hotel, drawn by the brilliant orange fliers around Conference that asked:


Which man? Harry? No! David “Dave” Cameron, of course. He is dangerous. And I don’t like him.

Posted in Conference | Tagged | 9 Comments

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