Govt to promote Fairtrade to complement agriculture zoning
The Thai government plans to raise public awareness of Fairtrade standards in its aspiration to boost agricultural sales in light of growing consumer concern of supply-chain sustainability.
After a visit to Fairtrade Belgium, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra assigned Olarn Chaipravat, chief of Thailand Trade Representative, and Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom to study the formation of an official unit. According to the PM's secretary, Suranand Vejjajiva, the unit could be upgraded to a public organisation. Fairtrade's concept is to ensure fairness in the supply chain, and product improvement for consumers fits the PM’s policy, but few Thai officials know about the system.
"Aside from free trade, we have to promote fair trade with European nations as this is of concern to European consumers. They want to make sure that their spending is fairly distributed to farmers and the purchased products are safe," said Olarn.
"What we can do is to promote the Fairtrade concept among officials and laymen, to have a government unit that can supervise and develop products under the scheme, as well as to allocate a partial budget, which will finance products accession to the Fairtrade platform."
The concept of "fair trade" has been around for more than 40 years, to ensure fairness to all involved in the production of products, be it workers, consumers, distributors or manufacturers. While distributors and manufacturers gain profits, consumers are offered fairly priced, good-quality products and workers are promised a good work environment without any discrimination.
"Max Havelaar" coffee from Mexico was the first product to meet the standards and won the first "Fairtrade" label in 1988. To date, it is estimated that products involving 1.15 million farmers and workers carrying the mark are now sold in more than 70 countries worldwide. They include 6,000 farmers in Thailand. Sales of Fairtrade goods in the UK grew by 12 per cent in 2011, as businesses expand and deepen their commitment to ethical sourcing.
Fairtrade in Belgium will accompany the country's trade and investment delegation to Thailand, which will be led by Belgian Crown Prince Philippe, from March 17-22. They will host a meeting during the visit to educate Thai agricultural cooperatives about the standards and persuade more to join the network.
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said that Thailand's agricultural sector stands to benefit from the concept, but this is known to only a few.
"With the label, Thai product quality would be certified and they will be marketed more widely. Through these standards, farmers are guaranteed that they will not be taken advantage of by middlemen," he said.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry is now completing a manual to pinpoint the locations and plantation methods of each agricultural product from Thailand, for submission to the Fairtrade Network.
"We believe that as quality comes before quantity, this will solve the oversupply problem of some crops. The Fairtrade concept will complement the agricultural zoning, which clearly indicates the best locations for particular types of crops. We will no longer focus on quantity, which leads to oversupplies and falling prices and periodical road blockades," he said.