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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
What is Fair Trade?
A mass lobby of Parliament is aimed at raising awareness of the fair trade agenda ahead of a major summit of world leaders. BBC News Online explains the issues and the controversy over trade and the poor.

Why is this lobby taking place now?

The mass lobby of Parliament by UK aid agencies is taking place just one week before world leaders gather in Canada for their annual summit meeting, and a few days before European leaders meet in Seville for an EU summit.

This year the G8 meeting is focusing on poverty and development in Africa, the world's poorest continent.

Meanwhile, more world trade talks have begun in Geneva after a summit in Doha in November - with help for developing countries top of the agenda.

But many development campaigners are concerned that the world trading system does not help the poor.

What changes would they like?

The trade campaigners want to open the markets of the UK and other leading industrial countries to the products of poor countries, especially agricultural products.

At present, many agricultural products produced by industrial countries are heavily subsidised, for example by the Common Agricultural Policy in the EU.

Developing countries' markets are now open to this subsidised competition.

Until the playing field is levelled, campaigners argue that developing countries should have the right to put restrictions on the import of agricutlrual products.

What other areas are controversial?

The campaigners believe that developing countries have made too many concessions, especially in the area of intellectual property rights (copyrights and trademarks) in the last round of trade talks.

At the Doha trade negotiations, trade in medicines to fight diseases like Aids was given a partial exemption from these rules.

But aid workers are also worried about the extension of free trade to cover trade in services, such as accountancy, transportation, and public services.

And they want stronger rules on environmental protection to be included in trade negotiations.

What about multinationals?

The UK aid lobby would like more regulation of mulitnational companies operating in developing countries.

That would include greater rights for workers and the regulation of invesment.

However, this area is very controversial.

Some developing countries argue that workers' rights are a cover for increased protectionism - effectively allowing developed countries to bar products from countries that don't meet international labour standards.

And attempts to regulate investment have failed in the last few years.

What does the UK government think?

The UK government will welcome the focus of campaigners on trade issues.

It is also a strong supporter of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

However, there will be less support for regulation of investment by multinationals and a suspension of trade negotiations to liberalise services - both of these are areas where UK companies stand to benefit.


Key stories

Aid debate

Africa's future

Analysis

PICTURE GALLERY

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