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Favoring fair trade.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

Cafe Mam, a coffee importer based in Eugene, has been buying beans from the same cooperative growers in Mexico and Guatemala since 1989.

And, even though fair trade standards had not yet been adopted for products sold in the United States, Cafe Mam followed the tenets of fair trade, said Brad Lerch, one of the company's owners.

It paid a fair price and traded directly with cooperatives of Mayan farmers who grew the coffee, Lerch said.

"They became our friends and our trading partners," he said. "We're in it to promote these indigenous people, really.

`They're living a lifestyle in harmony with the earth, and it's definitely cultural preservation to trade fairly."

The fair trade movement, well-established in Europe, is just gaining momentum in the United States.

But Whole Foods' recent announcement of plans to buy competitor Wild Oats and have half its imported products be fair trade certified within 10 years spells tremendous growth for fair trade products in the next few years, said Mathieu Senard, spokesman for Alter Eco.

The company, which was founded in Paris in 1998, imports fair trade certified coffee, tea, rice, sugar, quinoa and chocolates from around the world.

"It's a new concept, so it takes a little (while) for consumers to understand what fair trade really means," Senard said. "But once they understand and they've tasted the products ... then sales will grow exponentially because people like what they see and what they taste."

With fair trade labels showing up on a growing number of products, two local natural foods stores, Sundance and Capella, figured it's a good time to educate consumers about fair trade.

The stores are sponsoring a free seminar on the topic tonight, and have invited as panelists Cafe Mam; Alter Eco; Equal Exchange, an importer of food products; Alaffia, which imports shea butter from west Africa for body care products; and Peru Puppets, an importer of handmade finger puppets.

Fair trade "is about having an impact here across the world through our choices and how we spend our dollars," said Ron Leppert, Sundance's grocery buyer.

"Anybody who wants to vote with their dollar or have an impact with their dollar ... needs to find out about this."

The label, "Fair Trade Certified," which shows a black-and-white figure holding baskets in both hands, indicates that a product has met international fair trade standards for fair prices, fair labor conditions and environmental sustainability. The label also indicates that the product has been certified by TransFair USA.

The nonprofit TransFair USA, which is the only independent, third-party certifier in the United States, began certifying fair trade coffee in 1999.

Now it also certifies imported tea, herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and vanilla sold in the United States.

Fair trade products can cost more than products without the certification.

Cafe Mam's fair trade organic French roast coffee, for example, sold Tuesday for $7.99 a pound at a local grocery store, while a similarly labeled Equal Exchange coffee cost $8.49 a pound.

Cascade Estate, a different brand of organic French roast - not certified fair trade - cost $6.99 a pound.

But a growing number of shoppers are willing to pay the extra, if it means better lives for the farmers who grew the beans in developing countries throughout the world, supporters of fair trade say.

Fair trade certified coffee is the fastest-growing segment of the $11 billion U.S. specialty coffee market, according to TransFair USA.

On average, that segment has grown almost 80 percent every year since 1999.

Fair trade is about much more than just a fair price, said Olowo-n'djo Tchala, owner of Alaffia, which pays 20 percent to 30 percent more than the going price to import shea butter from Togo, where Tchala grew up. He also channels 10 percent of revenues back to Togo.

Tchala is based in Olympia, where he mixes the shea butter into a line of fair trade body care products that he sells to natural foods stores along the West Coast and online.

"I want the people to think beyond just the issue of paying fair prices, but think about the social aspects of the community itself," he said.


What: A free community seminar

When: Today from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Where: Sundance Natural Foods Mercantile Building, 2441 Hilyard St.

Panelists: Alaffia, sells body care products made with shea butter from Africa; Alter Eco, imports food from around the world; Cafe Mam, a Eugene-based importer of coffee from Mexico and Guatemala; Equal Exchange, imports food from around the world; Peru Puppets, a nonprofit importer of finger puppets knit by economically disadvantaged and disabled women in Lima, Peru.

For more information on fair trade:
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Title Annotation:Business; Local merchants sponsor a seminar to share their standards and practices within a growing trend
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 2, 2007
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