Fair-trade status for Vietnam cocoa to ease access to EU market

Fair-trade certification is expected to help Vietnamese cocoa enter the EU market, especially after the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement takes effect, slated for 2019, experts have said.

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Speaking at a meeting held in HCM City on November 15, Nguyen Dac Thang, vice chairman of the Vietnam Cooperative Alliance, said Vietnam should develop a system of fair-trade certification for cocoa to boost exports to Europe.

“We’re working closely with fair-trade organisations in Europe and Asia to introduce cocoa products that are manufactured sustainably, respond to climate change, and ensure the rights of workers, women and children,” he said.

Three cooperatives, including Krongno, Thanh Dat and Eakar in the Central Highlands region, have been granted fair-trade certification and have started exporting to the European market.

In 2015, around 253,000 tonnes of cocoa produced by 196,000 farmers in Africa, which were certified fair trade, were sold globally worth 14.8 million euros (US$17.42 million), according to Thang. At that time, there was no fair-trade certified cocoa from Asia, which produced high-quality cocoa.  

Though fair-trade organisations help farmers sell their products at fair prices, certification is only the initial condition, he said.

Speaking at the meeting, Krista Verstraelen, chief representative of the Belgian Development Agency (BTC) in Vietnam, said that many organisations of fair-trade producers exist in Vietnam, but are mostly in the coffee field.

“In 2016, we developed a project for sustainable fair-trade cocoa supply from Vietnam. It included three steps: certification of fair-trade, product and market development, and product monitoring and evaluation,” she said.

More efforts, however, are needed. “We hope important players in the chocolate business will see that there are some shared interests,” she said.

Fair-trade projects

The project to enable a sustainable fair-trade cocoa supply chain from Vietnam was funded by the Belgian Development Agency last year.

The project has helped 350 small cocoa-farming households take part in fair-trade supply chains and benefit from fair-trade practices.

The Eakar and Thanh Dat cooperatives in Dak Lak Province and Krongno cooperative in Dak Nong Province were chosen as target clients, while the Vietnam Cooperative Alliance was selected as the key partner to support the cooperatives.

Under the project, the cooperatives raised awareness about fair-trade and learned about fair-trade value that can bring added value to their products. They also become more aware of fair-trade requirements and advanced planting techniques.

Nguyen Xuan Van, chairman of the Eakar Cooperative, said: “In the past, I planted cocoa and worked on my farm without calculating how much money I was spending or making.”

“I listened to advice from a shop on how to use pesticides without knowing why I should use it. I had very little money left after harvesting cocoa,” he added. “But after joining the cooperative, I began to plan better, and after training, I started using a diary to note how much I spent for the farm and what kind of chemicals I used.”

The Belgian-supported project has also offered funding to cooperatives to train farmers in best practices and reach certification.

Thai Xuan Quang, chairman of the Eakar Cooperative, said: “I trust the quality of our cocoa because we can sell it at a higher price.”

Besides help from the project, Fair Trade Asia and Pacific helps local traders find fair-trade markets, while national fair-trade organisations in Belgium, Germany and Italy look for buyers to introduce fair-trade cocoa in Vietnam.

The Fair-Trade Labeling Organisations International offers internationally recognised certification for tea, coffee, cocoa, spice and handicraft products.

Nearly 95 per cent of fair-trade certified goods in Vietnam are exports, according to the Vietnam Rural Industries Research and Development Institute.

EU consumers are paying greater attention to fair-trade certified goods as the European Parliament issued a resolution to promote fair-trade certification in the EU market in 1998.

To achieve certification, the products must follow environmentally friendly and sustainable development standards and ensure that workers are not subjected to discrimination. These standards help businesses improve transparency and meet export requirements for fair-trade goods.  

Fair-trade helps producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and promotes sustainable farming.

VNS

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