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August 2007

Equal Exchange leads the way on new agreement

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Newly established trademarks on speciality Ethiopian coffees mean that from now on only officially licensed distributors will be able to sell them. Equal Exchange’s Fairtrade and Organic Yirgacheffe Ground Coffee will be the first product to be marketed under the Ethiopian Coffee and Trademarking Initiative in the UK when the company signs the licensing agreement at a reception at the Ethiopian Embassy on 5 September.

The Initiative, which sparked controversy last year when the trademarks were contested by the world’s biggest coffee brand, Starbucks, is a collaboration between Ethiopia’s government, coffee exporters and farmers’ organisations. It aims to develop the country’s coffee industry and keep more of the value of its internationally-renown coffees with farmers and their communities.

Trademarks have been registered in 28 countries on several of Ethiopia’s speciality coffee brands, including Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. Licensing deals with importers and distributors in the USA, EU, Japan and other countries will create a more equal trading platform, so that prices received by farmers can be more closely linked to retail prices for premium coffees – currently as much as 46 times the ‘farmgate’ price.

Equal Exchange was the first company to distribute Fairtrade certified Yirgacheffe coffee in the UK in 2001, and has helped to develop the market for premium Ethiopian coffee. While the new licensing agreement will not alter their existing trading relationship with Ethiopian farmers, based on stringent Fairtrade and organic standards, Andy Good, the Managing Director of Equal Exchange, is hugely supportive of the Trademark Initiative:

After 30 years working with farmers in poor communities around the world to help them get a better deal, we’re only too aware of how significant these trademarks are. It’s a big breakthrough for a developing country to use international trade rules, which in so many cases work against poor producers, to benefit small-scale farmers.

The trademark agreements allow the Ethiopian coffee industry to take control of its very valuable products through the intellectual property system. It sets an important precedent in new ways of looking at trade.

Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of coffee and 15 million Ethiopians depend on the coffee industry for their livelihood. Currently the majority of the farmers who grow the beans so highly prized by coffee aficionados in the West only receive a tiny fraction of the retail price. Many farmers have been forced to abandon growing some of the world’s finest coffee due to the poor prices they receive, replacing their traditional crop with more short-term lucrative crops, including opiates.

The plight of these farmers has been highlighted recently in the feature film Black Gold, being shown across the UK. The Ethiopian Trademarking Initiative aims to improve farmers’ income, and boost the value of the country’s coffee industry – Oxfam has estimated that trademarks would add £47m a year to the Ethiopian economy. The Initiative also hopes to provide longer-term security for farmers through the more direct trading relationship, allowing farmers to invest in production and improve coffee quality.

Equal Exchange’s Fairtrade and Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Roast and Ground coffee is available from Wholefoods Market, Planet Organic and independent healthfood stores across the UK. The beans come from the Oromia Farmers Co-operative, an organisation of over 22,000 small-scale coffee farmers across Ethiopia. Oromia is the country’s biggest Fair Trade coffee producer and only cultivates environmentally friendly, shade grown coffee.

Alongside premium coffees like Yirgacheffe, Equal Exchange’s range of 100% natural, Fairtrade and organic certified speciality products includes single garden teas, irresistibly healthy nuts and nut spreads, award-winning brazil nut oil, antioxidant-rich Rooibos tea, unpasteurised woodland honey, sugar and cocoa.