Women workers in a plum packing line, Chile. Credit: Toby Adamson/Oxfam
What’s happening with world trade?

Why do we care about trade?

Trade generates incredible wealth, and links the lives of everyone on the planet. Yet millions of people in poor countries are losing out. Why? Because the rules controling trade heavily favor the rich nations that set the rules.

Something’s very wrong with world trade. We're committed to putting it right.

Why campaign on trade?

World trade rules have been developed by the rich and powerful on the basis of their narrow commercial interests. Rich countries and powerful corporations have captured a disproportionate share of the benefits of trade, leaving developing countries and poor people worse off. Trade rules should be judged on their contribution to poverty reduction, respect for human rights, and environmental sustainability.

Instead of robbing half the world of a proper living, trade could help millions of poor farmers and workers in developing countries beat poverty, and change their lives for good.

But this will not happen unless countries change the way they trade.

So we’re campaigning hard to make sure they do.

How we're doing it

Oxfam’s Trade campaign presses decision-makers and governments for new trade rules – fair rules to make a real and positive difference in the fight against poverty.

We’re also working with other campaigning organizations to drive home the message – and getting high-profile celebrities to draw attention to the breath-taking potential of trade, too.

Success

Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign (2002-2006) generated amazing publicity, mobilizing public opinion on rigged trade rules around the world.

More than 20 million people signed the Big Noise petition, providing the kind of backing that gives us extra clout in the places that count.

For instance, together with other campaigning organizations and farmers groups, we successfully lobbied the World Trade Organization (WTO) – the body that sets trade rules – to exempt developing countries from cutting their import tariffs on agricultural products that are essential for food security and rural livelihoods.

What now

Oxfam continues to campaign with the world's poorest people, wherever we see their ability to trade under threat.

There is still much to be done – and there is also a new threat.

At the WTO, poor countries have so far managed to stand firm – and most importantly, together, during trade talks. A “development” trade deal – as originally promised – remains important because the world is now experiencing its sharpest drop in trade in 80 years.

But a deal that helps reduce poverty will only be achieved if rich countries change their attitudes and put development at the center of their concerns. New fairer trade rules are still needed for poor countries to participate more equally in the global trading system but a deal should not be pushed through for the sake of it. A bad deal could do more harm than no agreement.

The rampant food price crisis (2008-2009) has shown that food and livelihood security cannot depend solely on market forces. Development rather than liberalization has to be the central objective of negotiations and trade rules must respond to the needs of the most vulnerable people first and foremost.

Learn more

Our Rigged Rules animations explain in simple terms how the current rules around global trade keep poor people trapped in poverty.

Read why there is a current food price crisis and what can be done about it.

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