THE GEOGRAPHY OF BREAKFAST - The Banana Trade War (Chapter 4)       Return to Unit List

The dispute between the EU and the United States and WTO over the banana trade offers a fascinating illustration of many of the key issues involved in the debate over globalization. The next time you slice a nice ripe banana onto your breakfast bowl of corn flakes, consider where that banana came from, the conditions in which it was grown, and what had to happen in order for it to reach your breakfast table. For your banana to make that journey, many things had to happen, including trade agreements between importing and exporting countries. Such agreements had to be negotiated by government trade representatives. In addition, farmers, harvesters, shippers, handlers, wholesalers, advertisers, and retailers all had to be paid for their role in this trade. Your banana is thus an important piece of the global economy, and as the global economy goes through transformations, the banana trade is a good place to see the impacts such shifts have throughout the process of bringing your banana from the farm to the breakfast table.

Read the section of your textbook, on page 195, entitled "The European Union in the Global Economy." One of the points made here is that the EU "often negotiates privileged access to world markets for European firms and farmers and for former colonies," and that "the EU employs protectionist measures that favor European farmers at the expense of consumers, who must then pay higher prices for foreign goods, at the expense of producers outside Europe in both rich and poor countries." The banana trade is a case in point.

First, read about the background to the US and EU banana trade wars at Banana Link, a UK organization that supports banana farmers around the world.

The Lomé Convention, first signed in 1975, and renegotiated as the Cotonou Agreement in 2000, provided privileged access to the EU market for agricultural producers in ACP states, that is, former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific region, which produce agricultural goods such as bananas, beef, veal, sugar, and rum. Throughout the 1990s the EU faced pressure to change these practices in order to comply with WTO rules that saw the EU offering unfair privileges to certain producers and thus inhibiting free trade. One round of changes occurred in 1997, but the Cotonou Agreement was still regarded as protectionist by the U.S. government. U.S. pressure came at the behest of the major banana-producing companies in the United States (Dole and Chiquita), who were not been able to successfully break into the EU banana market because of the Cotonou Agreement. In 1999, because the United States felt that the EU was still unfairly restricting trade, it imposed trade sanctions on a number of key EU goods, and the "banana trade war" was on.

To explore the trade war and its implications, start with a 1999 BBC report on the United States decision to impose sanctions on the EU.

Then examine the following sites, which offer reports detailing the concerns over the banana trade:

The Fair Trade Foundation's report "Unpeeling the Banana Trade"

The Fair Trade Foundationís website dedicated to bananas

Banana Link, a comprehensive site devoted to sustainable banana production and trade

Oxfam UK's report on the plight of Caribbean banana farmers

A news item about potential banana trade wars and EU expansion

Global Exchange's campaign for banana plantation workers

Global Issues banana campaign

The banana page from Europe's Forum on International Cooperation

The Caribbean Banana Exporters Association

Chiquita's home page

Now that you are an expert on bananas, here's a final activity: Write a biography (or, you could think of it as a travelogue) of a banana as it journeys from a Caribbean farm, or a Latin American plantation, to a European or American breakfast table.