Published: 05 December 2006
The more than a year brawl over Ethiopian coffee trademarks continues as fair trade organisations today accuse the US coffee giant Starbucks of abusing its negotiating strength. Ethiopia is aiming at registering three most its famous coffee districts as international trademarks, despite Starbucks threats to stop negotiating a renewed deal with Ethiopia. The fair-trade organisation Oxfam was today strongly criticising coffee giant Starbucks for not moving forward in negotiations with Ethiopia until its terms are respected. In a statement, Oxfam asked Starbucks to stop forcing an alternate agreement on Ethiopia and come to the table - open and willing to negotiate. The Ethiopian government filed applications to trademark its most famous coffee names - Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe - last year, which would allow it to secure rights to capture more value from trade, control their use in the market and therefore enable farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price. Annually, it is estimated that coffee industry and farmers in Ethiopia could earn US$ 88 million extra, implying that the brawl costs the impoverish country dearly. But Oxfam has been pinning down Starbucks for opposing Ethiopia to trademark its own product. "Starbucks has engaged in some positive initial steps in helping coffee farmers living in poverty - I don"t understand why they won"t take the next step and come to the table to discuss Ethiopia"s proposal in good faith," said Seth Petchers, Oxfam International"s Make Trade Fair campaign coffee lead. The agency said if Starbucks is "genuine in its commitment to farmers, it will sign licensing agreement Ethiopia has offered," adding that the country had chosen a strategy that best meets its needs, and in consultation with intellectual property experts and legal counsel. Ethiopia, a country where 15 million people depend on the coffee trade, derives 40 to 50 percent of its export trade from coffee income. The country has over 80 percent of its citizens bitten by poverty. It ranks in the bottom ten of the UN human development index of income, health and education. But it is apparent that Starbucks is annoyed by Oxfam"s never-ending campaign, which prompted the company to issue a statement yesterday, asking the organisation to end its campaign. Starbucks is said to have received fax or calls from over 60,000 concerned consumers expressing support for Ethiopian coffee farmers. In its statement, Starbucks defended that the trademarking initiative might hurt farmers if "roasters stop purchasing Ethiopian coffees." It also said if Ethiopia is given the right to its coffee names, it could result in punishment and unwillingness to work in true partnership with farmers. The director general of Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office, Getchew Mengiste, countered Starbucks" statement saying, "Ethiopia wants to continue in its role as a growing source of coffees for the world market - it is in our own interest. We have 15 million poor people who depend on income from coffee every single day. Our goal for this project, which was developed in consultation with the farmers unions, is to help improve conditions for poor coffee growers." Ethiopia is struggling to secure ownership of its coffee names in the United States, as it has in the European Union and Canada but its efforts have been derailed by Starbucks that has reportedly filed opposition to it. This would allow Ethiopian coffee industry to build its coffee brands and value it, which could result in alleviating poverty among its farmers, authorities hold. Even Western consumers seem to agree with Ethiopia and fair trade ideals. In July, new technology and fair trade idealism had assured top bids for quality coffee from cooperative producers in Ethiopia. The average prices achieved in the first-ever Internet auction in African coffee far more than doubled the world market price and it generated US$ 187,800 for Ethiopian cooperative producers. US-based ECAFE Foundation that organised the auction sourced coffee from 150 cooperatives in eight regions across country to reflect the diversity and quality of coffee grown in Ethiopia. In this first Internet auction of its kind for African coffees, coffee companies from around the world bid top prices for winning lots from Ethiopian cooperative coffee producers. The US-based ECAFE Foundation, who organised the auction, sourced the coffee from 150 cooperatives in eight regions across the country to reflect the diversity and quality of coffee grown in Ethiopia.