During the current economic crisis, many British supermarket items have increased in price. However, one product that has remained consistent is a bunch of bananas, which costs the same as it did 30 years ago. Unlike other countries, where bananas may be cheaper, the UK relies on its own banana producers.
The government is being criticized for implementing a reckless post-Brexit strategy that may lead to even lower prices for bananas in stores – but at the expense of the livelihoods of numerous workers on small plantations in some of the most impoverished countries in Africa.
Latin American producers of the “dollar banana” have a strong hold on the British market due to their ability to sell at low prices. This is a result of favorable free trade agreements negotiated by the EU, which have reduced import taxes (tariffs) on bananas.
In 2019, the EU made a promise not to lower tariffs for major producers in order to acknowledge the effect on smaller African competitors. The UK’s departure has released the EU from this commitment to the most impoverished nations.
Based on Afruibana, an organization representing banana producers and exporters in Africa, it appears that the outcome will be treachery as the UK government goes back on their promise to safeguard them within the EU.
The UK has granted tariff concessions to Mexico and Peru for bananas as they joined the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. A trade agreement with Australia will eliminate all tariffs over the course of eight years.
The British government has initiated a targeted evaluation of banana tariffs as part of its trade agreement with the Andean nations – Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. This has raised concerns among African producers who fear that it could lead to the collapse of businesses in Ghana, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast, all of which have economies that lack diversity.
The UK’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, has declined to promise the country’s commitment to the EU pledge.
Joseph Owona Kono, the leader of Afruibana, expressed his concern regarding the UK’s decision to decrease banana tariffs for Peru and Mexico without any input from African governments. This could potentially indicate a shift away from the UK’s important and longstanding dedication to the growth and advancement of our industry.
If the same compromises are offered in future talks with the UK’s already powerful providers like Ecuador, Colombia, or Costa Rica, it could result in limited options for British customers. This would also jeopardize the jobs and well-being of numerous workers, their families, and supporting companies in the African banana industry.
The UK’s supermarket industry is fiercely competitive, marked by years of price competition as brands vied for customers by offering steep discounts on bananas. This has resulted in low prices for British consumers, aided by the continuation of free trade agreements made with the EU during the UK’s membership. 90% of bananas sold in the UK are from the 10 largest retail brands.
The market is largely dominated by suppliers from Latin America, specifically Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, which together make up 62.7% of the market.
According to Afruibana, the market share of 11.5% held by African countries supports over 80,000 jobs directly and indirectly, and provides livelihood for approximately 500,000 individuals in rural regions.
According to African producers, reducing costs for Latin American producers will not necessarily result in lower prices for British consumers. Instead, the savings may go towards other expenses along the supply chain, as the consumer price is already very low.
Gareth Thomas, a member of parliament in charge of trade, stated that the lack of consideration for African producers is part of a pattern of making agreements without fully comprehending the broader consequences.
The speaker expressed disappointment that government officials may be hindering the chances of success for the most disadvantaged individuals, particularly those in a significant Commonwealth partner. They have neglected Africa, despite abolishing the Department for International Development and reducing aid funding. This serves as another instance of Liz Truss and Greg Hands signing a trade agreement without considering the potential consequences in the future.
The banana industry of the Windward Islands, which is mainly made up of small-scale farmers, has been greatly affected by the decrease in tariffs for other countries. In 2012, the UK imported 12,146 tonnes of bananas from Saint Lucia, which has a total of 30,000 banana farmers. However, by 2022, this import amount had drastically decreased by 95%, reaching only 541 tonnes.
A representative from the Department for Business and Trade stated that the UK’s trade strategy aims to promote the economies of developing countries while also supporting British businesses and aiding consumers. In the previous year, a new trading scheme was introduced specifically for developing countries, making it more beneficial for them to export goods to the UK. Additionally, 99% of goods imported from Africa will be exempt from duties, resulting in reduced costs for shoppers during checkout.
Everyday grocery items that have defied the norm by remaining affordable.
The price of bananas per kilo was 115p in September 1990, and it remains at 115p today.
In September 1990, cucumbers were priced at 60p. Currently, they are priced at 83p.
The cost of oranges per kilo was 21p in September 1990, but today it is 43p.
In September 1990, the price of carrots per kilo was 57p. Today, the price has increased to 66p per kilo.
The source of this information is the Office for National Statistics.