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Deborah Martens and Jan Orbie

Since the Lisbon Treaty, promoting ‘free and fair trade’ has explicitly become an objective of the EU’s relations with the wider world. However, it remains rather unclear what the EU’s position concerning Fair Trade exactly is. An important obstacle here is the ambiguous meaning of the concept ‘Fair Trade’. Therefore, a framework is developed to unravel its diverse meanings and to structure the debate. This framework is then used to analyse the EU’s position and how it has evolved over time. Whereas the EU launched a number of trade initiatives aiming at redressing the unequal distribution of benefits in favour of developing countries in the 1970s, the general neoliberal shift in Western politics during the 1980s and 1990s was also translated into EU trade policy. Currently, Fair Trade initiatives follow a piecemeal approach and do not question but rather reinforce the prevalence of the neoliberal trade system.