Sir; I read with great concern The Saturday Essay in your December 17 issue (p36), ‘Fairtrade makes a difference’, written by Baroness Sue Miller, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for environment, food & rural affairs.

First of all, it is important to note that the working hours under the legal system in Ecuador are eight hours. In banana plantations this is applied during the weekdays from 6am to 11am and from 1pm to 4pm.

Regarding the banana loading process, it is a process managed only by adults who are paid by the quantity of boxes they lift to the containers.

Furthermore, the social security system in my country includes a special rural social service and this is frequently complemented by private health services, although the latter is not compulsory for plantations owners.

On the other hand, the Ecuadorian government is aware of the importance of education as a tool for development and progress.

Accordingly, there are several programmes to ensure the whole population has full access to the education system.

As far as the banana industry is concerned, there are several specific projects to support this aim. These include the assistance of UNICEF, ILO, and the National Institute for the Child and Family (INNFA), and also of many government agencies that deal with public education and welfare, including the Export and Investment Promotion Corporation (CORPEI).

Of course the article has some positive information.

The case of El Guabo is one important example to show the benefits of the banana industry. Nevertheless, it is not the only one. Being the first exporter of bananas in the world, Ecuador is proud of having some 5,000 individual producers, which means the banana industry distributes its wealth to more than 800,000 people who work directly and indirectly in it.

A real threat for that huge population is barriers in international trade.

As all of us are aware, keeping high levels of tariffs for entering the European market is a serious issue concerning the banana trade.

One effective measure to help the banana workers should be the liberalisation of the import regime of bananas in the EU.

The article was also wrong in calling Ecuador one of the smallest countries in the world. It is not. Actually, as far as the geographical area is concerned, Ecuador is somewhat bigger than the United Kingdom.