Bush’s goody basket for Africa filled with holes
"Non-competitive U.S. producers battle unfairly with small farmers to produce items such as maize, rice, poultry and cotton for the world market. The dumping of subsidized cotton has led to the loss of earnings of up to $250 million to West African economies. These subsidies enable Mississippi cotton farmers to produce cotton at 82 cents a ton, 59 cents more than their Malian counterparts, and still sell this product more cheaply on the world's markets.
"It's worth noting that the subsidies to only 25,000 U.S. farmers equal the total amount of foreign aid to more than 500 million Africans."
Bush's Goody Basket For Africa Filled With Holes
by Irungu Houghton and Shehnilla Mohamed
Sacramento Observer, California
JOHANNESBURG (NNPA) - As African leaders prepare to receive President George W. Bush, they could do no worse than to ignore the old Nigerian proverb: "The person that always eats bread does not appreciate the severity of a famine." The U.S. trip to Dakar, Abuja, Gaborone, Pretoria and finally Kampala, will give the delegation an opportunity to espouse trade, agricultural and security policies.
Coming on the heels of the successful occupation of Iraq and the showdown with France and the European Union on genetically modified organisms during the G8 Summit in Evian, the trip is already starting to take on the air of a lap of honor.
The reality is far from this. African leaders, business and civil societies would best start by declaring this elation premature.
It is likely that the U.S. delegation will place emphasis on the successes of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Under this Act, the U.S. accepted $9 billion of African goods duty free in 2001, a 10 percent increase from 2000. It is important to place this in context. Only 22 out of the 38 Act-eligible countries have been able to make use of this facility. Only six have been able to expand their exports of textiles to the United States.
The case of Lesotho illustrates the complexity of the Act. The country opened six new garment factories and exported $318 million worth of goods to the United States last year.
However, the condition that Act-eligible countries must not regulate foreign investment has resulted in 65 percent of the factories being owned by Taiwanese business interests.
Rather than being the showcase miracle of U.S. trade relations with Africa, a closer look suggests that the Act has had moderate success so far.
The Act's benefits pale when measured against oil deals. This year 15 percent of African exports to the United States will be West African oil. By 2015 this figure will reach 25 percent, according to U.S. predictions. Yet the value of this resource will not accrue to Africa's people unless there is greater transparency and regulation of the petroleum companies, a move the U.S. administration has been reluctant to actively support. Instead, access to oil from Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon is taking on an increasingly military character with the proposed deployment of American troops.
Other areas of U.S.-Africa trade require focus. Non-competitive U.S. producers battle unfairly with small farmers to produce items such as maize, rice, poultry and cotton for the world market. The dumping of subsidized cotton has led to the loss of earnings of up to $250 million to West African economies. These subsidies enable Mississippi cotton farmers to produce cotton at 82 cents a ton, 59 cents more than their Malian counterparts, and still sell this product more cheaply on the world's markets.
It's worth noting that the subsidies to only 25,000 U.S. farmers equal the total amount of foreign aid to more than 500 million Africans. A slight re-allocation of this expenditure to meet the 0.7 percent target of aid allocation could lift millions of Africans out of poverty.
The pattern in other commodities is the same. African leaders and NGOs have to intensify their demands for the right to protect domestic agriculture, livestock and infant industries from dumping and call for a moratorium on export subsidies from the United States and other parties such as the European Union.
Africa needs to challenge the assertion that the introduction of genetically modified products will lead to greater and more consistent intensification of African agriculture. Some African countries have attempted to hold to the precautionary principle, while on the verge of starvation - a fact that has perplexed the leader of the country with one of the largest grain gluts (such is the perspective of those with bread).
The U.S. legal challenge against the European Union and the condition, contained in the recently passed U.S. Leadership Against HIV/Aids Act that countries seeking aid to fight the virus must accept genetically modified food, is an affront to Africa's right to choose its own economic path.
The Bush visit comes hard on the heels of two important concessions: the U.S. decision to drop the demand for a list of diseases that could be treated by generic drugs and the announcement of $1 billion for the global fight against AIDS.
Bush recently signed a Global Aids Bill, which could provide up to $15 billion to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis over the next five years.
But, at the same time that the administration is committing new funds, its trade policies are undermining poor countries' access to affordable drugs.
World Trade Organization members agreed in 2001 that patent provisions should be interpreted in a pro-health way, but the Bush administration has since stood alone in undermining poor countries' access to generics. International patent provisions that limit or prevent importation of low-cost medicines diminish countries' capacities to provide for public health.
What of aid? The promises of a trickle of resources at the 2001 G8 meeting in Canada dried to a drop in France. The present U.S. pledge of $4 billion a year (in the context of military spending of $150 billion) does not inspire confidence in its agenda for supporting the fight against poverty in Africa.
The pattern seems set to repeat unless Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Botswana's Phestus Mogae, Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni act decisively.
Isolated by its own unilateralism, the United States needs Africa's support in the lead up to the fifth World Trade Organization Inter-Ministerial Conference in September. Economic and military interests have also peaked around growing demand for oil reserves in West Africa and the need for military outposts in East Africa.
This is the time for our leaders to press negotiations around trade and aid regime change in Africa's interest. In the aftermath of the G8 Summit in Evian, it is clear that the G8 failed to match the progress reached by the African Union.
It could do no better than score victories around trade, aid and a little respect from the man from Texas next month. Bush, on the other hand, could do no better than to heed another African saying: ";There's more wisdom in listening and doing, than speaking and not."
Irungu Houghton is a pan-African policy adviser at Oxfam, a federation of 12 organizations that work in more than 100 countries to find solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice; Shehnilla Mohamed is Oxfam's regional media and advocacy coordinator.
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