Monday, June 13, 2005

Aid to Africa: Payback time?

Tony Blair may be cashing in some political capital with President Bush soon. Blair plans to use upcoming presidency of the EU to drum up aid to Africa, and if he has to fight to get US participation, that can only help him overcome his image overseas as an American lackey. But it probably would be a good idea for the US to demonstrate that our loyal friends end up with some pull with our policy.

The debate is well known between those who feel that African countries have to be well governed enough to get aid to those who need it before developed countries offer it, and those who feel the need in Africa is urgent enough to warrant plunging right in with subsidies and loan forgiveness. There are some merits to either point of view. As the Economist rightly points out though, it's the government subsidies to developed nations' own agriculture industries--including small farmers--which really hurt Africa's opportunity for development the most, by eliminating its most promising markets. This underlying structural feature of the world economy is unlikely to be fixed any time soon; all politics is local. But if Bush and Blair really want to help Africa, cutting agricultural subsidies is where they should start.

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