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Thursday, December 15, 2005 

The Heart of the Free Trade Debate (WTO Talks Lag)

(Reuters) "In the three days the meetings have taken so far, the rich countries have transferred more than $2 billion to their farmers in various forms of support," World Bank Vice President Danny Leipziger said in a statement.

"In the same period, the 300 million poorest people in Africa have earned less than $1 billion between them."

Poor nations slammed Washington and Tokyo for baulking at a deal that would allow their exports in free of duties and quotas, saying that after years of prescribing liberalisation for others it was time they "swallowed their own medicine".

One official said U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman "went ballistic" over that statement, which was issued by Zambian Trade Minister Dipak Patel on behalf of the poorest WTO countries.

The United States also came under fire over the $4 billion a year in subsidies enjoyed by its cotton farmers, and won little respite when it announced its willingness to offer duty-free access for cotton from impoverished West African states.

"They export cotton. Why would they import any of our cotton? What they need to do is halt the subsidies," said Francois Traore, president of the African Cotton Producers Association.

This really is the crux of the situation isn’t it? Poor nations, suddenly given voice by the UN and WTO, want rich countries like the US to effectively sell out it’s own citizens and economic stability to ensure that poor nations get a piece of the pie. Essentially Mr. Traore is asking the United States to stop it’s cotton farmers from making money by exporting cotton, so that we can import it from his countries.

How far should a nation go to try and extend the hand of generosity and assistance to developing nations? How far can American elected officials go, who’s primary duty is to Americans, to assist poor nations in accessing global markets? Those who are not elected officials, serving the people that elected them seem to think there should be no limit.

The EU struggles with this also in their stand on market access for farm goods from developing countries without further concessions from them on industrial goods and services. Poor countries want us to open up every market to them, but they do not to place restrictions on any of those markets.

Is this entire debate about trying to reach a “fairness” level by spreading the misery among everyone equally? The demands made by the poor countries would amount to the United States and EU collapsing their own economies so that the poor nations may grow.