Christian aid agency calls Bush a two-faced free trader

( [email protected] ) Jul 18, 2003 02:04 AM EDT

President George Bush is a "two-faced free trader" and his much-vaunted visit to Africa will have little tangible affect on the impoverished people who make up the majority of the continent's population, according to Christian Aid.

In a feature on their web site the aid agency says that whilst press briefings have concentrated on Washington's 'generosity' in handing over billion to Africa to tackle HIV/AIDS, "no mention has been made of Bush's trade policy which is, in part, responsible for keeping many millions of Africans mired in the swamp of poverty".

"Bush is a two-faced free-trader" says the article. "He places massive pressure on weak countries to open their markets to American goods, threatening to reduce aid and support if they don't. Yet as they pull down the protective barriers which support their own fragile markets, the President pumps in massive subsidies to American industries."

Citing the example of cotton production Christian Aid claims that the US government currently pays its own "cotton barons" .4billion in subsidies. This is more than it gives in aid to the whole of Africa. American farmers now receive 70 cents per pound of cotton.

These subsidies in turn encourage the US cotton industry to over produce. As supply increases, the world price drops - directly affecting African farmers.

The handouts also mean Americans can sell their cotton at low prices - undercutting their African competitors, both on the international market and even in their own countries.

Cotton farmers in the west African state of Mali are "being crushed" says Christian Aid.

Unlike the US, Mali is forbidden from supporting its cotton industry - conditions attached to its loans by the IMF and World Bank would prevent it from doing so.

They are now receiving less for their cotton than they invest in producing it.

Mali cotton farmer Bakary Diarra told Christian Aid that he fears not being able to buy clothes for his family, and expects to have to sell some cattle to survive. That would be the start of a serious downward spiral.

Poor rains, Bakary Diarra explained, have exacerbated the catastrophe. "If we don't earn money from cotton we won't be able to buy food," he said.

"If any of our family members fall ill we won't be able to take care of them. If any of our vehicles need repairing we won't be able to do this."

What is needed is a little 'unfair trade' says the article. Poor countries should be allowed to support their own farmers, while being given free access to the markets of the rich world.

"It's not such a radical idea" says Christian Aid.

"Many first world countries protected their own markets while their new industries were growing. And the US is doing it to this day - slapping tariffs on steel imports and, of course, subsidising its own farmers, as does the EU."

Rudolf Amenga-Etego, from the Integrated Social Development Centre, a think-tank based in Accra, Ghana, points out that free trade does not necessarily mean fair trade.

"If countries like Ghana have to open up their markets to foreign competition in return for more open markets in Europe and North America, then it will be a recipe for famine and increased poverty."

"International trade rules need to be flexibile so that we can protect our own essential industries and open up our markets at our own pace," he said.