Some related articles :
Bush turns his back on the world's poor
Not long after the United
States increased its aid budget from 0.10% to 0.13% of GDP, the
"compassionate" side of President George Bush's
"compassionate conservatism", that minor palliative was swamped
this month by a farm subsidy bill that will rob some of the world's
poorest people of their livelihoods.
The bill was passed in the
Democratic-controlled Senate with the support of the White House, and the
president signed it on Monday. It involves an 80% per cent increase in
subsidies for US producers of wheat, cotton, peanuts, corn and a list of
other produce, grown in competition with the developing world. The bill
will cost an estimated $180bn over the next 10 years.
That sum swamps the roughly
$10bn a year the US offers in foreign aid to the world's poor, which is
the lowest level of development assistance offered by any of the world's
industrialised countries. In fact, the combined value of the farm
subsidies in the US, Europe and Japan is about equivalent to the entire
gross domestic product of sub-Saharan Africa and seven times the sum the
rich world gives the poor world in aid.
The World Bank released an
assessment of the impact of these protectionist measures on one of
Africa's most desperately poor countries, Burkina Faso, where many of the
rural population scrape a living at $1 a day growing cotton. It found
that, if the cotton price was not distorted by (mainly US) subsidies, the
number of people living in poverty there could be cut by half over six
When the US farm bill was
debated in the Senate, there were many speeches by Democrats and
Republicans alike about the salvation that the farm bill would provide for
good, honest, hard-toiling US farmers, the bedrock of the nation. But it
will do nothing of the sort. Nearly 80% of the money will go to the
country's richest 10% of farms, mainly agro-industrial enterprises in the
South and Midwest.
The bill is more about campaign
contributions and votes in swing farm states such as Iowa, South Dakota
and Missouri, where no one wants to go into an election tagged with an
Similarly, a bill signed by
Bush in March to protect US steel was largely aimed at winning support in
the industrial centres of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, which
could also go either way in 2004.
The new farm bill simply makes
the US as craven in its trade policy as the European Union. However, many
EU members are impatient with the union's common agricultural policy,
which is in place principally to suit the interests of French farmers.
They were hoping to follow the
free trade banner picked up by Bush during the election campaign and waved
emphatically at last November's international trade negotiations in Doha,
which were supposed to give the third world a better deal. The US
delegation, in particular, promised freer trade in agricultural produce.
The coming three-year
"Doha round" of trade talks now looks to be in trouble even
before it gets off the ground. Administration officials argue that the
farm bill will concentrate the minds of the Europeans and convince them of
the need of fundamental reform. However, it is more likely to entrench
Likewise, the members of the US
Senate are mostly preoccupied with local matters and parochial interests.
They too look to the White House for leadership that is based on a broader
vision. However, that leadership is missing, and its absence is likely to
drag the US towards an ever-worsening crisis in its relations with the
rest of the world.
The unifying purpose that
September 11 imposed on the Bush administration now appears only to have
distracted attention from the political, strategic and moral vacuum at the
heart of the Bush project. The inexperienced son of a former president was
backed by corporate America and Southern conservatives primarily as an
antidote to Bill Clinton, who to them represented regulation and moral
Bush frequently portrayed his
campaign as a moral catharsis for the US. But for the rest of the world
the immorality of the farm bill is infinitely more profound.
Therein lies the danger. The
Europeans and the developing world now associate US free trade advocacy
with hypocrisy. The failure of the Doha round would severely dampen global
Any world downturn would spread
anti-Americanism, fuelled by the Bush administration's reluctance to
subordinate US national interests even minimally to global efforts to
combat environmental damage, or the development of weapons of mass
destruction. Day by day Washington is either distancing itself from
international organisations established to monitor such weapons, or
manipulating their leadership.
Washington's professed support
for democracy abroad has meanwhile been left threadbare by the welcome the
Bush administration gave to the short-lived coup last month in Venezuela.
In the current climate the
beneficiaries of the new anti-Americanism are unlikely to be progressive
parties and movements. They will be the kind of reactionary groups the US
has been fighting in Afghanistan, and which are gaining ground in Europe.
Clinton, derided on the right
for shaming the nation, had in fact built up an extraordinary legacy of
international goodwill towards the US, which was in part reflected in the
world's response to September 11.
He used the US's military might
and diplomatic clout to help bring peace to the Balkans and Northern
The Middle East peace summit at
Camp David failed, but it came closer to a final settlement than ever
before, and at least offered hope. The effort did not go unnoticed in the
Arab world. Clinton risked his presidency on promoting free trade, and
there was a sense that, although the Senate had not ratified the Kyoto
global warming agreement and a host of other treaties he had signed, the
US would at least remain at the centre of international dialogue. That is
no longer the case.
With the US defining its national interests more narrowly with each passing day, the world is rapidly becoming more volatile. It is becoming a more dangerous place for everybody, but most of all for the world's only superpower.
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