|Vol.7, No.3, 18.1.01, p13
"TRADE, not aid" has long been the rallying cry of anti-poverty campaigners who argue that the best way to improve the living standards of the world's poorest countries is to grant them open access to the lucrative markets of rich nations.
Industrialised countries often preach free-trade economics but they have remained stubbornly wedded to protectionism in key areas.
A ray of hope has appeared, however, in the form of the European Commission's "Everything But Arms" (EBA) proposal, which will scrap duties on all imports - except weapons - from 48 of the world's poorest countries.
While it does not replace aid policy as the main tool in the EU's development arsenal, the EBA represents a groundbreaking attempt to integrate the world's poorer countries into the global trading system.
Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and his development counterpart Poul Nielson have stressed that the proposal must be complemented by other measures, such as giving poor nations a voice in the World Trade Organisation. The EU is also commited to giving technical assistance to allow developing countries to use the WTO's procedures to fight for their trading interests.
Despite the willingness of the Union's policy-makers to pay more attention to less-developed countries, Lamy still needs to convince sceptical member states of the benefits of the EBA package.
Intense lobbying by the sugar beet growers and processing industry is bound to ensure that the proposed scheme will be watered down before it wins approval.
Nevertheless, officials are delighted the package has seen the light of day at all. "This sets a good precedent for regional trade agreements in future because we have overcome resistance to including sensitive agricultural products," said one.
Interestingly, opposition has come not just from wealthy northern landowners and sugar processors but also from some of the 77 beneficiaries of the EU's special programme for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Caribbean banana growers fear they would lose essential sales in the Union because EBA would open the market to non-ACP fruit.
That said, if EBA survives more or less intact it could be seen in years to come as a watershed in the effort to stop simply handing out aid and start using trade as an important development tool.
|Politics and International Relations