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Western notion of free trade
enchains much of Africa


 Budget time gives me the creeps,  just as much now as it ever did.   The voices we hear beforehand are all  "We want $...",  "We need $..." The most positive take on these self-regarding voices is that each of them believes that they could really help the country if only the country would help them.   Frequently,  post–budget cries of distress say,  "It's not fair."

Place these voices against the cries on the world stage and we seem pathetically self–preoccupied and frankly blind to the very real dangers that are facing all of humankind.   And the greatest of these dangers is not genetic engineering,  at least not as a single issue.

Twenty two years ago,  the German chancellor,  Willy Brandt,  said:  "War is often thought of in terms of military conflict or even annihilation.   But there is a growing awareness that an equal danger might be chaos as a result of mass hunger,  economic disaster,  environmental catastrophes and terrorism.   So we should not think only of reducing traditional threats to peace,  but also of the need for change from chaos to order."

Christian Aid  (www.christianaid.org.uk)  has recently published a report,  in the form of an open letter to the British Prime Minister,  Tony Blair,  entitled  "Listen to Africa".   It documents the devastating effect that unbridled war,  violence,  rape and the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS is having on that continent,  to the appalling devastation of its people.

The causes are numerous and can be traced back for centuries.   But major distress is currently being caused by the practice of unfair trade that favours the wealthy countries of the world.   It is called  'free trade' ,  but the consequences are anything but free for those on whom the conditions are placed.

Take Ghana,  for example,  and its dismal tomato trade.   Tomatoes grow easily and cheaply in Northern Ghana.   Until 1989 there was a cannery at Pwulugi which bought the produce off the local growers.   The factory,  owned by a co–operative,  had received some subsidy from the government,  but in 1989 it was ordered to be sold,  in order to comply with the terms of aid and debt reduction demanded by the World Trade Organization.   It went up for sale,  but there have been no buyers.   Now no–one buys the tomatoes in the Pwulugi district,  and Ghana is now overwhelmed by imports of canned Italian tomatoes,  which are themselves subsidized.

The EU provides annual subsidies for tomato processing in southern Europe,  averaging 372 million euros  (almost $NZ750 million).   The Pwulugi cannery used to employ 60 permanent staff and 100 temporary workers when it was operating at full capacity,  and it contracted thousands of farmers in the surrounding area.   The land is now bare and the people are hungry.

We in New Zealand are familiar with the bizarre and contradictory rhetoric we hear from the United States about free trade.   We won a struggle over lamb subsidies,  but now subsidies on steel are in place.   If the new US Farm Bill is passed,  the US will also pay $US171 billion agricultural subsidies to its farmers.   These moves damage us,  but they amount to genocide in America.

The Western world,  and that includes New Zealand,  became rich on the back of trade,  which included the exploitation of Africa's natural and human resources.   African nations also need to trade if they are to develop,  and they need better access to our markets so they can trade with us.

Africa needs another sort of  "unfair trade"  —  it needs trade policies that explicitly and deliberately discriminate in its favour,  by permitting internal subsidies and granting access to European and North American markets and so on.   If Willy Brandt's vision of chaos is to be averted for Africa,  with unimaginable consequences for the whole world,  there must be a justice that is beyond fairness.

What we get now is the old story:  those who have the power to make the rules also have the power to break them. 

 This article was first published in the Otago Daily Times of June 4,  2002.
The Right Rev Dr Penny Jamieson is the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin.


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