Trading with the poor Feb04

Millions of people continue to suffer from a lack of access to water, the inability to grow food on barren land and the daily struggle to prevent the death of their children from curable diseases. Almost 10,000 die every day in sub-Saharan Africa although this fact rarely hits our TV screens.


Last month, I attended the 7th ACP(African, Caribbean, Pacific)-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The JPA offers a platform to analyse and formulate policies that can help solve the problems of economic development, mutual trade and good governance in developing countries.


While millions of unsubsidised peasant cotton farmers in Benin, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali depend on the export revenue of their cotton, massive government subsidies allow US and Chinese cotton farmers to dump their produce on world markets. Similarly, subsidised sugar from Brazil depresses world prices and deprives peasant farmers in Sudan, Malawi and Tanzania. For their rural populations, declining commodity prices precipitate a sharp fall in income leading to civic unrest and political conflict, yet the ACP governments continue to export commodities without realising the higher value added which could be derived from processing these products.


During the meeting, Commissioner Nielson highlighted that substantial funds in the European Development Fund (EDF) remain undistributed due to the continued internal conflict, lack of good governance and inadequate provision for human rights in some ACP beneficiary countries. Future EDF funding would depend on efficient and timely use of existing funds.


At present, the poor spend all their working lives in search of water and energy. There is no time for work and creating wealth. Poverty can be substantially reduced if we help developing countries with the infrastructure to provide the basic needs of life - access to water and renewable energy based on solar, wind and water resources. Such access will free them to exploit their natural resources. With our help, they can process their commodities to produce higher value goods that can be sold both on domestic and world markets.