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Treating Food Like Color TVs

Even former President Bill Clinton is voicing concerns that the current international trade model poses significant risks for economic and food security in the developing world.

The Associated Press reports:

Former President Clinton told a U.N. gathering Thursday that the global food crisis shows "we all blew it, including me," by treating food crops "like color TVs" instead of as a vital commodity for the world's poor.

Clinton criticized decades of policymaking by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and others, encouraged by the U.S., that pressured Africans in particular into dropping government subsidies for fertilizer, improved seed and other farm inputs as a requirement to get aid. Africa's food self-sufficiency declined and food imports rose.

Now skyrocketing prices in the international grain trade — on average more than doubling between 2006 and early 2008 — have pushed many in poor countries deeper into poverty.

Indeed, many countries have become net food importers over the neoliberal period, and are already being slammed by an increase in food prices brought on by the ethanol boom and weather disruptions. According to World Bank data, in 2005, after a decade of the WTO, 103 countries were net food importers, a figure that was at least 19 more than in 1991, prior to the conclusion of the Uruguay Round. These World Bank estimates include unstable nations like China, the Philippines, Pakistan and Nigeria - all of whom were previously food self-sufficient. At least 14 additional countries - like Haiti and Mozambique - were self sufficient in 1981, before structural-adjustment policies were adopted.  Additionally, some poor countries like Sierra Leone and Haiti are spending well over half of their export revenues just to finance food imports.

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This bodes well for progressive policy, as proponents of neoliberalism like Clinton and Greenspan say their collective 'oopsie daisies.' But I remain rather unsettled about what will actually happen to the people of Haiti, Sierra Leone, and other nations in the Global South who must actually endure the consequences of the Global North's policy failures. And ethanol is still mucking things up in this market, right? And means by which U.S. aid is still more or less determined by energy companies (so instead of funding a suffering nation's farmers, we fund our own and schlep the corn and twinkies overseas), right? While I'm glad Clinton is finally coming around to fair trade, I'm tempted to think of this as too little, too late.

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