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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2006
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EDITORIAL

U.S. contribution helps its poorer trading partners

A U.S. commitment to contribute $100,000 to help impoverished countries study and implement international standards on food safety and animal and plant health is a meaningful step toward a better world.

The World Trade Organization is all about lowering trade barriers between nations. Many times those barriers pose economic inefficiencies, but have no moral significance. Battles between Europe's Airbus and America's Boeing involve lots of dollars, but no one is likely to starve on either side of the Atlantic with or without trade barriers.

Morality does play a role, however, when the issue is trade between poor and wealthy nations. U.S. subsidies and tariffs on cotton, sugar and many other crops are literally fatal to impoverished farmers in West Africa and South America. Subsidies to U.S. farmers, who already have a massive technological advantage, permit our farmers to undersell the crops produced in already destitute nations.

One of the main arguments for erecting trade barriers that prevent developing nations from exporting goods involves safety. Especially when the product is food, the United States justifies trade barriers by claiming the food fails to meet health standards. Often the claim is specious, but sometimes it is legitimate.

If developing and least developed nations cannot demonstrate their exports' safety, market opportunities disappear. They must be able to meet the demands of importing countries' rules on food safety, or animal or plant health.

Which is where the U.S. contribution comes in. The $100,000 is a drop in the bucket, but it is a well-aimed drop. Like giving a poor man a fishing pole instead of a fish, the creation of clear and attainable standards gives those in impoverished nations a fighting chance at long-term sustenance.

More contributions would be good, but any contribution sends the message that, at least when it comes to the poorest nations, the United States is sincere in its desire for free trade.

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