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June 19, 2011

US farm subsidies cuts unlikely to benefit African farmers

by Gemma Ware

Q&A by with Ambassador Ron Kirk, US Trade Representative before the recent AGOA meeting in Lusaka, Zambia.

...(AGOA) has substantially increased trade between the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa, but when you dig into that though, we are a little bit sobered by the reality that 90 per cent of the commerce under AGOA is still petroleum-related.

Of some 6,000 products that are eligible under AGOA our utilisation rate is probably less than 10 per cent. The challenge we think is an opportunity to help many of the AGOA eligible countries diversify away from oil and begin to look at more value-added products and really spur job growth, increase exports and attack poverty.

Q: On 31 May the House Appropriations Committee agreed a deal to cut back on farm subsidies in the US, something African producers claim have been a huge burden on them. Is this a signal of something larger to come and is it good news for African producers?

Ron Kirk: We understand that for many in Africa see US or European Union agricultural policy as acting to the detriment of poor farmers, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of poor farmers in the world are agrarian farmers. They operate on less than a hectare of land, they produce just barely enough to feed their families.

Even if the United States should hypothetically do away with all agricultural export subsidies, its hard for me to conceive a world in which one farmer with a hectare of land is all of a sudden going to become a global competitor, particularly if we can’t address the dire need for improving infrastructure within Africa.

In order to successfully compete globally, you have to have a strong ports system, a strong aviation system, a strong railroad and transportation system to get goods… from farm to market. The sad reality is that in many countries that is lacking.

The issue of the United States attacking export subsidies is just one part of the equation. In order to strengthen the export competitiveness of farmers in Africa, I think we have to take a more holistic look at all the other investments that are required to make that leap.

full interview...The Africa Report

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