Page 2 of 2   <      

Trade and Aid: Stars Are Aligned

That could really change stuff. In the run-up to the Group of Eight summit in Scotland last summer, Pitt got Africa onto Diane Sawyer's "Primetime Live" for a full hour by offering himself up for an interview. His effort reinforced those of the rock stars who staged the "Live 8" concerts just before the summit, and it embarrassed the rich world into promising more aid. The hope is to repeat that trick on behalf of the Doha round of trade talks, which currently are stuck. France leads a pack of rich nations that refuse to cut the farm protectionism that harms poor nations.

Trade could use this sort of backing. Business groups that once lobbied energetically for freer trade have lost some of their passion, because past trade deals have already removed many of the barriers that bugged them. So now Pitt and his allies must ride to the rescue. DATA, the activist outfit that sponsored Pitt's tutorials, has convinced development groups that traditionally ignored trade that they should sign on to a pro-Doha platform. American religious leaders, who have long campaigned for Third World debt relief, are planning to use a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next week to lobby for trade liberalization. Rice's visitors will speak for some 80 million Americans, and Brad Pitt alone has almost as many fans. Sect appeal plus sex appeal becomes the new trade lobby.

And yet there are some worries. Campaigning for trade is more complex than campaigning for aid, because trade creates losers as well as winners. Some poor countries currently benefit from preferential access to rich markets -- preferences that would disappear if these markets were opened to everyone. Other poor countries are net food importers, so cutting rich-world farm subsidies and driving up food prices would hurt them. Still other poor countries stand to gain from trade, but some of their people would get hurt: If India cuts its rice tariffs, urban consumers will gain but rice farmers will suffer. Then there are the environmental and worker-rights questions that Pitt raised in his tutorials. As the idol put it Friday, trade can be a little "fuzzy."

This may cause the activists to flinch from real trade advocacy. Rather than pushing for the deepest liberalization possible, they may push for seemingly more appealing goals: side deals on commodities that are important to Africa, such as cotton, or a deal that puts the onus on rich countries to open their markets without demanding that developing countries reciprocate. But rich countries aren't likely to make deep concessions on cotton outside the context of a broader trade deal that includes prizes for them. And much of the benefit to poor countries from freer trade would come from cuts in their own tariffs.

If you are going to be for trade, you have

to accept that there'll be winners and losers, always remembering that the gains will be bigger. According to the World Bank, complete trade liberalization would enrich developing countries to the tune of $135 billion a year, more than these countries receive annually

in aid and much, much more than they stand

to gain from debt relief. If Pitt and his friends feel fuzzy about trade, that's the number to remember.

mallabys@washpost.com


<       2

© 2005 The Washington Post Company