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Former President Clinton Calls Free Trade Farm Policies 'A Mistake'

Two haitian men unpack sacks of fertilizer near a rice field in the Artibonite valley in central Haiti (File)
Two haitian men unpack sacks of fertilizer near a rice field in the Artibonite valley in central Haiti (File)

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton says the free-trade agriculture policies he supported as president were a mistake. Many critics blame these policies for contributing to Haiti's hunger problems.  As president, Clinton backed trade policies that opened developing world countries to farm products from the United States.

Critics say the subsidies industrialized countries pay to their farmers create unfair competition for developing-world farmers, driving many out of business and leaving those countries at risk of hunger.

At a news conference in Port-au-Prince Monday, Clinton said when he helped Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide return to power in 1994, Clinton also signed legislation that increased the flow of cheap American rice into Haiti.

But now, he says, "I think it was a mistake. I think it was part of a global trend that was wrong-headed."

Clinton says the theory behind that global trend was that wealthy countries could provide poorer countries with cheaper food than their farmers could grow.  That would lead poor countries to skip directly to industrialization. But Clinton says, once he left office and saw the effects of that policy on farmers in developing countries, he changed his mind.

"It is unrealistic to expect that a country can totally obliterate its capacity to feed itself and just skip a stage of development," he says. "It seems almost laughable now that we ever thought it."

He says his charitable foundation is now increasing funding for seeds and fertilizer to help developing-world farmers improve their productivity.

Clinton was on a joint visit to Haiti with former President George W. Bush to assess the country's recovery needs and to help with fundraising.

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