New World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has wrapped up a visit to Burkina Faso, as part of his first trip to Africa since taking over as head of the international financial body. During the visit, he called for reducing agricultural subsidies that he said handicap countries like Burkina Faso, a top cotton producer.
In his final statement before leaving Burkina Faso after a two-day stay, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz pointed to two areas that he says need international encouragement: more equality and better healthcare.
Mr. Wolfowitz said, as the bank's new chief, he is ready to help the West African nation achieve these goals, and he commended lender countries on taking the first step.
"I understand all of this takes money. And I am committed to getting more money for these efforts. And I am delighted at the agreement in London to push for the cancellation of debts for some of the poorest countries, including Burkina Faso," he said.
The world's wealthiest countries agreed earlier this week to cancel more than $40 billion in debt owed by 18 of the worlds poorest nations.
But on a visit to a cotton-processing plant Tuesday, Mr. Wolfowitz said more needed to be done to put developing countries on a level playing field. He said an important step would be the elimination of subsidies in rich countries.
"The key to tackling those subsidies is tackling agricultural subsidies across the board. And there is a round of international trade negotiations called the Doha Round. There will be an important meeting this fall in Hong Kong and the World Bank will be represented there and we will have a strong voice in favor of reducing subsidies worldwide," he said.
Burkina Faso is Central and West Africa's largest cotton exporter. But subsidies meant to help farmers in developed countries have pushed down the price of cotton on the world market, making it harder for countries like Burkina Faso to compete.
A recent World Trade Organization complaint charged the United States, which is the world's-largest cotton producer, spends around $4 billion annually on cotton subsidies.
The head of the Sofitex textile company, Celestin Tiendreojo, said he has confidence in Mr. Wolfowitz's pledge to put an end to the kinds of subsidies that handicap developing nations.
"Very, very happy for us to have this meeting with the World Bank president. I think he knows our difficulties in our cotton production," he said. "Many problems, I think he is very sensitive about it."
Mr. Wolfowitz, a former deputy defense secretary, was named World Bank president this month. He began his Africa trip in Nigeria. From Burkina Faso, Mr. Wolfowitz will travel to Rwanda before finishing up in South Africa next week.