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US Presidential Candidates Support Expanded Trade with Developing World


Both candidates in the U.S. presidential election say they would like to expand trade with the developing world by opening the country's markets to foreign goods. They are also calling for an end to trade barriers that prevent U.S. products and investments in emerging markets. VOA's William Eagle reports from Washington.

The 2008 Republican Party platform builds on several policies that have enjoyed the support of the Bush administration. They include the African Growth and Opportunity Act, an effort to increase African exports to the United States by eliminating trade barriers. Another is the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which makes aid to a developing country conditional on a record of good economic and political governance. The MCC has committed more than $6 billion dollars to 18 countries in the form of multi-year grants to improve their economies. Eleven of those are in Africa.

J. Peter Pham is the director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University outside Washington. He is also an advisor to the Republican Party on African issues. Pham says a McCain presidency would build on the success of these programs, which have been part of the party's platforms during the past eight years.

A Strong Record

"In the platform of 2000, AGOA was supported," Pham explains, "though it was an initiative that had been begun under Clinton. The Republican Congress subsequently renewed and extended it. The platform also called for new aid mechanisms that reward [a country's] progress on objective indicators [such as good governance and economic reform]. [That effort led to the creation of] the Millennium Challenge Corporation, [which makes development] funds available to countries that show significant progress."

The Democratic Party platform also supports these programs. Witney W. Schneidman is an unofficial advisor on Africa to the campaign of Barack Obama. He was also the deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration. Schneidman says the Democratic Party's platform includes improving financial support for the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

"There are many who think [the MCC] is a good idea but has underperformed," says Schnedman. " A number of commitments have been made but it has been slow in getting resources out the door. That will have to be looked at - how we can accelerate the MCC's impact on the continent."

Schneidman says Senator Obama favors establishing what is called an Add Value to Agriculture Initiative, which would work with land-grant institutions, private philanthropies and businesses to promote innovation in global food production. The initiative would, among other things, work for improved irrigation methods, seeds and fertilizers for farmers in the developing world.

A Focus on Trade

The Democratic Party platform emphasizes enforceable international labor and environmental standards. Both parties also support a cap and trade program, which sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions, but also allows for the sale of rights to excess emissions.

Senator Obama says he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to include labor and environment reform, and he says he is opposed to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Senator McCain says he wants to expand free trade and says renegotiating NAFTA would lead to more trade barriers. He says he supports the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The Republican Party platform says the prosperity of U.S. farmers depends on open markets, noting that U.S. agricultural exports will top $100 billion this year.

Cutting Subsidies

J. Peter Pham notes that Senator McCain is in favor of cutting U.S. subsidies to American farmers, a demand made by many developing countries. Those countries complain that government support to U.S. and European farmers gives Western products an unfair advantage in world markets. They say as a result, African farmers cannot compete against cheaper Western imports, even in their own market places.

"Senator McCain has not hidden the fact that he opposes farm subsidies," says Pham. He was one of 22 senators to vote against the current agriculture bill. His position is quite clear. Republicans from agricultural states will beg to differ, and they will have to work out language that states the party's position in a way that is acceptable to suit both the candidate and to the majority of the party."

Pham says U.S. cotton farmers receive up to $5 billion in government subsidies. Ending them, he says, would boost the incomes of West Africa's cotton producers by more than 10 percent. He adds, for example, that would add $40 million to the economy of Burkina Faso, a country that receives more than $15 million a year in U.S. foreign assistance.

Climate Change

The Republican Party platform favors an approach to climate change that emphasizes technology-driven and market-based solutions to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and to improve energy efficiency. Senator McCain told a conference on the global economy in May that he plans to help developing countries by sharing American technologies and supporting micro-banking programs. He has also proposed a Climate Prize worth millions of dollars to scientists who contribute solutions to climate change.

The Democratic Party platform says an Obama administration would work to include the largest carbon-emitting nations to join a new Global Energy Forum to create the next generation of climate protocols. It also calls for the complete cancellation of debt to the world's heavily indebted poor countries.

The platform says a Democratic administration would set up a fund to provide seed capital and technical assistance to small and medium enterprises in the developing world. Observers note that world economic turmoil may lead the candidates to reconsider their priorities, including economic assistance to the developing world.