Bill Clinton: Pushing Free Trade On Haiti Was A 'Mistake' That Contributed To Hunger

As I've noted before, Haiti's earthquake recovery problems were exacerbated by the economic and trade policies pushed on them by the United States.

As I've noted before, Haiti's earthquake recovery problems were exacerbated by the economic and trade policies pushed on them by the United States. Now Bill Clinton has admitted as much:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The earthquake not only smashed markets, collapsed warehouses and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat. It may also have shaken up the way the developing world gets food.

Decades of inexpensive imports - especially rice from the U.S. - punctuated with abundant aid in various crises have destroyed local agriculture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to feed themselves.

While those policies have been criticized for years in aid worker circles, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that loosening trade barriers has only exacerbated hunger in Haiti and elsewhere.

They're led by former U.S. President Bill Clinton - now U.N. special envoy to Haiti - who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice.

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."

Clinton and former President George W. Bush, who are spearheading U.S. fundraising for Haiti, arrive Monday in Port-au-Prince. Then comes a key Haiti donors' conference on March 31 at the United Nations in New York.

Those opportunities present the country with its best chance in decades to build long-term food production, and could provide a model for other developing countries struggling to feed themselves.

"A combination of food aid, but also cheap imports have ... resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming, and that has to be reversed," U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press. "That's a global phenomenon, but Haiti's a prime example. I think this is where we should start."

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