At this week’s ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong, negotiators have once again hit an impasse over how and when to open the rich world’s agricultural markets to farmers in the poorest countries. What few people have realized, however, is that poor countries don’t have to wait for the World Trade Organization. There is plenty that they can and should do to help their own farmers to trade.
Imagine a dream scenario in which the trade ministers emerge from their negotiations this weekend holding hands and proclaiming an end to all agricultural protectionism. What then?
For, say, a banana picker in the Central African Republic, not a lot. The trade barriers at the borders of the rich world may have disappeared, but if our picker wants to sell his bananas abroad he first has to get them onto a ship bound for America or Europe. That takes 116 days, and an incredible 38 signatures - each one an opportunity for some official to collect a bribe. Something is rotten here, and not just the bananas.