May 23, 2011

Agricultural Policies: Bill Clinton Recants on the Washington Consensus

From Democracy Now and Haitian journalist Kim Ives, an interview with Bill Clinton in 2010 in which he laments the role his administration played in forcing down rice tariffs in Haiti--a step that, according to Democracy Now, "wiped out Haitian rice farming and seriously damaged Haiti's ability to be self-sufficient."

At a donors conference the month before the interview, Clinton said the following:
Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so . . . they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. . . .
Clinton subsequently said that Robert Zoellick, the head of the World Bank, also saw the folly of the agricultural policies foisted on poor nations in the name of free trade: "it’s failed everywhere it’s been tried. And you just can’t take the food chain out of production. And it also undermines a lot of the culture, the fabric of life, the sense of self-determination. And I have been involved for several years in agricultural products, principally in Rwanda, Malawi, other places in Africa, and now increasingly in Latin America, and I see this. . . .[W]e made this devil’s bargain on rice. And it wasn’t the right thing to do. We should have continued to work to help them be self-sufficient in agriculture."

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