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This is a joint post with Kaci Farrell.

Later this month, world leaders will meet at the UN in New York City to discuss accomplishments and challenges to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 target. While their discussions will cover a range of topics and strategies, summit participants should remember the importance of trade as a development tool.

Trade preference programs can encourage investment, promote prosperity and ultimately reduce poverty in the world’s least developed countries.

Specifically, rich countries should provide duty-free, quota-free access to the poorest countries’ exports, as recommended in the eighth MDG and by the CGD Working Group on Global Trade Preference Reform.

The working group’s final report demonstrates that rich countries are still lagging on this commitment. The table below shows the current state of play in five major markets. While the U.S. African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) provides 98% product coverage to beneficiary countries, the United States could (and should!) expand access to the least developed countries outside of Africa.

tradepreferenceprograms

While some developing countries are making impressive progress toward many of the MDGs (see our colleague Ben Leo’s MDG Progress Index), rich country trade policies are impeding their achievements. Trade preference programs have an unparalleled ability to help spur economic development in the poorest countries, including  Haiti and Afghanistan and Yemen. In New York and beyond, world leaders should commit to utilizing trade preference programs to realize the MDGs and give a critical boost to those most in need.