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A few weeks ago I applauded the release of a very useful report from the General Accountability Office on the extra budgetary and timeliness costs associated with how U.S. food aid is delivered—in kind and mostly on U.S.-flagged ships.
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on June 5, 2009.
According to a testimony before congress yesterday and a new Government Accountability Office report, congressional restrictions on U.S. food aid raise the costs of delivering it by as much as a third and delay it reaching hungry people by up to 100 days. When donors purchase food locally or regionally, it not only gets to needy people faster and more cheaply, it may also better match local preferences and nutrition needs. Yet, in the midst of last year’s global food price crisis, Congress passed a farm bill that continued the long-standing practice of requiring that food aid be purchased in the United States and that 75 percent of it be delivered by U.S.-flagged ships.
When I was writing my book, Delivering on Doha: Farm Trade and the Poor, I came across a 2004 poll showing that Americans, including in farm states, support subsidies only for small farmers and only in bad years. Last week, another poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland was released showing that attitudes haven’t changed. The reality, as I discussed in my book, is that the top 20 percent of recipients receive 80 percent of all payments.
Would a “Crisis Round” of trade talks launched at the London Summit next week be a useful mechanism for averting a further beggar-thy-neighbor protectionism? My colleague Arvind Subramanian and his frequent co-author, World Bank economist Aaditya Mattoo, think so. They argued for such a move in an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal Asia earlier this week (A Crisis Calls for a Crisis Round):