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The rhetorical link between trade and development is strong, but the reality leaves something to be desired. On paper, the world’s poorest countries receive preferential access to the U.S. market; in practice, many do not. The United States is rightly praised for giving Haiti preferential access for most of its exports and for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides eligible poor countries duty-free access for everything but sugar, peanuts, and a few other products. But least developed countries (LDCs) in Asia—including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, and Yemen—are effectively excluded from U.S. preference programs.
American excuses for not improving market access for all LDCs range from the impact on the Doha Round of international trade negotiations to lost jobs in the United States and Africa. These excuses, however, do not stand up to scrutiny. With the Doha Round dead if not buried, the United States has no excuse for not acting on its rhetoric and providing improved market access for all of the world’s least developed countries. President Obama should ask Congress to act on it in 2012.