Lay Down Your Farms


President George Bush gave a speech yesterday to the United Nations. On the global poverty front, he talked about Tony Blair's Millenium Project, about tying aid to anti-corruption efforts, about fighting AIDS and malaria and the Avian Flu, about debt relief … and then came five inspiring paragraphs about how "the elimination of trade barriers could lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the next 15 years." Excerpt:

We must tear down the walls that separate the developed and developing worlds. We need to give the citizens of the poorest nations the same ability to access the world economy that the people of wealthy nations have, so they can offer their goods and talents on the world market alongside everyone else. We need to ensure that they have the same opportunities to pursue their dreams, provide for their families, and live lives of dignity and self-reliance.

And the greatest obstacles to achieving these goals are the tariffs and subsidies and barriers that isolate people of developing nations from the great opportunities of the 21st century.

This grand song, which he's sung before, was lashed to the unlovely and torturous Doha Round of world trade negotiations. But as Andres Martinez (Michael Kinsley's replacement at the L.A. Times) points out, if cheaply:

Bush didn't wait for France to sign off on the invasion of Iraq; he certainly shouldn't wait for France to sign off on a dismantling of U.S. farm subsidies that give domestic cotton, rice, sugar and other crops an unfair leg up in global competition. Waiting around for Europe and Japan to accept trade liberalization in agricultural goods could be a decades-long exercise. Besides, it is an abdication of American leadership.

Expanding trade around the world, Bush rightly said Wednesday, "would strike a blow against the terrorists who feed on anger and resentment." By uncharacteristically refusing to act unilaterally on this one, the Bush administration is not only undermining the global economy, it's refusing to shore up U.S. national security.