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Bush lashes out at Europe

(Thursday, May 22, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Dana Milbank, Washington Post: NEW LONDON, Conn., May 21 -- President Bush today accused Europeans of perpetuating starvation in Africa by subsidizing agricultural exports and by objecting to the use of bioengineered crops, raising another grievance with Europe at a time of already tense transatlantic relations.

The president, who embarks on a trip to the continent next week, leveled his accusations against European governments in a speech to graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy here that was intended to showcase humanitarian efforts by his administration. For the first time raising the highly sensitive issue of Europeans' deep opposition to genetically altered foods, Bush said well-intentioned American efforts to reduce hunger in Africa have been thwarted by European policies.

"By widening the use of new high-yield bio-crops and unleashing the power of markets, we can dramatically increase agricultural productivity and feed more people across the continent," Bush said in a commencement address on the drizzly west bank of the Thames River. "Yet, our partners in Europe are impeding this effort. They have blocked all new bio-crops because of unfounded, unscientific fears."

Bush said Europeans, by closing their markets to bioengineered foods, have caused African nations to avoid investments in such crops. "European governments should join -- not hinder -- the great cause of ending hunger in Africa," he said. Accusing those who subsidize agricultural exports of preventing poor countries from developing their own crops, he added: "I propose that all developed nations, including our partners in Europe, immediately eliminate subsidies on agricultural exports to developing countries so that they can produce more food to export and more food to feed their own people."

By making the challenges to Europeans before the meetings of the Group of Eight leaders in Evian, France, Bush significantly escalated a food fight with European governments, which have been resisting genetically altered crops in the face of broad public opposition. Earlier this month, the United States and several other countries filed a lawsuit with the World Trade Organization complaining about a 5-year-old European moratorium on bioengineered crops.

The administration said it acted because Europeans had not met promises to repeal the ban. The European Union, which said it was moving toward new rules, called the suit "legally unwarranted, economically unfounded and politically unhelpful." In an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal today, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick expanded on the accusation, writing of the "dangerous effect" of the EU policy, in which "some famine-stricken African countries refused U.S. food aid because of fabricated fears -- stoked by irresponsible rhetoric -- about food safety."

Bush's complaint about European agriculture subsidies elevated a contentious element of the current round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Europeans complain that while the United States has few export subsidies, U.S. subsidies take the form of domestic farm aid and donated international food aid.

Bush's accusation that Europeans are hobbling anti-hunger efforts was part of a 26-minute speech in front of nearly 200 graduating cadets that blended a defiant note against terrorism with a recitation of the "compassion" in U.S. foreign policy. Bush invoked a humanitarian rationale for foreign policy, listing his administration's policy initiatives on AIDS, hunger and foreign aid in a manner typical of President Bill Clinton and reciting the words of another Democratic president who championed a moral foreign policy.

"President Woodrow Wilson said, 'America has a spiritual energy in her which no other nation can contribute to the liberation of mankind,' " Bush told the graduates, with the Coast Guard tall ship Barque Eagle, a Nazi naval vessel taken as a war reparation, serving as his backdrop. "In this new century, we must apply that energy to the good of people everywhere."

Drawing a line from World War II to the present, Bush traced a moral foreign policy. "We are the nation that liberated continents and concentration camps," he said. "We are the nation of the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift and the Peace Corps. We are the nation that ended the oppression of Afghan women, and we are the nation that closed the torture chambers of Iraq."

The White House announced a new initiative, Volunteers for Prosperity, in which doctors, engineers and other professionals could take assignments of weeks or months to do humanitarian projects in countries of their choice. Aides said the initiative, to be funded largely with private money, would address excess demand for positions in the Peace Corps, which allows volunteers to take only long-term projects.

Bush's appearance in New London -- he speaks at one service academy graduation annually -- came during the Coast Guard's first year under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, and the department secretary, Tom Ridge, introduced Bush. After a 21-gun salute that activated car alarms, Bush declared "good progress" in battling terrorism. "Nearly one-half of al Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed," he said.

Democrats used Bush's address to the Coast Guard to call for more funding for border security. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), a presidential candidate, said that Bush's 2004 budget has no new funds for "basic port security" and that the Coast Guard needs more money to modernize. "The administration has failed to make the necessary hard choices, and that leaves our waterways vulnerable to future terrorist violence," he said in a statement.

Bush hailed the military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq but acknowledged the limits of the progress against terrorism. Speaking a day after his administration increased the terrorism alert level to "high risk," Bush spoke of recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. "Our country has been attacked by treachery in our own cities -- and that treachery continues in places like Riyadh and Casablanca," he said. "We have seen the ruthless intentions of our enemies."

Bush is beginning an intense period of diplomacy, beginning Friday with a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at the presidential ranch in Texas. In addition to traveling to France for the G-8 meetings soon, Bush will go to Russia and Poland, and the White House is considering adding a stop in the Middle East, including a visit with U.S. troops in Kuwait or a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Administration officials said they were still in the planning stages and had made no final decisions on where Bush might go or whom he might meet. Bush is anxious to demonstrate his commitment to moving the Middle East peace process forward.