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Congo president faults U.S. farm subsidies

(Friday, Nov. 7, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Steven A. Holmes, NY Times, 11/06/03: Though seeking further support from the Bush administration to help bolster his fragile government, Joseph Kabila, the president of Congo, criticized the United States this week for maintaining agricultural subsidies that harm farmers in his country.

"Most definitely, most definitely," Mr. Kabila, 32, said in an interview on Thursday when asked if American agriculture subsidies damage his country's farming sector.

"Most African nations depend on agriculture," he continued, growing animated. "They have to export in order to earn foreign currency to buy medicines and buy this and that."

"When there are these subsidies, what's the use of exporting? They won't be able to export,'' he said. "More or less, the local markets will be flooded. So what's the use of the farmers even producing when you can buy something from the U.S. cheaper at the local market?"

The issue of the $300 billion in annual agricultural subsidies handed out by governments in the developed world has taken on growing importance among leaders of developing countries, who complain that the aid is harming their farmers. The fight over subsidies is blamed for scuttling world trade talks in Cancún, Mexico, in September.

Mr. Kabila's views on subsidies came in an interview during his trip to Washington, where he met with President Bush. In that meeting, Mr. Kabila received a promise of continued American support for the peace agreement that has brought an end to decades of war in Congo.

The Bush administration also said it would provide humanitarian aid, including food and medicine, and assistance for resettlement of refugees and stemming the spread of AIDS, though the dollar amount has not yet been determined, Mr. Kabila said.

Mr. Kabila's meeting - his fourth in two years with Mr. Bush - underscored the growing stability of Congo since the peace agreement with rebels was signed earlier this year. Since the agreement was reached, rebel leaders have been brought into a government of national unity, elections have been scheduled for 2005 - Mr. Kabila, who assumed the presidency in 2001 after the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, is coy about whether he will run for president - and there is cautious talk that the country might one day be stable enough to draw the foreign investment to develop its resources, including diamonds and cobalt.

Mr. Kabila said that he also hoped stability would bring tourists to see his country's unspoiled wilderness, teeming with animal life.

"I believe that, with the stability that we are trying to put in place, tourism could be the second foreign earner in the Congo, second to the mining sector," Mr. Kabila said. "I've seen what nations in East Africa - Kenya, Tanzania - have been doing as far as tourism is concerned. But the Congo offers maybe three or four times what any other nation can offer, be it in ecotourism, be it in national parks, be it in just the environment."

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/07/business/worldbusiness/07congo.html