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Europe

EU Hits Out at UN and USA Over Food Aid

A dispute between Washington and Brussels over food aid to poor countries intensified on Tuesday when the EU's trade chief accused the UN of backing American agricultural policies at the expense of the developing world.

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The EU believes that food aid should not be used as a farming subsidy for rich countries

European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson on Tuesday lashed out at a United Nations relief agency, accusing it of backing US agriculture policies which critics say undercut farmers in poor countries.

Mandelson criticized the UN World Food Program for an advertisement in the Financial Times saying that millions of people who rely on food aid in developing countries had no say at the World Trade Organization meeting here.

EU-Kommissar Peter Mandelson

EU Trade Commisioner Mandelson is pushing for reforms in global farm trade

"I find it shocking that United Nations agencies should be financing an advertisement in the Financial Times that is designed to support the United States' trade-distorting policies on food aid," Mandelson told reporters.

The United States is under fire from critics who say that many of its food aid programs are a disguised way of subsidizing American farmers to offload their produce in poor countries, which in turn stops the developing world's agricultural sector from competing fairly.

Unfair competition

Such food aid donations have come under scrutiny during the Doha Round of WTO negotiations, which were launched in 2001 with the aim of tearing down barriers to global commerce and using freer trade to reduce poverty.

Supporters of change want food aid in kind to be replaced by cash donations -- already the European Union's policy -- allowing the purchase of more supplies in the developing countries, and thereby boosting their economies.

The EU wants Washington to make good on a 2004 promise made in an interim WTO deal that was meant to lead to reforms in global farm trade, for example by ending unfair help for exporters in rich countries.

A European obsession?

WTO Gespräche in Genf Rob Portman

US trade representative Rob Portman thinks the Europeans are "obsessed" with food aid

US Trade Representative Rob Portman, who has in turn been pressing the EU to slash its import duties on farm goods, has accused Mandelson of being "obsessed" with the food aid issue, but the EU trade chief rejected that claim.

"I find it surprising that a commitment made by the United States in the framework agreement last year to reform food aid ... should now be described as an obsession of the European Union," he said.

"Food aid for emergency relief can be a tool to advance development and for humanitarian relief but the large structured US program of food aid in kind is designed in reality to give support to US agricultural producers," he said.

"Statistics show that the volume of this aid is directly related to the price shifts for the commodities concerned on the US market," he added.

Last week, the heads of the World Food Program and UNICEF, plus the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called on WTO negotiators to ensure food aid is protected.

They said it would be even harder to get cash donations at a time when donations of food in kind are already slipping.

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