Sir, - Dr David Dendy's letter (
18 March) was interesting and challenging. He makes some important points,
particularly relating to the import costs involved in local production and
distribution. Many other essential points, however, were missed.
Justice is never simple, not least in matters of trade. Individual and local
responsibility, and governmental actions, and international agreements and the
way in which they are implemented all play a part. Human wickedness, greed, and
self-interest also come into the picture.
During our recent visit to Senegal, we were struck, above all, by the
powerlessness felt by many local producers. The factors making for this sense
are many: natural disasters, such as the drought that has been almost endemic
since the early 1970s, and the most recent plague of locusts; the inconsistency
of international regulations (the countermanding by financial lenders of import
tariffs allowed by trade rules); subsidies, direct and indirect, paid to
producers in wealthy countries; local governments' lack of vision or
understanding; and corruption at various levels.
To these problems must be added inadequate investment in the technology of
production, storage, and distribution - a problem to which Dr Dendy's examples
It remains to be seen whether a completely liberalised international market
will ultimately prove to be the best option. Even some of the countries that
speak most loudly in favour of it continue to distort the free market in favour
of their own producers. Perhaps they do not really believe in it, after all.
The playing-field is anything but level, and current international trade
policies seem unlikely to make it so. However much we may argue about
particular details, there remains a desperate need to address these problems as
a whole, and to make sure as best we can that these economies are ready when
they open up their markets.
If the recommendations of the Commission for Africa were wholeheartedly
embraced, this would make a significant contribution to overcoming what
currently seems to be an insurmountable obstacle.
JOHN HIND, MICHAEL LANGRISH, TONY ROBINSON
C/o The Palace, Chichester
West Sussex PO19 1PY