Three bishops respond to Dr Dendy

02 November 2006


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 point.

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.
C/o The Palace, Chichester
West Sussex PO19 1PY

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