Trade: A Hunger Issue
Few people think of trade as a "hunger" issue. However, trade arrangements do more to determine whether millions live or starve than do food assistance and all other forms of aid combined. In 1973 poor countries earned a total of $109 billion in exports. That same year they received $9.4 billion in development assistance -- less than 10 percent of their exports. A doubling of aid might be worth less to those countries than a 10 percent improvement in their export earnings.
So crucial is trade to poor countries that aid, by comparison, has been called a "soft option" -- the easy way out. Lester B. Pearson, the late Prime Minister of Canada, once related to a UN official the pressure on a government to prefer that soft option:
You sit at the Cabinet table [he said in effect] and you tell your colleagues that country X, which we have helped before, has asked for another $Y million. The Minister of Finance, to whom you appeal, agrees that he might perhaps be able to oblige with the necessary funds, but the Minister of Trade intervenes and asks whether it would not be more helpful to assist the exports of country X by allowing duty free entry to Z million shirts. There is an immediate protest from the Minister of Labour, who foresees trouble. You hesitate, and, in the end, you settle for the softer option. You give country X another $Y million, not forgetting that it used some of the previous aid funds to establish a shirt factory for the export trade.1