THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Sea Island, Georgia)
For Immediate Release
June 9, 2004
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON DEVELOPMENT ISSUES
International Media Center
4:32 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. We'd like to bring you up to date on a very important development agenda that the leaders will be talking about tomorrow. One of the very important initiatives that President Bush has shown leadership on is addressing the food security needs of the world. The United States is the largest provider of emergency food assistance, and we're also the champion of agricultural development, and have been working both bilaterally and with the World Bank to increase the amount of resources for agricultural development.
What we are trying to do this year is to break the cycle of the famine in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, where there are 5 million people who are really on the edge of starvation at any point in time. We're working with the Ethiopian government on a comprehensive agricultural reform program, including land reform.
We're also working on the emergency response system, whereby the industrial countries can do a better job of ensuring that we understand food emergencies, and that we're able to move food quickly and effectively to those who need it most. Finally, we'd like to create a second green revolution, this time one that's focused on the needs of Africa that helps African scientists develop crop -- pest-resistance and drought-resistance forms of crops that will help address hunger and raise incomes in rural areas.
The second initiative that we want to talk about is the very important issue of fighting corruption and fighting transparency. The President of the World Bank and others have highlighted the fact that corruption is one of the major obstacles to development. The G8 recognizes that we have a responsibility to work with developing countries to combat corruption. We have taken a leadership role in promoting the OECD Anti-bribery Initiative, and in negotiating the United States Convention on Corruption. We are working hard to help developing countries identify and recover and return to their own countries any proceeds that former corrupt leaders may have essentially stolen and shipped outside of the country.
This year we have a very important set of compacts that we're coming forward with, with developing countries that are really trying to turn the corner on corruption. We have negotiated compacts with Georgia, Nicaragua, Peru, and Nigeria. These compacts set out the commitments that our partner countries are prepared to make for transparency in their budget, in their procurement systems, and in the way that they award concessions in their natural resource sectors. They also set out the G8 commitments.
Finally, they set out a plan for implementing things like technical assistance and other forms of support that the G8 countries can provide, because we recognize that walking the path of economic reform and promoting integrity in government is hard work, it's been difficult and sometimes dangerous path to walk, and we want to make sure that the full weight of the G8 is behind those leaders who are prepared to walk that path.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just have one comment to make with regard to the famine and food security proposal. I think that this is an excellent example of moving from individual action to joint action. In response to the famine through the years, the donor community has provided food aid and cash and has been somewhat coordinated through the World Food Program.
But what's happening here is an agreement with the government of Ethiopia to develop an agriculture strategy. And in doing so, each member of the G8 and the government of Sudan are looking at the ways in which they can assure a safety net for those who need a safety net, and can coordinate cash for work and coordinate other ways for bringing about a change so that we're not continually in the cycle that my colleague talked about.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we can just go ahead and take Q&A now.
Q Would you be able to give us some specifics as to what the strategy would be to try to attain food security in the Horn?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I can give you some of the elements, and they're spelled out in more detail in the paper that we're going to be releasing tomorrow. I touched already on the Ethiopian government's effort to promote greater land tenure. This is a country where farmers really don't have property rights, and therefore, they don't have the incentive to make improvements in their land. The government has a plan to move forward on that, and the G8 countries are prepared to support that plan.
We also want to work with the Ethiopian government on such things as making sure that credit is available for farmers. We want to work on something called a productive safety net, which is really making sure that families that are on the edge and may have a hunger problem, not because of an absolute inavailability of food, but just because their resources are so threadbare that they can't really afford to get access to food all the time, that we have a plan for helping them achieve viable economic lives.
I only add one point that really goes back to what my colleague was saying. This is an example of how the international community has rallied around the Poverty Reduction Strategy Program, or PRSP, and said, let's start trying to work effectively together, better than we've done before. Let's work on things like strengthening rural roads and infrastructure. Let's follow this plan and concert our efforts. And that's what's been -- and that's what's going on, that's what's been going on.
Q Could you give us any estimate of the cost for the proposed food program and whether or not it's been approved by Congress, or when it will be approved by Congress? And also, could you kindly comment on France's position regarding the Tobin tax for poor countries as part of African development?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me start with the Tobin tax, and I'll come back to the actual size of this program. We do not believe that international tax schemes like the Tobin tax are a productive way of raising resources for development. We think that President Bush has had a very good record of increasing resources for development by simply going to the Congress and making the case for the well-targeted use of funds. He has created the Millennium Challenge Account, which has resulted in an increase this year of $1 billion for development and that will grow to $5 billion in the next two fiscal years. And that $5 billion will continue to be an increment, year after year, in our development assistance program. He's also increased resources dramatically for health issues including the $15-billion program for HIV/AIDS.
So our approach to raising revenues for development is very simple: devise programs that work, programs that are accountable, programs that are grounded in local ownership, show that you're getting results, and then go back to the Congress and the American people for more money, based on your performance. And we think that approach is the effective way to move forward.
As for this particular set of initiatives, we are able to finance our activities in this year and the next year within AID's existing budget. We have had to make some adjustments and move some things around. This is another case, I guess, where many hands make light work. The fact that we're working in concert with the European Union, other European countries and the World Bank means that for the moment this has not been a resource issue for us.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I might just give you an idea of the level of annual funding for Ethiopia, using the past two years. In this past year, fiscal year 2003, the total going to Ethiopia was $77 million, of which $27 million was for food aid. The prior year, $105 million, with $58 million of it going for food aid. And so what my colleague is saying is that there is now an attempt to restructure that development program in order to bring about greater food security through agriculture initiatives.
And Congress is informed of this approach when we put our budget request in because we describe the way in which we are planning to spend the money.
Q I think it's very nice to help other countries, but we have a trillion-dollar deficit, you know, and I was wondering if you could address that. If the American people are -- this is a transfer of wealth, continuously and constantly, number one. Number two, if the G8, the greater number of the G8 approve the Tobin tax, will the U.S. go along with it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just make a short statement with regard to helping the rest of the world. I think it's very clear that this is a global economy, we're all dependent upon one another to be successful. I think that it isn't just totally out of the good spirit and the goodwill of the United States -- that's part of the reason why we get involved in these programs. But it's also being very practical, that as other countries benefit, we benefit in trade with other countries, we're not concerned about peace and security because there's stability in other countries. We have, then, several reasons for this program and for development throughout the world.
I don't know -- do you want to take the Tobin tax question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the short answer is, no. Nor do I think other countries are rallying around this. I think many of the countries that have talked about it in the past are no longer talking about it. They're talking more about different types of domestic taxes rather than international tax framework.
My colleague is absolutely right -- whenever there is an emergency, we respond. And the real focus of this program on hunger is we can be far more effective in helping people in Africa be healthy and have enough food to eat by helping them grow it and giving them the techniques and know-how, rather than having to respond to cycles of famine and emergency. So this is enlightened in several respects: One, in the respect that it will be successful and it will reduce the need to provide emergency assistance, which is far more costly. It's also enlightened in the sense that my colleague mentioned, which is that we have a stake in a prospering Africa. They can be a great partner for us -- they already are, but they'll be an even greater partner as prosperity increases.
Q A couple of questions. First of all, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the violence in Sudan? Is there a problem -- is there a chance that that could result in a problem for providing food aid? And what's the likelihood that we run into some sort of crisis or famine?
And second of all, if you would indulge me on a question on Iraq and debt relief -- there's talk about sort of relieving a substantial amount of debt in this communique. France is talking about 50 percent; Russia 65 percent. Just how substantial does the U.S. want, 100 percent? And can you talk a little bit about where the consensus is jelling at this meeting.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll take the Sudan one, if you take the other one.
There have been a series of statements made by the United States and the other G8 members, statements of concern about what is going on in Darfur, and a great concern on two grounds -- the first being that over a million people have been displaced, and with the rains coming, there's going to be great difficulty getting to some of the people. There's been a security issue. There have been difficulties getting visas for some of the humanitarian workers.
But the G8 and the rest of the developed world have made strong statements through the Security Council and the Commission on Human Rights, and there are probably more to follow, communication with the government of Sudan saying, to the extent that you have the power that we think you have to influence this, you should do so. Also communication with the rebels saying the same thing.
So part of our concern is about the people who are displaced and need humanitarian relief. But the other is, although we are pleased about Sudan and the framework agreement between the north and the south, we don't want to see the same kind of distress carrying on in a different part of that country.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I'd be happy to answer the Iraq question if that's all right. The G8 are agreed that debt reduction is essential for Iraq, and essential if this process of reconstruction is going to be successful. Secondly, the G8 statement emphasizes that this debt reduction has to occur in 2004. Third, as for the amount, it should be sufficient to ensure sustainability of Iraq. And this is the basic principle for debt reduction overall. You want to make sure that the country's position is sustainable once you have done this.
And I think, in the case of Iraq, that judgment about sustainability will inform by and it will take into account some very important analysis that's been done by the International Monetary Fund. Our view, after a quick read of that analysis, is that it does help make the case that Iraq is unique and that it is uniquely in need of deep debt reduction. And we believe that as this process goes forward, Iraq's creditors will join us in the view as to what that will mean in practice, what number emerges from that.
But they already have agreed with us that our target should be to ensure -- to achieve debt reduction this year, 2004, and to do so in a way that ensures sustainability of Iraq in the future.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd just to like to add one more point on the Sudan piece. My colleague talked about the statements of concern. You should also know that she's been a little modest, because her agency currently -- especially Andrew Natsios, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the U.S. government, has been very involved in pushing the government from putting some of his staff in Chad to help push the negotiations between the government and some of the rebel groups out there, to pushing the Africa Union to provide international monitors. So we've been active in trying to get both the humanitarian access, but also to address some of the underlying causes of the conflict itself, primarily through the leadership of USAID.
Q I just want to get back to the Horn of Africa very quickly, and just get a bit of a time frame here for when you think you're going to be achieving some level of food security out there. And the second question was with regard to what you referred to as a grain revolution. Could you just explain that a little bit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly. We have put timetables into this document, because we believe that without timetables, it is not as credible a plan as it needs to be. For example, we would like to make sure that we have brought all of these five million Ethiopians away from the brink of food insecurity by 2009. So that's basically removing, on average, a million people from this precarious state per year.
Secondly, we want to fund a rollout of this user right system -- this is the system that really is related to property rights -- by helping the Ethiopia government bring this transparent system to two states, their country in 2004, to three more by 2005, and to the final two states by 2006. And so those are examples of what we regard as tight time lines and benchmarks for achieving those goals.
Could you help me with your second question?
Q I was just seeking a clarification of grain revolution you were talking about.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The green, the green revolution. You know, Norman Borlaug, the agronomist who won the Nobel Peace Prize about 30 years ago for his role in developing new grades of crops that really created a green revolution and reversed very desperate situation of hunger in countries like India -- Dr. Borlaug is still active. And he has been promoting the idea that what we need now in Africa is a second green revolution, with a particular focus on the types of crops that are important there. One of the sort of ways of thinking about this is developing hardier crops for healthier people; helping crops, develop crops that survive drought, that deal better with tough climate situation, that thrive in saline soils, that survive infestations of pests better.
Many of these crops require less fertilizer and other imported imports than normal varieties and, therefore, they are more economical and more farmer-friendly. And we have seen excellent experiments throughout Africa in developing healthier, more nutritious crops and crops that are more resistant to disease. And that's the core idea behind -- that's the core concept behind the idea of a second green revolution for Africa.
Q This is just a carryover from a question in the previous briefing about African government. Is there any ongoing debate about linkage between Iraq debt relief, which seems to be very murky, according to this document, with so-called HIPC debt relief program?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the short answer is, no. We've come forward with a statement on Iraq already. This is a document that's been issued after the very important luncheon discussion that the President and the other G8 leaders had with leaders from the broader Middle East, including the new President of Iraq. We've gone forward with this. The issue that you raised is something that is yet to be discussed during these meetings.
Q Since women are so heavily involved in agriculture, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, are women's rights, or anything pertaining to women, a part of this strategic plan to boost food security?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll just say that the plan from the government working with various civil society organizations in working out their poverty reduction strategy recognized the important role of women, and the fact that a percentage of Ethiopians living in rural communities in women-headed household requires a concentration on training women and providing women with the skills to move food to market.
So, yes, to answer your question is, there is a recognition on the part of the Ethiopians that this is necessary. Therefore, it is woven into the proposal in the government's plan, which is the foundation for this proposal.
Q Just a follow-up question on Ethiopia. A couple of years ago -- I don't remember anymore, 10 years ago or so -- there was the -- all of Hollywood got behind Food for Ethiopia, and then it stayed on the harbors. Has there been a change in government to the point, whereby, they're willing to cooperate in these ways?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. I can speak from having conversations with the Prime Minister Meles, and I think all three of us can. There is a serious effort on his part; the plan is drawn out of the work being done in Ethiopia. But change doesn't take place overnight, and the government and the people in the developed -- the World Bank and the United States and Japan, all of us have to recognize that changing behaviors and changing rules -- my colleague talked about land reform -- that is a major issue in Ethiopia, and has a great impact on whether or not there will be investment in agriculture.
But to bring about a change in how people think about that is not easy. And what's very comforting is that the Prime Minister has been willing to open this delicate issue and attempt to resolve it.
So I don't know my colleague's impressions, but mine certainly are that we have an opportunity for success here, because we are working with a government that wants to bring about change. They don't want to continue to be dependent on the world to handle famine after famine after famine.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that captures it. I'd just like to add to that, and since you asked a question about the transfer of wealth from America to Africa, based on this initiative, I'd just like to state that this is part -- this initiative is part of a broader effort to promote and eradicate -- promote development in Africa and eradicate poverty on a sustainable basis. And the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, our trade bill, is one of the key components of our strategy to do so. And under that trade bill, 90 percent of agricultural products from Africa come into the U.S. market duty-free.
But the important issue for AGOA is that it also creates people in Africa who have jobs who then can buy and purchase U.S. products through our broadening trade relationship. And so there is a mutual benefit in this initiative and the broader initiative of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the trade-based approach to development.
END 4:59 P.M. EDT