In an appalling op-ed in today's New York Times, Tim Harford says even if the developed countries got rid of their agricultural subsidies, many poor countries may not be able to capitalize on that opportunity. Reason: unnecessary red tape, and internal controls.
Sub-Saharan African exporters face, on average, delays of nearly 50 days for each shipment. They must get roughly 20 signatures on eight or nine separate customs forms.
India's commerce minister, Kamal Nath, has called for rich countries to "eliminate export subsidies as fast as possible." And so they should, but Mr. Nath might take note that an Indian exporter needs to collect 22 signatures on 10 documents - that puts India in the bottom 20 countries in the world for letting its own entrepreneurs trade across borders. Celso Amorim, Brazil's foreign minister, has condemned farming subsidies as "the most harmful single piece of commerce." The subsidies are indeed repugnant, but Brazilian exporters need 39 days to get their produce onto a ship, too long for some agricultural goods.
While his points about internal controls are valid, his argument adds insult to injury. The subsidies are in place; without urging the developed nations to dismantle them, he is poking fun at the poor countries.