The Electric Commentary

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Undercover Economist in the NYT.

Tim Harford has an excellent Op-Ed in today's NYT, arguing that, while western agricultural protectionism is a bad idea, eliminating it would not do much to help developing countries:

The trade barriers at the borders of the rich world may have disappeared, but if our picker wants to sell his bananas abroad he first has to get them onto a ship bound for America or Europe. That takes 116 days, and an incredible 38 signatures - each one an opportunity for some official to collect a bribe. Something is rotten here, and not just the bananas.

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. (These figures are all documented in "Doing Business in 2006: Creating Jobs," a report released in September by the World Bank. A disclosure: I was an adviser to the report team.)

Part of the problem, of course, is that landlocked African countries are linked to the outside world by long, decrepit roads and underdeveloped ports in neighboring countries. But determined growers can move bananas along even lousy roads. The real problem is elsewhere: three-quarters of delays are the result of red tape, not port handling or inland transport. These delays, caused by senseless bureaucracy, unnecessary forms and archaic inspection practices, can often be eliminated with a stroke of a pen by a country's chief executive. Even the more sophisticated reforms, like introducing electronic filing, or using software to guide sensible risk-based customs inspections, require only small outlays. What's more, such reforms increase the interception of smuggled goods and discourage corrupt customs officials.

Read it all here. You can purchase Tim's excellent book here.


  • Two things always happen to me when I read about ag subsidies and developing world economic impediments. I find myself appaled at the amount of waste that goes on in the name of protecting markets, farmers, and governments and I find myself craving whatever foodstuffs are being discussed.

    By Blogger dhodge, at 9:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Amazon Logo