- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

CHUMP CHANGE

The foreign minister of Bangladesh this week appealed to the Obama administration to reduce the high tariffs on goods from her South Asian nation and write off a debt that is burdening the impoverished democracy.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on Thursday told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that tariffs on Bangladeshi exports to the United States eat up about $500 million out of a total American trade of more than $4 billion.

She acknowledged that a half-billion dollars is not much money in Washington - little more than a rounding error in Congress where trillion-dollar spending is becoming routine.

“But that’s a lot of money for a country like Bangladesh. It could send children to schools or open hospitals,” she said.

Dr. Moni, a physician by profession, said she made a pitch for tariff-free trade when she met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday. She said Mrs. Clinton was sympathetic.

“She was very, very positive on the issues,” the foreign minister said.

Dr. Moni added that Bangladesh faces the biggest tariff, along with a U.S. import quota, on clothes.

“We want duty-free, quota-free access [to the U.S. market] on ready-made garments,” Dr. Moni said.

The foreign minister questioned the fairness of U.S. tariffs that favor developed countries such as Britain, where import duties are less than 1 percent, and highest on developing countries, such as Bangladesh, where the duties are 15 percent.

Dr. Moni also complained that Bangladesh’s U.S. debt amounts to about $500 million with an annual debt service at about $50 million. She would like to see the Obama administration cancel that debt under a program that commits Third World countries to offsetting the money with programs to save tropical forests.

MEXICO’S DRUG WAR

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is waging an unprecedented war against murderous drug cartels and deserves more U.S. help in combating the booming narcotics trade, the head of a Washington think tank said in a recent analysis of Mexico’s drug war.

“Calderon’s struggle against the drug lords is without precedent in recent Mexican history. Prior Mexican administrations sought an accommodation with the cartels. Calderon has declared war,” wrote Jaime Daremblum, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

Mexican authorities have arrested 43,000 suspected drug smugglers, confiscated more than 40,000 weapons and seized more than 143,000 pounds of cocaine, 2,755 pounds of methamphetamine and 9.2 million pounds of marijuana since 2006, he said, citing State Department reports.

“However, over the past three years, drug-related violence has claimed thousands of lives and turned cities such as Ciudad Juarez, which sits right across the border from El Paso, Texas, into bloody war zones,” said Mr. Daremblum, who also served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004.

“These numbers send mixed signals about Calderon’s progress in suppressing the cartels,” he added. “Levels of violence remain dangerously high, and political corruption is a huge problem.”

Mr. Daremblum noted that Mr. Calderon, in an attempt to clean up corruption, recently fired his attorney general, Eduardo Medina-Mora. He plans to replace him with Arturo Chavez, the former attorney general of the state of Chihuahua, which includes Juarez.

Mr. Daremblum applauded the United States for committing $1.6 billion in aid to help fight the drug war.

“The success or failure of that war will have a profound impact on U.S. security,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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