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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 21:04 GMT 22:04 UK
Congress set to slash Africa aid

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online, Washington

AS US President George W Bush proclaims his commitment to Africa during this week's five-day trip, his Republicans in Congress are planning on cutting back the money allocated to his much-vaunted plans to tackle HIV/Aids and encourage development.

President Bush on Goree Island
The White House says Bush is underlining his commitment to Africa
At the heart of the president's new focus on Africa are two initiatives for which the administration has promised a significant increase in funding.

Mr Bush has pledged $15bn to fight HIV/Aids, primarily in Africa, over the next five years, and an additional $10bn in additional foreign aid over the next three years in a new Millennium Challenge Account.

But the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee - which determines how much money will actually be spent in next year's budget - looks set to cut back that request when it meets on Thursday.

Representative Jim Kolbe, chairman of the subcommittee on foreign operations, said that in his view Congress would be unlikely to allocate the full amount because neither initiative will be fully operational by the time the fiscal year begins.

The amounts "assume you have full-blown programmes up and running on October 1, and that's not the case," he said.

Mr Bush has just recently appointed his Global Aids administrator, a former pharmaceutical executive, Randall Tobias.

In all the Bush administration has requested $18.9bn in foreign aid for the next fiscal year, but the House appropriations committee has said it plans to allocate only $17.lbn - a reduction of $1.8bn.

Aid agencies worried

Jamie Drummond, executive director of Data, a pressure group set up to campaign for debt relief and African aid, said that the two new programmes together could represent a massive change in America's commitment to Africa, increasing US aid spending to that region from $1bn now to $5bn in 2006.

But he warned that the trip "was set up in quite a dramatic way to see if the president will see through on his promises".

Mr Drummond said it would be ironic that, while Mr Bush was in Africa, "the House foreign operations subcommittee was actually deciding to slash those promises, to break them if you like".

And he warned that there should be no cutbacks in other programmes to fund these new initiatives, nor restrictions on contributions from other nations.

Aid experts say that it may be difficult for many African countries to meet the strict conditions that the US has set for receiving funds from the new Millennium Challenge Account, which requires nations to adhere to strict standards of openness and democracy.

It may be that as few as four or five African nations would qualify for the first wave of assistance under this programme.

There are also significant problems of health care delivery in relation to HIV/Aids, with many African nations lacking the basic public health infrastructure to deliver improved care.

Trade talks

Meanwhile, experts are concerned about the lack of progress in negotiations over trade in agricultural products, which could offer more real benefits to African economies than any aid programme.

Robert Shapiro of the Brookings Institution points out that while many African countries have a per capita income of $1 per day, in Europe the agricultural subsidy per cow is $2 per day.

Overall, subsidies by rich countries for agricultural amount to $300bn, compared to $50bn in foreign aid.

Mr Shapiro said that African income from exports of agricultural products could triple from $10bn to $30bn if subsidies were reduced.

But with trade talks between the US and the EU over agriculture deadlocked in the run-up to the crucial Cancun summit in September, there is little hope that Africa can develop its natural advantage in the near future.

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