Richard North, 07/01/2005  

Still on the Daily Telegraph: there were three letters published on what should be done to help the people of Sri Lanka and those of other countries that have suffered from the tsunami.

The most obvious thing is to make sure that their entire economy does not go over to total reliance on foreign aid, a serious danger if Kofi Annan’s hysterical calls for more and more money will be heeded.

Another problem that Sri Lanka, in particular has to contend with is political instability as witnessed by the row surrounding the Tamil Tigers’ refusal to have American or Indian help. Hard to tell how even more aid will sort that out.

Finally and most sensibly there have been suggestions that we should remove various trade barriers and help developing countries to develop by buying their goods. In particular, as Boris Johnson had written, we should abolish the present tariffs on bras produced in Sri Lanka, this being a more important part of their economy than tourism on the coast.

The Telegraph decided to present the full spectrum of opinion on the subject through its letters. One, from Simon Myers in Leeds, came up with the theory that rich countries have become rich through protectionism and, therefore, developing countries should keep their tariffs in order to increase their wealth. This is a historically inaccurate picture. Rich countries did not necessarily become rich by having barriers (it is not helping the EU much at the moment), poor countries that have put up endless protectionist hurdles have not done as well as those that have got rid of them, and, finally, developing countries can compete and trade with each other but only if they do not go down the protectionist road.

The second letter from Philip Bailey in Cheshire pleads for many unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in this country, already under threat and likely to be destroyed if we open the floodgates and let in imports from Indonesia. Mr Bailey, who admits that he is probably one of the chattering classes, seems to think that it is right and proper that countries of the Third World should stay in poverty indefinitely (though whether he likes the inevitable corollary of their people trying to get to the West at all costs is another matter) and also that certain sections of this country’s population should stay in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs for ever.

Inevitably, it is the last letter, from Richard Hook of Blackpool, that appealed to us:
Sir – In urging that tariffs on bras made in Sri Lanka should be removed to benefit that country's economy, Boris Johnson misses an essential point (Opinion, Jan 6). The income from such tariffs enables the British Government to provide overseas aid to these countries. Without these tariffs, how many civil service jobs here – counting and redirecting these funds – would be lost? Simple solutions have no place in a bureaucratic system based on creating dependence.
As I said: couldn’t have put it better myself.

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