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Europe and developing nations agree on innovative trade pact to speed change

Grim portraits of starvation in Africa and dismal forecasts of economic underdevelopment for the third world seem to cover the front pages. This past weekend, tucked into the back pages, there was an announcement that concerns the long-range prospects of many of the globe's less developed societies.

The 10 nations of the European Community (EC) have renewed for the second time their trade and aid convention with 66 African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) nations.

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The signing in Togo of Lome III illustrates that the industrialized European countries are continuing to forge an integrated and progressive interre-gional policy covering financial aid, rural development, industrial cooperation, stabilization of export earnings, and preferential trade agreements.

The world's largest trading bloc has agreed with the globe's biggest organization of developing nations that future co-development demands a radical shift of direction and means.

This new North-South pact is not perfect. It has significant omissions and defects, but it is a unique and original form of cooperative economic relations between haves and have-nots.

In a world where most of the powerful and wealthy (including the United States) give primarily emergency aid and insist that Northern private enterprise will resolve the South's problems of hunger, deforestation, and desertification, the EC-ACP partnership has made substantial contributions to economic development.

Since the signing of Lome I in 1976, many of the principal causes of underdevelopment have been addressed by EC-ACP negotiations. Some inequities of a world economic system that was essentially created by and for the West have been changed by expanding and diversifying ACP food output, developing industrial activities, and giving their manufactured products preferential access to EC markets.

Long-term, systematic aid to agriculture has been secondary to building bigger and better trade patterns, massive transfers of technology, and industrializing societies. Lome III contains a new agenda for development cooperation, giving top priority to rural development, food security programs, economic infrastructure, and basic human social needs.

This latest accord redefines primary aims and delivery systems. There is a ''return to the basics'': that is, a focus on achieving greater long-range food sufficiency through integrated efforts to eliminate hunger, increase food production, and improve consumption.

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Vast projects that build ''cathedrals in the desert'' are to end, and preserving and increasing natural resources are to take center stage. This means rolling back the desert, locating more sources of wood (for fuel), and constructing more village water supplies.

Increasing livestock herds becomes critical, as does enhancing market-oriented fishing sectors. More farmer credit, better erosion control, and more aggressive public health measures against disease are the essential features of this new course of development.

Programs are to give preference to the poorest classes, the least-developed regions, the land-locked states, and small islands.

The agreement also breaks new ground in focusing on the role and status of women, local culture, and ecological interaction between people and the environment. Lome III has provisions that aim to improve women's access to credit finance, advanced technologies, training, and jobs.

The EC has tightened its conditions on aid, believing that past mismanagement , waste, and corruption in the recipient states were to blame for project failures. The ACP unhappily sees a donor-dominated system emerging that denies true co-determination.

The Europeans insist they are merely seeking reassurance that taxpayers' money is not being misspent. But the new strategy has created more disagreement and discord between the European Community and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations than have the goals.

Only the next five years of Lome III operation will tell if the new policy and methods will work. This time around, the EC-ACP consensus was to combat malnutrition, sickness, droughts, epidemics, and unemployment with widespread rural, grass-roots projects. External aid will be directed to basic internal needs. The investments will be social, communal, and regional before they are technological and commercial.

Since the new pact also encompasses issues like trade access, commodity price stabilization, and financial flows, it should be welcomed by the US and other industrialized countries as a progressive move toward revitalizing global negotiation on the international economy.

Pierre-Henri is professor of history and director of the International Relations Program at Tufts University.

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