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Battle of the baguette in Senegal: Competition erodes traditional ties. Africa's former colonial rulers face a dilemma. They favor trade liberalization in Africa, but such reforms make it harder for them to sell their goods.

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When the United States wanted to sell 100,000 tons of subsidized wheat to Senegal last year, the French made a last-ditch effort to keep the market in French hands. One cannot make good French bread with American wheat, French diplomats here insisted. US diplomats responded by bringing in a shipment of American flour, instructing bakers in this West African country how to adjust to the new grain and finally producing a tasty baguette that clinched the deal.

This year there will be no bake-off in the former French colony. According to Senegalese and other sources, the French wheat importer - who also owns the grain shipper and the largest mill in Senegal - used connections to French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to persuade the Senegalese to buy French again.

Negotiations are still under way. But the sources say that a combination of political pressure and European Community (EC) subsidies will almost ensure that Senegalese breads will once again be made with French flour - even though US export subsidies make American wheat less expensive to this cash-strapped government.

The Senegalese wheat deal underlines a dilemma faced by the former colonial powers in Africa. While liberalization of trade and investment may make struggling African economies stronger and less dependent on aid, it also means Europeans are losing some of the economic benefits that have accompanied their special status.

Before the African nations gained independence, Europeans monopolized these economies. And today, Western Europe still usually holds a privileged position in local markets.

World Bank figures show 25 of 46 Sub-Saharan African nations are liberalizing, inspired by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, that reorients their economies toward the free market. One aid official in Dakar called the trend part of a ``historical evolution toward integration with the rest of the world.''

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