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November 1982

Good Intentions, Cheap Food and Counterpart Funds

by Clifton B. Luttrell

This article reviews U.S. agricultural price-support programs that provided an incentive for the production of bountiful harvests and huge amounts of surplus foods. In response, the U.S. government developed a variety of programs to reduce these surpluses by selling them abroad at sharply reduced prices to less-developed countries. The sales of “cheap” food for nonconvertible currencies and the ways in which the receipts were used in the various countries have generated considerable discussion and controversy among economists. The sales of food for these currencies had been phased out by the early 1970s. The author provides a brief review of the impact of this program for at least two reasons: (i) payments generated by it still exist and have had important consequences long after the program itself has been phased out; and (ii) it appears that the United States, once again, is facing ever-increasing farm surpluses. To help inform decisions, the author assesses the impact of the prior programs on both the United States and the beneficiaries. The author focuses on the arguments used to establish the counterpart funds program and its impacts.