Condoms: Billions Made in U.S. Shape Foreign Aid Policy (10/06)

Condoms made in U.S. shape foreign aid policy By Celia W. Dugger / The New York Times, Published: October 29, 2006 EUFAULA, Alabama: Here in this courtly, antebellum town, Alabama's condom production has survived an onslaught of Asian competition, thanks to the patronage of straitlaced congressmen from this Bible Belt state. Behind the scenes, the politicians have ensured that companies in Alabama won U.S. government contracts to make billions of condoms over the years for AIDS prevention and family planning programs overseas, although Asian factories could do the job at less than half the cost. In recent years, the state's condom manufacturers fell hundreds of millions of condoms behind on orders, and a U.S. international aid agency began buying them from Asia. The use of Asian-made condoms has contributed to layoffs here that are coming next month. But one of Alabama's two Republican senators, Jeff Sessions, has quietly pressed to maintain the priority for American-made condoms and will probably prevail if the past is any guide. "What's wrong with helping the American worker at the same time we are helping people around the world?" asked the senator's spokesman, Michael Brumas. That question goes to the heart of an intensifying debate among wealthy nations over the degree to which foreign aid is about saving jobs at home or lives abroad. Britain, Ireland and Norway have all sought to make aid more cost effective by opening contracts in their programs to fight global poverty to international competition. The United States, meanwhile, continues to restrict bidding on billions of dollars worth of business to companies operating in America, and not just those...