UNITED STATES: A coalition of 15 of the world's poorest developing countries is lobbying the US Congress for a new scheme that would give them trade preferences to offset the advantages gained by China and India since the lifting of quotas on textiles and apparel. The countries - which include Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Nepal - say they are facing a severe disadvantage selling into the US market, not only against larger competitors but against smaller African and Latin American nations that enjoy duty-free access for many garment exports, The Financial Times (UK) reports. Fourteen of the 15 countries are considered "least developed" by the United Nations, while the other, Sri Lanka, was badly hurt by last December's tsunami. In other news, the US Congress has imposed tight restrictions on aid to the Palestinians, possibly dealing a blow to US efforts to support new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In the emergency spending bill that lawmakers completed late on May 3, the White House had sought $200 million "to support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms," as the president said in his February State of the Union address. But The Washington Post reports that the fine print of the document gives $50 million of that money directly to Israel to build terminals for people and goods at checkpoints surrounding Palestinian areas. Another $2 million for Palestinian health care will be provided to Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, while the allocation of the rest of the money is tightly prescribed. The bill appears to make it difficult for the White House to give any of the aid directly to the Palestinian Authority, as Palestinians had hoped. Instead, the assistance must be funneled through nongovernmental organizations.

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