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Tucked away in the list of "illustrative spending cuts" suggested by House Budget Committee Chair-man John Kasich, R-Ohio, is the International Development Association, which helps the poorest of the world's poor.

The IDA is the only portion of the World Bank financed by U.S. tax dollars - the rest of the bank's money is borrowed on capital markets - so it falls in the category of foreign aid, one of the principal targets in the Republicans' "Contract With America."But it is hardly a giveaway.

First, IDA funds are disbursed as low-interest loans; they have to be repaid. In the World Bank's 50-year history, no country has ever defaulted on a loan. Second, whatever we put into IDA, we get back twenty-fold in trade and procurements from U.S. companies.

Last year the United States contributed $1.25 billion to IDA. For every U.S. dollar, the Japanese, Europeans and other international donors gave four more. That plus loan repayments financed $6.6 billion in IDA lending - $2.7 billion to Africa, $1.4 billion to East Asia and $1.9 billion to South Asia.

The money was invested in agriculture, education, health, transportation and urban development. It also helped reconstruct countries devastated by natural disasters.

The 78 nations that currently receive IDA loans have 57 percent of the world's population. A billion of them live on less than one dollar a day, and their governments are too broke to borrow any other way.

But there have been some spectacular success stories.

South Korea joined the World Bank in 1955 with a per capita income of $80. In 1961 it became an IDA borrower. In 1978 it "graduated" from IDA and began to contribute to the fund as a donor country. On March 3 it ended its dependence on the World Bank altogether.

Today, with a per capita income of nearly $8,000, South Korea is the world's 12th-largest economy and 11th-largest trading nation. It is our seventh-largest trading partner, buying more than $18 billion worth of American goods a year.

Overall, U.S. exports to IDA borrowers totaled $20.3 billion in 1994. Our exports to the 20 "graduates," such as South Korea, were more than double that amount, some $42 billion.

If one includes lending by the World Bank's other affiliate, the International Bank for Recon-struc-tion and Development, the figures are even more impressive. Its borrowers buy $180 billion worth of American goods, fully 40 percent of our exports.

About 4 million American jobs now depend on these markets in developing countries. Each additional $1 billion in exports creates 20,000 new jobs.

The best part of the deal is that private money is being used to boost American business opportunities and political influence abroad.

The World Bank gets most of its financing by selling bonds in 170 member nations. Millions of Americans invest in them directly or indirectly through their pension funds. This makes us the bank's largest and most powerful shareholder.

What few tax dollars do go to IDA are recovered in World Bank contracts awarded to American firms. And not a dime of the taxpayer's money covers the bank's administrative costs.

Nor have taxpayers ever been called upon to cover a loss.

Kasich and other Republican critics of the World Bank obviously don't know how it works.

(Holger Jensen is international editor of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.)