White Paper heralds new deal on aid, trade, and climate

by
09 July 2009

by Bill Bowder

Taking the floor: Douglas Alexander visits St Mary Magdalene Academy, in Islington, London, last week, to open the school’s “sustainability day”, to educate pupils about climate change and world development

Taking the floor: Douglas Alexander visits St Mary Magdalene Academy, in Islington, London, last week, to open the school’s “sustainability day”, to e...

FAIRLY traded goods may be in line for a boost, after an official review of the way the Government handles international aid and trade. The Department for International Devel­opment (DFID) launched a White Paper, Building our Common Future, on Monday, which puts aid in the context of globalisation, climate change, the regulation of tax havens, the recession, and legal ar­range­ments for people in developing countries.

It also proposes to double, from £25 to £50 million, the amount of money avail­able to support UK faith groups’ work with international develop­ment.

The Secretary for International Development, Douglas Alexander MP, said on Tuesday that DFID was providing an “innovation fund”, which would provide grants of £5000-£15,000 for “small independ­ent charities” to help develop innovative ways of working.

It has also increased fourfold the amount of money “into the high teens of millions” for ethical trade. But groups such as Traidcraft, which were already “up and running” in Britain, could find themselves in competition with similar projects in France and Germany, where the concept was less developed. “We will have to take a view on that,” Mr Alexander said.

Britain’s overseas aid budget would be £9 billion per annum by 2013, thus keeping to the Govern­ment’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of the UK’s Gross National Income on international develop­ment. But £800 million of this would be switched into projects to help protect developing countries from the consequences of global warming, and build up their low-carbon economies.

Britain had set the climate-adaptation cap at ten per cent of development money, Mr Alexander said. Other governments had simply switched their development funding into provision for climate change.

Some of the £9 billion would also go towards meeting Gordon Brown’s promise to contribute to the $1.1-trillion rescue package that was agreed in the G20 Summit in London in April. Leaders said then that they would help developing countries to avoid some of the conse­quences of the global recession. But “the vast majority” of the £9 billion would be spent on projects that had already been agreed.

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Mr Alexander said that globalisa­tion and growth were the only ways to lift the world’s poor out of pov­erty. Growth could be maintained without further damage to the

planet if it used low-carbon tech­nologies. He had never accepted the idea of a trade-off between saving the planet and feeding the poor. “We must be careful not to fall into the trap of saying that economic growth is bad.”

He would not countenance condemning millions to hunger in order to return to a low-growth economy, but he said that the kind of changes that he was looking for were those introduced in India 30 years ago, when better irrigation, better infrastructure, and better seeds had helped banish famine.

Mr Alexander rejected fears that such GM crops could include the so-called “terminator” seeds, which require farmers to buy new stock each year: there was “no reference” in the White Paper to them, he said.

He also strongly rejected any idea that the White Paper’s support of “security” in developing countries was a signal that the Government was returning to pre-1993 policies, when aid was used by developing countries to buy British arms.

The world’s poor had put security and good governance at the top of their needs, the freedom of women to collect firewood without being raped, freedom to go to school without being attacked, and the free­dom to carry on business without having to bribe the police, he said. “We listened to the voices of the poor.”

When asked what DFID was doing to stem the flow of tax revenues from developing countries that ended up in British and other tax havens, instead of the national exchequers — sums that dwarf the amount developing countries receive in aid — he said the Government was already working with other countries to improve the regulation of tax havens in crown dependencies. It would not act unilaterally; otherwise, the money would flow to havens with less rigorous regimes.

The White Paper puts climate change at the centre of all future development aid. “We are confront­ing not a window of opportunity, but a window of necessity,” in the run-up to the climate-change confer­ence in Copenhagen in December, Mr Alexander said. He called on faith groups to help build a political momentum.

Christian Aid welcomed the White Paper proposals on tax. It committed the UK to “discuss with its partners whether initiatives such as country-by-country reporting can offer an effective and suitable means of ad­vanc­ing the tax agenda”. This would require all companies trading inter­nationally to disclose the profits made and taxes paid in every country where they operated, it said.

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Trade mispricing — the manipulation of accounts to lower a company’s tax liability in developing countries — cost those countries at least $US160 billion a year in lost revenue, it said.

The charity also praised DFID’s announcement that it would invest only in jurisdictions that complied with international tax standards, and would review its existing investments in this light.

Action for Southern Africa, (ACTSA), the successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, welcomed DFID’s commitment to a UN Women’s Agency.

Tearfund said that the White Paper “refocused [the Government’s] effort to tackle sustainable develop­ment and good governance in fragile states. In conflict and post-conflict situations, it is the Church that is so often the only aspect of civil society able to respond, because the Church is at the heart of its com­munity, and doesn’t get up and leave.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, welcomed the launch yesterday.  He said that he welcomed the Governement's commitment to engage with faith groups “as they maintain their long-held mandate to provide direct assistance to the world’s poorest, while tackling issues of justice, peace and governance.

“DFID's emphasis on fragile states rightly highlights the vital contribution of faith groups in areas affected by conflict. Faith communities, including churches, are often the only viable entities in these conflict situations, continuing to respond to basic needs, when other service providers have left. It is essential that DFID’s focus on security and justice in fragile states will be matched by investment in basic services and economic and social development.

"The Government's commitment to provide additional public finance for climate change work is most encouraging. It is hoped that appropriate provision will be made for community based adaptation and climate resilience projects."

In preparation for the White Paper, Lambeth Palace convened two inter-faith consultations for DFID and a range of faith communities and faith-based organisations, calling for recognition of the distinctive role of faith groups in international development.

http://cofe.anglican.org/info/socialpublic/international/internationaldevelopment/

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, welcomed the launch yesterday.  He said that he welcomed the Governement's commitment to engage with faith groups “as they maintain their long-held mandate to provide direct assistance to the world’s poorest, while tackling issues of justice, peace and governance.

“DFID's emphasis on fragile states rightly highlights the vital contribution of faith groups in areas affected by conflict. Faith communities, including churches, are often the only viable entities in these conflict situations, continuing to respond to basic needs, when other service providers have left. It is essential that DFID’s focus on security and justice in fragile states will be matched by investment in basic services and economic and social development.

"The Government's commitment to provide additional public finance for climate change work is most encouraging. It is hoped that appropriate provision will be made for community based adaptation and climate resilience projects."

In preparation for the White Paper, Lambeth Palace convened two inter-faith consultations for DFID and a range of faith communities and faith-based organisations, calling for recognition of the distinctive role of faith groups in international development.

http://cofe.anglican.org/info/socialpublic/international/internationaldevelopment/

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