Aid & Trade and global poverty

The Australian government has released a White Paper on its overseas aid program. There is a balanced assessment of its pros and cons over at Ben’s blog. From my quick scanning of it, as well as reading Ben’s assessment and some media reports, it seems to take a few steps forward, but still falls a fair way short of what is needed. The Ben of Ben’s Blog works with a coalition of people trying to get Australia to improve our relatively poor performance with development assistance. I briefly mentioned meeting with him as part of this post.

Of even greater concern, although perhaps also not that surprising, is the news that the current round of global trade talks seem to have Europe and the US failing “to live up to their promises to use trade to cut poverty in the world’s poorest countries.”

According to The Independent newspaper, Oxfam, the global aid organisation, has abandoned the support it had been giving over the last few years for the current round of WTO talks. I must admit I was somewhat surprised when Oxfam (until recently better known in Australia as Community Aid Abroad) originally supported exploring liberalising global trade processes as a way of reducing poverty in underdeveloped countries, but clearly they decided to try to make richer countries put their money where their mouth was when it come to genuinely freeing up markets.

Many countries – Australia included – have used the mantra that ‘trade is better than aid’ to reduce poverty as a way of justifying lower aid budgets. I think there is a lot of truth to this, but only if trade is allowed to operate in a fairer way that does not advantage the richer countries so completely. Sadly, despite all the rhetoric and all the pledges, it appears that the poorer countries are being lined up for shafting once again.

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  1. The whole Doha round has been characterised by the worst kind of mercantilist bickering and an absolute betrayal of its supposed purpose as a ‘development round.’ What came out of the Hong Kong ministerial was disappointing at best and shamelessly exploitative at worst, on the part of developed countries.

    The EU and US announced cuts to subsidies that amounted to nothing or almost nothing, particularly by maintaining protections on the product lines of most interest to developing countries. The EU managed to hold off the complete phasing out of export subsidies until 2013.

    And all the while, developed countries – including Australia which acted quite aggressively – pushed for greater access to developing countries’ industries and services. Australia was particularly aggressively involved in plurilateral negotiations to target opening up particular sectors in developing counries. According to Jeff Atkinson at Oxfam Australia, “Of the 19 current plurilateral requests that we are aware of, Australia is a ‘demandeur’ in 12 of them. Its main targets are the markets of ASEAN countries.”

    There’s some concern that Lamy may be called on to attempt to
    impose a draft agreement
    on the process. Lamy’s view of what needs to be given and what can be taken is as likely to coincide with the interests or development needs of poor countries, as the views of Mark Vaile or Robert Zoellick.

    That said, though, a failed Doha round leaves EU and US subsidies and protections in place and little multilateral pressure to do much about that. It also clears the path for bilateral bulldozering of Economic Partnership Agreements (such as EU countries negotiate with African countries) or Free Trade Agreements (such as the US negotiates pretty much with anyone it can.) Depressing, isn’t it?

  2. There is a graph in the AGE that is about as dishonest as any I have ever seen.

    It is claimed that people in the Solomons are all getting over $500 per year in aid from Australia yet most of that is the cost of the armed forces and police we have there with almost nothing for food, education and fiscal support.

    By contrast Afghani’s have $1 per year per person, so does Iraq yet they are being bombed into small pieces and will be for decades to come. In AFghanistan today 700 children die, 50-70 women giving birth die.

    East Timor is suffocating with poverty after their “liberation” yet we have cut true aid and the so-called package for the Aceh region is just not getting there when 80% of all our aid is going to Australian companies and not employing the locals.

    I was at a meeting in Adelaide tonight with a woman from Afghanistan who said that 2,500 non-government agencies are in Afghanistan but they don’t employ the Afghans.

    A school built by an ngo costs $260,000 built by foreigners instead of $40,000 built by Afghans. What is the point of that when the Afghans are still dying of starvation for want of a job?

  3. Andrew, perhaps the publishing of the paper may be a good time to call for a full independant of our aid system and participation in international activities. Long before the wheat fiasco there have been suspicions in many countries that Ausaid is a laundering system for US money (to keep it out of the eyes of US Congress and away from the looming deficit cap.

    It seems that every piece of information about aid corruption is filling in a jigsaw of dangerous proportions.

  4. correct me if im wrong australia is getting screwed buy the us over a bit of corruption over wheat that feeds ppl. who the hell sold the guns to iraq in the first place.
    we should have our own aid programs independant of the u.n. and e.u.
    australia wanted free trade with the u.s .now we are getting scewed why am i not suprised.

  5. point taken .
    but no one will convince me that the u.s. was not also selling arms to iraq prior to the invasion.

  6. Andrew, as much as I’d like to assist people elsehwere… don’t you think we have needy people here who could do with help?
    Don’t you think we have crises here (environmental, social, structural) that require urgent addresing by government?

    As for Marilyn… good lord woman… do you think a piddling country like ours should be responsible for the whole bloody world?

  7. Geoff – straw men galore in your post! Do you really think that having a more generous overseas aid program – basically one that actually lives up to the commitments we have repeatedly made and repeatedly failed to keep over the last 35 years – means that we can’t deal with environmental and social issues at home?

    Somehow Government’s manage it all the time. 5 countries already give 0.7% GNI or more in official development assistance and all the EU have committed to reaching this level by 2015. It’s a matter of priorities.

    For the record, the Government could lift the aid budget to 0.7% of GNI this year if it wanted
    to, and still have a surplus of around $8 billion. Plenty to spend on the needy at home if that genuinely was the Government’s priority!!

    And I didn’t hear Marilyn arguing that Australia should be responsible for the whole bloody world, simply that a wealthy country like ours could and should focus more on areas of greater need in our region, rather than allowing our national interest to direct so much money to relatively few countries.

  8. Strawman??

    You are kidding ben

    The Australian government’s primary raisson d’etre is to look after Australia and Australians.

    Don’t waste my time with drivel about Marilyn or our responsibilities abroad we give above our weight now. How much did we give to indonesia? How much is Iraq costing us? Afghanistan? The Solomons? just for starters.

    Incase you missed it here in NSW we are running out of water. #0 years ago they had plans for the welcome reef dam… guess what? It still hasn’t been built. The cost of it now is many ti mes what it would have cost them? The health system has been run down to a ridiculous level. Defence spending should be up due to the age of equipment. Infrastructure countrywide is in need of repair and upgrades. There has been no major infrastructre development or funding since the Snowy. Manufacturing has been allowed dto run down till it is nearly nonexistent. Trades have been all but abandoned especially at the apprentice level. education is ridiculously expensive… Etc, etc, etc… all this ben… costs money..

  9. No, Geoff, the raison d’etre of the Australian Government is to govern Australia by representing its people and their concerns.

    One of our eminently justifiable concerns is to provide assistance to others, paritcularly by alleviating extreme poverty that afflicts so many in our region and our world. And, to further follow up on Marilyn’s point, if the stated aim of our aid program is to assist developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia’s national interest, then it is also entirely justifiable to ask for evidence that our aid program is succeeding at reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development (rather than simply advancing our own strategic advantage).

    You have not at all demonstrated that an increase in ODA can only by achieved by neglecting legitimate domestic concerns. (Hyperbole like your last paragraph doesn’t count as evidence, I’m afraid.)

    And I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t refer to something in a comment you disagree with as drivel. I was simply pointing out in answer to your (rhetorical) question,

    As for Marilyn… good lord woman… do you think a piddling country like ours should be responsible for the whole bloody world?

    that she had neither stated nor suggested any such thing in her post.


  10. Red Crab, your question is off topic and irrelevant really, since the post is about what the Government can and should be doing.

  11. Cheers ben… you going to wrestle with semantics somewhere else now? :roll:

    BTW.. drivel is drivel. WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.

  12. Haha, nice one Geoff. Flaming, trolling and shouting in the one comment thread – are you planning to engage with content or just keep it at the level of personal attack?


  13. Totally concur (and sympathise) with commments from Tonkin, Shepherd and Ben concerning this issue. The overall grim meanness of us (relatively)wealthy people, compared to billions doing it hard in ways we could not imagine, turns my stomach at times too.
    Were we living in the sums of Calcutta, or dying the death of a million cuts in Darfour, or a thousand other shitholes in the developing world, how long would we remain silent in preference to crying for aid, just to keep US alive?
    And every time people try to come up with plan to ameliorate the global mess, or some aspect of it, a phalanx of big business, bureaucrats and politicians and the tabloid lackeys who persuade the public on such issues for them, rush in to subvert it. The good intentions those who begin to grasp the agony of millions of people suffering like dogs are defeated, with all the fear and loathing that ideological neo-liberalist “individualism” masking utter selfishness, can muster.



    Further (there that’s better for you eh) further… I don’t have to engage any further i made my points. you disagree… doesn’t make you right though.

    Vilify all you like… your ilk always does… water off a duck’s back to me buddy.

  15. i think the govt is dowing all it the current situation .just like most things with money attatched greedy ppl have turned it into a money makeing industry that they scim from the top leaving little for those in real need.
    i read something interesting last week about bolivia the u.s. donated money to a school and made a big thing about it at the opening.
    cuba sent two doctors there for as long as they are needed.
    i think there is a lesson there cuba sent no money but they gave something of mutch more value.
    there is something in that for our ppl of power to look at and mabe rethink the way we give aid to other countrys. you know the old saying give a man a fish and you feed him for a day .teach him to fish and give him a fishing line you feed him for life.
    take away the money and the problems will be solved easy.

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