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.