Aid preferences tied to trade interests

  • March 13, 2009
{mosimage}A sharp policy turn away from Africa and away from the poorest countries has the development community wondering whether Canada is now using its foreign aid budget to promote trade and its security interests rather than help poor communities.

“We’re looking at this with a bit of a questioning eye to understand the rationale,” Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey said.

Casey was reacting to a new list of preferred countries for Canada’s bilateral aid. In February the Canadian International Development Agency announced a revised list of 20 countries where it will concentrate 80 per cent of bilateral aid. That’s down from 25 countries named in 2005 that were targeted with 60 per cent of bilateral spending.

CidaAid.jpgBilateral aid represents 53 per cent of CIDA’s $3.2-billion budget. CIDA funding represents about 35 per cent of Development and Peace’s income, though most of that money is not bilateral aid. It usually draws on CIDA’s partnership programs.

Canada’s largest recipient of aid, Afghanistan, heads up the list of seven new countries of concentration. These also include Colombia, Haiti, Peru, Sudan, West Bank/Gaza and the Caribbean. The 12 countries dropped from the list are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Guyana, Kenya, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Zambia.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda claims the shorter list of preferred countries will mean Canada’s aid dollars will be more concentrated and effective.

Both the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and a Senate committee have criticized CIDA for scattering its small budget over too many countries and projects.

“We’re going to increase the resources. We’re going to be more focussed in our programs,” Oda told reporters in Ottawa Feb. 23.

Canada Aid partners

By Catholic Register Staff

Canada has a new list of preferred partners for bilateral aid. The new, shorter list of 20 countries announced by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda is different from the previous list of 25 in several respects:

  • Where the old list was supposed to concentrate 60 per cent of Canada's bilateral aid on 25 countries, the new list will concentrate 80 per cent of bilateral aid on 20 countries.
  • Eight of the 12 countries dropped from the list are African.
  • Eighty per cent of the countries on the old list were extremely poor with per capita gross national product of $875 or less. This will now be true of 63 per cent of the new list. (Canada's GDP per capita is over $31,000).
  • Two of the countries added to the new list are not actually countries. The West Bank/Gaza is occupied territory and the Caribbean is a region with 27 countries, including Haiti – which is also on the list.
  • The new emphasis on the Americas matches Canada's burgeoning $40 billion in annual trade in Latin America. Canada has recently concluded free trade deals with Peru and Columbia, both new additions to the list.
  • Canada's largest aid recipient, Afghanistan, did not appear on the 2005 list of 25 countries, but does make the new list of 20.
  • Oda has promised to maintain current commitments to bilateral aid partners.
  • There are 13 countries that remain from the old list: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Ukraine and Vietnam.
  • There are 12 countries dropped from the old list: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Guyana, Kenya, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Zambia.
  • There are seven countries added to the new list: Afghanistan, Columbia, Haiti, Peru, Sudan, West Bank/Gaza and the Caribbean.
But turning the development focus away from Africa will undercut efforts to deal with the HIV and AIDS crisis, said the director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network.

“Development is the best vaccine against HIV,” Jesuit Father Michael Czerny wrote The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

Instead of recutting the pie, Czerny would like to see Canada make a serious effort to increase its overseas development aid to 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product — a standard that Canada first proposed but has never met.

“On a world average, capital flight continues to outpace official development assistance by a ratio of 10 to one,” Czerny said. “Poor countries are losing $10 for every $1 that they receive in aid funds. Let Canada stop condoning and benefiting from illicit outflows.”

Casey doesn’t think the current government is much interested in development aid as a way of righting the wrongs of the global economy.

“It seems to be very linked with commercial interests, political and security interests, rather than what we would consider to be pure development need,” Casey said.

While Casey isn’t worried that the new direction for CIDA will push Development and Peace to revise its priorities in line with the government’s, that won’t be true for all the agencies Canadians support with their charitable contributions, said Gerry Barr, executive director of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

“(The new list) affects the prospects of those projects on the ground that until now may have been supported by both the people of Canada through charitable donations and by some support by the government of Canada as well,” Barr said.

Oda has committed to maintain all of CIDA’s existing commitments. Future funding will have to fit the government’s aid effectiveness agenda — including the shorter list of countries for bilateral aid.

Barr worries that the aid budget is being hijacked to serve trade and foreign policy objectives.

“We have to wait and see whether aid spending is focussed on poverty, on human rights and on the perspectives of those who are living in poverty,” he said.

“This tendency to be more closely linked to a trade agenda or the workings of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is a bit of a concern,” said Casey. “We have to question whether CIDA is sort of forgetting its development roots.”

Africa in particular seems destined to get much less genuine development projects, Casey said.

“The whole plight of sub-Saharan Africa or African countries seems to be pushed aside or pushed more into the area of humanitarian assistance, which is not really consistent with a long-term development approach,” he said.

Oda reiterated that her government remains committed to doubling its overall assistance to Africa by 2015.

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