Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by ActionAid


  1.  ActionAid welcomes the White Paper and in particular, its clear and positive policy commitments to increase the proportion of GNP committed to ODA to 0.33 per cent (although this will still leave the UK a long way from the 0.7 per cent target), to introduce a new Development Bill and to support a greater voice for poor people.

  2.  ActionAid notes the range of papers that were commissioned to inform the Government's thinking prior to the publication of the White Paper. However since these contributions are overwhelmingly Northern we are concerned that Southern voices may not have been adequately taken into account in its development.

  3.  This submission focuses on those elements of the White Paper where our experience of working with poor and marginalised people shows that there is more scope for the Government to take forward the ideas proposed in the Paper.

Education (Paragraphs 104-116)

  4.  In light of the growing knowledge gaps between rich and poor, which have profoundly negative implications for the impact of globalisation, we welcome the Government's greatly increased commitment to support free, good quality basic and primary education in the poorest countries. Just as important are the steps they have taken to put Southern governments back in the driving seat through sector-wide partnerships.

  5.  In a globalised world, however, it is not enough for the Government to rest on the laurels of its own good policies. The additional spending needed to achieve the 2015 target for universal primary education is in the order of $8bn per year for the next 10 years (without taking into account the additional investment needed in adult literacy, lower secondary education, etc). While some of this should come from increased investment by developing country governments, a dramatic and urgent increase in aid to basic education from all sources will be needed if there is any hope of reaching the 2015 target let alone the 2005 target for gender equity. That is why ActionAid and the Global Campaign for Education have been calling for speedy implementation of a "Global Initiative"—as promised in Dakar—to mobilise political will behind EFA and to match extra resources to good policies.

  6.  The Global Initiative could make the difference in deciding whether the 2005 and 2015 education targets will join the long list of broken promises to the world's children or become an inspiring example of what the international community can achieve when it takes concerted and coordinated action.

  7.  The Government's advocacy efforts towards the World Bank, the IMF, the UN agencies and the European Union are extremely important to the success of the Education for All project. We fully support the Government's attempts to make UN agencies and international financial institutions more democratic, accountable and transparent with stronger and more effective participation of Southern governments and Southern civil society organisations. Lack of such participation has been one of the main reasons for the failure of the EFA "movement" led by UNESCO to make any real progress on education for all during the past decade. And lack of coherence between macroeconomic and social development policies of the IFIs (perpetuated by their lack of accountability for the impact of their actions on the poor) has been a major barrier even in countries where the will to achieve quality, free basic education is strong.

Health (Paragraphs 103 & 135, Box 4)

  8.  We welcome the special attention to "diseases of poverty", or those that disproportionately affect the world's poorest people and would like to see a corresponding increase in the level of funding to allow for research and development of appropriate vaccines and therapies. Additionally we call on the Government to scale up its engagement with pharmaceutical companies to ensure that research takes into account diseases of global concern. The paper fails to provide specific policies that ensure effective incentives are in place to stimulate, through public and private research, the production of vaccines, therapies and other medical innovations necessary to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other communicable diseases.

  9.  ActionAid believes that the threat posed by the HIV pandemic deserves special attention and calls on the Government to increase substantially both the overall level of development assistance and the proportion directed specifically to combatting HIV. The report would benefit from an explicit commitment that the Government shall, through negotiation or otherwise promote access to essential drugs and health care. For example, we believe that the UK Government is well placed to bring pressure to bear on pharmaceutical companies so that they demonstrate greater transparency on pricing and the cost of drug development. Additionally, we would like to see a commitment from the Government to lead international co-operation efforts that aim to draw up differential drug pricing regimes and take a lead in supporting WHO "equity pricing" proposals.

Intellectual property regimes (Paragraphs 142-149)

  10.  The proposal to set up a Commission on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to ensure that IPR regimes "take greater account of the interests of developing countries and poor people" is most welcome. It would be useful to view it as a wider Commission for the Public Domain with eminent public personalities, academics, NGOs and activists, including those from developing countries on it.

  11.  The commitment to ensure that there is an "international agreement on the need to release fundamental information on DNA sequences of the world's major naturally occurring food crop and livestock species into the public domain" is equally important. By the same token we urge the British Government to fully support the call by developing countries (in particular the African countries) and small farmers to exclude plant genetic resources from patenting.

  12.  While the attention on indigenous knowledge in the White Paper is useful, we feel it is unhelpful to discuss indigenous knowledge and intellectual property together. ActionAid believes in prior informed consent, and equitable benefit sharing of genetic resources and indigenous knowledge. However genetic resources and indigenous knowledge should be excluded from IP protection because of their shared and communal nature.

  13.  The White Paper mentions that the TRIPs Agreement allows member states sufficient flexibility to enact laws appropriate for their own national context (para 143) However, Article 27.3b requires member states to patent micro-organisms, a new and mandatory requirement for developing countries. This will signal a new more industrialised agricultural system—which favours large companies.

  14.  Similarly, the assistance that the Government will offer for "countries to develop and implement IPR regimes suited to their national circumstances" is important (para 145). One way in which the Government can give effective help is by supporting the regional development of sui generis laws (of the OAU kind). Neither the Government nor the EU should push for UPOV to be the effective sui generis system.

  15.  We welcome the Government's commitment to monitor the impact of TRIPs and its willingness to consider constructive suggestions on how to improve the agreement in TRIPs (para 145). However, we are concerned that if improvements to TRIPs are linked to a new Trade Round, this will undermine the existing review process in the TRIPs Council as well as discussions on implementation in the General Council.

  16.  The evidence to support the White Paper's assertion that developing countries should support "intellectual property protection, as a way of encouraging more investment, research and innovation from which they should benefit" is less categorical than the Government suggests (para 143). The assumption is that IPR is needed to protect private investment in research and development due to the long term and costly nature of research in agriculture. While giving due weight to the research protection of companies, the White Paper neglects the centuries long research by farmers. ActionAid is concerned that farmers right to save, exchange and sell seed and their control over their resources will be undermined by intellectual property protection on seeds.

  17.  It is important that countries are able to make use of the existing provisions in the TRIPs Agreement, for circumvention of patent rights over pharmaceutical products, so as to enable life-saving medications to be provided at an affordable cost in developing countries. We believe that intellectual property rights should not be allowed to take precedence over the fundamental human right to the highest attainable standard of health care, nor should it take precedence over the ethical responsibility to provide life saving medications at an affordable cost to poor people in developing countries.

Trade (Paragraphs 216-256)

  18.  The emphasis on the need to reform the EU trade regime, especially agriculture and fisheries policy is very positive, albeit a repetition of long-standing government policy. However, overall the analysis is informed by an overly optimistic view of the potential benefits of liberalisation, especially in agriculture as evidenced by the frequent references to "open markets". This means that the White Paper's ambition is not always matched by policy recommendations-changes cannot come about through national level policy and supply side measures alone, but require a more fundamental shift in the international system than the Government seems prepared to contemplate at the moment.

  19.  The White Paper says little about the international regulatory framework needed to support liberalisation. It is optimistic about the role of the private sector, particularly in relation to public/private partnerships, but does not give equal attention to the enforceable regulation that might be necessary for the private sector to have a truly positive effect.

  20.  The White Paper is also somewhat misleading on the evidence on trade liberalisation and poverty. Evidence shows that the impact of liberalisation varies for example by sector and in relation to existing economic structures. We cannot assume that it is always the best trade policy. For example the East Asia success is due to the careful management of trade rather than liberalisation per se. There is a need to distinguish trade from trade liberalisation.


  21.  We acknowledge the Government's commitment to reducing violent conflict, including supporting tighter control over the arms trade and overhauling UN peace-keeping operations. However, we would suggest at the outset that the causes of conflict around the globe, and specifically in Africa, are highly complex and therefore a thorough analysis should inform any conflict resolution, peace building and peace-keeping interventions. Moreover, the interventions in themselves should be holistic, in the sense that they engage at all levels, local, national and international. The Government should ensure that the process followed in designing these interventions is participatory, meeting the needs of political systems and structures but more importantly incorporating the views and aspirations of local populations. This paves the way for participatory monitoring processes which in themselves serve to enhance ownership and accountability.

  22.  With respect to the trade in conflict diamonds, for example, "the commitment to helping producer countries control better the mining and export of diamonds" (para 89) is not enough. Effective implementation of the internationally agreed measures is necessary. We suggest that the Government push for the immediate establishment of an international treaty to ban trade in conflict diamonds and for the immediate establishment of an independent international certification system.

  23.  Further, the Government should immediately standardise its statistics and customs codes to enable monitoring of the movement of illicit or conflict diamonds by the relevant authorities. UK customs officials should as a matter of urgency be monitoring all diamond imports into the UK, perhaps by establishing a recognised and independent diamond control centre. The Government should also consider the licensing of diamond buyers in the UK, so that diamond purchases can be tracked from mining region to the market more closely. This could extend to requesting companies to declare the real origin of diamonds entering into the UK.

  24.  Alongside supporting regional bodies in various continents (paras 353-359) it is essential to support civil society movements, strengthening their capacity to participate in efforts to stop trade in illicit diamonds. In Sierra Leone, one of the positive outcomes of the conflict has been the formation of a strong civil society movement spearheading the Campaign for Just Mining. This civil society movement in a press release titled "Stop the War by Controlling the Diamond Areas, October 2000" highlighted the need to enhance the capacity of civil society to help transform the mining sector.

  25.  Whilst we support the Government belief that the international community should take action against governments violating human rights law, we urge it to ensure that the policies of various departments are not at cross-purposes, particularly with respect to protection of human rights. In implementing this White Paper, the Government needs to take cognizance of the fact that some of its internal policies can in themselves cause or aggravate conflict.

  26.  To further support conflict resolution efforts, emphasis should be placed on supporting local initiatives. This goes beyond restructuring security forces and international trading systems to supporting local resolution initiatives. In a recent publication, Peacebuilding in Africa: Case Studies from ActionAid, we recommend the need to identify and promote traditional peace making structures (example of the Bashingantahe in Burundi), the importance of acknowledging and promoting the role of women in conflict resolution, the need to engage young people and the importance of maintaining communication channels that are inclusive and participatory.

  27.  Peace building is not a post war activity (para 357) but an integral part of development and should be incorporated into any sustainable development programme.

Aid untying

  28.  ActionAid welcomes the Government's announcement that from 1 April 2001 UK aid will be untied (para 323). This is a major step forward in ensuring that the development interests of poor countries are put above domestic commercial interests. In line with the Government's commitment to the 2015 International Development targets, Britain now stands a far better chance of ensuring aid is used directly to support poverty eradication.

  29.  Of crucial importance is the promise not only to untie aid, but also "to strengthen procurement capacities in developing countries" (para 324). Wherever possible, we hope that this will lead to the awarding of newly untied funds to contractors in developing countries and that aid procurement will be used as a resource for development and poverty reduction. The Paper's commitment to pro-poor procurement must now be backed up by a strategy for implementation.

  30.  We welcome the Government's commitment to supporting negotiations aimed at untying aid both in the OECD and at a European level with respect to the bilateral aid programmes of other Member States (para 323). We urge the Government to ensure also that the Community aid programme managed by the European Commission is fully untied and works to support private sector capacity building in the South through its aid procurement. Ongoing efforts to this effect within the European Commission should be supported.

The European Community Aid Programme (Paragraphs 325-329)

  31.  ActionAid welcomes the Government's commitment to a more effective Community programme and to the on-going reform process. ActionAid believes that Member States can best contribute to this reform process through ensuring that the Commission has access to sufficient human resources to implement the reforms, by working to incorporate the European Development Funds (EDF) into the Community budget and by promoting reform of the decision-making process under which EDF is granted. The Government should also promote more fundamental co-operation between Member States and the Commission in those areas where the Commission has identified its comparative advantage.


  32.  The White Paper is a considered and constructive contribution to the debate on globalisation's effects on poor and marginalised people. Its broad perspective and general direction indicate that the Government is committed to ensuring the UK contributes usefully to the elimination of poverty and social injustice. The Government is also clearly committed to ensuring that other governments and international institutions are similarly focused.

  33.  However, it is more optimistic about the benefits for poor people offered by greater trade liberalisation than ActionAid believes is warranted under the current international trading rules. Thorough on-going reform in this area in addition to working to ensure a more effective development policy will both be necessary if globalisation is to be made to work for the poor.


January 2001

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