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Oxfam questions PM's claim regarding aid

Thursday 20 July

Oxfam questions PM's claim that NZ Government pulls its weight on international poverty reduction

While Prime Minister Helen Clarke yesterday cited New Zealand's openness to trade to support her declaration that New Zealand pulls its weight internationally, Oxfam points out that this is only one side of the trade story.

The other side of New Zealand's trade policy is an aggressive approach to opening up markets of developing countries, even at an early stage of their development. There is little benefit for developing countries to have open foreign markets if they do not also have the right to be able to develop viable export industries.

In his speech in New Zealand and his media statement, Sir Bob Geldof was highly critical of the amount of aid New Zealand gives internationally. Any objective review of the evidence would support his assessment.

New Zealand's level of aid is shamefully low compared to other OECD countries, and as others do more to support the fight against international poverty, New Zealand is falling further behind. The OECD projects that in 2010, New Zealand will be third lowest aid giver as a percentage of national income, ahead of only Japan and the United States. Some countries give over three times as much, proportional to national income.

But addressing world poverty is not just about aid. The Make Poverty History campaign in New Zealand recognises the vital role of trade. Countries need opportunities to trade their way out of poverty. World Trade Organisation talks are in crisis at least partly because New Zealand and other rich nations have been making demands that developing countries throw open their markets, something that none of the rich nations or the Asian tiger economies did when they were developing. And New Zealand has been at the forefront of extending these demands from goods into the vital services sectors that have a huge impact on the people of the developing world.

"Most kiwis think that we are good global citizens and that we pull our weight internationally. In reality, our trade policy is more about opening up markets of the poor nations instead of supporting their development. At a time when countries are struggling with the ravages of HIV/AIDS, climate change, higher energy prices and deeply unfair rules of trade, they don't need rich nations saying 'do as we say, not as we did'. New Zealand should back off its unreasonable demands that it is making of developing countries in the World Trade Organisation talks," says Oxfam New Zealand's Executive Director Barry Coates.

"New Zealand could be using its influential position on trade issues to call for 'development' to be put back in the Doha Development Agenda at the WTO. This would mean withdrawing New Zealand's demands that poor countries undertake deep cuts in their tariffs, risking job losses and de-industrialisation, and dropping demands for liberalisation of services that include sectors such as education and new rules that would undermine the rights of governments to regulate in the public interest."

The effects of these policies are being seen close to home, in the Pacific, where New Zealand has been pressing for rapid trade liberalisation in small and vulnerable economies.

"The severe structural disadvantages of the Pacific nations are likely to mean that trade liberalisation carries major risks for the poor and vulnerable people of the Pacific.

Trade is vital to the future of the Pacific, and the outcome of negotiations which are about to take place will have huge implications. The New Zealand Government needs to live up to it's rhetoric about being a good neighbour to the Pacific, rather than reverting to commercial self-interest when it comes to trade negotiations," concluded Coates.


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