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UK government part of problem for developing world

UK government 'part of the problem' for developing countries in 2005

UK government policy is a major barrier to the fight against poverty, according to a new challenge issued today by leading campaigns groups.

In a speech today (26 January), Gordon Brown will set out the government’s agenda for international aid and development. In response, campaigners will demand a radical change of direction from the UK government on poverty and climate change.

According to the groups, the key areas where the government is failing developing countries are: international trade negotiations, promotion of privatisation in the South, climate and the regulation of multinational companies. Current policies, they say, make the government part of the problem, not the solution.

John Hilary, Director of Campaigns and Policy at War on Want, said: “Compassionate rhetoric cannot disguise the reality of the government’s neoliberal policies. As long as Blair and Brown continue to push free trade and privatisation on developing countries, more and more people will be pushed deeper into poverty, not lifted out of it.”

Mark Curtis, Director of the World Development Movement, said: “The UK government has hijacked the language of development campaigners to hide its promotion of ultra-free market economics, privatisation and deregulation which is serving the interests of multinational corporations. The real question is not “How do we bring other countries to support the UK’s positive agenda?” but “Does the UK have the right agenda at all?” Sadly, rich countries are now uniting around policy prescriptions that over the past twenty years have led to increased poverty and inequality.”

Friends of the Earth Trade Campaigner Eve Mitchell said: “The government seems to think it can tackle poverty and prevent climate change by pushing the policies that created them in the first place. Developing countries know that they cannot tackle poverty by playing the rich countries’ rules. They need to develop a sustainable way forward that does not put profit before people and the environment.”

The groups cite five key areas where the government is failing the developing world:

1. Trade negotiations at the WTO – The UK government has been at the forefront of pushing an aggressive ‘free trade’ agenda at the WTO, dismissing developing country pleas that they should be allowed to defend their infant industries from predatory EU and US multinationals.

2. Bilateral trade agreements – The UK also stands behind the damaging Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) designed to open up markets in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, exposing small-scale producers to overwhelming competition from powerful multinationals.

3. Privatisation of services in developing countries – The UK has taken the lead in promoting privatisation of public services in developing countries, despite the increases in poverty this has brought. DFID has channelled millions of pounds from the aid budget to privatisation consultants such as KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Adam Smith Institute, engaged to ‘advise’ developing country governments on the privatisation of their public services.

4. Climate change – The UK has failed to control its own greenhouse gas emissions in the face of powerful industry lobby groups. It has also continued to use financial institutions, such as the World Bank, to fund fossil fuel extraction overseas. As one of the largest historic emitters of greenhouse gases, it needs to show the way by reducing UK carbon dioxide emissions year on year.

5. Corporate accountability – The UK government has undermined international calls to hold multinational corporations to account for their activities overseas, championing the voluntary alternative of ‘corporate social responsibility’ rather than corporate regulation.

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