This early morning event hosted by AWEPA, the European Parliamentarians with Africa organisation) and Trócaire was well attended by both concerned politicians and people from the Development sector. The purpose of the gathering was to launch officially and discuss a research paper entitled “Where Aid Meets Trade: Ireland’s role in the changing development landscape in Africa”. Jim Kirwin has this report.
Commissioned by Trócaire, the paper was researched and written by Hannah Grene of Barncat Consulting. The panel included Nora Owen, Chairperson of the Irish Aid Expert Advisory Group, Hannah Grene and Dr Lorna Gold, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Trócaire and was chaired by Maureen O’Sullivan, TD and Chairperson of AWEPA.
Brief observations from panel members were interspersed with readings of case studies from the paper, after which comments were invited from the floor.
Ms Grene began by noting that there is a reluctance to tackle some of the more thorny issues in the relationship between Irish Aid and the recipient countries. This is manifested in an existing trade imbalance between the two and in the fact that it is difficult to get information around the new place for business in development and the fact that there are perceived to be market-based solutions to the alleviation of poverty.
It was observed that our Irish aid programme, recognised worldwide as being of high quality, is fighting an uphill struggle to continue as it is. “Shared value” needs to form an integral part of trade links between Ireland and the developing world. Businesses need to be brought to consider societal values. Not enough emphasis is put on the role of the state and host countries need to have ownership. It was stressed that policy coherence is essential and in light of this it is comforting to know that the Department of Foreign Affairs is currently drafting a policy on Business and Human Rights.
Nora Owen noted that the Human Rights section of the Department of Foreign Affairs will have more of a hands-on role. It must be borne in mind that developing countries are evolving in the same way European countries did a couple of hundred years ago. They are opting for companies to extract oil and minerals which take a high premium just like we did. Slow tedious processes bring about development. We cannot replace aid with trade instantaneously as developing countries are not ready for it yet. But the process has begun. Norway and Sweden, e.g. are shifting some of their aid into business. We must be cognisant that companies will use loopholes as long as loopholes are in place. Worthy initiatives on the part of companies have been voluntary for the past decade. Tullow Oil’s work in Kenya is a case in point (See Case Study, p.43) but Ms Owen reiterated the need for a more robust legal framework. She believed that Ireland could have a role in assisting governments to set up quality control institutions.
Some comments from the floor:
A speaker from UCD noted that her college now had a “Business and Global Development” module in the final year of their commerce degree.
It was observed that economic growth doesn’t always necessarily include women. “Inclusive growth”, i.e. inclusion of women was essential.
Joe Costello, former Junior Minister responsible for Aid believed that ethical engagement with the private sector was the key.
A speaker from China (whose practices in Africa had earlier been criticised) said that China has nine peacekeeping engagements in Africa currently, a fact that is not widely known.
Fr. Sean Healy made the plea that the aid sector not make the same mistakes as Ireland made by imposing low tax rates on businesses. Low business taxes are his bête noire.
An unknown speaker remarked that while Irish Aid is a minnow in a world of DFIDs and Nordics, we still need to stay engaged as we have an impact and we need to minimise the damage.
Colin Rafter of the Human Rights section of the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that there was a paper due in the autumn dealing with a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.
Maureen O’Sullivan brought the meeting to a conclusion shortly after 10am with the comment that it was nice for once to have an all-women panel.
Download a copy of the report here.