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Japan 2008: The evolving G8 development agenda

Date
Time (GMT +01) 11:30 13:00

Speaker:

Mrs Sadako Ogata, President, Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA)

Chair:

Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, Chair, International Development Committee

1. Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP welcomed Mrs Sadako Ogata, President of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). He noted how aid and development are kept separate from foreign policy in Britain, and it would be interesting to see whether this was the same for Japan, when they assume the presidency of the G8 in 2008.

2. Mrs Ogata stressed that though development assistance was an important part of foreign policy, poverty reduction was also very important. There are many ‘very serious’ problems that Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) has to tackle. She welcomed the opportunity that Japan has to lead the G8 and emphasised the 50 year-long history of Japanese ODA to developing countries.

3. Despite this however, Japanese ODA has fallen by 40% over the past ten years, and she felt there was a pressing need to reverse this trend. A prolonged economic recession and fiscal reform were primarily responsible, but Mrs Ogata re-iterated the Japanese pledge to increase funding by US$10 billion over a five-year period from 2005.

4. 2008 presents a ‘crossroads’ for Japanese development policy, and Mrs Ogata outlined three priority areas on which the Japanese will concentrate whilst holding the presidency of the G8:

(i) Promoting human security;
(ii) Enhancement of development aid to Africa;
(iii) The restructuring and merging of the two Japanese development agencies, JICA and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

5. On the first issue, human security, Mrs Ogata drew on her experience of working with refugees at the UN, and emphasized that sometimes it is necessary to help people directly rather than working through governments, advocating both a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approach. Development assistance needed a ‘human face’ she said, and it is important to empower people through programmes of education, health, freedom and protection. Furthermore, such programmes need to work at a community level, and must be linked.

6. With regard to Africa, Mrs Ogata stressed that the continent was a focal point for Japanese development aid. She noted that some progress had been made, and it was vital to ensure that this work continued. She used three examples to illustrate the progress made so far: NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development) is working to improve infrastructure by reducing the amount of border posts between countries, which in turn facilitates the smoother transit of both people and cargo. Secondly, the introduction of Nerica Rice into several African countries, with its resilience to drought and pests and its higher protein content, is an important innovation and is helping to promote the start of an African ‘green revolution’. Lastly, Mrs Ogata mentioned how Rwanda, amongst several other African countries, has approached Japan to accelerate its ICT development. This will have a huge impact on the pace of African development in the future.

7. A merger between JICA and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) will be completed in 2008-09. This will involve significant restructuring of the two Japanese development agencies, allowing for a faster, more efficient single agency, with reduced administrative bottlenecks and all stages of the development process being managed under one roof. Mrs Ogata claimed this would be an ‘enormous challenge’, but with increased funds available to spend (US$8.8 billion) and more field-based staff, she hopes that this will mean Japan is able to meet the needs of the global poor more effectively.

8. Mrs Ogata concluded by emphasising that in order to achieve these development policy aims during its presidency of the G8, Japan would require the help of many other partners.

Discussion

9. Points and questions raised in the discussion included:

• Whether the US$8.8 billion budget includes debt write-offs. Mrs Ogata replied that it does; US$8.8 billion will be the overall funds available to what will be the newly merged JICA/JBIC.

• How to ensure that human security remains on the international development policy agenda. Mrs Ogata said that Japan would aim to follow on directly from the German presidency, but that action on the ground and cross-agency cooperation was also essential.

• How to ensure that aid reaches the poorest people whilst using the ‘bottom up’ approach. Mrs Ogata answered that field-level monitoring would be ensured by having greater numbers of staff based in the field.

• How much aid is given by Japan. The UK was congratulated on becoming the second largest donor, relegating Japan to third place. Mrs Ogata claimed that this would act as an incentive for Japan to increase its ODA, and Rt Hon Bruce added that the UK needed partners who would donate similar amounts, fearing that tax payers would resent seeing the UK as an isolated donor.

• The current level of public support in Japan for increasing ODA. Mrs Ogata replied that public support was being improved by both development education in schools, and through JICA’s volunteer programme for young people – especially schoolteachers – who are sent to developing countries on placements of up to two years each.

• Whether the profile of international development needs to change, and whether just providing loans is sufficient. Mrs Ogata said that loans play an important part in development, especially as part of microfinance schemes, though more open consultation on the issue is required.

• The differences between Asian development and African development: Asian society is widely regarded as more homogenous than African societies which can be highly diverse. Mrs Ogata responded that it is still possible to learn lessons from the development experience of Asian societies, and she is confident that it will be possible for Africa to share a similar level of success.

• Whether JICA would consult the emerging NGO coalition forming around Japan’s G8 presidency. Mrs Ogata indicated that yes, discussions would be held.

• Whether there was rivalry between China and the G8 countries in providing development assistance. Mrs Ogata responded that there probably was, but in this domain, competition was a positive thing, and developing countries are open to assistance from all sides anyway.

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