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Meeting the development challenge

Time (GMT +01) 17:00 18:00

Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Secretary of State for International Development, DFID
Rt Hon John Battle MP, Chair, APGOOD

1. John Battle MP, in the chair, introduced Douglas Alexander MP and stated that he would outline his vision and the future direction for DFID. He emphasized that Mr Alexander has a track record of campaigning on development issues and that the recent CSR announcement included details of an increased budget for DFID, which was very encouraging. He also reminded the audience that the new enquiry of the International Development Select Committee was on maternal health.

Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP

2. Douglas Alexander started by reminding the audience that DFID was established 10 years ago and since then, the UK has driven forward the development agenda. The UK is now ranked as the second highest aid donor, and DFID is widely regarded as the best development agency in the world. The recent CSR settlement demonstrates that the government is committed to deliver on its promises, and to build on this success over the next 10 years.

3. Mr Alexander explained that his speech would address three questions:

a. What does the world currently look like?
b. What does this mean for the challenge of development?
c. What are the immediate priorities for action?

4. In asking what the world currently looks like, Mr Alexander stated that there is a high level of interdependence, citing as examples the issues of migration, defaulted US mortgages and the current credit squeeze, and carbon emissions. He stated that there is no such thing as self-interest anymore, there are only shared interests and shared priorities. It is 7 years since the adoption of, and 7 years until the target for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Much has been achieved already on these but there is still a long way to go. A disproportionate number of people living in poverty are women, for example. Urgent action is required, led by developing countries practising good governance which will result in effective and responsible states.

5. Mr Alexander explained that the Prime Minister's speech in New York in July outlined a 'Global Partnership for Development' and emphasized that development objectives would not be met unless we work together to achieve them. He cautioned however that aid is only part of the solution.

6. Mr Alexander explained that the fundamental challenges at the start of the 21st century are:

a. Multilateralism
b. Growth/trade
c. Climate change
d. Conflict

7. On multilateral action, he explained that this was important for a range of reasons and that DFID would be spending more through multilateral institutions in the future, and in the process, would be asserting more influence over the decisions of such institutions. DFID would also be very supportive of the implementation of the UN High Level Panel's report on system-wide coherence, as well as Robert Zoellick's new vision for the World Bank.

8. On growth/trade, Mr Alexander emphasized that aid is a catalyst and that development professionals and agencies exist to work themselves out of business. He said that DFID's number 1 priority in this regard would be to deliver on the Doha Round of trade talks. On Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), he stated that the UK government will argue that EPAs can and must be made to benefit ACP countries. He emphasized that developing countries must be equipped to enter the global marketplace, and to take advantage of initiatives such as Aid for Trade and the International Finance Facility (IFF).

9. On climate change, the Secretary of State stated that it is imperative that the issue is both recognised and tackled as it is currently the greatest threat development and the poor face the biggest threat. Developing countries must be assisted to both mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, and helped to reduce their carbon emissions. There should also be a cross-government framework agreement to reduce emissions which must be followed. The new Environmental Transformation Fund (ETF) will also help poor countries to adapt, and to make the best use of new, carbon-free technologies.

10. On conflict, Mr Alexander stated that conflict is both a cause and the result of poverty. Arms control measures are just part of the solution and DFID, the FCO and the MoD must work closely together on this issue, however the causes and impacts of conflict are the responsibility of the whole international community, as is the upholding of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. In the case of Darfur, UN Security Council Resolution 1769 makes this a reality however, there is still much the international community could do speed up the process, to get the African Union troops into position, progress the peace talks and deliver humanitarian aid.

11. On the CSR commitments, Mr Alexander explained that funds for DFID have trebled between 1997-2010, but progress towards development goals in this period have been the result of the whole UK development community working together. He emphasized that there is a real opportunity for this coalition to achieve even more and to accelerate progress towards the MDGs by together ensuring that the Global Partnership for Development outlined by Gordon Brown in New York in July really delivers.


12. Questions and comments raised during the discussion included:

a. The issue of resource conflict with regard to Darfur, particularly water - what can the UK do to prevent such conflicts from occurring? Mr Alexander explained that resource scarcity is a problem in the region, especially water, however the scale of the problem is also important to take into account, as well as the causes, and other dimensions. Mr Alexander felt that taking a long-term view was important and that DFID would look to provide more assistance to aid agencies and give clear and sequenced messages to the Sudanese government, rebels and other parties to the peace agreement.

b. Maternal mortality is not the only issue affecting women - they also make an important economic contribution. What programmes does DFID intend to implement with regard to the wider role of women? Mr Alexander replied that his focus on maternal mortality was not intended to diminish the gender aspect - DFID understands the vital importance of women and of gender programmes and further action needs to be taken, both unilaterally, and by the multilateral community.

c. Where does the Secretary of State see the blockages/barrier to implementing his vision for DFID and for international development, especially internationally, and how can the wider development community help? Mr Alexander replied that DFID have had a continuous focus on trade policy and these are also critical weeks for the Doha negotiations. In addition, Gordon Brown wants to instigate a 'development emergency' - a global call to action - for 2008, using the G8 meeting in Japan, the EU and the UN, to create a campaigning momentum to make other governments implement their Gleneagles commitments. He also wants to examine how the UK works with partners in both developed and developing countries and to make sure that all governments do the right thing in international environments. NGOs in all developed countries take forward pioneering campaigns and the Ministers of all countries should be obliged to meet with their campaigners.

d. What about conflicts of interest, e.g. trade needs to be reconciled with local economic development too, and public services should also be organised holistically. Mr Alexander replied that trade was neither a problem nor a solution, it must reflect reality. Trade facilitation and infrastructure should be driven by evidence but it is not a panacea. The needs of developing countries must be understood. Conditionality is also important.

e. Most poor people in Africa are still reliant on agriculture. What does DFID intend to do with regard to agriculture and development? Mr Alexander replied that agriculture is very important and continues to be so, hence its mention in the 2006 White Paper. The aim is not to replicate the Green Revolution in Africa, but to address issues such as commodity prices and agricultural technologies around seeds, etc.

f. What shape might the meeting that Gordon Brown called for in New York take, will it be a large international conference? With regard to low energy paths, it is very important to involve young people in the post-Carbon future. Mr Alexander replied that the meeting which the Prime Minster mentioned will possibly use the UN as a forum via which to revisit the MDGs and other challenges. With regard to such an event, NGOs are better qualified to maximise political attention. With regard to low carbon, the World Bank has a real opportunity to develop its role in driving forward financing for low carbon technologies. The UK is ready to participate and find a way forward for the Environmental Transformation Fund (ETF).

g. On debt cancellation, there is still a long way to go. With regard to the new threat from vulture funds, both the Paris Club and the Prime Minister have expressed concerns - will there be concrete action on this from the UK government? Mr Alexander replied that the technical expertise to deal with such issues often resides at the Treasury rather than DFID but cross-departmental conversations on this issue are underway.

h. The fundamental deal from Gleneagles was that rich countries would provide the money if poor countries provided good governance. There are other places apart from Darfur and Zimbabwe which also merit international attention, such as: the Niger delta; Somalia; and Rwanda. What is being done politically with regard to these areas? If nothing, is that because the UK does not consider itself strong enough to deal with the problems (as with the case of Zimbabwe); because there is no publicity of these areas; or because it is believed that money is better spent elsewhere? Mr Alexander replied that it is not that we're not strong with regard to Zimbabwe, it's that we want to engage in effective partnerships rather than patrimonialism. In addition, we need to engage with others in the development community. The UK has been relentless in its determination to keep raising concerns. With regard to the three examples given, the UK does have a differentiated approach, and a primary concern is to spend tax payers' money effectively, either through general budget support where governments are effective, or through direct humanitarian assistance where they are not.

i. Staff cuts at DFID. Mr Alexander replied that the focus should be on outputs not inputs. There are particular challenges of operating in fragile environments especially, and DFID needs to be confident in its ability to deliver on its responsibility to give tax payers value for money.

j. How will DFID engage with China? Mr Alexander replied that there is already extensive Ministerial engagement with China. Mark Malloch Brown has just returned from Beijing and Gordon Brown is already engaging. We can expect more in the future on how DFID will engage with China on development issues, to share expertise, and to help the Chinese spend their money more effectively.

13. In conclusion, John Battle summed up by stating that the local is global and vice versa, we have to both think and act locally and globally at the same time. Within the UK government, this might mean DFID working more closely with the FCO, MoD, DEFRA, and other government departments. He thanked Douglas Alexander for his cohesive, holistic vision and for fusing the two agendas together.


At this ODI and APGOOD event, the Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP spoke about the priorities for meeting the development challenge at the MDG mid-point.

Boothroyd Room