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Trade and the White Paper

Written by Sheila Page


The new White Paper on international development raises concerns that trade may be slipping through the cracks of UK development policy. The transformation of the old Overseas Development Administration into a Department for International Development was meant to signal that the UK recognised that aid was not the only way to promote development. Promoting good trade policy towards developing countries was an essential part of the new Department. But the new White Paper focuses almost entirely on aid, and DFID’s new logo UKAID (which sounds more like a sugary drink) is purely about aid. 

It is not that trade policy has been given priority elsewhere. In 2007, DFID moved its trade policy work to a Joint Trade Policy Unit with what is now the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, but trade had disappeared from the name of that Department three name changes ago. Trade policy is, of course, formally conducted at the European level, but the six areas in which, according to the White Paper (pp 111-113), ‘the UK will seek to improve the impact of the EU’s development effort’ are all in the field of aid. 

There are some measures that could make trade easier in the White Paper, although most are continuations of existing policy. There are a few mentions of trade policy, but the specific proposals are mainly confined to the ACP countries, and again confirm previous commitments. For other developing countries, the commitment to finish the Doha Round remains. But there is no indication of what changes to proposals already on the table could make this possible, or of the timing. To add to the uncertainty, the estimated benefits are drawn from ‘unpublished European Commission research’ (p. 149). The White Paper supports making rules of origin ‘simpler’ (p. 30), without details or evidence. Making rules of origin easier to use would be a useful commitment, but comparisons of different rules suggest that this may actually need more targeting and therefore less ‘simplicity’. There is support for reforming international institutions, again without details (it will ‘propose reforms’, p. 115), and with no mention of the WTO.

The proposals to make aid more efficient are also without detail, and when the Paper does quote some real numbers for the UN and World Bank, it refers to them disparagingly as ‘number crunching’ (pp. 109, 119).  In a further move away from evidence-based policy, it proposes to double the support for ‘faith based groups’.    

The lack of details on trade policy is worrying. Where does trade now sit within DFID's development policy framework?