LeaveHQ, 29/12/2015  

If you'll excuse the pun, we're going to wade into the foreign aid debate. Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the floods over Christmas there is a clamour to politicise the weather and draw false parallels between budget cuts in the Environment Agency and our foreign aid spending.

As ever we find ourselves at odds with classic eurosceptics who claim we need to end foreign aid spending to redirect into flood defences. We've lost count how many times that money has been spent in the fantasy spending games. It's silly.

The fact is that every single instance of heavy flooding needs to be viewed as a product of the very distinct local circumstances - and what we tend to find is that there is seldom a single point of failure and the reasons are multifarious and often unexpected. What they have in common is a sudden deluge of rain at a time where we've already had several months of it and the ground is saturated.

Eventually, too much water, however good your defences, is going to cause problems and that is just a feature of trying to run a modern first world civilisation on this rainy island of ours. We are always going to be making retroactive adjustments to our evolving flood defence policy and we doubt we will ever be able to say "never again".

We would be cautious of pinning the blame for floods on the EU as some have already done. We can certainly pick fault with badly implemented regulation and misapplied directives (and we would be the first to do so) but there comes a point when blaming everything under the sun on the mere existence of the EU looks like paranoid histrionics. That is certainly true this time.

As with our aid budget, that is another matter. Governments show extraordinary skill in conjuring funds out of thin air in the wake of disasters both here and abroad. Governments will always find money for extra flood defences regardless of what we are giving in foreign aid. That's just plain politics. We are not short on flood defence money because we give aid overseas. To suggest so is fatuous.

In this we would offer a robust defence of the need to spend money overseas. The question is how is that money accounted for, who is spending it and what is the net result?

Hardliners would be quick to invoke the compelling work of Dambisa Moyo to denounce foreign aid spending as harmful to Africa, therefore an excuse to disengage with the world. We do not agree. Moyo's work is good as far as it goes but she is not actually saying anything at all new, and is in fact repeating a lot of what her PhD supervisor, Paul Collier, has outlined in his own book, The Bottom Billion. It is flawed.

They argue that aid creates a form of dependency, which we do not dispute, but that really rather depends on the type of aid and how it links in with our foreign and trade policy. The immediate issue we would raise is that we don't really have either. Trade is an exclusive competence of the EU.

What we have as an aid policy (if we can call it that) is an arbitrary feelgood target - and in order to meet that target we have effectively outsourced our aid policy to global NGOs at whom we are firehosing vast sums of money without much in the way of conditions.

While it is more transparent and accountable than it has been in previous years, we would say that is still insufficient - and more importantly, aid not linked to trade policy fails to tackle the issues that cause humanitarian emergencies. There is no exit strategy for this kind of spending thus it must be perpetuated ad infinitum. If the goal is a self-sufficient, developed Africa freely trading with the world, this is entirely the wrong way to do it.

What Africa does need, in our view, is assistance in governance, developing domestic taxation systems so it can gradually draw down aid, until such a time as the economy is sufficiently developed where it is in the position to drop the border tariffs on which their governments depend. That is where aid is best spent.

What we have seen in place of having our own foreign policy is the EU barging in, using its collective weight to insist on the removal of border tariffs, thus making African governments more dependent on Western handouts and bribes from foreign corporates. That's no way to run a country. If income is from a single source then there is no incentive to govern effectively. We also note is that this kind of trade is not reciprocal and is more exploitative than actual free trade.

If we want better trade for Africa so that it is no longer dependent on aid we need a reappraisal of trade policy. Moyo argues that European regulation acts as a barrier to African trade, thus Africa is wasting its time trying to negotiate access to Western markets and should instead look to forge its own trade links elsewhere with nations that need its resources such as China. That is a shortsighted view.

The reason for this is, as we repeatedly point out, EU law is not actually EU law and is in fact a patchwork of global conventions and standards that form the basis of an emerging global single market encompassing well over a hundred countries. If Africa wants to do business with the modern world, it will need to adopt those standards and comply with the rules.

Even China is now beginning to assert its own regulatory requirements that are often in convergence with or own. These standards exist to enhance and expedite trade as much as anything else - and there is no value in leaving Africa behind. It will find export opportunities shrinking while their governance and infrastructure fails to meet global standards.

Consequently we should not be dropping our regulatory standards to accommodate Africa, rather we should be assisting African nations with compliance so that they can export to the EU and beyond. Regulation is not by any means a negative and aid can usefully be directed at assisting growers meet export standards, and for the authorities to improve surveillance and enforcement systems.

This will take education, training and masses of IT expertise and investment in infrastructure. We have already seen much private sector engagement in the far east looking to squeeze every last efficiency out of the logistics chain. It actually needs little involvement from government as the financial incentives are already there for the likes of Maersk and Cosco. We need to tear down the barriers to more of this.

What we need is a trade policy that seeks to include Africa in the global single market in ways that the EU does not. We note that much of the global sustainable development agenda that drives the rulemaking and regulation is very often is steamrollered in with little in the way of democracy and is largely the plaything of major corporate lobbyists. We need our own voice at the top table to ensure this does not happen - or at the very least make the conventions work in the favour of nations we trade with.

The one-sided and destructive trade deals we have seen between Africa and the EU are effectively a licence to pillage wealth of the land and seas. We do not support this. It is a wrecking ball to Africa.

If we have a targeted and integrated trade and aid policy then we will identify regulatory enhancements or obstacles. We can then use our own voice as part of a WTO trade alliance that could act as a counterweight to the EU. We could be the global leader in opening up European markets to Africa in the face of EU protectionism. We could be the shot in the arm that Europe needs by acting independently of the EU.

The bottom line is that if we really do want to help the developing world then we will need to reintegrate our aid policy with trade - and we will need to stop abdicating the management of it to NGOs - otherwise we are pouring petrol on the bonfire.

As much as anything, developing Africa is key to solving a large part of our immigration issues and enhancing trade is the way we do that. This is not going to happen without spending money. It is also not going to happen while the EU is in charge of our trade policy and our aid policy is a wristband sentiment divorced from a coherent strategy.

It may be that the opportunities that independence creates means we need to spend less on aid - but we go into this with open eyes, knowing that it could well cost more. But at least that kind of spending marks a real investment with tangible returns. Simply sending a blank cheque to the EU is not an aid policy and it is too important to abdicate our global responsibility.

We cannot expect transparency from the EU in this. Not because we view it as especially corrupt but because that is the nature of long chains of accountability. In order to get more bang for our bucks we need to be dealing directly and we need to be participating fully at the global level.

Aid should not be some generic donation we make out of guilt. We owe it to both the recipient and the taxpayer to ensure it is directed to a worthwhile effect and that it does no harm. We cannot do that while we use a middleman and especially not one whose interests are more to do with protecting the EU internal market than expanding the global market. If we believe in a world without barriers to trade then a departure from the EU would be a seriously good start.

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