Whenever I listen to Andrew Mitchell, the Overseas Development Secretary, I am impressed by his passion to tackle world poverty, hunger and disease. He believes in what he is doing, and he is making important changes at the department.
I welcome his decision to stop giving aid to richer nuclear weapons countries like China and Russia. There was something bizarre about the UK granting aid to China out of money we borrow, only to have to borrow the money on international markets from countries like China with large surpluses. It would be good to enjoy those savings whilst we get the deficit down.
I am glad he has accepted that a lot of state to state aid finds its way into the wrong hands, and can end up buying better cars or weapons for tyrants if it is not properly policed. He has made clear his zero tolerance of waste and fraud in the budget.
I also think the west needs to do more to give the hungry and poor of the world a better chance in life. There are two things that to me are more important than the overseas aid budget in bringing this about.
The first is the west should restrain itself from printing too much money which helps power commodity speculation. Recent food price increases are in part the result of quantitative easing money finding its way into more risky assets like commodity futures. The hungry of the world are the most damaged by the big increases in the prices of the basics over the last year. The west needs to understand that its inflation can do damage miles away from home as well. Spending more on buying food for immediate relief is no permanent answer if food is getting dearer and dearer.
The second is the west should do more to allow access to our markets for produce coming from poor countries. The Common Agricultural Policy acts as a block on the poorer countries growing more product to sell for hard currency receipts to help get them out of poverty.Reform of the CAP – and the US equivalent protections – would do more to tackle world poverty than many aid programmes.
I welcome the governemnt’s strong commitment to poverty and hunger relief. I would like them to take a tougher approach to restrictions on world trade and to permissive inflation, as these are two of the biggest obstacles to progress.