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G7 Finance Ministers Discuss Aid for Trade in Poor Countries

G7 finance ministers, representing the world’s richest countries, are meeting in London Friday. They’re agenda includes trade and aid for poor African countries. One NGO says it fears the meeting could result in a bad deal for developing countries.

ActionAid International says the G7 must commit to ensuring that poverty reduction is at the heart of upcoming World Trade Organization negotiations. Tom Sharman is a policy analyst for ActionAid International in London. English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua asked him to describe what’s called aid-for-trade for developing countries.

“That’s a very good question. It’s not clear at all what it might actually be at the end of the day. We’re in favor of an aid for trade package if it means that developing countries can choose the kind of aid that they want. And they can choose how it’s spent and there aren’t damaging conditions attached to it. But we’re not in favor of it if it means that its actually money to help try to change their trade policies to benefit rich countries and their exporters,” he says.

In other words, attaching strings to any aid-for-trade deal? Mr. Sharman says, “We don’t want to see any strings attached to the aid that would be damaging to those countries. In the past, and much present aid in fact is used to force countries to privatize essential services, such as water, and to open up their markets prematurely to international competition. ”

He prefers using it to improve customs facilities, providing new computers, etc. At the G8 summit in June, world leaders spoke of improving aid and trade to Africa.

Mr. Sharman was asked why then should he and others be concerned about harmful policies? He says, “The EU, that’s the European Union, and other rich countries like the United States, have a very different vision of what trade and development mean. We’re saying that development should be at the heart of all of these deals. So, poor countries should have the right to protect particularly their vulnerable farm sectors and their infant industries from the full force of international competition until their ready to do so.”