Of Australian aid agonies, trade secrets and abominable snowmen…

Hello and welcome to another NZADDs email update,

Australian Aid Agonies
With the demise of AusAID, this week saw the end of an era. Former AusAID staffer Robin Davies has an elegant eulogy for the agency up on the Development Policy Centre’s website. The big question now is, of course, ‘what now?’ Robin appears to suggest in his blog that the planned integration may go beyond what occurred in New Zealand, with the aid programme ceasing to be an entity in any meaningful sense, and with aid being delivered via DFAT country desks. Possibly I’m misreading the blog, but were integration to take this form it would likely prove disastrous in the Australian context. Giving aid well requires expertise and a coherent community of staff who can share learning, and who are governed by norms of good practice. It is hard to see how this could exist absent a specialised aid department.

Other aspects of the upcoming changes are becoming clearer: staff cuts appear almost certain, and an email containing some of the principles governing reintegration planning can be found on the Development Policy Centre’s website.

As is often the case with aid, all of this has happened fairly quietly, although the Age newspaper has offered some good commentary (here and here) and some good news reporting (on AusAID staff anxieties here and a truly bizarre incident during a meeting at DFAT here). And, from afar, what appears to be NZADDs’s Canadian equivalent has some advice for Tony Abbot on aid — an interesting read, suggesting just how similar the Canadian and New Zealand experiences have been.

Publish What You Fund
Publish what you fund have released their annual report on aid transparency. Analysis of New Zealand can be found here — the short story being that NZ does all right but with room for improvement. Also, the Development Policy Centre’s blog has a great post analysing Australian aid transparency (Australia’s Aid Transparency Charter was recently disappeared from their aid website). There is also a suggestion in recent news reporting that the change of government in Australia has already brought with it decreased aid programme transparency in the form of much slower responses to enquiries from journalists.

Fences for Aid or Fences for Cows
And continuing on the theme of giving aid transparently and for genuinely good purposes, Jo has a blog post here arguing that we need to ring fence New Zealand aid from domestic interests, lest all our aid end up going to fund fences.

Giving Cash
Meanwhile, the Economist Magazine has a nice summary of the pros and cons of aid’s latest fad: unconditional cast transfers.

It’s Not Right
Here in the NZADDs admin division our reasons for opposing free trade are surprisingly similar to our reasons for opposing Abominable Snowmen. We oppose both, because neither exist. There is no such thing as free trade. The term is a marketing gimmick used to make a certain approach to trade sound appealing. In reality trade takes place everywhere on Earth bound by rules and regulations. (Consumer protection rules, labour laws, rules to prevent monopoly price gouging, rules to prevent theft…) Without these rules, exchange of all but the most primitive sort would be impossible.

Saying this isn’t the same as saying trade is bad (it’s not; it’s essential) or that globalisation is bad. But the rules that govern trade matter. They shape the outcomes we see from trade and exchange. And when the rules governing trade are inequitable there are usually welfare consequences. Indeed part of the reason New Zealand is a relatively well developed country is that we have rules that enable trade in a manner that is usually fairly fair. Rules developed and debated in the open and amongst a power structure of somewhat balanced countervailing forces, amongst the governing framework of democracy.

In the case of international trade things aren’t so simple. There is far greater potential for power imbalances, which reduces the odds of good rules. There is also often far too little transparency to international trade agreement negotiations. Yet transparency is crucial. Not only to let us know if the rules being negotiated are good ones but also because there are always be winners and losers from trade agreements, and if we are to have any idea of who these will be, we need to know what’s in the agreements in question.

This still isn’t an argument against international trade (it’s generally a good thing). Rather it is an argument for transparent trade negotiations. Something we currently lack when it comes to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. And if you would like to know which aspects of your life your government is currently signing away as it negotiates this agreement, or if you just want other people to know to facilitate analysis and debate, the It’s Not Right petition is for you. You can sign it to call on the New Zealand government to make the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership available for public scrutiny. Signing takes all of two minutes, which is a very small price to pay to promote democratic deliberation.

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