Doing what the Netherlands does best: the future of development cooperation?

After a long wait, Minister Schreinemacher (Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation) finally published her new policy paper, entitled "Doing what the Netherlands does best". While increasing the budget for development cooperation is a good thing, - in the words of Oxfam Novib - effectively "the Netherlands will soon be the largest recipient of the Dutch development budget".

Return to tied aid

What about this? Compared to the policy papers of previous foreign trade and development ministers, there is more focus on trade. Throughout the paper, the minister's rock-solid confidence in the idea that economic growth will automatically go to the poorest of the poor seeps through. From this confidence, it is also not surprising that the Dutch business community is given an important role, if it is up to the minister.

At the same time, tied aid lurks: the paper states that several development cooperation programmes aim to have at least 70% implemented by Dutch companies. This is a form of tied aid, requiring the recipient country to buy goods and/or services from the Netherlands, which usually makes the recipient country more expensive. As Marit Maij, director ActionAid Netherlands says, "Trade is important for the global South but we really need to get rid of the idea that our trade just brings development there."

Towards fair policy

Indeed, at present, the Netherlands' actions contribute little to development elsewhere. The Netherlands ranks 160 out of 163 on the SDG Spillover Index, an index that looks at whether countries' actions have positive or negative effects on other countries' ability to achieve the SDGs. So the Netherlands has a very negative impact on other countries. This is precisely why it is such a missed opportunity that the minister's paper does not put more effort into policy coherence for development, a policy term for, in short, fair Dutch policy.

Although policy coherence is mentioned in the paper as an important condition for achieving the SDGs, it becomes clear in the next sentence that the minister means by this that different ministries should work more together to achieve the same goals. This is totally inadequate, and hopefully something that is already happening anyway. This should not be the only ambition. The spearhead of policy coherence is that all Dutch policies strengthen the development cooperation effort. This is not just working together, but also understanding where things are potentially going wrong and acting accordingly.

A great tool for this already exists, the SDG key. This requires all (new) Dutch policies and legislation to take into account the possible impact on developing countries and gender. In practice, however, this test appears to be underused. This is precisely why it is such a pity that the paper does not focus on this.

Doing what is needed?

The title also evokes many feelings. Because doing what the Netherlands is good at... Isn't it especially important within development cooperation to do what is needed? To be demand-driven and not supply-driven? Or as former politician Bram van Ojik (GroenLinks) said says: "That self-interest is not consistent with solidarity, which is after all the basis of development cooperation." On the other hand, it is of course positive to see where the Netherlands can make the biggest difference. But, as we from FMS also stated in our climate study make clear, policy has more impact when it connects to what is really needed. Therefore, the important call to focus policy not only on commitment from the Dutch business community, but to actually involve local organisations from the global South in the solutions.

Later in the year, some issues will be fleshed out in, for example, the new Policy Coherence Action Plan, the Africa Strategy and the International Climate Strategy. That perhaps partly explains why this paper is still very vague on many issues. There is still a lot of work to be done!

Next Monday, 4 July, the Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Committee will debate the paper with the minister. Hopefully, it will become clear here whether the House also wants the minister to take firmer steps on issues such as international corporate social responsibility, migration, climate and tax evasion.

By: Anne van der Meer