Fairtrade Foundation expresses concern over UK’s delivery on ‘aid for trade’ policies

The Fairtrade Foundation has highlighted concerns over a review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) of the UK’s ‘aid for trade’ approach, which in its view may not be doing enough to reach those most in need within communities including the cocoa sector, writes Neill Barston.

Sustainability within the industry is set to once again play a key role in our World Confectionery Conference this October, with the Fairtrade movement being represented to discuss how it is continuing to engage with farmers in core supplier nations of Ghana, Ivory Coast.

Published this month, ICAI’s review assesses how well the UK’s aid for trade interventions (funded through overseas development assistance) has supported low-income countries to expand their trade, and contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction, since 2015. As the organisation noted, while trade remains a key driver of growth, only 1% of global exports are from poorer nations, noting that aid for trade development assistance, when applied strategically, can address those imbalances.

According to the UK Government’s own data on overseas aid, in 2021 budgets fell by 21% compared to 2021, standing at £11.4 billion, following a decision to cut the dedicated national budget from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of gross government income amid a period of poor growth within the UK economy, impacted by the present cost of living crisis and other contributing factors including Brexit, which has weakened trade with near European neighbours. The overseas budget aid cut has subsequently seen concerns from international charities and aid agencies. However, funding levels have been anticipated to return to their former amount by 2028, though no formal confirmation of this has been given.

Giving the UK Government an Amber/Red rating in its latest review, ICAI concludes that: ‘The UK is not doing enough to ensure that its aid for trade interventions benefit the poor, and the increased focus on short-term UK interests poses risks to the quality of programming that are not being sufficiently managed.’

Consequently, it has produced a set of five recommendations for the government including developing and publishing a set of detailed guiding principles for aid programmes to ensure that the pursuit of secondary benefits to the UK does not detract from its primary poverty reduction objective.

In its view, the government should also focus its efforts on aid programmes programmes are based on clear theories of change linking them to poverty reduction and impacts on the poor and test the assumptions through research, monitoring and evaluation. It also said that any such endeavours should be done with improved coordination and collaboration between programmes that have the potential to complement each other to achieve greater impact and value for money. In addition, it also said the UK government needed to inform its partners in a timely and transparent manner when its budgets increase or reduce significantly, and the pace of change should allow partners sufficient time to adjust.

Responding, Mike Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, noted that the present international trade system was ‘already heavily stacked in favour of the richest and most powerful’ nations. He said: ‘Since the Government approved cuts to the UK’s aid budget, it has become more vital than ever that our overseas aid is spent well and is directed at those who most need it. This amber/red rating from ICAI is therefore extremely worrying, although not a complete surprise.

To register for this year’s conference on 5 October featuring a broad cross section of the confectionery sector and its supply chains, which includes a presentation from Fairtrade, as well as keynote speakers including Caobisco, Ferrero, Nestle and Cargill, see our World Confectionery Conference website for details.

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