Brown's doleful role at Gleneagles
True to form, Britain has promoted the interests of corporations, not
of Africa, at the G8
Saturday July 09 2005
The government will try to pull off a PR coup in the aftermath of the
G8 summit by posturing as Africa's champion - hiding Britain's real
agenda and how agreements on debt and aid will further impoverish the
While the G8 agreement commits the richest countries to increase aid
and write off the debt of 18 countries, it requires developing
countries to pursue a raft of free-market policies. The G8 is united
behind this agenda, which Britain has taken a lead in pushing.
Gordon Brown's new deal talks of the poorest and richest countries
"each meeting our obligations". Poor countries' obligations are to
"create the conditions for new investment" and "more favourable
business environments" while "opening up trade". Only in return for
these will rich countries provide aid and debt relief and open up
One might think that countries where poverty kills thousands every
day have no obligations towards the rich. But in the world of Brown
and the G8, they are to help western companies make more profits by
pursuing policies that have increased poverty and inequality from
Ghana to Zambia.
New Labour appears to be keen on debt relief because it is a lever to
reshape the global economy for the benefit of private investors. It's
a cheap strategy, too - last month's G7 finance ministers deal cut in
aid what countries got in debt relief.
The new deal was recently morphed by spin doctors into a Marshall aid
plan. Brown told a Chatham House audience that this was "a smart
business proposition: enlightened self-interest at its best ... for
the world economy to prosper and for the companies operating in it to
have markets that expand, developing country growth is a necessity".
Without this, rich countries were "unlikely to maintain the growth
rates we have enjoyed over the past 20 years". Again, poor countries
help western companies, at their own expense.
A March Treasury report on priorities for the UK presidency of the EU
calls for "greater flexibility in product markets, labour markets and
capital markets ... a new approach to regulation and "taking a lead
in multilateral trade liberalisation". This is a strategy that would
make Margaret Thatcher blush.
While Brown has been telling development groups of his commitment to
Africa, he has given speech after speech on his pro-business
policies. Last November, for example, he told the CBI that "rewarding
enterprise is ... central to a renewed British national economic
Deregulation is to be applied globally. The white paper on trade
states that "the UK government has a key role to play at the
international policy level to ensure that ... the UK can compete in
global markets - a more eloquent rendition of former trade secretary
Patricia Hewitt's comment that "we want to open up protected markets
in developing countries".
The G8 and British goal of free trade for poor countries deprives
them of levers to regulate trade for development and is a recipe for
deep ening poverty. Brown's only concession is that poor countries
should have time to adopt such policies. Richard Caborn, the former
trade minister, explained that this "is the message we need to hammer
home if we are to get the developing world to agree to another round
of WTO talks" - ie further opening of their markets.
Here is where aid comes in. The Foreign Office was not joking when it
stated in a 1958 file that aid was "a weapon in the armoury of
foreign policy". The Department for International Development's
(DfID) recent document, Partnerships with Business, states that most
aid recipients "are commercially important to the business sector,
not just as export markets, but also for sourcing inputs and raw
materials, for foreign investment and joint ventures ... Business may
become involved in the identification of key policy and regulatory
constraints to the business environment." DfID's aid is "typically"
used to "enable the private sector to invest with more confidence".
This explains why tens of millions of pounds go to British companies
to force water privatisation on poor countries.
A frica needs less aid like this. And less debt relief, if it comes
with these conditions. And less trade with rich countries, if it is
forced to open up markets.
The basic aim of British elites has traditionally been to help
companies get their hands on other countries' resources. Secret 1960s
files state that "we should bend our energies to help produce a world
economic climate in which our external trade, our income from
invisibles and our balance of payments can prosper". The key was to
protect sources of raw materials in the Middle East and south ern
Africa by promoting "freer" global trade and "increasing our efforts
to open up new markets".
Postwar planners never intended to allow African countries to be
truly independent. After decolonisation, they sought to establish
pro-western elites - like those who now welcome the G8 agreements -
and impose indirect economic rule through levers such as aid. The
Attlee government, which established the aid programme in 1948,
drained millions from Africa to help Britain's postwar recovery.
Current development policies are ways to control nominally
independent economies in a post-imperial world.
G8 leaders favour private business interests, and their agreement is
a vehicle to facilitate the corporate plunder of Africa. Britain's
lead in this needs to be exposed and challenged.
Mark Curtis, until recently director of the World Development
Movement, is author of Unpeople: Britain's Secret Human Rights Abuses
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