Development aid to focus on private sector and Dutch firms

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The new centre-right cabinet is going to reduce aid to poor countries and focus on the economic development of the private sector with support of Dutch companies, Deputy Foreign Minister for Development Aid Ben Knapen announced at the unveiling of a new policy. The new strategy, he explained, aims to create more business relationships, which, in the long run, are to benefit the Netherlands itself.

Support for development aid has waned over the past few years, Mr Knapen notes. To restore that support, the minister intends to focus on "helping them to help each other". "We want to offer visible support to wider Dutch interests", the new Christian Democrat minister added.

The liberal-Christian Democrat minority cabinet intends to reduce development aid from 0.8 percent of GDP to the international norm of 0.7 percent. Development aid expenditure should, as a result, drop from five to four billion euros in two years' time. The cabinet intends to cut 400 million euros in 2011, and 900 million in 2012. In addition, the new government is going to try to have international peacekeeping missions partly included in the international rules for development aid.

"Sharp choices" Instead of "salami slicing", Mr Knapen says, the cabinet has chosen to introduce "drastic cuts" to make "sharp choices". He wants development policy to focus on traditional areas of Dutch business expertise such as water management and agricultural programmes. The number of partner countries will be reduced from the current number of 36 to less than 16. The deputy minister will decide next year which countries are to lose their partner status

The pro-business cabinet will introduce deep cuts in social sectors in which previous governments invested heavily. It will cut 160 million euros in education, 107 million euros in social programmes and 71 million euros in help for HIV/Aids programmes. The minister argues that Aids programmes are inefficient because many different parties are participating in them.

Trendsetter Coalition parties VVD and CDA have welcomed the new strategy but have voiced concern at the announced cuts in Aids programmes. "The Netherlands has traditionally been a trendsetter in Aids prorammes", Christian Democrat MP Kathleen Ferrier warns. Labour and the Green Party are especially critical about the emphasis on Dutch interests.


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