This week’s blog is written by Dan Leonard, Operating Principles Coordinator for MCC. Originally from Philadelphia, Dan now lives in Winnipeg where he has learned to love the winter. In February, he nevertheless looks forward to the start of Major League Baseball spring training.
In November, the government released the Global Markets Action Plan, a government strategic plan for promoting international trade opportunities for the Canadian private sector. One of the standout lines in the document is this: “under the plan, all diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector in order to achieve the stated objectives within key foreign markets.”
The government’s focus on “economic diplomacy” is particularly interesting to read in light of the decision last year to amalgamate Canada’s foreign affairs, trade and development agendas into one new department—the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).
The action plan deals little with the development agenda specifically, other than to “leverage development programming to advance Canada’s trade interests.” This leads some to question whether global poverty reduction as an end in itself is still a goal for Canada. So what impact, if any, will prioritizing the international trade agenda have on Canada’s international development agenda? This question been discussed previously on this blog; MCC Canada’s ongoing concerns on policy coherence recently prompted letters to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and International Development.
Some context for the Global Markets Action Plan is helpful. The 2012 Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer review of Canadian foreign aid noted that Canada has a “strong reputation for its contributions to international development, multilateral organizations and the promotion of human rights.” Central to the effectiveness of Canadian development work has been the insistence that communities should be active participants in defining their own development. One of the key aspects of Canada’s commitment to the Aid Effectiveness Agenda is that “development must be locally-led in order to produce and sustain meaningful results.” More so, Canada has been at the forefront among donor countries pushing NGOs to integrate a gender lens into programming, regularly outspending other DAC members in resources allocated to gender equity and women’s empowerment.
My intention is not to create an idyllic and selective narrative of CIDA’s past. But recognizing the role and reputation of Canada in international development in years past is useful for reflecting on how the intentions and values guiding Canadian development work overseas might change in the future, as Canada aligns a development agenda with a trade agenda.
For example, how will marshalling all Canadian diplomats “on behalf of the private sector” coincide with a desire for “locally-led” development? Will diplomats reviewing CIDA proposals analyze them for community participation, or for how well they align with Canadian economic interests, or perhaps both? Can gender equality help define trade interests? What might that even look like? Or for instance, will plans for a mining project be required to adopt a gender lens and demonstrate that the environment is not unnecessarily degraded? Or, in that same example, if a community does not want the mine, will the project be halted or adjusted even if it limits Canada’s economic opportunities?
Truthfully, we do not know fully what this amalgamation of agendas will mean in practice. But some clues are emerging in the Global Markets Action Plan. Even in the years leading up to the amalgamation, CIDA began funding partnerships between NGOs and mining companies, raising questions as to whether development is acting as a subsidy to, or public relations activity for, mining companies.
On the other hand, in the “development” section of the DFATD website, key priorities of gender equality and environmental sustainability are still mentioned. Projects implemented by NGOs are also still required to integrate a gender and environment lens. So perhaps there is potential for these principles to more forcefully speak into how we conduct trade–though there is no indication in the Global Markets Action Plan that this will be the case.
The win-win of Canadian growth and international development is admittedly tempting. The questions I raise here are not to dispute the merits of aid and trade, or to reject the idea that private sector and NGOs should work together. The point here is that Canada’s private sector interests overseas should not compromise the tremendous learning gained over years of Canadian development work–namely, that essential ingredients to sustainable development are local ownership, gender equity, and environmental sustainability. This is true whether you are an NGO or part of the private sector. Otherwise the win-win of aid and trade will be more of a dream than a reality.