Disaster relief and foreign aid aren’t the same thing

by Tim Wilson, August 3, 2011

A few weeks ago the Sydney Morning Herald ran an op-ed by Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson Young, highlighting the issues of famine in Africa.

Irrespective of anyone’s individual opinion on foreign aid support for starving people in cases of famine is neither political nor anything anyone really opposes. And for good reason. Disasters occur that are well outside of any individual’s control. In such circumstances people often cannot help themselves and human compassion rightly overrides. And despite not endorsing all aspects of her article Hanson-Young is right to call for greater support.

But where SD differs with Hanson-Young is over disaster relief versus foreign aid. They are not the same thing. Disaster relief should be temporary and for incredible circumstances. Foreign aid has a much longer life span and normally relates much more closely to issues of human governance. The two should not be confused, as the Senator likes to do to advance her political views.

Substance, not slogans, are needed

by Tim Wilson, August 2, 2011

Allegations by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council  that orangutans are being mistreated during a recent visit to Melbourne Zoo couldn’t come at a more heated time in the debate about the sustainability of the crop and the actions of zoos against it.

The Federal Parliament recently passed an absurd Bill on the back of political deals by the Opposition and Independents to treat the oil seed differently from other oils. In enacted the Bill will almost certainly put Australia in breach of international trade rules. The New Zealand government isn’t happy. And it’s just dumb policy which will neither achieve the objective desired and sets an appalling precedent for food labelling to be used as a political football.

Putting the policy aside the reaction of Melbourne Zoo’s spokesperson to animal mistreatment, Rachel Lowry, showed a glass jaw on the subject retaliating that the concerns were not raised with the Zoo. She made similar comments when SD produced a report highlighting that a ‘fact’ sheet on their website wasn’t based in facts at all. Lowry appears more convinced of her own moral superiority than the circumstances of the orangutan she keeps captive.

Instead of sloganeering she should have addressed the real issue which is what circumstances animals living in captivity face. Certainly being left in the cold is not acceptable. Especially for a Zoo. Even more so when they are happy to lecture others. Let’s hope it isn’t the case.

Whether the Zoo is actually mistreating orangutans remains up in the air. It’s a classic case of he said, she said. But considering the gravity of attacks against the Malaysian palm oil industry Victoria Zoo has an obligation to at least investigate whether the orangutan they have in captivity are happy and healthy. Not just sloganeering, as they have done to date.

While that happens the government should turn its focus back to the issue of the absurd law passed by the Senate and ensure that when Parliament resumes in two weeks time it sits on the books for the sake of developing world poor.

Trade not aid

by Tim Wilson, July 19, 2011

SD is often confused about why aid gets such a good run when it is both unsustainable by donor countries, and also creates dependence for recipients which is also unsustainable. Today Hugh White had an excellent op-ed highlighting why aid is not sustainable making the most obvious point of all – the evidence is against aid.

Greenpeace: Deniers and enemies of the future …

by Tim Wilson, July 14, 2011

Seeing this article made my blood boil. In short, it is an article about how Greenpeace is targeting and attacking genetically enhanced crops. What’s there to say really. They are deniers of the benefits of scientific advancement and enemies of the future. Around the world there’ll be starving children one day because of these people.

Indonesian Government and New Zealand Greens battle over Australia

by Tim Wilson, July 13, 2011

Interestingly the Indonesia government has started to kick up a fuss about Australia’s palm oil labeling bill. It’s actually too little, too late now that it has passed the Parliament. Meanwhile New Zealand Greens have announced their support.

Neither should really surprise. The more interesting discussions are going behind closed doors. Currently the Australian government is negotiating an asylum seeker swap with the government of Malaysia. According to reports the deal is nearly clinched.

Considering palm oil is such a major export industry for Malaysia I wonder whether discussions about the Parliament’s recent passage of the bill is being included in discussions. If it isn’t there, it certainly is in free trade agreement negotiations. Neither augur’s well for this Bill standing the test of real policy and political scrutiny.

Breaking a trans-Tasman treaty

by Tim Wilson, July 4, 2011

Last year SD spoke at the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council’s annual conference about a range of public policy challenges that affect both the developed and developing world. One key issue was the continuing focus of government’s to separately label palm oil.

Since then the Australian Parliament has voted to separately label palm oil in a political capitulation to populist Senator, Nick Xenophon.

Interestingly now the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council has announced that they think it breaks a bilateral treaty between Australia and New Zealand. We suspect they’re correct since most Australians don’t even think to consider their obligations to those across the Tasman.

While bilateral treaty obligations are important, they are not the real reason this Bill should be junked. The real reason is the livelihoods of millions in the developing world who’ll pay the costs of rich-world snobbery who ignore that part of sustainable environmental development is sustainable economic development as well. If the opportunities for the poor to lift themselves out of poverty disappear they don’t take it, they just shift to other avenues, often which are less efficient, more costly and consumer more of the world’s scarce resources than the first option.

Increasing the cost of living for the rich and killing the poor’s livelihood

by Tim Wilson, June 18, 2011

Today SD released its latest report on the impact of Australian environmental regulation on the developing world. Upward pressure looks at the impact of politically abusing food labelling regulation to achieve environmental objectives.

The report highlights that:

1. The regulations are clearly designed to foster consumer boycotts against palm oil.
2. Switching from palm oil is likely to lead to buying comporable oils that are 20 per cent more expensive resulting in increased food prices.
3. Introducing compulsory palm oil labeling is likely to breach the World Trade Organisation’s Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.
4. Introducing labeling to foster consumer boycotts against major exports of Indonesia and Malaysia is likely to create political and diplomatic headaches between  Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur with Canberra.
5. Most concerning of all the livelihoods of the developing world’s poor would be put second to indulge the whims of attention seeking Australian politicians.

I recommend Australian politicians read the paper before they decide the fate of their current plans, and realise the absurdity of their proposals.  The paper can be found here.

Indonesian investment reform

by Tim Wilson, May 25, 2011

One of the areas of public policy often overlooked in poverty alleviation is that around foreign direct investment. FDI is clearly an enormous boon for countries because it normally brings with it money, technology, skills and most importantly, jobs. It also tends to bring infrastructure.

Significant investment flows are already going into South East Asia and China because they are where growth opportunities exist as people are lifted out of poverty. Indonesia is a good example, despite the global financial crisis its investment flows have remained strong and GDP growth has also been up.

Encouraging FDI is tough. We live in a capital constrained world. And as developed countries come out of recession it will become more constrained.

The challenge is to create the proper environment to ensure government policy is not a barrier to growth. SD has an op-ed on the subject today looking at the institutional barriers in Indonesia and also looking at recent evidence and examples that highlight the challenge. The article is available here.

A reminder of the basics …

by Tim Wilson, April 5, 2011

There’s nothing new about the enormous importance mobile phones are playing in the developing world to empower entrepreneurs to engage successfully in the marketplace. There are lots of stories of fisherman using phones to find the best port to deliver their catch because it sells at the highest price. They’re not alone.

This article is an interesting reminder of that argument focusing on an alternative area of poverty alleviation – sanitation. It’s a quirky look at the issue, but interesting nonetheless, especially in this period where mobile phones are as much a tool of communication as an instrument of banking and revolution.

The impact of foreign aid on development …

by Tim Wilson, April 4, 2011

The contribution, whether positive or negative, of foreign aid to helping developing countries lift themselves out of poverty has always been somewhat controversial.

But it is reaching a new high as there is so little evidence showing its efficacy over the years, especially when it is not targeted.

Increasingly the evidence appears to be that private aid support through micro-finance and equivalent schemes is far more effective because rather than seeking to lift people out of poverty it helps them participate in a marketplace and enables them to lift themselves up.

With the US House of Representatives no voting to cut the aid budget this piece from the Wall Street Journal grabbed our attention because it argued aid money was increasingly something for elites to redistribute at a whim. There’s some truth to that. But it all depends on whose giving it and what it is being used for. We recommend a read.