Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Norway’s development assistance policy

By Carlos Fortin

Some three weeks ago I was in Oslo presenting a paper at a seminar at the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF), a research and policy institute sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Until recently the Centre had focused essentially on issues of conflict and war-torn societies in developing countries; it has now launched a major line of work on the links between those issues and the broader question of development. The seminar was the first public activity in this vein, and my paper, co-authored with Chilean sociologist Augusto Varas, was on ‘International cooperation to reduce inequality’.

In the discussion, reference was made to a recent Report on Policy Coherence for Development (pdf), produced by the Foreign Ministry and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) for the Storting, the Norwegian Parliament.

It makes interesting reading. It opens with a candid acknowledgment of the potential conflict, faced by all donors, between development assistance policy, which should be geared to responding to the development needs of the recipient countries, and policy in other areas whose aim is to further the donor’s own national interests and whose  international implications might or might not be favourable to development. The opening paragraphs of the Report put the dilemma starkly:
This is the Norwegian Government’s first report to the Storting on the potential positive and negative impacts in developing countries of policies designed primarily to serve domestic Norwegian interests... The primary objective of Norwegian development policy is to assist developing countries to pursue policies that will promote their economic and social development. Norway’s policies in other areas are chiefly aimed at promoting interests of importance for our own development. In the interface between these two objectives, conflicts of interests will arise: initiatives that serve Norwegian interests may have adverse effects on developing countries and vice versa.
The purpose of the Report is to promote coherence between the two sets of policies:
Making Norwegian policy more coherent for development means, first of all, acknowledging the problems involved and increasing awareness of conflicts of interest. Secondly, it means striving to ensure that Norwegian and international policies promote development in poor countries, also outside the framework of development cooperation, as long as this does not clash unduly with the interests that Norway’s policies are primarily intended to safeguard.
For these purposes the Report describes in some detail the effect of Norwegian policies on six key issues of an international or global nature with a particular bearing on the development potential of developing countries: access to knowledge and technology, economic growth and social development, climate change and sustainable development, peace and security, global health, and human rights and gender equality.

The Report concludes that there is no contradiction between the interests of the developing countries and the policies of the Norwegian government in the six areas. The conclusion is perhaps not surprising, but the Report presents a persuasive argument for it, including declaring support for developing countries’ demands in a number of sensitive areas such as, for instance, intellectual property rights; Norway is strongly in favour of introducing legally binding international rules on the protection of the traditional knowledge, genetic resources and cultural expressions of indigenous and local communities.

All in all a refreshing approach at a time when elsewhere the notion is still unfortunately alive that development cooperation should essentially be treated as an instrument for the pursuit of the commercial and investment interest of the donor.

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