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Tory government's aid for trade policy is an attack on the world's poor

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New strategy paper underlines an approach "as old as empire", say campaigners

The UK Tory government has been accused of having a “neo-colonial” approach and attacking the world’s poor after it produced a strategy aiming to push aid for trade.

Campaigners say that a new policy paper is designed to use overseas assistance to promote Britain’s foreign policy objectives and is a ploy “as old as empire”.

The strategy paper on aid is the first from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office following the dismantling of the Department for International Development and massive cuts to the overseas aid budget.

In it, the UK Tory government says it wants to halve money given to multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and see a renewed focus on trade as a condition for aid.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said the UK will look for “reliable private sector investments” to bring recipient countries into a free trade orbit.

Truss, a well-known aid sceptic, said: “In an increasingly geopolitical world, we must use development as a key part of our foreign policy. Malign actors treat economics and development as a means of control, using patronage, investment and debt as a form of economic coercion and political power. We won’t mirror their malign tactics, but we will match them in our resolve to provide an alternative.”

International NGOs reacted with fury.

Daniel Willis, campaign manager at Global Justice Now said: “Liz Truss’s claim to be an honest actor when it comes to global development is more Richard Nixon than Mother Teresa. Britain and other wealthy western countries wrote the book on using aid and loans as a tool of economic control, and the centrality of ‘aid for trade’ to this new strategy shows she has just written the latest chapter.

“This document arrogantly claims that the UK knows ‘what works’ for the global south, and only pays lip service to locally-led development. Elsewhere the strategy talks up the need to promote British expertise, increase export opportunities and improve outcomes for British people.

“This is a neo-colonial approach to aid spending, using aid funds to enrich the UK and spread big business-friendly economic policy around the world. It’s a game as old as empire, but the least Truss could do is be honest about it.”

Sam Nadel, Oxfam’s head of government relations, said: “This strategy is the latest body blow to the UK’s position as a global leader in tackling poverty.

“This strategy prioritises aid for trade and the financialisation of development. It is clearly motivated more by tackling China than tackling poverty.

“A key test of this strategy will be whether it equips the UK to address urgent crises in places like East Africa where 28 million people are facing severe hunger. By gutting its aid budget - and now putting geopolitics above poverty – the UK has fallen short of the challenge.”

Sarah Champion, chair of the Commons international development committee, added: “The foreign secretary’s strategy has two main thrusts. It advocates aid for trade – linking the provision of aid to access for UK goods and services. And it says more of our money should go on direct government-to-government spending rather than spending through international bodies such as the United Nations.

“Supporting the poorest in the world should not be conditional on a trade deal or agreeing to investment partnerships.

“I fear that adds up to a double whammy against the global poor.”