Foreign trade and development budget: voluntary agreements, combating poverty and making trade fairer

In the new budget year, foreign trade and development minister Lilianne Ploumen wants to finalise a series of sector-specific voluntary agreements aimed at improving labour and environmental conditions in developing countries. The ministry is negotiating the agreements with companies, NGOs and unions

‘The garment industry agreement was signed in June. Now I’m counting on concluding more agreements in the near future. This approach brings us significantly closer to our goal of a safe workplace, a living wage and a healthy working environment for all,’ Ms Ploumen said. In the months to come, she expects to conclude agreements with the banking sector, the gold industry and the food sector.

New approach to trade agreements

Another priority for the coming year will be a new approach to trade agreements. The minister wants greater transparency during negotiations, and for members of the public and other stakeholders to be involved right from the start. ‘In past decades, trade deals were mostly aimed at lowering tariffs, which was considered to be of universal benefit and so never raised much discussion,’ Ms Ploumen noted. ‘Nowadays, there’s increasing emphasis on norms and standards on how goods are produced. Trade pacts are about sustainability, the environment, animal welfare and the climate. This impacts on the negotiation process, which therefore needs to become more democratic.’

The minister wants to establish a broad-based stakeholder council on trade, where representatives of unions, companies, civil society organisations and consumer groups can indicate what aspects are important to them in new trade agreements. Ms Ploumen can then incorporate their input in her talks with the European Commission and fellow EU ministers. ‘Stakeholders can contribute their views on both the positive and the potentially negative effects of trade pacts for a certain sector,’ she explained. ‘The social impact of trade agreements needs to be more widely acknowledged. For instance, by extending transitional periods or providing scope for retraining.’

A high proportion of the development budget will be spent on coping with the influx of refugees in the Netherlands. The minister has nevertheless managed to ensure that ongoing development programmes have not suffered cutbacks as a result. Ms Ploumen: ‘It’s important to help refugees and asylum seekers who are here, while at the same time continuing programmes in countries of origin to tackle the underlying causes of migration. For instance, by creating local jobs and income, and promoting peace and security.’

Poverty reduction and better nutrition

Poverty reduction and creating local jobs are top priorities in the development budget. ‘One and a half billion people in poorer countries have jobs that are uncertain and underpaid,’ the development minister pointed out. ‘And this problem will only become more urgent, since population growth in these countries is outstripping economic growth. The Netherlands is investing in people’s livelihoods, which also helps creater more peaceful and stable societies. Next year, we want to create thousands of new jobs, especially for young people and women and girls.’

Other goals for 2017 include better nutrition for 10 million people, helping 4.5 million farmers raise production levels, and more eco-efficient practices on 3 million hectares of farmland. In addition, in 2017 the Dutch government will work for improved access to water sources for 1 million people, better sanitation for 1.5 million and improved living conditions for 3 million people through better river basin management and flood safety in the deltas. Finally, the Netherlands aims to provide 3 million more women and girls with access to modern family planning methods.

From 2017, the government will make €10 million of additional non-ODA funding available to promote foreign trade. As the minister pointed out, ‘The Netherlands is a trading nation. We owe some 2.2 million of our jobs to international trade and investment. So we will continue to support export and innovation by Dutch companies – not just large firms, but small and medium-sized companies in particular. And not just in Europe, but all over the world. That’s why we’ve decided on this stimulus.’