Minister Sigrid Kaag: Prevention the priority in foreign trade and development cooperation policy document

Prevention by investing now and giving people opportunities; that is how violent conflict, poverty, inequality, climate change and irregular migration can be avoided or mitigated. This is one of the key themes in the policy document Investing in Future Prospects by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag, approved by the cabinet on Friday.

The document sets out the points Ms Kaag will focus on during the government’s term in office. ‘A greater focus on prevention is desperately needed,’ says the minister. ‘Greater efforts now will mean less human suffering in the future, and it will save billions in emergency aid, reception in the region of origin and reconstruction. That’s better for the world and better for the Netherlands.’

Another distinctive element of the document is the proactive trade and investment agenda, designed to help ensure that significantly more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including startups, become active internationally. Opportunities for the private sector to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will also be expanded, now that the markets for this are growing.

Unstable regions

In line with the minister’s prevention agenda, development policy will shift its focus to fragile states close to Europe. The Sahel, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and North Africa will become new focus regions, due in part to the high incidence of extreme poverty in these regions. ‘Greater efforts to boost stability, reduce poverty and promote economic growth that benefits all are also an investment in combating irregular migration and the human suffering that accompanies it.’ An annual amount of €60 million will be made available for new programmes focusing on education (including vocational education), work and income for young people in these focus regions.

Women's rights

Efforts to combat other root causes of poverty in the focus regions can also count on additional resources. Shifting programmes to these regions will increase funding by at least one third. There will be a focus on the rights of women and girls in all policy areas. ‘Improving their position, as well as their sexual and economic rights, will have a significant impact on their prospects of a better life.’ More funding will also be made available for strengthening the rule of law and civilian protection, which will also help enhance the investment climate for businesses in the longer term.

Climate

A new climate fund will be established for investment in developing countries, since it is these countries that bear the brunt of climate change. Dutch businesses and knowledge institutions will play a major role in this regard. Their world-renowned expertise can help the countries in question move forward as well as tap into profitable new markets. Each year, €40 million will be injected into this climate investment fund. In due course, this money should lead to investments worth many times this amount through private sector participation. An additional €40 million will be spent on climate and development in other ways.

Innovative emergency aid

The coalition agreement also pledged an increased contribution in the areas of humanitarian assistance and reception in the region of origin. In total, an additional €280 million will be set aside annually for this purpose. Ms Kaag wants to particularly focus on innovation to support the millions of refugees and displaced persons, such as more effective use of digital data and cash aid. Another important area is psychosocial support for people in conflict zones. ‘Often, these people have seen or been subjected to terrible atrocities. Fleeing in itself is stressful, and distressing events on top of this can lead to trauma, requiring specialist treatment. At present there is not enough provision for this,’ says Ms Kaag. She points to the fact that good psychosocial support is not only vital for traumatised individuals themselves, but is also just as important for their family members and those in their wider circle. It can also prevent people from becoming susceptible to radicalisation as a result of unprocessed emotions and frustration.

Earning capacity

The Netherlands is the world’s fourth most competitive economy. A third of our national income and jobs come from foreign trade. Maintaining and, where possible, strengthening our international earning capacity is essential to our prosperity. This requires a proactive trade agenda. ‘Dutch businesses are major players in several sectors, like water, food and logistics,’ says Ms Kaag. ‘They  are the perfect candidates to help develop solutions for the major social issues our world is currently facing, as set out in the SDGs. That’s good for them, for the Netherlands, and for the countries where they do business.’ That is why Ms Kaag is sharpening the focus in economic diplomacy on innovation cooperation and on tapping into new markets. Businesses, knowledge institutions and the government are also being strongly encouraged to pool their resources.

SMEs

There are still plenty more opportunities for SMEs in particular. ‘And we’re going to help them make the most of these opportunities. That’s why we’re going to work to improve services provided to SMEs and startups doing or seeking to do business abroad,’ says the minister. This includes combating fragmentation in order to ensure optimal services. Another important topic is that, in these times of increasing protectionism, the Netherlands will continue to promote maintaining and deepening the multilateral trade system, with a focus on issues such as ensuring a level playing field and sustainability.

SDGs

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015 by all UN members are the thread running through the minister’s policy. The most striking SDG is ending extreme poverty in all its forms by 2030. But the SDGs also cover other essential issues like eradicating hunger, ensuring good education for all, promoting equal rights for men and women and creating sustainable consumption and production. ‘The ambitions are as big as they are unavoidable,’ says Ms Kaag. ‘A liveable world is in all our interests: the public, businesses and governments. That requires an enormous combined effort. The Netherlands is ready to invest in that prospect.’ And a new SDG fund – a partnership between government, businesses, civil society and knowledge institutions – will be launched to support this endeavour.

Ministry responsible