Aid and trade: an innovative synthesis of policy themes

10 May 2016 10:33 AM

For the Netherlands, innovation is more than just another item on the agenda. As holder of the EU Presidency, we’re also taking an innovative approach to the implementation of all aspects of the agenda, for instance on aid and trade.

In the Netherlands, the portfolios ‘development’ and ‘international trade’ fall under a single minister: Lilianne Ploumen. She advocates an innovative, combined approach to these two policy areas both in the Netherlands and at European level.

Looking at the whole value chain

Ms Ploumen highlighted the value of such an approach in the run-up to the Netherlands EU Presidency, with a conference on sustainability in global value chains on 7 December. In most of the EU and the rest of the world, aid and trade are generally regarded as two distinct policy areas. Ms Ploumen prefers to look at the whole value chain, from the low-income countries, where products like clothing are made, to the countries that buy these goods. The Netherlands aims to develop a coherent strategy to address problems in these value chains, such as child labour, exploitation of workers and human rights violations. This aim is also in line with the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development. The European Commission, too, is increasingly opting for a value-chain strategy.

The polder model

The predominant thinking in European institutions and member states is still in terms of top-down directives. The Netherlands, by contrast, aims for broad-based solutions. At national level, more than 10 branches of trade and industry have already voluntarily committed themselves to agreements on international corporate social responsibility (ICSR), to reduce risks in value and production chains. The Dutch approach (‘the polder model’) typically provides for participation by all stakeholders. While this system is not any faster, the eventual results are more likely to be sustainable. There is a good chance that this would also be the case if the polder model were applied at European level. With this in mind the Netherlands has teamed up with European civil society organisations to host the EU Roadmap to Business and Human Rights Conference in Amsterdam on 11 May. The conference is open to all stakeholders, including, of course, members of the business community.

Joint meeting

The Netherlands organised a joint informal meeting for trade ministers and development ministers on 2 February. At the combined meeting, the first of its kind, the ministers laid the foundations for the conclusions on development cooperation to be adopted by the Foreign Affairs Council on 12 May. The Dutch approach proved successful: the presentation of a new European action plan on CSR will be brought forward. The first draft will be completed during the current Presidency.

The synthesis of aid and trade is a good example of Dutch innovation at EU level. It is not an end in itself but a means to enhance the Presidency’s effectiveness and move closer towards achieving our actual goals.