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13 Jun 2005 : Column 8W—continued

Sierra Leone

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps the Government are taking to encourage development in Sierra Leone. [2941]

Hilary Benn: The UK Government's commitment of support to Sierra Leone is set out in a 10 year agreement, signed in November 2002. The key areas of our programme are security sector reform, governance reform including public administration reform, decentralisation, public financial management, diamond sector reform, anti-corruption measures, private sector development and budgetary support. DFID has committed £120 million to the first three years of the agreement.

A particular feature of the agreement is the inclusion of performance benchmarks agreed between the UK Government and the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL), which commit the GoSL to reforms in exchange for our support. Quarterly reviews of progress against the performance benchmarks are held with Sierra Leone authorities.

The UK is the largest bilateral donor to Sierra Leone. DFID works closely with other donors as members of the Development Partners Committee, which regularly brings together the Government of Sierra Leone and donors to discuss progress on development issues.
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Sub-Saharan Africa

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assistance the Government are providing to alleviate debt in sub-Saharan African countries. [2946]

Hilary Benn: The UK Government are committed to the goal of 100 per cent. debt relief for poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. We continue to press for the rapid and full implementation of the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative. This initiative is delivering real benefits to some of the world's poorest countries. To date, over $70 billion in debt relief is being provided to 27 countries, including 23 in Sub-Saharan Africa, reducing their debts by around two-thirds on average, and freeing up resources for spending on poverty reduction.

The UK goes beyond the HIPC Initiative and writes off 100 per cent. of bilateral debts for HIPC countries and holds in trust any debt service payments received from HIPC countries that have not yet qualified for debt relief, to be returned for spending on poverty reduction once they qualify. In addition, the UK has pledged a further $479 million to finance the multilateral institutions' participation in HIPC (HIPC Trust Fund and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Despite the successes of the HIPC initiative, the UK believes that we must go further still. At present, many donors have joined the UK in providing 100 per cent. bilateral relief, but multilateral institutions currently provide relief at around half this level. The UK has therefore launched a major new initiative for relief of 100 per cent. multilateral debt. We have committed to pay our share (10 per cent.) of debt service payments owed to the most concessional lending arms of the World Bank and African Development Bank on behalf of eligible countries, and are lobbying other countries to join us in providing full relief. Canada (paying 4 per cent.) and the Netherlands (2.6 per cent.) have already announced that they will participate. We are also urging the IMF to consider options for financing its share of 100 per cent. relief.

We are extending this multilateral debt relief to all countries that have formally completed the HIPC process and all other IDA-only (i.e. eligible to borrow only from the most concessional lending arm World Bank) low-income countries with suitably strong public expenditure management systems to ensure that the savings are directed towards poverty reduction. 14 Sub-Saharan African countries are currently eligible to benefit from this initiative and will receive multilateral debt relief from the UK of over £340 million through to 2015. More countries will become eligible for assistance as they meet the public financial management eligibility criteria.

In addition, the UK also actively supports the progress of eligible countries through the HIPC initiative, for example building their debt management capacity with technical assistance under the HIPC capacity building project as well as in-country support for the necessary reforms and poverty reduction planning processes that are essential for achievement of HIPC completion point.
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Non-HIPC countries that are having difficulties servicing their bilateral debts are able to approach the Paris Club for relief. The Paris Club—an informal group of official creditors—assesses countries' debt levels and provides appropriate treatment by postponing, and in some cases reducing, debt service obligations. The UK is currently committed to working through the Paris Club to help find a fair and sustainable solution to Nigeria's debt problems.

Trade Relations

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what opportunities his Department offers African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to choose between the EU Economic Partnership Agreement model and their own voluntary agreements in respect of trade relations. [3644]

Mr. Thomas: The Cotonou partnership agreement, signed in June 2000 between the European Union and the African Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), foresees the negotiation of a series of World Trade Organisation (WTO) compatible trading arrangements between the parties—Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). The Cotonou agreement also states that alternatives should be provided to ACP countries that do not want to join these EPAs with the EU. In any alternative, the ACP countries should receive no worse market access to the EU than their existing situation. The ACP have requested a review of alternatives to take place in 2006, rather than 2004 as anticipated in Cotonou. Since it is the EU that will have to present the alternative options, DFID will work with other UK Government Departments and the European Commission to ensure that alternatives are presented for any countries that do not want to be part of the EPAs.

The primary alternative to EPAs is a reformed generalised system of preferences (GSP), a non-contractual trade arrangement which the EU already offers to all developing countries, not just the ACP. DFID has supported research on the reforms which would be needed to make the GSP a viable alternative to EPAs. This research has been made public to inform negotiators' positions in both the ACP and the EU.

Another alternative for any ACP country not wishing to sign an EPA, would be to enter into a bilateral free trade agreement with the EU. Although the individual ACP country would have greater scope to tailor the provisions of the agreement to its specific needs, a single country could be in a much weaker negotiating position with the EU than with a regional grouping, as in the case of EPAs.


Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps the Government are taking to assist in tackling HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement. [2942]

Hilary Benn: DFID is giving priority to tackling HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. The country is one of the worst affected in the world, with over 3,000 AIDS-related deaths per week; 25 per cent. of the adult population infected; life expectancy now well below 40 years; and
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over a million orphans. There is not enough money for the fight against AIDS in Zimbabwe with relatively little international assistance.

DFID is one of the main donors supporting AIDS prevention programmes in Zimbabwe, such as supplying condoms and support for voluntary counselling and testing centres. DFID also supports large-scale home-based care programmes for households affected by AIDS, implemented through NGOs. Through UN and NGO partners, we are developing plans to expand anti-retroviral treatment and support for orphans and vulnerable children. Annual spending on this programme has averaged about £8 million over the past few years. We intend to double this in the near future.



Mr. Wallace: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence in how many security incidents members of UK armed forces have been involved in Afghanistan since December 2004. [2694]

Mr. Ingram: United Kingdom armed forces personnel regularly conduct patrols, which contribute to the security situation in Kabul and Northern Afghanistan. They have not been the subject of any insurgency action since December 2004.

Mr. Wallace: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what contingency measures his Department has in place to support UK armed forces personnel based in Afghanistan, in the event of a deterioration in the security situation there. [2696]

Mr. Ingram: The United Kingdom currently has forces serving in both the International Security Assistance Force and in the US led coalition. We are confident that each organisation has capabilities that meet the current security requirements. NATO, the coalition and the United Kingdom constantly monitor the security situation and plan accordingly. All have capabilities available to operate in Afghanistan should any change in the security situation warrant a change to the level and nature of the international forces serving there.

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