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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 2 May 2006

[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Latin America

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. McAvoy.]

9.30 am

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the profile of Latin America in the House. There is growing interest in Latin America among Members of both Houses, as evidenced by the attendance that we have had at some meetings of the all-party Latin America group and by the increasing number of groups being formed for individual countries in Latin America.

It is timely to focus on the strategy of the Department for International Development, because my understanding is that this year, 2006–07, DFID will review its regional assistance programme. It has certainly promised to do that. Initially, however, I shall talk about why Latin America is important and why DFID and the Government in general should be interested in it. It is sometimes said that Latin America is not a traditional area of influence for the UK. We have relatively little in the way of former colonies or territorial interests in the region, and some of the old pre-war links—we used to build quite a lot of infrastructure there—are not what they were. However, it would be a major mistake to marginalise our interest in Latin America, and I shall give five reasons for saying that.

The primary reason for DFID being involved in Latin America is that 57 million people there still live on less than $1 a day, and 132 million people live on less than $2 a day, amounting to 26 per cent. of the population. The aim of DFID's strategy is to contribute to the achievement of the millennium development goals. However, even the best current projections for 2015 are that Latin America will fail not only on the poverty measures that I have just mentioned, but on maternal mortality, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS outside Brazil. All too often, it is the indigenous and black people of Latin America for whom those targets are least likely to be met.

With the exception of Nicaragua, the countries of Latin America are classified as middle-income countries, albeit Bolivia and Honduras just creep into that category. However, the point about the countries in that part of the world is that they are extremely unequal. Half the world's 20 most unequal countries are in Latin America. That has an effect on crime: half the world's 10 most violent cities are in Latin America. We may be dealing with middle-income countries, but there are still huge numbers of poor people in them. As I said, 57 million people—a lot by any standard—are in absolute poverty. We will not achieve the millennium development goals worldwide if we do not deal with the situation in Latin America.

Mr. Oscar Schiappa-Pietra is executive director of Peru's agency for international development aid co-operation. I had the privilege of meeting
 
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Mr.   Schiappa-Pietra in Lima when I led an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation in February. He wrote something very relevant about middle-income countries in a foreword to DFID's publication "Alliances Against Poverty: DFID's Experience in Peru 2000–2005". Of the middle-income country classification he says:

official development assistance—

DFID has particular knowledge and expertise to be able to address that problem. With such a vital role to play, DFID has to be active in Latin America.

The second reason why we should be interested in Latin America is that we can make a difference in helping that region to make progress. When I return from visits to Latin America, I am always optimistic about the region. Indeed, I am much more optimistic than I am when I return from some of the visits to Africa, where the situation in some countries is quite difficult. We are right to be involved in Africa, but one sometimes returns quite pessimistic about the prospects there.

In Latin America, the institutions are often better and stronger. Yes, there is corruption, but it is not as bad as in Africa. There are not wars and conflict on the same scale as in Africa. There is armed conflict in Colombia, but we are not talking about Darfurs, DRCs and so on in Latin America. Nor is there the scourge of international terrorism in Latin America. Above all, what makes me optimistic about the region is the great advances that there have been in achieving democracy. We are seeing many elections this year in Latin America, and in country after country we are seeing orderly, free and fair elections. That is not the case in every country, but it is in most of them. Recently in Bolivia, there was a very orderly and fair election; no one is challenging the result. The first round of elections in Peru was very close. People had to wait a week or two for the result, but the situation is being managed. That is very encouraging when one considers that it was not that long ago that many of those countries were being ruled by the military.

The third reason for regarding Latin America as important is that it has huge growth potential. Indeed, many of the countries have been experiencing substantial growth in recent years as a result of high commodity prices, although sadly that is not being translated sufficiently into poverty reduction. We as a country should not miss the opportunity to be involved there through trade and inward investment for mutual benefit, especially as the region contains countries with worldwide political influence. We ignore those countries at our peril. The most obvious example is Brazil, but there is also Mexico. Chile is important, too: it is a remarkable success story of economic progress and stability. If we do not take the opportunities in south America, China will. In fact, China is already moving in there in quite a big way. It is therefore important that we are in the region.
 
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The fourth reason is that many of the countries in south America want a strong relationship with the European Union to balance their political and trade relations with the USA. Given our Government's attitude towards trying to end EU protectionism, common agricultural policy reform and the type of deal that we are trying to secure from the Doha World Trade Organisation round, we are probably Latin America's best EU partner, if only more people would realise that. Many people and politicians in Latin America do not realise it.

I was fortunate enough to attend a conference of parliamentarians from all over Latin America last November in Buenos Aires, and I told the conference of our Government's efforts during the presidency of the European Union to tackle the immorality of the fact that in Europe we spend $2 a day per cow when 130-odd million people in Latin America live on less than $2 a day. After I had spoken, an Argentine politician passed me a note. She said:

I have to say that that lady's English was a lot better than my Spanish. I found those words quite encouraging, coming from an Argentine parliamentarian.

That leads me to a further point: how we as a country are all too often seen by the people and the politicians in Latin America. We are sometimes, sadly, seen only as America's partner in Iraq. As we know, people in south America do not particularly like President Bush and did not agree with the invasion. We therefore have a job to do to enable people in Latin America to see us as we really are, leading the world, as we did through the G8, on debt relief, increased aid, getting a fair trade agreement at the WTO, tackling the millennium development goals and devising the international finance facility. That is the position that we need to establish clearly in people's minds in Latin America, but we can do so only by being involved. Our one advantage is that, despite everything else, we are still respected for the quality of what we do, as we are throughout the world.

The fifth reason we should take Latin America very seriously concerns drugs. I shall say more about this later, but we should remember that the world's three biggest coca producers are all in south America: Columbia, Peru and Bolivia.

I now turn to DFID's regional assistance programme. There has been a major change in the way DFID operates in Latin America. It has moved away from bilateral country-focused assistance programmes to more strategic involvement, working with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. That change, along with the closure of offices in Peru and Honduras and the closure of our embassy in Paraguay, has led to a charge that the Government are withdrawing from Latin America.

It is sad and disappointing when programmes close. I read what was achieved in Peru concerning citizenship and governance in "Alliances Against Poverty", and it is sad to see that coming to an end. When I was fortunate
 
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enough to lead an IPU delegation to Brazil in 2003, we saw first-hand some of the work going on through DFID in the north-east of that country to help poor and excluded people to gain confidence to pursue their rights in a responsible way. When we made a more recent visit to Peru in February, the Prime Minister of Peru, Mr. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, told us straight, "It is not aid we need. We do not need aid; we have got a lot of money now from the commodities that we are selling. What we need is knowledge, expertise and technical support."

The more I have examined DFID's new strategy and the more I have learned about Latin America, the more I think that the new approach could be even more effective, if it works. DFID's knowledge and expertise in exerting influence on the way in which the World Bank and the IDB work in Latin America has great potential to focus efforts more successfully on poverty reduction, which is a job that needs doing. That process relies on DFID's great strength in the world; wherever I have been, I see DFID punching above its weight, using its high-quality reputation. I met staff who were working out of the Andean office in La Paz, and I pay tribute to the work that they are doing.

There are two huge challenges involved in the new strategy. The first is the challenge of being able to influence international financial institutions—the IFIs—such as the World Bank and the IDB. It will be a challenge to get them to use their money in a sufficiently transparent way, to use it more thoughtfully and to aim it more effectively at poverty reduction. This is a matter    of widespread concern. The Minister and other   hon. Members will know of the international parliamentarians' petition for democratic oversight of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Across the world, 55 Parliaments have been involved with the petition; I do not have the latest figures, but when I last looked, there were well over 1,000 signatures. I am delighted that 365 of those came from Parliaments in this country. That is a major challenge, but it needs to be taken on.

The second challenge is to overcome the growing disaffection and mistrust of the IFIs that so many people and politicians in Latin America share. Politicians, civil society groups, trade unionists in Latin America and international non-governmental organisations have documented many examples of misconceived schemes, often agreed between the IFIs and discredited former leaders with little or no transparency or accountability and no involvement of parliamentarians or community representatives, or with loan or trade conditions that destroyed local livelihoods and, in some cases, wrought macro-economic damage. As a result, the Washington consensus reforms of the 1990s are widely seen as a failure in Latin America because of their lack of impact in reducing poverty.

In that part of the world, there is now a deep suspicion of globalisation, privatisation and labour market reform, but from a wider historical perspective, one can see that the region needs to find acceptable ways of becoming less protectionist and expanding trade because of some of its past failings. Politicians from all over the region now regularly condemn neo-liberalism, which is chiming with electorates. We have seen that in the results of various elections, most recently in Bolivia and currently in Peru, where such messages are well
 
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received by people and reflected in the way in which they vote. I have to say, however, that some commentators have been very simplistic in painting all the leaders on the left as being the same and representing some sweeping direction. There is a world of difference between Chile, Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela.

It is worth remembering what Ricardo Lagos, a centre-left moderate by Latin American standards who was until recently the President of Chile, said when he came here for the conference on progressive governance in 2003, in a speech entitled "A View from the South":

Those are very wise words.

However, the UK has the credentials to help to overcome the deep suspicion of IFI policies that exists throughout Latin America, which clearly influences the attitudes of some Governments. My first reason for saying that is our policy on conditionality—particularly trade conditionality. That was best expressed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in his "Wall of Shame" speech of last October. He said:

Those words will be very well received in many Latin American countries. My second reason is our policy on aid conditionality, clearly set out in DFID's policy paper of March 2005, which places an emphasis on genuine, bottom-up poverty reduction strategy papers, not the imposition of conditions.

Another thing that will encourage people is our stated policy of trying to reform the World Bank and the IMF. DFID produced its first report in 2004 on its dealings with the World Bank, and committed itself to using a seat on the board to gain reform. The Treasury has taken a similar stance regarding the IMF. I have mentioned our stance within the EU of wanting better access to markets for poorer countries, including those in Latin America, which I also believe would be well received.

Above all, however, I emphasise the stand we have taken in the world in taking the heavily indebted poor countries initiative forward, from which Bolivia, Nicaragua and Honduras have benefited, our historic stand in the G8, which resulted in the Gleneagles agreement, and the efforts of the Chancellor in the devising and promotion of the international finance facility to help to achieve millennium goals. The really good news is that Brazil signed up to that, in relation to HIV/AIDS, during President Lula's recent state visit.

Having said how our involvement in Latin America could help to overcome some of those suspicions, I would like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister some
 
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questions about where we have got to in relation to some of the issues I raised. What progress have we made with the World Bank on decentralisation of programmes and on increasing stakeholder participation in the design of the poverty reduction strategy papers? Have we got anywhere in achieving parliamentary oversight and modification of those programmes? Have we managed to gain any ground in achieving stronger representation on the World Bank board for the poor recipient countries? People have asked for a parliamentary role in the selection of its executive director and other equivalents throughout the world. Have we got anywhere with that? There have been calls for external auditing of World Bank operations and recorded votes at board meetings. Have we got anywhere on any or all of that?

How do we influence the IDB when we do not have the same representation on the board as we do on the World Bank? It seems that the IDB, on which Latin American countries have strong representation, has the right goals; but, again, they are not being sufficiently translated into poverty reduction.

What is the overall process for monitoring the strategy of the regional assistance programme? Is DFID planning to publish annual reports? How do we know if the strategy is succeeding? How does the European Union programme for Latin America fit into that? The EU spends about $375 million a year, so how does it fit in, and how are we trying to invest that EU spend?

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to do all that he can in the Department to encourage regional integration in Latin America, particularly in terms of transport and energy infrastructure. It is really lacking. Out there, one notices the absence of such transnational infrastructure. There is much suspicion between countries about going down that route. There is outright opposition in some quarters, which see it as some kind of neo-liberal plot.

I hope that there is a lesson to be learned from the European Union. EU integration has actually benefited the poorer countries most. Countries such as Portugal and Spain used to be poorer than Argentina and Brazil. Now they have come up in the world, and I suspect that the EU has played a big part. It is a strong argument to put to people in Latin America, and I hope that DFID can do so.

There are some very good UK non-governmental organisations working in the region. I recently visited a project run by the Action for Brazil's Children Trust in Recife in north-east Brazil. I saw an excellent, high quality and sustainable scheme, which works with a local partner. The ABC Trust runs five schemes and supports 13 others in Brazil. In Peru, we learned about the work of the Vine Trust, a Scottish based charity that has provided several millions of pounds in cash and volunteer medics and doctors who have gone out there. The trust has a medical boat called the Amazon Hope, based at Iquitos in Peru. It travels throughout the Amazon, bringing valuable medical care to thousands of people who would otherwise have nothing. When we were in Peru in February, a second boat, which had had a £1 million refit, was on its way from this country to join it.

Such initiatives are wonderful, and I wonder what DFID is doing to support that sort of work. It makes a real difference and it helps to build the good relations
 
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that we need. The regional assistance programme says that DFID will provide increased funding for international NGOs. Will my hon. Friend the Minister provide any details about how we support such organisations?

The issues surrounding drugs in Latin America, as in other parts of the world, can undermine all that DFID tries to do. For example, coca and the cocaine system in Latin America impact not only on the economies of those countries, but on their environments and social cohesion. They can bring death and violence throughout the world. The authorities in Peru told us clearly that coca production is on the increase again in Peru. President Morales, who was recently elected in Bolivia, says that he wants his coca growers—he was a coca grower leader—to be able to grow more coca not less. Policies such as crop eradication, which have been tried, are now politically unacceptable to most politicians in Latin America because of the economic hardship that they have brought to coca growers who then rise up and, as we have seen, can sometimes overthrow Governments.

Crop substitution has been tried and does not work either, because the economics of it are not right. Farmers can get more from growing coca than they can from other crops. Our best bet is intelligence-led intervention in drug trafficking. We as a Government have overseas drug liaison officers in several Latin American countries. They are under the direction of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. However, when we were in Peru in February, we were astounded to learn that the two drug liaison officers based in Lima were being redeployed in April to Colombia.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend confirm that in Bolivia, President Morales takes the position that coca is to be grown for traditional use, essentially as a palliative chewing agent, rather than for conversion into hard drugs that end up on the streets of north America or Europe?

Mr. Blizzard : Absolutely. President Morales believes that there are markets for the traditional uses of coca. When I stayed in La Paz, our ambassador gave me up a cup of coca tea. Apparently, it is very useful for adjusting to the altitude. Coca has medicinal purposes, and it has traditionally been chewed. At the inauguration of President Morales, I saw many of his deputies sitting in rows, and in front of them were piles of coca leaves, which they were chewing. It is a traditional part of the culture, and the President has initiated a study to find out where those new markets could be. The fear is that those markets do not have enough capacity to consume all the coca grown, and though not intended for the illegal markets, it may end up there. We will need to be vigilant to ensure that it does not.

Above all, now is the time for more work by drug liaison officers. SOCA told me that it redeployed the two officers from Peru to Colombia because Peruvian cocaine does not come to this country, and most of the cocaine that does comes from Colombia. That is different from what we were told in Peru, but I do not have the factual evidence to challenge SOCA. However,
 
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it strikes me that rather than deploying from one country to another, we need increased presence in all those countries. There is so much coca going from Bolivia, Peru and Colombia through Brazil and other countries and into Europe. What happens to it then, I do not know.

The drug issue is important not only for us, but for the well-being of the countries that we are trying to help. I hope that DFID will have some conversations with SOCA to find out how its drugs work can complement the Department's strategy.

Section D18 of the regional assistance programme states that DFID

The British Council does tremendous work throughout the world, and particularly in Latin America. In the past five years, it has sent 1,300 Chevening scholars to the UK. That has had all kinds of advantages for those scholars, their countries and our country, as experts and teachers are sent on exchanges in both directions.

I hear that the British Council is reviewing all aspects of its work in Latin America, and one of the likely outcomes is the closure of our presence in Peru. That would send the wrong message; if we were seen to be withdrawing, that would make the challenges that I have outlined even more difficult. I support the new strategy, but its total effect on Peru is that we have closed the DFID office, withdrawn drugs liaison officers and may withdraw the British Council. Peru is the third largest country in south America.

DFID's document on regional assistance plans contains a good appraisal of the risks of the new strategy, one of which is

We risk losing credibility in Peru, a country that receives more tourists and travellers from this country than from any other in the world other than the United States. There is great potential in Peru, and I hope that we shall consider how the issues add up there.

I conclude with an even more important point. The regional assistance plans are reviewed this year, and we must make sure that what has happened in Peru does not become the shape of things to come across Latin America. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that. I have demonstrated that I want the new strategy to succeed. Some have said that it is a kind of fig leaf for withdrawal from the region. I do not believe that; I believe that the strategy is good and right, and I want it to succeed.

However, if it is to do so, there must be no more decline or withdrawal. We know that extra resources had to be diverted to Iraq for reconstruction. Many of us did not support going into Iraq, but we are there and have to reconstruct, so we understand why those resources were necessary. Hopefully, things will get a bit better in Iraq and we may be able to withdraw; will there then be scope for improving resources in Latin America or putting back in place some of those that we used to have there? We need to assure everybody that our involvement in Latin America is substantial, long-term and succeeding. If we can do that, we will be on the right track.
 
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During his state visit to this country just the other week, President Lula said:

We should make that true for Brazil, and for Latin America as a whole.

10.3 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard). He is chair of the all-party Latin America group; I am one of its vice-chairs and a member of a number of other groups on Latin American countries.

In those groups, we have had many learned discussions about the need for debates on Latin America, and everybody at the meetings says that it is a terribly good idea, but unfortunately they have not been able to carry it into practice by actually turning up for this debate. That is a matter of deep regret, but I am sure that they are all busy dealing with park benches in the local election campaign.

It is excellent that we are having this debate, which we have to put in the context of the incredible poverty that still exists in Latin America. The business pages often learnedly refer to Latin America as being made up of middle-income countries. Indeed, when arriving at any Latin American capital city, one finds a very European feel about their centres and business districts. The languages spoken are European, the businesses are often owned by European or north American companies, and there are high standards of living. However, we do not have to travel far outside those capital cities to see the poverty, the discrimination behind it and the sense of social dislocation that it brings.

My hon. Friend referred to the election of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia, which is significant because he is one of the first leaders to be elected in the region who is not of European descent and whose first language is not European. He represents an interesting and powerful social phenomenon throughout Latin America.

There is terrible poverty throughout the region: 26 per cent. of the 524 million population of Latin America and the Caribbean live on less than $2 a day; in other words, 132 million people there live in desperate poverty. Haiti, and now Nicaragua, are the poorest countries in the region. Some 80 per cent. of Nicaragua's population of 5 million live on less than $2 a day, so there is massive poverty. Even in Brazil, which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the region, 24 per cent. of the population live on less than $2 a day.

Those levels of poverty are a disgrace in every sense and completely unnecessary. They lead to violence, crime, drug dealing and social dislocation and we have to address those issues. Perhaps, as the DFID programme suggests, we should tackle Latin American poverty differently from African or Asian poverty, but nevertheless it has to be addressed.

I have had the good fortune to have visited many countries in Latin America. I have seen that poverty for myself. I have never forgotten arriving in Bolivia in
 
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1969, and finding people wearing bowler hats and chewing coca leaves. The experience was extraordinary—I thought it an extraordinary place—but I have also never forgotten the unbelievable poverty that existed then, and still exists, in the mountain villages and towns. One does not have to go far—to Potosi, for example, where the Spanish made billions from the silver, or to the tin mining areas where British companies made billions—to understand the passion of Bolivian people when they say, "We lost our silver to the Spanish and our tin to the British and others; we're not going to lose our gas and oil in the same way." We have to understand that important message.

I have not understood all the details of the statement issued by President Morales last night about taking over the gas and oil fields, but essentially he is ensuring that Bolivia gets at the very least a far higher proportion of the revenue from its gas and oil than hitherto. He is fulfilling an election pledge, which was to take the resources as a whole into public ownership. The statement was met immediately with large demonstrations on the streets of La Paz in support. We have to remember that the radical tradition in Latin America is a very strong one.

The issues also relate to land ownership and access to land. Early this year, I visited Guatemala. I was travelling by bus, and the main road to Guatemala City from the Mexican border was closed for about a week, with gaps on and off when it was opened, because of a peasant demonstration about land ownership which had occupied the main highway. The reaction of the travellers on the bus and at the bus station was interesting. They were all greatly inconvenienced, because they had to wait 24, 36 or 48 hours to travel, but they showed great sympathy for the peasants who had occupied the road to stop the traffic going through.

Guatemala has come through the most horrific civil war. In its aftermath, the levels of crime are unbelievably high, as many demobilised fighters from both sides have kept their weapons and turned to crime instead. That brings up questions about structures of government, human rights and all the accompanying issues in the region.

Some countries have changed dramatically and have overcome the worst vestiges of poverty in many ways. The most obvious example is Cuba, which from a position of enormous poverty in the 1950s and 1960s, has achieved possibly the region's highest standard of living, and certainly the highest standards of literacy, access to higher education and health care, to the extent that it is now a major resource of health care throughout the region. Indeed, many of the health improvements in Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru have come from having Cuban doctors in those countries.

I understand that the Government and many others are not totally at one with the Cuban political system, but they should understand the incredible achievements that have been made in Cuba and the esteem in which it is held by many of the region's poorest people. The improvements that are now taking place in Venezuela, and the support that exists for Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution should be put in the historical context. In a sense, it represents the unfinished business of the independence movement of the 1820s against the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Independence was gained, but it was largely grabbed by the landowning classes rather than the peasants. Chavez sees himself as
 
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carrying through the Bolivarian revolution. We must understand the historical context if we are to understand the present situation.

The political change to which my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney referred is not a unified continuum throughout the region, but a huge swathe of political change has happened throughout Latin America. There was a period of considerable radicalism in the 1960s and early 1970s, when several countries elected moderately radical Governments or very radical Governments committed to land reform and change. There was then the nightmare period when the military took over in a large number of countries, famously in Chile and Argentina, but they were certainly very powerful in many other countries too. The imposition of a crude form of market economics by the United States throughout the region led to the debt revolt of the 1980s and to arguments about debt forgiveness and debt write-off well in advance of what happened anywhere else. Those issues must be borne in mind.

The radical movements that are now happening—the election of Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia, the current Peruvian elections and the welcome election of Michelle Bachelet as President of Chile—show that change is possible. Having visited Chile many times, I know that the idea of a single mother being elected President of Chile would have been unbelievable until recently. I congratulate her and what we hope will be her successful programme for poverty eradication and the improvement of social care and social issues there.

How we treat Latin America is important. Before I make a couple of comments about DFID's strategy and programme, I should say that we must remember that the continent came out of, and led the way against, European imperialism in the 19th century. The Monroe doctrine ensured that the United States guaranteed enormous power for itself throughout the region. The US has attempted to impose various trade deals throughout Latin America, which famously exploded at the Buenos Aires trade conference last year.

Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba are pushing for a Latin American internal trade deal that has poverty reduction and education improvement targets within it , which is unusual for any kind of trade-oriented pact. The wish of the United States for a very different kind of trade pact is currently supported mainly by Colombia and by President Fox of Mexico, but I suspect that should Mr. Lopez Obrador succeed in winning the Mexican elections later this year—I hope he does—there will be a change of approach there.

It is important to put things in that context. The influence in the region now is not the United States or Europe; the huge investment that is currently going into Latin America is Chinese. I was at a lecture last week at Canning house that detailed the levels of investment that the Chinese are putting in to each country, most of which is in the form of soft loans tied to the sale of natural resources and to the import of Chinese goods into the continent, including the massive infrastructure projects—new ports, railways and roads—to which my hon. Friend referred. That is currently the biggest influence in Latin America.
 
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The Chinese strategy appears radically different from the US strategies of the past, which have always been to encourage the involvement of private sector companies—mainly American—and an obsessive meddling in local politics; the US cannot help itself when it comes to meddling in local politics. The Chinese approach is very different: it is blunt, crude, straightforward economic dealing. The Chinese keep well out of any local political movements or developments. That will be the feature of Latin America in the next few years.

I read the interesting DFID strategy document last night and re-examined it this morning. The issues that it highlights concerning AIDS, human rights, poverty reduction and education are good. The first issue to examine is that of human rights and governance. The problems encountered in the region often involve human rights abuses, illegal imprisonment and the wholesale murder of people on the streets. I mentioned Chile, where under Pinochet at least 7,000 people perished. Proportionally speaking, a similar number perished in Argentina, although the actual number was much greater, and similar things occurred in many other countries in the region. I also mentioned what happened in Guatemala during its civil war and what continues to happen: illegal killings, gang warfare and the like.

Mexico is certainly not the region's poorest county, but its level of human rights abuses and discrimination against the non-Spanish-speaking people, the deaths of women in Ciudad Juárez on the border, and the drug rackets and all the other things that feed that are extremely serious. Whatever efforts we can make in respect of supporting human rights organisations and a system of legal processes that is independent of the political process are important and welcome. I certainly welcome that section of DFID's strategy document for the region.

We must examine Britain's relations with the region, first in terms of its politics and what we are doing. I welcome DFID's strategy document in that sense, but I question how it sits with our closing embassies and British Council and DFID offices in the region. Do we expect to have any influence from this country or from the European Union? The presence of a British embassy in a country indicates that we are serious about relations with it. To close an embassy and tell people that the nearest one is in the neighbouring country or in the next but one, and is several hundred or several thousand miles away—making such a journey is extremely difficult for most people—does not create a good image. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some good news on that front.

The British aid programme is quite small in the context of the region as a whole. The bilateral aid system, with European and UN money going in, is important, but we must remember that the levels of poverty and discrimination, and the lack of education are a product of the historic injustices in the region, and the thirst for change is strong. I cited Cuba earlier, and we should note that the support that Chavez has in Venezuela is partly because he is seen as somebody who is outside the traditional political system in the country—and he certainly is that—and partly because his Government are seen to be trying to do something in terms of delivering health care, education and housing for the poorest people in the country. Such is the thirst for change in the region. Conquering poverty in the
 
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region comes, yes, from assistance and from fair trade arrangements, but it also comes from the significant political change that is happening throughout the region.

Latin America has an incredible past in terms of its civilisations and the history that comes from them. It is a past that is understood in a popular sense. Museums in the United States talk about conquering the west, and European expansion and settlement. Museums in Mexico or any other Latin American country talk about the glory that was destroyed by the Spanish invasion and the attempt to write it out of history. The image of how Latin American civilisations were damaged by Europe is still very powerful, and it has become a powerful political force in the countries that I have mentioned.

This debate is about British strategy in respect of Latin America. We must do all we can to support good governance, decent human rights organisations, campaigns to improve the position and rights of women, and above all the campaign for the rights of indigenous people in multilingual societies throughout Latin America. We must understand all those matters. The dominant themes of the region are its huge natural resources, its amazingly efficient farming in very difficult circumstances and its astonishing cultural diversity.

Our country has made a great deal of money over the centuries from trade with Latin America. It is now up to us to trade honourably with Latin America and to support it in getting decent and fair trade arrangements with the rest of the world.

10.22 am

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. I also join others in thanking the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) for securing it.

In the United Kingdom, poverty reduction and development issues tend to focus on Africa and parts of Asia, and sadly Latin America can get left out of the picture, but as we have been reminded today, it is home to many of the poorest people on the planet.

The Department for International Development stated in March this year, in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz):

approaching half—

I therefore share the concern of others that DFID's strategy in respect of deciding where to use its resources understates the needs and importance of Latin America, and I ask it to review that strategy.

I am talking not about significant increases in monetary aid but essentially about the opportunity to share UK experience and knowledge, and especially the lessons that have been learned from the ways in which the EU accession countries have managed to develop, and from development and poverty reduction problems in Africa. The transfer of that experience, knowledge
 
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and expertise is key. Although I, along with others, understand and appreciate that a multilateral strategy is often ideal, if what we need to achieve cannot be accomplished through the mechanisms of the World Bank and the International Development Association it would be sad to have abandoned more direct bilateral approaches and the relationships that the UK has built up with the countries that are now attempting to deal with the poverty in their midst.

There seem to be two general factors that discourage DFID from being more engaged in Latin America. One of them may be a matter of perception, but it is a high-risk geopolitical strategy in any case. Under the Monroe doctrine, the United States places Latin America within its sphere of influence and encourages European countries to play a lesser role. That may not particularly motivate the UK, but its lack of activity—the withdrawal of offices, the turn to an overwhelmingly multilateral approach—could easily be interpreted as acquiescence to the idea that Latin America is outside our sphere of influence, and that we have ceded to the US. May I suggest that, particularly in these times, that is a pretty dangerous approach?

Latin America is a rising continent in its own right. Brazil has already been identified by Goldman Sachs and other investment banks as one of four countries that are particularly important for the future world economy. Whether or not one agrees with Chavez, Venezuela has oil resources that provide it with international clout. The Mercosur trading bloc covers a population of 250 million people and produces more than $1 trillion a year in goods and services. These are large, major players who do not wish to be seen as an adjunct to north America and the United States.

It is evident from any reading of statements and speeches across the continent that there is widespread suspicion of the USA and its intentions. President Bush's recent attempt to take forward a free trade area of the Americas looks like an uphill struggle, in part because the US is seen as having been responsible for past neo-liberal reforms that were unsuccessful, and as having an agenda that is primarily focused on the interests of the United States rather than poverty reduction in Latin America. Most Latin American Governments, by contrast, claim that they are seeking development strategies that combine the benefits of economic markets and social welfare. As such, they are following a model that is in many ways much closer to the European model—to the UK model, even—than to that of the USA. That argues for a much more direct kind of engagement and a recognition that there can be a very fruitful exchange between the European continent and Latin America, because, out of history, Latin America seems to be developing a similar approach to Europe's to many fundamental problems.

Numerous articles have been written in recent weeks about Latin America's swerve to the left. Although rifts and friction exist between many Latin American countries over specific issues, and the colour and texture of Governments are extremely varied, there is now a broad consensus that the reforms of the 1990s—captured by the term "neo-liberalism"—failed to deliver the promised wealth, and at best left the continent stagnant. Many people accept that reform was necessary, and that opening up to trade was necessary—indeed, urgently so—but the 1990s experience was so undermined by corruption,
 
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cronyism and a lack of willingness to tackle the problem of the vast numbers of people at the bottom of the social heap in dire poverty, that new answers are now being sought. Again, I believe that the UK should be playing a bigger role in that.

The second reason for DFID's limited engagement results from the fact that most Latin American countries have a middle-income standing in development terms, but stark inequalities mean that many of the poorest people are effectively glossed over by that description. These are countries where great wealth and great poverty exist side by side. The challenge for most of Latin America is to find strategies for development that reach down to the destitute poor. Even in Brazil—one of the wealthiest countries in the region—the rural landless and the urban roofless are scarcely being touched by development programmes.

Latin American countries—I accept that I am generalising—are trying to combine social welfare to tackle poverty with fiscal responsibility, typically in the form of tighter budgets, competitive currencies and trade surpluses. However, these countries remain heavily dependent on commodities and are short on the infrastructure and private investment that could underpin economic diversification. Surely, this is an area in which the UK could be more of a facilitator. The experiences of eastern Europe and India, in which the UK has been widely engaged, offer role models in    respect of commercial legal frameworks and governance, which are key to encouraging private investment. I understand that DFID has had some engagement with initiatives such as microcredit and community banking schemes, but I am sure that it could work more effectively with international financial institutions—IFIs—such as the Inter-American Development Bank to facilitate a much wider expansion of such projects.

The environment and climate change are bound up with this as well. In January 2006, the Brazilian Government released figures showing that deforestation of the Amazon rain forest was almost the worst on record, with more than 10,000 square miles having been cleared by ranchers, loggers and farmers. The problem affects all of us, but it cannot be tackled without strategies for the sustainable management of rain forests and sustainable development that will provide a decent living for the local population.

I have seen good projects in the United States, particularly in the ancient forests of the Pacific north-west. The Pacific branch of ShoreBank and groups such as Ecotrust have worked with local people to develop effective sustainable alternatives. Surely DFID could do more to promote such schemes for the Amazon, including working with the European Union to provide markets for sustainable forest products.

My view on drugs is somewhat different from that of the hon. Member for Waveney. If farmers are to move away from coca as an export crop for the drugs trade, there must be a long-term sustainable alternative. Our various programmes have never seriously taken on that challenge and used existing role models and examples to provide a long-term opportunity for people, whether in Latin America or places such as Afghanistan.
 
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At present, Latin America is enjoying a benign economic period. As others have said, demand for commodities, whether Brazil's iron ore, Peru's copper or Argentina's beef, has been fuelled by growth in India and China. The US continues to fuel Latin America's economy by providing employment for significant numbers of migrant workers, both legal and illegal. Remittances to Latin America increased last year by 17 per cent., to $54 billion. Foreign banks are taking a positive and benign attitude towards Latin America, largely because they are hunting for yield. They are courting major country players and have been willing to convert dollar denominated debt into local currency denominated debt at reasonable prices.

My fear is that the optimism fuelled by these benign conditions is being squandered. For example, Brazil used the good times to reduce its long-term external debt from 40 per cent. of gross domestic product in 2002 to an expected 13.5 per cent. in 2006, but only a tiny fraction of real public spending increases—9 per cent. last year—was invested back in infrastructure such as roads, bridges and railways, which are the basis of future diversification.

Even a minor global economic downturn would devastate the economies of Latin America, and if economic diversification and strategies to tackle poverty and inequality cannot be put in place while economic times are good, the chances of doing so will be nil when less good times arrive.

Following up on the theme of urgency, the countries of Latin America need success in the Doha trade round. Brazil, like Russia, India and China, is probably sufficiently powerful and successful to cut its own deal with the major trading blocs, regardless of whether Doha is a success, but the remaining countries of Latin America fall into that dangerous middle ground: not poor enough to qualify for the open access permitted to the least developed, but not strong enough to be able to carve out a way alone. The failure to meet the 30 April deadline on the broad parameters for tariff and subsidy reductions in the Doha round raises a fear that the opportunity will be lost. Again, if a development trade round cannot be achieved when the global economic environment is generally positive, as it is today, there can be little hope of achieving it at all.

In January, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland), DFID provided a detailed breakdown of bilateral funding to south and central America. Of course there are exceptions, but it is clear from those numbers that overall funding has been extremely volatile since 1997. It is hard not to conclude that programmes are constantly stopping and starting—the direction keeps changing—but we know that consistency and predictability matter in aid and development.

Let me conclude with a plea to DFID. The countries of Latin America are in a period when, economically, much is going their way. Perhaps that will last for some time, but the reality is that the slightest economic downturn will generally cause problems and make life more difficult. The inequalities of society in most of those countries mean that people live in dire, impoverished conditions. It will be interesting to see how DFID intends to seize the moment, while the
 
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opportunity is good, permanently and sustainably to support improvements. I ask that Latin America not slip from the Department's priorities.

10.35 am

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) on securing this important and timely debate and by putting on the record my view that his chairmanship of the all-party group on Latin America has resulted in the group's renaissance and has moved Latin America up the agenda in both the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office. I welcome that. He will know that I am particularly interested in Latin America, and I was pleased that this Minister and the relevant Minister in the Foreign Office came to a meeting in this House to discuss with interested Members the area's importance and the strategies that will be put in place in the forthcoming period.

The hon. Gentleman did a well-informed and eloquent samba, if I can use that word, through Latin   American issues. He eloquently described the importance of United Kingdom-Latin America links, the failure of many Latin American countries to meet some of the millennium development goals, particularly in respect of indigenous populations, which is a theme that I shall return to later, and the huge growth potential of Latin America, particularly Brazil, as a trading partner of Britain and the European Union. He also discussed how Brazil can become an influential regional player. I know that the Government support Brazil's position as a full-time member of the United Nations Security Council.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned aid conditionality. I have never had an answer from the Minister or anybody else about the difference between aid conditionality and aid criteria. Perhaps the Minister would take this opportunity to answer that point.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) has a particular interest in Latin America, and that came over in his speech. He is well informed about the area and, obviously, has visited it over an extensive period. I do not agree with all his analyses, particularly of what is happening in Cuba and in Venezuela. He rightly highlighted the many human rights infringements that have taken place and continue to take place in Latin America, but I was slightly surprised that he praised the Cuban regime which, as he well knows, has an appalling human rights record.

The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to highlight the high levels of crime that exist across Latin America and the lack of governmental infrastructure at national and local levels in many of those countries. DFID certainly could play a significant role in building civil society and capacity.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) gave an informed contribution, although her view of economic policies in Latin America in the 1990s was rather simplistic. There has been economic growth—indeed, Latin American growth was highest in 2004, at 5.5 per cent. It is not a story of everything going backwards. People have been pulled out of poverty, although the rate of population increase has been greater than the rate at which economic liberalisation
 
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has allowed people to come out of poverty, and the definite lack of wealth cascading down to the indigenous and black populations has resulted in the rise of Chavez, Morales and potentially others, which desperately needs to be addressed. Latin America cannot turn its back on the international trading community; there will be significant problems if it chooses to do so.

The hon. Lady was absolutely right to mention environmental degradation, particularly deforestation in Brazil but not only in Brazil, and the importance of and necessity for sustainable development and management of agriculture.

I do not wish to repeat statistics that other hon. Members have given but just say that it is absolutely clear that a significant proportion of the population in Latin America, central America and the Caribbean live in abject poverty. It is unacceptable that 132 million out of a total population of 520 million people live on less than $2 per day, and we need to do more about it. I will come to what I think needs to be done a little later.

It is the inequality that is so distressing in Latin America. The hon. Member for Islington, North was absolutely right: one can fly into almost any Latin American capital and see glossy tower blocks and housing, and representatives of the international banking community and international organisations. However, in not only rural areas, but the outskirts of those cities, one can see terrible slums—or ranchos, as they are called in many countries in South America—terrible poverty and the crime that inevitably comes out of it. That crime needs to be addressed.

However, there is some good news, as the hon. Member for Waveney highlighted. There is growing solidity of the democratic process in south America, although there are some problems. I certainly would not argue that Chavez was a total democrat, but I do not want to get sidetracked by that issue. There is still far too much corruption and there is weak governmental accountability; that needs to be addressed with the assistance of donor countries, by DFID and the international community, and through multilateral institutions.

We Conservative Members welcome the funding that DFID commits to Latin America. There is the £300 million committed through multilateral contributions to the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Union, the UN, the World Bank and non-governmental organisations; the £41 million committed through the Latin American bilateral programme; and the £23 million committed through other bilateral funds, such as the civil society challenge fund and the global conflict prevention pool. However, when that is compared with DFID's contributions to Africa and Iraq, we see that Latin America is a very small beneficiary of aid money. Just 1 per cent. of direct budgetary support, and 3 per cent. of bilateral aid, goes to Latin America.

I would argue that Latin America has been overlooked, partially because it is largely made up of what are viewed as middle-income countries, as other hon. Members have said, and partially because of the success of lobbying groups for Africa—that is, of the Commission for Africa and of the G8 at Gleneagles. Also, as the hon. Member for Islington, North, said, the UK's relationship with Latin and central America has been damaged by the closure of embassies, DFID offices
 
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and trade offices. We have just closed two trade offices in Brazil. I am sure that the Minister or someone at the Department of Trade and Industry has a good explanation for that, but it seems extraordinary, given how powerful a trading partner Brazil will be in future, and particularly given China's significant and growing influence in Latin America.

I have two or three specific issues to raise. The first is debt. Obviously, we Conservative Members welcome the heavily indebted poor countries initiative and its success in Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua, but many other countries in Latin America have significant burdens of heavy debt; Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil are four examples of countries classified as severely indebted by the World Bank.

Heavy debt keeps poor people poor and, in the worst cases, pushes millions of people into poverty. Debt inhibits growth and wealth redistribution by reducing the amount of money available to Governments to invest in social services and welfare. Brazil is perhaps the best example: 40 million people there live on less than $2 a day. Brazil spends three times as much servicing debt as it does on public health care. That is not sustainable, nor should it be internationally acceptable. There are many other such examples. I would welcome comment from the Minister on what the international community will do to address debt.

We could talk for some time about the political situation in Venezuela, and about that country's influence in the surrounding regions—not just in Latin America, but as a result of its selling cheap oil to the Caribbean, and its potential for influence at the UN and elsewhere. My question to the Minister on that topic is: where has the strategy for security sector reform—particularly of the police and judicial systems—mentioned in DFID's Latin America strategy paper got to in combating the problems caused by drugs and drug barons in Latin America, and in curbing armed groups? The hon. Member for Waveney was right to say that the same degree of conflict resolution required elsewhere is not necessary in Latin America, but there are still armed groups—particularly in Colombia and parts of Mexico—whose influence, both political and military, needs to be reduced; we must make sure that their power is channelled through, and focused on, the ballot box.

My second question to the Minister is about poverty reduction strategy papers. Clearly, as DFID is taking a regionalised, rather than country-specific, view it will be much more difficult for countries to participate, particularly those that are in the process of drawing up their poverty reduction strategy papers. How does the regionalisation strategy and policy fit with working with Governments to make sure that their poverty reduction strategy papers are appropriate to their country, and not to regions? There are great differences between countries in Latin and central America. We have to make sure that poverty reduction strategy papers are relevant, that Governments buy into them, and that they are not donor-driven, as has happened elsewhere, as the Minister will be aware.

Like the hon. Member for Richmond Park, I did not agree with the hon. Member for Waveney on his rather defeatist attitude to the drug problem. There is an argument for allowing the Bolivians and others to
 
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produce coca for their own traditional purposes. I was in Yemen recently, where people chew khat in much the same way that people chew coca in Bolivia. Longer-term, we have to find a strategy—an alternative crop or alternative livelihoods—to ensure that the volume of production is not sufficient to allow an enormous amount for export, as that creates problems in north America and Europe.

Mr. Blizzard : Many people in Latin America would respond to the hon. Gentleman's point—and this was part of President Morales's response on the subject—by saying: "Well, what about demand?" As long as there is demand, growers will try to grow coca; that is their point.

Mark Simmonds : I accept that. The traditional drug problem solution has been to try to cut off supply, and that has failed singularly over the past 20 or 30 years. We need to attack both supply and demand. In that sense, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.

I want to give the Minister as much time as possible in which to respond, but I have two or three more points to make. Obviously, DFID's strategy is to work via multilateral institutions. How will the expenditure be monitored, especially as the strategy report admits that the strategy is "high-risk"? The report also says that there will be

Who will carry out that independent evaluation? What form will it take? When will its results be reported to the House? If the Minister is prepared to sanction independent evaluation in that particular sphere, why is he not prepared to sanction it for all other significant sums spent by DFID around the world? I will be interested to hear whether he will be happy to put a provision allowing that in the private Member's Bill that he and I will discuss in a couple of weeks.

On the credibility point made by the hon. Member for Waveney, what assessment has DFID made of the effect of limited country presence and presence on the ground? If there is a criticism of DFID—and it is a well regarded organisation—it is not that it does not monitor inputs, but that it does not monitor sufficiently where money is going, particularly through multilateral organisations such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

Finally, what success has DFID had in reaching its common objectives with the IDB and the World Bank? Because of the relatively small amount of money that DFID put into the strategy at its inception, it was felt that there was a risk that DFID had insignificant influence, or insufficient influence to alter the policies of those two particularly powerful institutions. If DFID does not have the influence to put the focus on reducing poverty, what is plan B? What will the change in policy be if the World Bank and the IDB fail to secure transparency, effectiveness and poverty alleviation? The closure of offices removes the ladder by which we can return to a bilateral relationship with the countries involved.

10.48 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) : It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first
 
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time, Mrs. Humble. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) on securing this valuable debate.

In the almost three years in which I have been in the Department for International Development, I have had the privilege of visiting Peru, Nicaragua and, more recently, Brazil, so I, too, welcome the opportunity to discuss our strategy for Latin America with Members of the House. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's passion for Latin America and to the way in which he campaigns on the issue in the House. Also, I pay tribute—as the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) did—to the way in which my hon. Friend has chaired the all-party group on Latin America.

My hon. Friend paid tribute to a number of non-governmental organisations; the Vine Trust is just one with which he has had contact. I join him in paying tribute to it and to several other NGOs that DFID funds in the region and I hope that there will be more shortly.

My hon. Friends the Members for Waveney and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) rightly drew attention to the continuing poverty and inequality in Latin America. As we know, 57 million people live on less than $1 a day in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has gone beyond those statistics to bring home the scale of the poverty and inequality. It estimates that 43 per cent. of Latin America's population, or 222 million people, are poor and that about 19 per cent., or 96 million people, are extremely poor. The poorest countries in the region are Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay, although only Nicaragua is officially classified as a low-income country. As all hon. Members said, however, substantial numbers of poor people also live in the large middle-income countries, such as Brazil and Mexico. The UK Government and the Department for International Development, in particular, must continue to help tackle those issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney rightly said that Latin America will be crucial to international efforts to meet the millennium development goals. So far, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) said, there has been pretty disappointing performance on the environmental indicators. More positively, good progress is being made on under-five mortality, access to safe water, gender equality and universal primary enrolment. Although things are moving in the right direction, hon. Members are right to stress that the international community must not allow its attention to wander from the other issues that need to be tackled.

Our approach to Latin America must be considered in the context of what other multilateral agencies and bilateral donors are doing in the region. The Inter-American Development Bank is the region's largest development partner, providing $6.8 billion in 2003. It is followed by the World Bank, which provided $5.8 billion in 2002–03. The European Commission is also a substantial donor, providing $375 million in 2004, and the UK contributes to such funds. There are also significant bilateral donors, including the US, Japan and the Spanish. It is important to recognise the scale of development assistance to the region. It is right that we prioritise our development assistance to low-income
 
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countries. That is why Africa and Asia are also a focus for the Department and why the UK's main financial contribution is made through multilateral channels.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North asked me to announce some good news. Given his extra-curricular interests and his excellent judgment on such issues, I shall try to offer him some comfort. The present prioritisation sees 90 per cent. of funding go to low-income countries and 10 per cent. to middle-income countries. In addition, we have made a commitment to achieve the 0.7 per cent. goal by 2013. That means a rising budget not only for low-income countries, but for middle-income countries. As part of the discussions that we will inevitably have with the House and the Treasury about the comprehensive spending review, we shall have to make a judgment about where those increased resources for middle-income countries should go.

Jeremy Corbyn : I thank my hon. Friend for that. Essentially, the issue in Latin America—particularly in middle-income countries such as Brazil and Mexico—is the massive disparity between wealth and poverty. Millions of people in those countries live in abject poverty, and we really must address that issue.

Mr. Thomas : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our strategy is to do just that by using our limited bilateral funding to leverage much greater spend on poverty-related programmes from multilateral organisations such as the IDB, the World Bank, the EC and the UN. We will use our limited resources to get others to be much more poverty focused.

In that context, I was delighted to go to the IDB's annual meeting and to meet its new head, President Moreno. I launched several specific trust funds with the IDB and the World Bank, which I hope will increase the access of the poor to markets and international trade, as well as securing more accountable and responsive public sector management and investment in more accountable political systems. That is one positive example of our work.

We also contribute to the IDB's multilateral investment fund. Again, we seek to increase the access of the poor to trading opportunities. Those involved will work with small institutions, slightly larger institutions, such as co-operatives, and more traditional medium-sized private sector businesses. Again, I hope that that will bear fruit and scale up the development assistance to such programmes across the region.

I have been asked several specific questions, so let me try to answer some of them in the short time available. The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked about environment programmes and recognised the scale of deforestation in the Amazon. That is one of the issues that I discussed with the director general of Brazil's environment department when I visited the country two or three weeks ago. It was encouraging to hear of a very active programme to tackle illegal logging and deforestation in the Amazon. Some of the NGOs that I met were not quite so positive, which is perhaps not surprising, but it was good to hear their words of caution. South America and central America are the only regions in the world not to have a forest law enforcement and governance programme. If Brazil, in particular, were to ask us to support such a programme, we would be delighted to do so, as we have done in Africa, central Asia and elsewhere.
 
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My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney asked some specific questions about the World Bank and the IDB. In particular, he asked about the Government's support for the parliamentary network, which was established five years ago. We contribute £300,000 towards its work, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently attended one of its spring meetings. We are supporting developing countries so that they can have a stronger voice on the boards of the World Bank and other institutions.

My hon. Friend advocated that more work be done on regional integration, and that is a key part of the European Union's work with the Mercosur bloc. We are also funding research to encourage more integration in the region and to see how the trade-related aspects of such integration would impact on the poorest people there. Again, we are trying to overcome some of the suspicions about integration, to which my hon. Friend referred.

The IDB is very active on energy and infrastructure issues, and, again, we hope that some of the trust fund money that we are providing will improve the poverty focus of that work.

I recognise that I have been unable to answer all hon. Members' questions, so I shall review Hansard and, if appropriate, write to hon. Members to correct that.


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