Does WTO's Aid for Trade Reduce Poverty?
Aid for Trade is a holistic approach to incorporating developing economies into global trade networks by assisting them in increasing exports and market access. Aid for Trade was initiated at the WTO Ministerial Conference in 2005, and the program has since increased its scope to include building production capacity (financial services, businesses, and industry), trade-related infrastructure (communications, energy, transportation), and trade policy and regulations.

When the Aid for Trade initiative began, it was unclear whether it would receive funding or be successful. Now that it has been implemented for over a decade, it is time to reexamine the links between trade, development, and poverty reduction that Aid for Trade aims to strengthen.

The principle behind Aid for Trade is that increased trade should benefit inhabitants of developing countries, whether or not they are directly involved in the program. One Aid for Trade program teaches Ugandan farmers how to grow and process dried fruit to be sold into the European cereal market. The farmers involved should benefit from increased income, market access, and productivity, and Uganda should benefit from increased exports.

Most evaluations of the effectiveness of Aid for Trade programs take place within 18 months of a given program’s initiation. This is not enough time to measure whether the program has truly been successful at reducing poverty in a sustainable way. Additionally, evaluations often do not take into account a program’s impact on those not involved; how did the fruit-growing education program impact farmers who did not receive additional training and support?

A new study on European trade assistance aid, commissioned by NGOs Traidcraft and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, suggests that there may be “hidden losers” to Aid for Trade initiatives. For example, South African fruit growers increased exports to Europe after trade sanctions were lifted. They earned higher wages and improved their standard of living. However, the demand for cheaper fruit also caused some growers to lower wages and to replace full-time employees with temporary, often migrant workers, who did not enjoy the benefits.

The study also found that the majority of trade assistance goes to middle-income countries rather than to the least developed countries (LCDs) that Aid for Trade is directed towards. Little evidence exists to prove Aid for Trade’s effectiveness in reducing extreme poverty; this is likely a result of short-term program evaluations that take place before real impact can be measured, as well as lack of donor interest in, and therefore funding for, impact evaluations.

Overall, there are many obstacles to determining whether or not Aid for Trade has been successful thus far. More thorough, accurate, and long-term evaluations of poverty rates are necessary in order to determine the tangible successes or failures of Aid for Trade.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: OECD, International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development, The Guardian
Photo: European Commission