CANADA

We scratch theirs, they scratch ours

A case for investment in the well-being of the poor

John Hay January 5 1981
CANADA

We scratch theirs, they scratch ours

A case for investment in the well-being of the poor

John Hay January 5 1981

We scratch theirs, they scratch ours

A case for investment in the well-being of the poor

CANADA

John Hay

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had more on his mind than stem Christies as he prepared to start a three-continent tour this week with a skiing holiday in Austria. The PM was facing two weeks of touchy summit meetings in Africa and Latin America which just might improve relations between rich and poor countries—as well as brighten his own international reputation. After lunching with Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky at Bad Hofgastein, Trudeau is due in Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, Brazil and Mexico. All, as it happens, play critical roles in the intermeshed, often painful, bargaining sessions under way between the poor South and rich North. Kreisky is one of two cosponsors of a 25-nation NorthSouth summit tentatively scheduled in Mexico next June; Mexican President José Lopez Portillo is the other. Plans for that summit are endangered, however, by the failure of separate talks—a United Nations argument over the agenda for its own so-called global negotiations on rich-poor issues which were to start this winter.

Among the chief sponsors of the UN talks is Algeria, which has been quietly questioning the value of the summit if its preferred global negotiations collapse before they begin. Trudeau thus steps onto brittle diplomatic ice when he reaches Algiers Jan. 6 to plead the merits of both the summit and the negotiations that Algeria is backing. But this is only one of the divisions that crosscut the underdeveloped world. Nigeria and Brazil, though still burdened by areas of intense poverty, are claiming the political influence that their growing wealth can buy—Nigeria as an oil exporter and Brazil as a booming industrial power. Senegal, by contrast, shows all the signs of world poverty: per-capita income at last count of $347 a year, 90-per-cent illiteracy and an economy crippled by oil prices. Against those diversities, Trudeau will try to convince his counterparts of their mutual interests in both reviving the UN global negotiations and supporting the summit.

Mutual interests between Canada and underdeveloped countries were also argued persuasively by the all-party Commons task force on North-South relations. After months of hearings, the group’s final recommendations were hardly startling: step up foreign aid flow, back World Bank plans to subsidize energy projects in poor countries, link food aid to programs for self-suffi-

ciency in recipient nations. More usefully, it sharpened a point too often ignored by stressing Canada’s selfinterest in promoting growth abroad. The group found, for instance, that the worldwide eradication of smallpox has allowed the North to dismantle costly immunization machinery—saving rich countries more in a single year than their total investment in the World Health Organization’s smallpox elimination program. Says the report: “Investment (not charity) in the well-being of the poor is frequently the best economic investment a country of the world can make.”

In the longer run, Canada is already reaping trade benefits by exporting more to poor countries with more money to spend; since 1974, exports to the South have been growing faster than sales to the rich North countries. A mere nine per cent of Canadian ex-

ports, however, flow to poor countries— far behind the 34 per cent posted by the United States and 38 per cent by Japan. On the other hand, the task force concedes that opening trade with the South means opening Canada to imports from the South—a huge headache to governments sensitive to home industries which can’t stand the heat of competition. Canada’s elaborate textile import quotas, for example, tend to discourage poor nations from entering the job-rich textile trade while they keep cheap clothes off Canadian consumers’ backs. Caught in this dilemma, the task force says the government must tend to the needs of Canadian industry and workers but “must not become trapped in protectionism.”

Both Trudeau and the committee could take some heart from the results of a $50,000 opinion poll commissioned by the government to test public attitudes about aid. The fall survey shows that fully 69 per cent of Canadians think aid should be maintained or increased, against 20 per cent who want a cut. The poll does not show how many knew that the budget of the Canadian International Development Agency this year runs to $1.2 billion. That is .43 per cent of the gross national product; External Affairs Minister Mark MacGuigan says it should rise to .5 per cent by mid-decade and .7 per cent by 1990— a target set by Lester Pearson’s aid study a decade ago. Asked whether Canada benefits from international development programs, 72 per cent agreed, 17 per cent disagreed. But for most people, Canadian interests are beside the point; asked why Canada should send aid, 59 per cent cited humanitarian reasons and 29 per cent mentioned Canada’s own wealth, resources and technology. A slender seven per cent spoke of getting help in return if we need it and four per cent cited trade. Unfortunately,

those polled weren’t asked the harder questions—how many tax dollars should be spent on aid, say, or which industries in which towns should be phased out to make way for new imports? If the North-South conflicts are to be resolved, these are questions the Trudeau government itself must soon face.