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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 June, 2005, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Jeremy Vine interviews
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

On Politics Show, Sunday 26 June 2005, Jeremy Vine interviewed:

  • Hilary Benn MP, International Development Secretary

Hilary Benn
Hilary Benn MP, International Development Secretary

Interview with Hilary Benn

Jeremy Vine: And I'm joined by Hilary Benn, the Cabinet minister for international development. Welcome to you.

Hilary Benn: Morning.

Jeremy Vine: You can see why the President of Botswana is aggrieved, he runs a prudent, as he puts it, prudent budget and he doesn't get the debt relief.

Hilary Benn: Well Botswana is an African success story. It's got a GDP per head actually higher than South Africa.

It's a country that's made real progress, although it has a very big problem with HIV and AIDS. I don't apologise for the fact as far as Britain's aid is concerned, we're focusing it on the very poorest countries in Africa and other parts of the developing world.

But I think when people look at what Botswana has been able to achieve, the kind of investment in the textile industry that we saw, this is a very good guide to what needs to happen elsewhere in Africa, if the lives of ordinary Africans is to improve.

Jeremy Vine: But as the academic David Sebudubudu pointed out, Botswana is a rich state where people are poor. Yes, it's got lots of diamonds, but it's got lots of unemployed people as well.

Hilary Benn: Well in any country there's a choice to be made about how you share out the wealth that you've got and in the end it's for the domestic political process in Botswana to determine that.

But what Botswana does demonstrate that if you put the right conditions in place, then you can actually make progress in lifting people out of poverty. And it's something that we want to see across much more of Africa.

Jeremy Vine: But your debt relief programme is not an incentive to the President of Botswana to run a tight budget.

Hilary Benn: Well he, he runs a very effective economy.

Jeremy Vine: Exactly.

Hilary Benn: Indeed he does and ...

Jeremy Vine: (overlap) ... gets nothing for it.

Hilary Benn: Well it's right that we should focus the debt relief on the countries where there is the biggest problem of unsustainable levels of debt. That's what the debt cancellation agreement that Gordon Brown has reached in the run up to the G8 summit is all about. And it shows that the political process can make a difference.

Jeremy Vine: Even looking at the whole of Africa, the Commission for Africa, reckons that - which is Blair Brown and you of course as well, reckons that $25 billion a year is needed to get Africa going again. Debt relief is 5% of that at the moment. It's not much is it?

Hilary Benn: Well the agreement we reached as EU development ministers what, a month ago, in Brussels, which will double aid to Africa by 2010 from Europe, is going to deliver two thirds of that additional $25 billion a year. On top of that you've got Canada committed to double its aid to Africa, Japan also, America is going to put in more.

I think we're looking at the G8 summit to try and reach that figure. But aid provides important support in the short term, to enable countries that haven't got the money that they need to employ doctors, nurses, buy anti AIDS, anti malarial drugs, but in the long term, everybody knows it's trade, as we saw on the film and economic development that is really going to lift people out of poverty.

Jeremy Vine: Well let's talk then about that and how we help Botswana, it's a fascinating study of a country which is off first base. Now they're not the poorest as you pointed out but they struggle to sell their beef and they struggle to sell their jumpers. What do they need to do?

Hilary Benn: Well, there are things that we need to do as the rest of the world, as far as the world trade talks in December in Hong Kong are concerned, to make sure that we enable developing countries to have a fairer chance to participate in the global economy.

That means getting rid of the export subsidies that make it very difficult for developing countries to export elsewhere, greater access to markets in Europe and the rest of the developed world, and if we do that, then Africa has a chance to compete on a fairer basis, but it also means addressing the very important point the farmer that we heard from made about the kind of standards that we set, because if we replace tariffs with non-tariff barriers, standards about pesticide residue and so on, sure, we've got to make sure that the goods comply with health standards but we need to think what the knock on consequences for developing countries, who more than anything else want the chance to compete, to earn and to trade their way out of poverty. And that's why freeing up world trade really does matter.

Jeremy Vine: Well isn't that where you bring in aid and you start to rebuild Botswana's infrastructure, and help Bernard have his farm a bit more close to a road?

Hilary Benn: Well in the case of Botswana it's got not a bad road system in comparison with a lot of African countries and that's a sign of the progress that they've been able to achieve. In some areas, take mobile telephony in Africa, investment is coming in. This is really taking off. But in the Commission for Africa, we identified investment in infrastructure that includes road, rail, airlines moving between different parts of Africa.

There's a huge need for investment because Africa has been left historically with a transport infrastructure that was really about taking raw materials to the coast and away from the continent and one of the consequences is that the cost of transport in Africa is incredibly high. If you could bring that down, if you could encourage more trade within African countries, then you would help to support economic development.

Jeremy Vine: But what do we do for Bernard? I mean as he's pointed out he's got cattle almost in the desert there, in the Kalahari. It costs him an awful lot to fatten his cows. He may just be running an uncompetitive business. Now how do you help him?

Hilary Benn: Well I think by making sure that the world trade rules give him the best chance possible to compete on a fair and equitable basis in exporting his beef to other parts of the world.

Jeremy Vine: Sorry to interrupt, but the WTO is basically in favour of free markets isn't it. It doesn't like deals; it probably doesn't even like our quota with Bernard, where we allow him to sell some of his beef to the EU.

Hilary Benn: Well the WTO is indeed in favour of a more open trading system, but it's also got to be a fair one. And while I think everybody recognises that opening up trade is the direction in which we all have to go, not all countries can proceed at the same pace.

We've been giving a lot of support as Britain, through our aid programme to developing countries to develop their capacity to take advantage of trade and in any deal that is reached in Hong Kong, it's important that we allow countries to move at the pace that they can cope with.

Jeremy Vine: So we could go to the WTO in December and say, we know you like free trade, but think of Bernard, think of his cattle. In a free market, he's out of business. We need to have a quota with him that allows him to sell his cows to us and develop in the process. And they'll buy that will they?

Hilary Benn: Well, we've got - we're putting the argument. Britain has been a very strong advocate of what we call, special and differential treatment - in other words recognising that not every country could proceed forward at the same pace.

But it's very clear that a more open trading system is going to benefit developing countries. Look at China, look at the India and the progress that they're making in lifting their own citizens out of poverty.

Jeremy Vine: But you see then we come to textiles don't we and we come to this more open trading system which is what's happened to their - the jumper market for Botswana.

They had a deal, it's expired and they've been hammered by China. They can't sell the jumpers now.

Hilary Benn: It's more difficult for them to do that. I mean the multi fibre agreement has come to an end and everyone recognises that had to be the case.

Now the European Commission has currently taken some measures to deal with the flow of imports from China itself, but it's a competitive world, it's a difficult world and (overlaps)

Jeremy Vine: (overlaps) What do we do? What do we do?

Hilary Benn: Well in the end, each country is going to have to find a way of earning its living. Botswana is, as I say, is actually compared to a lot of Africa, is a success story relatively speaking. That's why it has, as I say, a greater GDP per head than South Africa.

Jeremy Vine: Lots of poor people there and I'm just talking about how to help them that's all.

Hilary Benn: No, absolute, no absolutely.

Jeremy Vine: And they're in that jumper factory and they're not selling their jumpers.

Hilary Benn: I know, and it's difficult. But within a country if you've got, if you're more - relatively speaking, a more wealthy country and that is the case for Botswana, relative to other African countries, you always have a choice about how you distribute resources and only domestic politics inside the country can sort that out.

Jeremy Vine: We have, we are only going to buy a certain number of jumpers in this country, right.

So if we want to help Botswana sell its jumpers to us, we buy them a little bit more expensive, obviously we could do that because we can afford it. But we're basically making a choice to put a Chinese jumper manufacturer out of work.

Now do we, is there a trade off there for us, we decide where we want the jobs to be.

Hilary Benn: Well in the end, I mean consumers are going to decide what kind of jumpers they want to buy and they may do it on the basis of price or design or style or whatever.

And that's why countries that are producing jumpers, since we're discussing that as an example, are going to have to find what is their particular place in the market, what is it that they can export, what is it that people want to buy.

But it is economic development that's really going to make the difference, and Botswana has made some progress and we need to recognise that in the context of the difficulties that a lot of other African countries face.

Jeremy Vine: We heard at the end from the farmer, that Mr Blair is very popular in Africa, he said not just a president for the UK but a president for Africa. Do you worry that expectations are too high.

Hilary Benn: No I don't, because I never remember a time in my political life where we were debating to this extent development, how we tackle poverty, how we support Africa in building a better future for itself. And the fact that next weekend in Edinburgh a lot of people are going to turn up, what do they want? They want the G8 to do something. People will be protesting in support of the political process delivering something.

And I think actually, that's a message of hope because already we've seen with the debt cancellation agreement, with the EU aid deal, with the more money that's going in to the fight against AIDS, and that's a big problem in Botswana, we're seeing politics' capacity actually to change things for the better, and that should give us encourage. But we need to do more.

Jeremy Vine: But tough for countries that aren't the poorest and tough for Botswana to look on and see other countries being helped more than they are.

Hilary Benn: Well in the end the most help should clearly go to those who need it most. I was in Southern Sudan last week. One in four children die before they're five years of age.

Three quarters of the adults cannot read. This is a country that's been devastated by conflict and it's important now there's a peace deal between the north and south of Sudan, it's important that we put money in to those countries. But Botswana also benefits from support from the World Bank and the European Community.

Jeremy Vine: Hilary Benn, thank you very much indeed.

Hilary Benn: Thank you.

End of interview

NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday, 10 July 2005 at 12.00.

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