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Last week the German Marshall Fund released the report of a Transatlantic Task Force on Development. Formed in spring of 2008, the Task Force was led by former U.S. Congressman Jim Kolbe and Swedish Minister for International Development Gunilla Carlsson. Its purpose was to formulate a common U.S.-Europe development agenda, as a basis for renewed transatlantic cooperation in tackling global challenges. I was one of 22 European and American task force members.
The report goes well beyond the usual call for more aid (reflecting the idea of CGD’s Commitment to Development Index). But there are no big surprises; the diagnosis and recommendations pretty much reflect the growing consensus of development experts and advocates (on both sides of the Atlantic). On many issues I wish the task force could have been more concrete in its recommendations and more clear on whether the U.S. or European countries or both would be held accountable by Task Force members for taking action.
Here are examples of what was left unsaid or unclear on some of the topics, possibly to be taken up in future CGD work or by the next such task force -- or as I suggest below for follow-up by Minister Carlsson and former Congressman Kolbe with the political leadership in the U.S. and Europe.
On Development and “Security”: The unacknowledged elephant in the room in this report is the role of the U.S. military in development work in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report hints at the logic of a shift in development funding, management or budget responsibility from the Pentagon to USAID – but doesn’t say by how much or by when. The military does some development work well; so on this surely the devil is in the details.
On Climate Change: In one of its more concrete recommendations, the report calls for subsidies and mandates for biofuels to be eliminated, or at least minimized. My colleague Kimberly Elliott suggests something more attainable: a rollback to and a freeze of biofuel subsidies at 2007 levels, to discourage new biofuel investors (and future lobbies) and allow some biofuel operations to go out of business. Anyway the biofuel problem is more about the food than the climate crisis. The real issue is for the United States and Europe to agree on the bottom line: a price of carbon that reflects its full social cost, as David Wheeler argues. For the task force to have proposed a price would have been a useful headliner.
On Untying U.S. Food Aid: The U.S. is the only donor that ties its food aid – as the reader finally learns on page 62 of the task force report. Andrew Natsios, a member of the Task Force, tried unsuccessfully to change that when he ran USAID under the Bush Administration. The United States could stretch its development dollar much further if it didn’t have 50 cents on every dollar coming back to the United States. The report recommends that Washington untie its food aid “gradually over five years.” I would prefer a much more aggressive time table but this modest recommendation is better than nothing. It deserves greater prominence—like being in the executive summary.
On Better Not Just More Aid: The report joins the universal calls for more transparency and greater focus on “results.” But it could have been more concrete. My better-aid agenda incudes: that every public and private donor should provide quarterly reports on its disbursements in each country where it operates – to the government, press, and so on, as I earlier proposed for the Accra Agenda (aid transparency fans should also check out the new Easterly site Aid Watch) ; and that every donor announce a goal, e.g. 20 percent of all disbursements, for transfers that will pay for outcomes like primary school completion, rather than inputs like building schools, within five years, as in our cash on delivery approach (which is mentioned as one U.S. organization’s proposal in the report).
Minister Carlsson agrees there are many issues dealt with in the report “on which there needs to be more exploration.” She is considering putting some of these ideas to the European Parliament. I hope Reps. Howard Berman and Nita Lowey, Sen. Robert Menendez and other friends of development on Capitol Hill ask their former colleague Jim Kolbe to put the ideas to our Congress and new executive branch as well.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.