Don McKinnon: 'Agricultural subsidies cost lives as well as money'

From an address given by the Commonwealth Secretary General to Commonwealth ambassadors in Geneva
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The Independent Online

If people in Europe were asked: "Do you want to eliminate trade subsidies, reduce your weekly shopping bill and give developing countries a fighting chance to lift themselves out of poverty?" the result would be a resounding yes. The bottom line is this: agricultural subsidies don't only cost money. They also cost lives. Each failure to reach a deal results in millions more people going without food every day.

So what is the Commonwealth doing about this? As usual with our organisation, we are using our global network of political contacts, which is the envy of many. And we are using it to support the Doha Development Agenda - both its substance and its political intent.

It is important that trade barriers are tackled in a way that does not leave small states suddenly exposed to the hurricane winds, as opposed to the cooling breezes, of liberalisation. The Commonwealth has been working on this. We are promoting a fund that channels financial support to the private sector in small states. This fund would provide a safety net for those who risk losing their livelihoods with the loss of preferences, and would help producers and exporters to diversify and develop more competitive industries.

We are also helping small member states to cope with the growing problem of international recruitment of their scarce teachers and nurses. Every year, small states spend millions of dollars training teachers, doctors and nurses, only to lose them to wealthier countries that can afford to pay them more. This can often have a disastrous effect on a poor country's capacity to educate its people and provide decent health care.

The Commonwealth has developed codes of conduct to ensure that international recruitment is carried out in an ethical way, which takes into account the needs of developing countries. And we are promoting an initiative that entails states funding the training of nurses back in the nurses' home country; those nurses are then hired and brought into the recruiting states on fixed-term contracts, ensuring that the resources of developing countries are used in a sustainable way.