by Christien van den Brink
THE HAGUE, March 22 (Xinhua) -- The Dutch authorities' decision to adopt a new foreign aid mode which would rely more on trade promotion than the previous direct aid has aroused controversies.
The Dutch Ministry of International Trade and Development Cooperation (MITDC) has cut 1 billion euros (1.29 billion U.S. dollars) on development aid, as part of a trend seen in many other European countries.
Due to the current economic crisis, a number of European countries are revising their development aid budgets.
However, the cut has aroused doubt on whether Dutch entrepreneurs can be trusted to fight poverty.
The ministry plans to support Dutch investments in developing countries by setting up a revolving fund of 750 million euros that will partly be taken from the budget of development aid.
Minister of MITDC Lilianne Ploumen has said that the 1 billion euros of austerity measures on development aid is "painful," but that scaling up trade with upcoming developing countries can reduce this damage.
Some call this development aid a new style. Others see in this decision an attempt to subsidize Dutch trade at the expense of poor nations.
The effectiveness of international aid abroad has been thrown into question by many authors during the last decade.
Dutch author Linda Polman suggested in her book The Crisis Caravan that the popular practice of offering humanitarian aid may even contribute to a conflict situation. She pointed out that international assistance may prolong war, promote corrupt governments and contribute to a culture of dependency.
Ploumen told Dutch media that it is time to redefine development cooperation. "This definition dates from the sixties, when the world looked differently. Most of the poor people live in middle-income countries now. In the future we need to focus more on international cooperation," she said.
Polman thinks that the new definition for development cooperation is not very innovative and was made to serve the Dutch interests abroad.
"The money that you would normally spend on poverty reduction is now spent on the promotion of Dutch trade. I think that the government is especially thinking about its own interest by promoting international trade for Dutch companies," Polman told Xinhua.
Henk van Houtum, professor at the Radboud University Nijmegen, wrote in Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant, "It has been said before, but the third world would be helped more when structural inequalities within the world trade system are taken away. The abolishment of the European subsidies on agriculture would do more to third world countries than any aid project has done so far."
But this is far away from happening. In February 2013, the European Union agreed a nominal freeze in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), to the relief of key CAP defender and country of farmers, France.
However, Bernedine Bos, head of projects at Corporate Social Responsibility (MVO) the Netherlands thinks that even though these inequalities exist at the international political level, that doesn't mean that Dutch and European entrepreneurs should not invest in third world countries.
"It is extremely difficult to change political structures. But an entrepreneur with social responsibility can make bottom-up changes. There are hundreds of companies that provide training, employment, good payments, while working on better infrastructure and sustainable work flows," Bos told Xinhua.
"The European influence on the African continent has become very small. There are developments happening that are out of our sphere of influence. There is a fast growing middle-income class in many African countries. If Europe and the Netherlands really think they need to do something, it would be better to revise their own economic and agricultural policy," Polman said.