Dutch Government starts testing the effects it has on developing countries

Almost every country in the world (193 in total) agreed at the United Nations in 2015 on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) in the coming 12 years. These goals are about a healthy and liveable conditions for all of us, like access to education, health care and decent work in a clean, healthy and peaceful environment, where all of us have equal rights.

Dutch actions have negative effects elsewhere

Countries usually just look at receivables in their own country. Take the Netherlands for example. The country will probably achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. For its own inhabitants.

However, Dutch policies and actions have a major impact on other countries too. To give you just a few examples:

· (Developing) countries miss out income from taxes from international and multinational companies, facilitated by countries like the Netherlands. Worldwide, it is estimated that $240 billion US dollar is lost as a result of tax avoidance techniques (OECD). Tax money that can be used to invest in education, health care or infrastructure for example.

· Investment projects (e.g. in dams, ports or intensive farming) usually take land from people living at the particular location. And there are so many examples that show us that those people regularly lose their source of income or their food security too. Also by Dutch investments. Even today.

· The goods we buy here are often produced by workers elsewhere who do not earn a minimum income that pays for basic needs. Or even worse, these workers are children, make long hours and work under bad conditions. Notorious products are textile, cacao, coffee, metals and minerals.

· Worldwide, high medicine prices are maintained at the cost of access to medication in developing countries.

In a letter to parliament — dated 13 July this year — Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation summarizes it like this: “The so-called footprint — that measures the negative impact on consumption here for humans and nature elsewhere — of the Dutch is relatively big.”

The solution: the so-called SDG-test for new policies

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD), the Netherlands is one of the first countries that committed itself to test every new policy on the effects it has on other countries. It is called the SDG-test and is currently being developed.

The Integral Impact Assessment Framework for policies and regulations(IAK) already tests new policies on its expected effects. For example, it measures if a new policy do solve the intended problem, do justify government intervention, what the best solution is and what the effects will be. Policy makers can take these outcomes into account when making final decisions.

What is new, is the plan to add testing new policies on expected outcomes for developing countries. Developing this test is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ responsibility. There will be another test added on the effects on gender equality, which is currently developed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

The exact plans, tools and outcome are not yet known. The different departments are now developing the additional tests, which will be available to use for IAK at the end of the year.

What will happen when tests show new policies harm developing countries?

If the Netherlands really won’t implement any policies anymore that probably harm developing countries, that is huge and breaking news. (So why no-one is talking about it?!)

Certainly, we should first see how the test will work in reality. Foreseen challenges can be:

· The actual compliance of the SDG-tests. What if the test shows negative impact for a particular development country or countries, will policy makers actually take action according to these outcomes?

At a minimum, “It gives people concerned and civil society organisations another argument to advocate for change,” says Evert Jan Brouwer, political advisor of an ngo that is one of the initiators of the Building Changecoalition on policy coherence for sustainable development.

· The Netherlands cannot change or make world trade agreements easily. One of the solutions mentioned in the letter to parliament is to make one-on-one fair trade agreements with specific developing countries.

Opportunities of having an SDG-test in place in the near future

For the near future, there are some to be developed policies that can show if the SDG-test will really make a difference. In an interview Evert Jan Brouwer mentions examples of these, such as new policies on the Dutch tax system. An SDG-test that reveals tax loss for developing countries because of legal tax avoidance measures in the Netherlands, will be then something of the past.

(to be continued)

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