Douglas Alexander:

The international community begins 2005 facing two immediate challenges: ensuring prompt delivery of aid for those affected by the tsunami; and tackling the underlying poverty that makes it so difficult for poorer countries to respond to such disasters.

The recently launched Make Poverty History campaign is a coalition of aid agencies and celebrity activists set on mobilising awareness about global poverty. All governments, including our own in the United Kingdom, will be challenged by their efforts. As their campaign reflects, the argument about how we respond to global poverty is moving from charity to justice. Only by rebalancing our global resources and the rules of trade can poor countries hope to leave poverty behind permanently.

Five years after world leaders agreed to halve the proportion of those living in poverty by 2015, the UN summit in September will surprise no one when it finds that the world, on current progress, has no chance of achieving these goals. Britain’s initiative — an international finance facility to double aid from $50bn to $100bn — can provide more and better targeted aid. At the same time we have to extend the debt relief given to the poorest countries.

A simple statistic helped mobilise the successful Jubilee 2000 campaign for the cancellation of global debts: it was the realisation that the $140m raised by Live Aid was roughly equivalent to what Africa was paying back to the rich world every week in debt repayments. Now there is another statistic which ought to similarly concentrate our minds: in the European Union we subsidise our cows to the tune of $2 a day, while each day 2.7 billion people have to survive on the same amount. And for every $1 poor countries receive in aid, they lose another $2 through an unfair trade system. Take tsunami-hit Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Over the last year alone they have paid more than $900m in tariffs on goods sold to the EU and United States.

The solution is not to dump international institutions like the World Trade Organisation. The protesters who wrecked the Seattle trade talks in 1999 made compelling television, but their protest did not build a single school, inoculate a single child or change the world’s system of trade.

A multilateral system for conducting global trade is the only way we can create a level playing field. And trade is the best engine of development, as China’s steady emergence from poverty shows. At present, Africa is at best becalmed. Campaigners estimate that if Africa could raise its share of world exports by just 1%, it would be worth five times as much as the continent receives in aid and debt relief.

So this year we must open our markets, remove trade-distorting subsidies and do more to tackle the unacceptable waste of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy. And we have to recognise that developing countries will need additional resources to build up their infrastructure. We can no longer enjoy the benefits of living in a globalised world and ignore the lives of those by whose labour we benefit. We can no longer pretend that commerce can be globalised but justice need not. —The Guardian