THE NEW PRIVATE TURN IN NORDIC DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION STRATEGY*
University of Jyväskylä
In the past 15 years, “the private turn” in international development cooperation framework has become more evident. This shift in foreign policy is essentially characterized by a change in strategy from the old state-to-state relations centered on the giving and receiving of aid to the new economic diplomacy focused on the development of private sector business activities.
The implications of this emergent phenomenon for both development theory and practice are however understudied in (Nordic) development research, and no comparative studies have been undertaken. Such study is important in terms of: (i) the past, present, and future of North-South development cooperation; (ii) feasible development strategies for both developed and developing countries; and (iii) the processes of development and democratization in what used to be known as the “Third World” with durable authoritarian political regimes.
At the heart of this foreign policy re-strategizing is the crucial role assigned to the private sector as the driving force of development cooperation to pursue market-based solutions such as the promotion of entrepreneurship and the expansion of business operations to address poverty and other developmental problems. To this end, Nordic donor countries have been investing their resources tremendously to the operations of private enterprise-oriented development institutions and policy instruments.
The government of Finland has formed Team Finland as a crucial institution to embody, coordinate and implement the country’s emergent framework for the internationalization of Finnish private enterprises. Sweden has the Swedfund and Swedpartnership to facilitate the programme for private sector development. Denmark has the Danish Trade Council, the Investment Fund for Developing Countries, and the Export Credit Agency in line with their new foreign policy priority on economic diplomacy that targets growth areas in today’s global economy. And Norway has Nordfund, the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries, as their anti-poverty development finance institution funding private sector development programme and other commercial activities for poor countries.
Historically, the role of the private sector in development cooperation has always been there since the United Nations’ First Development Decade of the 1960s. This began when developed countries committed to transfer one per cent (1%) of their gross domestic product (GDP) to achieve the five per cent (5%) GDP growth target for developing countries. The prescribed formula of one per cent of GDP as an indicator of a successful net positive transfer of real resources from developed to developing countries should have been 0.7% of official development assistance (ODA) from donor governments plus 0.3% flows from the private sector.
However, during the five consecutive development decades, private flows have prevailed over donor government’s ODA whereby resource flows from rich to poor countries are subject to private incentives, rather than to development needs. Importantly, between 80 and 90 per cent of donor countries’ development finance, notably the development assistance budget of Nordic governments, are actually invested in the World Bank Group, Regional/Multilateral Development Banks, and other international development finance institutions together with other finance capital from private lenders and commercial banks that are loaned to developing countries.
What can also be observed in Nordic foreign policy nowadays is the geographical re-focusing of development cooperation partnerships with the economic growth areas of Asia, particularly with “rising China” and the emerging economies of Southeast Asia. Take, for example, the “China Action Plan” in 2010 of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland which identifies start-up and expansion opportunities for investors from both partner countries to do business in their respective economies.
An important phenomenon integral to the Nordic’s private turn in development cooperation is the impact of the policy choices of their governments and the business strategies of the state-supported business enterprises on one of the fundamental objectives of their international development policy ideals: the promotion of democratic values which, at a minimum, means the establishment of the rule of law, respect for human rights, and good governance. The Nordic countries’ priority partners in East and Southeast Asia—specifically, China, Myanmar, and Vietnam—are generally characterized as authoritarian, undemocratic, or non-democratic regimes.
Preliminary observation suggests that the private turn, or the private enterprise-oriented development framework, encourages the economic imperatives for entrepreneurship and investments to take precedence over the political agenda for democracy promotion. As a result, Nordic business interests can be made, or are being made, to operate even within the context of non-democratic political regimes of their developing country partners.
*This is an abridged version of the original article published by the Poverty and Development Research Center.
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