Debt-for-Nature Swaps

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 16th June 2004.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North 11:30 am, 16th June 2004

What encouragement his Department gives to debt-for-nature swaps.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

Debt swaps are not an efficient way of providing development resources to poor countries, nor are they effective in tackling unsustainable debt. The Government have been at the forefront of global initiatives to tackle the unsustainable debt burden of developing countries, including through the heavily indebted poor countries initiative.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

That was a very civil service answer from my right hon. Friend. I am rather surprised that he did not display his normal enthusiasm and imagination in considering these problems. Does he not realise that debt-for-nature equity swaps could be a very constructive way to make progress in tackling matters such as global degradation and world poverty? Will he look at the possibilities involved, especially when it comes to saving the Amazon rain forest and at the same time writing off debt? Will he make sure that he looks at these matters with a more open mind than was expressed in his first answer to me?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am very sorry if my hon. Friend thinks, from my answer, that my mind is ever anything but open—especially to suggestions from him. The WWF—formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature—originally proposed debt-for-nature swaps. In my earlier response, I was simply making it clear that they have worked in various places in Latin America, but have not really taken off in the rest of the world. As far as debt sustainability is concerned, we have made real progress through the HIPC initiative, which so far has delivered debt relief worth $70 billion.

I do however accept my hon. Friend's point that issues to do with sustainability, protecting the rainforest and so on are extremely important. He will be aware of the forestry programmes that my Department supports in a number of countries, among them Brazil, Ghana, Cameroon, Indonesia, Malawi, South Africa and Uganda. He will know, too, of our support for the global environment fund, and of our work on illegal logging. They are really significant contributions to tackling the problems about which my hon. Friend is so concerned.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry) (Trade and Economic Affairs)

As on so many issues, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Allen. Is the Secretary of State aware of the programme that was so effective in Costa Rica? It has been used to establish the rainforest in the area, and to promote the country as a major tourist destination for people who like hiking, trekking and enjoying all the things that Costa Rica can offer, as I do—[Laughter]—I mean, in the sense of nature. Is not Brazil a prime candidate for such a programme?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling us his travel and holiday plans. We do not have a programme in Costa Rica, although we do provide support through the European Union. As far as Brazil is concerned, we have a £16 million commitment to a number of projects in the rain forest, some of which I was able to see when I visited a couple of years ago. Six of those projects have ended or will end their natural lives by next March. One project is continuing, which will help indigenous people in the Brazilian rain forest to secure their livelihoods.