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NZ PM hints at announcing aid boost at Pacific Islands Forum

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key hints at doubling his aid budget by 2015. (Photo by Rory MacKinnon and courtesy of Scoop.co.nz.)

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Rory MacKinnon in Wellington.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says he may discuss NZ’s pledge to more than double its overseas aid spending by 2015 at next week’s Pacific Islands Forum – but that goal is still “a long way away”.

Speaking Monday at a post-Cabinet press conference, Key said he and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully would attend the forum in Vanuatu to discuss the region’s coordination of development and member countries’ progress on meeting the United Nations Millenium Development Goals, which aim to reduce poverty and infant mortality.

New Zealand was one of 23 countries which pledged in 2000 to commit 0.7 percent of its gross national income to overseas aid by 2015 – but with only five years to go, New Zealand’s contribution is just 0.29 percent.

Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands have already exceeded the 0.7 pledge and 11 others have announced plans to meet the 2015 deadline.

But New Zealand was ranked just sixteenth in an OECD report on the project in April.

The report also noted New Zealand’s net contribution to overseas development had actually dropped by 3.2 percent in 2009.

Key said Monday he did not know when New Zealand would reach the 0.7 percent mark but insisted his Government had not changed its position.

0.7 percent was still the long-term goal, but “we are a long way away from that.”

“I’ve always been of the view that – obviously, if we can afford to – lifting our financial contribution is important, but it’s also important to recognize that nz makes a contribution well in excess of the amount of cash that we give as a percentage of GDP.

“I think from memory we’re 0.3 or 0.32 or something at that magnitude at the moment, so we’re quite a long way away.

Key said he planned to increase aid spending to NZ$600m a year, but did not know when it would happen.
“I don’t know what that’s doing as a percentage; it’s slightly rising but I’d need to go and check the budget documents to be absolutely sure.”

Key said it was important to recognize that New Zealand also made contributions other than cash, such as trade and personnel.

The National Government had been active in the Pacific and there would be “a fair bit of support” for New Zealand at the forum, he said.

Rory MacKinnon is a political reporter with Scoop.co.nz and based in Wellington.