On Thursday 9th July, Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West, spoke in the House at the Estimates Day Debate on the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The two departments are set to merge and form a new department, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in September.
Sir David said “In 1997, there were only 165 Conservatives sitting on these Benches. When the incoming Labour Government announced that they were going to set up this new Department, I have to say that I was against it. However, without any doubt at all, Clare Short did a magnificent job as the first Secretary of State … We all know that some constituents will have said that what David Cameron did in dedicating the 0.7% figure was not on, because more money could be spent elsewhere instead, and that some people would say, “You shouldn’t bother about what goes on overseas.” Well, I have learned at first hand that investing in other countries where they face challenges brings us huge bonuses and we should continue to do that. I was very grateful for the briefing that UNICEF sent me”.
Sir David is the Chair of the All-Party British-Maldives Parliamentary Group and he called for more support for the Maldives’ development when he said “The Maldives have tremendous challenges at the moment, not only with coronavirus - they are also treated badly in terms of tuna. Whereas other countries are getting a 5% tariff, they are still stuck with a 20% tariff, which is not acceptable. Also, thinking about the air bridges that the Government have announced, the Maldives have not been included. This is hitting the Maldivian people terribly hard in the two sectors they depend on”.
All Small Island Developing States except for 4 countries (the Maldives, Cuba, Bahrain and the Marshall Islands) have tariff reductions on imports to the United Kingdom. While our Government advocates for fairer systems for the fishing industry, it is worth highlighting that the Maldives is the only country in the region paying a 20% tariff for its fisheries exports to the United Kingdom. That is significantly higher than comparable countries such as Mauritius and the Seychelles. This is especially devastating for the Maldives because fish products are 98% of their domestic exports. Therefore, the Maldives cannot compete as effectually as its competitors and as a result cannot progress its development as easily. We need to intervene and assist the Maldives in their desire to develop economically.
The Coronavirus pandemic, whilst it has affected us all globally, has hit the Maldives especially hard because they are totally dependent on tourism and fishing. Tourism contributes for two thirds of the Maldives’ Gross Domestic Product and because of the pandemic they have had to close their borders for 4 months and therefore forfeit the majority of their usual Gross Domestic Product. It is also such a shame that the Maldives are not on the Government’s list of travel corridor countries. Fish exports have also decreased by 70%. The Maldives needs to be treated the same as similar and neighbouring countries like Mauritius and the Seychelles because the Maldives’ development isn’t progressing as quickly as it could be. If we give a free trade agreement to the Maldives or reduce import tariffs to the same level as comparable countries, it would increase their development.
Not only are the Maldives facing difficulties with their economy, they are also at serious risk of flooding. The Maldives is the flattest and lowest country on Earth and has no ground surface higher than 3 metres. With 80% of the land area being below 1 metre above average sea level, the Maldives needs our continued support and aid. As the effects of climate change become more prevalent, and 2019 being the second warmest year on record, I am seriously worried about the rising sea level and the devastating effects it would have on the Maldives.
As well as the Maldives, the Philippines also benefits from our much-needed aid and Sir David is the Chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Philippines. Sir David said: “As for the Philippines, what would we do in this country, during this coronavirus crisis, without all the Filipino nurses and doctors working everywhere to help us? That country has been hit very hard by hurricanes and other challenges. I do hope that we will intervene and see if we could just give a bit more development money to the Philippines”.
Around 20 typhoons hit the Philippines each year, the country is an earthquake zone and there are numerous active volcanoes. Three of the ten deadliest earthquakes in the Philippines since the 1600s have occurred since 2000. Since 2004, there have been five typhoons which have caused over 1000 deaths and Typhoon Pablo, in November 2012, cost 1.04 billion US Dollars. The impact on human lives and the economy of these natural disasters in the Philippines, and countries alike, is shocking.