Rich Asia Pacific nations rank poorly on development policies

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  • New Zealand, which tops the Asia Pacific region, only ranked 13th in the index
  • Scandinavian nations lead with liberal policies on trade, aid, environment and migration
  • Overall focus continues to shift from development aid to trade and investment

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[SYDNEY] The richer Asia-Pacific countries and the US do poorly on the 2018 Commitment to Development Index (CDI), which ranks 27 wealthy countries according to how well their aid, trade, environment and migration policies support low and middle-income countries in poverty alleviation, good governance and security.

“Opening the economy to trade and migration would not only benefit lower income countries in the Asia Pacific region but also be beneficial for Japan and South Korea”

Ian Mitchell, Center for Global Development

Published annually by the Center for Global Development (CGD), the index is based on benefits policies of some members of the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) Development Assistance Committee provide to about five billion people living in poor countries.

New Zealand ranks 13th, the highest ranked Asia Pacific country, Australia 14th, the US 23rd, Japan 24th and South Korea comes last at 27th in the CDI released on 18 September by the CGD, a nonprofit think-tank with offices in London and Washington DC.

“Policies in one part of the world have important impacts on others. For example, gasoline taxes are particularly low in the US and Australia, but these will exacerbate climate change everywhere. Similarly, technology policy will affect the flow of ideas globally. South Korea tops this component, even though overall it is at the bottom of our index,” Ian Mitchell, report author and senior policy fellow at CGD, tells SciDev.Net.

European countries dominate the top 12 spots, with Sweden leading the way with its excellent scores on foreign aid, environment, trade, and strong policies to help integrate migrants and a high share of refugees.  Denmark comes second, and the third spot is shared by Germany and Finland.

Mitchell says “Opening the economy to trade and migration would not only benefit lower income countries in the Asia Pacific region but also be beneficial for Japan and South Korea – increasing the productivity of their economies and leading to exchange of ideas. On trade, Japan ranks mid-level with relatively low tariffs against lower income countries, but South Korea finishes bottom on trade as its markets are highly protected.”

On migration, New Zealand tops the index, followed by Australia. “Both countries’ openness to international students is helping development in the region and benefiting both students and universities alike. Japan, South Korea and the US also score above average of all 27 CDI countries,” says Anita Käppeli, report co-author and CGD’s director of policy outreach, Europe.

However, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand lag on openness to asylum seekers and refugees. “They could learn from most European countries. Mobility of people beyond borders is one the most powerful tools for poverty reduction. Migrants moving from poor to rich countries can earn higher incomes and gain valuable skills, while at the same time sending billions of dollars back to their countries in remittances,” says Käppeli.

“We encourage all countries in the Commitment to Development Index to put policies in place which enable migrants to participate in the labour market,” Käppeli tells SciDev.Net.

The rich Asia Pacific countries could improve development in the region and beyond by increasing openness to migrants on humanitarian grounds as poverty, inequality, violence and conflicts do not respect borders and have spill-over effects on countries in the region, argue the report’s authors.

While the average global acceptance rate of asylum applications is at 40 per cent, the four Asia Pacific countries show far lower receptivity to asylum applications. Japan at one per cent and South Korea at seven per cent have the lowest acceptance rates among all countries. Asylum acceptance rates for Australia are at 26 per cent and for New Zealand at 35 per cent.

“These rankings confirm our observation of declining support and assistance for development while more goes towards trade and investment. The richer Asia Pacific countries can provide more development support to Pacific Island countries for labour and work schemes, support through civil society organisations for youth and women's economic empowerment and women's political participation,” the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation’s executive director Emele Duituturaga tells SciDev.Net.  
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk