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Politics Foreign-aid agency cut, merged with foreign affairs and trade department

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird

OLIVIER JEAN/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian International Development Agency will be eliminated and its functions merged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, according to the 2013 budget, a surprise move that will more closely align development assistance with Canada's trade and foreign policy objectives.

The international development portfolio will continue to have an independent minister -- a position that is currently filled by International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino -- but the agency's core functions will be absorbed by the newly titled Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

The move will come as a concern to some development professionals, who have already said they are worried that a growing shift toward aligning foreign aid with trade and commercial priorities could detract from the agency's core mandate, which is to alleviate poverty.

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"The government will continue to provide essential aid to those most in need in developing countries," the budget document states, adding that CIDA's maternal, newborn and child health initiative will continue along with efforts on public sector governance, agriculture and justice reform.

But foreign policy objectives and trade opportunities will play a growing role in future international development decisions. "As the linkages between our foreign policy, development, and trade objectives continue to grow, the opportunity to leverage each of these grows at equal pace," the document states.

The CIDA decision builds on the 2006 merger of international trade with the Department of Foreign Affairs. The budget document states that the move helped increase economic opportunities and adds that there are "similar opportunities" with development assistance.

Mr. Fantino has said in the past that CIDA should look to match its development efforts with projects that hold added benefits for Canada.

The agency is already co-funding development projects in several communities where Canadian mining companies operate. The companies are required to help with funding, and the projects are run by non-governmental organizations.

The initiative has been criticized by some development experts, who worry CIDA is placing too much emphasis on Canadian commercial interests, while proponents view it as an innovative way to leverage more money for development assistance.

The budget document argues that the new merger will result in greater coherence on the government's "priority issues," and improve overall impact.

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"Poverty alleviation through development assistance and the provision of humanitarian assistance in times of crisis are a tangible expression of Canadian values, which the government will continue to advance on the international stage," the document states. "To that effect, core development assistance will remain intact."

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