Ottawa is expanding a list of low-income countries that receive most of Canada's bilateral development assistance, a shift that will see more funding directed to places where the government has identified key trade and investment interests.
Mongolia, Myanmar and Democratic Republic of the Congo are among seven new "countries of focus" added to a list of 25 that will receive most of Canada's country-to-country development aid. Burkina Faso, Benin, the Philippines and Jordan were also included in the new list, while Pakistan and Bolivia were removed.
The revision is the first major change to the list since the federal government announced in 2009 that it would spend 80 per cent of Canada's bilateral assistance on programming in 20 priority countries. The new list increases the number of recipient countries to 25 and bumps up the proportion of overall bilateral development aid those countries will receive from 80 to 90 per cent.
International Development Minister Christian Paradis said on Thursday that the changes are based on an assessment of low-income countries' needs, their ability to benefit from foreign-aid dollars and their alignment with Canada's foreign policy priorities. "It was a rigorous analysis, and this is what we ended [up with] as the 25 countries of focus," he told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
He pointed to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which tied for last place on the United Nations' 2012 human development index, as an example of a country with significant development needs. "And yes, there are natural resources there, it's a sector in which we are active, and I think we can make a difference on both sides: help to alleviate extreme poverty and also we can share [our] expertise in terms of resources."
He said Mongolia was added, in part, because it shares a number of interests with Canada and because it has "pushed hard" on economic growth. And a recent shift in favour of democratic principles and economic growth in Myanmar led Canada to decide that it's a country "in which we can seriously make a difference," Mr. Paradis said.
More than half of the countries that were added to the list are considered priority markets under Canada's Global Markets Action Plan. And at least three of those have extractive sectors the government has identified as holding key opportunities for Canadian companies, signalling a continued interest in linking aid with Canada's commercial priorities.
Mr. Paradis said Canada's interests were among the considerations for the new list, but were not the only determinants. The list also overlaps substantially with countries that receive aid through Canada's efforts to improve maternal child and health, he said. "So on the other side, if people say, 'You just talk about trade,' this is not true," he said.
Jordan was added to the priority list to help it deal with the massive influx of refugees the country has accepted from Syria, while the Philippines is a place where Canada has been particularly active since Typhoon Haiyan, Mr. Paradis said.
Ottawa also plans to launch a new development program in Iraq, but would have only a modest presence in the conflict-torn country. Mr. Paradis said he is mindful of the current crisis but hopes there will be opportunities in the future for Canada to contribute to Iraq's economic growth.
The shift comes one year after Ottawa merged its standalone development agency with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, marking a further integration of the government's trade, development and diplomacy initiatives.
The original list of 20 countries was established in 2009, two years after a review by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development recommended that Canada focus on a smaller number of partner countries where it could have a bigger impact.