Business leaders support Bishop's 'aid for trade' proposal

BUSINESS leaders and international aid groups have backed Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's plans for more private sector involvement in Australia's foreign aid programs.

A high-level conference of international agriculture, aid, research and science figures, Food 4 Growth, was held in Brisbane this year.

Leading into the coming G20 conference, many delegates wanted agriculture to be front and centre of the agenda, as well as its role in foreign aid be recognised.

The conference came as Ms Bishop on Wednesday outlined new plans for an "aid for trade" program, and policy changes to move innovation and corporate involvement to the centre of Australia's aid.

A welcome, but long overdue move, was how US aid and development contractor Carana Corporation's president Santiago Sedaca described the change.

He said while every country was different, the trend internationally towards more private involvement in aid programs had been developing for more than 15 years.

"Government's tend to think in terms of one term or spending cycle, one year budgets - but business has to think of the long 10 to 20 year pay off," Mr Sedaca said.

"It's about changing the dynamic from seeing donors as a cash machine and using the private sector to help deliver the long-term development goals."

It was a sentiment echoed by Wayne Powell, chief science officer at CGIAR, an Australian global agricultural research organisation.

He said while agriculture needed to be seen as the essential part of growing economic development and lifting people out of poverty, private industry needed to be involved.

"They all have a role, but it's inconceivable that the long term picture could not include the private sector - without it, the big changes could not happen.

"But all people - researchers, the international community, government and corporations, need to collaborate as only through collaboration can we solve these problems.

While private involvement needed to be on the G20 agenda, several F4G delegates said discussion of the role of agriculture must form part of any talks at the higher level dedicated to aid and world poverty.

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