The Future of U.S. Development Policy: Reasons for Concern and Optimism

By: Daniel Robinson

The election of Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States has created a vast spectrum of reactions around the world, including in the international development community. At this stage, it is difficult to predict the development strategies a Trump White House would utilize, which makes uncertainty the main topic of the day. There is some concern that the Trump administration could move to scrap development aid altogether, but this seems unlikely based on the general bipartisan consensus supporting aid. However, based on the track record of Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, and proposed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it’s possible to make some specific predictions about the new administration’s impact on U.S. development policy.

The first area in which there is clear evidence of the president-elect’s intentions is in climate policy. Trump has expressed interest in backing out of the Paris Agreement on global climate change, which would likely have substantially negative effects. Likewise, Trump has previously tweeted claiming that global climate change is a “hoax”, which further expands the negative implications in this area. Additionally, Trump’s proposed appointment of an oil industry executive (Tillerson) for Secretary of State implies a negative outlook for environmental policy.

A second aspect of U.S. development policy that is likely to change under the Trump administration is the approach toward gender and women’s rights. Previous Republican presidents have sought to reduce funding for girls and women’s health programs through the United Nations Population Fund and other sources, and this is likely to continue under the new administration. In addition, the George W. Bush administration reinstituted a “Global Gag Rule” prohibiting development assistance to organizations providing information on abortions or abortion services, and there is evidence that Trump would follow a similar approach. Pence’s notoriously bad track record on reproductive rights during his time as the Governor of Indiana further increases the likelihood of these changes.

Despite this negative analysis of the Trump administration’s likely impact on development policy, there are still reasons for optimism. Trump’s speeches have had mixed messages regarding development with some inward focused comments countered by others about the importance of helping overseas. Additionally, his focus on promoting American business interests may lead him to support programs that could increase economic productivity globally. Finally, as noted earlier, there is a widespread bipartisan consensus that international development aid should be continued. Notably, several pieces of global development legislation have been passed with bipartisan support during the last two years on a range of development issues including food security, water, health, and electrification.

While there is certainly reason for concern going forward, the implications of the next presidential administration are mixed, and there is ultimately reason to expect the U.S.’ role as a major provider of development assistance to continue in some form even if there are changes.

About the blogger: Daniel Robinson is a dual master’s degree candidate studying development economics and international food policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy and Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy.

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