For a number of reasons, 2005 was a vital year for development. The donor community committed itself as never before to a massive scaling up of aid, partner countries to the Paris declaration agreed on a set of aims and principles to make aid more effective and donors agreed to put the plight of Africa at the forefront of development efforts.
EU leadership was the motor driving this major mobilization of the international community towards the achievement of the millennium development goals, which aim to halve world poverty by 2015. In May 2005, development Ministers mapped out a timetable for member states to achieve the 0.7% target by 2015, including an interim target of 0.56% by 2010. Ireland is committed to reaching the 0.7% target by 2012 and is on track to do so. I have described the timeframe in this House as realistic and achievable and I am confident it will be met. We are well above the less familiar UN target of 0.15% for aid to least developed countries as a percentage of gross national income. Arguably, this is a better benchmark for the focus on poverty of our overseas development assistance policies.
Last year, in order to make its aid more effective and responsive to the concerns of its partners, the EU launched a major new development co-operation initiative, the European consensus for development. This initiative commits the main institutions of the EU to the same set of basic principles and values in the field of development co-operation. These principles include poverty reduction, partnership and country ownership, human rights, peace, democracy and good governance.
Proper governance will determine whether the increased levels of aid will be effective in the long run. The stress on democracy and governance at EU level is reflected in our bilateral programmes. Support for good governance is a major priority area of expenditure in Ireland's development co-operation programme and includes assistance for building democratic systems of government which are underpinned by free and fair elections.
I have already pointed out that 2005 was notable for the focus given to the special plight of Africa. This initiative was also driven by EU leadership because not only did the EU pledge half of its increased aid volumes to that continent, it also agreed on a long-term framework for its relationship with Africa. This new strategy for Africa was adopted by the European Council last December after extensive preparatory work between the EU and African regional organisations. It provides a comprehensive and long-term framework for EU relations with Africa. In addition to support for national plans for economic growth and poverty reduction, the strategy will promote African leadership on peace and security issues. A key component of this is the EU's African peace facility, which has already proven to be an effective mechanism for delivering peace support on the African continent.
Last year, I launched an Irish Aid capacity building programme for the ten new EU member states, the object of which is to share Irish Aid's experiences in building its own programmes over the past 30 years. As part of the mentoring programme, delegations from the new member states visit Dublin for an intensive series of seminars on different aspects of Ireland's aid operations. The fact they are keen to learn from Ireland is a tribute to the Members of this House and the previous holders of my office. Irish Aid is recognised as a success story at EU and world levels.
Trade has the potential to lift millions out of poverty. Last December, I spoke in the Dáil about the EU's expectations for the Hong Kong World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in the area of trade and development. EU leadership was crucial to securing a strong development package in Hong Kong. In particular, Ministers agreed that all developed countries, as well as developing countries in a position to do so, would extend duty and quota free access to 97% of imports from least developed countries. Ministers also made decisions on cotton, TRIPS and aid for trade which will address some of the pressing concerns of least developed and low income countries. In parallel with the WTO negotiations, the EU is negotiating economic partnership agreements, EPAs, with six regional groupings of African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The EU Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Peter Mandelson, has stressed that EPAs will be geared toward south-south economic integration, with an emphasis on market building within the ACP. Trade liberalisation will be gradual and will flow from the agreements.
I value the support and solidarity given by Members of the Oireachtas to the work of Irish Aid and set great store by their continued attention to various aspects of our bilateral aid programmes. This parliamentary engagement brings many benefits. It helps to create public support for development and poverty reduction and holds the Government to account for the commitments it makes. As we expand our enormous and well regarded Irish Aid programmes, we need closer and better parliamentary scrutiny of our efforts. Informed parliamentary scrutiny of development policies ensures the most effective use of the unprecedented level of resources being made available for poverty reduction in the poorest countries and amongst the poorest people.
In the context of a rapid expansion in overseas aid, I welcome the views of the Oireachtas committee and of Members in general on how their involvement with Irish Aid might be deepened. We should continue to discharge this responsibility in a spirit of common purpose. All Members of this House and, in particular, those with former ministerial responsibility for development assistance have made enormous contributions to the building of an aid programme which is the envy of many other donor countries. The programme we have built brings credit to this country. Per capita, Ireland is now the world’s tenth largest donor of overseas aid. The OECD, in its peer group review, praised our aid programme by putting it at the cutting edge of development policy. Action Aid, an independent NGO based in London, stated that Ireland’s aid programme is of the highest quality. In its examination of the efforts of various donors, it made a unique distinction between phantom and real aid. Ireland has a reputation for delivering real aid which is of real benefit to really poor people.