Japan’s development aid programme predates its OECD membership by a decade, since the country became a participant in the Colombo Plan for Co-operative Economic and Social Development in Asia in 1954. The Colombo Plan quickly became a way for Japan to launch technical co-operation and also to initiate a more international presence and influence in economic and social policy.
This role grew thanks to Japan’s yen loans, which it began disbursing in 1958 with a loan to India. Japan received the last of its own multilateral development loans in 1966, and by 2012 the country marked its 22nd year as the world’s largest creditor nation. The country’s official development assistance (ODA) expenditures also took on new importance as a foreign policy instrument when it joined first the Development Assistance Group (later Committee) at the OECD before joining the OECD proper in 1964. By 1989 Japan’s total ODA was the highest in the world, a position it held until 2000. By 2004 Japan had disbursed over US$220 billion for development in 185 countries.
Nowadays Japan’s bilateral development assistance comes to less than 0.2% of gross national income, down from over 0.3% in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and below the UN recommended target of 0.7%. Nevertheless, it was the fifth largest aid donor in net terms in 2012 with some US$11 billion, and in gross disbursements it is the second largest aid donor on the planet, after the US. According to JICA (Japan International Co-operation Agency), which is responsible for implementing the country’s overseas aid programmes, today’s projects aim for “inclusive and dynamic development”, with an emphasis on self-help and technical support. The range of projects which Japan has been responsible for is wide: from working with fishers to help kick-start salmon farming in Chile in the late 1960s and providing technical and financial support for traditional grain crops in Afghanistan in 2000s; to large scale infrastructural projects, such as expanding the Suez Canal in Egypt from the late 1950s, and a multibillion dollar loan and grant scheme for rebuilding Iraq in 2003.
Japanese aid also helps small businesses, medical facilities, education and research to take hold in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It provides for urban planning to improve living conditions and well-being in cities. And it assures emergency assistance, via disaster relief, volunteer medical teams and self-defence forces. More recently, as a traditional donor eager to improve the effectiveness of aid, Japan has been an active proponent of working not just with recipient countries but with relatively new donors from emerging countries as well, using so-called “triangular” co-operation.
Japan’s Official Development Assistance White Paper 2004: “Accomplishments and Progress of 50 Years”,
The next OECD DAC Peer Review of Japanese ODA will be issued in 2014.
©OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014