The international development umbrella body Bond has said it is "alarming" that part of the UK’s aid budget could be taken from humanitarian causes and given to the Department for International Trade.
Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, told BBC News this morning that part of the £14bn aid budget would be given to the DIT to "bring development and trade closer together" and to support "sustainable development".
The aid budget is mostly administered by the Department for International Development, although parts of its budget have been given to other departments, such as the Home Office and the Foreign Office, in recent years.
The money given to the DIT would still count towards the UK’s promise to spend 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product on aid.
A spokeswoman for the DIT said that the amount of aid money the department would receive has not yet been decided.
But Bond warned that simply using the aid budget to promote British trade interests would not work and the focus instead should be on issues such as alleviating poverty and protecting the environment.
Claire Godfrey, head of policy, advocacy and research at Bond, said: "This morning’s report that more of the UK aid budget will be allocated to Department for International Trade would be alarming if it signifies an increasing shift back to the days of tied aid, where aid serves UK business needs, rather than trade working to help people escape poverty.
"Trade with the developing world is most effective when it responds to the developing countries’ priorities and when it works under fair-trade conditions. Aid for trade doesn’t work if it is a prop for UK business interests and fails to prioritise the needs of people facing poverty or protect the environment."
In a report last year, the House of Commons International Development Committee criticised the use of the aid budget to pay for the UK’s diplomatic, trade or diplomatic security interests.
And a 2017 report from the National Audit Office said the government was struggling to monitor overseas aid partly because of the number of government departments overseeing it.
The spokeswoman for the DIT echoed Fox’s comments about using trade to reduce dependence on aid in the long term.
"Trade plays a vital role in building stable economies and the DIT is committed to supporting developing countries to attract foreign investment and build their trade capability," she said.
"This ultimately helps to create jobs and drive prosperity in local economies, and reduces reliance on aid in the longer term."
The spokeswoman said that the DIT was building its capacity as an "aid spending department" – including having the right skills, people and processes in place – to ensure that any money it spends generates "maximum impact".