Latest Developments, October 18

In the latest news and analysis…

FDI dangers
Reuters reports international negotiations have not succeeded in producing voluntary guidelines to curb land grabs in poor countries, a phenomenon driven by uncertain markets and a race to the bottom to attract foreign investment.
“Countries who want to attract investment are currently competing with each other to provide buyers with the best deal, such as a low price for land, low taxes, and few demands for employment creation and protection of the local food system, [the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier] De Schutter said.
Targeted African and Asian countries would benefit from a common set of guidelines, which would increase their bargaining position and make it easier for them to demand conditions to protect vulnerable land-users, he said.”

Conflict minerals
Reuters also reports on the battle in Washington over the Securities and Exchange Commission’s attempts to implement a legal provision requiring companies to disclose if their products contain “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Companies and business groups have largely opposed the measure as proposed, saying it captures far too many companies who do not directly manufacture their goods and have little say or knowledge about the origins of the minerals used in their products. They have urged the SEC to implement the plan over time, and also to give relief to companies that use trace amounts of the minerals in question.
But lawmakers, human rights groups and some socially conscious investors have decried the delay in the SEC’s rulemaking process.”

Resource caution
In the midst of all the excitement about Africa’s current rate of economic growth, Oxford economist Paul Collier warns of the dangers of relying on revenues from resource exports.
“The meltdown in commodity prices over the last two months perfectly illustrates the volatility inherent in these global markets. Resource-rich low-income countries are typically highly dependent upon the tax receipts from resource exports for government revenue. The rents on commodity extraction are highly geared on the price and so are even more volatile than prices. Since taxes are designed to capture the rents, government revenue is thus deeply unpredictable.”

Remittance curse
Economist and mathematician David Ellerman suggests remittances can represent a curse in the same way as resource wealth is often thought to do.
“Like the discovery of oil, the flow of remittances back to the sending country will increase income levels but that itself does not amount to economic development. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Many of the resource-curse arguments apply to the ‘oil wells’ of remittances. The pressure on the governments to facilitate job creation in the sending countries is much reduced when they can export their unemployment problem and even receive a sizable inflow of hard currency in return.”

Intimidating investigation
Oxfam is reporting that people who complained to the NGO of being forcibly evicted to make way for the Ugandan operations of UK-based New Forests Company – as highlighted in an Oxfam report on land grabs released last month – now say they are being intimidated by employees of the company which had promised an independent investigation in the original allegations.
“We have heard from many people in these communities that they are feeling intimidated by the recent actions of NFC, which are totally at odds with the principles of an independent and transparent investigation,” according to Oxfam’s Vicky Rateau. “They have already lost their homes and land and many have been subjected to violent behavior. They need a credible investigation not further pressure.”

Malaria vaccine
The Guardian’s Sarah Boseley reports on a possible new malaria vaccine that has roughly halved the incidence of the disease in trials to this point.
“The arguments over value for money will be starting even now. Donors will want to figure out whether bednets or artimisinin drugs are a better investment than a vaccine that will reduce the number of malaria cases but not stop the disease in its tracks.
Price will be a critical factor in these considerations. [GlaxoSmithKline’s Andrew] Witty says they will do everything they can to get it down. He is looking at the costs involved in manufacturing and supply – even at the price of the vial. He is prepared to offer licences to get the vaccine produced cheaply in India or in Africa itself.”

Feminist development
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues for the reassertion of feminism as the “theoretical underpinning” for women’s rights around the world but cautions against the imposition of cultural values.
“The certainty that has typified feminist struggle in the west, and has been one of the reasons for its great successes, does not often work cross-culturally. Certainty can only arise indigenously – and there are plenty of national feminist organisations across the world that are leading the fight in their own countries, in their own way (see the debate about the Gisele Bündchen adverts in Brazil, for example). In the international sphere, certainty must be replaced with humility about what the answers are and, crucially, a profound openness to learning from other cultures.”

Rejecting happiness
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny thinks the recent craze among politicians to develop happiness measures as policy-making tools is misguided.
“This isn’t to say that politicians shouldn’t care whether their people are happy. But life is complicated and so is what makes up a good one. It is time to give up looking for a single indicator to capture how we’re doing at it.”

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