Latest Developments, May 8

In the latest news and analysis…

Big deal
Inter Press Service reports that closed-door talks are set to resume around the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership – potentially the biggest trade deal ever signed by the US – with major implications for global health.
“While U.S. global health policy has seen significant strengthening over the past five years, passage of the TPP ‘would start rolling this back,’ warns Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group here.
Worldwide over the past 10 years, prices for HIV-related medicines, for instance, have fallen by 99 percent, largely driven by competition from generic drugs. While the fight against generics by large pharmaceutical interests has largely shifted away from the WTO, Maybarduk suggests, the TPP agreement signals the next iteration of that effort.
‘The TPP could well be the worst that we have seen,’ Maybarduk says. ‘Not only does it run contrary to the U.S.’s own pledges on global AIDS work, but the TPP will set the template for the entire Asia- Pacific region. That could have an impact on half of the world’s population.’ ”

Tackling overfishing
The Guardian reports that Senegal’s new government has revoked the fishing licenses of 29 foreign trawlers.
“Hunger is growing in Senegal and other Sahelian countries, but much of the catch by the foreign fleets ends up in Britain and the EU after being exported from ports like Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Local fishing industry leaders in Senegal, Cape Verde, Mauritania and elsewhere say catches from inshore fishing have been decimated in the past 10 years because of overfishing. In addition, many other ‘pirate’ trawlers operate illegally in west African waters, further decimating stocks.
‘Senegal’s only resource is the sea,’ said Abdou Karim Sall, president of the Fishermen’s Association of Joal and the Committee of Marine Reserves in West Africa. ‘Unless something changes there will be a catastrophe for livelihoods, employment and food security.’ ”

Financial services hype
Juraj Dobrila University’s Milford Bateman argues that the “financial inclusion agenda” promoted by the World Bank is “nonsense.”
“First, as ever, there is the overarching effort to try to get the poor to uncritically accept the tools the rich have used to acquire their great wealth and become powerful. Finance is one of these tools. By claiming that helping the poor to ‘manage their money better’ will rapidly lead to economic and social benefits, the promoters of the financial inclusion agenda hope the poor will abandon any possible interest in supporting the collective capabilities and initiatives that history shows have massively empowered them. I would include here trade unions, social movements, strongly regulated labour markets, universal healthcare, public sector employment, a ‘developmental state’ and, most of all, the programmed redistribution of wealth and power.”

Islamophobia
The East London Communities Organisation’s Muhammad Abdul Bari writes that Europe’s “counter-jihad movement” poses a serious threat to the continent’s communal harmony.
“It is disheartening that a continent that had learnt many lessons in such a hard way, after the devastation of the two World Wars, and which prides itself in equality and human rights, is allowing itself to be influenced by the forces of intolerance and hate. It is now open season to malign Muslims because of their religious and cultural practices. Yet Muslim immigrants arriving after the war joined in the effort to rebuild the economies of war-torn Europe in the 1950s. In almost every field of life, Muslims have been an integral part of the European tapestry. Muslims are today at home in Europe, have been contributors to its past and are stakeholders in its future.
Yet the language and rhetoric used by the Far Right and the level of political expediency in mainstream European politics is mind boggling. The hate mongers are apparently succeeding in swapping a racist agenda for an Islamophobic one. The lacklustre response from European leaders has paved the way for anti-Muslim bigotry to move closer to the mainstream.”

Bribery’s cost
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Global Financial Integrity’s Clark Gascoigne argues that the sort of bribery Wal-Mart is alleged to have committed in Mexico is neither victimless nor unavoidable.
“Environmental regulations exist for many reasons—to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community. If environmental laws were circumvented to build a new Wal-Mart supercenter too close to an important watershed, for example, drinking water could be contaminated and people could become sick or die.

While bribery is pervasive in Mexican society, it is very difficult for small businesses and local residents to escape paying up. They don’t carry the weight needed to change an entire society. However, a major company like Wal-Mart—with the promise of bringing thousands of jobs to local Mexican communities—has the leverage needed to say no to corruption and still conduct business. The company, apparently, chose not to do that.”

Immigration targeting
The Globe and Mail reports on concerns that Canada’s immigration policy is moving away from 50 years of trying to remove race and national origin from the equation.
“Overall it would be a mistake, says [Dalhousie University’s Howard Ramos], to conceive of the uneven outcomes for different immigrant groups as evidence that immigration was failing.
‘Immigrants in Canada have a high degree of integration. This [language] policy doesn’t reflect that success at all. It’s creating a problem where I don’t necessarily think a problem exists,’ he says. ‘The points system was introduced to correct the injustices of focusing on culture and language too heavily. It was a society and a time that was much more ethnocentric – and I don’t think it’s a time we should try and return to.’ ”

Democracy undone
Inter Press Service reports on some of the problems bilateral investment treaties pose for governments wishing to implement sound public policy.
“ ‘Foreign investors may challenge, in an international arbitration process, any change in law and policy to protect the environment and public health, to promote social or cultural goals, or to grapple with financial or economic crises. However, it is impossible to predict the outcome with any precision because each will depend in large part on the composition of the arbitral tribunal deciding the case, which consists of three highly-paid individuals, typically specialized in commercial rather than public law,’ [according to the International Institute for Sustainable Developments Nathalie Bernasconi].

‘A lack of transparency, unpredictability and conflicts of interest have simply become unacceptable. This discontent has led countries like Australia to disfavor investor-state dispute settlement entirely and others to terminate their investment treaties.
‘Watching these developments, countries like Brazil, which never ratified any of its investment treaties, must count themselves lucky,’ she added.”

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