Latest Developments, April 3

In today’s news and analysis…

Huge loophole
Agence France-Presse highlights some of the perceived shortcomings of the Arms Trade Treaty which has been approved by “an overwhelming 154-3 margin” in the UN General Assembly:

“The treaty has no automatic enforcement. However, it seeks to force the weapons industry within accepted boundaries.

However, the Conflict Awareness Project, a non-governmental research organisation, said the treaty left a huge loophole by not directly addressing the role of middlemen in arms dealing networks.
‘Since the broker is the central actor using the cover of legitimate business to divert weapons into the illicit trade, of all actors, this is the one requiring the strictest regulation,’ CAP’s executive director Kathi Lynn Austin said.”

Landmark ruling
The Guardian reports that India’s Supreme Court has ruled against Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis whose efforts to obtain a patent for a cancer drug were deemed to constitute an attempt at “evergreening”:

“At stake in the legal battle was not just the right of generic companies to make cheap drugs for India once original patents expire but also access to newer drugs for poorer countries in much of Africa and Asia. India has long been known as the pharmacy of the developing world.

In a statement, the Cancer Patients Aid Association in India (CPAA), which had opposed the patent application, said: ‘We are very happy that the court has recognised the right of patients to access affordable medicines over profits for big pharmaceutical companies through patents. Our access to affordable treatment will not be possible if the medicines are patented. It is a huge victory for human rights.’ ”

Bad image
The Antioquia School of Engineering’s Santiago Ortega Arango writes that Canadian mining companies have recently been the targets of popular protests in “at least 10 countries”:

“Canada is very well represented in global mining conflicts because, in large part, Canada is the home of most of the junior mining companies of the world,” says Ramsey Hart, the Canada program co-ordinator at Mining Watch, an Ottawa-based advocacy group.
The reason for this, he says, is that Canada has a favourable environment for high-risk, speculative investments, the kind that drives international mineral exploration.
Unlike the U.S. Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign citizens to bring American companies to U.S. courts for abuses committed in a foreign country, there are no mechanisms to hold Canadian companies overseas accountable for their social and environmental policies. ‘We’ve just completely dropped that ball,’ Ramsey says.

New relationship
The Canadian government is celebrating a new “competitive edge for Canadian exporters” as the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement goes into effect:

“In less than six years, the Harper government has concluded free trade agreements with nine countries: Colombia, Honduras, Jordan, Panama, Peru and the European Free Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. In addition, Canada is in ongoing trade negotiations with the European Union, India, Japan and the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Upon implementation April 1, 2013, Panama will immediately eliminate tariffs on 95 percent of non-agricultural imports and 78 percent of agricultural imports from Canada…

Most of Panama’s remaining tariffs will be eliminated over a period of 5 to 15 years.”

Carbon colonialism
The Nigerian Current reports that the newly formed No REDD in Africa Network blames a UN emissions reduction scheme for “rampant land grabs and neocolonialism”:

“[Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest degradation] is a carbon offset mechanism whereby industrialized Northern countries use forests, agriculture, soils and even water as sponges for their pollution instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at source.
Nnimmo Bassey, Alternative Nobel Prize Laureate and former Executive Director of ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said that ‘REDD is no longer just a false solution but a new form of colonialism…We launch the No REDD in Africa Network to defend the continent from carbon colonialism.’
In the UN-REDD Framework Document, the United Nations itself admits that REDD could result in the ‘lock-up of forests,’ ‘loss of land’ and ‘new risks for the poor.’ ”

Wrong approach
The University of Utrecht’s Annelies Zoomers and the Broker magazine’s Evert-jan Quak argue that current efforts to rein in land grabbing fail to get at the root of the problem:

“These problems are the result of the commoditisation of nature and neoliberal policies in general, rather than narrowing the causes of the land rush solely to the current food, climate and energy crisis. Land-titling programmes and codes of conducts are therefore a continuation of the same economic principles.
Furthermore, land governance and policies focussing on land grabbing narrow the scope of the problem and the solution to agriculture. However, urban expansion, infrastructure projects, mining, special economic zones, and tourism projects also spark the rush for land and speculative forces to purchase land in rural areas that affect rural communities. Finally, there is no coherence between policies on food security, climate change, biodiversity and poverty eradication. One problem can be solved (for example REDD and REDD+ to tackle carbon emissions by fast reforestation projects) but create others (small farmers losing their land). A much more interdisciplinary way of policy-making should therefore be enforced.”

Bank crimes
MIT’s Simon Johnson argues that when it comes to international money laundering, “complicit bankers have nothing to fear from the US justice system”:

“To be on the safe side, though, miscreants should be sure to use a really large global bank for all their money-laundering needs.
There may be fines, but the largest financial companies are unlikely to face criminal actions or meaningful sanctions. The Department of Justice has decided that these banks are too big to prosecute to the full extent of the law, though why this also gets employees and executives off the hook remains a mystery. And the Federal Reserve refuses to rescind bank licenses, undermining the credibility, legitimacy and stability of the financial system.”

Basic income
The Guardian’s Geoge Monbiot makes the case for everyone, whether rich or poor, to receive a “guaranteed sum” each week:

“A basic income removes the stigma of benefits while also breaking open what politicians call the welfare trap. Because taking work would not reduce your entitlement to social security, there would be no disincentive to find a job – all the money you earn is extra income. The poor are not forced by desperation into the arms of unscrupulous employers: people will work if conditions are good and pay fair, but will refuse to be treated like mules. It redresses the wild imbalance in bargaining power that the current system exacerbates.”

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Latest Developments, March 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Sachs for president
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs makes the case for why he should become the 12th consecutive American man to serve as president of the World Bank.
“In Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, I’ve been a trusted problem-solver for heads of state and impoverished villagers. My good fortune to see the world through the eyes of others, during 30 years working on some of the world’s most vexing problems, has helped me understand various regions’ challenges and the need for tailored solutions. There are reasons why what works well in the United States might not work in Nigeria, Ethiopia or India.”

Assessing Sachs
The Guardian explores Jeffrey Sachs’s CV in light of his declared desire to become World Bank president.
“But Sachs’s role in development hasn’t always been uncontentious. As a consultant in the late 1980s and early 1990s while an academic at Harvard, he advised Poland, then Russia, on their economic reforms. The strategy adopted by the Kremlin, under the tutelage of the IMF and the US treasury, involved a headlong dash towards privatisation and liberalisation that became known as ‘shock therapy’.
The consequences were disastrous, enriching a tiny coterie of oligarchs who bought up public assets on the cheap, and driving Russia towards defaulting on its debts.
However, Sachs now disowns the extreme policies for which many have since blamed him.”

Escalation concerns
In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, expresses her opposition to arming Syria’s rebels.
“ ‘Any kind of provision of military equipment to the opposition, in my view, will escalate the violence and not lead to the goal we are trying to achieve,’ Pillay explains.
‘I think that countries should be focusing their energy on achieving a peaceful resolution here, and to ensure that the root causes are addressed … and supplying arms to a few individuals is not going to help that situation … As I see it, it’s not the role of outsiders to arm one group or the other.’ ”

Polio protest
McClatchy Newspapers reports a group of American humanitarian NGOs is alleging the CIA’s use of a fake immunization scheme to locate Osama Bin Laden has set back the fight against polio in Pakistan, which had the highest number of cases in the world last year.
“ ‘The CIA’s use of the cover of humanitarian activity for this purpose casts doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community’s efforts to eradicate polio, provide critical health services and extend life-saving assistance during times of crisis, like the floods seen in Pakistan over the last two years,’ the coalition of aid agencies, InterAction, wrote in its letter to CIA director David Petraeus.”

Affordable medicines on trial
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a case set to be heard by India’s Supreme Court later this month, which could have massive repercussions on global health.
“For access to medicine campaigners, Novartis’s legal action could threaten the availability of affordable medicines for the world’s poorest patients. For the pharmaceutical company, the protection of massive R&D investment and innovation is on the line.

‘What is at stake goes far beyond the only granting of a patent for this anticancer drug. This legal challenge aims in fact at weakening a legitimate and invaluable public health clause of the Indian law, Section 3(d), which intends to limit the multiplication of patents on trivial changes to existing medicines, a common practice by multinational pharmaceutical companies known as “evergreening”, ’ said Patrick Durisch, the health programme coordinator of the Berne Declaration.”

Poverty falling
The Economist reports on new World Bank figures suggesting poverty is “declining everywhere,” though primarily in China.
“If you exclude China, the numbers are less impressive. Of the roughly 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2008, 1.1 billion of them were outside China. That number barely budged between 1981 and 2008, an outcome that Martin Ravallion, the director of the bank’s Development Research Group, calls ‘sobering’.”

The war over women’s health
The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof lays out the process, which he describes as “bordering on state-sanctioned rape,” that women in Texas must now go through before having an abortion.
“Under a new law that took effect three weeks ago with the strong backing of Gov. Rick Perry, she first must typically endure an ultrasound probe inserted into her vagina. Then she listens to the audio thumping of the fetal heartbeat and watches the fetus on an ultrasound screen.
She must listen to a doctor explain the body parts and internal organs of the fetus as they’re shown on the monitor. She signs a document saying that she understands all this, and it is placed in her medical files. Finally, she goes home and must wait 24 hours before returning to get the abortion.”

Selling globalization
Monthly Review’s Michael Yates looks at how inequality and globalization fuel each other.
“Incomes do not just flow from poorer to richer households but from lesser to greater businesses (this latter phenomenon is part of what [Eric] Schutz calls “the business power structure”). Large firms, a small number of which dominate many markets, are best situated to expand globally, and as they do, they become more powerful economically and politically. This power permits them to increase the rate of exploitation of labor, again especially in the Global South, as they can both utilize modern labor process control techniques better than their smaller rivals and exert political pressure more effectively. Their growing and almost total control of mass media creates a modern propaganda system that shapes the culture in a thoroughly pro-capitalist manner, forging a climate in which it is difficult for people to escape being bombarded with the idea that there is no alternative to the terrible things that have been happening to them. Governments are increasingly seen as incapable of doing anything except getting out of the way of the capitalist juggernaut.”