Latest Developments, July 4

It has been a long weekend on both sides of the world’s longest shared border. To mark the occasion, here is a list of international human rights issues for Canada to address and a July 4th reminder of what unfettered economic interests can do.

Now, some news and analysis from the last few days…

The UK’s new anti-corruption legislation came into effect, aimed at cracking down on bribes paid to foreign officials by companies with a substantial British link. Global Witness warns the new act, which may only produce 1.3 additional prosecutions per year, will be of little use without sufficient enforcement.

The Isle of Man and Guernsey have agreed to the automatic exchange of tax information with the European Union. The EU appears less interested in its own political transparency, however, as 20 of its member states are challenging a court ruling that would require the disclosure of positions taken in the all-important working-group stage of policy making.

On the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog, Lawrence Haddad and Calestous Juma highlight five priorities for the new head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, while Gary Younge points to Portugal, Greece, and Haiti as evidence of the increasing irrelevance of national governments.

A dispute over Pakistan’s Shamsi airbase raises questions about national sovereignty, and trouble at the world’s largest refugee camp highlights the plight of those who have fled their country.

The Overseas Development Institute makes recommendations for increased effectiveness of European development cooperation,  while Counter Balance slams the European Investment Bank for funding controversial mining operations in Africa.

Drawing on the examples of Tunisia, Senegal and Mauritius, Sheila Bunwaree argues against putting too much stock in global index rankings. And speaking of Mauritius, the tiny island nation accounted for 42 percent of foreign direct investment into India last year, suggesting much of the FDI is rather indirect. Not to mention exempt from capital gains tax. Rumours that India wants to renegotiate its tax agreement with Mauritius sent stock tumbling in Mumbai last month.


Latest Developments, June 27

In today’s news…

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to send 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers to Sudan’s disputed Abyei region. As a neighbouring country that has been involved in military conflicts with two of its other neighbours – Eritrea and Somalia –  in recent years, Ethiopia is an interesting choice. David Shinn, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia, is not worried but he discusses the Ethiopia-Sudan relationship’s past and future challenges.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has just chosen a new head and the International Monetary Fund is about to do the same. The weekend’s FAO vote went against wealthy donor countries preferring a Spanish candidate to the Brazilian who won on the strength of wide support from the Global South. Given the divisions within the FAO and how far the Millennium Development Goal to halve world hunger by 2015 has gone off track, José Graziano da Silva’s job is unlikely to be an easy one. “Along with tackling the linked problem of climate change, delivering global food and nutrition security is the challenge of our time,” former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said over the weekend, as the number of chronically hungry climbs above 1 billion. At the same time, the number of obese people is closing in on 2 billion. Not surprisingly perhaps, new data on diabetes trends over the last three decades are all over the map. Among the big winners with an overall decreased incidence: Poland, Myanmar and Zambia. Among the big losers with increases of more than 60 percent: the US, Papua-New Guinea and Spain.

After the FAO disappointment, the North is expected to fare better in the IMF thanks to that organization’s vote-as-you-pay scheme, in which the US alone holds 17 percent of the votes and Europe close to 50. Tomorrow’s anticipated election of French finance minister Christine Lagarde will continue the exclusive ownership of the IMF leadership Europe has enjoyed since the organization’s inception. Despite growing pressure to relinquish this hold, European leaders have argued that the body’s primary focus is currently the eurozone crisis and its leadership should reflect that fact.

(As an aside, the International Criminal Court’s latest weekly update is out. Apart from an item on a visit from the Dutch foreign minister, the entire issue pertains to Africa. It remains to be seen whether European leaders will follow their IMF logic by pushing for an African to become the next chief prosecutor.)

While the IMF waits for official word of its new leader, it may have lost a customer, as Egypt appears to have decided it does not want a loan after all. And a number of Arab NGOs are accusing donors, such as the IMF and World Bank, of undermining the Arab Spring by imposing excessive conditions on loans.

The IMF’s sister institution, the World Bank, wants to include anti-corruption lessons in the curricula of poor countries. There is no word at present of a complementary initiative to teach rich countries how to tackle the supply side of graft.

In the private sector, Wal-Mart is heading to Africa where it is encountering considerable resistance. And the government of Peru has just revoked the license of Canadian mining company Bear Creek, following protests in which police killed at least five demonstrators. The company whose share prices tumbled on Monday vowed to take action against the government under the Canada-Peru bilateral free trade agreement which passed though the Canadian Parliament in 2009, just days after dozens were killed in protests over planned resource exploitation in the Amazon.

Finally, and appropriately for this first edition of Latest Developments, a plea to make fighting global inequality a priority.