Latest Developments, December 18

In the latest news and analysis…

From multilateralism to plurilateralism
The Financial Times reports the World Trade Organization’s biennial ministerial meeting has wrapped up without progress on the “stalled” Doha round of talks, which is ostensibly meant to improve the position of poor countries within the global trade system.
“A number of rich economies, including the US and EU, have explored the possibility of a so-called ‘plurilateral agreement’, involving a subset of WTO members which would agree to open their markets only to each other rather than the wider membership. But many emerging-market countries have rejected a move away from the traditional WTO ‘single undertaking’ approach in which negotiations in several areas – agriculture, industrial goods, services – are undertaken in parallel. Plans to address new issues such as climate change and food security within the WTO have also aroused suspicion among some developing countries, which suspect they are a ruse to advance rich countries’ interests.”

Vicious cycle
The UN News Centre reports that a UN human rights experts has said World Trade Organization policies are hurting small-scale farmers in the poorest countries.
“[Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food] stressed that the international trade regime must acknowledge the dangers for poor countries in relying excessively on trade, as this exposes them to volatile grain prices, which can quickly change their landscape into one of poverty and hunger, felt by urban and rural consumer alike.
‘The food bills of LDCs increased five- or six-fold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for around 25 per cent of their current food consumption. These countries are caught in a vicious cycle. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade,’ he said.”

Drone dangers
Human Rights Watch has called on the US government to transfer command of drone strikes from the CIA to the armed forces and to “clarify its legal rationale for targeted killings.”
“In asserting that targeted attacks on alleged anti-US militants anywhere in the world are lawful, the US undermines the international rules it helped craft over the past half-century. This sets a dangerous precedent for abusive regimes around the globe to conduct drone attacks or other strikes against anyone labeled a terrorist or militant, and undercuts the ability of the US to criticize such attacks.
About 40 other countries currently possess basic drone technology, and the number is expected to expand significantly in coming years. These drones are primarily used for surveillance. China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom either have or are currently seeking drones with attack capability.

Privatizing education
A new Center for Global Development paper reaches the conclusion that low-income countries would benefit from more private schools.
“We find a robust, causal exam performance premium of one standard deviation delivered by private schools. This point estimate is significantly larger than found in previous studies, and dwarfs the impact of narrower interventions within public primary schools in the micro-empirical development literature (see (Kremer 2003)). Furthermore, from a social perspective private schooling is relatively cheap: nearly two-thirds (64%) of children in private schools pay fees less than the median per-child funding levels in public schools circa 2005/6. Taken together, our results suggest that expanding access to private schools may provide a viable route to improving education quality at relatively low cost in low-income countries with weak public school systems.”

Northern knowledge
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie suggests there is something wrong with knowledge flows within the development industry.
“In terms of value for money, it must be time to set out a timetable to massively reduce the role of northern consultants (generally friendly with the sources of money) and increase the role of southern consultants in the technical co-operation mix.
Unfortunately, the desire of donors to be able to attribute change directly to their dollar or pound, rather than being satisfied to contribute to broader processes, militates against capacity development ever being taken seriously by northern donors. Structures are created more to manage aid than to enable the sharing of knowledge.”

Biosphere bailout
The Guarian’s George Monbiot suggests saving the banks but not the biosphere is bad economic policy.
“This support was issued on demand: as soon as the banks said they wanted help, they got it. On just one day the Federal Reserve made $1.2tr available – more than the world has committed to tackling climate change in 20 years.

No legislator, as far as I know, has yet been able to explain why making $7.7tr available to the banks is affordable, while investing far smaller sums in new technologies and energy saving is not.”

Decline and flail
The London School of Economics’ David Held and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen argue that the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya may be the latest examples of the historical tendency for declining empires to resort to “flailing out as they attempt to retain the status quo and reverse their decline.”
“In choosing to invade Iraq the Bush administration and Bush’s British ally rode roughshod over considerations of international peace and security, and disregarded the United Nations and the post-war international architecture. NATO continues to bomb Afghanistan even after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which also hosts a resurgent Taliban that is once again destroying Afghanistan while destabilizing the fragile nuclear-armed Pakistani state. The intervention in Libya exceeded its UN mandate as NATO willfully misrepresented the nature and intent of its actions to tip the balance of power against Gaddafi. It is difficult to see Libya avoiding the sort of lengthy civil strife that has resulted from the external interventions and acts of imposed regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. The terrible irony is that the attempts to resist terrorist violence in the decade after 9/11 have ended up weakening the very structures of law and constraints on the use of force that have formed the cornerstone of the international system and bedrock of global security since 1945.”

Latest Developments, November 21

In the latest news and analysis…

Chevron spill
Agence France-Presse reports Brazil is fining oil giant Chevron “at least $28 million” over a spill from one of its wells off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state.
“Haroldo Lima, head of the National Oil Agency said Chevron was facing a series of fines that each could be worth $28 million dollars for having given false or incomplete information about the incident. Exactly how many fines will be determined by the investigation, he added.
ANP accused Chevron of having released “false information” in presenting an action plan that called for the use of equipment not currently available in the country and also of having presented edited pictures on the damage, according to Lima.
Meanwhile Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira also said more fines would be imposed if environmental violations were proven.”

Reversal of fortunes
The New York Times reports debt-ridden Portugal is appealing to its former colony Angola – “once a prime source of slaves, then a dumping ground for the mother country’s human rejects and now swimming in oil wealth” – for investment, but not everyone sees a new dawn in relations.
“There is still the colonial mentality in Portugal,” according to anticorruption campaigner Rafael Marques de Morais. “They just want to extract resources and plunder the country. The only difference is this time they didn’t take them by force.”

Plundering the Congo
Reuters reports a British lawmaker believes the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government is selling its mining assets at below-market prices to shell companies located in tax havens.
“[Labour MP Eric] Joyce said the documents showed that four sales of assets in Katanga had officially netted the government just $272 million, instead of $5.8 billion, which he said was the estimated total market value for the assets.
The involvement of off-shore vehicles had made it impossible to track who had in fact benefited from the sale, he added.”

Growth not enough
The Guardian reports on a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development document that warns of the dangers posed by increasing levels of inequality, not only in fast-growing countries such as China and India, but also in 17 of the 34 members of its own rich-country club.
“‘Both poor and middle-class populations are increasingly alienated from the richest in many societies. Stark inequalities persist between groups defined by sex, working status and ethnic origin. Both rising inequalities and their persistently high levels can sow the seeds of future conflict and social unrest,’ says the report. It warns that ‘the emergence of a global elite that is isolated from less fortunate echelons of the societies from which its members originate is an important risk that policymakers must be aware of’.”

Climate cop-out
The Guardian also reports that rich countries have “given up” on the prospect of a new climate change treaty for this decade, even before international negotiations on replacing the expiring Kyoto protocol get underway in South Africa next week.
“The UK, European Union, Japan, US and other rich nations are all now united in opting to put off an agreement and the United Nations also appears to accept this.
Developing countries are furious, and the delay will be fiercely debated at the next round of international climate talks beginning a week on Monday in Durban, South Africa.
The Alliance of Small Island States, which represents some of the countries most at risk from global warming, called moves to delay a new treaty ‘reckless and irresponsible’.”

Africa leading on climate
The head of the UN Environment Programme tells Reuters that Africa is leading the world when it comes to actually implementing clean-energy policies.
“Kenya is currently doubling its energy and electricity generating infrastructure largely using renewables. These are policies that are pioneering, that are innovative,” according to UNEP’s Achim Steiner.

“We see across the continent both a realisation of how threatening climate change really is and also the inevitable necessity that governments have an interest in beginning to put their own development priorities on a different trajectory.”

Dismissing the three Ds
New York Univesity economist Bill Easterly argues the US aid program has been “taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building” and calls for a clear separation between aid and defense departments.
“The misguided mindset across two administrations has been that development is – as Hillary Clinton put it in January 2010 – ‘mutually reinforcing’ to defence. Experience and commonsense suggest the opposite – aid works better where bullets are not flying. As for aid winning hearts and minds in war zones, it hasn’t worked. Not in Pakistan, where despite $3.7bn in economic aid between 2003 and 2009, the US is more unpopular than ever. Not in Afghanistan, where 52% of Afghans said ‘foreign aid organisations are corrupt and are in the country just to get rich’.”

Food imbalances
World Trade Organization head Pascal Lamy argues the trade policies of major food-exporting countries have as much to do with hunger in Africa as the continent’s low yields.
“The burden must not fall on Africa alone. The developed world also has a role to play by curbing the use of trade distorting subsidies which result in food surpluses being dumped on third country markets.
Low levels of African agricultural productivity have kept the continent on the sidelines of global agricultural trade and helped create a situation today in which a handful of countries dominate production and export. In a world of nearly 200 countries, there are only between five and 10 major exporters of cereals.”

Latest Developments, November 10

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Alison Evans reviews UK Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell’s speech on taking a multi-faceted approach to promoting development and she suggests the country “has a lot more to do on its beyond-aid agenda.”
“Mitchell noted the positive ranking of UK funding and policy on climate change in the latest Commitment to Development Index 2011. The same could be said on development-friendly investment and, of course, aid.  What he didn’t mention, however, is that in the very same index, the UK continues to be ranked amongst the bottom four (out of 22 OECD countries) on security (largely reflecting the continued export of military hardware to poor and undemocratic regimes); on technology (mainly regarding spending on research and development and intellectual property rights issues); and, worst of all, on migration (which reflects how easy – or not – it is for people from poor countries to immigrate, access education or find work, send money home, and even return home with new skills and capital). This is the dark side of UK policy on development and it is not heading in the right direction.
As Mitchell celebrates the powerful alchemy of public, private and voluntary sector commitment to development in the UK, he needs also to focus his energy on making UK policy as a whole development-friendly.”

Mining politics
Bloomberg reports the decision by South Africa’s ruling Africa National Congress to suspend Julius Malema is being welcomed by mining executives who had been made nervous by the Youth League leader’s push for nationalizing the country’s mines.
“In April 2010, Citigroup Inc. valued the country’s mineral resources at $2.5 trillion, the most of any nation.
Malema has lobbied the ANC to adopt a policy of nationalization, saying South Africa’s black majority hasn’t benefited adequately from those riches in the 17 years since the end of white-minority rule. Last month, he led thousands of young supporters on a 62-kilometer (39-mile) march between Johannesburg and Pretoria, calling for nationalization and jobs. A quarter of South Africa’s workforce is unemployed.”

Roma deportations
Al Jazeera reports that a European rights watchdog has declared that France’s expulsion of over 1,000 Roma immigrants last year constituted an “aggravated violation of human rights.”
“A Council of Europe committee has now condemned the move as a violation of its social charter – a document that sets out ‘social rights’, such as the right to fair working conditions and to housing. France is a signatory.
France claimed the expulsions were ‘voluntary’ repatriations only.
The committee dismissed the argument, saying ‘the so-called voluntary returns were in fact disguised forced repatriations in the form of collective expulsions’.”

Cleaning bill
Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development  have called on Shell to pay $1 billion as a “first step” toward cleaning up Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
“In 2008, two consecutive spills, caused by faults in a pipeline, resulted in thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a town of some 69,000 people. Both spills continued for weeks before they were stopped. No proper clean up has ever taken place.
‘The situation in Bodo is symptomatic of the wider situation in the Niger Delta oil industry. The authorities simply do not control the oil companies. Shell and other oil companies have the freedom to act – or fail to act – without fear of sanction. An independent, robust and well-resourced regulator is long overdue, otherwise even more people will continue to suffer at the hands of the oil companies,’ said Patrick Naagbanton, CEHRD’s Coordiantor.
Shell, which recently reported profits of US$ 7.2bn for July-September, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster.”

G20 food inaction
The Inter Press Service reports that the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, believes the lack of substantive progress on global food policies at last week’s G20 summit was the result of lobbying from commercial interests, especially in biofuel-producing countries.
“Back in 2008, a note released by the World Bank’s development prospects group spotlighted how biofuels were responsible for a full 75 percent of the then skyrocketing food prices.
But in spite of strong evidence that biofuels and agrofuels are ‘one of the major drivers of speculation on the commodities markets and one of the major reasons why we have such high pressure on land in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,’ according to De Schutter, the G20 completely bypassed the issue.”

Legal empowerment
Namati’s Vivek Maru calls on the international community to establish a global fund for “legal empowerment” in order to ensure laws and policies apply as much in practice as in theory.
“Legal empowerment is a public good: it renders governments more accountable, and makes development more equitable. But unlike public health, for example, states have a natural disincentive to support legal empowerment, because it constrains state power – which is all the more reason for a multilateral financing mechanism.
Social movements in India, the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere are demanding institutions that promote greater citizen participation and oversight. The challenge of responding to those movements does not belong exclusively to a handful of governments. It belongs to all of us.”

Sector equality
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage argues the European Commission’s recently proposed corporate transparency rules need to target more than just mining, oil and gas, and logging companies.
“Evidence presented in [an upcoming] report finds that extractive commodities are only a small part of the problem and accounted for just 5% of the trade mispricing activity taking place between the EU and third countries in 2007. This clearly suggests country-by-country reporting is needed in all sectors.”