Latest Developments, December 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Nuclear testing ban progress
Reuters reports Indonesia has ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, moving the agreement, which has been agreed to by 156 countries, a step closer to becoming international law.
“Indonesia had been among nine countries – including nuclear weapons powers the United States and China, as well as India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, and Egypt – whose approval is needed for the law, negotiated in the 1990s, to take effect.”

Investment ethics
Norway’s Government Pension Fund, the largest in the world, has dropped an American and a Canadian company – FMC Corporation and the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan – from its investment portfolio for buying phosphates mined in Western Sahara, which it describes in a statement as “particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.”
“Potash and FMC purchase phosphate from the Moroccan company Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP). OCP extracts phosphate in Western Sahara, a territory which is not self-governed and which has no recognised administrator. In 2002, the UN’s legal adviser issued a general legal opinion on the legality of mineral resources extraction in territories which are not self-governed, which also included a specific assessment of this issue with regard to the situation in Western Sahara. The opinion stated that mineral resources extraction in territories which are not self-governed is only acceptable if it benefits the local population of the territory. The Council on Ethics takes the view that the interests of the local population are not served by OCP’s operations, and that it is this unacceptable situation which constitutes the core of the breach of ethical standards in the present case.

In its decision to adopt the recommendation of the Council on Ethics, the Ministry of Finance has attached particular weight to the fact that the companies know the origin of the phosphate, that they specify that they want phosphate from the particular Western Saharan mine in question, and that it appears likely that the companies will continue to purchase this particular phosphate for the foreseeable future.”

Destabilizing mining
Two Canadian mining companies – Nevsun Resources and Sunridge Gold – have issued statements declaring there will be “no direct impact” to their Eritrean operations as a result of a UN Security Council resolution expressing “concern at the potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source to destabilize” the region.
“Nevsun’s President Cliff Davis states, ‘The State of Eritrea has been a strong partner and shareholder in the Bisha Mining Share Company, a subsidiary of Nevsun… By collaborating with international companies, Eritrea is developing a mining industry that provides direct economic benefits, skill enhancement and supply chain expansion. Through these cooperative efforts, sustainable development from the industry can positively impact the Eritrean economy for decades to come.’”

FDI vs. the environment
The Guardian reports on the controversy over Peru’s Minas Conga gold mine and how it highlights the challenges of balancing foreign investment-driven development with environmental protection.
“After days of violent protests, and following [former deputy environment minister José] De Echave’s resignation, the US-based Newmont Mining Corporation – the majority partner in the joint venture, together with Minera Yanacocha, behind the Conga plans – said it was halting construction in an effort to ease tensions. But CEO Richard O’Brien indicated that the company, which is South America’s largest gold producer, remains committed to the project.
At issue is the impact on the local watershed, as Yanacocha plans to divert water from four mountain lakes into new reservoirs to enable mining to proceed. Protests have been led by local farmers and residents concerned about the impact on the underground drainage network and natural water harvesting system. Cajamarca is Peru’s leading dairy and livestock region.”

New world order
The Global Institute For Tomorrow’s Chandran Nair argues the anticipated Asian Century must be much more than a simple changing of the guard.
“In previous centuries, Western economic growth was characterized by a comparatively insignificant minority having unfettered access to resources, and was thus built on fueling consumption. This was, after all, the idea behind colonialism, which succeeded economically by underpricing resources or even obtaining them for free.
But the planet simply cannot support five billion Asians consuming like Westerners. The earth’s regenerative capacity was exceeded more than 30 years ago, and we now use 30% more resources than the planet can sustain. Although we know this to be the case, the vast majority of Western economists and institutions continue to encourage China and India to consume more.”

Transforming knowledge
Demos’s Michael Edwards asks what the future holds for international development NGOs which are, as a rule, “still raising money in the rich world and spending it on projects in poorer countries” despite the changing global context in which they operate.
“Richer countries no longer provide an ‘end-point’ to aim for in the processes of development and social change, because they generate too much inequality and too many social and environmental failures to serve as an example. In fact, no contemporary society has figured out how to tie economic growth to human flourishing in a future that will be dominated by the demands of climate change and other collective problems that cannot be tackled by the ‘North’ or the ‘South’ in isolation. Therefore, existing systems of knowledge, politics and economics must be transformed, not simply expanded or made more accessible to the poor (wherever it is they live).”

Remembering Fanon
Jeune Afrique marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretched of the Earth, at the age of 36.
“When he arrived in Algeria, his only ambition was to be a different kind of doctor. But the way in which the French treated the indigenous population was not lost on him. It reminded him of his own experiences as a black man and Martinican. And when the National Liberation Front (FLN) launched its first attacks, in the early hours of Nov. 1, 1954, Fanon understood the significance of the events. In 1955, he initiated contact with the FLN. The psychological condition of Algerian victims of torture and other violent acts troubled him. In late 1956, he resigned before being expelled from Algeria, marking an irrevocable break with France. From that point on, he saw himself as an Algerian. Nationality is not linked to one’s place of birth, but to one’s will.” (Translated from the French.)

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.”

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.