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, November 16

In the latest news and analysis…

Green deserts
The Guardian reports on concerns over genetically modified eucalyptus plantations, which are being hailed by some as a future source of renewable energy:

“But conservationists, long opposed to such forests because of the ecological and social damage, claim the plantations are unpopular and that GM trees encourage felling of natural forests to make way for the ‘green deserts’.
‘The dramatic and dangerous impacts of non-GM industrial eucalyptus plantations are well known and include invasiveness, desertification of soils, depletion of water, increased threat of wildfire and loss of biodiversity,’ says Anne Petermann, director of the Global Justice Ecology Project in the US. ‘In Brazil, these plantations are called “green deserts” because nothing can grow in them. Now they want to genetically engineer them, which will make them even more destructive.’
She fears GM trees will put further pressure on the Amazon by encouraging firms to move deeper into the natural forest and will displace communities.”

Recognition of rights
A new report by EJOLT (Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade) examines 24 cases of mining conflict around the world:

“The analysis helps us understand the links between mining conflicts, the quest for economic growth and the metabolism of economies as well as the role of ecologically unequal exchanges.

In mining conflicts the problem is not always one of ‘cleaner production’ or ‘environmental standards’ but more of recognition of rights. As in other social movements, recognition as a legitimate partner in the debate is as important as the distributional outcome.”

Destructive policy
Inter Press Service reports that disgraced ex-CIA head David Petraeus’s green-lighting of the punitive destruction of Afghan villages “not only violated his own previous guidance but the international laws of war”:

“Petraeus himself clearly approved the general policy allowing the destruction of villages by Flynn and other commanders in Kandahar in late 2010. Flynn told Ackerman he had sent his plan up the chain of command and believed that International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters were informed.
Carlotta Gall reported Mar. 11, 2011 [in the New York Times] that revised guidelines ‘reissued’ by Petraeus permitted the total destruction of a village such in Tarok Kalache, according to a NATO official.
Although the large-scale demolition of homes had been reported by the Times in November, it had not generated any significant reaction in the United States. But in Afghanistan, the home destruction created frictions between Afghans and Petraeus’s command over the loss of homes and livelihoods.”

Friends of corruption
Oxford University’s Paul Collier writes that rich countries have a responsibility to help, or at least stop hindering, the efforts of “decent African governments” to tackle corruption:

“But the sharp lawyers and slick public relations consultants who counter the effort for clean governance are not based in countries such as Guinea: they are in London, Paris and New York.
Similarly, the clandestine flows of dirty money essential for corruption, which [assassinated Guinean treasury head Aissatou] Boiro was trying to trace, depend on an army of facilitating lawyers, accountants and bankers. They are the people who establish shell companies and nominee bank accounts to conceal true beneficial ownership, and whip money across borders far faster than the lumbering process of inter-governmental legal co-operation. Governments such as Guinea’s bear the brunt of these ethically wretched activities, but they are beyond their capacities to address.
They are not, however, beyond our own capacities. We could turn the system of mutual legal assistance, whereby governments are supposed to co-operate to prise information out of suspected criminals and witnesses, from a sham into a reality. We could require the documents that establish shell companies and bank accounts to carry the names of the lawyers and bankers who executed them. These people could then face legal liability to ensure that the authorities could readily establish beneficial ownership. Our governments and our associations have an obligation to rein in the unscrupulous tail of our professions.”

Elastic journalism
Télérama reports on the justification given by the editor-in-chief of French weekly L’Express for its most recent cover, which shows a veiled woman walking into a social assistance office, with ‘The Real Cost of Immigration’ as the headline:

“ ‘Society is shifting to the right,’ was the gist of a non-chalant Christophe Barbier’s message. ‘L’Express cannot lose touch with that readership. The cover aims for the gut. The pages inside talk to the brain.’ Translation: L’Express has to attract readers with sensational, even reprehensible covers…if only to educate them subsequently inside through nuanced, balanced reporting. Chrisophe Barbier calls that ‘elasticity’.”  [Translated from the French.]

The limits of control
In a conversation with Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang, music legend Brian Eno discusses the invisible rules and assumptions that shape human endeavours, from music to economics:

“Once you’ve grown to accept something and it becomes part of the system you’ve inherited, you don’t even notice it any longer. We don’t even think that not employing children is anti-free market.
So whenever you talk about the free market – or free jazz! – what you really mean is ‘constrained by rules that we’ve stopped thinking about’. This seems a long way off music, but when you set out to make something, you might just inherit all the ways of making it. If you’re a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, you don’t question the fact that there are 84 notes on the piano. You’re not bothered by the fact that you can’t get in between two of them – these are just the ground rules of the working situation.”

Sign of the times
The New York Times looks into the motivations behind the UK’s decision to discontinue aid to India, which “marks a turning point in the former colonial power’s relations with New Delhi”:

“Others say Britain’s new approach stems from the absence of quid pro quo. Last year, India’s decision to select a French company over its British rival for a multi-billion dollar contract to supply fighter planes caused great furor in London, with several British politicians saying India ought to have favored the British company on account of the millions it receives in aid from Britain.
‘They believe that British aid must get a bang for its buck, which means it must spread British influence,’ said Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal National University in New Delhi. ‘The aid is just not doing that anymore.’ ”