Latest Developments, September 28

In the latest news and analysis…

The new containment
David Eaves, “public policy entrepreneur” and blogger, argues the Open Government Partnership, which officially launched last week, is widely misunderstood as a “do good project” when it is actually motivated by geopolitical considerations.
“The OGP is part of a 21st century containment policy. And I’d go further, it is a effort to forge a new axis around which America specifically, and a broader democratic camp more generally, may seek to organize allies and rally its camp. It abandons the now outdated free-market/democratic vs. state-controlled/communist axis in favour of a more subtle, but more appropriate, open vs. closed.”

Double non-taxation
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage writes about efforts underway in Europe to stem the “race to the bottom” in corporate taxation and the practice of “treaty shopping” which often leads to “double non-taxation.”
“There is a constant stream of double taxation agreements being signed between developing and developed countries which in the current global regulatory environment frequently lead to double non taxation. This amendment will not help developing countries directly but acknowledgement of the problem is surely welcome.”

Co-opting Robin Hood reports that European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has announced plans for a Financial Transaction Tax or “Robin Hood tax,” saying it was time for the continent’s banks to give back to society after the trillions in public funds they have received since the financial crisis began.
“The FTT is moving from rhetoric to reality but a significant part of the revenues should be used as Bill Gates suggested, to help poor countries facing chilling reductions in aid, trade, and investment – not just shore up the EU budget,” according to Oxfam’s Nicolas Mombrial.
“An FTT is not a ‘Robin Hood tax’ unless clear commitments are made to use the revenues for tackling climate change, and poverty at home and abroad.”

The poor feeding the rich
Greenpeace has released a new report entitled How Africa is feeding Europe which describes the local impacts of European “fisheries partnership agreements” off the coast of West Africa.
“In European waters, the level of overfishing is higher than the global average, with an estimated 88% of European fish stocks in a poor state. Rather than solve this problem, the EU has progressively been increasing their capacity in seas beyond its own to meet the growing global demand for seafood and to keep their fleets in business. Several of Europe’s largest vessels are currently operating in waters of some of the world’s poorest nations through fisheries partnership agreements or joint ventures, undermining local food security by failing to adequately consider the local communities need for local fish as a source of protein and income.”

Good and bad refugees
Romero House’s Mary Jo Leddy imagines how history will judge Canada’s current treatment of would-be Tamil migrants and criticizes a proposed piece of immigration legislation the Conservative government describes as an effort to stop human smuggling.
“Bill C-4 is another attempt by stealth to prevent refugees from coming to Canada. A series of pieces of legislation have effectively divided refugees into two groups: the “bad” refugees who have the audacity to come to Canada on their own, and the “good” refugees who are in camps overseas and who will stay there until they are among those chosen to come to Canada.”

Absurd orthodoxy
Clarity Economics’s Phil Thornton reports on last month’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings where participants considered the possibility that the dominant economic model of the past few decades has failed.
“According to [Joseph] Stiglitz, the models used by central banks and many in the private sector created a policy framework that was clearly at the centre of the crisis: ‘It said you don’t need regulation. It said all you need for monetary policy is low inflation and that would suffice to ensure stable growth. In retrospect, these ideas seem absurd.’”

3Ds peril
The Guardian reports on the difficulties, including deportations and delayed shipments, faced by foreign aid agencies operating in Pakistan in the aftermath of revelations the CIA had used a fake vaccination scheme in its hunt for Osama bin Laden.
“Others complain of regular visits to their offices from intelligence officials seeking detailed information about their staff. One intelligence document, inadvertently left behind at one aid agency and seen by the Guardian, directs operatives to investigate the ‘covert funding’ and ‘covert operations’ of international NGOs.”

Humanitarian G-spot
On Motherhood and Sanity’s Angelica, guest blogging on Tales from the Hood, suggests the development industry is not walking its gender talk.
“You know I’m right. You just cannot (and certainly should not) have a document, meeting, program or strategy that does not address gender. Depending on the place and theme it can range from anything along the lines of combating FGM to increased political representation and decision making.  As aid practitioners we are acutely aware of the pitfalls and structural biases that leave women vulnerable to abuse and dependency. We ignore the local’s arguments that link these forms of discrimination to culture or tradition, and demand equality be treated as a basic human right.
So why is it we are failing so miserably to achieve gender balance at home?”

Latest Developments, July 13

In today’s news and analysis…

South Sudan looks set to join the UN, as the Security Council has recommended the world’s newest country for membership. According to the UN charter, the primary requirement is to be a “peace-loving” state.

Human Rights Watch has released a new report on abuses committed by Libya’s rebel troops. “Whatever happens, they couldn’t be any worse than Col. Gadhafi,” Canadian foreign minister John Baird said while officially recognizing Libya’s National Transitional Council last month. Only time will tell.

The EU is trying to fix its own fish stocks. But what about Africa’s?

Insurance broker Marsh has launched a policy to cover corporate corruption investigations under US and UK anti-bribery laws.

The New York Times explores the tortuous route to US legislation regarding conflict minerals, as companies hold their breath in anticipation of tangible rules from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Tiffany & Company, the self-proclaimed “world’s premier jeweler,” reportedly thinks gold should not be subject to the legislation and mandatory disclosure on use of conflict minerals “would violate the First Amendment.”

Jonathan Glennie believes we should recognize the limits of corporate social responsibility and move toward global regulation. “The point is to change incentives, and voluntary measures don’t do that,” he writes in the Guardian. “Only legal sanction or consumer action is strong enough, and consumer action is too erratic to rely upon.”

There is more to cracking down on tax havens than simply recovering revenue, according to Richard Murphy who argues the fight is necessary for the functioning of modern capitalism. “Tax havens are important with regard to tax. But their pernicious impact is much more significant than that. Their use to create opacity, to undermine the effectiveness of regulation and to ensure that owners are unaccountable corrodes all faith in the market itself.”

When it comes to recent food crises, price volatility is not the main problem, according to a new Foreign Affairs article. High prices are the real danger. “Food price levels are at historic highs, but food price volatility, although high these past few years, is not out of line with historical experience and is generally lower than it was in the 1970s.” The authors argue that high prices hurt consumers, while high volatility hurts producers, and that there is a positive correlation between high prices and political unrest but a negative one between volatility and unrest. As a result, they believe world leaders should focus on lowering trade barriers, increasing yields and reducing waste rather than imposing export controls and giving subsidies.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Nick Cullather argues food prices are actually too low and leading to the ruin of farmers and the agricultural sector more generally. “The global economy includes the global countryside, and the return of prosperity will have to begin there,” he writes. Vandana Shiva, for her part, sees high-tech solutions as part of the problem. She decries the hunger and desperation among India’s food producers and attributes their difficulties to “the capital and chemical-intensive, high external input systems of food production introduced as the Green Revolution.”

A Wellcome Trust blog post asks if global health inequalities represent the biggest bioethical challenge of our time. The author provides a summary of a recent conference on the subject, during which a number of global health programs were deemed “highly unsuitable for developing countries, focussing on the introduction of new technologies or disease-specific programmes, rather than on strengthening local efforts to secure effective, high-quality, inclusive health systems.”

A new study out of the Netherlands suggests there is little truth to the common perception that immigrants take advantage of the welfare state in rich countries. Instead, they tend to return to their country of origin if they lose their job.