Latest Developments, November 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Scary TPP
The International Business Times offers up five “scary provisions”, including one relating to affordable medicines, found in a purported chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership published by Wikileaks:

“ ‘The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has proposed measures harmful to access to affordable medicines that have not been seen before in U.S. trade agreements,’ Public Citizen stated Wednesday. ‘These proposals aim to transform countries’ laws on patents and medical test data, and include attacks on government medicine formularies. USTR’s demands would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.’
The TPP would limit access to medicines by expanding medical patents’ scope to include minor changes to existing medications; instituting patent linkage, a regime that would make it more difficult for many generic drugs to enter markets; and lengthening the terms of patents by forcing countries to extend patents’ terms during lengthy review processes.”

Dirty rubber
Global witness is calling on the World Bank, among others, to stop investing in a company the NGO has accused of land grabbing in southeast Asia:

“Vietnamese rubber giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) has failed to keep to commitments to address environmental and human rights abuses in its plantations in Cambodia and Laos, Global Witness said today. The campaign group says the company now poses a financial and reputational risk to its investors, including Deutsche Bank and the International Finance Corporation, and recommends they divest.”

Western onus
Xinhua reports that China is calling on rich countries to keep their past climate promises, including the financial ones, at this month’s climate change negotiations:

“The UN determines that developed countries should be held accountable for the accumulated high levels of greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial era.

For the period from 2013 to 2020, developed countries are obliged to further cut their carbon emissions as well as providing funding and technologies to help developing nations handle challenges caused by climate change, [Chinese COP 19 delegate Su Wei] said.
‘Finance holds the key to the success of the Warsaw conference,’ Su said, urging developed countries to keep their promises made in previous climate talks.
Developed countries have agreed to jointly provide 100 billion US
dollars per year by 2020 for developing countries to better cope with climate change, which is far from implementation.
‘I hope we can make concrete progress in facilitating the operation of financial and technical transfer from developed countries at the Warsaw talks,’ he said.”

Thinking bigger
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on the argument that, “with climate-changing emissions still growing despite 20 years of negotiations and agreements to limit them”, consensus should not be the top objective at the current COP 19 climate summit:

“ ‘It’s ambition that’s needed, from my point of view,’ says Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow on climate change at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development.
Right now, ‘everybody is willing to do something’ – a big change from the 2009 Copenhagen talks, when many countries were still refusing to budge – ‘but the cumulative amount that comes to is insufficient,’ he says. ‘So raising the ambition collectively of everyone is the key. The issue of inclusion has already been solved. Ambition has not.’

The problem is that negotiators tend to have fixed positions. No major developed countries have increased the ambition of their emissions reduction commitments so far in Warsaw, for instance.”

Muscular soft power
The Independent reports that both Western and non-Western powers are deploying troops across Africa for “not entirely altruistic” reasons:

“The last British campaign in Africa was 13 years ago in Sierra Leone, but the UK is currently training forces in three states that are anything but calm. General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, said: ‘We have got three relatively new things which don’t involve significant numbers of people but nevertheless are pointers to the future: Somalia, Mali and also the training of Libyan militias for integration into the military.’

‘If the world’s one remaining superpower is taking soft power seriously and the emerging one, China, is also starting on that path, soft power of a muscular variety can only get more traction,’ said Robert Emerson, a security specialist. ‘Conflicts will not go away from Africa any time soon, but we are seeing major adjustments in dealing with them. It will be fascinating scene of competition for influence in the future.’ ”

A baby step too far
The Guardian reports that even conservative reforms to some “potentially disastrous” kinds of US food aid may not happen:

“The Senate bill includes changes to the food aid programme that would at least partly satisfy reformists. These include a small expansion of a pilot programme that allows food aid to be bought locally, as well as restrictions on the use of monetisation. The House version largely maintains the status quo, while eliminating local sourcing and actually encouraging organisations to monetise food aid.
‘We’re seeing a lot of intransigence on the part of the House in terms of getting anything done,’ said Eric Munoz, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam America. He admitted he was ‘not at all confident … that the [final] bill will include the reforms to food aid that the Senate has proposed’.
The Senate provisions marked a step in the right direction, said Munoz, but even if its reforms were adopted, they would amount to ‘only an incremental step toward where we ultimately need to go’.”

Haunted by loss
Madiha Tahir responds to criticism of her newly released documentary “about drone survivors and the families of the dead” in Pakistan:

“The springboard for the narrative is a speech by President Obama delivered this year in which he claims to be haunted by the loss of civilian life resulting from his policies. We make the frame clear by beginning with this speech followed by a guiding question: ‘What does it mean to be haunted by loss?’ It should be clear that to answer that question by saying ‘Because, Taliban’ is utterly nonsensical.

While [Malala Yousafzai] has commanded the attention of President Obama – to whom she was not shy about voicing her opposition to drone attacks – nine-year-old Nabila, who travelled to the US this month to deliver testimony to Congress about the bombing that killed her grandmother and injured the little girl, was received by a paltry five members out of the 435 US House of Representatives. There has been a studious disinterestedness in the stories of drone survivors. They don’t sell. That’s the broader context for ‘Wounds’.”

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Latest Developments, June 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Change of plans
Xinhua reports that France has decided to delay its troop withdrawal from Mali until after the July/August presidential election:

“Instead of the 2,000 troops initially intended to stay in Mali until July, the ‘Serval’ force has decided to keep 3,500 soldiers until the end of the presidential election, according to a military source.

Two thousand of the 5,000 troops that were in Mali have returned to their bases in France.” [Translated from the French.]

Buyers and sellers
Inter Press Service reports on new land-grab data detailing who is buying and who is selling around the world:

“The U.S., Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and the UK are top foreign investors not only in Africa but in other countries, according to the [International Land Coalition]’s new Land Matrix Global Observatory. The Land Matrix is a website that provides the locations and details of nearly 1,000 land transactions all over the world.
The largest transnational land deals are in South Sudan and Papua New Guinea. The Land Matrix lists the individual land deals including the companies involved, the size of the acquisition and intended use. In Papua New Guinea, many of the land deals appear to be for palm oil production.”

Emerging bubble
The Financial Times reports that the value of “emerging market” currencies, stocks and bonds is plunging as foreign investors unload newly undesirable assets:

“The South African rand and the Brazilian real touched four-year lows against the US dollar on Tuesday, and the Indian rupee fell to a record low. Even relatively robust countries like the Philippines and Mexico – long favourites of investors – have been hit by a spate of selling. Some central banks have begun to intervene to stem the currency slides.

Both international and local currency emerging market bonds have been pummelled, sending borrowing costs higher.

Benoit Anne, a senior strategist at Société Générale, said central bank money had arguably inflated a bubble in emerging markets, which was now unravelling as investors priced in a change in Fed policy. ‘This will not be a short-lived sell-off,’ he predicted.”

US tax havens
The Financial Times also reports that a single-storey building in the US state of Delaware “serves as the registered address for 278,000 companies”:

“But Delaware – along with other states such as Nevada and Wyoming that have similar rules – also houses a plethora of shell companies, in some cases which can facilitate illicit activity ranging from tax evasion to money laundering to healthcare fraud. For these companies, the attraction of Delaware is the ease with which companies and partnerships can set up shop there and the fact that not too many questions are asked.
This has led to calls from transparency activists for more information on the structure of ownership of entities registered not just in Delaware but around the world, to make it harder for criminals to cover their tracks.”

Global minimum wage
The London School of Economics’ Jason Hickel calls for changes to the current international system in which “capital has been globalised while the rules that protect people from it have not”:

“If we’re going to have a global labour market, it stands to reason that we need a global system of labour standards, something that will put a floor on the race to the bottom and guarantee a baseline level of human fairness. The single most important component of such a system would be a global minimum wage.

A global minimum wage would go a lot further than the ‘fair trade’ fad that has become popular among many Western consumers. Every time I walk into a store and see items labeled fair trade, I’m always struck by what their presence implies: that the rest of the ‘normal’ products are unfair. We shouldn’t be presented with a choice between fair trade goods and oppression goods – oppression goods shouldn’t exist in the first place. When we buy the things that we need to sustain and enjoy our lives, we should be able to be confident that we are not colluding in the exploitation of other human beings who toil in near-slavery conditions.”

New scramble
The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues that the upcoming G8 summit, much like the 1884 Conference of Berlin, uses humanitarian language to conceal plans for grabbing African land and resources:

“Strangely missing from New Alliance [for Food Security and Nutrition] agreements is any commitment on the part of G8 nations to change their own domestic policies. These could have included farm subsidies in Europe and the US, which undermine the markets for African produce; or biofuel quotas, which promote world hunger by turning food into fuel. Any constraints on the behaviour of corporate investors in Africa (such as the Committee on World Food Security’s guidelines on land tenure) remain voluntary, while the constraints on host nations become compulsory. As in 1884, powerful nations make the rules and weak ones abide by them: for their own good, of course.”

Austerity girls
In a Q&A with Inter Press Service, UN Women’s John Hendra discusses some of the socio-economic impacts of austerity policies around the world:

“In Europe, female workforce participation has declined, women’s unemployment rate is higher than that of men in many countries, and the gender pay gap has increased.
In developing countries, crisis and austerity have pushed many more women into informal and vulnerable work. Because women tend to be employed on fragile, non-permanent contracts, they are more vulnerable to being laid off during recessions.

Austerity has also undermined progress towards a more equal division of care responsibilities. Cuts in public care and health services have led to a re-privatisation of care work and a return to traditional gender roles.
Austerity pushes the responsibility for, and cost of, social and public goods back onto households, and in effect, onto women.”

History lesson
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei writes that the US is “abusively using government powers” to undermine the privacy of individuals:

“In the Soviet Union before, in China today, and even in the US, officials always think what they do is necessary, and firmly believe they do what is best for the state and the people. But the lesson that people should learn from history is the need to limit state power.

To limit power is to protect society. It is not only about protecting individuals’ rights but making power healthier.”

Latest Developments, September 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Subsidized bribery
The Age reports that Australian government officials appear to have been “deeply involved” in a $150 million shipbuilding deal allegedly secured through bribing of Filipino officials:

“In what shapes as a second big international corruption scandal for Australia following the Reserve Bank bribery affair, cables show Australian officials knew in 2005 that an order by the Philippines for search and rescue vessels from Tenix was made without the required budgetary approvals in Manila.
This knowledge should have prompted immediate probity concerns within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which had since the late 1990s been issuing written warnings about corruption in the Philippines specifically involving government contracts.
The Tenix deals in the Philippines, which are at the centre of a police bribery probe, are sensitive for the Australian government because they were underpinned by huge Australian taxpayer grants and loans.”

Justice delayed
A new joint report by Amnesty International and Greenpeace calls for a UK criminal investigation into Trafigura’s role in the 2006 dumping of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, “resulting in over 100,000 people seeking medical assistance”:

“ ‘This is a story of corporate crime, human rights abuse and governments’ failure to protect people and the environment. It is a story that exposes how systems for enforcing international law have failed to keep up with companies that operate transnationally, and how one company has been able to take full advantage of legal uncertainties and jurisdictional loopholes, with devastating consequences,’ said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.”

Park oil
The Associated Press reports that the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has granted permission to British company SOCO to explore for oil in North Kivu’s Virunga National Park:

“Minister of Hydrocarbons Crispin Atama Tabe told The Associated Press that national economic interests take precedence over environmental considerations in Virunga, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Minister of Environment and Tourism Bavo Nsamputu refused to comment on the news.
The permission to explore for oil in Virunga is in contrast to the environment minister’s decision in March 2011 to suspend oil exploration in Block 5 of the Albertine Graben area of Virunga park that is home to more than 200 gorillas.”

Scramble redux
In a PanAfrican Visions Q&A, former Pambazuka editor-in-chief Firoze Manji is pessimistic about the continent’s ability to cope with a second “Scramble for Africa”:

“But it would be a serious mistake to view the entry of the ‘emerging powers’ with those of the US, Europe and Japan. The latter are the dominant exploiters of African labour, extractors of natural resources, and decimation of the environment. China, for example, is certainly becoming as big as the US in terms of trade. But in terms of natural resource extraction and in terms of extraction of wealth through debt financing, they remain a very small player in comparison to the US, Europe and Japan. Remember, the domination of the multinational corporations, banks and international finance institutions is guaranteed not by the ‘emerging powers’ but principally by the US. There is a growing US military presence in Africa in the form of US AFRICOM. We have seen military intervention in Africa from the US and its NATO allies in Somalia, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya. There has been no equivalent military intervention and occupation by the emerging powers.”

Legalize it
Espolea’s Lisa Sánchez and the Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s Steve Rolles write that after decades of devastation caused by the American-led war on drugs, “the era of blanket global prohibitions on drugs is finally coming to an end”:

“It is vitally important to learn from the mistakes made with alcohol and tobacco regulation. That means avoiding over-commercialisation and, while allowing legal availability to adult consumers, putting in place a regulatory framework to minimise health and social harms, rather than maximise profits. What this means in practice has been explored in some detail in Transform’s Blueprint for Regulation which outlines potential controls over products (potency, price, information on packaging etc), vendors (licensing, vetting, training requirements), venues for sale and consumption (location, appearance, opening hours), and availability (age access controls, membership clubs). A responsible government is a far better entity to develop such a model than the free market.”

Drone terror
Reprieve’s Clive Stafford Smith compares CIA drones in Pakistan to German doodlebugs in WWII London in terms of the fear and trauma caused to civilians:

“I hope that this report reminds us all what the US – with British support – is doing to the people of Pakistan. Maybe then there will be less surprise at the hatred the drone war is engendering in the Islamic world – and a chance that we will reconsider what we are doing.”

Poverty barons
The World Development Movement’s Deborah Doane writes that problems with the UK government’s approach to reducing global poverty have more to do with ideology than excessive largesse toward British consultants:

“In one stark example, UK aid money is currently paying for consultants to advise the Bangladeshi government on the establishment of new special economic zones aimed at attracting private-sector investment. Existing zones give multinational companies tax holidays and subsidised land while placing severe restrictions on trade union activity to an extent where the average wage inside these Bangladeshi ‘export processing zones’ is around £30 a month. Here, the scandal goes well beyond the approximately £14m that we are paying the consultants. The heart of the issue is the fact that we are using aid to support a project that will do everything to benefit multinationals like Adidas, which made 671 million Euros in profit last year, and next to nothing for the supposed beneficiaries.”

Communication breakdown
Marginal Revolution reproduces a statement by New York University’s Paul Romer on why he and his “Transparency Commission,” appointed by presidential decree last year, are no longer associated with a proposed charter city or Region Especial de Desarrollo in Honduras:

“From recent newspaper reports, I learned that the Honduran agency responsible for public-private partnerships had signed an agreement about a RED with a private company. When I asked for information, I was told that I could not see this agreement.
….
The administration’s current position is that because the decree was never published, the Transparency Commission does not exist in the eyes of the law and the five named members have no legal basis for reviewing any agreements.”

Latest Developments, July 18

In today’s news and analysis…

UN General Assembly president Joseph Deiss has urged reform of the Security Council’s size and membership, saying “any solution to the long-running debate on making the Council’s composition more representative ultimately lies with the 193 Member States of the world body.” Except that in realitiy, responsibility “ultimately lies” with the US, China, Russia, the UK and France who, as the five permanent members of the Security Council, enjoy veto power over charter changes. For example, even if a two-thirds majority voted to scrap Security Council vetoes, any of the five permanent members could trump those 130+ votes with a single “no” of their own.

Former UN assistant secretary general Ramesh Thakur argues the UN “remains our best and only hope for unity-in-diversity in addressing problems without passports that require solutions sans visas,” while conceding the organization has to work harder to meet what he terms the “legitimacy criterion” and the “performance criterion.” He calls for the reform of a number of UN bodies, including the Security Council, as well as “greater transparency, democracy and inclusiveness in decision-making.”

According to a new survey of British public views regarding UK foreign policy, the majority do not think ethics should play a role in international relations. “The government’s conception of security, linking spending on development with a direct enhancement of the security of British citizens, has yet to resonate with the public. Moreover, findings that show “the general public and opinion-formers consider aid largely irrelevant to Britain’s international reputation, and as playing only a small role in serving national interests” could make it tough for the government to stick to its commitment to raise aid levels to 0.7 percent of GDP, according to Chatham House researcher Rob Bailey.

In an editorial entitled “Human rights at home, too,” Canada’s Globe and Mail suggests the EU needs to do a little introspection if it wants to have a credible voice when criticizing human rights violations elsewhere in the world: “The EU is quick to wag fingers at other countries that fail to respect human rights. It’s time they had a look at the ramshackle dwellings and decrepit shacks the Roma inhabit in their own backyard.” To which one commenter responded: “And Canada should look at how it treats Aboriginal Canadians before we get to (sic) high and mighty about our position on racism and human rights.”

Former G7/G8 sherpa Gordon Smith frets about the future role for Canada, a country which accounts for roughly 0.5 percent of the global population, in international diplomatic power circles. As for what Canada’s current government has to offer the international community, Maclean’s Magazine’s Paul Wells argues now that the Conservatives finally have a majority government and a weak opposition means they can do more or less as they wish within parliament, they are adjusting their persecution complex to see the rest of the world as “an excellent substitute enemy.”

A new Bureau of Investigative Journalism piece disputes the US claim that drones have killed no civilians in Pakistan for nearly a year. The report comes right on the heels of efforts to seek the arrest of ex-CIA general counsel John Rizzo for his role in approving drone targets.

The international community is looking to regulate the conventional arms trade next summer but may yet leave off riot-control equipment, which some critics refer to as “weapons of repression.”

The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting declares South Sudan “the biggest development challenge in the world.” She writes: “What faces South Sudan is daunting: it needs help on the scale of a Marshall Plan for one country. It’s an unprecedented development challenge and, so far, there has been more goodwill than action or sense of urgency.” Meanwhile, the last country to bear that distinction, Haiti, still has 600,000-700,000 people living in tents, most of its destroyed infrastructure has not been rebuilt and most of the rubble has not been removed 18 months after the earthquake, according to physician and longtime Haiti advocate Paul Farmer.

Also writing for the Guardian, Nicholas Watt describes the “new Scramble for Africa,” which, he says, China appears to be winning. Africa also has Google scrambling, as it tries to provide more local content in local languages, in order to get into a largely untapped market.

World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy kicked off a conference to review the Aid for Trade initiative – intended to provide poor countries with the tools and expertise needed to boost trade – with words of praise for the six year-old program: “Results range from increased export volumes to more employment, to faster customs clearance times and impacts on poverty.” Note the language: “increased export volumes,” “more employment” and “faster customs clearance times” but no modifier for “impacts on poverty.” The same conference saw the unveiling of the Transparency in Trade Initiative, described by one UN agency as a “project aiming to eliminate the transparency gap resulting from the lack of access to data on country-specific trade policies”

And finally, Monday also saw the beginning of a week-long conference on intellectual property and genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore.