Latest Developments, October 11

In today’s latest news and analysis…

Playing footsie with tax havens
A new ActionAid report entitled Addicted to Tax Havens indicates that 98 of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies have subsidiaries (over 8,000 in all) based in tax havens.
“Corporate tax avoidance, which is one of the main reasons companies use tax havens, is having a massive impact on rich and poor countries alike. Developing countries currently lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year.”

SLAPP-happy mining companies
Candice Vallantin writes in the Walrus about a pair of lawsuits involving mining companies and the authors of a book critical of Canadian-owned overseas mining operations in order to highlight the issue of so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (or SLAPPs) and their potential to make it impossible to criticize powerful entities.
“In December, the same week the Noir Canada lawyers filed their motion for the court to declare Barrick Gold’s case abusive, Pierre Noreau, a law professor at L’Université de Montréal, published an editorial in Le Devoir. Co-signed by more than two dozen law professors from around the country, it laid out the stakes. ‘Behind [this case] remains a fundamental question: Can we still be critical in our society? Should power (and money) always prevail over the right to know, or at least the right to question publicly?… The future of thought rests on this case.’”

Maintaining EU farm subsidies
The Guardian’s Mark Tran reports trade campaigners are unhappy with proposed reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), arguing the changes would have little impact on the massive subsidies that make it virtually impossible for farmers in poor countries to compete.
“CAP reform comes against the background of the EU’s commitment to what it calls policy coherence for development, which seeks to ensure that all policies, not just development, promote growth in developing countries. The continuing high level of farm subsidies will make it hard for EU policymakers to square the circle.”

Grim food forecast
The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011, a new UN report, foresees no let-up in high, volatile food prices, a scenario that could have wide, long-lasting economic consequences.
“Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development, the report found. Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies.”

Hooray for brain drain
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny argues everybody benefits when skilled professionals migrate from poor to rich countries.
“Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development finds no evidence that medical brain drain from developing countries leads to shortages of medical staff back home, probably because the opportunity to migrate is one of the things that attracts people to medical school in the first place. For years, nurses have left the Philippines in huge numbers to work abroad, but the country still has more nurses per person than Britain.”

Breakthrough or setback?
Intellectual Property Watch’s William New reports the Medicines Patent Pool has negotiated a new deal for an Indian generics producer to manufacture cheap antiretrovirals, but it remains unclear whether the MPP has addressed concerns expressed over its first agreement signed in July.
“Meanwhile, a newly launched petition against the MPP-Gilead agreement is being led by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, and is based on their assessment that the deal with Gilead represents a “setback” for people living with HIV, and that the process is not sufficiently transparent.
The petition…calls for a renegotiation of the voluntary licence agreement, and a moratorium on agreements by the Patent Pool with Indian generics producers until a model can be created. The petition followed a 2 October meeting between activists and the MPP, and has dozens of signatures of individuals and groups.”

Dissecting Millennium Villages
The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting puts Columbia University economist/development industry superstar Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages Project under the microscope, asking if it really represents a replicable model for development.
“The nub of the issue was well put by Chris Blattman when he asked on his blog what the MVP will prove. That ‘a gazillion dollars in aid and lots of government attention produces good outcomes’? This is hardly surprising, says Blattman. The point, he adds, is how we test ‘the theory of the big push: that high levels of aid simultaneously attacking many sectors and bottlenecks are needed to spur development; that there are positive interactions and externalities from multiple interventions’.”

Development perks
Global Integrity’s Nathaniel Heller sounds off about the development industry’s self-importance (“Only in the Diplo-Development Universe™ does a trip to a boring industry conference in Toronto turn into a breathless, dramatic ‘mission.’”) and excessive per diems (“The fixed sum for each destination is calculated based on the following process: a large team of economists closely monitors a common basket of goods across geographies, calculates the cost of that basket in local currency, and then apparently multiplies the result by thirteen.”), arguing these seemingly minor flaws may be symptomatic of more serious problems.
“Habits like “going on mission” and fat per diems perpetuate a mindset of process trumping outcomes in international diplomacy and development. International travel becomes the whole point of some people’s jobs, especially in large international organizations and governmental agencies. Achieving actual outcomes (reducing poverty, reforming institutions, promoting peace) somehow gets swept aside in the frenzy to upgrade to business class…”