Latest Developments, December 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Leaving Iraq
Reuters reports on celebrations in the Iraqi city of Fallujah to mark the departure of US troops.
“Many Iraqis await the U.S. withdrawal with relief and hopes for a better future, despite fears that sectarian tensions bubbling beneath the surface will return just as Iraq struggles to end years of war and violence.
Overall violence in Iraq has dropped sharply since the dark days of sectarian slaughter in 2006-07, but bombings and killings remain common.
‘After the Americans leave we want to see a united Iraq, we do not want disputes,’ Hameed Jadou, a Sunni cleric, told the crowds. ‘Whoever says this is an Iraqi Sunni, Shi’ite, Kurdish, or Turkman, is using the terms brought by the occupier.’”

Vulture funds
A UN human rights expert is urging the Channel Island of Jersey to prevent “vulture funds” from using its courts to sue heavily indebted poor countries.
“‘‘Vulture funds’ unfairly deprive poor countries of the gains from international debt relief efforts meant for the improvement of delivery of basic social services such as safe drinking water, health care, education, and housing,’ Mr. Lumina said. ‘The international community must not accept this immoral and unfair deprivation of scarce financial resources from the world’s poorest countries.’
In April 2010, the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act to restrict the ability of ‘vulture funds’ to sue heavily indebted poor countries in UK courts, a favourite jurisdiction. However, the Act does not apply to UK Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories such as Jersey, Guernsey, the British Virgin Islands and Cayman islands.
This loophole has allowed US ‘vulture fund’ FG Capital Management (formerly FG Hemisphere) to sue the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Jersey’s courts for $100 million of debt obligations, reportedly bought for just 3.3 per cent of their value according to British media reports.”

Sweet Home Alabama
Human Rights Watch has released a report on Alabama’s new immigration act that, in the word’s of one of the legislation’s sponsors, “attacks every aspect of an illegal alien’s life.”
“Under the Beason-Hammon Act, unauthorized immigrants are prohibited from entering into ‘business transactions’ with the state. An unauthorized immigrant who tries to do so is committing a Class C felony, punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. As a result, state and local agencies have declared that unauthorized immigrants cannot sign up for water and other utilities, live in the mobile homes they own, or renew licenses for their own small businesses.

While every country has the authority to regulate the entry of immigrants into its territory, to deport those who have made an unauthorized entry, and to enforce its immigration laws against those no longer authorized to remain, international law requires that everyone is entitled to fundamental human rights by virtue of their humanity, Human Rights Watch said.”

Tough talk
The UN News Centre reports on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s description of the current imbalances in access to food, electricity, sanitation and healthcare around the world.
“This is not equitable. It is not sustainable. Nor can we live with deteriorating ecosystems. Science tells us that we are approaching, and increasingly over-stepping certain planetary boundaries. This, too, is not sustainable,” he said.

Making others rich
Al Jazeera reports on how the cocoa industry treats those who actually produce the beans required to make chocolate.
“The price of this important commodity may have been dropping in recent weeks, but suppliers, buyers and manufacturers will all still make billions of dollars. It’s the farmers of West Africa that will lose out, as they continue to live in poverty.”

Access to medicines
Daniele Dionisio of the European Parliament Working Group on Innovation, Access to Medicines and Poverty-Related Diseases argues for doing away with a controversial clause in a key intellectual property agreement that will be up for debate at this week’s World Trade Organization conference.
“The non-violation nullification of benefits (hereinafter non-violation or NV) provision allows World Trade Organization members to bring disputes to the WTO, which are based on the loss of an expected benefit caused by another member’s action, even if such action does not constitute violation of a WTO agreement.

WTO developing members would be put at risk should the NV clause be allowed in the [Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)] agreement. As a result, these countries might face pressures to reverse already enacted policies or measures under the threat of NV claims.
NV complaints could be used to threaten developing members’ use of flexibilities laid down in the TRIPS agreement. As regards access to medicines, the implementation of TRIPS flexibilities by developing members under Articles 30 or 31 (i.e., to grant compulsory licenses or CLs) could be charged with keeping patent owners from their legitimate or reasonable expectations. And it would come as no surprise should members claim that price cuttings of medicines under CLs deprive them of foreseen patent protection benefits.”

Sustainable development
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues it is essential for development and environmental agendas, which he believes are growing apart, to be brought together again at next year’s Rio+20 conference.
“The idea of sustainable development goals, first floated by the Colombian government and seemingly gathering momentum as Rio+20 approaches, could be a way of embedding the concept into international dialogue, as well as binding together disparate processes such as Busan, Durban and the MDGs.
Countries in the north are tempted to give in to vested interests and protect the dirty economy, as Canada appears to be doing by pulling out of the Kyoto protocol. Rio could be the arena to remind them that a green economy will be better for jobs and growth, as well as the planet, if they only have the vision to look beyond the dangerous comforts of the growth model with which we have so far been stuck.”

Democratic hopes and fears
In an interview with Jeune Afrique, the French Institute of International Relations’ Thierry de Montbrial discusses the prospect of an “Islamist counterrevolution” in North Africa and the West’s fickle attitude toward democracy.
“This rise of Islamists was perfectly predictable. Westerners have a contradictory attitude – they want democracy but often reject its consequences – and are naïve because establishing democracy takes time. That said, I don’t think the Islamists, in the Maghreb, are looking for confrontation. They’ll want to have good relations with the West, while trying to transform society slowly through social pressure.” (Translated from the French)

Latest Developments, November 22

In the latest news and analysis…

Mining tax precedent
Australia’s proposed 30 percent tax on the country’s mining industry, which is “being eyed by other resource nations in South America and Africa,” has passed the parliament’s lower house by 73 votes to 71.
“[Prime Minister Julia] Gillard wants the new tax on mining profits to pay for a company tax cut and boost pensions, helping to spread the benefits of Australia’s resources boom to other parts of the economy struggling with the global downturn.
‘This is a way in which all Australians share in the bounty of the mining boom,’ Treasurer Wayne Swan told parliament.”

Surging investor-state lawsuits
A new Institute for Policy Studies report indicates that the number of lawsuits brought before international tribunals by oil, gas and mining companies against “governments seeking to increase the benefits of those resources for their own people” has risen sharply along with commodity prices in recent years.
“Under free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties, foreign investors have the right to file such “investor-state” lawsuits in international tribunals to demand compensation for government actions that reduce their profits.
This newly updated edition of “Mining for Profits” finds that at the most frequently used tribunal, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), 43 of 137 pending “investor-state” cases are related to oil, mining, or gas. By contrast, one year ago there were only 32 such cases and 10 years ago there were only 3.”

Transparency not enough
A new report by the University of British Columbia’s Philippe Le Billon argues  initiatives to improve governance of the extractive industries tend not to go far enough.
“Among other priorities, transparency initiatives should demand higher disaggregation of information disclosed by extractive companies and host governments. Transparency requirements should extend beyond revenues to licensing, contracts, physical resource flows, and other production factors, as well as to public expenditure. Extractives transparency initiatives also need to integrate elements of the tax justice and tax evasion agendas in order to expand their relevance to the effort to reduce illicit financial flows.”

Accessible innovation
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Doha Declaration on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health, which addressed the question of how to encourage innovation while keeping medicines accessible to the world’s poor.
“‘The sustainability of access at the end of the day is going to come back to the issue how you finance R&D,’ [James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International] said. Love argued that it is essential to de-link the prices of medicines and the development of new medicines in order to fulfil ‘the promise of Doha’ and access to medicines for all.”

Supply and demand
Agence France-Presse reports on a new World Wildlife Fund assessment of the palm oil market which suggests that, despite improvements, companies are not doing enough to ensure the oil they buy comes from sustainable sources.
“Palm plantations are considered one of the biggest threats to rainforests in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia — the source of 85 percent of world palm oil supply — as virgin forests are typically cleared to make way for them.

The scorecard focuses on major companies in Europe, Australia and Japan, the world’s biggest palm oil markets.
About 5.2 million tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil was produced last year — roughly 10 percent of world supply — but only 56 percent was purchased, the WWF said.”

Unsustainable food
The International Institute for Environment and Development uses the example of ketchup to illustrate how unsustainable the global food industry is.
“Analysis of the steps involved in processing ketchup – from farming the tomatoes through to packaging – to transporting and retailing that symbol of American mass consumerism reveals an alarming fact. To produce it requires a mind-boggling 150 separate processes, across several continents, according to research cited in a new book by the International Institute for Environment and Development.
It’s just one small part of a ‘staggeringly inefficient’ food system according to the new book Virtuous Circles. When the overall energy costs for producing food are taken into account – including farm machinery, transportation, processing and packaging – ‘the modern food system consumes between ten and fifteen calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food energy (nutrition) produced.’”

Just say no (to the war on drugs)
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues wealthy, recreational drug-consuming countries need to renounce the war on drugs in order to “save west Africa from a fate worse than Mexico.”
“Clearly an end to prohibition will not end the problems created by the war on drugs at a stroke, nor the problems created by drugs themselves. The gangs that are now so powerful in Colombia, Mexico and elsewhere engage in many types of crime including people trafficking and kidnapping. But one of their largest sources of income would be decimated, as prices fall in a regulated market.
Insiders are more hopeful than ever that an end to global prohibition is possible within a decade. Both Barack Obama and David Cameron, the leaders of two of the most important drug-consuming nations in the world, are on the record in their opposition to the war on drugs before they were elected. If they followed through on their promise of a rethink they could go down in history as the leaders that began one of the most important global policy shifts of our time.”

Symbolic justice
Princeton University’s Richard Falk writes about past and present efforts to address the double standard of victors’ justice that has been the international norm since the end of World War II through “societal efforts to bring at large war criminals to symbolic justice.”
“The existence of double standards is part of the deep structure of world politics. It is even given constitutional status by being written into the Charter of the United Nations by allowing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, that is the winners in 1945, to exercise a veto over any decision affecting the peace and security of the world, thereby exempting the world’s most dangerous states, being the most militarily powerful and expansionist, from any obligation to uphold international law.”

Latest Developments, November 17

In the latest news and analysis…

Mali’s land rush
The Guardian reports on a new study that found foreign investment in Mali’s arable land, much of which has been worked for generations by farmers with no formal ownership rights, increased by 60 percent from 2009 to 2010.
“The bulk of these land deals – covering an area the report says could sustain more than half a million small farmers – were negotiated by just 22 foreign agri-investors. Less than 5% of west Africa’s largest country is arable.

The report levels significant blame on the World Bank, which it says has ‘shaped the economic, fiscal and legal environment of Mali in a way that favours the acquisition of vast tracks of fertile lands by few private interests instead of bringing solutions to the widespread poverty and hunger plaguing the country’.”

Zambia doubles up on miners
The Centre for Trade Policy and Development has welcomed the Zambian government’s proposal to double royalty rates on mining companies to six percent.
“Our analysis of the mining sector’s tax payments, its contribution to employment and supporting backward and forward linkages to local supply chains reveals that these are not commensurate to the levels of incentives and concessions that the government currently gives to the industry. The cost structure of most of the mining entities is weighted to promote shifting of profits outside the country through such schemes as transfer pricing, use of derivatives and thin capitalization,” according to CTPD’s Savior Mwambwa.

Air battle
Reuters reports that Nigeria is fining two British airlines for overcharging on flights between the two countries, claiming flights from the UK to nearby Ghana are considerably cheaper.
“’We are charging British Airways $135-million and Virgin Atlantic $100-million for abuse of a dominant position, fixing prices, abusing fuel surcharges and taking advantage of passengers,’ said Harold Demuren, director-general of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
‘We have been investigating for the last six months. Lagos to London has the highest route yield in the world. Our market is open for exploration, not exploitation.’”

Generic pressures
The Inter Press Service reports that even though there are international mechanisms – such as the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health laid out in the Doha Declaration of 2001 – that theoretically enable poor countries to prioritize public health over intellectual property rights, important obstacles to generic treatments persist.
“Surprisingly, very few developing countries, including South Africa, have amended their Patent Acts to make use of the possibilities the Doha Declaration provided – mainly due to international pressure from the pharmaceutical industry, the United States and European Union, where many of the world’s patented drugs are manufactured, health experts argue.”

Green economics
The International Institute for Environment and Development’s Kate Munro says green economics has yet to “leap the chasm that divides it from mainstream economic thinking” but it is gaining political traction in “developing” countries.
“However as the [New Forests Company] project in Uganda illustrates, the wide range of activities that can fly the green flag currently includes development projects with major negative social impacts. Such cases risk leaving popular audiences in developing countries unconvinced that green economics really can provide solutions to the problems they face, such as poverty, inequity and a lack of social justice.”

Understanding the Western brain
Saleemul Huq of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh has some tips on how the Climate Vulnerable Forum should present its message if it wants to get the attention of policy makers in rich countries.
“The most important factor is the high level political strategy and messaging. Firstly, it is time to stop repeating that we are the most vulnerable and not responsible for the emissions that cause climate change. While this remains true, it is not new (we have repeated it ad nauseum) and so attracts no media attention. Nor does it find resonance among the developed countries, as they find the accusatory tone unpalatable. It is therefore time to drop the tone of “victimhood” and move on to a more positive message as follows:
Even though we are the most vulnerable and lowest emitters, we are nevertheless prepared to do what we can to reduce our own emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs) because every ton of carbon dioxide, regardless of whether it is produced in Bangladesh, China, or USA, causes the same amount of climate change. Therefore, reducing a ton of carbon dioxide contributes as much to the solution, whether it is done in Bangladesh, China or USA. We, as most vulnerable countries, are prepared to do our best to reduce our emissions and encourage and recommend other to do all they can do as well, whether or not there is any global agreement.”

Journalistic imperialism
Freelance journalist Stanley Kwenda writes about the experience of filming his own documentary for Al Jazeera after years of working as a fixer for foreign journalists telling stories about his native Zimbabwe even if they had “little or no knowledge of the local landscape or culture.”
“Africa’s story has often been about crises, about war, poverty and hunger but Al Jazeera has established a means through which other stories about Africa can be showcased. Those stories may be about Africa’s problems too, but in telling them ourselves it shows that we understand them and can work to find our own solutions.”

Hunger numbers
Oxfam’s Richard King writes about the dodginess of global hunger estimates and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s ongoing attempts to come up with way to get more reliable numbers.
“But all this will take time to overhaul, and will likely still result in indicators that are more suited to measuring recent chronic food insecurity rather than current acute hunger. For that, we may have to turn to more subjective indicators, such as those in the Gallup World Poll surveys recently analysed by [the International Food Policy Research Institute], in which people were asked: ‘Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy the food that you or your family needed?’ (yes or no). This is an imperfect alternative, not least because ‘food’ and ‘need’ are more abstract than counting calories and are likely to be interpreted differently depending on respondents’ location.”