Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 20 Jan 2017 18:38:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Regional Solutions Key for Asia-pacific’s Transition to Sustainable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy/#comments Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:36:24 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148602 Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). ]]>

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

The Asia-Pacific region is at a turning point in its energy trajectory. The energy solutions that have fuelled growth in the region over the past few decades are no longer compatible with the sustainable development aspirations of our nations and their people. In transitioning to a new era of sustainable energy, policymakers across the region face complex decisions. Supplies must be secure and affordable, and they must fill the energy access gap which leaves half a billion people across the region without access to electricity. At the same time mitigating the local impacts of energy generation and use will be vital in resolving problems such as the air pollution choking our cities and the global consequences of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Solutions exist, but only through regional cooperation and integration can Asia and the Pacific transition to sustainable energy in time to meet the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Goals.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Countries have committed to moving towards a more diverse and low carbon energy mix through the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. However, fossil fuels stubbornly remain a major part of the regional energy mix, making up three-quarters of electricity generation. Unless the region’s countries work together to accelerate the incorporation of sustainable energy into their strategies, business-as-usual approaches will result in a continuation of fossil fuel use and associated impacts.

While some countries suffer from energy shortages which limit their economic and social development, others enjoy energy surpluses, such as hydropower and natural gas. Trading these resources through new cross-border power grids, drawing on renewable energy when possible, as well as gas pipeline infrastructures, can open up enormous opportunities for both economic growth and decarbonisation.

The energy technology renaissance already underway in some countries is playing a vital role in the transition. New technologies are reducing the cost of clean energy and renewable power. Smart grids and electric vehicles are rapidly gaining market share. Since 2010, the cost of solar power generation has declined by 58 percent, with the cost of wind power down by one-third. The International Renewable Energy Agency projects cost reductions of 59 percent in solar power and 12 percent in wind power within 10 years, edging below fossil fuel electricity costs in most Asia-Pacific countries. Advances in long-distance power transmission technologies enable the linking of renewable energy resource-rich areas such as the Gobi Desert, Central Asia and far eastern Russia, with distant population centers. Asia-Pacific has emerged as an engine for clean energy, both as a manufacturing center for renewable energy technologies and as the leading region for deployment, with $160 billion invested in renewables in 2015.

On the demand side, energy efficiency technologies have an important role to play in the energy transition. Better energy efficiency is a key driver in decoupling energy use and GDP growth in many economies. With 15 percent of the world’s electricity consumed by lighting, efficient LED lighting technology, which consumes up to 85 percent less energy, will make substantial savings. Energy storage technologies for vehicles and power applications have also leapt ahead, offering flexibility in power usage and balancing variable electricity generation from renewables. Here again, regional cooperation, technology transfer and south-south collaboration will play a vital role in the transition.

Despite these encouraging developments, the success of the energy transition will require sustained commitment at national and regional levels through better policies, incentives and allocation of investments. The inertia of the existing energy sector is considerable, with its long-lived assets and entrenched institutional arrangements. Regional cooperation, through sharing of policy experiences, building capacity and mobilizing finance can play a significant role in assisting countries to implement their own energy sector reforms and capture the many co-benefits. The importance of regional energy cooperation is evident in the transboundary nature of many prominent energy challenges – improving regional energy security, managing air pollution and establishing cross-border energy infrastructure. ASEAN, South Asian and Central Asian countries as well as China, Russia and Mongolia are already embracing cross-border energy connectivity. Initiatives such as the CASA 1000 and the ASEAN Power Grid will allow low carbon energy from gas, hydropower, solar or wind to be traded across borders. Long-term regional dialogue is required to further develop these complex and infrastructure-intensive initiatives.

Connecting countries, finding regional solutions and promoting regional standards and guidelines has been at the core of the work of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the past 70 years. We recognize the need for regional energy cooperation, and with the support of our member States established an intergovernmental Committee on Energy that will meet for the first time in Bangkok, 17-19 January. Through the Committee, countries will help to map out key regional energy solutions for the region such as accelerating uptake of renewables and energy efficiency, establishing cross-border energy connectivity, promoting regional approaches to energy security, and providing modern energy access throughout the region to ensure a sustainable energy future for all. Through regional cooperation and integration I am confident that the countries of Asia-Pacific region can transform their energy trajectories to better serve their people, the region and the planet.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/regional-solutions-key-for-asia-pacifics-transition-to-sustainable-energy/feed/ 0
Trump Trade Strategy Unclearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-trade-strategy-unclear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-trade-strategy-unclear http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-trade-strategy-unclear/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:55:46 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148572 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in  US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement on the first day of his presidency in January 2017. Now, it is widely expected that Trump’s presidency will increase US trade protectionism, and consequently by others in retaliation, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with difficult to predict consequences.

After decades of denial by ‘free trade’ advocates, it is now widely agreed that many manufacturing jobs in the US have been lost to both automation and offshore relocation by US corporations. Free trade agreements (FTAs) are also being blamed for the US’s large trade deficits.

Trump trade strategy?

With the global economic slowdown of the last eight years associated by many with the slowdown of trade expansion, the surprise election of President-elect Trump has become the subject of much speculation and some dire predictions. Many are concerned that Trump has made various contrarian pronouncements on FTAs, while his appointments to trade related portfolios seem to contradict his trade rhetoric.

In early December 2016, the Wall Street Journal noted the unexpectedly high number of TPP advocates joining the Trump administration to serve in trade-related capacities. Although the hopes of some TPP advocates of a last-minute reprieve are probably misplaced, there is no indication that some amended version, perhaps with a different name, will not eventually emerge in its place.

If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, other plurilateral free trade agreements will also be affected. Trump has referred to the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as disasters for the US, and has vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. His announced preference for negotiating “fair” bilateral trade deals favourable to the US has not given much comfort to prospective negotiation partners.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with US manufacturing jobs and the related international trade in goods, he is also expected to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, financial liberalization, investor rights and dispute settlement.

Already, most US FTAs include ‘non-trade issues’, many of which have raised costs to consumers, e.g., by further strengthening intellectual property monopolies typically held by powerful transnational corporations, whose chief executives seem likely to be very influential in the new administration.

Currency manipulation
During the presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Trump accused China of being a “currency manipulator”, despite market consensus that the Chinese renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time. Under US law, evidence of currency manipulation could be grounds to impose additional tariffs on imports from a country so deemed by the Treasury Department. Aware that this could exacerbate trade conflicts, President Obama avoided pressure to do so from many Congress members, lobbyists and economists.

However, Trump can easily revise this position on some pretext or other, by taking trade or other retaliatory actions against China on the ostensible grounds of alleged currency manipulation which would contravene World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, allowing China to successfully take a case against the US to the WTO for such an illegal action.

WTO trade rules abused
Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs of as much as 45% on imports from China and Mexico! But while an across-the-board tariff hike is unlikely, as it is prohibited by the WTO, the new administration is likely to consider invoking WTO trade-remedy actions on products from China, Mexico and other countries by claiming they are being dumped or subsidized. This has already happened, e.g., with solar panels and wind turbines from China, raising the costs of renewable energy, and thus undermining the global warming mitigation effort.

To be sure, WTO trade remedy rules have long been widely abused for protectionist purposes. A country can impose high tariffs on an imported item from another country by claiming its price has been artificially depressed or subsidized by the government in order to export – or ‘dump’ – them at a price lower than the domestic price. No deterrent is imposed against the offending country even if a WTO dispute settlement panel rules that the ostensibly anti-dumping tariff-raising action was wrongly taken, even though the exporting country has lost considerable export earnings in the interim.

Furthermore, similar actions can be repeated without impunity with no threat of penalty. Such ostensible trade-remedy actions are more likely than blatant tariff walls. These may, in turn, trigger retaliatory counter-actions by aggrieved governments, potentially leading to a spiral of trade protectionism, i.e., trade warfare.

Fair trade?
It is unclear how the new administration views FTAs more generally. The President-elect’s objection to the TPP and NAFTA focuses on the goods trade, and the loss of manufacturing jobs due to cheaper imports, often brought in by the same companies which have chosen to relocate production capacities abroad, and are already mobilizing to resist actions which may jeopardize their profits.
This view does not seem to recognize that technological change, particularly with automation, has been the major source of job losses. Many jobs remaining in the US have higher skill requirements, with fewer employees producing more goods with less labour-intensive techniques.

“Fair trade” will be subject to self-serving interpretations by the governments concerned, arguably further undermining trade multilateralism. While freer trade has undoubtedly improved consumer welfare with cheaper imports, it has seen some deindustrialization in the North and industrialization in the South in recent decades with important employment consequences which have been a major source of the current discontent over globalization.

Trade growth slower
To be sure, the trade growth slowdown following the 2008 financial crisis suggests that the U-turn has already taken place after an extraordinary period of trade expansion due to much greater international specialization with the popularization of international value chains.

In December 2015, Obama’s United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman threatened the already difficult Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations by trying to introduce TPP issues which had been kept off the agenda from the outset of the ostensibly Development Round after the Seattle WTO ministerial walkout of 1999.

Perhaps most worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the WTO. Trump’s much-trumpeted preference for bilateral deals favourable to the US is likely to test trade multilateralism as never before.

But President-elect Trump also has a penchant for the unpredictable, and may yet surprise the world with a new commitment to trade multilateralism to advance consumer, producer, and development interests for all.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-trade-strategy-unclear/feed/ 1
Inequality (III): Less Employment… and More ‘Junk’ Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 06:39:10 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148535 Article III of of this three-part series on inequality tackles the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part II focused on the impact of inequality on women. Part I dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide. ]]> Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 18 2017 (IPS)

While just eight men are enjoying their huge wealth, equivalent to that of half the world, new forecasts project darker shadows by predicting rising unemployment rates, more precarious jobs and worsening social inequality. To start with, there will be more than 1.4 billion people employed in vulnerable working conditions.

Throughout 2017, global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million due to deteriorating labour market conditions in emerging countries –particularly those in Latin America and the Caribbean, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warns in a new report.

Meantime, unemployment is expected to fall in developed countries – especially in Northern, Southern, and Western Europe, the United States, and Canada, ILO says in its World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2017.

1 in 2 Workers Employed in Vulnerable Conditions

In addition, the figure of 1.4 billion people who are employed in vulnerable working conditions is not expected to decrease. That number represents 42 per cent of all employment for 2017, warns the report, which was released on January 12, 2017.

“Almost one in two workers in emerging countries are in vulnerable forms of employment, rising to more than four in five workers in developing countries,” said Steven Tobin, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report.

On this, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, said “We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year…”

According to the report, global gross domestic product (GDP) growth reached a six-year low last year, well below the rate that was projected in 2015.

“Forecasters continue to revise their 2017 predictions downwards and uncertainty about the global economy persists, generating worry among experts that the economy will be unable to employ a sufficient number of people and that growth will not lead to inclusive and shared benefits.”

Since 2009, the percentage of the working-age population willing to migrate abroad for work has risen in almost every region in the world. That trend was most prominent in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Arab States, it notes.

The report also points out a number of social inequalities that are creating barriers to growth and prosperity.

Gender gaps in particular are affecting the labour market, ILO notes, and gives specific examples: in Northern Africa, women in the labour force are twice as likely as men to be unemployed. “That gap is wider still for women in Arab States. “

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Discontent, Unrest

As a result of these and other social inequalities across a wide range of demographics, the ILO estimates that the risk of social unrest or discontent is growing in almost all regions.

“Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform – both in terms of levels and the degree of inclusion. This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs,” said Ryder.

“Persistent high levels of vulnerable forms of employment combined with clear lack of progress in job quality – even in countries where aggregate figures are improving – are alarming…”

ILO called for international cooperation and a coordinated effort to provide fiscal stimuli and public investments to provide an immediate jump-start to the global economy and eliminate an anticipated rise in unemployment for two million people.

On Jan. 16, Oxfam International released a major report — ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ — on the state of growingly deepening inequality worldwide.

On the specific case of employment, it says: “Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite”.

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

What Is Behind the Widening Gap?

Asked what is behind this increasingly worsening inequality, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” said to IPS: “The benefits of economic growth are not shared equally across our societies.

“The vast majority of income generated in the past thirty years has accrued to the owners of capital, and to those at the top of society. Workers have seen their wages stagnate in many countries across the globe, and in many other countries their wages have not risen anywhere near as fast as returns to the owners of capital.”

Ratcliff explained to IPS that in order to maximise returns to their wealthy shareholders, big corporations are dodging taxes, driving down wages for their workers and the prices paid to producers, investing less in their business, and spending billions lobbying government to write the rules in their favour.

As a result, erosions in pensions, labour rights and secure work are common across the world, and hit women and the young hardest because tend to be the ones who are concentrated in precarious jobs, on very low pay, she warned.

“If we don’t tackle inequality, workers across the world will pay the price in terms of increasing insecurity and lower wages.”

The Poor Pay Far More than the Rich for a Hot Meal

Should all the above not be enough, new United Nations data shows that a simple bowl of food in Malawi is much more expensive than that same meal in Davos, Switzerland, once adjustments have been made to take into account one’s average daily income.

That is what research by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) revealed. The analysis is part of a new initiative by the WFP called ‘Hot Dinner Data’ which was made public on Jan. 13, just before the Jan. 17 opening of the annual World Economic Forum, a summit of political and economic leaders that takes place in Davos.

“The Hot Dinner Data analysis aims to hold a new mirror up to the world – one which illustrates the distortions in the purchasing power of the rich and the poor as they try to meet their basic food needs,” announced Arif Husain, Chief Economist of WFP.

‘Hot Dinner Data’ reveals that people in the developing world pay as much as 100 times more for a basic plate of food than those who live in wealthier nations. In the most extreme circumstances – for example, in regions under conflict – the cost can be 300 times higher.

For example, it says, a bowl of bean stew – a standard nutritious meal throughout regions and cultures – would cost a person in Switzerland 0.88 Swiss Francs (CHF), or an average 0.41 per cent of their daily income.

“That cost would be 100 times more in Malawi, where a person would need to spend 41 per cent of their daily income to purchase the same meal. In India and Nicaragua, it would be roughly 10 to 15 times more expensive than in Switzerland.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs/feed/ 0
Inequality (II): “It Will Take 170 Years for Women to Be Paid as Men Are”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 06:28:32 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148522 Article II of this three-part series on inequality, focuses on the impact of discrimination on women. Part III will tackle the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part I has dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide.]]> Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

While just eight individuals, all of them men, own the same wealth as 3.6 billion people — half of world’s total population — it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men, warns a new major report on inequality.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

In it, OXFAM warns that women, who are often employed in low pay sectors, face high levels of discrimination in the workplace, and who take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work, often find themselves at the bottom of the pile.

“On current trends it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men.”Agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men” – EU Commissioner

‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ also reveals how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis, adds OXFAM, an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the 1 dollar an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands.

“The CEOs of these companies are some of the highest paid people in the world.”

Why?

IPS interviewed Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign”.

“Around the world, women make up the majority of those in the worst-paid and least secure jobs, while shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for unpaid care work. This is not an accident; our current economic model depends on this supply of cheap or free labour.“

When public services are cut because big business and wealthy individuals don’t pay their fair share of taxes, Ratcliff told IPS, it is often women who are hit hardest – for example when education isn’t free, it is girls who tend to miss out.

“Women face discrimination at a household and institutional level, with political and economic elites dominated by men – all 8 of the richest people are men and 89 percent of all billionaires are men.”

According to Ratcliff, economies must be managed to ensure that women have the same economic opportunities as men.

“For example, by ensuring equal access to education, by providing better and more affordable child care services, by investing in basic infrastructure and services, and by challenging social norms about the role of women in our societies.”

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

If Women Had the Same Resources As Men…

Being among the poorest of the poor, and in spite of their critical contributions and of making up half of agriculture workers, rural women and farmers are major victims of inequality.

“If women had the same access to resources as men, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world, ” said Neven Mimica, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, at a recent high-level event co-organised by four UN specialised bodies, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

“It is often said that if you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation. The same is true when we empower women across the board — not only through access to knowledge, but also to resources, to equal opportunities, and by giving them a voice… Yet current statistics suggest that the world is falling short on this score.”

The European Commissioner went on to say that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men.

“As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. And we know that children have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated. Especially during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.”

Women, Half of Agriculture Workers, But…

In developing countries, women make up 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force, ranging from 20 per cent in Latin America to up to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“And they are harder workers — in Africa and Asia and the Pacific, women typically work 12-13 hours more than men per week.”

Across all regions, women are less likely than men to own or control land, and their plots often are of poorer quality. Less than 20 per cent of the world’s landholders are women.

“Women farmers generate productivity gains. And women reinvest up to 90 per cent of their earnings back into their households — that’s money spent on nutrition, food, healthcare, school, and income-generating activities — helping to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.”

With this data in hand, José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, assured at last month’s high-level meeting that achieving gender equality and empowering women “is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition.”

The meeting was co-organised by FAO, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women.

At it, Graziano da Silva affirmed that “Women are the backbone of our work in agriculture,” noting that they comprise 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, with that figure rising to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia.

These numbers underscore the importance of ensuring that rural women enjoy a level playing field, according to the FAO Director-General

Close That Gender Gap!

In her remarks, Gabriela Matecná, Slovak Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and President of the Council of the European Union over last year‘s second semester, said, “the gender gap imposes significant costs on society, in terms of lost agricultural output, food security and economic growth.”

Although nearly half the world’s agricultural labour force is female, she noted, women own less than 20 per cent of agricultural land. At the same time, 60 per cent of chronically hungry people on the planet are women or girls.

“When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual. When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community,” noted for his part IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze.

“We see time and time again that gender equality opens doors for entire communities to strengthen their food and nutrition security and to improve their social and economic well-being,” he said, adding: “Empowering rural women is indeed empowering humanity.”

“It is only through empowering women farmers that we can unlock the power of global food systems. Supporting them is essential in creating resilience, building stronger businesses, and advancing food security in the long term,” Denise Brown, Director of Emergencies at World Food Programme (WFP), stated.

And Maria Noel Vaeza, Director of Programs at UN Women, said: “Closing the gender gaps in agriculture can provide multiple development dividends, including gender equality for rural women, food security and poverty reduction, improved climate management and peaceful societies.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are/feed/ 0
Inequality (I): Half of World’s Wealth, in the Pockets of Just Eight Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:17:39 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148511 Article I of a three-part series focuses on the alarmingly deepening inequality. Part II deals with the staggering impact of inequality on women, and Part III with the future and quality of jobs. ]]> Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 16 2017 (IPS)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a major new report by an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

“The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years. To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend 1 million dollars every day for 2738 years to spend 1 trillion dollars.”

These Are the World’s 8 Richest People:

1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016.

The wealth of the world’s richest people was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2016.

The report details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

“New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought.”

Had this new data been available last year, the report adds, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.

Obscene!

On this, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”

Oxfam’s report shows “how our broken economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of who are women.” (See Part II of IPS series).

Tax Dodging

OXFAM’s report also tackles the critical issue of tax dodging.

Corporate tax dodging, it informs, costs poor countries at least 100 billion dollars every year.

“This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year.”

The report outlines how the super-rich use a network of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax and an army of wealth managers to secure returns on their investments that would not be available to ordinary savers.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the super-rich are not ‘self-made’. Oxfam analysis shows over half the world’s billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries, which are prone to corruption and cronyism.

It also demonstrates how big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them.

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

A Human Economy?

“Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces. If politicians stop obsessing with GDP [Gross Domestic Product], and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.”

Oxfam’s blueprint for a more human economy includes a series of measures that should be adopted by governments to end the extreme concentration of wealth to end poverty.

These include increasing taxes on both wealth and high incomes to ensure a more level playing field, and to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation; to work together to ensure workers are paid a decent wage; and to put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax.

These steps also include supporting companies that benefit their workers and society rather than just their shareholders.

As well, governments should ensure economies work for women, and must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work.

Does Anybody Care?

Here, a key question arises: national governments, the UN, the EU, and major civil society and human rights organisations, all know about the on-going, obscene inequality. How come that nothing effective has been done do far to prevent it or at least reduce it?

On this, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” comments to IPS that “tackling inequality properly will mean breaking with the economic model we have been following for thirty years.”

“It will also mean taking on and overcoming the powerful interests of the super-rich and corporations who are benefiting from the status quo. So it is not surprising that despite global outcry at the inequality crisis, very little has changed.”

Nevertheless, says Ratcliff, some governments are bucking the trend, and managing to reduce inequality, listening to the demands of the majority not the minority.

Asked for specific examples, Ratcliff says that some governments, like Namibia’s, have managed to decrease inequality by taxing the rich more and spending it on things such as free secondary education that help reduce the gap between rich and poor.

“These countries show that another world is possible, if we can reject this broken economic model and stop the undue influence of the rich.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/feed/ 1
Ordinary Citizens Help Drive Spread of Solar Power in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:44:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148502 Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Chile, Latin America’s leader in solar energy, is starting the new year with an innovative step: the development of the country´s first citizens solar power plant.

This South American country of nearly 18 million people has projects in non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) for a combined total of nine billion dollars over the next four years, in the effort to reduce its heavy dependency on fossil fuels, which still generate more than 55 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s 2014 Energy Agenda involves the participation of international investors, large power companies, the mining industry, agriculture, and academia.

Now ecologists have come up with the first project that incorporates citizens in the production and profits generated by NCRE, in particular solar power.

The small 10-KW photovoltaic plant will use solar power to generate electricity for the participating households and the surplus will go into the national power grid.

This will allow the “citizen shareholders“ taking part in the initiative to receive profits based on the annual inflation rate plus an additional two per cent.

“The objective is to create a way for citizens to participate in the benefits of solar power and the process of the democratisation of energy,“ said Manuel Baquedano, head of the Institute of Political Ecology, which is behind the initiative.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant will start operating commercially this month in Buin, a suburb on the south side of Santiago. Its main client is the Centre for Sustainable Technology, which from now on will be supplied with the power produced by the plant.

“In Chile we have experienced an important development of solar energy, as a consequence of the pressure from citizens who did not want more hydroelectric dams. This paved the way for developing NCREs,“ Baquedano told IPS.

“But solar power development has been concentrated in major undertakings, with solar plants that mainly supply the mining industry. And the possibility for all citizens to be able to benefit from this direct energy source had not been addressed yet.”

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

The environmentalist said “we decided to organise a business model to install these community solar power plants using citizen investments, since there was no support from the state or from private companies.”

The model consists of setting up a plant where there is a client who is willing to buy 75 per cent of the energy produced, and the remaining power is sold to the national grid.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant required an investment of about 18,500 dollars, divided in 240 shares of some 77 dollars each. The project will be followed by similar initiatives, possibly in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of the country, Curicó in central Chile, or Coyhaique in Patagonia in the south.

The partners include engineers, journalists, psychologists, farmers, small business owners, and even indigenous communities from different municipalities, interested in replicating this model.

The subway, another example

A symbolic illustration of progress made with solar power is the Santiago Metro or subway. It was announced that 42 per cent of the energy that it will use as of November 2017 will come from the El Pelicano solar power project.

This plant, owned by the company SunPower, is located in the municipality La Higuera, 400 km north of Santiago, and it cost 250 million dollars to build.

“The subway is a clean means of transport… we want to be a sustainable company, and what is happening now is a major step, since we are aiming for 60 per cent NCREs by 2018,” said Fernando Rivas, the company´s assistant manager of environment.

El Pelícano, with an expected generation of 100 MW, “will use 254,000 solar panels, which will supply 300 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to the consumption of 125,000 Chilean households,” said Manuel Tagle, general manager of SunPower.

Dionisio Antiquera, a farmer from the Diaguita indigenous community from northern Chile, who lives in Cerrillos de Tamaya, in Ovalle, 400 km north of Santiago, bought a share because “I like renewable energy and because it gives participation to citizens, to the poor.“

“There are many ways of participating in a cooperative,” he told IPS by phone.

Jimena Jara, assistant secretary for the Ministry of Energy, underlined the progress made in the development of NCREs and estimated that “investment in this sector could reach about nine billion dollars between 2017 and 2020.“

“Considering the projects that are currently in the stage of testing in our power grids, more than 60 per cent of the new generation capacity between 2014 and the end of 2016 will be non-conventional renewable energies,” she told IPS.

”Chile has set itself the target for 70 per cent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2050, and 60 per cent by 2035. We know that we are making good progress, and that we are going to reach our goal with an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient energy supply,” said Jara.

This boom in NCREs in Chile, particularly solar and wind power, is underpinned by numbers, such as the reduction of the cost of electricity.

As of November 2016, the annual average marginal cost of energy in Chile´s central power grid, SIC, which covers a large part of the national territory, was 61 dollars per mega-watt hour (MWh), a fall of more than 60 per cent with respect to 2013 prices.

SIC´s Power Dispatch Center said that this marginal cost, which sets the transfer value between generating companies, is the lowest in 10 years, and was lower than the 91.3 dollars per MWh in 2015 and the nearly 200 MWh in 2011 and 2012, caused by the intensive use of diesel.

David Watts, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Electrical Engineering Department, told IPS that “solar and wind energy have offered competitive costs for quite some time,” and for this reason have permanently changed Chile´s energy mix.

“In the past, Chile did not even appear in the renewable energy rankings. Now it ranks first in solar power in Latin America and second in wind power,” he said.

The expert said “this energy is spreading and we expect it to continue to do so over the next couple of years, when the battery of projects that were awarded contracts in the last tendering process of regulated clients,” those which consume less than 500 KW, come onstream.

Once the economy recovers from the current weak growth levels, “we hope that a significant proportion of our supply contracts with our non-regulated clients (with a connected power of at least 500 KW) will also be carried out with competitive solar and wind power projects,“ said Watts.

“There is no turning back from this change. From now on, some conventional project may occasionally be installed if its costs are really competitive,“ he said.

Watts, who is also a consultant on renewable energies at the Ministry of Energy, pointed out that the growth in solar and wind power was also driven by changes in the country’s legislation, which enabled energy to be offered in blocks, and permitted the simultaneous connection of NCREs to the grid.

The report New Energy Finance Climatescope, by Bloomberg and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ranked Chile as the country that invests the most in clean energies in Latin America, only surpassed by China in the index, which studies the world’s major emerging economies.

Commenting on the report, published on December 14, Bachelet said “we invested 3.2 billion dollars last year (2015), focusing on solar power, especially in solar photovoltaic installations, and we are also leading in other non-conventional renewable energies.”

“We said it three years ago, that Chile would change its energy mix, and now I say with pride that we have made progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energies,“ she said.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/feed/ 1
The Cuban Recession and the Introduction of Public Bondshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-cuban-recession-and-the-introduction-of-public-bonds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-cuban-recession-and-the-introduction-of-public-bonds http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-cuban-recession-and-the-introduction-of-public-bonds/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2017 00:01:05 +0000 Pavel Vidal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148497 The boom in tourist arrivals, especially from the United States, like those sitting outside the restaurants in one of Havana’s streets, has been insufficient to avoid Cuba’s recession during 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The boom in tourist arrivals, especially from the United States, like those sitting outside the restaurants in one of Havana’s streets, has been insufficient to avoid Cuba’s recession during 2016. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Pável Vidal
CALI, Colombia, Jan 13 2017 (IPS)

The macroeconomic data for the close of the year provided by the Cuban government confirms the projections that Cuba would enter a recession as a result of the Venezuelan shock.

In 2016 the production of goods and services decreased by 0.9 per cent. This is the first economic recession since 1993, when the gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 15 per cent after the disappearance of the Soviet Union.

Since late 2014, after the dramatic oil price drop and the subsequent crisis of the Venezuelan economy, the Cuban recession was highly likely, if we add an insufficient response of the Cuban economic policy in the face of the magnitude of the shock that was approaching.

Relations with Venezuela are formed under very singular agreements between both governments, with prices and financial facilities that are distant from the usual practices in international trade.

Therefore, it’s not simply a question of seeking new markets for the trade that can no longer be carried out with Venezuela, but rather it has to be done in a different way and boosting new economic sectors given that it seems rather improbable that someone else will receive Cuban doctors and sell us cheap oil under the same conditions.

That is why it was so important to start as soon as possible the diversification of international relations and the liberalisation of the domestic capacities in search of increased productivity and greater efficiency in national production. The attraction on a large scale of foreign investment, the devaluation of the official exchange rate and the monetary convergence, a more in-depth reform of state enterprise and the expansion of spaces for the private sector and the cooperatives were some of the steps that seemed feasible and coherent with the reforms already initiated.

Why were some or all these steps not taken? Multiple explanations can be offered.

Because there isn’t clarity or conviction about where the Cuban economic model should be directed. Because the forces resisting the changes have won the game for the time being. Because the need for so many changes surpasses the institutional and technical capacity to manage them all at the same time. Because the U.S. embargo continues preventing the arrival of institutional foreign investors. Because it is really believed that a very slow reform and making experiments is the only effective means. And surely some other explanations could be added.

No matter the reason, the final result is that the reforms have slowed down instead of being speeded up, and after 10 years there are no very encouraging results when examining productivity, the mean wage or a specific sector like agriculture.

The announcements of new transformations are increasingly more dilated. Cuba seems to be living in a different time dimension; it is as if one year in Cuba is equivalent to a month in the rest of the planet.

However, the space in which the economy operates is not isolated, it competes with other destinations for international capital, it is technologically backward, it loses relative weight in the region and suffers the cycles of the international markets and the crisis of its principal economic allies.

Economist and University Professor Pável Vidal. Credit: Universidad Javeriana de Cali

Economist and University Professor Pável Vidal. Credit: Universidad Javeriana de Cali

Perspectives for 2017 and the role of public bonds

For 2017 the government is planning an improvement in the situation of the economy, something that is contrary to the projections we had made. The government is planning a two per cent GDP growth.

This GDP growth for 2017 is based on two essential factors. First, the hope that the Venezuelan economic situation improves after the recent increases in the price per barrel of oil; and second, the Cuban government is putting into practice an anti-cyclical expansive fiscal policy.

In his December 27 speech at the National Assembly, Economy and Planning Minister Ricardo Cabrisas stated that “The projections of the energy sources for next year allow for backing similar levels as those of 2016….”

It is very probable that this perspective has as its point of departure the increase presented in the price per barrel of oil during the last three quarters and some international projections that place it at higher levels for 2017, which favours the performance of the Venezuelan economy and opens the possibility that the sending of oil to the island and the payments for Cuban medical services will be stabilised.

On the other hand, an increase in public spending and the fiscal deficit is projected to back the GDP growth. An 11 per cent increase in fiscal spending has been planned, but it will not be able to be covered by the fiscal incomes, which is why it will generate a “fiscal hole” of 11.5 billion pesos in 2017, which represents a value equivalent to 12 per cent of the GDP.

In terms of percentages it is the highest fiscal deficit since 1993; in shares it more than doubles the deficit of 1993 which was five billion pesos.

It is favourable that after years of fiscal austerity the government has decided to expand public spending to cushion the recessive effect of the Venezuelan crisis. It is valid to apply an expansive fiscal policy at a time of a GDP drop.

It is also correct to finance the fiscal deficit with the emission of public bonds, which the Cuban state banks will purchase. This is a new instrument that the Finances and Prices Ministry has been introducing for two years with a view to avoiding the monetisation (printing of new money) as a mechanism for the financing of the fiscal deficit.

This fiscal financing mechanism tends to approach international practices, and its principal advantage is to avoid an increase in the primary amount of money, with which inflationary pressures are reduced.

Where are the risks of the expansive fiscal policy and the emission of bonds?

Firstly, the fiscal deficit can grow in times of crisis, but must not do so disproportionately or keep being indefinitely high. It is right to apply an anti-cyclical fiscal policy, but having a fiscal hole of 12 per cent of the GDP in 2017 creates doubts about the financial sustainability of the entire financing mechanism that is being put into practice. To have a point of comparison, it is expected that the countries conserve, in an average of several years, a fiscal deficit of less than three per cent of the GDP.

It should be taken into account that the foreign investors, money lenders and international suppliers themselves will be the first to be viewing this indicator of fiscal balance. On an international level it is one of the principal indicators that are taken into account to evaluate the prudence of the economic policy and that define the country’s financial risk.

Secondly, the emission of public bonds reduces the inflationary effects but does not eliminate them completely. The expansion of the fiscal spending by 11.5 billion pesos over the incomes can put pressure on the increase of prices given the disproportionate expansion that it is activating in the demand for goods and services.

Thirdly, Cuba does not have a fiscal regulation that organises and places limits on the long-term fiscal balance (as other countries in the region have), but rather it depends on the government’s discretion each year. That is to say, we don’t know what is going to happen with the fiscal deficits in the future. We are not sure that the bonds being issued and the next ones that will be issued will be managed adequately to guarantee the sustainability of the entire mechanism.

It should be taken into account that the banks are using family savings to buy public bonds, therefore the government has the responsibility of obtaining future fiscal incomes and balance the public accounts to comply with the commitments made to the banks and, ultimately, to the holders of savings accounts.

To have an idea of the magnitude of the deficit and the resulting emissions of public bonds, we see that in 2015 family savings in the banks amounted to 23.68 billion Cuban pesos.

Therefore, the budgeted fiscal deficit for 2017 is equivalent to 48 per cent of the value of family savings accounts. The banks certainly also have enterprises’ deposits and their own capital. Even so, this proportion of 48 per cent calls attention to the little financing space that the Finances and Prices Ministry would have in the future to support high fiscal deficits.

In short, the two per cent projected growth for 2017 in the Cuban economy depends on a situation that continues to be uncertain for the Venezuelan economy, despite the increase in oil prices. In addition, it is accompanied by an expansive fiscal policy that if well used can help manage the crisis, but if not, would have disastrous consequences for the country’s monetary and financial stability.

The activation of an anti-cyclical fiscal policy and emission of public bonds is a correct step, but a fiscal deficit that is equivalent to 12 per cent of the GDP and 48 per cent of the family bank savings seems exaggerated.

It would not be possible to repeat the fiscal expansion in 2018; rather, it would be indispensable to make a fiscal adjustment that decreases significantly the deficit in the coming years.

Therefore, the government is only gaining one year of time, in which it must apply some of the pending and necessary structural reforms to firmly take the economy out of the recession.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-cuban-recession-and-the-introduction-of-public-bonds/feed/ 0
Free Trade Agreements Promote Corporate Interestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 10:02:26 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148488 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Trump's ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals will be problematic for its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity. Credit: IPS

Trump's ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals will be problematic for its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 2017 (IPS)

So-called free-trade agreements (FTAs) are generally presumed to promote trade liberalization, but in fact, they do much more to strengthen the power of the most influential transnational corporations of the dominant partner involved. While FTAs typically reduce some barriers to the international trade in goods and services, some provisions strengthen private monopolies and corporate power.

Not surprisingly, FTA processes are increasingly widely seen as essentially corrupt. They are typically opaque, especially to the producer and consumer interests affected. The eventual outcomes are often poorly understood by the public and often misrepresented by those pretending to be experts.

For example, many economists from the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the World Bank have continued to claim very significant growth gains from trade liberalization due to the TPPA which have been refuted by US government economists from the Department of Agriculture and International Trade Commission.

And while many in the transnational elite who benefit remain committed to yet more FTAs as means to extend and expand their power and interests, public trust and hope have declined as people become aware of some of their most onerous provisions and likely consequences.

Thus, people are voting against the politicians held responsible for supporting FTAs regardless of their party affiliations. Brexit and the election of Mr. Trump are examples of such global trends.

Do FTAs promote freer trade?
While FTAs may increase trade and trade flows, but are they worth the effort, considering the paltry growth gains generated? There are considerable doubts that some FTA provisions — e.g., those strengthening intellectual rights (IPRs) or investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules unaccountable to national judiciaries — enhance international trade, economic growth or the public interest.

Greater trade and trade liberalization may potentially improve the welfare of all as well as accelerate growth and structural transformation in developing countries. But such outcomes do not necessarily follow, but need to be ensured through complementary policies, institutions and reforms.

Furthermore, trade liberalization on false premises has also undermined existing productive and export capacities and capabilities without generating new ones in their place, i.e., causing retrogression rather than ensuring progress. Such effects have not only set back economic development, but often, also food security, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Freer and fairer trade without FTAs
More people now realize that trade expansion compatible with welfare and development aspirations can happen without FTAs, e.g., through unilateral measures. This was evident when the US trade embargo on Cuba was dropped, and will happen if US trade relations with Iran improve. Similarly, US-Vietnam trade should expand rapidly in the absence of decades-long discriminatory and onerous US legislation imposed on Vietnam following the end of the War in 1975.

During the recent US presidential campaign, both presidential aspirants attributed the US trade deficit with China to the latter’s alleged currency manipulation. While many developing countries, especially in East Asia, manage their currencies for various reasons, the recent market consensus is that the renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time, while the currencies of some other countries, mainly US allies in East Asia, are more significantly undervalued. US trade negotiators have long complained that they cannot get enforceable currency rules into any FTA as it is so easily prone to abuse.

More fundamentally, such a solution does not address the underlying problems of the international monetary system which confers an ‘exorbitant privilege’ on the US. With greatly liberalized capital accounts in recent decades, many ‘emerging market economies’ have experienced large and sudden outflows of capital. Hence, they have resorted to the expensive and contractionary practice of so-called ‘self-insurance’, by accumulating huge foreign exchange reserves in case of need for emergency deployment.

This has had substantial opportunity costs for emerging economies as these reserves could have been used more productively instead of keeping them in low-yield US Treasury bonds. Besides transferring seigniorage gains (to the currency issuing government due to the difference between the face value of currency and their production costs) to the US, emerging countries are, in effect, helping to finance US deficits and expenditure.

Multilateralism still best option
If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, all plurilateral and multilateral free trade agreements will be affected. But his ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals favourable to the US is also hugely problematic because of the heavy demands it will place on the US as well as its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with the goods trade and US jobs, there has been no indication so far that he will not continue to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, investor rights, financial liberalization and dispute settlement, as part of ostensible comprehensive trade negotiations. Such concerns have been reinforced by the choice of recent appointees to senior trade-related positions in the new administration.

Determinants of trade flows and patterns are many and varied, including incomes (or, purchasing power), growth rates, tariffs, non-tariff barriers, exchange rates as well as import and export rules. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and other existing multilateral institutions can do much to facilitate greater trade in the interest of all if given a chance to succeed.

Worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under WTO auspices. Unfortunately, the current Doha Round of trade negotiations has been prevented by powerful corporate interests and the governments. Concluding a truly progressive trade agreement would not only meet developmental aspirations as well as advance national, public, consumer and producer interests, but would also help ensure a more balanced and robust global economic recovery.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests/feed/ 0
Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148484 Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/feed/ 1
China’s Billion-Dollar Re-entry in Sri Lanka Met with Public Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests/#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2017 13:59:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148437 “Over our dead bodies.” Villagers in Beragama, Sri Lanka protest to prevent government surveyors from carrying out mapping due to fears of losing their land. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

“Over our dead bodies.” Villagers in Beragama, Sri Lanka protest to prevent government surveyors from carrying out mapping due to fears of losing their land. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BERAGAMA, Jan 9 2017 (IPS)

Beragama is a typical Sri Lankan rural village, with lush green paddy fields interspersed by small houses and the village temple standing at the highest location. Despite being close to the island’s second international harbour and its second international airport, Beragama appears untouched by modernity.

All that is about to change. There is angst in this hamlet located in the Hambantota District about 250 km south of the capital Colombo. The fear is that a new Chinese investment topping 1.5 billion dollars could gobble up the village, along with an adjacent stretch of 15,000 acres.“We are not against investments, but we don’t want to lose our lands and homes.” -- Beragama resident Nandana Wijesinghe

The Sri Lankan government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to sign a deal with a Chinese company by which the investors would gain controlling shares of the new Magampura Port and a proposed investment zone. The investment is expected to ease some of the burden of a whopping national debt of around 64 billion dollars, 8 billion of which the country owes China. Between 2016 and 2017 its debt payments are expected to in the region of 8 billion.

This is money the government desperately needs to revive a flagging economy. It was so desperate that within two years of taking power, it has turned to the very lenders that it shunned in 2015. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had followed a pro-Beijing policy even at the risk of annoying regional power India by its actions.

The new government that replaced it first tried to follow a pro-Western investment policy, even suspending Sri Lanka’s single largest investment project, the 1.5-billion-dollar Colombo Port City. However, without new investments coming in at anticipated rates, Colombo has had to seek China’s help.

“We are not against investments, but we don’t want to lose our lands and homes,” Beragama resident Nandana Wijesinghe told IPS.

The villagers charge that the Chinese want the most fertile land, and the areas close to the port. “Why don’t they take land that is shrub? There is plenty of that,” Wijesinghe said.

When word trickled down that the village was being eyed by the investors and the government was moving to close the deal, the villagers began gathering at the temple. There they decided that they would not part with their land. This was in mid-November.

When surveyors arrived at the village to begin mapping, the villagers stopped them. “We have asked for top government officials from Colombo to come and explain the situation to us. Till then we will not allow any of this,” S. Chandima, another villager, told IPS while others crowded around survey department officials.

Top government officials in the district say that as of the end of last year, there was still no decision on which land would be handed over in a 99-year lease. “Right now we have instruction to do surveys, nothing else. We have no information on what land will be handed over,” said S H Karunarathne, the District Secretary for Hambantota.

Still, protests have been held in Hambantota against the handover, and the tempo is slowly building. A worrying factor for the government is that Hambantota is Rajapaksa’s home turf. He channeled multi-billion-dollar investments here, including the port, the airport (which now serves one flight a day at its peak performance), an international cricket stadium now used for wedding receptions and an international convention center that remains shut.

The multi-million-dollar Mattala International Airport, inaugurated in 2013, now serves just one flight per day at best. The Sri Lankan government has been searching for ways to make it a profitable venture. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The multi-million-dollar Mattala International Airport, inaugurated in 2013, now serves just one flight per day at best. The Sri Lankan government has been searching for ways to make it a profitable venture. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Rajapaksa, who was the bulwark in getting Chinese investments into Sri Lanka between 2009 and 2014, has said he is opposed to the land handover.

“These are people’s agricultural lands. We are not against Chinese or Indians or Americans coming here for investment. But we are against the land being given to them and the privatisation they are doing,” he recently told Colombo-based foreign correspondents. He added that he had in fact discussed the issue with Chinese authorities during his recent visit to the country.

During the same meeting Rajapaksa said that he planed to topple the current administration in 2017. Once the undisputed strongman in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa enjoyed unparallel popularity, especially among the majority Sinhala community, after he led the military effort to end three decades of civil war. Despite his defeat two years ago, he has, however, remained a relevant leader to his core support group in the last two years and in the last six months has become more politically active.

He has so far not taken part in any of the anti-Chinese protests in Hambantota, but his eldest son and heir apparent Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa has participated in one public protest in Hambantota. Any groundswell of anti-government protests in this southern region could potentially be helmed by Rajapaksa at any time.

The government has already postponed the handover ceremony once, till late January. But Malik Samarawickrama, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade, has confirmed that deal will go through by the end of the month.

The postponement did not dowse the embers in Hambantota. The opposite happened when the prime minister and the Chinese ambassador came there to inaugurate the industrial zone, and clashes broke out between police and a group of protestors including Buddhist monks opposing the project. The inauguration did take place despite the water canons and the teargas that was flying around — not a good omen for what is to come in the future.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/chinas-billion-dollar-re-entry-in-sri-lanka-met-with-public-protests/feed/ 1
Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/feed/ 0
Lessons from the Demise of the TPPhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 14:23:32 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148416 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling  has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the first day of his presidency. The TPP may now be dead, thanks to Trump and opposition by all major US presidential candidates. With its imminent demise almost certain, it is important to draw on some lessons before it is buried.

Fraudulent free trade agreement
The TPP is fraudulent as a free trade agreement, offering very little in terms of additional growth due to trade liberalization, contrary to media hype. To be sure, the TPP had little to do with trade. The US already has free trade agreements, of the bilateral or regional variety, with six of the 11 other countries in the pact. All twelve members also belong to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which concluded the single largest trade agreement ever, more than two decades ago in Marrakech – contrary to the TPPA’s claim to that status. Trade barriers with the remaining five countries were already very low in most cases, so there is little room left for further trade liberalization in the TPPA, except in the case of Vietnam, owing to the war until 1975 and its legacy of punitive legislation.

The most convenient computable general equilibrium (CGE) trade model used for trade projections makes unrealistic assumptions, including those about the consequences of trade liberalization. For instance, such trade modelling exercises typically presume full employment as well as unchanging trade and fiscal balances. Our colleagues’ more realistic macroeconomic modelling suggested that almost 800,000 jobs would be lost over a decade after implementation, with almost half a million from the US alone. There would also be downward pressure on wages, in turn exacerbating inequalities at the national level.

Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Thus, while most politically influential US corporations would do well from the TPP due to strengthened intellectual property rights (IPRs) and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, US workers would generally not. It is now generally believed these outcomes contributed to the backlash against such globalization in the votes for Brexit and Trump.

Non-trade measures

According to the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE), the US think-tank known for cheerleading economic liberalization and globalization, the purported TPPA gains would mainly come from additional investments, especially foreign direct investments, due to enhanced investor rights. However, these claims have been disputed by most other analysts, including two US government agencies, i.e., the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

Much of the additional value of trade would come from ‘non-trade issues’. Strengthening intellectual property (IP) monopolies, typically held by powerful transnational corporations, would raise the value of trade through higher trading prices, not more goods and services. Thus, strengthened IPRs leading to higher prices for medicines are of particular concern.

The TPP would reinforce and extend patents, copyrights and related intellectual property protections. Such protectionism raises the price of protected items, such as pharmaceutical drugs. In a 2015 case, Martin Skrelly raised the price of a drug he had bought the rights to by 6000% from USD12.50 to USD750! As there is no US law against such ‘price-gouging’, the US Attorney General could only prosecute him for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme.

“Medecins Sans Frontieres” warned that the agreement would go down in history as the worst “cause of needless suffering and death” in developing countries. In fact, contrary to the claim that stronger IPRs would enhance research and development, there has been no evidence of increased research or new medicines in recent decades for this reason.

Corporate-friendly
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is also supposed to go up thanks to the TPPA’s ISDS provisions. For instance, foreign companies would be able to sue TPP governments for ostensible loss of profits, including potential future profits, due to changes in national regulation or policies even if in the national or public interest.

ISDS would be enforced through ostensibly independent tribunals. This extrajudicial system would supercede national laws and judiciaries, with secret rulings not bound by precedent or subject to appeal.

Thus, rather than trade promotion, the main purpose of the TPPA has been to internationally promote more corporate-friendly rules under US leadership. The 6350 page deal was negotiated by various working groups where representatives of major, mainly US corporations were able to drive the agenda and advance their interests. The final push to seek congressional support for the TPPA despite strong opposition from the major presidential candidates made clear that the main US rationale and motive were geo-political, to minimize China’s growing influence.

The decision by the Obama administration to push ahead with the TPP may well have cost Hillary Clinton the presidency as she came across as insincere in belatedly opposing the agreement which she had previously praised and advocated. Trade was a major issue in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where concerned voters overwhelmingly opted for Trump.

The problem now is that while the Obama administration undermined trade multilateralism by its unwillingness to honour the compromise which initiated the Doha Development Round, Trump’s preference for bilateral agreements benefiting the US is unlikely to provide the boost to multilateralism so badly needed now. Unless the US and the EU embrace the spirit of compromise which started this round of trade negotiations, the WTO and multilateralism more generally may never recover from the setbacks of the last decade and a half.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/feed/ 2
Poor Darwin – Robots, Not Nature, Now Make the Selectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:56:01 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148413 TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

When British naturalist Charles Darwin published in 1859 his theory of evolution in his work On the Origin of Species, he most likely did not expect that robots, not nature, would someday be in charge of the selection process.

In his On the Origin of Species, (more completely: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life), Darwin introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.

Now the so-called ”fourth industrial revolution” comes to turn Darwin’s theory upside down, as the manufacturing process has been witnessing such a fast process of automation that machines will more and more replace human workers.

So fast that it is estimated that by the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots.

Moreover, the robotising trend is now being perfected in a way that machines are gradually able to solve problems posed by other machines.

Oxford University predicts that machines and robots will perform nearly half of US jobs within the next 20 years.

And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says in its report “Future of Work in figures” that some studies argue that 47 per cent of US employment is subject to substitution (39 per cent in Germany, 35 per cent in the UK). "By the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots"

“The assumptions of what tasks are replaceable are key, but the undisputed fact is that the occupational structure will change and the tasks required to carry out jobs will also change,” says the OECD while trying to inject some optimism: “Substitution may mean the destruction of certain jobs, but not the destruction of employment.”

This process of “substitution” could not come at a tougher time, as the so-called job market is already much too precarious.

Just an example: this organisation grouping nearly one fifth of all countries –those considered most developed—in a report titled “Employment and unemployment in figures,” says that there are now over 40 million unemployed in the OECD area — that’s around 8 million more than before the crisis, i.e., one million jobs lost yearly over the last 8 years.

Add to this, the fact that 1 in 3 jobs are considered precarious in the industrialised countries, and that workers now earn between 15 and 20 per cent less than in the year 2009.

These figures, however, are viewed in a positive light by the business sector as they imply a growing reduction of the costs of production.

What to Do With Humans Then?

Politicians, likely propelled by big business pundits, have just started to think now of how to face this challenge.

One of the trendiest formulae is now to give a basic income to citizens.

Such a basic income (also called unconditional basic income, citizen’s income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income or universal demo-grant) implies that all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

According to its defenders, this would be financed by the profits of publicly owned enterprises. But it will be a difficult exercise given that the private sector has been taking over the roles of the state, which has been gradually dismantled.

Many citizens’ first reaction to this formula would be –is– “… sounds great… getting money without even working is a dream!”

The realisation of such a dream poses, however, a number of questions and concerns.

For instance: where will governments find the resources needed for such basic incomes? From which national budget items will these amounts be deducted?

Will governments continue anyway to provide social services, such as public health care, education, unemployment subsidies, pension funds? Are such services sentenced to privatisation?

Will this mean the elimination of the 20 billion dollars that the OECD countries dedicate every year to the employment funds, which are aimed at promoting the creation of job opportunities?

And how can unemployed people contribute with their basic income to replenishing the retirement funds of the elderly, whose lives are already long and expected to get longer and longer?

Let alone infrastructure like public transport, roads and highways, subsidies to alternative sources of energy, and a long et cetera.

In other words, will such basic income without even working lead to the definite dismantlement of the already rapidly shrinking social welfare?

Most likely it will be so. After all, it would be about a step further in the very process of robotising the very lives of human beings.

This way, the citizens will be kept alive, will complain less about the evident failure of governments to create job opportunities, while doing what they are expected to do: that’s to consume what industries produce and, by the way, continue playing their role as voters (not electors, mind the difference).

The Rule of the Multimillionaires

This trend, which seems to be unavoidable, will likely receive a giant push pretty soon—as soon as the new United States administration, lead by Donald Trump, takes office in January 2017.

An administration, by the way, made of multi-millionaires who are highly unlikely to have the sensibility of average citizens and workers.

The effects on Europe will be immediate in view of the irresistible rise of the extreme right in countries like Germany, France and Italy — which will go through elections in 2017 – as well as the Netherlands, Austria, Hungry and even Greece, to mention a few.

Inequality, That Dangerous Gap

Add to all of the above the fact that growing unemployment will deepen the already considerable inequality.

Roberto Savio, Founder of IPS and of Other News, in a recent master lecture at the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, compiled the following shocking data: six years ago, 388 persons possessed the same wealth as 3.2 billion people; in 2014, their number was of just 80, and in 2015 only 62.

These figures, added to the fact that, according to the International Labour Organization, 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 just to keep pace with the growth of the working age population, will leave more millions behind, forcing massive displacements, especially from developing countries, as survival migrants.

“The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

This is how Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, a private company that “makes software for people who make things,” described the current, unstoppable process of automation.

Bass’ comment was quoted by Xavier Mesnard in an article titled “What happens when robots take our jobs?” which was published in the World Economic Forum.

Most probably Darwin would have never expected that the current artificial selection process –propelled by an irrepressible greed and subjected to the financial interests of big private corporations exercising full control without any regulation mechanism, amid short-sighted politics — would replace his great theory of evolution and natural selection.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/feed/ 2
Anti-Fracking Movement Alarmed at Trump’s Focus on Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 01:09:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148396 A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, USA , Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Earl Hatley, a descendant of the Cherokee/Delaware tribe, has witnessed the consequences of using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on his native land to produce shale gas.

“Fracking is harmful to water supplies, wildlife, and property values. It has caused earthquakes where there were none. Since 2007, it began to tremble more and more near the wells. I can smell the foul emissions, which make me sick,” the founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.), a non-governmental organisation based in Oklahoma, told IPS.

Hatley has property in Payne, Oklahoma, in the Midwest, which he says he cannot visit anymore because of the toxic emissions from the wells.“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active.” -- Andrew Grinberg

“The oil and and gas industry flares their escaping gas and also do not monitor leaks, as there are no regulations in Oklahoma demanding they do. We had the opportunity to test a few wells and found all of them were bad,” he said.

In the state of Oklahoma there are about 50,000 active natural gas wells, of which some 4,000 use fracking. At least 200 of them are in Payne.

With similar scenarios in other states, the anti-fracking movement in the US is especially worried about what President-elect Donald Trump will do after he takes office on Jan. 20, since he pledged to give a boost to the fossil fuel industry, despite its impact on global warming.

The United States is the country that produces the largest quantities of shale oil and gas, which has made it the main global producer of fossil fuels, ranking first in gas extraction and third in oil.

Trump “is sending signals of the support the industry will receive, which will exacerbate the already-known impacts of fracking, such as water pollution and methane emissions,” Argentine activist Daniel Taillant, head of the non-governmental Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), told IPS during a workshop on fracking in the Americas, held in Little Rock, the capital of the southern state of Arkansas.

Natural gas trapped in underground shale rock is released by the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure, which fractures the rocks. Fracking requires large amounts of water and chemical additives, some of which are toxic. Drilling and horizontal fracking generate enormous quantities of waste fluid.

The waste liquid contains dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that need to be treated for recycling, and methane emissions, which pollutes more than carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.

Numerous studies have confirmed the damage fracking causes to water, air and the landscape, and how it triggers seismic activity.

For the fracking industry, good times will return when Trump is sworn in. In May he launched a plan for the first 100 days of his administration, which included giving a strong boost to the sector, despite the denounced environmental, social and economic impacts.

The programme includes the removal of all barriers to energy production, including fossil fuels, natural gas, oil and “clean coal”, valued in the document at 50 trillion dollars, in what it calls an “energy revolution” destined to produce “vast new wealth”.

In addition, the president-elect promised to eliminate existing regulatory barriers on fossil fuels and promote the development of “vital energy infrastructure projects,” such as oil and gas pipelines.

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that, of the daily US production of over nine million barrels of gas and oil equivalent, 51 per cent were extracted in 2015 by fracking, in spite of the collapse in international prices this year.

The cost of extracting a barrel of oil by fracking is at least 65 dollars. Apart from Trump’s promises, the gradual rise in prices as a consequence of the reduction in production by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since January, has encouraged the sector to continue to extract.

The growing use of fracking has sparked lawsuits over its effects and scientific research to determine the impacts.

The fourth edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)” lists 685 scientific studies published between 2009-2015 that prove water pollution, polluting emissions released into the atmosphere and their impacts on human health.

The compendium, drafted by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), cites more than 900 studies in the US on the impact of fracking, which demonstrate the concern generated by the use of this technology.

Meanwhile, people affected by fracking have filed more than 100 lawsuits since 2011, according to a count carried out by Blake Watson with the School of Law of the private University of Dayton, Ohio.

In the specific case of Arkansas, a state where fewer people have been affected because the gas fields are located in sparsely populated areas, five cases have been settled out of court, three are still in progress and 10 have been thrown out of court.

Fracking has also sparked local reactions.

The states of Vermont and New York have banned the use of this technology, while in California six counties have followed suit, and in Florida 32 counties and 48 cities.

Meanwhile, the state of Maryland has imposed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium, while Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled in May to lift the bans applied by two cities, and Texas passed a law making local bans on fracking illegal.

“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active,” said Andrew Grinberg, National Campaigns – Special Projects manager for the non-governmental Clean Water Action.

For economic reasons, coal has lost ground to gas. In addition to the expansion of solar and wind energy, the resurrection promised by Trump faces a complex panorama.

“Resistance against fracking is growing, especially in places where it is not yet widely practiced, because there is more knowledge about the harm it causes and that knowledge will increase. But the results of Trump’s support remain to be seen,” said Taillant, whose organisation operates in the state of Florida.

Hatley said that opposition to fracking is slowly growing due to the reported increase in seismic activity, but “people are afraid, because the industry is very powerful.”

In Oklahoma, 1,900 earthquakes have been documented since 2015, blamed on the injection of fluid byproducts from drilling operations into deep underground wells.

Grinberg told IPS there are still pending issues in relation to regulation, such as the need for more public information on the chemicals used, and for a ban on basins for disposal of liquid waste, gas storage and methane emissions, a gas much more polluting than carbon dioxide.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/feed/ 0
2017 — A Thunderous Clash of Politics, Economies and Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/2017-a-thunderous-clash-of-politics-economies-and-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-a-thunderous-clash-of-politics-economies-and-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/2017-a-thunderous-clash-of-politics-economies-and-policies/#comments Mon, 02 Jan 2017 12:24:49 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148380 The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Jan 2 2017 (IPS)

Yet another new year has dawned.   But 2017 will be a year like no other.

There will be a thunderous clash of policies, economies and politics worldwide.   We will therefore be on a roller-coaster ride, and we should prepare for it and not only be spectators on the side-lines in danger of being swept away by the waves.

With his extreme views and bulldozing style, Donald Trump is set to create an upheaval if not revolution in the United States and the world.

He is installing an oil company chief as the Secretary of State, investment bankers in key finance positions, climate sceptics and anti-environmentalists in environmental and energy agencies and an extreme rightwing internet media mogul as his chief strategist

US-China relations, the most important for global stability, could change from big-power co-existence with a careful combination of competition and cooperation, to outright crisis.

Trump, through a phone call with Taiwan’s leader and subsequent remarks, signalled he could withdraw the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy and instead use Taiwan as a bargaining card when negotiating economic policies with China.  The Chinese perceive this as an extreme provocation.

He has appointed as head of the new National Trade Council an economist known for his books demonising China, including “Death by China: Confronting the Dragon”.

Trump seems intent on doing an about-turn on US trade and investment policies, starting with ditching the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Other measures being considered include a 45% duty on Chinese products, extra duties and taxes on American companies located abroad, and even a 10% tariff on all imports.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Thus 2017 will see a rise in protectionism in the US, the extent still unknown.  That is bad news for those developing countries whose economies have grown on the back of exports and international investments.

Europe in 2017 will also be preoccupied with its own regional problems.  The Brexit shock of 2016 will continue to reverberate and several European countries facing elections will see challenges to their traditional values and established order from xenophobic and narrow nationalist parties.

As Western societies become less open to the world and more inward looking, developing countries should revise their development strategies and rely more on domestic and regional demand and investments.

As North-South economic relations decline, this should also be the moment for expanding South-South cooperation, spurred as much by necessity as by principles.

2017 may be the year when resource-rich China, with its huge Road and Belt initiative and its immense financing capacity, fills in the economic void created by western trade and investment protectionism.

But this may not be sufficient to prevent a finance shock in many developing countries now beginning to suffer a reversal of capital flowing back to the US, attracted by the prospect of higher interest rates and economic growth.

Several emerging economies which together received many hundreds of billions of dollars of hot money in recent years are now vulnerable to the latest downturn phase of the boom-bust cycle of capital flows.

Some of these countries opened up their capital markets to foreign funds which now own large portions of government bonds denominated in the domestic currency, as well as shares in the equity market.

As the tide turns, foreign investors are expected to sell off and transfer back a significant part of the bonds and shares they bought, and this new vulnerability is in addition to the traditional external debt contracted by the developing countries in foreign currencies.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.

As the local currency depreciates further, the affected countries’ companies will have to pay more for servicing loans contracted in foreign currencies and imported machinery and parts, while consumers suffer from a rapid rise in the prices of imports.

On the positive side, the currency depreciation will make exporters more competitive and make tourism more attractive, but for many countries this will not be enough to offset the negative effects.

Thus 2017 will not be kind to the economy, business and the pockets of the common man and woman.  It might even spark a new global financial crisis.

The old year ended with mixed blessings for Palestinians. On one hand they won a significant victory when the outgoing President Obama allowed the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories by not exercising a veto.

The resolution will spur international actions against the expansion of settlements which have become a big obstacle to peace talks.

On the other hand the Israeli leadership, which responded defiantly with plans for more settlements, will find in Trump a much more sympathetic President.  He is appointing a pro-Israel hawk who has cheered the expansion of settlements as the new US ambassador to Israel.

With Trump also indicating he will tear up the nuclear power deal with Iran, the Middle East will have an even more tumultuous time in 2017.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.
In the area of health care, the battle for affordable access to medicines will continue, as public frustration grows over the high and often astronomical prices of patented medicines including for the treatment of HIV AIDS, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and cancers.

There will be more powerful calls for governments to curb the excesses of drug companies, as well as more extensive use of the flexibilities in the patent laws to counter the high cost of medicines.

Momentum will also increase to deal with antibiotic resistance which in 2016 was recognised by political leaders meeting at the United Nations to be perhaps the gravest threat to global health.

All countries pledged to come up with national action plans to counter antibiotic and anti-microbial resistance by May 2017 and the challenge will then be to review the adequacy of these plans and to finance and implement them.

The new year will also see its fair share of natural disasters and a continued decline in the state of the environment.  Both will continue to be major issues in 2017, just as the worsening of air pollution and the many earthquakes, big storms and heat-waves marked the previous few years.

Unfortunately low priority is given to the environment.  Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated for highways, railways and urban buildings but only a trickle for conservation and rehabilitation of hills, watersheds, forests, mangroves, coastal areas, biodiversity or for serious climate change actions.

2017 should be the year when priorities change, that when people talk about infrastructure or development, they put actions to protect and promote the environment as the first items for allocation of funds.

This new year will also be make or break for climate change.  The momentum for action painfully built up in recent years will find a roadblock in the US as the new President dismantles Obama-initiated policies and measures.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out.

But Trump and his team will face resistance domestically including from state governments and municipalities which have their own climate plans, and from other countries determined to carry on without the US on board.

Indeed if 2017 will bring big changes initiated by the new US administration, it will also generate many counter actions to fill in the void left in the world by a withdrawing US or to counter its new unsettling actions.

Many people around the world, from politicians and policy makers to citizen groups and community organisers are already bracing themselves to come up with responses and actions.

Indeed 2017 will be characterised by the Trump effect but also the consequent counter-effects.

There are opportunities to think through, alternatives to chart and reforms to carry out that are anyway needed on the global and national economies, on the environment, and on geo-politics.

Most of the main levers of power and decision-making are still in the hands of a few countries and a few people, but there has also been the emergence of many new centres of economic, environmental and intellectual capabilities and community-based organising.

2017 will be a year in which ideas, policies, economies and politics will all clash, thunderously, and we should be prepared to meet the challenges ahead and not only be spectators.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/2017-a-thunderous-clash-of-politics-economies-and-policies/feed/ 0
No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 20:57:42 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148366 Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

By Mario Osava
OURICURI, Brazil, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past.

There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, like in the past when huge numbers of people would swarm into cities and towns and even loot the shops, or head off to distant lands in the more developed centre-south of the country, in search of a better life.

The lack of rains, nevertheless, impacts everything. The caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, which consists of shrubland and thorn forest, looks dead with the exception of a few drought-resistant trees and areas where recent sprinkles have turned some shrubs green again.

The Tamboril reservoir, on the outskirts of Ouricuri, a city of 68,000 people in the state of Pernambuco, has been dry for more than a year now. Fortunately, the city is also supplied by water piped in from the São Francisco river, 180 kilometres away.

“The 1982-1983 drought was worse, not so much due to the lack of water, but because we did not know how to cope with the situation,” Manoel Pereira Barros, a 58-year-old father of seven, told IPS on his farm in Sitio de Santa Fe, about 80 kilometres from Ouricuri.

He got married at the height of the crisis, in 1983. “It was difficult for the entire family…we killed some oxen, we survived on the water from a cacimba (water hole), a few cattle and many goats. The animals saved us, the bean crop dried up,” he said.

That year, the governors of the nine states that make up Brazil’s semiarid region requested more help from the national government, pointing out that one hundred people a day were dying as a result of the drought.

According to the state governments in the region, 100,000 people died in the space of five years, although researchers put the number of deaths at more than 700,000. Most of those who died were children.

And one million deaths is the estimate of Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations created in 1999 to promote the transformations which are improving the life of the population most affected by the drought: poor farmers in the Northeast.

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Distributing water tanks to collect and store rainwater for drinking and cooking was their first goal. Beyond assuring safe drinking water during the eight-month dry season, this initiative was at the centre of a new approach towards the development of the semiarid region, which is home to more than 23 million people in this country of 208 million.

One million water tanks have been built so far, about one-third by ASA, which distributes 16,000-litre family units made of concrete slabs that are installed with the participation of the beneficiaries, who also receive citizenship classes and training in water management.

To coexist with the local climate, overcoming the failed policies of the past based on “combating the drought”, is the movement’s slogan, which thus promotes learning about the ecosystem, capitalising on farmers’ traditional knowledge and fostering an intense exchange of experiences among rural communities.

Other methods for coexisting with the local ecosystem include contextualised education, which prioritises the local reality, agroecological practices, and the principle of storing everything, including the water used for irrigation and livestock, fodder for the dry season, and native seeds adapted to the local soil and climate.

These technologies, provided by the Advice and Help Centre for Workers and Alternative Non-Governmental Institutions (CAATINGA), a member of ASA, did not exist during previous droughts and are making the difference today, Barros said.

To these are added the Bolsa Familia, a monthly grant of 53 dollars on average, new retirement pensions for farmers, and other government social programmes that help farmers survive even when it doesn’t rain.

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Barros decided to leave his land in 1993, at the end of another two-year drought, to look for work in vineyards and on mango plantations in the municipality of Petrolina, 200 km south of Ouricuri, on the shores of the São Francisco river.

“I spent 15 years away from my family, working with poisonous agricultural chemicals, that is why I look older than my age,” he said jokingly. “Here I only eat organic food.”

“I dreamed of having a water tank, which did not exist. Now I have three, and one of them still has water from the January rains. Used only for drinking water, it lasts over a year for five people,” he said. “We are very strict about saving, we used to waste a lot of water.”

Besides the water tanks, the community of 14 families has a pond dug in the rocky ground 70 years ago, to collect water from a stream. It has not dried out yet, but it is very dirty. “It needs to be cleaned,” said Clarinda Alves, Barros’ 64-year-old neighbour.

“Biowater”, a system of filters which makes it possible to reuse household sewage to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees, is another technology which is expanding among the farmers of the semiarid region.

Despite this arsenal of water resources, plus the water increasingly distributed by the army in tanker trucks throughout the Northeast, Barros decided to stop growing vegetables and other crops, unlike many other farmers, who have managed to keep producing. He opted instead to prioritise the water for human and animal consumption.

ASA believes there is still much to do with respect to the question of water supply. To reach the goal of universalising “two water tanks”, there is still a need for 350,000 tanks for drinking water and 800,000 devoted to production.

 The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level - another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS


The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level – another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

“Five water tanks” are needed, according to André Rocha, climate and water coordinator for the non-governmental Regional Institute for Appropriate Small-Scale Agriculture (IRPAA), a member of ASA, based in Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

Domestic use requires two tanks, one for drinking and cooking, and one for hygiene, so water for production purposes would be the third source, he said. The fourth is for emergencies or reserves, “like a blood bank, and the fifth would be dedicated to the environment, to recuperating freshwater sources, restoring the groundwater table and keeping rivers running year-round,” Rocha told IPS in his office.

But the task of “building coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem,” ASA’s goal, faces a political threat.

It will be difficult to maintain water collection and the strengthening of small-scale agriculture as public policies, after Brazil’s government took a conservative turn in August 2016, when the leftist Workers’ Party, which governed the country since 2003, lost power.

It also requires an ongoing ideological battle and communications effort, because “combating drought”, instead of adapting, is still the mindset of the country’s authorities and economic powers-that-be.

Large water projects, like the diversion of the São Francisco river to provide water to other rivers and basins in the Northeast, as well as the irrigation of the monoculture crops of agribusiness or large-scale agriculture destined mainly for export, are still being carried out to the detriment of family agriculture.

Hefty investments and official loans are devoted to agribusiness, despite previous failures and corruption, while funding is dwindling for ASA’s activities, which have proven successful in overcoming the effects of drought.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/feed/ 0
Battle Lines Drawn Over Indian Mega Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 10:27:09 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148355 Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

Murrawah Johnson, 21, of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, is among those standing in the way of the huge Carmichael coal mine project in Australia's Queensland state. Photo courtesy of Murrawah Johnson.

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

Among those leading the fight against the massive Indian-owned Carmichael coal project in Australia’s Queensland state is 21-year-old Murrawah Johnson of the Wangan and Jagalingou aboriginal people, the traditional owners of the land where the proposed mine is to be located.

“Our people are the unique people from that country,” says Murrawah, whose name means ‘rainbow’ in the indigenous Gubbi Gubbi language. “That is who we are in our identity, in our culture, in our song and in our dance,” she adds.The mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions.

The Wangan and Jagalingou, numbering up to 500 people, regard the Carmichael coal mine as a threat to their very existence and have repeatedly rejected the advances of Adani Mining, the company behind the project. The traditional owners argue the mine would destroy their land, which “means that our story is then destroyed. And we as a people and our identity, as well,” Murrawah, a spokesperson for her people’s Family Council, told IPS.

Adani Mining is a subsidiary of the Adani Group, an Indian multinational with operations in India, Indonesia and Australia cutting across resources, logistics, energy, agribusiness and real estate. In March, the company announced its first foray into the defence industry.

Adani’s Carmichael project envisions a 40km long, 10km wide mine consisting of six open-cut pits and five underground operating for up to sixty years. The company intends to transport the coal to India to aid in that country’s electricity needs. According to the International Energy Agency, 244 million Indians – 19 percent of the population – are without access to electricity.

Should the project go ahead, it would be the largest coal operation here – Australia is already a major coal producing and exporting nation – and among the biggest in the world, producing some 60 million tonnes of thermal coal annually at peak capacity.

But at a time when global warming is a significant threat to humanity, the Carmichael mine is generating substantial opposition. Since the project was announced in 2010, there have been more than ten appeals and judicial processes against the mine.

Shani Tager, a campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, is adamant that the coal that Adani wants to dig up must remain in the ground. “It’s a massive amount of coal that they’re talking about exporting, which will be burnt and used and make the problem of global warming even worse,” she says.

Coal-fired power plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere and which plays an important role in the phenomenon of human-induced climate change.

According to a 2015 report by The Australia Institute, a local think tank, Adani’s project would release more carbon into the atmosphere than many major cities and even countries.

The report states that the mine’s estimated average annual carbon emissions of 79 million tonnes are three times those of New Delhi, six times those of Amsterdam and double Tokyo’s average annual emissions. It would surpass Sri Lanka’s annual emissions and be similar to both Austria’s and Malaysia’s.

Despite these alarming figures, both the Australian and Queensland state governments are backing Adani’s Carmichael mine. There has been widespread speculation here that the federal government will provide support via a AUD one- billion loan (722 million U.S. dollars).

The Queensland government, anticipating a boost to jobs, the regional economy and to its own coffers as a result of royalties, announced in October that it was giving the project “critical infrastructure” status in order to fast-track its approvals.

“This Government is serious about having the Adani mine in operation. We want this to happen,” Anthony Lynham, state minister for mines, told local media at the time.

In early December, Adani received what the state government describes as the project’s “final major” approval: Adani’s rail line to the port of Abbot Point, from where the coal will be shipped to India.

In 2011, Adani signed a 99-year lease on the Abbot Point coal terminal, which sits immediately adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Australia’s iconic reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and among the most diverse and richest natural ecosystems on Earth.

In November, scientists from Queensland’s James Cook University confirmed the worst-ever die-off of corals in the reef, following a mass coral bleaching event earlier in the year. Heat stress due to high sea temperatures is the main cause of coral bleaching, with bleaching events expected to be more frequent and severe as the world’s climate warms up.

Adani plans to significantly expand the Abbot Point terminal in order to ship larger amounts of coal. This means dredging up the sea floor right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Carmichael coal mine will have a domino effect of bad impacts on the reef, from driving the need for port expansion and more dredging and dumping to increasing the risk of shipping accidents on the reef,” says Cherry Muddle from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The reef’s tourism industry provides some 65,000 jobs, with numerous operators also speaking out against both the Carmichael mine and the Abbot Point expansion in recent times.

Despite Minister Lynham’s assurances that “200 stringent conditions placed on this project through its court processes” will protect the reef, others remain extremely concerned.

“Adani has a really worrying track record of environmental destruction, human rights abuses, corruption and tax evasion,” says Adam Black from GetUp, a movement which campaigns on a range of progressive issues.

Among the accusations leveled at Adani operations in India in a 2015 report by Environmental Justice Australia are the destruction of mangroves; failure to prevent salt water intrusion into groundwater; bribery and illegal iron ore exports; using political connections to purchase land cheaply; and obtaining illegal tax deductions.

Adani’s CEO in Australia, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, was in charge of a Zambian copper mine owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) when, in 2010, the mine discharged dangerous contaminants into the Kafue River. Found guilty, the company was fined around AUD 4,000 (2,900 U.S. dollars).

Some 1800 Zambians have since taken KCM and its UK-based parent company, Vedanta Resources, to the High Court in London, alleging they were made sick and their farmland destroyed over a ten-year period from 2004. Janakaraj was with KCM from 2008 to 2013.

Now, with Adani hoping to break ground on its Carmichael coal project in mid-2017, opponents are prepared to continue their hitherto successful campaign of dissuading potential financiers from backing the AUD 16-22 billion project (11.5-15.8 billion U.S.).

“If they can’t get the money, they can’t build the mine,” says Murrawah Johnson.

The Wangan and Jagalingou recently set up what they call a “legal line of defence” against Adani and the Queensland government, consisting of four more legal challenges, with plans to take the matter to the High Court if needs be.

They have also been in contact with the United Nations for some time.

For Murrawah, this battle is about maintaining connection with both the past and the future. “I refuse to be the broken link in that chain,” she says.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/battle-lines-drawn-over-indian-mega-mine/feed/ 0
Bringing South Africa’s Small-Scale Miners Out of the Shadowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bringing-south-africas-small-scale-miners-out-of-the-shadows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-south-africas-small-scale-miners-out-of-the-shadows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bringing-south-africas-small-scale-miners-out-of-the-shadows/#comments Wed, 28 Dec 2016 11:21:31 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148327 The Masakane village in Mpumalanga sits mere meters away from coal heaps feeding Duvha Power Station. The formal coal industry has failed to bring economic opportunities to local communities, so many residents turn to informal coal mining for an income. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

The Masakane village in Mpumalanga sits mere meters away from coal heaps feeding Duvha Power Station. The formal coal industry has failed to bring economic opportunities to local communities, so many residents turn to informal coal mining for an income. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
JOHANNESBURG, Dec 28 2016 (IPS)

In a country with unemployment rising above 25 percent, South Africans are increasingly looking for job creation in small-scale mining, an often-informal industry that provides a living for millions across the continent.

“How do you make formalisation not kill their businesses but rather improve their businesses?" --Sizwe Phakathi
Estimates for the number of small-scale miners in South Africa range from 8,000 to 30,000. Across the African continent, estimates put the number of such miners around 8 million. Roughly another 45 million are thought to depend on their income.

According to the United Nations’ African Mining Vision, almost 20 percent of Africa’s gold production and nearly all the gemstone production besides diamonds are mined by small-scale miners.

Sizwe Phakathi, now the head of safety and sustainable development at the Chamber of Mines, previously researched informal coal and clay mining in Blaauwbosch, KwaZulu-Natal with the Minerals and Energy for Development Alliance and the African Minerals Development Centre.

“We can’t classify it as ‘illegal mining.’ This has been happening for years, and people got to mining this area through customary practices,” he said.

Small-scale gold miners prepare to descend underground for a shift in an abandoned gold mine. South Africa’s mining industry shed 9,000 jobs last quarter alone, so activists search for ways to create new economic opportunities for small-scale mining. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/583/31093312584_6189501f5d_o.jpg

Small-scale gold miners prepare to descend underground for a shift in an abandoned gold mine. South Africa’s mining industry shed 9,000 jobs last quarter alone, so activists search for ways to create new economic opportunities for small-scale mining. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

These miners are often unaware of the law and operate with permission from the local chief or municipality but without a valid mining permit. In the community Phakathi studied, 94 percent of the miners had never held a mining permit and many did not know of the relevant legislation.

“Many of these people that work there, many of them are breadwinners of their households, and they are heads of households,” Phakati said.

Pheaga Gad Kwata, director of the Department of Mineral Resources’ (DMR) small-scale mining division, believes that bringing these miners into compliance would allow them greater access to technical knowledge and markets.

“We’ve realized that it is one of the activities where you can probably get a job quickly,” Kwata said, adding that the DMR is busy with workshops to educate miners on the benefits of working within the law.

An artisanal miner in Johannesburg displays ore. Activists argue that formalizing small-scale mining could create jobs and allow for the implementation of health and safety regulations. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

An artisanal miner in Johannesburg displays ore. Activists argue that formalizing small-scale mining could create jobs and allow for the implementation of health and safety regulations. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

This type of cooperation could assist Jiyana Tshenge, who works with the Prieska Protocol, a program aimed at linking the small-scale miners of a semiprecious gemstone called tiger’s eye to a lapidary and onward to international markets. This streamlined approach is expected to significantly increase the wages of the miners by cutting out the middlemen operating in the informal economy.

A lack of this market access, though, has tabled the project for the moment.

“If we can establish that market and establish a proper plan, we will then go back and engage with the people of the community properly,” Tshenge said. “I think we can create a lot of jobs.”

According to Phakati, an immediate benefit of regulation would be the implementation of health and safety standards, something he found severely lacking in his research. In his case study, the vast majority of workers never used personal protective equipment such as hardhats, goggles or gloves. The local Mzamo High School also had to be relocated when mining encroached on the school and released harmful gases.

The Matariana informal settlement houses illegal gold miners on the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, about 50 miles west of Johannesburg. South Africa is home to more than 6,000 abandoned mines, many of which attract small-scale miners. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

The Matariana informal settlement houses illegal gold miners on the Blyvooruitzicht Gold Mine, about 50 miles west of Johannesburg. South Africa is home to more than 6,000 abandoned mines, many of which attract small-scale miners. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

However, formalisation is slowed by the very poverty it is meant to alleviate. Small-scale miners have trouble paying for transport to the DMR’ offices, which are often far from their communities. The costs associated with procuring a permit – such as setting aside a financial provision for environmental rehabilitation and producing environmental impact assessments – also continue to present a barrier to entry.

“How do you make formalisation not kill their businesses but rather improve their businesses? Formalisation should be tailored to their needs,” Phakati said.

Pontsho Ledwaba of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry argues that legislative changes are necessary to smooth the formalisation process. Mining permits currently must be renewed every few years, which could make it difficult to guarantee a return for anyone lending money to these miners. The amount of land allocated in mining permits also weakens these operations’ financial sustainability.

“Five hectares is actually too small for some of the minerals. For granite, sandstone, it’s too small. In terms of investment, [small-scale miners] don’t get investment because two years, five years is a small time to break even and pay back,” Ledwaba said.

According to Ledwaba, the government needs to aim regulations toward historic mining sectors that already operate nearly legally.

“The bulk of them actually mine what we called industrial and construction minerals. These are your sands, your clay, your sandstone,” Ledwaba said. “Those are the ones government has tried to move to the legal space.”

Many of these sectors operate outside the law simply because the relevant legislation came into effect after mining began.

Besides the economic barriers to formalisation, experts agree that sweeping changes to small-scale mining cannot succeed without the participation of female miners.

Between 40-50 percent of Africa’s small-scale mining workforce is female, according to research from the international relations consulting firm German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation.

“Clearly one of the beneficiaries of formalising this is you should create employment for women,” Phakati said. “The formalisation and development of this sector need to target women.”

In rural South African provinces such as Limpopo, women have mined clay for generations. In other areas such as the North West, there are examples of mining permits held by women. Although mining is seen as a male-dominated industry, experts say small-scale mining can be a breeding ground for female entrepreneurship.

“I’ve come across a number of operations actually owned by women,” Ledwaba said. “[Formalisation] will definitely have a gendered impact.”

Mark Olalde’s work is financially supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/bringing-south-africas-small-scale-miners-out-of-the-shadows/feed/ 0
Agroecology Booming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroecology-booming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 22:04:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148299 Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 23 2016 (IPS)

Organic agriculture is rapidly expanding in Argentina, the leading agroecological producer in Latin America and second in the world after Australia, as part of a backlash against a model that has disappointed producers and is starting to worry consumers.

According to the intergovernmental Inter American Commission on Organic Agriculture (ICOA), in the Americas there are 9.9 million hectares of certified organic crops, which is 22 per cent of the total global land devoted to these crops. Of this total, 6.8 million of hectares are in Latin America and the Caribbean, and three million in Argentina alone.

The Argentine National Agrifood Health and Quality Service (SENASA) reported that between 2014 and 2015, the land area under organic production grew 10 per cent, including herbs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and oilseeds.

Legumes and vegetables experienced the largest increase (200 percent). In Argentina there are 1,074 organic producers, mainly small and medium-size farms and cooperatives.“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model.” -- Eduardo Cerdá


“The organic market is starting to boom. We have been producing since 20 years ago, when this market did not exist in Argentina and we exported everything. Now we sell abroad, but about 50 percent remains here,” said Jorge Pierrestegui, manager of San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, an agroecology company that produces olives and olive oil on some 1,000 hectares in the Argentine province of Córdoba.

“Opting for organic was a company policy, mainly due to a long-term ecological vision of not spraying the fields with poisonous chemicals,” Pierrestegui said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Cerdá, an agroecology adviser, differentiates between this practice and organic. Agroecology doesn’t use agrochemicals either, but it does not seek to certify production which is “concentrated in four or five companies” and which “has a cost for the producer,” he told IPS.

“We basically work to generate experiences, to accompany producers, to train students, as part of a vision of agriculture based on ecological principles,” he said.

Cerdá, who is vice president of the Graduate Centre of the Agronomy School at the National University of La Plata (UNLP), said there is growing interest in agroecology.

In 10 years the area receiving specialised advice grew from 600 to 12,500 hectares. He and his few colleagues are not able to meet the demand.

The expert attributes it to the disappointment in the “current model” based on agrochemicals, which he considers to be “exhausted.” For him, agroecology “is not an alternative but the agriculture of the near future.”

“Producers are seeing that the promise of 20 years ago of what this technology would solve has not been fulfilled. Neither in terms of high yields nor in costs. They see that the costs are very high due to the amount of inputs that they use,” he said.

While in the 1990s, a hectare of wheat cost 100 dollars, by 2015 it had climbed to 400 dollars. However, the yields did not quadruple. Back then, a hectare produced 3,000 kilos, and now “at the most, we may be at 6,000 or 7,000,” he said.

For Cerdá, “it is an extremely expensive technology for a very inefficient result. We have measured agroecological crops which use a mixed scheme of agriculture and livestock against conventional fields where the crops are produced by companies. We can even say that they are more efficient.”
The ICOA attributes the growth of organic agriculture in Argentina to the increase in international demand, mainly in Europe and the United States. But he points out that organic crops still represent only 0.5 of the total planted area.

In this country of 43 million people, agriculture is one of the mainstays of the economy, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 per cent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

“The main crops grown in Argentina are transgenic soybean, corn and cotton. Organic producers are still very few and far between and they mostly grow fresh produce. We can count on our fingers the farmers who produce ecological grains, because there is no government policy that promotes this production,” said Graciela Draguicevich, head of the Mutual Sentimiento Association.

This association runs El Galpón, in the Chacarita neighborhood in Buenos Aires, which for 14 years has been a market supplying organic products based on the social economy.

“We discovered that the main problem was the middlemen so we directly contacted farmers. But we looked for producers of products free of agrotoxics, because we thought that it was not a good thing to keep consuming toxic chemicals and getting sick from our food,” she told IPS.

Members of the association have a different concept of what is organic. “It’s when they have no social or economic poisons either. When there is no exploitation, or gender-based wage differences, or child labour. Everything has to conserve a balance,” she said.

Draguicevich is pleased that there are more and more markets like El Galpón, although not yet “one in every neighborhood,” as she considers necessary.

Alicia Della Ceca sells fruits and vegetables in this solidarity-based market, which she grows along her two children on 3.5 hectares of land about 20 kilometres from the capital.

They stopped using chemicals 10 years ago, when the government offered them technical assistance. “Since my children are young and have an open mind, they were interested,” she told IPS.

“It is beneficial for health, for the product, and for the earth. My husband 40 years ago used pesticides because it was the normal practice, it was thought that nothing would grow otherwise. But my children have demonstrated that it is possible to work this way. The land gives, there is no need to punish it with chemicals,” she said.

“People who work with chemicals want things fast, in abundance, big and shiny. This is driven by the supermarkets. With neighborhood stores it was not like that. But the supermarkets imposed plastic bags and many other things that go against nature,” she said.

Now a “new awareness” is growing among consumers, according to Pierrestegui from San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, in the face of the “abuse of agrochemicals.”

A study on pesticides published in 2015 by the UNLP found that in the 60 samples tested, eight of 10 fruits and vegetables contained agrochemicals.

“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model,” said Cerdá.

“Over the past 20 years, production of soy has grown to 20 million hectares (in Argentina). We are talking about more than 200 million litres of herbicides every year, plus other products that are applied, which is causing a very dangerous environmental explosion. A great loss of fertility lies ahead,” he said.

Pierrestegui considers that this country has special potential for organic production.

“Argentina is not a great world producer of olive oil, but it is one of the few that are able to produce it organically,” he said. “Spain, for example, one of the main global producers, works on very arid lands, where they need to use many agrochemicals and artificial fertilisers. Argentina has the advantage of good soil,” he said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report “World Markets for Organic Fruit and Vegetables” says “conversion from conventional to organic production is generally easy in Argentina, thanks to its physical conditions.”

“The endowment of ample and natural fertile soil, the wide abundance of virgin land, and the low use of chemical inputs in conventional farming practices enable farmers to switch to organic production without major adjustments to their farming methods. The diverse climates throughout the country and a low pest pressure allow organic production virtually throughout the whole country.”

Cerdá urged: “All the research that is carried out, everything that the producers spend, even nature is telling them: Folks, weeds work in a different way, it is not enough to increase the dosage, mix more toxic cocktails, because in the long run we all end up poisoned. The logics of nature are different, try to understand them.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/feed/ 0
Stop worrying about ‘Doing Business’ rankinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 12:28:49 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148273 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking?  Credit: IPS

Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 2016 (IPS)

Without any hint of irony, the World Bank’s most recent Doing Business Report 2017 promises ‘Equal Opportunity for All’. Bangladesh ranked 176th among 190 economies, below civil war-ravaged Iraq and Syria! Bangladesh even slipped two places from 174 in the 2016 ranking and is three places below its 2015 ranking.

Malaysia, too, slipped five places. The Doing Business Report (DBR) 2017 ranked Malaysia at 23, down from 18 in the previous two reports for 2015 and 2016. Incredibly, this had nothing to do with news of the biggest scandal ever in the country’s history.

Malaysia seems to have slipped because, it had “made starting a business more difficult by requiring that companies with an annual revenue of more than MYR 500,000 register as a GST payer,” and made tax payments more complex “by replacing sales tax with GST”.

Previously, Malaysia was recognized in DBR 2016 for reducing the property tax rate from 12% to 10% of the annual rental value for commercial properties in 2014, even though this contributed negatively to overall government revenue or public finance.

Thus, ‘be damned if you do, and be damned if you don’t’. Countries are asked to raise domestic revenue, but stand to slip in their rankings if they act to raise tax revenues. Taxation may reduce the incentive to invest, but low tax revenue would also hurt the business environment if it reduces government revenue needed to finance public infrastructure, education, healthcare and business services.

Rankings

Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Should those doing better be elated about their elevation in the rankings? The simple answer is ‘no’, but it really depends.

What do the rankings imply? How does the World Bank compare countries with very different economic structures at different stages of development and with varied capabilities address very diverse problems? By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale.

This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel. It concluded that “The Doing Business report has the potential to be misinterpreted…. It should not be viewed as providing a one-size-fits-all template for development…. The evidence in favour of specific country reforms is contingent on many auxiliary factors not captured by Doing Business report topics.”

By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale. This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
The panel also noted that “the act of ranking countries may appear devoid of value judgement, but it is, in reality, an arbitrary method of summarising vast amounts of complex information as a single number.” It recommended dropping the overall aggregate ranking from the report.

The independent panel had been set up by the Bank in response to heavy criticism of the DBR. Yet, the Bank has chosen to ignore most of the independent panel’s recommendations, especially to drop overall country rankings.

In response to criticisms of overall country ranking, the Bank added a ‘distance to frontier’ measure. Thus, instead of the ordinal measures used for ranking, the ostensible (cardinal) ‘distance’ from the best performance measure for each indicator became the new basis for ranking.

Yet, it does not address the main concern – heterogeneous countries cannot be ranked mechanically. Thus, not surprisingly, the best performers are rich, developed countries.

Ignoring criticisms

Besides the external panel, the World Bank also ignored much of its own internal review. For example, its legal unit has been uneasy about the DBR process and findings.

The unit’s September 2012 internal review of the 2013 DBR questioned the ranking’s ‘manipulation’ and noted the ‘embedded policy preferences’ underlying some indicators. It went so far as to accuse the DBR of bias as it ‘tends to ignore the positive effects of regulation’.

For example, the ‘starting a business’ indicator uses the limited liability corporate form as the only ‘proxy’ for business creation. The legal unit considered this approach ‘deceptive’ as there is no evidence that easing “company formation rules leads to increases in business creation”.

The Bank’s legal unit also argued that the DBR methodology is seriously flawed, highlighting ‘black box’ data gaps, ‘cherry picking’ background papers, and ‘double counting’. The legal team even asked, “are high income the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries placed higher in the Doing Business rankings because they have implemented the (types of) reforms advocated by the report?” In its 26 September 2015 issue, The Economist, usually a cheerleader for pro-business reforms, argued that the DBR ranking did not provide a reliable guide to investors.

Countries have perversely amended regulations to try to improve their ranking in order to impress donors or prospective foreign investors, rather than to actually increase investments and growth. Countries are also likely to do more to favour foreign investments, rather than domestic investments, which are generally more likely to contribute to sustainable development.

Biases

The DBR survey is generally biased against regulations and taxes. Following earlier criticisms, ease of hiring and firing workers and flexibility of working hours are no longer used in the overall ranking, but nonetheless remain in the report, highlighting the authors’ appreciation of such regulations. Conversely, the DBR continues to look unfavourably on a country which seeks to enhance workplace regulations by improving wages, working conditions or occupational safety, or by allowing workers in export processing zones to unionize.

Surprisingly, the DBR does not cover security, corruption, market size, financial stability, infrastructure, skills and other important elements often deemed important for attracting business investments. Moreover, many DBR indicators are considered to be quite superficial. For example, the survey’s credit market indicator does not reflect how well credit is allocated. Similarly, the DBR survey focuses on how difficult it is to get electricity connected without taking into account the state of electricity generation or distribution, which often depends on a country’s level of development.

The DBR approach is very ‘legalistic’ as it mainly looks at formal regulations without considering how such regulations affect SMEs or other investors besides the stereotypical foreign investor. It also ignores, norms and other institutions including extra-legal processes. For example, Mary Hallward-Driemeier of the World Bank and Lant Pritchett of Harvard compared the DBR with the Bank’s firm surveys. They found large gaps between the DBR report and reality.

They also found ‘almost zero correlation’ between DB findings and other Bank surveys of business enterprises. For instance, the average amount of time that companies report spending on three tasks — obtaining construction permits, getting operating licenses and importing goods — is ‘much, much less’ than those cited in the DBR. [http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.29.3.121]

Pritchett, who once worked for the Bank, has argued that developing country policy makers focusing on improving their DBR rankings could divert scarce resources away from more important and urgent reforms, e.g., to help the government better administer, implement and enforce business regulations.

“The pretense that Doing Business measures the real rules, and that if we just modestly improve these Doing Business indicators, they would somehow become the reality of what the rules are and how business is really done — I think that’s a very dangerous fiction.” [http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/08/04/is-the-world-banks-doing-business-report-at-odds-with-how-business-is-done-in-the-developing-world/].

In sum, the DBR assumes that there are universally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ policies regardless of context. This approach clearly misses the need for concrete analysis in specific contexts. Not surprisingly, the DBR continues to promote deregulation as the best strategy for promoting economic growth. To be fair, the Bank acknowledges that the DBR should not be seen as advocating a one-size-fits-all model, but the Bank’s own promotion and coverage of the report suggests otherwise.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/feed/ 0