Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 28 Mar 2017 01:11:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 Responding to US Budget Cuts for United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/responding-to-us-budget-cuts-for-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=responding-to-us-budget-cuts-for-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/responding-to-us-budget-cuts-for-united-nations/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:08:50 +0000 Kul Chandra Gautam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149495 Kul Chandra Gautam is a former UN Assistant -Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF]]>

Kul Chandra Gautam is a former UN Assistant -Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

It is in UN’s long-term interest to gradually reduce its dependence on US funding and undue influence, as proposed by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme

Kul Chandra Gautam

Kul Chandra Gautam

US President Donald Trump’s first budget proposing a 28 percent cut in foreign aid, including drastic reduction in US funding for the United Nations has caused much alarm and anxiety among UN officials. Many enlightened Americans and other citizens of the world who believe in multilateral cooperation to tackle pressing global problems, such as poverty, population growth, climate change, peaceful resolution of conflicts and humanitarian assistance feel dismayed by Trump’s nativistic ‘America First’ chest thumping.

But instead of lamenting and pleading for restitution of proposed cuts, friends of UN should welcome it as a strong incentive for seriously reducing the UN’s over dependence and vulnerability to blackmail by US and occasionally by some other donors.

Part of the response would be for the UN to take a fresh look at a very creative proposal made by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1985 to significantly change the system of financing the UN that would be more sustainable as well as fair and practical.

Revisit the Olof Palme proposal

A great supporter of the UN and a true multilateralist, Olof Palme had the best interest of the UN at heart when he proposed that no member state should be asked or allowed to pay more than 10 to 12 percent of the UN’s core budget. A 10 per cent cap, he reasoned, would limit the UN’s political dependence on its largest contributors.

Any resulting deficit from decreasing the share of the US could easily be counter-balanced by relatively modest increases among other rich member countries. Today, many middle-income countries and even some lower middle-income countries can afford to pay more towards the UN budget than they do at present.

It is interesting to note that when the Palme proposal was floated in 1985, the US opposed it, fearing that it would lose its leverage over the UN. And other states, particularly the Europeans, balked at the proposal although the increased amounts they would have to pay would have been quite modest. One wonders how the US and other countries would react today, but I believe it is the right time now to explore such alternative.

Ideally, we should also look at some more innovative financing proposals such as the Tobin tax on currency or financial transactions, a carbon tax, taxes on the arms trade, and raising resources from the deep seas and other global commons, which are considered the common heritage of humankind.

But we know that the US and many other states are likely to oppose such schemes as most states want to safeguard their monopoly over taxing powers and will not be keen to give such authority to the UN or anyone else. This must, therefore, remain part of a longer-term agenda.

Today the financing for development landscape is changing rapidly. Many UN activities benefit from private financing and those by philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and increasingly cloud-sourcing and crowd-funding as well as different forms of public-private partnerships. Harnessing such possibilities must also be part of the new UN agenda as recognized in the context of sustainable development goals.

Current funding formula

For the past seven decades, funding for the UN’s core budget and peace-keeping operations has been based on an internationally negotiated and agreed system of assessment of each member state’s “capacity to pay”.

Based on this, the US share currently comes to 22 percent of UN’s regular budget and 28% of its peace keeping budget, or approximately $600 million plus $1.1billion respectively per year, for a total of $1.7 billion in absolute amount (not including voluntary contributions and membership fees for specialized agencies).

According to this formula Japan pays 9.7 %, China 7.9%, Germany 6.4%, France 4.9 %, UK 4.5% and Russia 3.1%. Permanent members of the UN Security Council pay a slightly higher percentage for the separate peace-keeping budget.

The poorest countries of the world pay 0.001%, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have a cap of 0.01% each. Thus, very small and poor countries like Gambia, Somalia and Vanuatu pay about $27,000; Nepal $162,000; Bangladesh $270,000 and India $20 million per year.

It should be noted that historically the US paid a much larger share of the UN’s regular budget than it does today. At the time of the founding of the UN when there were only 50 member states, and most European countries were bankrupt after the Second World War, the US paid 49 percent of the UN budget.

As Europe recovered, its share was increased and the US share was decreased to 33 per cent in 1952; 30 per cent in 1957; 25 % in 1972 and the current 22%. Combining peace-keeping operations and other voluntary contributions, the US pays an average of 25 % of the UN’s bills.

As the assessed contributions are mutually agreed and equitable treaty obligations, normally they can only be changed through multilateral negotiations. Sudden, arbitrary and unilateral cuts, like those proposed by President Trump are, therefore, tantamount to violation of the spirit of international treaty obligations.

Regrettably, money and military power often talk louder than democratic norms or treaty obligations in the realpolitik of international relations. Continuation of the undemocratic veto power by the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, a legacy of a different era, is the most glaring example of this reality.

Besides the assessed contribution for the UN’s regular budget and peace-keeping operations, the Trump budget proposals pose an even bigger threat to the “voluntary” contributions that the US makes to such UN funds and programs as the UN Population Fund, UNDP, and perhaps even UNICEF.

The threat goes beyond funding to the US backing out of some widely agreed global treaties such as the recent Paris agreement on climate change, the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Threats beyond Trump

Though Trump’s threats and actions are intemperate and extreme, they are not unprecedented. From time to time, members of the US Congress have made threats to cut funding for various UN agencies and programs as their hobby-horse. One of the worst periods in recent memory was during 1995-2001 when Senator Jesse Helms was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Indeed, the threat of US funding cuts has been a Damocles’ sword hanging over the UN from the early days of its founding. Occasionally such threat has led to some useful reforms in the UN, including a more stringent review of its budget and operations. But more often it has led to distorting the globally agreed program priorities, and giving undue and unfair advantage to the US in appointment of high-level officials in the UN Secretariat, Specialized agencies and Funds and Programs.

To be fair, it is not only the US but several other major donors too often exert the power of their purse to influence the staffing, election outcomes and policy priorities of the UN. Sometimes even lesser powers like oil-rich Qatar and Saudi Arabia exercise what is known as “cheque-book diplomacy” to buy undue influence in UN reports and decision-making.

Like our national governments and other public as well as private institutions, the UN is not perfect. Those of us who have worked in the UN system would acknowledge that there certainly are many inefficiencies and waste in the UN system that need to be fixed. But big powers unilaterally flaunting their power of the purse to dictate their brand of reform will make the UN weaker, not stronger.

UN budget in perspective

The totality of the UN system’s budget and expenditure for humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, peace-keeping operations, technical assistance and other essential normative functions, amount to about $48 billion per year. In the larger scheme of international finance, in a world economy of $77 trillion and global military budgets of $1.7 trillion per year, this is a modest amount to respond to the huge challenges that the UN is asked and expected to help tackle. The total UN system-wide spending annually is less than the defense budget of India or France, and less than one month’s US spending on defense.

With similar investment, bilateral aid and national budgets of much bigger proportions could hardly achieve results comparable to what the UN and international financial institutions achieve.

Wiser and more enlightened American leaders recognize this. In today’s world, America cannot be a walled, fortified and prosperous island. In a world where epidemic diseases respect no boundaries, and do not need a passport or visa to travel, nor does the impact of global warming and climate change, America’s security is inter-dependent on global human security. America’s own military leaders argue that ruthlessly cutting foreign aid and throwing more money for the military cannot enhance America’s security.

But lacking humility and sagacity, Trump and his associates seem to prefer pumping more money into the military machine. Trillions of dollars that US invested in military ventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have brought little tangible benefits to the US or to world peace and security.

There is no evidence to believe that a whopping increase in the already bloated military budget, homeland security and building border walls will make America safer from terrorism or other threats to its security. Mr. Trump should listen to the wise words of fellow billionaire Bill Gates who says: “The world will not be a safer place if the US stops helping other countries meet their people’s needs”.

The UN certainly has its work cut out to reform itself constructively, and to come up with more durable and reliable funding alternatives to protect itself from the whims of future Trumps elsewhere. The visionary Olof Palme proposal can be one part of the solution along with other innovative measures that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his team must be contemplating.

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Trump Marks the End of a Cyclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:14:27 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149052 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.]]>

Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Let us stop debating what newly-elected US President Trump is doing or might do and look at him in terms of historical importance. Put simply, Trump marks the end of an American cycle!

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Like it or not, for the last two centuries the entire planet has been living in an Anglophone-dominated world. First there was Pax Britannica (from the beginning of the 19th century when Britain started building its colonial empire until the end of the Second World War, followed by the United States and Pax Americana with the building of the so-called West).

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the main winner and founder of what became the major international institutions – from the United Nations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with Europe reduced to the role of follower. In fact, under the Marshall Plan, the United States became the force behind the post-war reconstruction of Europe.

As winner, the main interest of the United States was to establish a ‘world order’ based on its values and acting as guarantor of the ‘order’.

Thus the United Nations was created with a Security Council in which it could veto any resolution, and the World Bank was created with the US dollar as the world’s currency, not with a real world currency as British economist and delegate John Maynard Keynes had proposed. The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – as a response to any threat from the Soviet Union – was an entirely American idea.

The lexicon of international relations was largely based on Anglo-Saxon words, and often difficult to translate into other languages – terms such as accountability, gender mainstreaming, sustainable development, and so on. French and German disappeared as international languages, and lifestyle became the ubiquitous American export – from music to food, films and clothes. All this helped to reinforce American myths.

The United States thrust itself forward as the “model for democracy” throughout the world, based on the implied assertion that what was good for the United States was certainly good for all other countries. The United States saw itself as having an exceptional destiny based on its history, its success and its special relationship with God. Only US presidents could speak on behalf of the interests of humankind and invoke God.

The economic success of the United States was merely confirmation of its exceptional destiny – but the much touted American dream that anyone could become rich was unknown elsewhere.

The first phase of US policy after the Second World War was based on multilateralism, international cooperation and respect for international law and free trade – a system which assured the centrality and supremacy of the United States, reinforced by its military might,

The United Nations, which grew from its original 51 countries in 1945 to nearly 150 in just a few decades, was the forum for establishing international cooperation based on the values of universal democracy, social justice and equal participation.

In 1974, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States – the first (and only) plan for global governance – which called for a plan of action to reduce world inequalities and redistribute wealth and economic production. But this quickly became to be seen by the United States as a straitjacket.

The arrival of Ronald Reagan at the White House in in1981 marked an abrupt change in this phase of American policy based on multilateralism and shared international cooperation. A few months before taking office, Reagan had attended the North-South Economic Summit in Cancun, Mexico, where the 22 most important heads of state (with China as the only socialist country) had met to discuss implementation of the General Assembly resolution.

Reagan, who met up with enthusiastic British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stopped the plan for global governance dead in its tracks. I was there and saw how, to my dismay, the world went from multilateralism to the old policy of power in just two days. The United State simply refused to see its destiny being decided by others – and that was the start of the decline of the United Nations, with the United States refusing to sign any international treaty or obligation.

America’s dream and its exceptional destiny were strengthened by the rhetoric of Reagan who even went as far as slogan sing “God is American”.

It is important to note that, following Reagan’s example, all the other major powers were happy to be freed of multilateralism. The Reagan administration, allied with that of Thatcher, provided an unprecedented example of how to destroy the values and practices of international relations and the fact that Reagan has probably been the most popular president in his country’s history shows the scarce significance that the average American citizen gives to international cooperation.

Under Reagan, three major simultaneous events shaped our world. The first was deregulation of the financial system in 1982, later reinforced by US President Bill Clinton in 1999, which has led to the supremacy of finance, the results of which are glaringly evident today.

The second was the creation in 1989 of an economic vision based on the supremacy of the market as the force underpinning societies and international relations – the so-called Washington Consensus – thus opening the door for neoliberalism as the undisputed economic doctrine.

Third, also in 1989, came the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “threat” posed by the Soviet bloc.

It was at this point that the term “globalisation” became the buzzword, and that the United States was once again going to be the centre of its governance. With its economic superiority, together with the international financial institution which it basically controlled, plus the fact that the Soviet “threat” had now disappeared, the United States was once again placing itself at the centre of the world.

As Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, once said, “Globalisation is another term for U.S. domination.”

This phase ran from 1982 until the financial crisis of 2008, when the collapse of American banks, followed by contagion in Europe, forced the system to question the Washington Consensus as an undisputable theory.

Doubts were also being voiced loudly through the growing mobilisation of civil society /the World Social Forum, for example, had been created in 1981) and by the offensive of many economists who had previously remained in silence.

The latter began insisting that macroeconomics – the preferred instrument of globalisation – looked only at the big figures. If microeconomics was used instead, they argued, it would become clear that there was very unequal distribution of growth (not to be confused with development) and that delocalisation and other measures which ignored the social impact of globalisation, were having disastrous consequences.

The disasters created by three centuries of geed as the main value of the “new economy” were becoming evident through figures showing an unprecedented concentration of wealth in a few hands, with many victims – especially among the younger generation.

All this was accompanied by two new threats: the explosion of Islamic terrorism, widely recognised as a result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the phenomenon of mass migration, which largely came after the Iraq war but multiplied after the interventions in Syria and Libya in 2011, and for which the United States and the European Union bear full responsibility.

Overnight, the world passed from greed to fear – the two motors of historical change in the view of many historians.

And this is brings us to Mr. Trump. From the above historical excursion, it is easy to understand how he is simply the product of American reality.

Globalisation, initially an American instrument of supremacy, has meant that everyone can use the market to compete, with China the most obvious example. Under globalisation, many new emerging markets entered the scene, from Latin America to Asia. The United States, along with Europe, have become the victims of the globalisation which both perceived as an elite-led phenomenon.

Let us not forget that, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, ideologies were thrown by the wayside. Politics became mere administrative competition, devoid of vision and values. Corruption increased, citizens stopped participating, political parties became self-referential, politicians turned into a professional caste, and elite global finance became isolated in fiscal paradises.

Young people looked forward to a future of unemployment or, at best temporary jobs, at the same time as they watched over four trillion dollars being spent in a few years to save the banking system.

The clarion call from those in power was, by and large, let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday – against any law of history. Then came Brexit and Trump.

We are now witnessing the conclusion of Pax Americana and the return to a nationalist and isolationist America. It will take some time for Trump voters to realise that what he is doing does not match his promises, that the measures he is putting in place favour the financial and economic elites and not their interests.

We are now facing a series of real questions.

Will the ideologue who helped Trump be elected – Stephen Bannon, chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign – have the time to destroy the world both have inherited Will the world will be able to establish a world order without the United States at its centre? How many of the values that built modern democracy will be able to survive and become the bases for global governance?

A new international order cannot be built without common values, just on nationalism and xenophobia.

Bannon is organising a new international alliance of populists, xenophobes and nationalists – made up of thee likes of Nicholas Farage (United Kingdom), Matteo Salvini and Beppe Grillo (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France) and Geert Wilders (Netherlands) – with Washington as their point of reference.

After the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year, will know how this alliance will fare, but one thing is clear – if, beyond its national agenda, the Trump administration succeeds in creating a new international order based on illiberal democracy, we should start to worry because war will not be far away.

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Beware of the New US Protectionist Plan, the Border Adjustment Tax – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 12:37:51 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148990 If the tax plan is implemented it will have serious adverse effects on many contries, like China or Mexico, which sell hundreds of billions of dollars of manufactured products to the US. Credit: Bigstock

If the tax plan is implemented it will have serious adverse effects on many contries, like China or Mexico, which sell hundreds of billions of dollars of manufactured products to the US. Credit: Bigstock

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

A new and deadly form of protectionism is being considered by Congress leaders and the President of the United States that could have devastating effect on the exports and investments of American trading partners, especially the developing countries.

The plan, known as a border adjustment tax, would have the effect of taxing imports of goods and services that enter the United States, while also providing a subsidy for US exports which would be exempted from the tax.

The aim is to improve the competitiveness of US products, drastically reduce the country’s imports while promoting its exports, and thus reduce the huge US trade deficit.

On the other hand, if adopted, it would significantly reduce the competitiveness or viability of goods and services of countries presently exporting to the US.  The prices of these exports will have to rise due to the tax effect, depressing their demand and in some cases make them unsalable.

And companies from the US or other countries that have invested in developing countries because of cheaper costs and then export their products to the US will be adversely affected because of the new US import tax.

Some firms will relocate to the US.   Potential investors will be discouraged from opening new factories in the developing countries.  In fact this is one of the main aims of the plan – to get companies return to the US.

The plan is a key part of the America First strategy of US President Donald Trump, with his subsidiary policies of “Buy American” and “Hire Americans.”

The border adjustment tax is part of a tax reform blueprint “A Better Way” whose chief advocates are Republican leaders Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives and Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

President Trump originally called the plan “too complicated” but is now considering it seriously.  In a recent address to congressional Republicans, Trump said:  “We’re working on a tax reform bill that will reduce our trade deficits, increase American exports and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the (border) wall.”

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The proposal has however generated a tremendous controversy in the US, with opposition coming from some Congress members (including Republicans), many economists and American companies whose business is import-intensive.

It however has the strong support of Republican Congress leaders and some version of it could be tabled as a bill.

Trump had earlier threatened to impose high tariffs on imports from countries having a trade surplus with the US, especially China and Mexico.

This might be a more simple measure, but is so blatantly protectionist that it would be sure to trigger swift retaliation, and would also almost certainly be found to violate the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The tax adjustment plan may have a similar effect in discouraging imports and moreover would promote exports, but it is more complex and thus difficult to understand.

The advocates hope that because of the complexity and confusion, the measure may not attract such a strong response from US trading partners.  Moreover they claim it is permitted by the WTO are presumably willing to put it to the test.

In the tax reform plan, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from the present 35% to 20%.   The border adjustment aspect of the plan has two main components. Firstly, the expenses of a company on imported goods and services can no longer be deducted from a company’s taxable income.  Wages and domestically produced inputs purchased by the company can be deducted.

The effect is that a 20% tax would be applied to the companies’ imports.

This would especially hit companies that rely on imports such as automobiles, electronic products, clothing, toys and the retail and oil refining sectors.

The Wall Street Journal gives the example of a firm with a revenue of $10,000 and with $5,000 imports, $2 000 wage costs and $3,000 profit.  Under the present system, where the $5,000 imports plus the $2,000 wages can be deducted, and with a 35% tax rate, the company’s taxable total would be $3,000, tax would be $1,050 and after-tax profit would be $1,950.

Under the new plan, the $5,000 imports cannot be deducted and would form part of the new taxable total of $8,000.  With a 20% tax rate, the tax would be $1,600 and the after-tax profit $1,400.

Given this scenario, if the company wants to retain his profit margin, it would have to raise its price and revenue significantly, but this in turn would reduce the volume of demand for the imported goods.

For firms that are more import-dependent, or with lower profit margin, the situation may be even more dire, as some may not be financially viable anymore.

Take the example of a company with $10,000 revenue, $7,000 imports, $2,000 wages and $1,000 profit.   With the new plan, the taxable total is $8,000 and the tax is $1,600, so after tax it has a loss of $600 instead of a profit of $1,000.

The company, to stay alive, would have to raise its prices very significantly, but that might make its imported product much less competitive.  In the worst case, it would close, and the imports would cease.

The economist Larry Summers, a former Treasury Secretary, gives a similar example of a retailer who imports goods for 60 cents, incurs 30 cents in labour and interest costs and then earns a 5 cent margin.  With 20% tax, and no ability to deduct import or interest costs, the taxes will substantially exceed 100% of profits even if there is some offset from a stronger dollar.

On the other hand, the new plan allows a firm to deduct revenue from its exports from its taxable income.  This would allow the firm to increase its after-tax profit.

The Wall Street Journal article gives the example of a firm which presently has export sales of $10,000, cost of inputs $5,000, wages $2,000 and profit $3,000.  With the 35% corporate tax rate, the tax is $1,050 and after-tax profit is $1,950.

Perhaps the most vulnerable country is Mexico, where many factories were established to take advantage of tariff-free entry to the US market under the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Trump has warned American as well as German and Japanese auto companies that if they make new investments in Mexico, their products would face high taxes or tariffs on entry, and called on them to invest in the US instead.
Under the new plan, the export sales of $10,000 is exempt from tax, so the company has zero tax.  Its profit after tax is thus $3,000.   The company can cut its export prices, demand for its product increases and the company can expand its sales and export revenues.

At the macro level, with imports reduced and exports increased, the US can cut its trade deficit, which is a major aim of the plan.

On the other hand, the US is a major export market for many developing countries, so the tax plan if implemented will have serious adverse effects on them.

The countries range from China and Mexico, which sell hundreds of billions of dollars of manufactured products to the US; to Brazil and Argentina which are major agricultural exporters; to Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam which sell commodities like palm oil and timber and also manufactured goods such as electronic products and components and textiles, Arab countries that export oil, and African countries that export oil, minerals and other commodities, and countries like India which provide services such as call services and accountancy services to US companies.

American industrial companies are also investors in many developing countries. The tax plan if implemented would reduce the incentives for some of these companies to be located abroad as the low-cost advantage of the foreign countries would be offset by the inability of the parent company to claim tax deductions for the goods imported from their subsidiary companies abroad.

Perhaps the most vulnerable country is Mexico, where many factories were established to take advantage of tariff-free entry to the US market under the North American Free Trade Agreement.  President Trump has warned American as well as German and Japanese auto companies that if they make new investments in Mexico, their products would face high taxes or tariffs on entry, and called on them to invest in the US instead.

After the implications of the border adjustment plan are understood, it is bound to generate concern and outrage from the United States’ trading partners, in both South and North, if implemented.  They can be expected to consider immediate retaliatory measures.

A former undersecretary for international business negotiations of Mexico (2000-2006), Luis de la Calle, said  in a media interview:  “If the US wants to move to this new border tax approach, Mexico and Canada would have to do the same….We have to prepare for that scenario.”

In any case, it can be expected that countries will take up complaints against the US at the WTO.   The proponents claim the tax plan will be designed in a way that is compatible with the WTO rules.

But many international trade law experts believe the tax plan’s measures will violate several of the WTO’s principles and agreements, and that the US will lose if other countries take up cases against it in the WTO dispute settlement system.

This prospect may however not decisively deter Trump from championing the Republicans’ tax blueprint and signing it into law, should Congress decide to adopt it.

The President and some of his trade advisors have criticised the WTO’s rules and have mentioned the option of leaving the organisation if it prevents or impedes the new America First strategy from being implemented.  If the US leaves the WTO, it would of course cause a major crisis for international trade and trade relations.

There are many critics of the plan.  Lawrence Summers, a former US Treasury Secretary, warns that the tax change will worsen inequality, place punitive burdens on import-intensive sectors and companies, and harm the global economy.

The tax plan is expected to cause a 15-20% rise in the US dollar.  “This would do huge damage to dollar debtors all over the world and provoke financial crises in some emerging markets,” according to Summers.

While export-oriented US companies are supporters, other US companies including giants Walmart and Apple are strongly against the border tax plan, and an influential Republican, Steven Forbes, owner of Forbes magazine, has called the plan “insane.”

It is not yet clear what Trump’s final position will be. If he finds it too difficult to use the proposed border tax, because of the effect on some American companies and sectors, he might opt for the simpler use of tariffs.

In any case, whether tariffs or border taxes, policy makers and companies and employees especially in developing countries should pay attention to the trade policies being cooked up in Washington, and to voice their opinions.

Otherwise they may wake up to a world where their products are blocked from the US, the world’s largest market, and where the companies that were once so happy to make money in their countries suddenly pack up and return home.

This article is the first in a two-part series on the border adjustment tax, which would have the effect of taxing imports of goods and services that enter the United States, while also providing a subsidy for US exports which would be exempted from the tax. You can find Part 2 here

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US Threatens to Penalize Allies on UN Votinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-threatens-to-penalize-allies-on-un-voting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-threatens-to-penalize-allies-on-un-voting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-threatens-to-penalize-allies-on-un-voting/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 16:27:12 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148850 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2017 (IPS)

The United States and most Western donors have traditionally exercised their financial clout to threaten developing nations who refuse to fall in line on critical UN voting either in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council.

Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The unwritten rule, exercised off and on, warns: if you don’t play ball with us, we will penalize you by reducing or cutting off aid.

When Yemen, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, voted against a US-sponsored resolution to militarily oust Iraq from Kuwait back in 1990, the US blowback will remain forever in the UN’s institutional memory.

No sooner Yemen cast its negative vote, the US ambassador turned to the Yemeni envoy and famously said: “That will be the most expensive ‘no’ vote you will ever cast”.

And Washington, almost overnight, decided to cut off some $70 million in development and military aid to Yemen, then a close American ally.

In her maiden press briefing, the new US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, implicitly threatened member states who defy Washington on US-sponsored resolutions, and probably on anti-Israeli resolutions.

“Our goal with the administration is to show value at the UN, and the way that we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies, and make sure that our allies have our back, as well,” she told reporters.

“For those who don’t have our back”, she warned “we’re taking names – we will make points to respond to that accordingly.”

In a February 5 editorial titled “Mr Trump’s Random Insult Diplomacy,” the New York Times described Haley’s comments as “abrasive.”

In diplomatic jargon, “taking names” is an implicit threat to blacklist countries that defy the US, particularly at voting time.

Having been rebuffed by outgoing President Barack Obama who refused to accede to then President-elect Donald Trump’s appeal to veto a Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements illegal in occupied-territories, Trump challenged the effectiveness of the world body and dismissed it as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Immediately after the resolution 2334 was adopted by a vote of 14–nil on December 23, with the US abstaining, he held out a warning: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20” (when he assumed office at the White House)

Perhaps a widely-anticipated Trump twitter message in his characteristic style would read: “The United Nations? One of the world’s most ineffective talking shops. Sad!”

But that message is yet to come.

Addressing the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearings last month, Haley said: “What happened with Resolution 2334, it basically said that being an ally to the United States doesn’t mean anything, and if we are a strong ally, and we always stand with them, more countries will want to be our allies and those that challenge us will think twice before they challenge us.”

Although political arm twisting is mostly behind closed-doors at the UN —or in state capitals — the rules are likely to change under President Trump.

Dr Stephen Zunes, a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, who has written extensively on the politics of the United Nations, told IPS the United States has often thrown its weight around at the United Nations, particularly since the (Ronald) Reagan administration, bullying and threatening both adversaries and allies which did not adhere to U.S. priorities in the world body.

Only under (President Barack ) Obama did the United States practice a less contentious style to its diplomacy, despite often being an outlier on such key issues as arms control, international humanitarian law, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Zunes, a senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.

“There is little question, though, that both in terms of ideology and style of engagement, the Trump era will likely be the most contemptuous and undiplomatic of any previous administration in its relations with the United Nations, and possibly of any Security Council member in history.”

Zunes said the only positive side of this is that it may result in a kind of backlash in which some U.S. allies that might have previously deferred to the United States will instead defend their positions more vigorously, encouraging greater pluralism at the United Nations.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS there is nothing new about the United States using the power at its disposal to cajole and coerce friend and foe alike to toe Washington’s line at the United Nations.

An early example, he pointed out, concerns the Philippines, whose UN ambassador in November 1948 gave an impassioned speech against UN General Assembly resolution 181 recommending the partition of Palestine, but then voted for it after the US administration of President Harry S. Truman (1945-53) interceded with his superiors.

“Such tactics have been consistently used to promote American interests in the world body, and often Israeli ones as well,” he noted. Nor is American withdrawal from UN agencies unprecedented.

The administration of President Jimmy Carter (1977-81), for example, withdrew from the International Labour Organization (ILO), and President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

More recently, Washington has passed legislation obliging the government to terminate funding to any UN agency that accepts Palestine as a member, which amounts to a de facto withdrawal, said Rabbani.

The US is thus voluntarily withdrawing from UN agencies relevant to American interests, in order to serve Israeli interests and obstruct Palestinian rights, he noted.

“What is different with the Trump administration’s approach is its sheer vulgarity, exemplified by Nikki Haley’s inaugural public statement that she will be “taking names” of those who don’t do as she says and single them out for retribution”.

“But in fairness to her, (President George W.) Bush’s appointee (UN Ambassador) John Bolton generally behaved like a rodent, and the end of his tenure was widely celebrated,” said Rabbani,

There is also the suspicion that the Trump administration may seriously consider withdrawing from the UN altogether.

“This is doubtless on (Trump’s Chief Strategic Adviser) Steve Bannon’s wish list, but unlikely to materialize. Rather, Washington is likely to more severely punish not only member states but also the UN and its agencies when it or Israel don’t get their way. Having announced their intention to implement major funding cuts to the UN from the very outset, their leverage is likely to be diminished,” Rabbani declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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US, EU Food Standards Major Hurdle for Caribbean Exportershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:14:27 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148847 Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 7 2017 (IPS)

As Caricom countries struggle to move away from their traditional reliance on a single industry or major crop in the face of growing economic uncertainty worldwide, they are finding it increasingly difficult to enter markets in the EU and North America with new types of food products.

But tariffs are no longer the main barriers to accessing important markets, according to a document produced by the ACP-EU Overcoming Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) programme.Latin America and the Caribbean provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry.

The ACP-EU is of the view that “Non-tariffs barriers will become the main challenge of the future multilateral trade system.” Specifically, technical barriers related to compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) in export markets and other standards including those relating to labelling and packaging.

The EU considers these technical, non-tariff, barriers to trade so challenging for its African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners that it provided 15 million euros starting in 2013 to help those developing countries upgrade their processes and become compliant, thus giving them a better chance of success on the EU and North America markets.

The Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA) is one Caribbean organisation that was able to access funding to help its members move toward HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) certification, which the ACP-EU TBT programme identified as a crucial requirement. Since the early 2000s, the US and EU have stipulated that foods entering their markets must have HACCP certification.

Ten of CABA’s members were present at a regional conference, held at the Radisson Hotel in Port-of-Spain Jan. 29-30, to report on the benefits they received from the HACCP training. They heard some sobering statistics with regard to the EU and US food industry that provided context for the TBT programme.

Dr. Andre Gordon, chief executive officer of TSL Technical Services Limited, told delegates that each year, the UK records approximately one million cases of food-borne illnesses, of which about 20,000 require hospitalisation, and 500 deaths are recorded. The cost to the UK of dealing with food-borne illnesses is 1.4 billion pounds annually.

In the US, approximately 48 million cases of food-borne illnesses are recorded annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths. The cost to the US of dealing with food-borne illnesses is approximately 77.7 billion dollars annually, the delegates heard.

The 2016 report, “Addressing Food Losses due to Non-Compliance with Quality and Safety Requirements in Export Markets: the case of Fruits and Vegetables from the Latin America and the Caribbean Region,” by two Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) experts, underlined how much is at stake for Caribbean agribusiness exporters.

The report reveals that Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry, including Jamaica, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, the document states.

The report said, “While many LAC countries have a good rate of acceptance in comparison with other countries exporting to the USA and EU, a few countries within LAC perform very poorly, revealing great disparity in preparedness for export trading within the region.” The report noted that “Multiple handling failures along the chain are likely the cause of the most frustrating complaints by international buyers.”

Dr. Gordon, who oversaw the Jamaica ackee industry’s transformation that made it compliant with US Food and Drug Administration regulations in the early 2000s so that it could gain access to the US market, explained to IPS the obstacles facing Caribbean exporters.

“The problem in general with all agribusiness companies in the Caribbean is typically lack of technical capacity and knowledge of the requirements and lack of the resources to implement the systems as required,” he said.

However, Dr. Gordon said, “The cultural change that is required is probably the biggest single limitation to implementing and sustaining certification systems…If the management and ownership [of agribusinesses] do not have a vision of becoming global players then the effort and resources required are going to seem unattainable and not good value for money. A lot of firms have issues with understanding the value for money proposition of embarking on a certification programme.”

The briefing paper “SPS measures lead to high costs and losses for developing countries”, published not long after the EU mandated HACCP certification for all exporters to the EU, noted that “As the income level of developing countries is far smaller, …the opportunity cost of compliance is relatively far higher than that for developed country exporters.

“The rapid change in SPS measures, regulations and notifications of new regulations is another problem facing developing countries in preparing for compliance. It also imposes extra costs on investors and exporters and creates uncertainty for them.”

However, the paper’s author concluded, “while the cost of compliance is high, the cost of lack of compliance is even higher” because of loss of market share or reduced access to markets.

Dr. Gordon revealed that in 2010, the Caribbean had the second highest level of food rejections of any region at US ports of entry.

A March 2016 FAO report highlighted other issues hindering Caribbean agribusinesses in their efforts to export. The report states: “A number of deep-seated challenges inhibit Caribbean agriculture diversification and competitiveness: the small and fragmented nature of most farm units; the absence of strong farmer grass-roots organizations; the cost of agricultural labor; the ageing demographics of Caribbean farmers; an education system that does not prepare youth to seek employment opportunities in the agricultural sector; and extension systems that have historically focused on managing the traditional export crops.”

The problem of small farm units is being addressed head on, said CABA’s president Vassel Stewart, with the formation of CABEXCO, a new umbrella organisation for SMEs in the Caricom agribusiness sector, which will jointly procure raw materials and services as well as market its members’ products and reach out to new buyers.

The resulting economies of scale will also hopefully make it easier to bear the cost of becoming compliant with US and EU food export regulations.

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US Trade Hawks and the China Bogeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-trade-hawks-and-the-china-bogey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-trade-hawks-and-the-china-bogey http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-trade-hawks-and-the-china-bogey/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 06:49:54 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148793 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> "Trump's Defensive tariffs propose to effectively deal with China's ‘trade cheats’ "

"Trump's Defensive tariffs propose to effectively deal with China's ‘trade cheats’ "

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

New US President Donald Trump has long insisted that its major trading partners having been taking advantage of it. Changing these trade terms and conditions will thus be top priority for his administration, and central to overall Trump economic strategy to ‘Make America Great Again’.

Quit WTO solution
Candidate Trump’s trade policy paper was written by Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross. Ross will now be Commerce Secretary while Navarro will head the National Trade Council. They view economic policy as integrated, including tax cuts, reduced regulations as well as policies to lower energy costs and cut the chronic US trade deficit. In just 21 pages, they suggest how US growth will increase during a Trump administration, with millions of new jobs and trillions in additional income and tax revenues.

One view is that President Trump can implement most of the policies advocated without obstruction by either the US Congress or court system. Internationally, no country will take on the US for a “very simple reason: America’s major trading partners are far more dependent on American markets than America is on their markets”.

Navarro and Ross argue that the US has already lost out, mainly due to badly negotiated trade deals and poor enforcement resulting in trade deficits. They claim that because the US does not use a value-added tax (VAT) system, everyone else has an unfair trade advantage, that, they believe, the World Trade Organization (WTO) should have rectified. As the world’s largest economy, consumer and importer, the US has the leverage to correct this by pulling out of the WTO. As the WTO would become irrelevant without the US, the damage would be minor.

According to the plan, reducing the US trade deficit will put more money in the hands of American workers who will then be able to afford higher prices for US made products. As American products become more competitive over time, prices will fall, raising consumer welfare.

China myths

Defensive tariffs are proposed to deal effectively with ‘trade cheats’. With China identified as the “biggest trade cheater” in the world, it gets special attention. In the US public mind, China remains ‘the world’s workshop’, where hundreds of millions of lowly paid workers mass produce consumer goods while its artificially low exchange rate and production subsidies ensure their goods remain competitive internationally. While perhaps true over a decade ago, the situation has changed radically since.

At the height of global trade imbalances over a decade ago, China’s trade surplus was more than ten percent of GDP. However, with the sudden slowing of world trade growth during the 2008-2009 Great Recession, growth of the US trade deficit with China slowed significantly. While the US still has a large trade deficit with China, China is also among its largest export markets.

In 2014, services overtook manufacturing as the biggest component of China’s economy. Net exports were equivalent to 1.7% of growth, tiny compared to domestic consumption and investment. China will want to continue exporting to the US, but the structural transformation of its economy and greater demand for various services now generates more new jobs, not only in China, but also elsewhere, including the US.

Undervalued renminbi?
On the campaign trail, Trump threatened to declare China a currency manipulator and to impose tariffs of up to 45 percent on Chinese imports during his first 100 days in office. Under US law, Trump can easily cite currency manipulation to impose defensive and countervailing tariffs against others as well. Navarro and Ross not only point at China, but also Japan and the euro, with the Germans getting special mention.

Washington has long claimed that China artificially depresses the value of its currency to benefit exporters. While a plausible case could have been made to this effect a dozen years ago, the renminbi has greatly appreciated since then, following tremendous US pressure, much amplified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Most serious economists today doubt the renminbi remains undervalued. While stable for about a decade before 2005, and arguably undervalued for some of that period, the renminbi has risen by 30-40 percent since, prompting the IMF to repeatedly declare that it is no longer undervalued.

Indeed, weakening export demand and strong capital outflows have put tremendous downward pressure on the Chinese currency, forcing its central bank to use its US dollar reserves to artificially support its currency. Thus, recent Chinese currency manipulation has kept the renminbi over-valued rather than undervalued.

All this suggests that the Trump team is proposing remedies that, at best, rely on a long outdated diagnosis. The current situation is very different. Failure to make progress with wrongly prescribed measures may lead to even more aggressive efforts, which risk leading to economic war in which most, even spectators, will become victims.

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The Trump Presidency: The First Weekhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-trump-presidency-the-first-week http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 10:58:34 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148757 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Attacking the Affordable Care Act; the “global gag rule” against abortion; the federal regulation and hiring freeze; canceling the TPP; restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline; limiting entry with the Mexican Wall; the 90-day travel ban on seven countries; more undocumented people prioritized for deportation; no federal funding for cities refusing to cooperate; communications blackout from federal agencies; Guantánamo torture continued–What does it add up to?

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

A very strong white state centered on a president with absolute power and control over life (birth) and death (care) of the citizens. Not regulating police racism. So far, no order on the military.

Fascism? Too early to say; but in that direction. It opens for questions about the inner workings of Donald J. Trump. Who is he?

A Johns Hopkins psychologist sees Trump suffering from “malignant narcissism“. A Norwegian historian, Öystein Morten, in a detailed analysis of Norwegian king crusader Sigurd Jorsalafare (1103-1130)–clearly crazy–has a Norwegian psychiatrist diagnose him as suffering from “bipolar depression”, manic-depressive. Is Trump only manic?

This column early on saw Trump as suffering from “autism”, living in his own bubble, speaking his babble with no sense of reciprocity, the reaction of the other side. The column stands by that.

However, this column drew a line between his words and deeds; denouncing his rhetoric as grossly insulting and prejudicial, but pinning some hope on his deeds. Wrong, and sorry about that. After one week, Trump clearly means every word he says, and enacts them from Day 1; even what he once retracted in a New York Times interview.

Combine the two points just made: autism and immediate enactment. He acts, and from his bubble does not sense how others will react, and increasingly proact. He assumes that others will accept his orders, obey, and that is it. It is not. His orders my even backfire.

As many point out, terrorism in the USA after 9/11 is almost nil. But his actions may change that. Some Mexicans may hit back, not only against the wall but the border itself, drawn by USA grabbing 53% of Mexican territory in 1846-48, then soaking Mexico in debt and violence importing drugs and exporting arms, even unaware of the harm they do.

Take the seven countries targeted by Trump for collective punishment: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen; the old seven with state central banks targeted by Bush, with Yemen substituted for Lebanon. All mainly Muslim.

Imagine them reacting by cooperating, learning from China to raise the bottom up, starting building a West Asian community with links across the Red Sea, and “Saudi” Arabia soon joining?

If their governments do not do that, imagine the Islamic State doing exactly that? What a gift to the Islamic State/Caliphate!

As a minimum, the 7 might reciprocate and block US citizens’ entry for the same period. How would that affect US military operations? Would it force Trump to use force? In fact, are his demands on other countries so extreme, not only in words but in deeds, that there are no more words and deeds left short of force? Does his extremism limit his range of options, making war as probable as under Hillary Clinton?

And yet what he has done so far, firing and backfiring, is little relative to what other US presidents have done of harm.

Take FDR spending much of his presidencies on beating Japan, scheming to provoke Japan into war, defeat and permanent occupation to eliminate Japan as a threat to US economy and polity. That policy is still being enacted, now as “collective self-defense.”

Take JFK getting USA into the Vietnam War in 1961.

Take Eisenhower eliminating Lumumba, maybe Hammarskjöld.

They caused devastation of Japan, of Vietnam and set back Africa on its way to freedom, autonomy, independence. Trump is retracting, contracting, away from others, but not expanding into them. So far.

The reaction inside the USA has been from judges challenging the legality of the orders and launching court suits. The market has been ambiguous but generally down with heavy protests from Silicon Valley. Trump claims the orders are working. What else will happen?

It is difficult to imagine that there will not be a CIA response, being challenged and provoked by Trump, not only for accusing Russia of intervening to his advantage.

There are probably at this moment countless meetings in Washington on how to get rid of Trump. Yet, he has command over not only his Executive, Congress and the Supreme Court, but also over the overwhelming number of states in the union.

US presidents have been assassinated before Trump when the forces against are sufficiently strong. Could somebody from the Travel ban 7 be hired to do the job, making it look as a foreign conspiracy?

Another and more hopeful scenario would be nonviolent resistance. Difficult for border officials. But inside the USA people to be deported may be hidden, protected by their own kind and by others–with care though, Trump also has some good points.

More constructive would be alternative foreign policies by cities, at present not by the federation, nor by most of the states. Reaching out to the seven and above all to Mexico for dialogue; searching for better relations than at present and under Trump.

Preparing the ground for something new, under the Democratic Party or not. Not a third party, impossible in the USA it seems, but as general approach. The relation between New York and Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Tripoli, Khartoum, Mogadisciu and Sana’a as an example. Still some space!

There is no greatness in what Trump does, he makes USA smaller. Trying rebirth instead of rust, canceling stupid deals like TPP: OK. But retracting into a self-glorifying strong state is not greatness, it is isolation. Greatness is not in what you are but in how you relate. And Trump relates very badly.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS): TMS: The Trump Presidency: The First Week

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International]]> People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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Shocks for Developing Countries from President Trump’s First Dayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:12:16 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148712 General Assembly Holds High-level Dialogue on Building Sustainable Peace for All. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

General Assembly Holds High-level Dialogue on Building Sustainable Peace for All. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

His first days in office indicate that President Donald Trump intends to implement what he promised, with serious consequences for the future of the United Nations, trade, the environment and international cooperation, and developing countries will be most affected.

Those who hoped Trump would be more statesman-like in style and middle-of-the-road in policy matters after his inauguration had their illusions dashed when the new United States President moved straight into action to fulfil his election pledges.

The world and the world order have to prepare for more major shocks.  It will be far from business as usual.  And while other powerful countries can prepare tit-for-tat counter-moves when President Trump strikes, most developing countries won’t have the means, and may suffer the most.

Even close friends are not spared.  Trump signed an order fast-starting building a wall at the US border with Mexico. To add insult to injury, he asked Mexico to pay for the wall and threatened to impose a 20% tax on Mexican products to finance it.  He has also discouraged US companies from moving to Mexico.

Mexicans are understandably outraged and the Mexican President cancelled his planned trip to Washington.  Mexico has been one of America’s strongest allies. If it can be treated in this manner, is there hope for others to avoid being targeted?

The Trump order to ban the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, even those holding a Green card or are working in the US, on the ground that they could pose a security threat, has caused not only anger in the affected countries but also uncertainty among people in other developing countries who fear they may also be targeted in future.

The executive order also suspended the admission of all refugees into the US.  If made permanent, this measure signals the end of a long tradition of the US (in line with many other Western countries) to welcome a limited number of people escaping from troubled countries. In some of these countries, the troubles that prompted them to leave resulted from interventions or interference by the US and its Western allies.

The world and the world order have to prepare for more major shocks. It will be far from business as usual. And while other powerful countries can prepare tit-for-tat counter-moves when President Trump strikes, most developing countries won’t have the means, and may suffer the most
Very troubling are the signs that the US is revamping its approach to international cooperation. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations, according to a New York Times report.

One of the draft orders calls for at least a 40% cut in US funding toward international organisations and terminating funds for any international body that fit certain criteria.

The other order calls for a review of all current and pending treaties, and recommendations on which negotiations or treaties the US should leave.

The New York Times says that if Trump signs the orders, the cuts could severely curtail the work of UN agencies which rely on billions of dollars in annual US contributions.   “Taken together, the orders suggest that Mr Trump intends to pursue his campaign promises of withdrawing the US from international organisations.  He has expressed heavy scepticism of multilateral agreements such as the Paris climate agreement and the UN.”

The US has been the major creator of the post-Second World War system of international relations, with the United Nations at its centre.  The UN has served as a crucial universal forum for international discussion and cooperation, including on peace-keeping and economic and social issues.

It convenes leaders and representatives of almost all countries for meetings and conferences, with resolutions and declarations, on a wide range of current affairs.  Its agencies have supported global and national policy making and actions on economic development, health, food, the environment, human rights, culture and education, natural disasters and refugees.

The UN has been playing a critical positive role in providing a venue for developing countries to voice their opinions and take part in decision-making on global affairs.  The UN agencies have provided resources and support to developing countries to build their national capacities for economic and social development, and in preventing and managing political conflicts.

Of course the UN needs to be improved, including in democratisation of the Security Council and in giving more say to developing countries, especially on global economic and financial issues on which decisions are usually taken by a few powerful countries and outside the UN.

But denigrating the UN’s role and reducing funds for its operations would severely weaken the spirit and substance of international cooperation, to the detriment especially of developing countries.

Another looming problem is that President Trump looks intent on doing a complete turnaround on the present US environmental policies.  This will have a grave effect on the world, both in terms of the physical environment itself and in turning back the clock on global efforts to tackle multiple environmental crises.

Within a day of Trump’s inauguration, pages and references to climate change were removed from the White House website. The Environmental Protection Agency was reportedly told to remove its web section on climate change, though that order was later countered.   Staff at the EPA were forbidden to issue media statements or new scientific studies and research grants were suspended.

Two major projects cancelled during Obama’s presidency on environmental and social grounds, the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota access pipeline, are being revived.   The Clean Power Act, a centrepiece of the Obama effort to address climate change, has been under attack.

And all these even before the assumption of office of Trump’s nominee for the new EPA chief, the Oklahoma attorney-general Scott Pruitt, who is well known for having sued the EPA 14 times.  His selection by Trump was described by the New York Times as signalling Mr Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change – and much of the EPA itself.”

This policy turnaround will negatively affect international efforts to combat the global environmental crisis.  In particular, the many years of collective work to get agreed action on climate change will be seriously impeded since the US is looked up to show an example that developed countries take domestic climate actions seriously and are also committed to provide climate-related financial assistance to developing countries.

At this point it is not certain whether the US will remain in the Paris Agreement or even the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; its withdrawal from either or both would be disastrous.

It can however be expected that under Trump, the US will stop its funding to the Green Climate Fund, to which the Obama administration had pledged $3 billion in its initial period and delivered $1 billion.  If the US withdraws, will other countries increase their funding to make up for the loss of US, or will they also reduce their share, thereby plunging the GCF into an uncertain future?

Another major action was Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. He had pledged to do so but when he acted, on his first working day, it still came as a shock.

Initially Australia and New Zealand tried to get the remaining 11 TPP countries to pledge they would continue to get the TPP to enter into force.  But this has not gained traction, with Japan and Canada bluntly stating that the TPP is meaningless and cannot continue without the US.

Thus, the TPP has been killed. Even if in future Trump or his successor has a change of heart, the public mood is such that the US Congress would be unlikely to approve.

More important than Trump’s action itself is what it represents in terms of the new US approach towards trade.   The TPP was loaded to favour US interests in many ways.  On the trade aspect, the US has lower tariffs than the developing country partners with which it did not yet have a trade agreement, and thus stood to gain in terms of trade balance.

On the non-trade aspects of the TPP, which the US under Obama had insisted upon, American companies would have gained in the areas of intellectual property, investment, government procurement and state-owned enterprises.

Yet the TPP was unpopular with the American public, because it perceived that whatever gains the US would have would flow to the corporations and the elites, leaving the working and middle classes to face problems such as possible job losses from cheaper imports and relocation of factories abroad.

With the demise of the TPP, developing countries which are its members regret the loss of their opportunity to gain greater access to the US market.  But they are also spared from having to take on heavy obligations on investment, intellectual property and state-owned enterprises, and other issues.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The Trump move on the TPP is a prelude to other trade policies to rolled out soon, in pursuance of his America First strategy, which includes the subsidiary slogans Buy American and Hire Americans.

Policies being considered include higher tariffs or else “border adjusting taxes” on products from countries with which the US has trade deficits, starting with China and Mexico; tax incentives for companies that export; taxes to punish US companies located abroad that export to the US; and requirements that companies that win government infrastructure and other contracts have to make use of American-made goods.

Many developing countries which depend on the US for their exports, and that presently host US companies or hope to attract new US investments, will be adversely affected by these policies, which together spell a new era of US protectionism.  It will end the US-championed policies of liberalisation of trade and investment.

Trump also announced he plans to initiate new one-to-one bilateral trade agreements, in place of regional or plurilateral trade agreements. If his aim is to promote the US companies’ interests even more strongly than in previous FTAs, this may mean a negotiating stance of maximising US exports to while minimising imports from the bilateral partners, and pressurising them to accept provisions on investment, services, intellectual property, procurement, state-owned enterprises and other issues that are even stronger than what the TPP had.

Other developed countries like Japan and the post-Brexit United Kingdom may be interested in starting negotiations with the US with its new template, in an attempt to get mutual benefits.  It remains to be seen whether there would be developing countries willing to be new partners in what for them would likely be very one-sided bilateral agreements.

Another question is whether the rules of the multilateral trading system will act to constrain the new US administration.  Many of the new policies announced by Trump or his team (such as higher taxes and tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods, or taxes on American companies exporting to the US) are probably against one or another of the agreements under the World Trade Organisation.

Even if the Trump administration fine-tunes its policy measures in an attempt to fit within the WTO’s rules, they will most likely be challenged by other WTO members.   If the WTO panels rule against the US, will it comply with the decisions, or will Trump turn his fire against the WTO and its system instead?

Meanwhile, the WTO members are waiting to see what positions the new US trade team will take in the on-going WTO negotiations in Geneva.

Given that Trump ran on the promise to upend the establishment, and it looks as if he intends to keep to his word, leaders and people around the world, and especially in the developing countries since they are more vulnerable, should prepare themselves to respond to more and bigger shocks ahead.

 

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Who Will Rule Trump Foreign Policy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/who-will-rule-trump-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-will-rule-trump-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/who-will-rule-trump-foreign-policy/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 14:56:05 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148683 Photo of Steve Bannon by Don Irvine via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of Steve Bannon by Don Irvine via Wikimedia Commons.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

The most frightening commentary I’ve read in the run-up to the inauguration—and there have been many—appeared in a column identifying the four people whose foreign policy ideas were likely to be most influential with the then-president-elect. It was written by The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin and entitled “Inside Trump’s Shadow National Security Council.”

Those four people, according to Rogin, are chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who “has been working on the long-term strategic vision that will shape the Trump administration’s overall foreign policy approach;” chief of staff Reince Priebus; Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.).

What is particularly striking about these four men is their collective lack of foreign-policy-making experience. I can’t see any in Bannon’s resume. Priebus, until he took over the Republican National Committee six years ago, was essentially a local Wisconsin political operative. Aside from occasional visits to Israel and his family foundation’s philanthropy for Israeli and settler institutions, Kushner has never, to my knowledge, expressed any particular interest in foreign policy although, according to Rogin, he has recently been meeting with “leading representatives from countries including Israel, Germany and Britain.” Although Flynn undoubtedly gained a lot of experience overseas, his entire career was devoted to military intelligence, not policy making. And, despite her lengthy resume compiled in the national security bureaucracies under various Republican presidents, Flynn’s hand-picked deputy, K.T. McFarland, worked virtually exclusively in communications and speechwriting — never in a policy-making role.

Is there any modern precedent for this total lack of experience in the top echelons of the White House, including the National Security Council?

No Experience, Lots of Opinions

The absence of foreign-policy-making experience however, does not mean that these individuals lack foreign-policy opinions. And, of course, in Washington, as a hoary, inside-the-Beltway maxim puts it: “Personnel is policy.”

Aside from his overseas business interests, Trump himself also has no foreign-policy experience. Nor, it seems, does he have much curiosity about the subject. Aside from the fairly consistent Islamophobia and aggressive nationalism expressed in various ways and degrees over the past couple of decades, he also doesn’t seem to have much in the way of fixed foreign-policy ideas or principles other than self-glorification, a desperate need to gain and retain public and media attention, and possibly the repayment of any debts he feels he may have incurred to foreign interests that helped— Putin? The Adelsons on behalf of Bibi?—put him in the presidency. Certainly, his often-contradictory utterances during the election campaign bolstered the impression that he is not grounded in any firm beliefs about Washington’s role in the world. So it seems relatively safe to assume that the worldviews of the same individuals cited by Rogin as the most influential—and closest to the Oval Office—are those that will at least initially guide Trump.

Is there any modern precedent for this total lack of experience in the top echelons of the White House, including the National Security Council?
Of the five individuals mentioned above, only three have particularly strong publicly expressed foreign-policy worldviews: Bannon, Flynn, and McFarland.

Of these, Bannon appears pre-eminent, at least for the moment. That became clear not only in the content and dark, almost apocalyptic tone of Trump’s “America First” inaugural address—which, according to the Wall Street Journal, was actually drafted by Bannon and alt-right fellow-traveller Stephen Miller—but also in Trump’s controversial interview last week with The Times of London and Das Bild.

The most comprehensive account of Bannon’s worldview is contained in his 50-minute interview at a conference held at the Vatican in 2014. In addition to the kind of populist ethno-nationalism with which his name and Breitbart News (of which he was former CEO) have now been associated, Bannon sees the world as a true “clash of civilizations” that pits “Islamic Fascism” against the “Judeo-Christian West.” His remarkable invocation in that interview of the “church militant” and the battles of Tours against the Arabs in 732 and Vienna against the Ottomans in 1638 as historical models to which the Judeo-Christian world should now aspire suggests a certain grandiosity (that would naturally appeal to Trump, too). To Bannon, global or other kinds of supra-national institutions that espouse universalist ideals and that get in the way of “strong nationalist movements …[that are] really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States,” are anathema. (You have to wonder how much modern European history Bannon has studied.) In the entire text, he never mentions human rights or democracy or other liberal values.

Along with his ideas about capitalism, Ayn Randism, traditionalism, and populism, it’s fair to say that Bannon thinks deep—if somewhat contradictory—thoughts. He’s also very, very far to the right—although he identifies as “center right”—and has what I would call proto-fascist inclinations. It’s no wonder that he’s fascinated by and identifies with Europe’s far-right nationalist and anti-European Union (EU) movements. But he also finds common ground with Putin and his promotion of the Russian Orthodox Church and Israel’s Likud Party. The latter’s roots, after all, lie in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Betar movement, which, despite its founder’s liberal convictions, has always harbored messianic nationalist, if not fascist tendencies.

The degree to which Trump has apparently absorbed and now echoes these ideas is reflected in his most recent public remarks. Compare, for example, Bannon’s defense of Putin—that “people …want to see the sovereignty for their country, they want to see nationalism for their country”—with what Trump said in defending Brexit in his interview with The Times and Bild. “People, countries want their own identity, and the U.K. wanted its own identity,” Trump stressed as he effectively urged other EU members to emulate Brexit, presumably as part of the Judeo-Christian civilizational struggle against Islam. He reiterated this theme in his inaugural speech Friday in the kind of messianic vision favored by Bannon: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth” (emphasis added). In the same Times/Bild interview, Trump clearly tried to undermine confidence in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership, saying that he trusted her as much as Putin, at least for the time being—a rather striking assertion that must have sent blood pressures soaring in various foreign ministries, including the State Department. Trump also questioned the current relevance of NATO to similar effect in European defense ministries and the Pentagon.

Of course, these statements were presaged by Trump’s enthusiasm over Brexit itself and the fact that the first foreign “leader” to personally celebrate his election victory with him was none other than Nigel Farage. Farage, who Trump subsequently recommended as UK ambassador here much to the discomfort of the British prime minister, was subsequently seated in the special VIP section at Friday’s inauguration, along with leaders of the Israeli settlement movement. Bannon has made little secret of his admiration—and support—for the French National Front’s Marine Le Pen, another anti-EU European, pro-Putin leader (whose visit to Trump Tower two weeks ago likely included a tete-a-tete with Trump’s chief strategist). We’ll see whether the far-right, Islamophobic Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, shows up at the Tower at some point before this year’s elections in the Netherlands, while Czech President Milos Zeman, another Islamophobic Putin admirer, is set to visit the White House in April. Can Hungary’s Viktor Orban be far behind?

Bannon and Putin—and probably Netanyahu, too—clearly have Angela Merkel and the EU in their crosshairs as part of a larger effort to create what The Daily Beast’s called a “worldwide ultra-right” movement, or, perhaps more bluntly, a Proto-Fascist International. Aside from exterminating “radical Islamic terrorism,” such a coalition appears to be a central goal of Bannon’s “long-term strategic vision.” That makes Rogin’s final observation about Bannon’s role in the White House especially chilling. According to Rogin, Bannon’s mandate includes “connecting the Trump apparatus to leaders of populist movements around the world, especially in Europe.” Whatever is meant by “the Trump apparatus,” its intellectual leader is now sitting in the White House, just a few steps from the Oval Office.

As for the two senior advisers with actual foreign policy—if not policy-making—experience, Flynn and McFarland are far more likely to embrace Bannon’s vision than to oppose it. What unifies all three is an intense Islamophobia and Manichaeism befitting Fox News, as well as Breitbart. We have covered Flynn’s wacky worldview, particularly as expressed in his 2016 book, Field of Fight, co-authored by serial intriguer Michael Ledeen, at considerable length. Suffice to recall Flynn’s belief in the existence of “an international alliance of evil countries and movements that is working to destroy us,” an alliance that includes North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia (whose government, incidentally, just hosted the former First Daughter, Malia Obama on a lengthy trek through the Andes). The same alliance also includes al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and “countless other terrorist groups.” As Rogin reported Sunday, Flynn, who, like Bannon, also appears to admire Putin, is filling senior NSC positions with a phalanx of former military intelligence officers with whom he has worked closely in the past. The White House’s in-house foreign-policy shop will thus see the world rather narrowly—in Flynn’s words, through the sights of a “rifle scope.” Neither Flynn nor McFarland are likely to challenge Bannon’s broader strategic agenda. If anything, they may reinforce it.

Will Anyone Challenge Bannon?

Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis (ret.), who obviously enjoys the support of the foreign-policy establishment, has already made it very clear that he strongly opposes key elements of Bannon’s radical worldview, particularly anything that would threaten NATO, the EU, and other multilateral institutions that have underpinned the post-World War II order. According to various accounts, Mattis has already clashed with the White House—meaning Bannon, Kushner, and Flynn—over appointments to key Pentagon positions. Tillerson’s views are much less well known, but the fact that his nomination was championed by Republican establishment stalwarts, including Robert Gates, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, and James Baker, suggests that they believe he will exert a moderating influence, a notion bolstered by reports that he rejected the choice of far-right and Adelson favorite John Bolton as his deputy. Gen. John Kelly, the new head of Homeland Security, and UN Amb. Nikki Haley are also considered unlikely to support the White House’s far-right, Islamophobic agenda. All four cabinet members, as well as CIA director Mike Pompeo (a leading Iranophobe during his Congressional career), testified that they disagreed with at least some of the more controversial positions, ranging from torture to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and to Putin, espoused by Trump during the election campaign.

But none of these officials has so far gotten anywhere nearly as much face time with Trump himself as his White House aides. This despite the potentially momentous foreign-policy decisions already taken by the White House, including the abandonment of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the visa and immigration ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries, and the apparent green light Trump has given to Netanyahu for vast new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, thus overturning more than four decades of U.S. opposition. Proximity often translates into power.

Post columnist Ruth Marcus put the situation in a nutshell in a piece entitled “Can Trump’s Cabinet Save Him From Himself?”:

For every Mattis and Pompeo, for every John F. Kelly (the retired Marine general tapped to head the Department of Homeland Security, who testified that a border wall with Mexico “in and of itself will not do the job’’) and even Rex Tillerson (the former ExxonMobil chief executive nominated to be secretary of state, who testified that “the risk of climate change does exist”), there will be, in the West Wing, a Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor and Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser. Their records suggest they will inflame Trump’s worst instincts, not restrain them.

Bannon and Flynn have been politically closer to Trump longer; they will be physically closer to him at the White House. Trump could continue to be swayed by the last person whispering in his ear. Or the stature, knowledge and experience at bureaucratic maneuvering of some Cabinet secretaries could, at least at times, avert bad decisions. How all this plays out will shape the course of the Trump presidency.

Of course, Priebus, whose job appears centered on reconciling differences between the Republican congressional leadership and Trump, could also exert a moderating influence. Kushner could as well, though the nomination of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel, his encouragement of the settlement movement in the West Bank, and the presence of settlement leaders as honored guests at the inauguration, as well as his own family’s history of philanthropic support for the settlement movement, suggests that, on Israel-related questions, Kushner is no moderate. And with no real background, let alone expertise, in foreign policy, both Priebus and Kushner are more likely to acquiesce in Bannon’s strategic designs than oppose them …unless other powerful figures in the administration and Congress—not to mention foreign leaders—make it very clear that the political and popularity costs to Trump will be “yuge.”

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pacific-islanders-call-for-u-s-solidarity-on-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148561 Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

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It’s Time We Get Serious About Organic Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/its-time-we-get-serious-about-organic-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=its-time-we-get-serious-about-organic-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/its-time-we-get-serious-about-organic-farming/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 18:31:31 +0000 Ken Cook http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148533 It’s Time We Get Serious About Organic Farming - OPED by Ken Cook from the Environmental Working Group (EWG)

By Ken Cook
WASHINGTON, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

Conventional farming and food production practices in this country are creating serious environmental and public health problems. Every day, an industrial farming system spinning out of control confronts all Americans with serious challenges. Among these are the explosion in toxic algae blooms in sensitive waterways, cancer-causing pesticides on foods we feed our children, the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and, of course, contaminated drinking water, all courtesy of corporate agribusiness.

Thankfully, we have an alternative: organic.

Study after study shows organic food is better for our health, and organic farming is better for our environment.

Organic milk has higher concentrations of beneficial nutrients than its conventional counterpart, and organic foods can have higher levels of antioxidants and far fewer, if any, pesticide residues than conventionally grown crops. In addition to the notable consumer benefits, organic farming consumes far less energy and can reduce water pollutionincrease biodiversitypromote healthy soils and sequester significantly more carbon than conventional farming.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been advocating for organic food and farming for more than two decades, with much of our research documenting how the practices and finished products of both conventional and organic agriculture influence our health and the environment.

Despite years of double-digit growth, far outstripping that seen in the conventional food sector, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with soaring consumer demand
In that time, I have worked alongside many pioneers and have seen organic farming grow from a fledgling movement available to few, into a nearly $40 billion a year industry. Organic is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. food industry with some of the country’s largest retailers struggling to keep up with customer demand and keep their store shelves stocked.

Despite years of double-digit growth, far outstripping that seen in the conventional food sector, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with soaring consumer demand. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012, fewer than 1 percent of American farms were classified as organic. This has forced many organic food companies in the U.S. to turn to foreign suppliers to meet customer demand.

There is no reason why we cannot be meeting the surging demand for organic foods here at home, growing and producing it ourselves. However, if we are going to grow more organic food in this country we will need more organic farmers. That means recruiting new farmers, and helping existing farmers transition to organic.

Easier said than done.

We will need to provide farmers with technical assistance to help them transition to organic. We will also need to invest in more science and research to ensure that organic and transitioning farmers are armed with high yielding, regionally adapted seeds, designed with organic systems in mind.

Now, you don’t have to be a D.C. lobbyist or congressional staffer to know that the purse strings on Capitol Hill have been pulled tight in recent years, and funds supporting agriculture are tethered closely to the interests of Big Ag, not organic. While EWG will continue to call on Congress to make serious investments in organic in the next farm bill, there is a lot that can be accomplished in the interim if the organic community pools its resources, and approves an organic research and promotions program.

That is why EWG supports the organic check-off program.

The principle of a check-off program is simple: Producers of a particular commodity pool their resources, and collectively invest in research and promotion of that commodity. These programs are authorized by Congress and directed by industry-driven boards overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While this sounds simple, it hasn’t always worked out in the best interest of producers.

EWG is fully aware that farmers have been burned by past check-off programs, and we are glad that so many in the organic community have been part of productive discussions about the organic check-off currently under consideration. After all of those discussions one thing is clear: The organic check-off is not your father’s check-off.

It is the first such program that is not based on a specific commodity, but rather on the notion that if everyone pitches in a little, the organic community can address its shared research, education and promotion needs together.

With the funds raised every year from the check-off, the organic community would be able to provide transitioning farmers with greater technical assistance and training to bring more acres into organic production. It would also be able to fill in the research gaps left every year by limited federal research dollars that all too often skew toward outdated and damaging industrial farming practices. And, the check-off will ensure that the organic sector has an opportunity to educate consumers about organic and promote its benefits in the same way that major commodities like milk and pork were able to do with the “Got Milk?” and “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaigns, respectively.

To be clear, both Congress and organic food companies will also have to do their parts to increase funding for research and promotion of organic in the years to come. But that shouldn’t stop the organic community from supporting the organic check-off program and taking organic to the next level.

After all, EWG not only believes that organic farming can help feed the world, we believe that organic systems and practices may be the only way to do so sustainably. However, the footprint of organic on the agricultural landscape and in Americans’ shopping carts must grow significantly if we are to realize organic’s full potential to feed the planet in ways that enhance the environment and public health.

I hope you will join me in supporting the GRO Organic campaign to make this a reality.

This story was originally published by Food Tank

 

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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.

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US Heads for Political Showdown with UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 16:16:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148317 United Nations Secretariat Building

United Nations Secretariat Building

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

The United States has had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the United Nations ever since 1952 when the world body began operations in New York city on an 18-acre piece of land which housed an abattoir where cattle was being trucked daily for slaughter.

The late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a fulltime chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a part-time UN basher, once said “providing funds to the UN was like pouring money into a rat hole.”

Former New York city Mayor Ed Koch used a five-letter word to describe the UN: a “sewer”. And one of his successors, Rudolph Giuliani, said he will not miss the UN if it decides to pack up and leave New York.

When the 193-member UN General Assembly voted some of the world’s “repressive regimes” as members of the Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council), Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican of California) hollered: “The inmates have taken over the asylum. And I don’t plan to give the lunatics any more American tax dollars to play with.”

And now, US President-elect Donald Trump, peeved over a Security Council resolution last week chastising Israel over its continued settlements in the occupied territories, has signaled an implicit warning he will review his relationship with the United Nations.

Having been rebuffed by outgoing President Barack Obama who refused to accede to Trump’s appeal to veto the resolution, the incoming President, who will take office on January 20, challenged the effectiveness of the world body and dismissed it as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Immediately after the resolution was adopted by a vote of 14–nil, with the US abstaining, he held out a warning: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20.”

Currently, the US is the biggest single contributor accounting for 22 percent of the UN’s regular biennium budget, followed by Japan (9.7 percent), China (7.9 percent), Germany (6.7 percent) and France (4.8 percent) – all based on a country’s “capacity to pay”.

The UN’s 2016-2017 regular biennium budget amounts to about $5.4 billion, excluding its peacekeeping budget and voluntary contributions to UN Funds and Programmes.

Following the Security Council vote on Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) said he plans to form a bipartisan coalition to either suspend or reduce US funding for the UN.

And Senator Tom Cotton (Republican-Arkansas) warned that the UN and “nations supporting the resolution (against Israel) have now imperiled all forms of US assistance.”

While the US withheld its veto and abstained on the vote, the other four veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, namely, the UK, France, China and Russia, voted for the resolution, along with the 10 non-permanent members, namely, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.

A defiant Israel was livid, and in retaliation, threatened to build another 5,600 settlements in occupied Jerusalem thereby isolating itself further from the international community.

Jim Paul, former Executive Director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, and who closely monitored the politics of the world body for over 19 years, told IPS the US threat of withholding its dues to the UN has been around for a long time – since the 1980s when it was first proposed by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

“This threat is effective only if it is believed and acted on by frightened UN officials or member states, who rush to adopt the latest requirements by the bully-state,” he noted.

“It actually might be healthy if the US dues were reduced and the UN were not so dependent on US financing, he added.

Paul pointed out that Swedish Prime Minister the late Olaf Palme once suggested that the UN’s dues structure should be changed so that no single country would pay more than 10 percent of the total budget(s).

“The cost to other states would not be very burdensome and the change might produce some real policy benefits,” said Paul, a well-known speaker and writer on the UN and global policy issues.

Over the years, successive US administrations have manipulated the UN to its own advantage as an extension of US foreign policy.

Paul pointed out that some delegates from governments who are out-of-favour in Washington are constrained to live within a specified distance from the city and some cannot travel beyond that distance in the US without special permission.

Every once in a while, he said, a head of state or other high official will be denied entry and thus an opportunity to speak at the UN.

“How important is this harassment and what does it tell us?”, he asked. It is short of horrendous and well past acceptable.

“We can conclude that Washington likes to remind the other states – and the UN as an institution – that it can do what it pleases and impose its will whether others like it or not.”

In Washington, they like to call this behavior “leadership” but “bully” might be the most appropriate term, said Paul, who frequently served as Chair or Vice Chair of the NGO Working Group on the Security Council.

Despite the 1947 Headquarters Agreement between the US and the UN, which calls on Washington to facilitate the functioning of the UN, the US has denied visas to several heads of governments planning to visit the UN to address the General Assembly or accredited as diplomats.

Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS the US was a key player in the creation of the UN and the organisation has served US interests well over the years.

“One might even say that the US has manipulated the UN to serve its global interests,” he argued.

Against this background, to return to the confrontational attitudes of the early 90s, when the US withheld its dues, would be self-defeating, said Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN.

He said the US is no longer the only country with overwhelming financial clout.

“To threaten the UN with financial sanctions would only result in the further waning of US influence in the UN and globally. All countries, especially countries like the US, must continue to work together to make the world a better place,” he declared.

Although complaints against the UN have been never ending – including unpaid parking tickets, and tax–free and duty-free privileges for high-ranking UN-based diplomats – US politicians have rarely admitted the political and economic advantages of the presence of the UN on American soil.

And a new report released recently by the Office of the New York city Mayor points out that the UN generates $3.69 billion in total economic output to New York city’s economy.

The 15,890 individuals directly employed by the UN Community took home household earnings of approximately $1.64 billion. These household earnings and the operating expenses of the UN Community helped create and sustain 7,940 jobs for New Yorkers.

Titled “The United Nations Impact Report 2016”, it was released by the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena

In 1946, New York City competed with cities from London to San Francisco to host the official headquarters of the UN.

Unlike past Mayors, the current Mayor of New York city Bill de Blasio has been a strong supporter of the UN. “New York City is not only an economic and cultural capital, but a diplomatic one. We are proud to be the host city to the United Nations headquarters and the largest diplomatic community in the world,” he said following the release of the new report.

“The impact of the United Nations stretches far beyond New York City and this study reflects the city’s enduring commitment to supporting this critical institution,” he added

Still the political benefits of the UN to the United States have not been as clearly highlighted.

Kohona told IPS the US, with its vast economic and political influence, has without reluctance, manipulated the UN to justify its actions, including military interventions.

One recalls (former US Secretary of State) Colin Powell’s efforts, with videos and photographs, to convince the Security Council of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq or the intense phone calls to diplomats whose countries were members of the Human Rights Council when a US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka was being taken up for vote at the Council.

He said evidence is also now emerging of the blatant US manipulation of the global media, including with manufactured news, with the objective of influencing diplomatic outcomes.

The current Secretary-General, whose interventions, have generally been on the side of the US, also tends to be influenced by the US and the New York media.

His home being in New York is a factor in this outcome. Perhaps the Secretary-General should rotate his residence around the capitals of the P-5, including in the UK, France, China and Russia.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Heads for 50 Years of UN Failurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2016 15:03:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148220 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

Come 2017, the United Nations will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s longstanding unresolved political problems firmly entrenched on the UN agenda: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dating back to the Six Day War in June 1967.

When Antonio Guterres takes over as the new UN Secretary-General on January 1, he will inherit a rash of ongoing political and military conflicts, including the six-year-old civil war in Syria, the devastating bombings in Yemen, the Shia-Sunni killings in Iraq, the widespread political chaos in Libya, renewed violence in the Central African Republic, the continued atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan and the rise of global terrorism.

But one of the most elusive problems — crying out for a solution despite half a century of negotiations and unimplemented Security Council resolutions —will be the demand for a Palestinian homeland.

As Guterres told reporters December 12: “We need a surge in diplomacy for peace when we see this multiplication of new conflicts — and old conflicts that seem never to die”.

Perhaps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems destined to live forever—and has never shown signs of dying in 50 long years.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Contributing Editor at Middle East Report, told IPS: “As the UN commemorates the 50th year of Israel’s occupation, we need to recognize that the world body is in many respects but a shadow of the organization it was in 1947, when the General Assembly adopted a recommendation to partition Palestine, or even 1967 when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip commenced.”

What capacity it does retain to act effectively has, when it comes to Palestine, been deliberately and completely paralyzed by the United States, acting on Israel’s behalf, he declared.

Indeed, it has in this respect been somewhat ironic to watch (US Ambassador to the UN) Samantha Power and other US diplomats incessantly whine about Russia shielding the Syrian regime at the UN Security Council these past several years, said Rabbani, who is an Associate Fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network.

“Will Palestinians be condemned to another half century of military occupation?”, he asked. “If they have to rely on the United Nations for salvation from Israel the answer would be “almost certainly”, but fortunately this is not the case.”

Asked specifically of the UN’s role, Rabbani said among recent Secretaries-Generals none have been more timid in their dealings with Israel and the US, and more solicitous of US and Israeli policy, including on the Question of Palestine, than outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“His tenure has been a disaster for Palestinian rights. Full stop. So the mere fact of his departure and replacement is welcome news”, said Rabbani.

Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, told IPS it seems that the partition plan and two state solution has been destroyed by Israeli settlements.

The UN policy is out of step with this reality. The new Secretary-General will have to confront this position, viz the virtual impossibility of a two state solution.

What remains? What kind of Palestinian future is possible? These kinds of questions need to be asked, said Prashad, who has written extensively on Middle East Politics and is the author of “The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution”.

Israel will refuse both one state and two state solutions. It wants to annihilate the Palestinian Question, he noted.

“The Palestinians are playing defense. What kind of positive strategy is possible for Palestine and will the new Secretary-General enable such a discussion? I hope so,” said Prashad, co-editor of the recently-released “Land of Blue Helmets: the United Nations in the Arab World”.

Asked what his message would be, if and when he meets with US President-elect Donald Trump, Guterres, avoided a direct answer.

“Well, to restore confidence, I think the first thing that is important is to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is ignored in political relations around the world. And when people talk to each other, the truth is that many times there are different perceptions about each other.’

“And I believe it is with truth that I need to engage with all governments in the world and, of course, also with the next Government of the United States, showing a clear will to cooperate in relation to the enormous challenges that we’ll be facing together,” Guterres declared.

Rabbani told IPS predicting about how a Trump administration will approach the Question of Palestine is a difficult task, primarily because Trump is an empty vessel with multiple – and therefore essentially no – views of his own.

“But as is generally the case with empty vessels, they tend to be filled by those with privileged access. And in this case the indications are not good.”

Regarding Guterres, Rabbani pointed out the new Secretary-General (SG) will be operating under the same constraints any other SG would encounter, but has the advantage that the UN is no longer as fully dominated by the US as it has been in recent decades.

It also seems reasonable to presume his ambitions exceed being an errand boy for Washington like his predecessor, Rabbani noted.

“I know little regarding his personal views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, though given the fact that he is a former European social democrat premier his views presumably fall within the European/EU mainstream. “

But the more important point is that this will be less about his personal views and more about the environment in which he operates and his willingness (or otherwise) to use his political clout.

“Will he want to expend political capital on Palestine when he may prefer to or feel he needs to spend it on other files such as Syria? This is difficult to divine.”

And it will depend not just on his priorities and preferences, but crucially upon how energetically this matter is promoted by member states and international public opinion.

“So I would see his tenure as an opportunity that I very much hope the Palestinians manage to utilise. But once again, I would advise to spend less time examining his personal views and preferences, and more on the environment in which he operates,” said Rabbani, a former Senior Middle East Analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said Guterres, whose appointment is arguably one of most challenging jobs on the planet, brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the role to guide the UN in the years to come.

“The new Secretary-General must face up to a world of numerous protracted conflicts, reprehensible breaches of the rules of war and a massive global displacement crisis,” she said.

But besides the ongoing political problems, he must also readily confront the extreme economic inequality crisis that is trapping people in poverty, undermining economic growth and threatening instability around the world.

Referring to the gender gap at the UN, Byanyima said: “Governments in seventy years have picked only men to lead the UN; the journey to find a woman, feminist Secretary-General goes on. We do however fully expect that the new Secretary-General will be a feminist Secretary-General who puts women’s rights and gender equality at the very core of the international agenda.

“And for the UN to be relevant, effective and accountable – in a world so different from the times when it was founded in 1945 – Mr. Guterres must spearhead essential reforms to the UN.”

She also congratulated Ban Ki-moon for his outstanding, dignified leadership.

“Among his achievements were ushering in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement: both will be remembered in history for charting a better

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Speaking Out on Sexism and Violence Through Hip-Hophttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 15:46:51 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147909 Johnna Artis, 20, first apprentice and Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, rehearsal director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory pictured at the United Nations. Credit: IPS UN Bureau / IPS.

Johnna Artis, 20, first apprentice and Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, rehearsal director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory pictured at the United Nations. Credit: IPS UN Bureau / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

Young women are beginning to find their voices around issues such as sexism and violence, including through hip-hop, an art-form which has a long tradition of fighting oppression.

Johnna Artis, 20, a first apprentice of H+ the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory told IPS about how she has learnt to express herself and gained confidence through dance:

“Hip-hop has allowed me to realise that I can speak, and that my voice can be heard, and if my voice can’t be heard, my movements can be heard, so I have multiple ways to talk to people,” said Artis.

Growing up Artis says she felt that she often silenced her own voice, but she has become more confident to speak out, particularly she says, since she has learned that sharing her own experiences can help others.

“I’m talking more and I’m interacting more, so it’s a process, but I’m getting out of the silence,” she said.

Artis, originally from Brooklyn, New York, is one of 25 hip-hop dancers at the conservatory, who rehearse for four to six hours, six days a week.

“(Hip-hop) has been a voice for the oppressed always,” -- Maria Fraguas Jover

Artis’ teacher Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, Rehearsal Director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory told IPS that while female dancers like Artis are learning to express themselves through hip-hop this is not how it has always been.

“Hip-hop was created by men, dominated by men, just the way the world has been. It’s a patriarchal society, so really hip-hop is just a microcosm of that.”

“So for (Johnna) to have that voice and use that voice both verbally and physically also opens up for other women to have that voice too and to continue to evolve hip-hop culture,” said Jover.

Hip-hop has a long tradition of addressing oppression, although it has traditionally also been a largely male art-form.

“(Hip-hop) has been a voice for the oppressed always,” said Jover, including Caribbean immigrants in the U.S. and other Black Americans, only historically these have mostly been male voices.

By involving more women, the conservatory has been able to add sexism to the issues they address, added Jover.

“When you come to our performances that’s pretty much all we’re talking about: racism, sexism, misogyny, and we do it in entertaining ways too, to open up the conversation.”

“(Women) having a voice in hip-hop means that we can speak to men in hip-hop and tell them that we don’t feel safe, and you’re not a terrible person but this is what you need to do and it is in your power to change this.”

But she noted that it is not only up to women to address gender-based violence.

“Us having a voice does something, but the people who really do have the power to change their own oppressive powers and mentalities are men, so then that goes to men speaking to other men (too).”

Members of the conservatory attended a special event at UN headquarters ahead of the International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women which is celebrated on 25 November each year.

The event, organised by UN Women, focused on young people, who due to their age and often less independent economic status, are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. This is in part because at this stage in their lives they are yet to learn to express themselves or to know what a healthy relationship should look like.

Safi Thomas, Artistic Director and founder of the Conservatory told IPS that adults often discourage young people from having a voice.

“We often silence them, through authority bias, through diminishing their words, by not listening to them, by not giving credence to their words,” he said.

This means he says, that young people can find it difficult to feel safe to speak out when they are experiencing violence “be it bullying, be it abuse, be it sexual assault, be it rape.”

As Artis describes, speaking out could mean simply being able to discuss different ideas about what a healthy relationship should look like.

“Having people talk about different relationships and how we can interact with people is very important because if we only know one thing we don’t know that there is something else possible,” explained Artis.

Finding a voice is particularly important for young women many of whom fear speaking out because society continues to blame victims rather than the perpetrators of sexual violence.

Although young women are increasingly speaking out against gender-based violence, progress is slow and in some cases, countries are still moving backwards.

This past week legislators in Turkey were considering a bill, which could see girls who are victims of rape forced to marry their rapists. The bill was knocked back following protests.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. men, and particularly young white men, are being radicalised in online discussion groups to hold both sexist and racist views, as observed by writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa on Twitter following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President.

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Trump’s Offensive Against Undocumented Migrants Will Fuel Migration Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-offensive-against-undocumented-migrants-will-fuel-migration-crisis/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 15:37:31 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147824 About a hundred Central American migrants crammed into a large truck were rescued in the Mexican state of Tabasco in October. It is not likely that Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House will dissuade people from setting out on the hazardous journey to the United States. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

About a hundred Central American migrants crammed into a large truck were rescued in the Mexican state of Tabasco in October. It is not likely that Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House will dissuade people from setting out on the hazardous journey to the United States. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

“Donald Trump will not stop me from getting to the U.S.,” said Juan, a 35-year-old migrant from Nicaragua, referring to the Republican president-elect who will govern that country as of Jan. 20.

Juan, who worked as a street vendor in his country and asked that his last name not be mentioned, told IPS: “I got scared when I heard that Trump had won the election (on November 8). Maybe with Hillary (Clinton) there would have been more job opportunities. But that won’t stop me; it has never been easy to cross, but it is possible.”

Juan set out from Nicaragua on September 13, leaving his wife and son behind, and on the following day crossed the Suchiate River between Guatemala from Mexico, on a raft.

In Mexico, he experienced what thousands of migrants suffer in their odyssey towards the “American dream”. He evaded at least four checkpoints in the south of the country, escaped immigration officers, walked for hours and hours, and was robbed of money, clothes and shoes by three men wearing hoods in El Chagüite, in the southern state of Oaxaca.

After filing a complaint for assault in a local public prosecutor’s office, he has been living since October in the “Hermanos en el Camino” shelter, founded in 2007 by the Catholic Church division of pastoral care for human mobility of the Ixtepec Diocese in Oaxaca, awaiting an official humanitarian visa to cross Mexico.

“I want to get to the United States. What safeguards me is my desire and need to get there. I want to work about three years and then return,” Juan said by phone from the shelter, explaining that he has two friends in the Midwestern U.S. state of Illinois.

The struggles and aspirations of migrants such as Juan clash with Trump’s promise to extend the wall along the border with Mexico, to keep out undocumented migrants.

While they digest the triumph by Trump and his Republican Party, migrant rights organisations and governments in Latin America fear a major migration crisis.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States, about half of whom are of Mexican origin.

And on Sunday Nov. 13 the president-elect said that as soon as he took office he would deport about three million unauthorised immigrants who, he claimed, have a criminal record.

A member of the migrant aid group “Las Patronas” waits for the train known as “The Beast”, that was used by undocumented migrants to cross southern Mexico, to give them water and food. The Mexican government shut down the notorious train in August. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

A member of the migrant aid group “Las Patronas” waits for the train known as “The Beast”, that was used by undocumented migrants to cross southern Mexico, to give them water and food. The Mexican government shut down the notorious train in August. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

“Trump’s policy would aggravate the migratory situation,” said Alberto Donis, who works at Hermanos en el Camino, one of the first Mexican shelters for migrants, which currently houses some 200 undocumented migrants, mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“With Trump, we don’t know what else he will do, but it will be worse than what we have now. After what happened in the elections, people who are not able to cross will stay here. Mexico will be a country of destination. And what does it do? Detain and deport them,” he said, talking to IPS by phone from the shelter.

For the last eight years, the outgoing administration of Democratic President Barack Obama has implemented contradictory migration policies, that have demonstrated the scant influence that sending countries have on U.S. domestic policies.

On the one hand, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which delays deportation for migrants who arrived as children, was adopted in 2012. And a similar benefit was created in 2014: the Deferred Action for (undocumented) Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

However, DAPA has been suspended since February by a court order and it is taken for granted that Trump will revoke both measures when he takes office.

And on the other hand, the Obama administration set a new record for deportations: Since 2009, more than two million migrants have been deported, mainly to Mexico and Central America.

In 2015 alone, U.S. immigration authorities deported 146,132 Mexicans, which makes an increase of 56 per cent with respect to the previous year, 33,249 Guatemalans (14 per cent less than in 2014), 21,920 Salvadorans (similar to the previous year) and 20,309 Hondurans (nine per cent less).

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to reach the 3,185-km border separating Mexico from the United States, according to estimates from organisations that work with migrants.

In the first nine months of this year, Mexico deported 43,200 Guatemalans, 38,925 Hondurans and 22,582 Salvadorans.

Central American mothers in search of their children who went missing on their way to the United States take part in a caravan that set out on Nov. 10 and is set to reach the Mexico-U.S. border on Dec. 2. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

Central American mothers in search of their children who went missing on their way to the United States take part in a caravan that set out on Nov. 10 and is set to reach the Mexico-U.S. border on Dec. 2. Credit: Courtesy of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement

Activists criticize the Comprehensive Plan for the Southern Border, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with the help of the United States to crack down on undocumented migrants. The plan includes the installation of 12 bases on rivers and three security belts along the Mexico-U.S. border.

But some migrant rights’ organisations have doubts as to whether Trump will actually carry out his threats, due to the social and economic consequences.

“He says so many outrageous things that I cannot imagine what he may do. He is a businessman and I don’t think he will risk losing cheap labour. None of it makes sense, it is nothing more than xenophobia and racism. The United States would face long-term consequences ,” Marta Sánchez, executive director of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, told IPS.

The Movement is taking part in the XII caravan of mothers of Central American migrants who have gone missing on their journey to the United States, made up of mothers from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which set out on Nov. 10 in Guatemala and reached Mexico Nov. 15.

On Nov. 12 Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, meet with this country’s ambassador and consuls in the U.S. to design plans for consular protection and assistance for Mexican nationals, with a view to the expected increase in tension.

The governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador do not appear to have devised plans to address the xenophobic campaign promises of Trump.

These economies would directly feel the impact of any drop in remittances from migrants abroad, which, in El Salvador for example, represent 17 per cent of GDP.

But the U.S. economy would suffer as well. The American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, estimated that the mass deportation of all undocumented migrants would cause an economic contraction of two per cent and a drop of 381 to 623 billion dollars in private sector output.

Juan just wants to cross the border. “The idea is to better yourself and then return home. People keep going there and they will continue to do so, because in our countries we cannot get by; the shelters are full of people looking for the same thing. If they were to deport me, I would try again,” he said.

For Donis from Hermanos en el Camino, migrant sending countries are not prepared to receive the massive return of their citizens.

“They already don’t have the capacity to sustain the people that are living in the country; it would be even more impossible for them to receive millions of deported migrants. Nor are shelters prepared. What these countries need to do is invest in sources of employment, in the countryside, in infrastructure, invest in their people, in order to curb migration,” said the activist.

During the caravan of mothers of missing migrants, which will end on Dec. 2 in Tapachula, Mexico, on the border with the United States, Sánchez anticipated that they would mention Trump and define their position. ”We will reject those measures and fight against them, this is just beginning,” she said.

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A Cuban Economy Facing Grim Forecasts Awaits Impact of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 22:54:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147782 Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 15 2016 (IPS)

Cuba’s economic difficulties will be aggravated by the uncertainty regarding how U.S. president-elect Donald Trump will deal with the thaw inherited from President Barack Obama.

Experts consulted by IPS preferred not to speculate. But they did recommend that the Cuban authorities adopt all measures within their reach to cushion the blow and reinforce what has been achieved on the economic front with the outgoing U.S. administration.

“In any case, Cuba will have to continue moving forward with its economic reforms and try to resolve whatever has clearly not functioned for decades and is within our reach to fix,” said Cuban economist Pável Vidal, a professor at the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests. He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.” – Ricardo Torres

Vidal is studying the economic reforms implemented since 2008 by the government of Raúl Castro, which has been facing major difficulties this year due to liquidity problems and oil shortages caused by the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, this country’s main trading partner and energy supplier.

In the first six months of this year, GDP grew just one percent, half of what was expected. And forecasts for the rest of 2016 are bleak, projecting a drop of one percent.

Further muddying the picture are the doubts with respect to the recently restored relations with the United States, now that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was defeated by her Republican rival in the Nov. 8 elections.

“With regard to Cuba, I don’t think (Trump) will roll back the important steps taken by the Obama administration to normalise relations between the two countries,” John Gronbeck-Tedesco, assistant professor of American Studies at Ramapo College in New Jersey, told IPS by email.

“But with a Republican-controlled Congress, it’s harder to know when the United States will fully commit to lifting the embargo and truly open up trade between the two countries,” said the academic, the author of the book “Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930-1975”.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, consists of a complex web of laws that can only be fully repealed by Congress.

Cuba sees the embargo as the biggest obstacle it faces to development and a normalisation of ties with its giant neighbour to the north.

Since the start of the move towards reestablishing bilateral ties, in December 2014, Obama has taken measures to undermine the embargo and attempted to protect his efforts by means of Presidential Policy Directive 43 on the normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba, issued on Oct. 14.

He even took an enormous symbolic step on Oct. 26, when for the first time in 25 years the United States abstained in the United Nations vote on the resolution that Cuba has presented annually since 1992, condemning the U.S. embargo, which it blames for 125.873 billion dollars in losses.

 Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS


Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Obama said his aim was to make the opening to Cuba “irreversible”. But just a week before the election, Trump said “We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal that we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom.”

But the business community and Cuban-Americans are largely in favour of the thaw, as analysts in both countries have been pointing out.

In Gronbeck-Tedesco’s view, “The United States will continue treating Cuba and Venezuela as separate political issues. And since Venezuela is still suffering from economic and political uncertainty, Trump’s plans would not appear to include an improvement in relations with Venezuela or help in rebuilding that country.”

In a reaction that observers like Vidal describe as “tardy”, Havana appears to be pushing for more foreign investment, especially in the energy industry, which is heavily dependent on the shrinking deliveries of Venezuelan crude.

“The tendency is for foreign investment in energy to pick up speed,” Juan Manuel Presa, an official at Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, told IPS. “There are a large number of projects in different stages of progress to use renewable sources, mainly wind and solar power.”

The engineer said the industry “is seeking a diversity of partners in a diversity of formulas: external financing of Cuban projects, companies that are made up 100 percent of foreign capital, and the new legal status of mixed – Cuban and foreign – companies.”

Cuba is still far from its goal of drawing 2. 5 billion dollars a year in foreign investment – the amount needed to put the economy on a steady footing. The 83 projects approved since a new law on foreign investment went into effect in 2014 have attracted just 1.3 billion dollars so far.

But to some extent, the thaw is easing the tense economic situation in this country.

Between 2.0 and 2.5 billion dollars in remittances from abroad flow into Cuba annually, mainly coming from the Cuban-American community, according to estimates by Cuban economist Juan Triana.

Only exports of medical services bring in more hard currency revenues, he said.

Another major source of hard currency is tourism. Cuba’s colonial cities and white sand beaches are experiencing an unprecedented tourism boom, with the number of visitors from the U.S. growing every month, despite the fact that they can only travel here under one of 12 approved categories, such as family visits, academic programs, professional research, journalistic or religious activities.

In the first half of this year, Cuba received 2,147,912 visitors from abroad, including 136,913 from the U.S. This latter number was 80 percent higher than the total for the first half of 2015, according to the national statistics office, ONEI.

In that period, tourism brought in more than 1.2 billion dollars, only counting public installations, not the growing private sector, which rents out rooms and runs taxis and restaurants.

Cuban economist Ricardo Torres showed IPS a novel analysis on the U.S. president-elect, who was widely criticised during the campaign for his racist, xenophobic and misogynistic remarks.

“There are three aspects (of Trump) that could benefit relations with Cuba,” the academic researcher said.

“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests,” he said. “He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.”

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Anti-Boeing Bill Offers Early Iran Test for Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/anti-boeing-bill-offers-early-iran-test-for-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-boeing-bill-offers-early-iran-test-for-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/anti-boeing-bill-offers-early-iran-test-for-trump/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 15:48:28 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147773 dreamliner_rendering_787-3-620x350

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 15 2016 (IPS)

Will a President Trump intend to put U.S. business first and preserve and expand the U.S. manufacturing workforce as part of his plan to make America great again? Or will he hold to the reflexive anti-Iran positions of the Republican Congressional majority, Sheldon Adelson, and the neoconservatives, including the NeverTrumpers who, with Democrats marginalized across the board, are already seeking ways to gain influence with whomever the president-elect chooses to advise him?

That’s the question that will likely come to the fore next week when the House of Representatives is likely to vote on legislation that would effectively ban Boeing from exporting at least 80 planes to Iran’s national air carrier. The sale is part of a deal that could total as much as $25 billion and employ many thousands of skilled workers across the United States.

The House Rules Committee, led by the committee’s trade panel chair Bill Huizenga (R-MI), has made action of the bill priority number one when Congress returns from its long election recess on Monday. A floor vote could come as early as next Wednesday. The bill, which will likely be merged with another that would prohibit the Export-Import Bank from helping finance any deals involving Iran, was drafted in response to the Treasury Department’s approval earlier this fall of Boeing to sell and/or lease commercial aircraft to Iran Air. Just last week, Iran’s deputy transport minister said that the final details of the deal should be worked out “within days.”

So, if Trump wants to preserve and expand the U.S. manufacturing base, supporting a deal of this scale with this particular company would seem to be very attractive, particularly because Boeing itself has been shedding a significant share of its workforce over the last months due to a dearth of new orders
Boeing employs 150,000 workers in the U.S. The commercial aviation division, which is most relevant to the pending Iran Air deal, employs 85,000 workers (not counting administrative staff). As the biggest single U.S. exporter of manufactured goods, Boeing has thousands of workers in each of nine states, notably Washington State (with about half its U.S. workforce) and California, but also red states including Alabama, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. It also has hundreds of staff at its corporate headquarters in Illinois, which is one reason why the outgoing senator, Mark Kirk—otherwise a staunch AIPAC supporter behind virtually every effort to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal—never took a clear stand on the Boeing sale. In the past 12 months, the company has paid nearly $50 billion to more than 13,600 businesses, supporting an additional 1.5 million supplier-related jobs across the country. So, if Trump wants to preserve and expand the U.S. manufacturing base, supporting a deal of this scale with this particular company would seem to be very attractive, particularly because Boeing itself has been shedding a significant share of its workforce over the last months due to a dearth of new orders.

Of course, Trump has repeatedly denounced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, vowing from time to time to either discard or renegotiate the nuclear deal. Back in June, when Boeing entered into formal talks over the sale, his campaign decried it, insisting that “the world’s largest state sponsor of terror …would not have been allowed to enter into these negotiations with Boeing without Clinton’s disastrous Iran Nuclear Deal.” But, as noted by Foreign Policy’s John Hudson at the time, Trump has also complained that one of the reasons the JCPOA was so “disastrous” was because it removed sanctions on Boeing’s chief rival, Airbus (which has entered into a somewhat bigger deal with Iran Air), while retaining Washington’s unilateral sanctions that prevented Boeing from selling planes. “Iran is going to buy 116 jetliners with a small part of the $150 billion [sic] we are giving them…but they won’t buy from U.S., rather than Airbus,” he tweeted in January.

“They bought 118 Airbus planes, not Boeing planes,” he elaborated on CNN. “They’re spending all of their money in Europe. It’s so unfair and it’s so incompetent. We’re handing over $150 billion [sic]. We get nothing,” he complained to Anderson Cooper.

This was, of course, before the Treasury Department issued the license to Boeing in September that made an agreement possible. Since then, Trump, like Kirk, has not expressed a firm opinion on the deal even while he has continued denouncing the JCPOA.

In the absence of a clear statement in opposition from the president-elect, the pending legislation will easily pass the House this week if it comes up for a vote. But it’s not yet clear what the Senate will do, and no doubt some key senators in the Republican majority will be looking for guidance from Trump Tower.

One very big question is what the larger U.S. business community will do and, if they do anything at all, how Trump will react. So far, Boeing has been flying pretty much solo in gaining approval to negotiate with Iran. Most big U.S. companies share Trump’s complaint about the lack of advantages given them by the JCPOA compared to their foreign competition, and offering more exemptions from U.S. sanctions would have been a political bridge too far for the Obama administration. With Trump now bound for the White House, the main challenge for groups like The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, and the National Foreign Trade Council at this point is how to persuade Trump to modify his positions on trade and immigration, which of course are much more important in business terms than Iran.

Nonetheless, the Boeing deal could be a very important precedent for U.S.-based multinational corporations. If Trump indicated his support for the deal consistent with his commitments to creating jobs and expanding the economy, it would boost not only those companies that see in Iran a huge untapped market for their goods and services. It would also signal a major advance in one of big businesses’ long-term struggles: fighting unilateral U.S. economic sanctions enacted by Congress. If Boeing prevails, other companies have a lot to gain.

So, Trump faces a key Iran-related decision. Does he side with U.S. business and workers in the interests of “America First”? Or does he listen to knee-jerk, pro-Likud Iran hawks who argue that Boeing aircraft could be used to transport terrorists but whose real agenda is to destroy an agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program, even at the risk of alienating Washington’s NATO allies and provoking another major war in the Greater Middle East that will cost the U.S. Treasury many billions of dollars?

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

 

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Opposition to Oil Pipeline in U.S. Serves as Example for Indigenous Struggles in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/opposition-to-oil-pipeline-in-u-s-serves-as-example-for-indigenous-struggles-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 16:07:05 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147730 The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is fighting the construction of an oil pipeline across their land in North Dakota. The movement has gained international solidarity and has many things in common with indigenous struggles against megaprojects in Latin America. Credit: Downwindersatrisk.org

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

Canadian activist Clayton Thomas-Muller crossed the border between his country and the United States to join the Native American movement against the construction of an oil pipeline, which has become a model to follow in struggles by indigenous people against megaprojects, that share many common elements.

“It’s an amazing movement. Its number one factor is the spiritual founding of cosmology. There are indigenous people all around the world that share the cosmology of water. There is a feeling on sacred land. This is the biggest indigenous movement since pre-colonial times,” the delegate for the Indigenous Environmental Network told IPS.

Thomas-Muller, of the Cree people, stressed that the oil pipeline “is one of the major cases of environmental risk in the United States” fought by indigenous people.

“We see many parallels in the local indigenous struggles. When indigenous people arise and call upon the power of their cosmology and their world view and add them up to social movements, they light people up as we’ve never seen,” he told IPS by phone from the Sioux encampment that he joined on Nov. 6.

“This struggle is everywhere, the whole world is with Standing Rock,” he said.

Standing Rock Sioux is the tribe that heads the opposition to the 1,890-km Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the state of North Dakota, along the Canadian border.

The 3.7 billion dollar pipeline, which is being built by the US company Dakota Access, is to transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken shale formation.

The opposition to the pipeline by the Sioux, or Dakota, Indians has brought construction to a halt since September, in a battle that has gained thousands of supporters since April, including people from different Native American tribes, environmental activists and celebrity advocates, not only from the U.S. but from around the world.

Their opposition is based on the damages that they say the pipeline would cause to sacred sites, indigenous land and water bodies. They complain that the government did not negotiate with them access to a territory over which they have complete jurisdiction.

Some 600 flags of indigenous peoples from around the world wave over the camp on the banks of the Missouri River where the movement has been resisting the crackdown that has intensified since October. Of the U.S. population of 325 million, about 2.63 million are indigenous people, belonging to 150 different tribes.

The movement has served as an example for similar battles in Latin America, according to indigenous leaders.

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

Map of the Sioux territory affected by the oil pipeline in the U.S. state of North Dakota. Credit: Northlandia.com

In the northern Mexican state of Sonora, the Yaqui people are also fighting a private pipeline threatening their lands.

“We were not asked or informed. We want to be consulted, we want our rights to be respected. We are defending our territory, our environment,” Yaqui activist Plutarco Flores told IPS.

In a consultation held in accordance with their uses and customs in May 2015, the Yaqui people – one of Mexico’s 54 native groups – voted against the gas pipeline that would run across their land. But the government failed to recognise their decision. In response, the Yaqui filed an appeal for legal protection in April, which halted construction.

Of the 850-km pipeline, 90 km run through Yaqui territory – and through people’s backyards. In October, a violent clash between opponents and supporters of the pipeline left one indigenous person dead and 14 injured.

For Flores, the indigenous struggle against megaprojects has become “a paradigm” and protests like the one at Standing Rock “inspire and reassure us because of our shared cultural patterns.”

Also in Mexico, in the northern state of Sinaloa, the Rarámuri native people have since January 2015 halted the construction of a gas pipeline across their lands and the bordering U.S. state of Texas, demanding free prior and informed consultation, as required by law.

Unlike the U.S., Latin American countries are signatories to International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which protects their rights and makes this kind of consultation obligatory in the case of projects that affect their territories.

But in many cases, according to indigenous leaders consulted by IPS, this right has not been incorporated in national laws, or is simply not complied with, when projects involving oil, mining, hydroelectric or infrastructure activities affect their ancestral lands.

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Mexico City for an international conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation on projects that affect their lands. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Both the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Special Rapporteur on Indigenous People’s Rights, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, requested in September that the U.S. government consult the communities affected by the oil pipeline.

“The fact that they’re not being consulted means a violation to their rights. The arrests that have taken place are too a violation of the right of free assembly,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS Nov. 9, at the end of a visit to Mexico.

During her three days in the country, the special rapporteur participated in a conference on indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consultation, promoted by the the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

Tauli-Corpuz also met with representatives of 20 indigenous Mexican communities affected by gas pipelines, hydropower plants, highways and mines. The Mexican government announced that in 2017 it would officially invite the special rapporteur to assess the situation of indigenous people in Mexico.

The U.N. official said a recurring complaint she has heard on her trips to Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and Peru is the lack of free, prior consultation that is obligatory under Convention 169.

In Costa Rica, the Maleku people, one of the Central American country’s eight indigenous groups, who total 104,000 people, are worried about the expansion of the San Rafael de Guatuso aqueduct, in the north of the country.

“A fake consultation was carried out. Also, the people do not want water meters, because they would have to pay more for water,” Tatiana Mojica, the Maleku people’s legal representative, who is thinking about filing an appeal for legal protection against the project, told IPS during the colloquium.

Since September, Sarayaku indigenous people from Ecuador, Emberá-Wounaan from Panamá, and Tacana from Bolivia have visited the Sioux camp to protest the oil pipeline.

Thomas-Muller said “We have the opportunity to stop it. I’m optimistic that we will be victorious here. These movements are the hammer that will fall over oil infrastructure owned by the banks and big corporations. We want political will to make an appearance,” he said.

A major Nov. 15 protest is being organised to demand that the government refuse a permit for the North Dakota pipeline.

“This struggle will go through all the steps that it has to. We will make sure that the Sonora pipeline is not built,” said Flores.

Meanwhile, Mojica said “we are uniting to fight against megaprojects that affect us. We are making ourselves heard.”

Tauli-Corpuz said “Opposition to pipelines is a common feature of indigenous people. It’s a magnet that attracts solidarity from all over the world.”

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