Inter Press ServiceNorth America – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 18 Aug 2017 19:16:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Why New US Cold War with Russia Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-us-cold-war-russia-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 15:54:16 +0000 Vladimir Popov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151631 Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

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Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

By Vladimir Popov
BERLIN, Aug 9 2017 (IPS)

Even before the imposition of new sanctions on Russia by Donald Trump and the ongoing fuss over Russian hackers undermining US democracy, Russian-American relations had deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s. Why?

Vladimir Popov

Political ideology
After all, the US has fewer ideological disagreements with Russia than with the USSR. Russia now has a capitalist economy and is more democratic than the USSR. Russia is also much weaker than the USSR – its population and territory are about 60 to 80 percent of the Soviet Union, and its economic and military might has been considerably diminished, so it poses much less of a threat to the US than the USSR.
However, US rhetoric and actions towards Russia are much more belligerent now than during the 1970s, or in the 1980s, when the US imposed sanctions against the USSR after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. Even when President Reagan was calling the USSR ‘the evil empire’, relations did not deteriorate as much as in recent years.

Bilateral economic relations have taken a similar turn for the worse. Soviet-US trade expanded rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, nominally increasing nearly a hundred-fold in two decades, before plateauing in the 1980s. There was some growth in the 1990s and 2000s after the USSR fell apart, but after peaking in 2011, trade has been falling.

Why did the fastest expansion of bilateral trade occur in the 1960s and 1970s? After all, the USSR was not a market economy, and also ‘communist’. By contrast, US trade growth with post-Soviet, capitalist and democratic Russia over the next two decades was modest, before actually shrinking in the last half decade.

Geopolitics?

One popular explanation is geopolitical considerations. It is argued that when a hostile power tries to expand its influence, the US, the rest of the West and hence, NATO respond strongly.

Examples cited include the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, and sanctions against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The same could be said about more recent Western sanctions in response to Russian advances in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria.

But the 1970s contradicts this argument. After all, the USSR was gaining ground at US expense in Indochina, the former Portuguese colonies, Nicaragua and other developing countries. Why then did détente and trade grow in the 1970s?

US as #1
The US position is not primarily determined by either ideology or geopolitics, but rather, by the changing US establishment view of the balance of power. After the devastation of the Second World War, the USSR was hardly a superpower, so the US expected to press the USSR, its erstwhile ally, into submission through the Cold War.

But the Soviet Union began closing the gap with the United States in terms of productivity, per capita income and military strength in the 1950s and 1960s. Even though its economy slowed from the mid-1960s, the USSR had caught up in many respects, enough to qualify as the other superpower. The result was détente. Although the USSR had been offering rapprochement after the Second World War, the US only accepted detente in the 1970s, as the military gap closed.

Today, the US establishment knows that the Russian economy have fallen far behind since the 1980s while its military is getting more obsolete. The strategic conclusion appears to be that Russia can be contained via direct pressure and sanctions, something unthinkable against the communist USSR in the 1970s or China today, even though China is less democratic than Russia and still led by a communist party.

Playing with fire
Economically and militarily, Russia is undoubtedly relatively much weaker today than the USSR was. But its capacity has recovered considerably in the new century from the 1990s, with modest growth reversing the economic devastation of the Yeltsin presidency.

And even if it is true that the US is now an unchallenged ‘number one’, and will remain dominant in the foreseeable future, while Russia is not only weak, but also getting relatively weaker, the current effort of pressing Russia into submission has risks.

US pressure on Russia can result in a stand-off comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which the USSR was willing to risk at that time, even though its military capability was well behind that of the US. Eventually, not only were Soviet missiles withdrawn from Cuba, a return to the status quo ante, but the US also promised not only not to invade Cuba, but also to withdraw its medium range missiles from Turkey.

True, Russia is relatively weaker today, but it still has tremendous destructive capacity. One only has to remember that North Korea, with much less military capacity, has successfully withstood US pressure for decades. However, as US economic dominance in the world has been eroding since the Second World War, and its military superiority is the main source of US advantage, the temptation will remain to use this superiority before it is eroded as well.

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New Neocon Mantra: Iran, like Soviet Union, on Verge of Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-neocon-mantra-iran-like-soviet-union-verge-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-neocon-mantra-iran-like-soviet-union-verge-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-neocon-mantra-iran-like-soviet-union-verge-collapse/#respond Fri, 07 Jul 2017 21:12:49 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151217 Iran hawks suddenly have a new mantra: the Islamic Republic is the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the Trump administration should work to hasten the regime’s impending collapse. It’s not clear why this comparison has surfaced so abruptly. Its proponents don’t cite any tangible or concrete evidence that the regime in Tehran is […]

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New Neocon Mantra: Iran, like Soviet Union, on Verge of Collapse

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2017 (IPS)

Iran hawks suddenly have a new mantra: the Islamic Republic is the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the Trump administration should work to hasten the regime’s impending collapse.

It’s not clear why this comparison has surfaced so abruptly. Its proponents don’t cite any tangible or concrete evidence that the regime in Tehran is somehow on its last legs. But I’m guessing that months of internal policy debate on Iran has finally reached the top echelons in the policy-making chaos that is the White House these days. And the hawks, encouraged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s rather offhand statement late last month that Washington favors “peaceful” regime change in Iran, appear to be trying to influence the internal debate by arguing that this is Trump’s opportunity to be Ronald Reagan. Indeed, this comparison is so ahistorical, so ungrounded in anything observable, that it can only be aimed at one person, someone notorious for a lack of curiosity and historical perspective, and a strong attraction to “fake news” that magnifies his ego and sense of destiny.

This new theme seemed to have come out of the blue Tuesday with the publication on the Wall Street Journal’s comics—I mean, op-ed—pages of a column entitled “Confront Iran the Reagan Way” by the South Africa-born, Canada-raised CEO of the Likudist Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), Mark Dubowitz. I wish I could publish the whole thing (which is behind a paywall), but a couple of quotes will have to suffice:

In the early 1980s, President Reagan shifted away from his predecessors’ containment strategy toward a new plan of rolling back Soviet expansionism. The cornerstone of his strategy was the recognition that the Soviet Union was an aggressive and revolutionary yet internally fragile regime that had to be defeated.

Reagan’s policy was outlined in 1983 in National Security Decision Directive 75, a comprehensive strategy that called for the use of all instruments of American overt and covert power. The plan included a massive defense buildup, economic warfare, support for anti-Soviet proxy forces and dissidents, and an all-out offensive against the regime’s ideological legitimacy.

Mr. Trump should call for a new version of NSDD-75 and go on offense against the Iranian regime.

…the American pressure campaign should seek to undermine Iran’s rulers by strengthening the pro-democracy forces that erupted in Iran in 2009, nearly toppling the regime. Target the regime’s soft underbelly: its massive corruption and human-rights abuses. Conventional wisdom assumes that Iran has a stable government with a public united behind President Hassan Rouhani’s vision of incremental reform. In reality, the gap between the ruled and their Islamist rulers is expanding.

….The administration should present Iran the choice between a new [nuclear] agreement and an unrelenting American pressure campaign while signaling that it is unilaterally prepared to cancel the existing deal if Tehran doesn’t play ball.

Only six years after Ronald Reagan adopted his pressure strategy, the Soviet bloc collapsed. Washington must intensify the pressure on the mullahs as Reagan did on the communists. Otherwise, a lethal nuclear Iran is less than a decade away.

Dubowitz, who clearly has allies inside the administration, asserts that parts of this strategy are already being implemented. “CIA Director Mike Pompeo is putting the agency on an aggressive footing against [the Iranian regime’s terrorist] global networks with the development of a more muscular covert action program.” Dubowitz predictably urges “massive economic sanctions,” calls for “working closely with allied Sunni governments,” and argues—rather dubiously—that “Europeans …may support a tougher Iran policy if it means Washington finally gets serious about Syria.” As for the alleged domestic weaknesses of the regime, let alone its similarity to the USSR in its decline, he offers no evidence whatever.

Takeyh Joins In

I thought this was a crazy kind of one-off by FDD, which, of course, houses former American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Freedom Scholar Michael Ledeen, who has been predicting the imminent demise of the Islamic Republic—and Supreme Leader Khamenei—for some 20 years or so. Ledeen also co-authored former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s bizarre 2016 autobiography and no doubt tutored the NSC’s 31-year-old intelligence director, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whose conviction that the regime can be overthrown has been widely reported.

But then a friend brought to my attention a short piece posted Wednesday on The Washington Post’s website by Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations Iran specialist who in recent years has cavorted with Dubowitz and FDD and similarly inclined Likudist groups, notably the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Entitled “It’s Time to Prepare for Iran’s Political Collapse,” it also compared Iran today with the Soviet Union on the verge.

Today, the Islamic republic lumbers on as the Soviet Union did during its last years. It professes an ideology that convinces no one. It commands security services that proved unreliable in the 2009 rebellion, causing the regime to deploy the Basij militias because many commanders of the Revolutionary Guards refused to shoot the protesters.

…Today, the Islamic republic will not be able to manage a succession to the post of the supreme leader as its factions are too divided and its public too disaffected.…

The task of a judicious U.S. government today is to plan for the probable outbreak of another protest movement or the sudden passing of Khamenei that could destabilize the system to the point of collapse. How can we further sow discord in Iran’s vicious factional politics? How can the United States weaken the regime’s already unsteady security services? This will require not just draining the Islamic republic’s coffers but also finding ways to empower its domestic critics. The planning for all this must start today; once the crisis breaks out, it will be too late for America to be a player.

Once again, actual evidence for the regime’s fragility is not offered. Indeed, although he claims that the 2009 “Green Revolt” “forever delegitimized the system and severed the bonds between state and society,” he fails to note that May’s presidential election resulted in a landslide win for President Hassan Rouhani with 73 percent voter turnout, or that reformist candidates swept the local council polls in most major cities, or that the leader of the reformist movement, leaders of the Green Movement, and prominent political prisoners encouraged participation. Nor does he address the question of whether Washington’s intervention in Iran’s internal politics—in whatever form—will actually help or harm efforts by the regime’s “domestic critics” to promote reform, particularly in light of the recent disclosures of the extent and persistence of U.S. intervention in the events leading up to and including the 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq. Or whether last month’s terrorist attack by ISIS in Tehran might have strengthened the relationship between society and state.

This is not to deny that the regime is both oppressive and highly factionalized, but why is it suddenly so vulnerable—so much like the Soviet Union of the late 1980s—compared to what it was five or ten or 20 or 25 years ago? Only because Khamenei is likely to pass from the scene sooner rather than later? That seems like a weak reed on which to base a policy as fraught as what is being proposed.

Again, I’m not sure that this Iran=USSR-at-death’s-door meme is aimed so much at the public, or even the foreign-policy elite, as it is toward the fever swamps of a White House run by the likes of Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller or Cohen-Watnick. But here’s why a little more research into the new equation really got my attention.

And Also Lieberman

Dubowitz’s article, it turns out, was not the first recent reference. The most direct recent reference was offered by none other than former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who incidentally is one of three members of FDD’s “Leadership Council,” in a speech before none other than the annual conference of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its cult leader, Maryam Rajavi, outside Paris July 1. Seemingly anticipating Takeyh (plus the Rajavi reference), Lieberman declared:

Some things have changed inside Iran, and that’s at the level of the people. You can never suppress a people, you can never enslave a people forever. The people of Iran inside Iran have shown the courage to rise up… To just talk about that, to just talk about that, to hold Madam Rajavi’s picture up in public places, is a sign of the unrest of the people and the growing confidence of the people that change is near. The same is true of the remarkable public disagreements between the various leaders of the country…It is time for America and hopefully some of our allies in Europe to give whatever support we can to those who are fighting for freedom within Iran.

He then went on, “Long before the Berlin Wall collapsed, long before the Soviet Union fell, the United States was supporting resistance movements within the former Soviet Union”—an apparent reference, albeit not an entirely clear one — to the Reagan Doctrine and its purported role in provoking the Communist collapse.

And, in a passage that no doubt expressed what at least Dubowitz and his allies think but can’t say publicly at this point:

The Arab nations are energized under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince [Mohammed] bin Salman. [Saudi Prince (and former intelligence chief) Turki Al Faisal Al Saudi addressed the “Free Iran Gathering” just before Lieberman.] They’re more active diplomatically and militarily as part of a resistance against the regime in Iran than we’ve ever seen before. And of course for a long time the state of Israel, because its very existence is threatened by the regime in Iran, has wanted to help change that regime. So you have coming together now a mighty coalition of forces: America, the Arab world, and Israel joining with the Resistance, and that should give us hope that we can make that [regime] change.

Putting aside the question of just how popular or unpopular Madam Rajavi is in Iran for a second, there are a number of truly remarkable things about Lieberman’s speech. How much will it help “the resistance” in Iran to be seen as supported by the Saudis and the “Arab nations?” And how will it help to boast about Israel’s assistance when most Iranians already appear to believe that the Islamic State is a creation of the Saudis and/or Israel? Is there any “mighty coalition” more likely to permanently alienate the vast majority of Iranians? Is it possible that the MEK has become an IRGC counter-intelligence operation? It’s very clear indeed that the group is lobbying heavily—and spending lavishly—to become the administration’s chosen instrument for achieving regime change. But advertising Saudi and Israeli support for the enterprise will likely make that goal more elusive. The MEK’s reputation in Iran was bad enough, but this is really over the top.

Lieberman no doubt received ample compensation for saying what he said. Other former prominent US officials, including John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Gen. Jack Keane—all of whom probably have closer ties than Lieberman to the White House – also spoke at the MEK event, which, incidentally, makes me think that the White House is indeed seriously considering supporting the group as at least one part of its Iran policy. I suspect we’ll find out soon enough.

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

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U.S. “Dumping” Dark Meat Chicken on African Marketshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/u-s-dumping-dark-meat-chicken-african-markets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-dumping-dark-meat-chicken-african-markets http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/u-s-dumping-dark-meat-chicken-african-markets/#comments Thu, 06 Jul 2017 00:01:14 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151131 The United States and Europe’s preference for white meat is hurting Africa’s poultry industry, says Luc Smalle, manager at the agro firm Rossgro in South Africa’s Mpumalanga area. With 3000 Ha of maize and 1000 Ha of soya, as well as 1,500 heads of beef cattle, Rossgro mills its own feed, which also caters for […]

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Bags of feed at the Rossgro agribusiness firm in South Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Bags of feed at the Rossgro agribusiness firm in South Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MPUMALANGA, South Africa, Jul 6 2017 (IPS)

The United States and Europe’s preference for white meat is hurting Africa’s poultry industry, says Luc Smalle, manager at the agro firm Rossgro in South Africa’s Mpumalanga area.

With 3000 Ha of maize and 1000 Ha of soya, as well as 1,500 heads of beef cattle, Rossgro mills its own feed, which also caters for millions of chickens housed in 40 environmentally controlled houses.Africa’s young, dynamic population has the potential to lead an economic revival in the region, backed by targeted long- and short-term reforms in key areas.

But Smalle is uncertain about the future of the poultry business, not only in South Africa but the whole continent.

He recalled how the US and Europe exported millions of tonnes of chicken meat to the then Soviet Union (now Russia). Historically, Russia was the major importer of America’s dark meat. According to available data, in 2009 alone, Russia is said to have doled out 800 million dollars for 1.6 billion pounds of U.S. leg quarters.

But in 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned U.S. chicken from Russian shores, allegedly because it was treated with ‘unsafe’ antimicrobial chlorine. The ban remains in place, although some say it’s more about politics than public health.

Either way, according to Smalle, the ban “has led America and Europe to look for alternative markets to dump brown meat because most of the First World eats white meat, so they are dumping chicken in the third world, especially Africa. We should stand together and work with our governments to stop imports or put high tariffs so that they can’t dump it anymore.”

In a chicken, white meat refers to the breast and wings while legs and thighs are considered red/dark meat. The nutritional difference is fat content. White meat is a leaner source of protein, with a lower fat content, while dark meat contains higher levels of fat, hence the developed world preference for white meat on health grounds.

Smalle believes this state of affairs is hurting African poultry industry competitiveness where the average cost of raising a chicken is far much higher than in the developed world. He says most African farmers rely on bank loans from banks while their European and American counterparts are heavily subsidised by their governments.

“It’s going to kill the whole poultry industry in Africa if nothing is done to reverse the trend; they have subsidies which the African farmer does not have,” Smalle told IPS, citing the South African poultry industry, where he says a third of the workers have lost their jobs because firms have been pushed out of business.

Under free market economics, Smalle’s arguments might seem out of order. But the latest Africa Competitiveness Report 2017 jointly issued by the African Development Bank, World Bank and World Economic Forum seems to support the continent’s argument.

The report warns that without urgent action to address stagnating levels of competitiveness, Africa’s economies will not create enough jobs for young people entering the job market, adding that if current policies remain unchanged, fewer than one-quarter of the 450 million new jobs needed in the next 20 years will be created.

The biennial report comes at a time when growth in most of the region’s economies has been slowing despite a decade of sustained growth, and is likely to stagnate further in the absence of improvements in the core conditions for competitiveness.

Compounding the challenge to Africa’s leaders is a rapidly expanding population, which is set to add 450 million more to the labour force over the next two decades. Under current policies, only an estimated 100 million jobs will be created during this period.

Africa’s young, dynamic population does, however, possess the potential to lead an economic revival in the region, backed by targeted long- and short-term reforms in key areas, the report finds.

“To meet the aspirations of their growing youth populations, African governments are well-advised to enact polices that improve levels of productivity and the business environment for trade and investment,” says the World Bank Group’s Klaus Tilmes, Director of the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, which contributed to the report.

“The World Bank Group is helping governments and the private sector across Africa to take the steps necessary to build strong economies and accelerate job creation in order to benefit from the potential demographic dividend.”

Some of the bottlenecks and solutions include strengthening institutions, which experts believe is a pre-condition to enable faster and more effective policy implementation; improved infrastructure to enable greater levels of trade and business growth; greater adoption of technology and support to developing value-chain links to extractive sectors to encourage diversification and value addition.

The World Economic Forum’s Richard Samans, Head of the Centre for the Global Agenda and Member of the Managing Board, believes that “removing the hurdles that prevent Africa from fulfilling its competitiveness potential is the first step required to achieve more sustained economic progress and shared prosperity.”

The Africa Competitiveness report was released in May during the 27th World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, South Africa, attended by more than 1,000 participants under the theme “Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership.”

The report combines data from the Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) with studies on employment policies and city competitiveness.

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Is Religion the New Colonial Frontier in International Development?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development/#respond Tue, 04 Jul 2017 06:30:40 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151158 Azza Karam is Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

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Azza Karam is Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2017 (IPS)

A decade ago, it was difficult to get Western policy makers in governments to be interested in the role of religious organizations in human development. The secular mind-set was such that religion was perceived, at best, as a private affair. At worst, religion was deemed the cause of harmful social practices, an obstacle to the “sacred” nature of universal human rights, and/or the root cause of terrorism. In short, religion belonged in the ‘basket of deplorables’.

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Yet, starting in the mid-1990s with then President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, and celebrated in 2000 under then UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan when the Millenium Development Goals were agreed to, a number of religiously-inspired initiatives coalesced, all trying to move ‘religion’ to international development’s ‘basket of desirables’.

The arguments used to begin to generate positive interest in the role of religious NGOs in international multilateral fora were relatively straightforward. Today they are almost a cliche: religious institutions are the oldest social service providers known to human kind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today, are administered or influenced to some extent, by religious entities.

So if we are serious about strengthening health systems and universal access to healthcare, enhancing educational institutions, content and accessibility, protecting our environment, safeguarding the rights of marginlised and vulnerable populations, countering social exclusion and ensuring human dignity, then – the argument is – we have to work with those who influence minds, hearts, and continue to provide and manage significant amounts of social services in most countries. Facts and figures as to how many social services are provided by/through religious institutions continue to be provided and roundly disputed.

The number of initiatives within the secular multilaterals – like the UN – which focused on ‘religion and development’ began to slowly attract the attention (and the money) of some western donor governments such as Switzerland and Norway, both of whom were keen on mobilising religious support for women’s rights in particular. Some governments (such as the USA and the UK) dabbled in engaging with religious NGOs both at home in their own countries, and supporting some of them in their development and humanitarian work abroad.

Nevertheless, from a multilateral perspective, the larger tapestry of western donor support to efforts around religion, tended to be marginal – dipping toes in the water rather than taking a plunge.

With the increasing presence of al-Qaeda on the world stage in 2001, and the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world witnessed the emerging gruesome hydras of religious extremism, at once fueling, and being fueled by, the phenomena of ultra nationalism, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Some western governments spoke openly of engaging religious actors in counter-terrorism, but this narrative was fraught with political tensions.

It was only when migrants appeared to ‘flood’ European shores (albeit in numbers which are only a fraction of those ending up in developing countries), that there was a noticeable surge of keen interest by several western governments in ‘this religion thing’.

For the UN developmental entities who had invested significantly to generate the interest of their largest western donors in the relevance of religions to development, spurred by the learning from the MDGs and with a view to realizing Agenda 2030, there was a noticeable volte face which was taking place right under their noses.

Almost overnight, UN-steered initiatives to engage with religious actors and enhance partnerships around health, education, environment, women’s rights, humanitarian work, all of which had been painstakingly prepared and backed by years of research, consultations, networking and shared practice (as the work of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development testifies) became the object of desire by some governments.

Rather than seek to support the UN in continuing to engage with this work and the critical partnerships developed and labored over for years, however, the objective of these governments is to seek to directly manage the convening, networking and funding roles of faith-based entities, ostensibly with the same objectives of achieving the SDGs.

But there is a critical difference between the UN convening and working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders, and one or a handful of governments doing so. To survive, to thrive, and to protect human rights, the agenda of multilateral entities has to remain distinct from the national self-interest of any one government – or a handful thereof – no matter how powerful this government (or these governments), may be.

This applies to all issues, constituencies and types of partnerships outlined in SDG 17. But the argument here is even more powerful: that where religions are concerned, the need for unbiased and non-partisan engagement with religious actors, distinct from any one nation’s self-interest, is crucial.

If there is suspicion about the role of a non-western government in supporting religious actors in countries outside of its own, then why do we not also suspect western governments of involving themselves in supporting religious efforts in countries other than their own?

This question becomes especially pertinent when we begin to look at the religious composition of the western governments now keen on ‘supporting religion and development’ abroad – they are mostly Christian. And if we look at the governments viewed with much suspicion who have long been supporting religious engagement overseas (also for development and humanitarian purposes, one might add), they tend to be Muslim. A coincidence perhaps?

To avoid these kinds of questions, it would behoove all concerned parties interested in achieving the significant targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, and with a view to endorsing the United Nations’ mandate of safeguarding peace and security and protecting human rights, to support the efforts of the UN system in engaging the whole of civil society.

Rather than efforts driven by some governments, to work with select religious actors, in some countries, the challenge (which is fully achievable) is to strengthen the multi-faith and broad-based civic coalitions of legally registered, bona fide NGOs, working with and known to their governments and to the UN entities, at national, regional and global levels, to deliver for the world.

Otherwise, the danger is that such efforts will be misconstrued as the new colonial enterprise in international development, playing into rising religious tensions globally. History is replete with examples where mobilizing religious actors in other countries, no matter how well-intentioned, can create some rather unholy alliances.

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Funding Climate Resilience Benefits All Nations – Yes, the U.S. Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/funding-climate-resilience-benefits-nations-yes-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-climate-resilience-benefits-nations-yes-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/funding-climate-resilience-benefits-nations-yes-u-s/#comments Tue, 04 Jul 2017 00:23:36 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151128 A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist and former climate negotiator in the Caribbean says that the United States could protect its economic and political interest by helping the region to go green. Further, James Fletcher, a former Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology in St. Lucia, says that US President Donald […]

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Trump’s emphasis on the coal industry is an attempt to increase jobs that no longer exist, while ignoring numerous opportunities in renewable energy

People wait for assistance after the devastation left by Hurricane Matthew in Low Sound, North Andros, The Bahamas in October 2016. A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist in the Caribbean says more climate-related disasters can result in climate refugees looking towards the United States for assistance. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Jul 4 2017 (IPS)

A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist and former climate negotiator in the Caribbean says that the United States could protect its economic and political interest by helping the region to go green.

Further, James Fletcher, a former Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology in St. Lucia, says that US President Donald Trump’s emphasis on the coal industry is an attempt to increase jobs that no longer exist, while ignoring numerous opportunities in renewable energy.“President Trump does not understand, his administration does not understand, that the more that you invest in building resilience in countries like ours, the more it allows us to make that transition away from fossil fuels. It is less of a burden that it places on them.” --James Fletcher

On June 1, Trump announced that he would withdraw the United States from the global climate change deal reached in Paris in 2015, saying that the non-binding accord imposes draconian financial and economic burdens on the United States.

The US President was referring to the Green Climate Fund, for which advanced economies have formally agreed to jointly mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020, from a variety of sources, to address the pressing mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries.

Fletcher, who was the 15-member Caribbean Community’s lead negotiator for the Paris accord, told St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Minister of Sustainable Development, Camillo Gonsalves’ “Firm Mediation” podcast, that Trump is wrong.

“Those are voluntary contributions, so it isn’t something that any country is mandated to do,” he said of the voluntary contribution to the GCF, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Former US President Barack Obama had pledged 3 billion dollars to the GCF and delivered 1 billion before leaving office.

“Now, it’s up to President Trump to decide whether he wants to honour that obligation, adjust it — we know he won’t increase it,” Fletcher said, noting that there is nothing compelling the United States to contribute any amount to the GCF.

“It’s just 100 billion that we hope to raise,” Fletcher emphasised.

“The Nationally Determined Contributions are precisely what they say they are: contributions. They are not commitments. No country is being held legally liable… You are not even allowed to name and shame. It is a kind of gentleman’s agreement that we all say yes we agree to do this, we all agree that there will be no backsliding so that we will increase ambition over time and I believe that’s one of the reasons that so many countries found it safe enough to join the Paris Agreement, because they knew there were no legal sanctions if they backed off on the agreement.

“So, to speak of the NDC as basically something that is putting an economic noose around the neck of the United States of America is anything but,” Fletcher said.

He said that the growth of the energy sector in the United States is in renewable energy.

“And if President Trump understood that sector a little bit better, he would understand that that is where he needs to be focusing his attention and not on a coal industry that really does not have any future, from an employment-generation perspective, for the United States.”

Fletcher said that contributing to the GCF “makes sense for the United States of America”.

“President Trump does not understand, his administration does not understand, that the more that you invest in building resilience in countries like ours, the more it allows us to make that transition away from fossil fuels. It is less of a burden that it places on them.”

He said that when there are natural disasters in the Caribbean, “our focus almost immediately turns to our closest wealthy neighbour, which is the United States of America for support.

“And the more you can reduce that burden by making us resilient and reducing the severity and frequency of those natural disasters, then the less of a burden there is on the United States of America.”

Fletcher said climate refugees will be a regular feature of the Caribbean landscape in years to come.

“Because people will lose their livelihoods, people’s home will be displaced, people’s habitats will be destroyed and these people have limited opportunities, particularly in small islands like ours.”

He noted that his country, St. Lucia is 238 square miles and is mountainous, with most of the settlements on the coast.

“When you have lost most of your coastland, where do you go? You don’t go inland. … There are limited opportunities to move inland, so people now start to migrate.”

He said that former US Vice President Joe Biden recognised these reality, and spoke to it in the two US-Caribbean summits that he organised.

“When he saw that the Caribbean was moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, he saw two things immediately. He saw an opportunity to lessen the influence of Venezuela in the region, and he saw it from a political vantage point, but he also saw an opportunity for US companies that are involved in renewable energy, in solar and in wind to basically sell their services to the Caribbean because he was concerned that our focus was on Europe any many of us for looking to Europe for technical assistance and support.

“So, there are opportunities there and it is very short-sighted on the part of President Trump to view this almost as a way of causing a resurgence of jobs that no longer exists.”

Fletcher said that while Trump speaks about coal mining jobs, all of the data suggest that there are fewer than 75,000 jobs in the coal industry in the United States and that it is a shrinking sector.

“There are over 650,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector in the United States, and that is growing. So it will make more sense to focus on a growing sector than a dying sector.”

Trump was also concerned that China and India, as large emitters, are allowed to continue to emit, while the US is restricted.

Fletcher said that on this point, what Trump says about China and India “is partially correct”, because they are significant emitters.

“But that’s where the issue of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) comes in,” Fletcher said, noting that countries like India and China say they have large sections of their population living in abject poverty and they need to be given some space to develop those sectors.

“And while they have committed — and India is making significant strides in renewable energy — they are saying, you can’t hold us to the same yardstick that you hold countries like Russia, like the United States, that are the cause of the problem that we have right now. Yes, we are working to address our problem but there is still a development trajectory that we are on that you can’t cause us to stop immediately and put us in an even bigger problem than we are right now.”

Fletcher said that if he were asked in an ideal world whether he would like to see India and China reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases more quickly, he would say absolutely and that he would love to see every country do the same thing.

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Nikki Haley Grilled in US Congress on America’s Role in the UN and the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/nikki-haley-grilled-us-congress-americas-role-un-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nikki-haley-grilled-us-congress-americas-role-un-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/nikki-haley-grilled-us-congress-americas-role-un-world/#comments Thu, 29 Jun 2017 13:52:52 +0000 Barbara Crossette http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151101 Five months into her stint as United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley faced two days of often-sharp questioning on June 27 and 28 by influential panels of the United States Congress. They demanded justification for the Trump administration’s decision to slash funding to the United Nations, particularly cuts to the UN Population […]

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Nikki Haley Grilled in US Congress on America’s Role in the UN and the World

Nikki Haley and the Egyptian ambassador to the UN, Amr Aboulatta, in the Security Council. Haley told Congress recently that Trump’s proposed budget for the UN put the world body “on notice.” Credit: RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO

By Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2017 (IPS)

Five months into her stint as United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley faced two days of often-sharp questioning on June 27 and 28 by influential panels of the United States Congress. They demanded justification for the Trump administration’s decision to slash funding to the United Nations, particularly cuts to the UN Population Fund, Unicef, UN Women and the World Food Program.

Concerns were also raised about the wisdom of reducing the US budget contributions to peacekeeping from 27 percent to 25 percent (which cannot be done unilaterally without incurring arrears) and by squeezing peacekeeping missions around the world. Haley was proud to note that funds for the mission in Haiti were being cut by $150 million, though Secretary-General António Guterres just named Josette Sheeran, special envoy on cholera in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Cuts to US contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency in an era of nuclear proliferations were also questioned.

Haley also proudly told Congressional members that the US got the UN General Assembly budget committee this month to reduce the annual peacekeeping budget. In fact, the US aimed for $1 billion in cuts but agreed to about half that amount, for a total yearly budget of $7.3 billion.

Paradoxically in her testimony in Congress, Haley bemoaned the lack of equipment for peacekeeping troops (the mission in Mali desperately needs armored tanks), which could be financed through a more generous UN budget and save lives.

The tone of questions asked to Haley by Congressional members may suggest that Trump’s 2018 budget will not get significant legislative support on UN-related issues, yet there remains a hard core of Republican legislators who — not always clear on facts or context on how the organization works — are dismissive and insulting. Among them and other groups, a strong pro-Israeli lobby continues to function and may have been strengthened by Trump’s team.

Haley acknowledged pressure from Israel — calling it “support” — that led to the US forcing Guterres, the secretary-general, to reverse the appointment in February of Salam Fayyad, a former Palestinian prime minister, as the UN’s special representative for Libya. Fayyad’s appointment apparently was not initially opposed by Haley. Asked by a member of Congress about the last-minute about-face in the US on Fayyad, Haley said that because Palestine was not recognized as a country by the US, a Palestinian should not be given an official UN post.

In this case, she said, appointing him would add to the UN’s “imbalance” against Israel. She would not say clearly whether Israel forced the change in the original US position or whether a Palestinian could ever be approved for a UN post.

On her first day testifying before Congress, Haley was questioned by a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee dealing with funds for international organizations; on the second day, she faced the full House committee on foreign affairs. A consummate politician, Haley performed well, skirting some issues, although generally showing unwavering support for the Trump team and the president himself.

“We are on the same page,” Haley said of Trump, who seems to approve of her tough talk in the international arena and his voice at the UN. “I don’t go rogue on the president.”

Yet, she added later that “this administration does not tell me what to say or not to say.”

In an interesting interlude amid the questioning by appropriations committee members, Haley revealed that the most recent threat to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad and his backers, Russia and Iran, should another Syrian chemical weapons attack occurred, was just a threat by the US, with no action planned.

The goal, she said, was “to send a message” not only to Syria but also to Russia and Iran to get them to “back off.”

On the zeroing out of US funds for Unicef from the proposed 2018 federal budget, about which members on both committees voiced a range of reactions — from disbelief and disappointment to shock and outrage — Haley breezily replied to one questioner that the “starting point” of the budget was to build up the military and look for cuts everywhere else.

She did not react when Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, asked whether the world’s children — through slashing Unicef — should have to pay for the US military buildup, saying it was “not a proud value that Americans would uphold.”

Members of Congress, many of them Democrats shut out of policymaking in a House of Representatives controlled by the Republican party, also wanted to know why the US appeared to have an incoherent foreign policy. They noted conflicting pronouncements in President Trump’s tweets and public flip-flops; measured statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; and declarations by Haley that seemed to be her own opinion at times.

Putting it mildly, the US has become “unpredictable,” a legislator said.

Pressed to describe her relations with her bosses in Washington, Haley revealed to the foreign affairs committee that she rarely talked with Trump or Tillerson and had no information on the unusual number of vacancies in the US State Department. She said that her closest relationship was with the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the defense secretary; James Mattis, with whom she spoke on issues concerning the UN; and others in the president’s cabinet, of which she is a member.

“We work as a team,” she said, adding that there was “a very organized process in place.”

On Russia, Haley stuck to her strong objections to the invasion of Crimea and Moscow’s incursions into eastern Ukraine, and accepted that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election. She insisted, however, that Trump was not involved in colluding with the election interference. Asked whether she had discussed with Trump the Russian involvement in the election, possibly at the direction or President Vladimir Putin, Haley said that topic had not come up because it was not a UN matter.

Haley faced many questions on the rationale for the total defunding by the Trump administration of the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA. The most persistent questioners came from Democrats, but they were not alone. Haley responded that there was nothing she could do about the full loss of funds from the US to UNFPA since it had been done by presidential order. She insisted that the money saved, about $70 million by current calculations, would go to similar US aid programs.

Those programs, however, strictly bar US funding for any international organization or NGO that assists or even counsels on abortion. Reflecting her lack of interest about the loss of money to UNFPA, she was asked how maternal health care was being replaced by the UN agency in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which she just visited. Although she admitted she didn’t know, she said the next day in Congress “I always just meet with women” when she had visited the refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.

The Trump administration (and the George W. Bush administration) used debunked reports that the Population Fund’s work in China supported forced abortions there to stop financing the agency. Haley repeated the claim, but told the appropriations subcommittee that the UNFPA was “associated” with a “company” in China that was guilty of involuntary “sterilization.” She did not repeat that formulation in the foreign affairs hearings, but Lois Frankel, a Democrat from Florida, called the China reason a “totally phony excuse.”

“A lot of women are going to suffer,” said Ami Bera, a Democrat from California and medical doctor, said about the cuts to the Population Fund.

Much of the hearings were consumed by repeated questions and criticisms of the Human Rights Council. Haley repeated what she said in her confirmation hearing in January about the Council needing to be “fixed.” She has never said plainly that the US is considering withdrawing from the 47-nation body. But in Geneva in June, Haley, saying she had come to see the Council firsthand, made a brief appearance (about three minutes) in the chamber to announce her presence.

Later that day in a speech to the Graduate Institute of Geneva, she warned that the US could “go outside” the Council to protect human rights if two nonnegotiable conditions were not met.

In that speech, Haley demanded that the Council change its election procedures (which would have to be done by the General Assembly) to “keep the worst human rights abusers from obtaining seats on the Council.” That would mean the open election of Council members, who are now chosen regionally by consensus, or horse-trading.

“As it stands, elections for membership to the Council are over before the voting even begins,” she said. “No competition means no scrutiny of candidates’ human rights records. We must change the elections so countries are forced to make the case for membership based on their records, not on their promises.”

Her second demand was that a Council agenda provision — known as Item 7 — which perennially singles out Israel for condemnation, “must be removed.” That command has garnered wide bipartisan support in the US, and American diplomats have been successful in recent years in reducing the number of obsessive resolutions on this issue, which will not be open to debate again until 2020. In Congress, Haley pointed to Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as providing the “hard core support” for Item 7.

Haley had no problem defending Trump’s decision to quit the Paris Agreement on climate change. “We are not going to throw climate out the window,” she said, adding: “What the president did was in the best interest of businesses and the best interest of our country.”

To which Connolly, the representative from Virginia, proclaimed that Trump’s decision put the US in the same boat as Nicaragua and Syria.

(*Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Putting the Spotlight on Women Migrant Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers/#respond Sat, 24 Jun 2017 22:25:30 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151040 Migrant workers, and their economic contribution to the development of both the country of origin and the host country, have caught the eye of governments and policymakers worldwide. But the hardships faced by women migrants, who disproportionately bear the brunt of discrimination at work, are often swept under the rug. This is why, experts from […]

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Eni Lestari Andayani Adi (Indonesia), Chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), addresses the opening segment of the United Nations high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2017 (IPS)

Migrant workers, and their economic contribution to the development of both the country of origin and the host country, have caught the eye of governments and policymakers worldwide.

But the hardships faced by women migrants, who disproportionately bear the brunt of discrimination at work, are often swept under the rug.

This is why, experts from UN Women and the United Nations University (UNU) in New York came together this week to discuss and raise awareness about migrant women workers’ rights.

In 2015, female migrant workers, who number 117 million, contributed about half of the world’s total remittance flow.

As labour markets shuffle in the new world order, two distinct patterns have emerged. Women have increasingly moved to hospitality and nursing industries, or the “domestic” economy, as well as areas previously dominated by men, such as agriculture. Demand has continued to rise in developed countries, but women’s contributions have been severely underappreciated.

By contributing to the gaps of the labour economy, women have lifted the working age population, and contributed to technological and human capital. By virtue of their soft skills, they have closed the gaps of a receding tax base, undermined by an aging population, and have come to the assistance of the elderly in the chaos of cutbacks in the health sector.

In the Philippines, for instance, which is the world’s third highest remittance receiving country, women migrant workers have been the sole breadwinners for their family. Typically, women largely migrate to Europe and North America.

Still, with the change in the world order and the growth of newer economies, this flow is likely to change. Experts predict that the flow from the Global North to the Global South will shift, as migrants move into the fast growing economies of Asia, like China and India.

“Migration is going to continue because a single country will not have all the resources in and of itself. Even if technology advances, we are not going to put our children in the hands of a robot,” Dr. Francisco Cos Montiel, a senior research officer at UNU, told IPS.

Inkeri Von Hase, an expert on gender and migration issues, told IPS that “we have to prioritise women’s empowerment so they are able to realise their full potential.” The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was adopted in 2016 with this very aim to protect and empower migrant workers, has largely failed to take into account specific rights for women’s protection.

Still, all this is not to say that all women migrant workers are necessarily victims of sexual assault and discrimination at work. Many have found a renewed sense of agency and purpose, for instance, the women who have fled violence in Guatemala and El Salvador. To ensure they can continue to tread this path, however, it becomes crucial to adopt newer policies today.

It is also significant that many migrants have become de-skilled in the process of migration, and have settled for the first jobs they found, in a bid to earn money to send home.

The new recommendations by experts in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration report could be crucial to ensure the autonomy and independence of women migrant workers across the world.

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“Big Reflection” Needed on Opioid Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:26:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151003 Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency. In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world. In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at […]

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Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency UNODC

Intravenous drug users in Pakistan. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2017 (IPS)

Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency.

In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world.

In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at least once. Of these, almost 30 million suffered from drug use disorders including dependence. UNODC found that opioids were the most harmful drug type, accounting for 70 percent of negative health impacts associated with drug use disorders worldwide, and its production is only increasing.

“[Opioid use] is a really dramatic epidemic…they are really, in terms of burden of disease, at the top of the scale,” said UNODC’s Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch Gilberto Gerra to IPS.

The use of opioids, including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl, heighten the risks of acquiring diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C through unsafe injecting practices as well as overdoses and death.

Globally, there are an estimated minimum of 190,000 premature deaths related to drugs that were mostly avoidable. A large proportion of those deaths is attributed to the use of opioids.

Though affects many countries in the world, the opioid crisis is particularly prevalent in the United States.

Mostly driven by opioids, approximately one quarter of the estimated drug-related deaths worldwide occur in the U.S.

Overdose deaths in the North American nation more than tripled from almost 17,000 to over 52,000 annually between 1999 and 2015, and increased by 11 percent in the past year alone, reaching the highest level ever recorded.

In fact, more Americans died from the misuse of opioids in 2016 than in the entirety of the Vietnam War, noted Gerra.

In the state of Maryland, opioid-related deaths quadrupled since 2010 and deaths from fentanyl increased 38-fold in the past decade. In response to the crisis, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, stating: “We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency…this is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

Though some states have begun the place restrictions on the accessibility of pharmaceutical opioids, including a Florida bill that aims to restrict painkiller prescriptions to a five-day supply, Gerra stressed the importance of focusing on not only supply, but also the demand side of opioids.

“If so many people are consuming this opioid medication including legal opioids from the pharmacy, when you restrict the pharmacy’s opioid medication, they will start to turn to things like heroin,” he told IPS.

In the U.S., heroin use has increased significantly, and the Centers for Disease Control has suggested that it is linked to prescription opioid abuse.

“There needs to be a big reflection on this issue in North America,” Gerra said.

However, the potential changes in healthcare in the U.S. may impact access to treatment.

In particular, the current health care bill proposes cuts to expanded Medicaid, which is used by many states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic to boost their response by paying for medication, therapy, and other treatment services.

Health advocates criticised the proposed cuts during President Trump’s first meeting of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which is charged with finding solutions for the epidemic.

“If we make it harder for people to get health care coverage, it is going to make this crisis worse,” said North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper.

A similar scenario is found around the world as availability of and access to treatment of drug use disorders remain limited. Fewer than one in six persons with drug use disorders are provided with treatment each year, UNODC found.

Gerra highlighted the importance of treatment, pointing to the need for personalised interventions and close supervision by doctors or therapists in order to avoid opioid misuse.

He also added that people possessing drugs for personal consumption should not be criminalised as it steers them away from seeking treatment for fear of punishment.

Though approaches to global drug policy have been contentious and diverse, countries in the General Assembly session on the world drug problem (UNGASS) in 2016 unanimously agreed for the first time to a people-centered approach which sees the drug problem as a health disorder rather than a criminal or moral issue.

“We cannot respond to people trapped by drugs with a punitive approach. We have to tell them that we are here, we are aware of your condition and behaviour, you are aware that you are in trouble, please come and we will do what we can to help you and your family to overcome this problem in a very humane and human-rights, science-based way,” Gerra told IPS.

Gerra called for a continuum of care approach to help keep people using drugs like heroin safe through services like needle exchange programs and to provide long-term accessible and affordable treatment once users are ready.

“No one should be left behind in the delivery of prevention and treatment interventions,” UNODC said in its report.

Gerra noted that prevention is by far the most cost-effective intervention in the long run, but approaches must be science-based in order to be effective.

“People don’t understand that there is a science behind prevention—they continue to use initiatives that are well-intentioned but completely not science-based [and] then they say prevention is not working,” he said, pointing to science-based methodologies such as life skills education and drug education to children.

The globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, whose motto is to leave no one behind, includes a target to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

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UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150960 As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting. But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA). […]

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UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meeting

Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting.

But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA).

Richards told IPS that a strike would only ever be the last resort. But he accused the United Nations of failing to practice in its own backyard what it preaches to the rest of the world, particularly on labour and human rights.

“Had there been a proper negotiation system in place for staff to have a say in their salaries as the UN preaches to countries, we could have avoided all this.”

“Having said that”, he pointed out, “if there is no avenue for meaningful dialogue, UN staff will have no choice but to escalate their actions.” At the end of the day this isn’t about a budget cut, he noted.

Currently, the UN staff in Geneva number over 5,400 in the professional category of employees.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” early June, blamed the New York-based International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The agencies based in Geneva include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development, (UNCTAD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Conference on Disarmament and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others.

The ICSC, which determines UN salary structures, has awarded staff in New York a pay rise of 2.2 percent, which they rightfully deserve, said Richards. “In the end it’s about some pushing to see what they can get away with,” he added.

The CCISUA will be joined by the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA) in any collective action.

The Human Rights Council, the primary UN body dealing with human rights, was forced to suspend its sittings last Friday, but the Geneva staff decided not to disrupt a meeting negotiating an end to the long-drawn-out Syrian civil war which has triggered one of the world’s major humanitarian crises.

Rolando Gómez, Public Information Officer of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva confirmed to IPS about the suspension of the Human Rights Council meeting, resulting from the work stoppage.

“It was the first time such a suspension took place at the Council for such a reason,” he added.

Gomez said the Human Rights Council recognises the right of UN staff to demonstrate against the proposed pay cut and did not wish to take any action that would prevent them from doing so.

“The Council also reiterates its immense gratitude to UN staff at Geneva for the first-rate, indispensable assistance they provide in servicing their meetings throughout the year,” he declared.

Meanwhile, in a letter to staff unions in Geneva, Michael Møller, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), said staff representatives have informed the Executive Heads of all Geneva-based common system organizations that they are “planning actions throughout this summer, including work stoppages” with respect to the recent decision of the ICSC on post adjustment levels in Geneva.

This is also refers to an email last week from the UNOG Staff Council with the heading: “Upcoming work stoppage”.

“UN Geneva recognizes and respects the right of staff to freedom of association. Staff are allowed to meet on the UN Geneva premises in a non-disruptive representative manner. UN Geneva also acknowledges the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the ISCS’s determination on post adjustment for Geneva.”

The letter further warned: “Notwithstanding the above, staff are reminded that actions which disrupt or otherwise interfere with any meeting or other official activity of the Organization, may be considered in contravention to the obligations under staff rule 1.2 (g). This includes any and all conduct which is intended, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the ability of staff or delegates to discharge their official functions.”

Based on guidance from UNHQ (in New York), staff are also reminded that action, such as work stoppage or other collective action, may be considered as unauthorized absence in line with staff regulations and rules, the letter added.

He also said that staff should take note that discussions are still ongoing with the ICSC regarding the implementation of the post adjustment changes, “and we should all ensure that we do not to jeopardize the outcome of such discussions.”

“This is also to call on all of us to act professionally and in a manner befitting our status as international civil servants,” the letter added.

Richards told IPS: “We’re disappointed that UN management should have resorted to threatening staff.”

Asked for his comments, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “The guidance we have from our colleagues in Geneva is that they fully acknowledge the right of staff to freedom of association, which is a basic right. Staff were allowed to meet on the UN… on the premises in Geneva in a non disruptive manner.”

“I think our colleagues in Geneva have acknowledged the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the issues having to do with the International Civil Service Commission on post adjustments in Geneva. My understanding is that negotiations are still going on, on the implementation of these issues, but we’re all international civil servants, and we need to respect the rules,” he noted.

Richards also said that staff from organizations across Geneva took part in the work stoppage, with the aim of sending a strong message to New York management and the ICSC, that Geneva staff won’t allow their pay to be cut on the basis of absence of negotiations and numerous questions raised about the data and calculations.

“During the stoppage we held a staff meeting, attended by a large number of staff, including directors and staff from HR and security. We have a video which shows a lot of anger.”

Asked what the next step would be, Richards said: “Next steps are the report from a group of statisticians who visited the ICSC last week to check their data and calculations. The ICSC will revisit the issue in Vienna in July and we hope will change their conclusions.”

“It is important to note, he said, that this isn’t about budget cuts, as New York, where ICSC is based, recently got a 2.2 percent pay rise. However, the un-transparent approach used by the ICSC means that another 85 duty stations could be in line for a cut,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chipshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 18:12:05 +0000 Madeleine Penman and Marselha Goncalves Margerin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150898 Madeleine Penman, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Advocacy Director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

By Madeleine Penman and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin
MEXICO CITY, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Today in Miami, the governments of US and Mexico are putting aside their well-publicized tensions of recent months and co-hosting a conference on security and governance in Central America´s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, from where thousands of people flee extreme violence to seek asylum in the US and Mexico. 

Seeing the United States and Mexico in front of the cameras as happy co-hosts sparks a number of questions.

Many citizens have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.
Why is no one speaking about Trump´s great big wall? Who is talking about their much-aired differences in negotiating a new NAFTA trade agreement?

It remains to be seen whether these impasses between the US and Mexico will be the bargaining chips during discussions in Miami that affect the lives of families, children and entire communities whose lives are being destroyed by powerful gangs known as maras that effectively control the lives of thousands of people in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.

Many citizens  have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.

Yet rather than looking at humanitarian approaches to the crisis in these countries, the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America will be largely led by John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, whose main job is to patrol US borders. He will be inviting attendants to bunker down together at the United States armed forces Southern Command base to discuss solutions for Central America with a host of government, private sector and international development actors.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

At the same time, the obligations of all these governments under international law to protect people who are fleeing for their lives, must not be forgotten.

While leaders meet to discuss ways of addressing the security crisis in Central America, the United States has already started implementing one of the most ambitious border control programmes in its recent history, directly affecting thousands of Central American asylum seekers.

A report launched by Amnesty International today shows how these measures, currently being rolled out in line with President Trump´s Executive Order on Border Security of 25 January 2017, threaten to repeat the very same failed strategies that US presidents have tried since the 1990s. Rather than promote stability in Central America, hardline border patrol has been proven to cause an increase in the people smuggling industry, lining the pockets of powerful criminal networks in the region and affecting lives of thousands of vulnerable people.

Trump’s measures not only call for the construction of a wall, but allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations as well as increasing the unlawful mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end. The discussions taking place in Miami today must not forget the cycle of migration from beginning to end, and not only look at the security crisis in Central America but also criticize the inhumane responses being devised by the USA for arriving Central Americans, measures that violate international law.

There is no hiding the United States´ desire for Mexico to play a key role in stemming the flow of asylum seekers and migrants arriving on its borders from Central America.

A Mexican government eager to register gains in other negotiations open with the USA may be keen to ramp up its existing efforts as the USA´s chief gatekeeper.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

Amnesty International´s research shows how Mexico plays the role of the chief immigration officer for the USA, deporting thousands of Central Americans to situations of murder or other human rights violations, when the very Mexican government bemoans the same treatment of its own citizens.

Yet it must not be forgotten that both governments are bound to principles under international human rights treaties that prohibit the return of people to life threatening situations. Of 113 people from the Northern Triangle that Amnesty International spoke to in recent months, 86% alleged major threats to their life.

Nevertheless, the US and Mexican governments are complicit in violations of international law that send back thousands of people to their death and rather than tackling a problem, only threaten to make it worse.

This crisis is not likely to go away any time soon. The question now is how much blood governments are willing to have on their hands.

Read more

Facing Walls: USA and Mexico’s violation of the rights of asylum seekers (Report, 15 June 2017)

https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr01/6426/2017/en/

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How Peter Thiel Got His New Zealand Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship/#comments Thu, 08 Jun 2017 00:05:06 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150801 In January, the revelation that Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump adviser, secretly got a New Zealand citizenship six years ago caused an uproar, mostly because he was the first to get one without pledging to live there. It didn’t help that he wasn’t even required to fly to New Zealand […]

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Peter Thiel speaking at Hy! Summit in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Photograph by Dan Taylor, www.heisenbergmedia.com

Peter Thiel speaking at Hy! Summit in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Photograph by Dan Taylor, www.heisenbergmedia.com

By Christopher Pala
WELLINGTON, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

In January, the revelation that Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump adviser, secretly got a New Zealand citizenship six years ago caused an uproar, mostly because he was the first to get one without pledging to live there.

It didn’t help that he wasn’t even required to fly to New Zealand to get his papers: the government allowed him to pick up his passport at its consulate in Santa Monica. The outrage was compounded by the government’s release in February of his 145-page naturalization file, which revealed a cascade of broken promises.Purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one.

In his application dated June 2011, he described New Zealand as a utopia that “aligns more with my view of the future” than any other country. Thiel has said the maximum tax rates in the U.S. (now 39.6 percent) should be lowered to 20 percent or less and the shortfall in national income should be recovered by “disentangling some of those middle-class entitlements that people have gotten used to.”

In New Zealand, the top tax rate is 33 percent. It is the only OECD country without a capital gains or inheritance tax; it is run by the world’s most business-friendly bureaucracy and has a vibrant and under-capitalized tech sector.

Though it was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893, and has offered free dental care to schoolchildren since 1921, it swung from one of the most managed economies to one of the least regulated in the 1980s. As a result, 60 percent of its rivers are too polluted to swim in and its fisheries have been found to rest on a foundation of waste and official lies.

In 2015, Thiel bought a 193-hectare estate on Lake Wanaka, in the South Island. He also owns a mansion on Lake Wakatipu, an hour away. These and other purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one. The cost of housing is the hottest issue in elections due this year.

In his citizenship application, Thiel wrote, “It would give me great pride to let it be known that I am citizen and an enthusiastic supporter of the country and its emerging high-tech industry.” He said he intended “to devote a significant amount of my time and resources to the people and businesses of NZ” and become “an active player in NZ’s venture capital industry.”

He explained that the year before, he had created an investment fund called Valar Ventures “dedicated exclusively to funding and aiding New Zealand technology companies.” Through it, he could “act in an advisory role in a way that (others) cannot because I have encountered and solved many of the problems that will confront entrepreneurs as they build their companies.”

At the government’s suggestion, according to the file, Thiel even donated NZ$1 million (830,000 U.S. dollars at the time) to an earthquake relief fund.

On July 8, 2011, three days after his application was accepted, he was the headline speaker at a conference at the Icehouse, a business development center in Auckland, the economic capital. But Thiel made no mention of his new citizenship, nor did he speak of becoming an active player on the local tech scene. Likewise, he made no mention of New Zealand to a New Yorker writer who interviewed him for a long profile headlined “No Death, no Taxes,” published that November.

“The last thing we want to do is give people the impression that our citizenship is up for sale, and this affair has certainly created that,” said Iain Lees-Galloway, the spokesman on immigration issues of the opposition Labour Party, in an interview. As for Thiel’s promises in his application, Lees-Galloway added, “He couldn’t have been all that proud (of becoming a Kiwi) because he didn’t tell anybody for six years.”

The government of the right-wing National Party glossed over the broken promises. Prime Minister Bill English, who was deputy PM in 2011, told local reporters, “If people come here and invest and get into philanthropy and are supportive of New Zealand, for us as a small country at the end of the world, that’s not a bad thing.” Thiel had been to New Zealand four times, his file showed, starting in 1993.

On February 4 came another disclosure: The Herald reported that nine months after Thiel was granted the citizenship, his Valar Ventures fund had accepted what the paper called a “sweetheart deal” from the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, created in 2002 to encourage investments in local tech start-ups.

Valar and the fund would jointly invest in four local companies: Xero, with the largest share, as well as Vend, Booktrack and Pacific Fibre. Two years earlier, Thiel had separately invested three million dollars in Xero, a cloud-based accounting software that was already listed.

At the time, NZVIF’s standard contract had a clause that allowed the outside investor to buy, after five years, the government’s share at its initial cost, plus the yield of a five-year government bond. If the company shares went up, the investor pocketed the profits from the government’s share, too. If the shares fell, both lost equally.

In October 2016, after the shares of Xero soared, Valar Ventures exercised the clause. The exact size of its investment is not known, but the profits have been estimated at 23.5 million dollars for an investment of 6.8 million. Valar still owns 4.8 percent of Xero, down from a peak of 7 percent. Today, of the 13 companies in its portfolio, only two are from New Zealand: Xero and Vend.

Opposition politicians suggested that naïve government officials had made yet another transaction with Thiel that failed to benefit New Zealanders. “Thiel had already invested in Xero, it was hardly a risky venture,” pointed out Lees-Galloway, the Labour MP.

But while politicians denounced the deal as having essentially privatized the profits from a taxpayer-funded investment, the tech world saw things very differently.

Andrew Hamilton, the CEO of the Icehouse business center where Thiel gave his speech, declined to specify what else Thiel had done for startups, saying only: “Peter was and is awesome, and we are always grateful to people who contribute and help!”

Lance Wiggs, the founding director of the Punakaiki Fund, which invests in companies in the development and fast-growth phases, said Valar was “exactly the kind of fund New Zealand wanted to attract.” He said Thiel’s investment in Xero “was absolutely crucial at the time, he really helped them lift their game from being a local player to an international one.” Xero is now worth two billion dollars and has 1,400 employees around the world.

As for the government, Wiggs added, “I can see why they blinked and gave him a passport, though I can’t see why he needed it,” given that Thiel has a residency permit since 2006.

But unlike the permit, citizenship is “irrevocable,” as his lawyer pointed out in the application.

Adam Hunt, a tax administration specialist, offered one possible explanation: “It’s an attractive place for a rich person,” he said. Thiel could renounce his American citizenship and move to New Zealand. “If you’re rich and you move here, you can live off your capital gains,” which are not taxed. “You may have virtually no income here, and pay almost no taxes.”

Forbes estimates Thiel’s net worth at 2.7 billion dollars. He is 49 years old.

As for Thiel himself, who was born German and naturalized American, he declined to publicly defend the officials who did him the favor, or to make any new investments in New Zealand start-ups. His spokesman, Jeremiah Hall of Torch Communications in San Francisco, did not respond to three e-mails seeking comment.

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Mixed Reactions to U.S. Withdrawal from Climate Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal/#comments Thu, 01 Jun 2017 07:10:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150694 The United States is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, prompting mixed reactions from civil society and political representatives. Despite facing global pressure to remain, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce the country’s exit from the Paris climate agreement which nearly every country committed to in 2015 in order to […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2017 (IPS)

The United States is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, prompting mixed reactions from civil society and political representatives.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Despite facing global pressure to remain, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce the country’s exit from the Paris climate agreement which nearly every country committed to in 2015 in order to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

Though it is uncertain what the U.S. exit will look like, the decision has already sparked widespread disappointment and outrage.

Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Margaret Huang called the expected decision an “assault on a range of human rights.”

“By refusing to join other nations in taking necessary steps to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, the President is effectively saying: ‘Let them drown, burn, and starve,’” she continued.

Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune echoed similar sentiments, stating: “Donald Trump has made a historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.”

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased significantly in recent years from 317 parts per million in 1960 to more than 400 parts per million in 2016, levels that have not been observed for over 10 million years. This has lead to a rise in global average temperature of over 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above its 1960 level, and it is only projected to increase further without curbing fossil fuel use and thus emissions.

Climate change is already contributing to extreme environmental events including rapidly melting ice caps, more frequent and devastating storms, and prolonged droughts which have and will continue to impact hundreds of millions of peoples’ human rights around the world, Huang noted.

On previous occasions, President Trump has described climate change as a “hoax” created by China and has vowed to invest in domestic coal and oil, industries that have largely contributed to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Brune noted that the decision is a betrayal of the public and market, stating: “This is a decision that will cede America’s role internationally to nations like China and India, which will benefit handsomely from embracing the booming clean energy economy while Trump seeks to drive our country back into the 19th century.”

According to the Sierra Club, the number of clean energy jobs already outnumbers all fossil fuel jobs in the U.S. by more than 2.5 to 1, and coal and gas jobs by 5 to 1. This shift to renewable energy is only expected to grow globally, reflecting the transition of the world’s energy sector into cleaner technologies. China alone aims to increase its renewable energy by 40 percent by 2020.

The majority of Americans also back the Paris agreement. A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found 71 percent support of U.S. participation in the deal from both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Prior to the U.S.’ decision, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that it was “absolutely essential” that the world implements the Paris agreement but action can still continue if a country doesn’t do so.

“But if any government doubts the global will and need for this accord, that is reason for all others to unite even stronger and stay the course,” he said in a speech at the New York University Stern School of Business.

In a similar vein, Seychelles’ Permanent Representative to the UN Ronald Jumeau said countries will move forward with climate action with or without the U.S.

“The absence of the USA does not make the glass half empty or half full. It is still more full than empty,” he said.

“What you have to worry about is look at who is here, who is sitting in the front row, and say now what are we going to do about this? How are we going to step up so that it brings benefits to us all,” Jumeau continued.

Countries in the G7, European Union, and Asia have already stepped up to reaffirm their commitments to the Paris agreement in response to the U.S.’ wavering stance.

An upcoming EU-China Summit in Brussels is expected to result in a detailed action plan to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the climate deal.

“Small Island States cannot afford to be dismayed or feel down about any of this, we have to move on for the sake of our countries [and] for humanity in general and for all countries,” Juneau concluded.

Nearly 150 countries have ratified the Paris climate agreement, representing over 80 percent of global emissions. Nicaragua and Syria are among the only countries that have not signed the agreement.

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Proposed UN Pay Cuts Threaten Work Stoppage in Genevahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 15:30:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150659 Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel. But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of […]

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UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel.

But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of employees, are already on the warpath because of a proposed 7.5 percent reduction in their take-home pay triggering a strong backlash and public demonstrations—and perhaps leading to a possible work stoppage.

The proposed salary reductions in Geneva aren’t related to the impending US cuts to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets in New York.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” last week, blames the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which presides over salary structures, for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The staff federations include the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) and the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA)

The resolution says the ICSC has refused three times to meet with staff and explain the proposed cuts despite ongoing and serious questions about its data-handling and statistical analysis.

Ian Richards, President of CCISUA, told IPS the resolution was unprecedented and “shows how angry staff in Geneva are at the ICSC’s manipulation of its own methodology to cut pay in what unfortunately is one of the world’s most expensive cities where local salaries rose almost six percent in the last five years”.

“We’re under huge pressure from staff to get the work stoppages going,” he warned.

He said the decision to cut pay was taken by ICSC, but given its failure to provide convincing explanations to the heads of human resources of the organizations in Geneva, most organizations will not implement it for now.

“Those same organizations have also sent a team of statisticians to New York to go through the ICSC’s calculations. Unfortunately the UN secretariat has decided to break ranks, meaning staff in Geneva will be paid different salaries for the same work.”

Richards said pay cuts are also poor employment practices and are only taken by employers in crisis and after negotiating with staff unions.

“The fact that the ICSC increased pay in New York and Washington DC shows we aren’t there right now,” he added.

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

Geneva is the first UN duty station to be affected by the new rules, but there are 85 duty stations to follow. This summer, several European Union duty stations such as Paris, Vienna, Rome and Madrid, will be up before the ICSC.

According to the staff unions, New York salaries went up by 2.2 percent in February.

“This isn’t about a choice between a pay cut or preserving jobs in Geneva. Organizations did not factor in the pay cut while setting their budgets. Meanwhile Swiss salaries increased 5.7 percent between 2010 and 2015, the same period over which the ICSC is trying to cut ours,” says CCISUA.

There is also a widespread belief that Geneva was victimized first because UN member states aren’t happy at having to pay $1 billion on a new building, which they were strong-armed into paying for, and particularly with possible cost overruns.

Meanwhile, since Washington is the largest single contributor both to the UN’s regular and its peacekeeping budgets, a proposed 29 percent in US foreign assistance by the Trump administration is expected to have a heavy impact on the United Nations in New York.

Currently about 22 percent of the UN’s biennium regular budget of $5.4 billion comes from the US. So does 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of about $8 billion.

Asked about the impending cuts proposed in the US budget, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “We’re obviously studying the (US) budget, going through some of the numbers. I think, from where we stand and looking at the budget, as proposed now, would make it simply impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance around the world”

He said the budgetary process in the US is what it is. “It is going through a legislative process. So we will wait to see what comes out of that legislative process.”

“I think it goes without saying it, but it bears repeating that we’re obviously extremely grateful for the financial contributions the United States has been making and is making to the United Nations over the years as its largest financial contributor”.

Dujarric said that even before the proposed US cuts were announced, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has remained engaged in bringing out reforms in the UN system “ensuring that the UN is fit for purpose, delivers what it’s meant to deliver”.

He said Guterres has put out a number of directives to staff and the Secretariat– over which he has authority– on limiting the amount of travel to necessary-travel only.

He has also asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) to look at how the UN uses its air assets in peacekeeping missions, which would also include the cutting down as much as possible on the number of special flights.

“I think the Secretary General is extremely aware of the cost… of the monies that is entrusted to us, and he would like to see a reduction in the number of expenditures, and he’s asked his managers to look at that. As for himself, he has also cut down drastically on the delegations and the number of people that travel with him.”

But still, said Dujarric, the UN needs resources to deliver on its mandates laid out by the 193-member General Assembly.

On cuts, Richards said reducing the size of UN staff delegations is probably a good idea. “But at the end of the day, travel is only a small part of the regular, Trump-affected budget. Much travel is paid from extra-budgetary sources, such as projects and events that require travel,” he noted.

Reflecting on the situation in Geneva, Richards pointed that what was noteworthy is that the ICSC decided to remove mitigating measures that would have softened the impact of the cut just before it started working on Geneva.

“The ICSC has agreed to review its decision at its next meeting in July and we hope it will put things right. Many staff have told us they will return from their holidays if need be to take collective action”, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Gateway Portals and the Quest for Sustainable Urbanizationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/#respond Wed, 24 May 2017 15:27:58 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150570 On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs. The train station at 125th […]

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125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
NEW YORK, May 24 2017 (IPS)

On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs.

The train station at 125th street and Broadway that sits high above the commotion below on a green arch bridge is the first clue that a passenger has reached Harlem, the gateway portal to the historic New York City neighborhood.

Last week, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and UN-Habitat organized a discussion at the United Nations headquarters that brought together stakeholders from the private sector, the UN system, government, academia and civil society to share ideas for creating and sustaining gateway portals — ultimately emphasizing the need to utilize urbanization as a tool for development.

Whilst many in the room were probably used to such discussions taking the route of creating bustling cities that could accommodate the highest number of urbanites in order to support political, economic and cultural agendas, it was refreshing to instead witness a focus on urban planning through gateway portals that put infrastructure center stage.

A gateway portal is an emblem of a city and can be everything from a bridge, plaza, or historic site that often welcomes one into a city or specific neighborhood. California’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous, linking Marin County to San Francisco in an architectural piece designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in the 1930s.

As one heads east of California, other gateway portals across the United States start popping up such as the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, connecting the southern and northern parts of the Midwest City. Arriving in New York, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island join the historic Manhattan Bridge as portals to the urban jungle – each depicting an intentional narrative of its own.

Famed architect Santiago Calatrava, a man known for his extraordinary body of work was invited to the discussion last week where he not only shared various projects, but also highlighted the necessity of portals. In his own words he mentioned that, “bridges are important pieces of infrastructure and gateway portals are to a city what infrastructure is to Sustainable Development.”

If this is true then city planners, architects and government officials are now tasked with the challenging job of thinking critically of where and how they place gateway portals. Instead of just creating entrances that mark an area and alert taxi drivers to charge toll fees, planners now have the opportunity to address issues of sustainability by utilizing smart, inclusive design that goes beyond just a pretty facade.

In 2013, author Charles Montgomery published a book called ‘Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design’, an anthropological text on what it meant to create sustainable spaces that were not only focused on developing a city, but also on underscoring the temperament of its citizens in relation to that development. If people were generally happy and continued to live happy lives within urban bustling communities, then was it possible that their surroundings would eventually be transformed socially, economically and politically?

“Urban spaces and systems do not merely reflect altruistic attempts to live the complex problem of people living close together, and they are more than an embodiment of the creative tensions between competing ideas,” he wrote. “They are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people. They apportion the benefits of urban life. They express who has power and who does not. In doing so, they shape the mind and soul of the city,” he concluded.

Citizen Driven Planning

The premise of the conversation last week was straightforward: development cannot succeed without conscious urbanization. This, meaning that urbanization for development needed to include a citizen driven approach to planning and design that accounted for inclusion, health, resiliency and equality.

According UN Habitat, it is estimated that around 54% of people now live in urban areas and as this number steadily grows, the question of how to sustainably house, provide and protect a large population in such dense spaces has become a top priority for both the UN system and government officials.

A timely discussion as Habitat III concluded last year in Quito, Ecuador with the goal of adopting a new urban agenda that would offer a set of action oriented global standards that would guide the way in which we designed and sustained our cities – citizen driven urbanization would need to prioritize these global standards when building or reshaping gateway portals.

Additionally, such plans would also need to uphold the fact that gateway portals established the economic and political power of the city, and to be citizen driven would essentially mean that the portals were of service to the people who used them daily, and not the other way around.

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem.  Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

What’s In A Narrative?

During the 5th and 6th centuries, grandiose gates and high towering walls that circled a city – sometimes serving as a safety barrier in the chance of attack – illustrated the gateway portal. The narrative of a powerful gate or great wall such as the one in China laid forth the cities ambitions and easily communicated its priorities.

In 2017 with more and more people moving into urban areas, we are forced to ask ourselves what sort of narrative we’d like to have. When one arrives in Harlem, what narrative is being shared once you’ve crossed the threshold of the gateway portal on 125th street and begin your descent into the colorful street below?

New York City Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora spoke during the panel last week about the plans that the De Blasio administration drawn up towards creating sustainable, healthy public spaces with the agenda of changing the narrative of its city.

“We often say that we want to create spaces that work for everyone – diversity is key,” he said, continuing, “We must design to invite, and design to delight.”

This – NYC’s actual design mantra – when applied to redefining gateway portals is to simply put the citizen at the center of the vision. Yes, happiness is key, sustainability is key but city planners must also focus on creating spaces that encourage openness.

In the end, it cannot be disputed: gateway portals emphasize the importance of a city. They provide a first impression and a lasting one if curated with intent. It is with this measure that city planners and government officials must consider portals as the ‘opening line’ of their cities narrative.

Sustainable urbanization can most certainly be an effective tool for development, but must not be approached with naiveté. As the Executive Director of UN Habitat Dr. Clos put during his remarks last week, “when you address one problem, you generate two more.”

Addressing one gateway portal at a time, a city’s quest for sustainable urbanization becomes an actual possibility rather than just a city plan.

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World to Cut Emissions With or Without Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 22:45:32 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150534 In a last-ditch effort, Germany and China are trying to influence the United States not to walk away from the Paris climate change accord it signed along with 194 nations. In December 2015, nearly every country committed to take action to reduce planet-warming emissions. “We are trying to influence the US through different channels and […]

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Officials say future climate action will require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board.

Officials say future climate action will require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board. Credit: Bigstock

By Zofeen Ebrahim
BERLIN, May 22 2017 (IPS)

In a last-ditch effort, Germany and China are trying to influence the United States not to walk away from the Paris climate change accord it signed along with 194 nations.

In December 2015, nearly every country committed to take action to reduce planet-warming emissions."The US may try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Other countries have to be very clear that they are defending the integrity of the accord and would not accept reduced US commitments." --Lutz Weischer

“We are trying to influence the US through different channels and people, at the foreign ministry level to the EPA and even the Chancellor [Angela Merkel] has repeatedly called up President [Donald] Trump to remain in this landmark agreement,” said German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks at the two-day 8th Petersberg Climate Dialogue being held in Berlin.

Terming the Paris Agreement a “hard-won milestone”, the Chinese special envoy Xie Zhenhua said his country was “true to word and resolute in deed”. Like his German counterpart, he too reiterated that all signatories should “stick to it” and “not retreat”. China is resolute in its commitment, he said and added the need for transparency to “build mutual trust and confidence” was also paramount.

At the same time, both countries gave a positive signal of what they were doing to reduce carbon emissions, with Hendricks emphasizing on the need to work on the “ecological technologies of the future” in the sectors of transport, infrastructure development and grids. They talked about the advances made in the renewable energy sector, the dire need for phasing out coal and the baby steps made towards electric cars.

Hendricks said future climate action would require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board. “We do not have a blueprint as yet” but countries are ready to ride the wave of enthusiasm although with some reservations but all for “prosperity in the long term”.

She also said it was prudent to mainstream climate action in all economic, fiscal even health policies. “The ball is in the court of national governments,” she said adding: “Actions should speak louder than words.”

But despite so much commitment, the air of uncertainty continues to loom heavy over all climate talks as President Trump mulls over his “big decision”.

Dr Ralph Bodle, a senior fellow and coordinator of Ecologic, a Berlin based think tank on environment, was recently in Bonn helping ministers and diplomats from nearly 200 countries to hammer out a “rule book” to say who should do what, by when, how and with what financial support, thereby putting the Paris Climate Agreement into practice.

He, too, conceded that there was concern over Trump’s decision during the 11-day intersessional climate talks. Bodle believed the Paris Accord “will live or fail with political will”.

It is expected the US president will announce a final decision after his return from Taormina, in Sicily, where he will attend the 43rd G7 Summit and where he will be pressured by other countries to give in.

In March, Trump had threatened to pull out of the accord and roll back the widely- supported climate policies of former president Barack Obama, whose administration set a target of a 26-28 percent reduction in emissions by 2025, based in 2005 levels. He had declared an end to the “war on coal”, signed an executive order that removed several restrictions on fossil fuel production and removed barriers to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Before leaving office, Obama had transferred one billion dollars to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund and pledged billions more to the fund through the Paris deal, which has not been taken well by Trump.

He has said the US was “paying disproportionately” and that they “got taken to the cleaners financially”. It is unclear whether Trump will honour those financial commitments.

In addition, he has gathered around him climate deniers. Take Scott Pruitt, the environment chief, for instance, who has gone on record saying global warming is not caused by emissions from fossil fuels.

Not everyone is sure whether it’s better to have Trump in or out.

“If Trump poses conditions for the US staying in the Paris Agreement, depending on the conditions, they could cause damage to the accord,” said Lutz Weischer from Germanwatch. He suspects the “US may try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Other countries have to be very clear that they are defending the integrity of the accord and would not accept reduced US commitments.”

There are others who also say that the withdrawal may have implications for the US-China relationship. President Xi Jinping has publicly hinted at his desire for the US to remain in it despite a tweet by Trump saying climate change was a Chinese conspiracy.

During the campaign, he claimed on Twitter that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

According to Weischer, there are three important gaps that China is looking at — climate diplomacy, emissions and financing.”It knows it cannot fill the void all by itself and without the US on its side.” But if things take a turn for the worse, China will forge alliances with the EU and Canada. As for the financing gap, Weischer said “even that loss can be assuaged if all other countries stick to their commitments, at least for the next four years.”

But even if the US decides to pull out there are other countries who have reaffirmed their commitment which could, in fact be, a “reaction to the US”, said Weischer, who heads international climate policy at Germanwatch. He said it was more important to keep that momentum with actions being taken on the ground.

Even within the US, there are several states and even big corporations who want the US to have the seat at the table. “And even within the White House there are various camps on the issue,” he noted.

The next Conference of Parties to the climate framework (COP23), to be held this November, will be organized by Fiji, but hosted by Bonn.

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Trump’s First 100 Days: a Serious Cause for Concernhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/trumps-first-100-days-a-serious-cause-for-concern/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-first-100-days-a-serious-cause-for-concern http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/trumps-first-100-days-a-serious-cause-for-concern/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 10:37:56 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150108 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

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With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

This week, Donald Trump will mark his first hundred days as US President.  It’s time to assess his impact on the world, especially the developing countries.

It’s too early to form firm conclusions.  But much of what we have seen so far is of serious concern.

Recently there have been many U-turns from Trump. Trump had indicated the US should not be dragged into foreign wars but on 6 April he attacked Syria with missiles, even though there was no clear evidence to back the charge that the Assad regime was responsible for using chemical weapons.

Then his military dropped what is described as the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb in a quite highly-populated district in Afghanistan.

Critics explain that this flexing of military might be aimed at the domestic constituency, as nothing is more guaranteed to boost a President’s popularity and prove his muscular credentials than bombing an enemy.

Perhaps the actions were also meant to create fear in the leaders of North Korea.  But North Korea threatens to counterattack by conventional or nuclear bombs if it is attacked by the US, and it could mean what it says.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Trump himself threatens to bomb North Korea’s nuclear facilities.  With two leaders being so unpredictable, we might unbelievably be on a verge of a nuclear war.

As the Financial Times’ commentator Gideon Rachman remarked, there is the danger that Trump has concluded that military action is the key to the “winning” image he promised his voters.

“There are members of the president’s inner circle who do indeed believe that the Trump administration is seriously contemplating a ‘first strike’ on North Korea.  But if Kim Jong Un has drawn the same conclusion, he may reach for the nuclear trigger first.”

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says the most frightening nightmare is of Trump blundering into a new Korean war.  It could happen when Trump destroys a test missile that North Korea is about to launch, and the country might respond by firing artillery at Seoul (population: 25 million).

He cites Gen. Gary Luck, a former commander of American forces in South Korea, as estimating that a new Korean war could cause one million casualties and $1 trillion in damage.

Let us all hope and pray that this nightmare scenario does not become reality.

This may be the most unfortunate trend of the Trump presidency.  Far from the expectation that he would retreat from being the world policeman and turn inward to work for “America First”, the new President may find that fighting wars or at least unleashing missiles and bombs in third world countries may “make America great again”.

This may be easier than winning domestic battles like replacing former President Obama’s health care policy or banning visitors or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, an order that has been countered by the courts.

But the message that people from certain groups or countries are not welcome in the US is having effect: recent reports indicate a decline in tourism and foreign student applications to the US.

Another flip-flop was on NATO.  Trump condemned it for being obsolete, but recently hailed it for being “no longer obsolete”, to his Western allies’ great relief.

Another note-worthy but welcome about-turn was when the US President conceded that China is after all not a currency manipulator.  On the campaign trail, he had vowed to name China such a manipulator on day 1 of his presidency, to be followed up with imposing a 45% tariff on Chinese products.

Trump continues to be obsessed by the US trade deficit, and to him China is the main culprit, with a $347 billion trade surplus versus the US.

The US-China summit in Florida on 7-8 April cooled relations between the two big powers. “I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away,” Trump said at the summit’s end.

The two countries agreed to a proposal by Chinese President Xi Jinping to have a 100-day plan to increase US exports to China and reduce the US trade deficit.

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar.  But it is by no means off altogether.

Trump has moved to shred Obama’s climate change policy. He proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% and eliminate climate change research and prevention programmes throughout the federal government. The EPA, now led by a climate change skeptic, was ordered to revise its standards on tailpipe pollution from vehicles and review the Clean Power Plan, which was the centrepiece of Obama’s policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Trump has asked his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to prepare a report within 90 days on the US’ bilateral trade deficits with its trading partners, and whether any of them is caused by dumping, cheating, subsidies, free trade agreements, currency misalignment and even unfair WTO rules.

Once Trump has the analysis, he will be able to take action to correct any anomalies, said Ross.

We can thus expect the Trump administration to have a blueprint on how to deal with each country with a significant trade surplus with the US.

If carried out, this would be an unprecedented exercise by an economic super-power to pressurise and intimidate its trade partners to curb their exports to and expand their imports from the US, or else face action.

During the 100-day period, Trump did not carry out his threats to impose extra tariffs on Mexico and China.  He did fulfil his promise to pull the US out of the TPPA but he has yet to show seriousness about revamping NAFTA.

A threat to the trade system could come from a tax reform bill being prepared by Republican Congress leaders.  The original paper contains a “trade adjustment” system with the effect of taxing US imports by 20% while exempting US exports from corporate tax.

If such a bill is passed, we can expect a torrent of criticism from the rest of the world, many cases against the US at the WTO and retaliatory action by several countries.   Due to opposition from several business sectors in the US, it is possible that this trade-adjustment aspect could eventually be dropped or at least modified considerably.

In any case, as the new US trade policy finds its shape, the first 100 days of Trump has spread a cold protectionist wind around the world.

On another issue, the icy winds have quickly turned into action, and caused international consternation.

Trump has moved to shred Obama’s climate change policy.  He proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% and eliminate climate change research and prevention programmes throughout the federal government.

The EPA, now led by a climate change skeptic, was ordered to revise its standards on tailpipe pollution from vehicles and review the Clean Power Plan, which was the centrepiece of Obama’s policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The plan would have shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, stop new coal plants and replace them with wind and solar farms.

“The policy reversals also signal that Mr Trump has no intention of following through on Mr Obama’s formal pledges under the Paris accord,” said Coral Davenport in the New York Times.

Under the Paris agreement, the US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases by about 26% from 2005 levels by 2025.  “That can be achieved only if the US not only implements the Clean Power Plan and tailpipe pollution rules but also tightens them or adds more policies in future years,” says Davenport.

She quotes Mario Molina, a Nobel prize-winning scientist from Mexico, as saying:  “The message clearly is, we won’t do what the United States has promised to do…They don’t believe climate change is serious.  It is shocking to see such a degree of ignorance from the US.”

Will the US pull out of the Paris Agreement?  An internal debate is reportedly taking place within the administration.  If the country cannot meet and has no intention of meeting its Paris pledge, then it may find a convenient excuse to leave.

Even if it stays on, the new US delegation can be expected to discourage or stop other countries from moving ahead with new measures and actions.

There is widespread dismay about Trump’s intention to stop honouring the US pledge to contribute $3 billion initially to the Green Climate Fund, which assists developing countries take climate actions.

Obama had transferred the first billion, but there will be no more forthcoming from the Trump administration unless Congress over-rules the President (which is very unlikely).

Another adverse development, especially for developing countries, is Trump’s intention to downgrade the importance of international and development cooperation.

In March Trump announced his proposed budget with a big cut of 28% or $10.9 billion for the UN and other international organisations, the State Department and the US agency for international development, while by contrast the proposed military budget was increased by $54 billion.

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar.  But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar. But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

At about the same time, the UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien urgently requested a big injection of donor funds to address the worst global humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war, with drought affecting 38 million people in 17 African countries.

The US has for long been a leading contributor to humanitarian programmes such as the World Food program.  In future, other countries will have to provide a greater share of disaster assistance, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The US is turning inward at a time when we are facing these unprecedented crises that require increasing US assistance,” according to Bernice Romero of Save the Children, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times.  “In 2016 the US contributed $6.4 billion in humanitarian assistance, the largest in the world.  Cutting its funding at a time of looming famine and the world’s largest displacement crisis since World War II is really unconscionable and could really have devastating consequences.”

Trump also proposed to cut the US contribution to the UN budget by an as yet unknown amount and pay at most 25% of UN peacekeeping costs.  The US has been paying 22% of the UN’s core budget of $5.4 billion and 28.5% of the UN peacekeeping budget of $7.9 billion.  Trump also proposed a cut of $650 million over three years to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks.

The foreign affairs community in the US itself is shocked by the short-sightedness of the Trump measures and 121 retired US generals and admirals urged Congress to fully fund diplomacy and foreign aid as these were critical to preventing conflict.

The proposed Trump budget will likely be challenged at the Congress which has many supporters for both diplomacy and humanitarian concerns.  We will have to wait to see the final outcome.

Nevertheless the intention of the President and his administration is clear and depressing.   And instead of other countries stepping in to make up for the United States’ decrease in aid, some may be tempted to likewise reduce their contributions.

For example, the United Kingdom Prime Minister Teresa May in answer to journalists’ questions refused to confirm that the UK would continue its tradition of providing 0.7% of GNP as foreign aid.

This has led the billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates to warn that a cut in UK aid, which currently is at 12 billion pounds, would mean more lives lost in Africa.

Besides the reduction in funding, the Trump foreign policy approach is also dampening the spirit and substance of international cooperation.

For example, the President’s sceptical attitude towards global cooperation on climate change will adversely affect the overall global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to global warming.

With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise.

The world would be deprived of the cooperation it urgently requires to save itself from catastrophic global warming.

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Bannon Down, Pentagon Up, Neocons In?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/bannon-down-pentagon-up-neocons-in/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bannon-down-pentagon-up-neocons-in http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/bannon-down-pentagon-up-neocons-in/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:34:23 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150065 The apparent and surprisingly abrupt demise in Steve Bannon’s influence offers a major potential opening for neoconservatives, many of whom opposed Trump’s election precisely because of his association with Bannon and the “America Firsters,” to return to power after so many years of being relegated to the sidelines. Bannon’s decline suggest that he no longer […]

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Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Donald J. Trump, speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (by Dominique A. Pineiro via Department of Defense)

Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Donald J. Trump, speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (by Dominique A. Pineiro via Department of Defense)

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

The apparent and surprisingly abrupt demise in Steve Bannon’s influence offers a major potential opening for neoconservatives, many of whom opposed Trump’s election precisely because of his association with Bannon and the “America Firsters,” to return to power after so many years of being relegated to the sidelines. Bannon’s decline suggest that he no longer wields the kind of veto power that prevented the nomination of Elliott Abrams as deputy secretary of state. Moreover, the administration’s ongoing failure to fill key posts at the undersecretary, assistant secretary, and deputy assistant secretary levels across the government’s foreign-policy apparatus provides a veritable cornucopia of opportunities for aspiring neocons who didn’t express their opposition to the Trump campaign too loudly.

Ninety days into the administration, the military brass—whose interests and general worldview are well represented by National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster and Pentagon chief Gen. James Mattis (ret.), not to mention the various military veterans led by National Security Council (NSC) chief of staff Gen. Kenneth Kellogg (ret.) who are taking positions on the NSC—appears to be very much in the driver’s seat on key foreign policy issues, especially regarding the Greater Middle East. Their influence is evident not only in the attention they’ve paid to mending ties with NATO and northeast Asian allies, but also in the more forceful actions in the Greater Middle East of the past two weeks. These latter demonstrations of force seem designed above all to reassure Washington’s traditional allies in the region, who had worried most loudly about both Obama’s non-interventionism and Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, that the U.S. is not shy about exerting its military muscle.

Nor could it be lost on many observers that Bannon’s expulsion from the NSC took place immediately after Jared Kushner returned from his surprise visit to Iraq hosted by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford—reportedly the culmination of a calculated strategy of seduction by the Pentagon. Kushner has emerged as the chief conduit to Trump (aside, perhaps, from Ivanka). The timing of Bannon’s fall from grace—and Kushner’s reported role in it—was particularly remarkable given that Kushner and Bannon were allied in opposing McMaster’s effort to fire Ezra Cohen-Watnick from the NSC just a week before Kushner flew to Baghdad.)

The Ascendance of the Military

The military’s emergence—at least, for now—has a number of implications, some favorable to neocons, others not so much.

On the favorable side of the ledger, there are clear areas of convergence between both the brass and the neocons (although it’s important to emphasize that neither is monolithic and that there are variations in opinion within both groups). Although both the military and the neocons give lip service to the importance of “soft power” in promoting U.S. interests abroad, they share the belief that, ultimately, hard power is the only coin of the realm that really counts.

The military tends to appreciate the importance of mobilizing multilateral and especially allied support for U.S. policies, especially the use of force. Many neocons, however, don’t accord such support so much importance. Indeed, some are openly contemptuous of multilateralism and international law in general, believing that they unduly constrain Washington’s freedom of action (to do good for the world).
With substantial experience in counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan, both McMaster and Mattis appreciate the importance of politics in military strategy in principle. But they are ultimately military men and hence naturally inclined to look in the first instance to military tools to pound in any loose nails, whether in the form of failing states or failing regional security structures. (That hammer will likely look even more compelling as the Trump administration follows through on its budgetary proposals to deplete U.S. diplomatic and development capabilities.) Like neoconservatives, they also appreciate large military budgets, and although they certainly oppose, in principle, the idea that the U.S. should play globocop for fear of overextension, they have no problem with the notion of U.S. global military primacy and the necessity of maintaining hundreds of military bases around the world to uphold it.

Moreover, the military and neoconservatives share to some extent an enduring hostility toward certain states. The Pentagon is quite comfortable with an adversarial relationship with Russia, if only because it is familiar and ensures European adherence to NATO, which the United States will dominate for the foreseeable future. This applies in particular to McMaster, who spent the last couple of years planning for conflict with Russia. For similar reasons, the military is generally comfortable with a mostly hostile relationship toward Iran. Such a stance ensures close ties with Washington’s traditional allies/autocrats in the Gulf (whose insatiable demand for U.S. weaponry helps sustain the industrial base of the U.S. military as well as the compensation for retired flag officers who serve on the boards of the arms sellers). And, as Mattis has made clear on any number of occasions, he sees Iran as the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the region and welcomes an opportunity to “push back” against what he has claimed are Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions there. All of this is clearly encouraging to neocons whose antipathy toward both the Islamic Republic and Russia is deeply ingrained and of long standing.

On the more negative side, however, the military as an institution naturally harbors a distrust of neoconservatives, a distrust established by the Iraq debacle in which the military still finds itself bogged down with no clear exit. “Regime change” and “nation-building”—much touted by neocons in the post-Cold War era—are dirty words among most of the brass, for whom such phrases have become synonymous with quagmire, over-extension, and, as much as they resist coming to terms with it, failure. Of course, many active-duty and retired senior military officers, of whom McMaster may well be one, consider the 2007-08 “Surge”—a plan heavily promoted by neoconservatives—to have been a great success (despite its manifest failure to achieve the strategic goal of political and sectarian reconciliation) that was undone by Obama’s “premature” withdrawal. But even the most ardent COINistas are aware that, absent a catastrophic attack on the U.S. mainland, the American public will have very limited patience for major new investments of blood and treasure in the Middle East, especially given the general perception that Russia and China pose increasing threats to more important U.S. interests and allies in Europe and East Asia, respectively, compared to five or six years ago.

The prevailing wisdom among the brass remains pretty much as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates enunciated it before his retirement in 2011: “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” The military may indeed escalate its presence and loosen its rules of engagement in Mesopotamia, Afghanistan, and even Yemen in the coming months, but not so much as to attract sustained public attention and concern, despite the wishes of neocons like Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake, Gen. Jack Keane (ret.), or the Kagans. The desirability of a “light footprint” has become conventional wisdom at the Pentagon, while some neocons still believe that the U.S. occupation of post-World War II Germany and Japan should be the model for Iraq.

Besides Iraq’s legacy, the military has other reasons to resist neocon efforts to gain influence in the Trump administration. As successive flag officers, including one of their heroes, Gen. David Petraeus (ret.), have testified, the virtually unconditional U.S. embrace of Israel has long made their efforts to enlist Arab support for U.S. military initiatives in the region more difficult. Of course, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, neocons argue that circumstances have changed over the last decade, that the reigning regional chaos and the fear of a rising Iran shared by both Israel and the Sunni-led Arab states have created a new strategic convergence that has made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict virtually irrelevant. According to this view, Washington’s perceived acquiescence in, if not support for, expanding Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and its quarantine of Gaza are no longer a big deal for Arab leaders.

But this perception runs up against the reality that the Pentagon and CENTCOM have always faced in the region. Even the most autocratic Arab leaders, including those who have intensified their covert intelligence and military cooperation with Israel in recent years, are worried about their own public opinion, and, that until Israel takes concrete steps toward the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state pursuant to the solution outlined in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API), their cooperation will remain limited, as well as covert. In the meantime, the ever-present possibility of a new Palestinian uprising or another armed conflict in Gaza threatens both continuing cooperation as well as the U.S. position in the region to the extent that Washington is seen as backing Israel.

There are other differences. Despite the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, neocons have long believed that states necessarily constitute the greatest threat to U.S. national security, while the military tends to take relatively more seriously threats posed by non-state actors, such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda or, for that matter, al-Shabaab or Boko Haram to which neocons pay almost no attention. Although some neocons are clearly Islamophobic and/or Arabophobic (in major part due to their Likudist worldview), the military, as shown most recently by McMaster’s opposition to the use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” sees that attitude as counter-productive. And although neocons and the military share a strong antipathy toward Iran, the latter, unlike the former, appears to recognize that both countries share some common interests. Mattis, in particular, sees the nuclear deal as imperfect but very much worth preserving. Most neocons want to kill it, if not by simply tearing it up, then indirectly, either through new congressional sanctions or other means designed to provoke Iran into renouncing it.

The military tends to appreciate the importance of mobilizing multilateral and especially allied support for U.S. policies, especially the use of force. Many neocons, however, don’t accord such support so much importance. Indeed, some are openly contemptuous of multilateralism and international law in general, believing that they unduly constrain Washington’s freedom of action (to do good for the world). Neocons see themselves above all as moral actors in a world of good and evil; the brass is more grounded in realism, albeit of a pretty hardline nature.

Thus, to the extent that the military’s worldview emerges as dominant under Donald Trump, neoconservatives may have a hard time gaining influence. However, on some issues, such as lobbying for a larger Pentagon budget, taking a more aggressive stance against Moscow, aligning the U.S. more closely with the Sunni-led Gulf states, and promoting a more confrontational stance vis-à-vis Iran in the Middle East, neocons may gain an entrée.

Other Avenues of Influence

Just as the Pentagon deliberately courted Kushner—who appears, like his father-in-law, to be something of an empty vessel on foreign policy issues despite the rapid expansion of his international responsibilities in the first 90 days—so others will. Indeed, Abrams himself appears to have gotten the message. In his interview last week with Politico, he unsurprisingly praises Trump’s cruise-missile strikes against Syria and Kushner’s modesty. (“I don’t view him at all as an empire builder.”) At the end of the article, the author notes,

As for his own future with Trump, Abrams teased that it may still be in front of him, depending on how things shape up with Bannon and Kushner, the latter of whom he kept going out of his way to praise. [ Emphasis added.]

Although the deputy secretary of state position now appears to be taken, Abrams was also careful to laud his erstwhile promoter, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Now reportedly coordinating increasingly with Mattis and McMaster, Tillerson seems to have gained significant ground with Trump himself in recent weeks. Neocons may yet find a home at State, although I think Tillerson’s initial promotion of Abrams as his deputy was due primarily to the latter’s experience and skills as a bureaucratic infighter rather than for his ideological predispositions. Meanwhile, UN Amb. Nikki Haley, who was promoted to the NSC’s Principals Committee on the same day that Bannon was expelled, appears to have become a neocon favorite for her Kirkpatrickesque denunciations of Russia, Syria, and the UN itself. That she initially supported neocon heartthrob Sen. Marco Rubio for president and has been aligned politically with Sen. Lindsey Graham, who stressed Haley’s commitment to Israel when she was nominated as ambassador, also offers hope to neocons looking for avenues of influence and infiltration.

Yet another avenue into the administration—indeed, perhaps the most effective—lies with none other than casino king Sheldon Adelson, the single biggest donor to the Trump campaign and inaugural festivities (as well as to Haley’s political action committee). As we noted in January, Kushner himself, along with Israeli Amb. Ron Dermer, had become a critical, pro-Likud conduit between Trump and Adelson beginning shortly after Trump’s rather controversial appearance before the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) at the beginning of the presidential campaign. Although Adelson has maintained a low profile since the inauguration, he clearly enjoys unusual access to both Kushner and Trump. Indeed, the fact that Sean Spicer reportedly apologized personally to Adelson, of all people, almost immediately after his “Holocaust center” fiasco last week serves as a helpful reminder that, as much as the various factions, institutions, and individuals jockey for power in the new administration, money—especially campaign cash—still talks in Washington. This is a reality that neoconservatives absorbed long ago.

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

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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/#respond 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

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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.

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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 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

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For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar. But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar. But it is by no means off altogether. 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

The post Beware of the New US Protectionist Plan, the Border Adjustment Tax – Part 1 appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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