Inter Press Service » South-South http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 29 Jul 2016 18:43:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 UN Trade and Development Conference a “Big Win” for Multilateralismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/un-trade-and-development-conference-a-big-win-for-multilateralism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-trade-and-development-conference-a-big-win-for-multilateralism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/un-trade-and-development-conference-a-big-win-for-multilateralism/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 18:43:00 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146319 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) poses for a photo with Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), President of the Republic of Kenya, and Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), at the opening of the fourteenth UNCTAD session, taking place in Nairobi, 17-22 July 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) poses for a photo with Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), President of the Republic of Kenya, and Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), at the opening of the fourteenth UNCTAD session, taking place in Nairobi, 17-22 July 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2016 (IPS/G77)

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) concluded its five-day meeting in Nairobi on a positive note—the launch of a new e-trade initiative and a multi-donor trust fund on trade and productive capacity.

The meeting, attended by more than 5,000 delegates from 149 countries, also launched the first UN statistical report on specific indicators on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a commitment for a roadmap on fisheries subsidies.

The negotiations ended in the early hours of July 22 after two marathon all-night sessions. The resulting Nairobi consensus, “the Maafikiano”, also sets UNCTAD’s work programme for the next four years.

Billed as UNCTAD 14, the conference was formally opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in the presence of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and the vice-President of Uganda, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi.

The meeting also launched the 2016 report on ‘Economic Development in Africa’, and highlighted issues around non-tariff measures, debt, and illicit financial flows, along with a fashion show focusing on the creative and commercial potential of Kenya’s fashion industry.

In his opening address, the Secretary-General warned about the “worrying signs that people around the world are increasingly unhappy with the state of the global economy.”

He said high inequality, stagnant incomes, lack of enough jobs – especially for youth — and too little cause for optimism stoke legitimate fears for the future for many in all regions.

“The global trade slowdown and a lack of productive investment have sharpened the deep divides between those who have benefited from globalization, and those who continue to feel left behind. “

And rather than working to change the economic model for the better, Ban said, many actual and would-be leaders are instead embracing protectionism and even xenophobia.

"International financial institutions, which are one of the main sources of financing for development of developing countries, need to be universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable." -- Apichart Chinwanno.

“The vision set out in the SDGs – for people, planet, prosperity and peace – will not succeed if shocks and stresses in our global economic and financial system are not properly addressed,” he noted.

Trade must provide prosperity in ways that work for people and planet and respond to the challenges of climate change, said Ban.

A Ministerial Declaration adopted by the 134 members of the Group of 77 and China on the occasion of UNCTAD addressed the “key issues that are of major concern to developing countries,” said Apichart Chinwanno, Permanent Secretary And Special Envoy Of The Minister Of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom Of Thailand, speaking on Behalf of ‘The Group Of 77 and China In New York’.

“These (key issues) include the need to tackle subsidies and various forms of market access restrictions, tax evasion and tax avoidance, illicit capital flows, sovereign debt crisis as well as the need to uphold principles of equity, inclusiveness, common but differentiated responsibilities, special and differential treatment, and the right to development, just to name a few,” said Chinwanno at a Ministerial Meeting Of The Group Of 77 held on the occasion Of UNCTAD in Nairobi on July 17.

“International financial institutions, which are one of the main sources of financing for development of developing countries, need to be universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable,” added Chinwanno.

Chinwanno also noted that Official Development Assistance (ODA) remains at an average of just “0.29% of the aggregate donor Gross National Income in 2014, well below the commitment of 0.7%.”

According to an UNCTAD press release, this year’s conference, with the tagline “From decision to action”, had added significance because it was the first UNCTAD conference since the global community established the Sustainable Development Goals and mandated – via the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – with UNCTAD as one of five international organizations to mobilize financing for development.”

The other four organizations are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Martin Khor, Executive Director of the Geneva-based South Centre said an important aspect of today’s global economy is that the economic weight of the South has undeniably increased, with China and India accounting for a large share of this increase.

He said developing countries as a whole are more integrated into the world economy.  However, these changes have not yet constituted a full scale shift in the global landscape.

The development gap between the North and the South still exists, even exacerbated for some countries.  The task of bridging this gap is becoming more complex and difficult in today’s global economic environment, he cautioned.

Throughout the various major international negotiations that took place last year that resulted in the recently concluded international outcomes like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Paris Agreement, the South continuously highlighted the need to close the development gap faster and in a more sustainable and equitable manner, he noted.

“None of these outcomes of the international community could have been achieved without the support and leadership of the Group of 77 and China,” said Khor.

“I’m delighted that our 194 member states have been able to reach this consensus, giving a central role to UNCTAD in delivering the sustainable development goals,” UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, said, just after the conclusion of the meeting.

“With this document, we can get on with the business of cutting edge analysis, building political consensus, and providing the necessary technical assistance that will make globalization and trade work for billions of people in the global south,” he said.

UNCTAD14 President, Amina Mohamed, said: “As the President of this conference, I cannot begin to tell you how I feel right now.”

“It’s a good day for Kenya, a good day for UNCTAD, and a big win for multilateralism,” she said.

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President of UN General Assembly Continues Push for Openness, Transparencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/president-of-un-general-assembly-continues-push-for-openness-transparency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=president-of-un-general-assembly-continues-push-for-openness-transparency http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/president-of-un-general-assembly-continues-push-for-openness-transparency/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 18:01:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146312 The President of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

The President of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2016 (IPS)

The President of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, has helped spearhead a push for a more open and transparent selection process for the next UN Secretary-General.

IPS spoke with Lykketoft one week after the 15 members of the UN Security Council cast their first votes in a straw poll to indicate which of the 12 candidates for the UN’s top job they support.

The results of the informal initial vote, which took place on Thursday 21 July, were not publicly released, but were leaked almost immediately.

Since the results were leaked, the straw polls only have a “formality of secrecy”, Lykketoft told IPS.

On behalf of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly, Lykketoft publicly called for the Security Council to convey the results to the other UN member states soon after the vote took place.

However Lykketoft also noted that the straw polls are an initial vote and that the positioning of candidates may well change, noting that new candidates may also emerge.

“It’s much too early to draw conclusions from the straw polls,” said Lykketoft. “Positioning and tendencies … can change over time.”

“The real influence from the membership is now to express to their colleagues in the Security Council if they have preferences among the candidates,” -- Mogens Lykketoft.

A second straw poll is planned for next Friday August 5, he added. However one potential further candidate, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on July 29 that he would not be running, as he did not receive an endorsement from the Australian government.

“We’ll try to arrange as quickly as possible, if a new candidate comes forward, the same kind of hearings that we have had with the 12 candidates,” he said.

However while the informal dialogues have opened up the selection process for the next Secretary-General to the 193 member General Assembly, it is still likely that the UN Security Council will ultimately decide a single candidate to put forward to the assembly for endorsement.

There have been calls for the Security Council to break with this custom and put forward more than one candidate to the General Assembly, however Lykketoft noted that any change to the current system was up to the Security Council, and that it wasn’t even clear whether the “majority of the General Assembly would ask for more candidates.”

“The real influence from the membership is now to express to their colleagues in the Security Council if they have preferences among the candidates,” said Lykketoft.

“Because we’ve had these informal dialogues, these hearings, we much better know the personalities and the priorities of candidates than one did at any previous occasion, simply because all the other times there wasn’t an established list of candidates, we didn’t even know outside the Security Council which names were brought to the table.”

“That has changed and that means also that all the friends, allies and colleagues of the members of the Security Council can express to them their priorities and that gives a real possibility for influence.”

“I have also said continuously if among the many candidates (there are) clear favourites, I don’t think the Security Council would come up with some quite different names. But we’ll see.”

Group of 77 with candidates for the position of next UN Secretary-General  Ant—nio Guterres (Portugal). UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

António Guterres (centre), former UN High Commissioner for Refugees and candidate for the position of next United Nations Secretary-General, addresses the Group of 77 in a closed meeting at UN Headquarters in New York. Also seated on the panel, from left, are: Álvaro José Costa de Mendonça e Moura, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the UN; Virachai Plasai, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN, and Chairperson of the Group of 77 (G-77); and Mourad Ahmia, Executive Secretary of the Group of 77 Secretariat. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

In addition to consultations with the General Assembly as a whole, candidates for Secretary-General had separate consultations with regional groups such as the Group of 77, which Lykketoft described as a “very useful” addition to the selection process.

He noted that members of the Group of 77, which represents 133 developing countries at the United Nations, see development issues and climate change as priorities.

This was reflected in questions posed to the 12 candidates for the role of Secretary-General on behalf of the Group during the informal hearings in the General Assembly. Each of the 12 candidates also held closed hearings with the members of the Group of 77.

The Presidency of the General Assembly

Reflecting on his own role, Lykketoft touched on changes to the office of the President of the General Assembly.

Fiji has been elected to hold the 71st Presidency of the UN General Assembly, when Denmark’s term finishes in September 2016.

Lykketoft noted that as a Small Island Developing State, Fiji does not have the same resources to draw on to support the office of the President as other richer and bigger countries.

The office of the President of the General Assembly relies on contributions from member states. Lykketoft particularly highlighted the importance of member states seconding staff to the office.

“There’s been 35 people from 26 different countries working in the office of the President of the General Assembly, which is a very interesting and very well functioning operation,” said Lykketoft.

“Most of those people are actually a gift from member states to us.”

Lykketoft said he hoped that more countries would come forward to help support Fiji’s Presidency.

“Hopefully there will be more contributions, in particular from countries of the South, because it’s obvious that Fiji is not a rich and big country themselves.”

He also said that there is “a strong wish” in the General Assembly for the UN to provide more resources to the office, in particular to make sure that information is passed on and recorded between presidencies, he added.

The Candidates

There are currently 12 candidates for the position of UN Secretary-General. They include former heads of state and high-level UN officials.

According to leaked reports, Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and former head of the UN High Commission for Refugees, topped the first straw poll, with Danilo Turk, former President of Slovenia, placing second and Irina Bokova, of Bulgaria who is currently Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) placed third.

In addition to the push for the selection of the next Secretary-General to be more open and transparent, there have also been calls for the ninth Secretary-General to be the first to come from Eastern Europe or the first to be a woman.

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African Leaders Driving Push for Industrialisation: UN Officialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/african-leaders-driving-push-for-industrialisation-un-official/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-leaders-driving-push-for-industrialisation-un-official http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/african-leaders-driving-push-for-industrialisation-un-official/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 15:48:56 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146270 The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa on July 25. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa on July 25. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2016 (IPS/G77)

Industrialisation in Africa is being driven by African leaders who realise that industries as diverse as horticulture and leather production can help add value to the primary resources they currently export.

This is an “inside driven” process, Li Yong, Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) told IPS in a recent interview. “I’ve heard that message from the African leaders.”

The African Union ‘Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want’ sets out a plan to transform the economy of the 54 countries in Africa based on manufacturing, said Li.

The process received support from the UN General Assembly on Monday with a new resolution titled the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (2016-2025).

The resolution was sponsored by the Group of 77 (G77) developing countries and China in collaboration with the African Union, said Li.

“These steps create a momentum that all “industrialization stakeholders” in Africa must take advantage of,” said Li.

The resolution called on UNIDO to work together with the African Union Commission, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the Economic Commission for Africa to work towards sustainable industrialisation in Africa over the next 10 years.

The types of industrialisation African countries are embracing often involves adding value to the primary commodities, from mining or agriculture, that they are already producing.

It includes horticultural industry, notably in Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal, beneficiation, adding value to minerals mined in Botswana, and shoe and garment manufacturing in Ethiopia, said Li.

However Li noted that in order to attract foreign investment in industrialisation, developing countries need to “do their homework.”

This can include building the necessary business infrastructure required for new industries in industrial parks.
“We have already seen some countries move ahead with attracting investments into industrial parks (including) Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa,” said Li.

Li pointed to recent examples from Ethiopia and Senegal, where the respective governments have invested millions of dollars in building industrial parks to attract foreign investors that create jobs and exports for these two Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Currently, there are 48 LDCs around the world, of which 34 are in Africa.

Most LDCs rely on a handful of primary resources for exports, such as gold or the so-called black golds: oil, coal and coffee.

The decent work and value addition that come with industrialisation are considered a key way that these LDCs can grow, transform and diversify their economies and become middle income countries. Most LDCs rely on a handful of primary resources for exports, such as gold or the so-called black golds: oil, coal and coffee.

LDCs in Africa have had “very low and declining shares of manufacturing value added in GDP since the 1970s”, noted Li.
By investing in industry, these countries can add value to their primary exports, including through agro-industry, as is the case in Ethiopia, whose main exports include coffee, gold, leather products and live animals. “Manufacturing connects agriculture to light industry” noted Li, such as through food processing, garments and textiles, wood and leather processing.

Moreover, industrialisation does not necessarily have to be incompatible with the shift to a low carbon economy, said Li, since use of resource and energy efficient production methods and renewable energy in productive activities such as agro-industry, beneficiation, and in manufacturing, in general, will lead the economy onto a low carbon path.

The world’s least developed countries are following in the footsteps of other countries which have already achieved development, in part due to the industrialisation of their economies.

LDCs are “really eager to learn from those countries (that have) already gone through this process so that is why we have established South-South cooperation,” said Li.

However industrialisation does not only benefit the developing countries which want to attract it.

“Firms in today’s manufacturing powerhouses such as China, India and Brazil that are faced with rising wages at home are searching for locations that offer competitive wages, and appropriate infrastructure,” said Li.

With populations in many countries around the world beginning to age, Africa also has a comparative advantage to offer with growing young populations in many African countries.

“With its young and growing population, some indications show that Africa has the potential to become the next region to benefit from industrialization, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing sectors,” said Li.

By providing employment and opportunities for these young people at home, industrialisation can also address other issues, including migration, inequalities and climate change, noted Li.

“Industry means creating jobs and incomes and industrial jobs partially reduce the pressure on migration and also resolve the root causes,” he said.

The Role of the G77

Li noted that UNIDO works closely with all developing countries, often through the Group of 77 and China, which represents 134 developing countries at the UN.

“The G77 and China has diverse membership, including Least Developed Countries, Land Locked Developing Countries, Small Islands Developing States, and Middle Income Countries, located in almost all regions of the world and with diverse range of priorities with respect to industrial development,” he said.

“In LDCs, labor-intensive manufacturing is promoted to create jobs.”

“In middle-income countries moving up the technology ladder into higher value added manufacturing is targeted.”
This can include collaborations with “science, technology and research and development institutions, targeted foreign investment promotion, and other relevant services,” said Li.

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Beyond Rhetoric: UN Member States Start Work on Global Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/beyond-rhetoric-un-member-states-start-work-on-global-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-rhetoric-un-member-states-start-work-on-global-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/beyond-rhetoric-un-member-states-start-work-on-global-goals/#comments Fri, 22 Jul 2016 17:05:23 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146182 Ministerial Segment of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Ministerial Segment of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 22 2016 (IPS)

UN member states “are going beyond rhetoric and earnestly working to achieve real progress” towards the Sustainable Goals, the members of the Group of 77 and China said in a ministerial statement delivered here on 18 July.

The statement was delivered by Ambassador Virachai Plasai, Chair of the Group Of 77 (G77) and China during the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) which took place at UN Headquarters in New York from 18 to 20 July.

During the forum, the 134 members of the G77 and China reaffirmed the importance of not only achieving the Sustainable Development Goals but also the driving principle of leaving no one behind.

“We must identify the “how” in reaching out to those furthest behind,” said Plasai who is also Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to the UN.

“To make this real, we cannot simply reaffirm all the principles recognised in the (2030) Agenda, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, but must earnestly implement them in all our endeavours,” Plasai added.

The UN’s 193 member states unanimously adopted the 2030 Development Agenda, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, in September 2015. The goals reflect the importance of the three aspects of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental, and countries will work towards achieving them by the year 2030.

However more still needs to be done to ensure that developing countries have access to the resources they need to meet the goals, said Plasai.

“We reiterate that enhancing support to developing countries is fundamental, including through provision of development financial resources, transfer of technology, enhanced international support and targeted capacity-building, and promoting a rules-based and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system,” he said.

“To make this real, we cannot simply reaffirm all the principles recognised in the (2030) Agenda... but must earnestly implement them in all our endeavours." -- Ambassador Virachai Plasai

“We urge the international community and relevant stakeholders to make real progress in these issues, including through the G20 Summit in China which will focus on developing action plans to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.”

At a separate meeting during the High Level Political Forum the G77 and China noted some of the specific gaps that remain in financing for development.

During that meeting the G77 and China expressed concern that rich countries are failing to meet their commitments to deliver Official Development Assistance (ODA) – the official term for aid – to developing countries.

“We note with concern that efforts and genuine will to address these issues are still lagging behind as reflected in this year’s outcome document of the Financing for Development forum which failed to address (gaps in ODA),” said Chulamanee Chartsuwan, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative Of The Kingdom of Thailand to the UN, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.

Speaking during the forum on July 19, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the importance of the High Level Political Forum, “as the global central platform for follow-up and review of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Ban presented the results of the first Sustainable Development Goals report released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on July 20. The report used “data currently available to highlight the most significant gaps and challenges” in achieving the 2030 Agenda, said Ban.

“The latest data show that about one person in eight still lives in extreme poverty,” he said.

“Nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger.”

“The births of nearly a quarter of children under 5 have not been recorded.”

“1.1 billion people are living without electricity, and water scarcity affects more than 2 billion.”

Leaving No One Behind

Ban also noted that the importance of collecting data about the groups within countries that are more likely to be “left behind”, such as peoples with disabilities or indigenous peoples.

Collecting separate data about how these groups fare is considered one way for governments to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 10 which aims to decrease inequality within countries.

However SDG 10 also aims to address inequalities between countries, an important objective for the G77, as the main organisation bringing together developing countries at the UN the G77 wants to make sure that countries in special circumstances are not left behind.

Countries in special circumstances include “in particular African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and Small Island Developing States, as well as countries in conflict and post-conflict situations,” said Chartsuwan.

However while the world’s poorest and most fragile countries have specific challenges, many middle income countries also have challenges too, the G77 statement noted.

Climate Change Agreement Needs Implementation

Developing countries, and particularly countries with special circumstances, are among those that are most adversely affected by climate change, and therefore wish to see speedy adoption and implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement alongside the 2030 Agenda.

Ban told the forum that he will host a special event during the UN General Assembly at 8am on September 21 for countries to deposit their instruments of ratification.

“We have 178 countries who have signed this Paris Agreement, and 19 countries have deposited their instrument of ratification.”

“As you are well aware, we need the 55 countries to ratify, and 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions accounted.”

“These 19 countries all accounted is less than 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”

“So we need to do much more,” he said.

The G77 Newswire is published with the support of the G77 Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund for South-South Cooperation (PGTF) in partnership with Inter Press Service (IPS).

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Global Coalition Seeks Ban on Mercury Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/global-coalition-seeks-ban-on-mercury-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-coalition-seeks-ban-on-mercury-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/global-coalition-seeks-ban-on-mercury-use/#comments Tue, 12 Jul 2016 14:27:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146008 Example of mercury use in the healthcare sector. From left to right:  Mercury Sphygmomanometer, Dental Amalgam and a Fever Thermometer. Photo: UNDP

Example of mercury use in the healthcare sector. From left to right: Mercury Sphygmomanometer, Dental Amalgam and a Fever Thermometer. Photo: UNDP

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2016 (IPS)

A coalition of over 25 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has launched a global campaign to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry.

Spearheading the campaign is the Washington-based World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, which is seeking to phase out dental amalgam, described as a “primitive pollutant”, by the year 2020.

The environmental health benefits from mercury-free dentistry would be “huge to the world”, says the World Alliance, “”The European Union’s science committee calls amalgam a ‘secondary poisoning’ because its mercury gets into fish and vegetables which children eat.”

A proposal before the European Commission calls for the use of dental amalgam in an encapsulated form, and more importantly, the implementation of amalgam separators, which should be mandatory to protect dental practitioners and patients from mercury exposure and to ensure that resulting mercury waste are not released into the environment but are collected and subjected to sound waste management.

Describing dental amalgam as “vastly inferior to today’s alternative materials,” the President of the World Alliance Charles G. Brown, told IPS: “Western corporate interests fund the counter-campaign to protect amalgam sales, especially in developing nations.”

“The game changer in our favour is the 2013 Minimata Convention on Mercury,” (which has been signed by 128 nations), said Brown, a former Attorney General of the US State of Ohio.

But the Convention, which aims to reduce or eliminate all man-made uses of mercury, needs 50 ratifications to become legally binding. But so far, only 28 countries have ratified the Convention, including the US.

The most recent ratifications have included Switzerland and Mali (in May) and Botswana (in June).

“We need a push to get over the finish line,” declared Brown, whose campaign reaches out Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America and the Island States. .

Besides the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, the coalition includes the European Environmental Bureau, Health and Environment Alliance, Women in Europe for a Common Future, International Academy for Oral Medicine and Toxicology, Asian Centre for Environmental Health, Danish Association for Non-Toxic Dentistry and Zero Waste Europe.

In a letter to members of the Environment Committee of the European Parliament, the coalition points out that, after long delays, the European Commission proposed a new mercury package last February, positioning the EU to finally ratify the Minamata Convention.

The package updates existing EU law to conform to the Convention, but falls short in several key areas, including a new proposal that would eventually perpetuate mercury use in EU dentistry.

“This proposal is clearly out of step with both the spirit and intent of the treaty,” the letter warns. The Minamata Convention requires each State party to “phase down the use of dental amalgam”.

The Environment Committee is calling for a phase-out of amalgam in Europe by the year 2021.

But the EC mercury package, on the other hand, proposes merely to require amalgam separators and encapsulated amalgam – two measures that fail to phase down European amalgam use for several reasons.

Asked if this problem is largely confined to the EU, described as the largest user of dental mercury in the world, Brown told IPS: “No, this problem is not confined to Europe although the EU is the largest user partly because dental care is more available in general”.

A report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), a mercury monitoring network, shows that North America (including the US) is consuming its share.

“Although use is far less in developing countries right now, it is expected to increase as dental care becomes more available – unless we prevent it by ensuring that mercury-free alternatives are used from the start.”

Achim Steiner, former Executive Director of UNEP, wrote a letter to the World Alliance last year endorsing the activist phasing down of amalgam in general, and singling out the work of the World Alliance of Mercury-Free Dentistry, in particular.

UNEP and the World Alliance have co-hosted two 10-nation conferences to work for mercury-free dentistry: for francophone Africa, April 2014 in Abidjan; and for Asia (South, Southeast, & East Asian nations), March 2016 in Bangkok.

The overall goal of the Global Mercury Partnership, according to UNEP, is to protect human health and the global environment from the release of mercury and its compounds by minimizing and, where feasible, ultimately eliminating global, anthropogenic mercury releases to air, water and land.

UNEP recently developed a brochure to assist nations in phasing down amalgam use. In it, UNEP particularly promoted the following steps:

(a) Raising public awareness of amalgam’s mercury content; (b) Updating dental school curricula to promote mercury-free dentistry; (c) Modifying government programs and insurance to favor mercury-free fillings; and (d) Restricting amalgam use in children and pregnant women.

In its attempts to protect human health and the environment from mercury—and in support of the Minamata Convention on Mercury—the UN Development Programme (UNDP), says sound management of chemicals and wastes is an important component of its efforts to achieve sustainable, inclusive and resilient human development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNDP advocates integrating chemicals management priorities into national environmental and poverty reduction planning frameworks, while helping countries access financial and technical resources, and providing assistance and implementation support to improve the holistic management of chemicals and waste at national, regional and global levels.

UNDP currently supports 42 countries with a Global Environment Facility (GEF) mercury portfolio of $22 million in grants and $32 million in co-financing.

Asked if the medical lobby is powerful enough to keep stalling an eventual ban on dental mercury, Brown said: “It’s actually the dental lobby specifically that opposes the ban (many physicians tend to either not take a stand or they agree with us). “

Are they effective or powerful? It depends on whom you talk with, he said.

Dentistry is divided into two hotly contesting factions: the mercury-free numbers are growing, the pro-mercury faction shrinking – but the latter is represented by the World Dental Federation (FDI, its initials in French) and its constituent Western members, such as the American, British, and Canadian Dental Associations.

The American Dental Association spent $2,850,000 on lobbying expenses in 2013, the year the treaty negotiations ended, but in its arrogance the money was largely wasted, he added.

“At the Minamata Convention, FDI and the American Dental Association (ADA) were represented by white Western males, whereas dentists on our side came from every continent and race, as did our NGO team of talented women and men.”

“We outworked, outpointed, and outsmarted the well-heeled pro-mercury faction of dentistry, and amalgam is crucially placed in Annex A-II of the Minamata Convention.”

Their rearguard action to protect the status quo is not ineffective, but they cannot stall the amalgam ban indefinitely – else their own members will pull out the rug on them, said Brown.

In the United States, the number of mercury-free dentists has grown rapidly. In 2005, a peer reviewed study found that 31.6% of dentists practiced amalgam-free dentistry.

Just two years later in 2007, an ADA survey found that 36.6% of dentists did not use any amalgam – and that number was even higher (37.2%) among pediatric dentists and prosthodontists (the two specialties that perform restorations the most).

A survey by dental marketing firm ‘The Wealthy Dentist’ in 2009 found that 53% were not using amalgam. Seven years later, said Brown, it is safe to say that these numbers are on the conservative side today because of two trends.

Younger dentists use less amalgam than older dentists. According to the 2007 ADA survey, “More dentists 40 years or older (65.0%) currently used amalgam restorations than did dentists younger than 40 years (55.2%).”

So 44.8% of dentists under age 40 were already amalgam-free almost a decade ago in 2007. With many of the older dentists surveyed now retired and more young dentists graduated from dental school, the number of amalgam-free dentists has obviously increased while the number of dentists using amalgam has steadily decreased.

A number of surveyed dentists still using amalgam were dissatisfied with it as a restorative material.

Of the dentists who still used amalgam in the ADA’s 2007 survey, 5.2% were somewhat dissatisfied with amalgam as a restorative material and .8% were very dissatisfied.

Supposedly, said Brown, dentists would have stopped using a material they were already dissatisfied with a decade ago, especially with all the new mercury-free options now on the market.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Is a Referendum a Valid Tool for Democracy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/is-a-referendum-a-valid-tool-for-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-a-referendum-a-valid-tool-for-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/is-a-referendum-a-valid-tool-for-democracy/#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2016 04:58:54 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145954 Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.]]>

Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 7 2016 (IPS)

William Shakespeare would have loved to witness the Brexit. Many of his themes are evidently present: friendship and treason; truth and lies; deception and betrayal.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

David Cameron invents a referendum as a trick to get more power from the EU, and unify the Tory party under his leadership. He ends up instead out of Europe, with a possible Scottish cessation, and problems with North Ireland. His friend Boris Johnson, who turns anti EU to get Cameron’s job, has betrayed him. But Johnson does not wish to run for Prime Minister because his friend Michael Gove has betrayed him. And the Brexit has as a collateral damage – the leader of the other party, the Labour, with the majority of its parliamentarians asking Jeremy Corbin to go. He rejects, claiming that the majority of the party members are with him. But then, do not the parliamentarians represent the electorate?

The Brexit provides a strange show of the British political system, considered always the best example of parliamentarian democracy. A referendum is not the basis of a parliamentarian system, where elections are based on parties, with a strong identity and history. Labour electors vote Labour. But a referendum becomes a transversal issue, and in Brexit one third of them voted against the position of the Trade Unions and of the party, which stood for the Remain.

The same has happened with the Tories. At least 35% voted against the Cameron campaign for the Remain. In fact, people voted according to what they felt was their identity. So London along with other cosmopolitan citizens, voted for Remain. Those from the rural world, those who felt left out, voted massively for the Brexit.

Enough has been written about this. And how this kind of neoliberal globalization has failed, creating a growing angry and destitute population . What should we now debate: is referendum a tool for democracy? Let us examine what were the arguments for the Brexit that brought 17 million people to vote to leave the EU. Well, they were false, as the main campaigners for the Brexit themselves, Nigel Farage, and Boris Johnson have admitted.

The argument that the UK was giving Brussels 350 million pounds per week, and this money could instead go to the National Health System, was a fraud. The net contribution to the EU of 150 million pounds a year is net of what the UK receives from the EU. Brussels’s silence on this issue mainly to avoid meddling in internal politics, was a grave mistake .

Also the argument that by leaving EU, the UK would recover “its independence”, as Johnson said in his closing speech, and the control of its borders was also clearly false. Any future relations with the EU, that would keep UK exports to Europe without customs duty (that is 44% of total British exports), will entail free circulation of European citizens (180.000 in 2015, out of a total of 330.000). Britain already has control over the extra Europeans.

To make tall his credible, the tabloids, which are the real winners of Brexit, launched a campaign indicating that 70 million Turks could invade Britain. This was yet another fraud. Turkey is not a member of the EU, and just one vote from any member country could block an admission request. This was the usual Germany line, until Merkel asked the Turkish leader, Recep Erdogan to help block migrants, by giving the EU the responsibility to pay 3 billion euro.

At the time of the vote, 45% thought it was imminent. Tabloids also announced that after the Brexit, criminals and terrorists would be immediately deported to their country of origin, and of course nobody talks about this any longer. And it was also a fraud to assure that all the subsidies coming from the EU would be substituted by government funds. So for instance, voters from the small town of 18.000 people, Ebbw Vale in Wales, had the highest vote for Brexit: 63%. With an unemployment rate of 40%, the only real income was from the EU development fund. Ebbw Vale received 420 million euro for its industrial development; 40.5 millions for a professional institute, with 29.000 students; 36 million for a new train line; 96 million for upgrading roads: and 14.7 million that citizens did receive at different times. There were very few immigrants. EU did commit to Wales 2.200 million euro within 2020. Will now the government replace these ?

In fact, the referendum has created a dramatic inter-generational problem. The people over 55 years did vote at nearly 70% for the Brexit. Those under 25, voted 75 % for Remain. But only 50% of them went to vote, vis a vis 68% of the older citizens. Therefore, the older people have decided the future of the younger ones. In a progressively ageing world, with fewer young people, this should have us all thinking.

So the question is: with poorly informed people, manipulated by a campaign of fear and lies, is a yes or no referendum a tool of democracy?

But things are more complicated. We live in an era of post ideologies and post parties. To be on the left or on the right is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Without ideologies, discarded with the collapse of Berlin’s wall, politics is becoming just an act of administrative action, where differences disappear. Parties without ideologies carry little motivation and identity. Gone are the times when they were based on strong membership, with a vibrant youth wing. Parties are becoming just movements of opinions, which mobilizes citizens only to vote in a temporary campaign, where hired experts of marketing tools and other instruments of mass communication, have replaced debates on visions and values.

This costs more money than volunteers and corrupts politics. More important yet, Internet and new technologies have changed how people relate to politics. The relation between the parties and voters is not any longer direct, and vertical, as it was at the time of the radio and TV. Let us take the last important elections in Europe: those for electing mayors in Italy. A tide of young and untested mayors took over from an older generation.

A research in Rome conducted by Pragma Sociometrica has found that 36% of voters still use the TV as their primary instrument of information, but 26% use the net. Friends and relatives account for just 5%. And for deciding the vote, 46% made their own judgment via Internet on Virginia Raggi, the new young lady mayor of Rome, and only 18% used Internet and voted the oldest candidate, Giachetti. Dialogue with the candidates on Internet is preferred by 58% of the voters; followed by 48% for videos and 33 % by Facebook. And finally, 30 % by photos. Clearly, the great popular meetings filling public squares are something of the past…

The American website “Vox technology” has published an article: “How Internet is destroying politics”. Web Amazon has decimated libraries ITunes and Pandora with on line music and have uprooted the power of recording houses. On the transportation side, Uber is challenging the taxi’s monopoly. Now is the time of the political system, is the article’s thesis.

The net is progressively reducing the power of the traditional system of information, and cites the progressive candidate Bertie Sanders as an example. No media or any Democrat guru, like Paul Krugman, supported Sanders policies and denounced these as unrealistic. Yet Sanders has been immune to this campaign. Why? Because Sanders supporters did not read papers, but went on the net and created their own circle, immune to the traditional information’s system, where Clinton was overwhelming.

According to the pollster from El Pais, the Brexit in the recent Spanish elections, pushed people to take less risks, reinforcing the governing Popular Party (regardless of a string of corruption cases) and reducing the appeal of Podemos, the party of alternative. Yet Marine Le Pen, the French rightist leader, called a press conference to welcome Brexit, as did Donald Trump, Gehert Wilders and all the leaders of the xenophobic, nationalist and populist parties which are growing everywhere. They are already in power in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia…and if Brexit has a domino effect (as many fear), the future is not going to be helpful for democracy. Already several of them has been calling for their national referendum, convinced that they would all be like Brexit…Campaign of fear will run through all Europe….

We now have an unexpected observatory coming up soon. Austrian elections, where the extreme right wing lost by only 30.000 votes, have been annulled for irregularities, and new ones are due. This time victory should be clearer. If the extreme right wing wins, this will have a strong impact on the coming elections in France and Germany. And then, the destiny of Europe as a political project will be sealed.

Will the traditional political elite be able to take lessons from the reality, and change austerity for growth, banks as a priority of youth, come back to a debate of ideas and visions, values and ideals? Begin to discuss at least social remedies in the face of the disasters of an unregulated globalization? Or will it repeat the Byzantines discussing about the angel’s sex, while the Turks were entering Costantipolis?

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Brexit – Perceptions and Repercussions in the Americashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/brexit-perceptions-and-repercussions-in-the-americas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brexit-perceptions-and-repercussions-in-the-americas http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/brexit-perceptions-and-repercussions-in-the-americas/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 13:12:17 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145831 Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Jun 27 2016 (IPS)

The hopes of many of those who confidently expected the British electorate to vote, by a slender margin, for the country to remain in the EU have been dashed. All that is left to do now is to ponder the causes and background of this regrettable event, and consider its likely consequences, especially for relations with the United States.

In the first place one must point out and – and this is a general criticism of the present British political system – that Prime Minister David Cameron was hugely irresponsible to steer his country into this risky adventure. It has resulted in the worst calamity to befall Britain in the last half century and has inflicted severe damage not only on the EU but also on all the countries of the North Atlantic rim.

Cameron went out on a limb, thinking to secure total control over the country for his Conservative Party for the next several years. Next he pursued a surrealist referendum campaign agenda, seeking to persuade the public to vote to remain in the EU, against the Brexit proposal that he himself had engineered. He relied on the advantages and special privileges promised to the UK by the EU if the British people voted to remain.

Brussels had already warned that the EU would not grant Britain any further concessions or benefits over and above the conditions that apply in common to all EU members. It pointed out that Britain was in fact already a privileged partner, having opted out of the common currency (the euro) under a special agreement that did not even fix a timescale for its putative future membership of the euro area.

London also retains full control of Britain’s borders, having declined to sign the innovative Schengen Agreement which abolished many internal borders and introduced passport-free movement across the 26 Schengen countries.

The EU has indeed done everything in its power to keep the UK government and people happy and flaunting their prized British exceptionalism.

And now the fateful moment is at hand. The effect on Europe has been devastating. The one possible advantage for the EU – which has discreetly remained unvoiced – is that of ridding itself of an awkward partner, a dinner guest with an unfortunate habit of drawing attention to itself in negative ways. Britain slammed the brakes on progress towards fuller European integration and was a temptation to other recalcitrant EU countries to follow its bad example.

Recently concerns were raised in Washington over the Brexit referendum.

President Barack Obama himself did his best to urge Britons to stick with the EU when he visited London in April.

Cameron, and the people who voted for the UK to leave the EU, have done Obama a disservice. Britain’s image in the United States will deteriorate to unprecedented depths. The vaunted special relationship between the U.S. and Britain will no longer be an effective force underpinning one of the strongest alliances in recent history.

The first victim of the debacle may be the approval process for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union, which is already looking shaky, at least for the immediate future.

The TTIP was meant to replicate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious deal to cut trade barriers, set labour and environmental standards and protect corporate intellectual property. The TPP was signed in principle by twelve Pacific Rim countries including the United States, and now awaits approval by legislators in each of the countries.

The rise of populism and anti-free trade sentiment is reflected in speeches by both U.S. presidential candidates, and is likely to slow down what is now viewed as “excessive globalisation”. There is a return to a style of nationalism that exerts control over economic as well as political initiatives.

The next U.S. president will find it difficult to advance their country’s alliance with London on defence issues. The UK will have freed itself from what was already problematic military cooperation with Europe, and only its link with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) will endure. Some European NATO partners will be cautious about developing joint operations with a fellow member they view as uncommitted to agreements within the EU.

In the matter of trade per se, Washington will not take kindly to the new position of the City of London once it has lost its enviable status as a financial hub embedded in the EU. Siren songs from other European capitals solidly anchored in the soon-to-be expanded European community will be hard to resist, especially if European leaders adopt policies to strengthen the euro zone.

In Latin America, Brexit will be read as a confirmation that supranational practices and thoroughgoing integration are no longer a priority for the UK. The referendum result sends the message that national sovereignty is now paramount. All the time and effort the EU has spent over the years to promote the advantages of the European model of integration, based on the strength of its treaties and the effectiveness of its institutions, will be regretted as a sheer waste of time and energy.

An alternative “model of integration” based on the U.S. agenda, favouring one-off arrangements or treaties limited in scope exclusively to trade issues, will prevail over the already weakened European model.

The Caribbean region has strong historical and cultural ties to Britain. It will suffer from a less secure bond with the UK and will incline more closely to Washington.

The continent of the Americas, which is closest to Britain from the point of view of history and culture as well as in political and economic terms, will thus find itself further apart from Europe than before.

Joaquin Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the European Union Centre at  the University of Miami.  jroy@Miami.edu

Translated by Valerie Dee

 

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What is Missing on the Global Health Front?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/what-is-missing-on-the-global-health-front/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-is-missing-on-the-global-health-front http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/what-is-missing-on-the-global-health-front/#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2016 13:54:49 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145722 Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre.]]>

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre.

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Jun 21 2016 (IPS)

The last World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva (23-28 May) discussed the manifold global health crises that require urgent attention, and adopted resolutions to act on many issues. We are currently facing many global health related challenges, and as such multiple actions must be taken urgently to prevent these crises from boiling over.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The WHA is the world’s prime public health event and this year 3,500 delegates from 194 countries took part, including Health Ministers of most countries. World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan gave an overview of some of the successes and further work needed on the global health front.

The good news includes 19,000 fewer children dying every day, 44% drop in maternal mortality, 85% of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured, and the fastest scale-up of a life-saving treatment in history, with over 15 million people living with HIV now receiving therapy, up from just 690,000 in 2000. As a result, aid for health is now far more effective, and the issue of health has become an investment for stable and equitable societies, not just a drain on resources.

The recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks showed how global health emergencies can develop very quickly. There is a dramatic resurgence of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, which the world is currently not prepared to cope with. Dr. Chan gave three examples of the emerging global health emergencies: climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and the rise of chronic-communicable diseases as the leading causes of death worldwide.

Many of the issues addressed are largely anthropogenic, created by policies that place economic interests above health and environmental concerns. Fossil fuels power economies, medicines for treating chronic conditions are more profitable than a short course of antibiotics, and highly processed foods provide longer term profit than fresh fruits and vegetables.

Unchecked, these emergencies will eventually reach a tipping point and become irreversible and as regards antimicrobial resistance, “we are on the verge of a post-antibiotic era in which common infectious diseases will once again kill.” On moving ahead, Dr. Chan highlighted universal health coverage as an essential aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is the ultimate expression of fairness that ensures no one is left behind, and to provide comprehensive care for all.

A question however, was not covered by Dr Chan in her speech; how can some governments- especially in underdeveloped countries, obtain enough funds to finance the idealistic goal of providing healthcare for their citizens?

The Assembly agreed that WHO set up a new Health Emergencies Programme, enabling it to provide rapid, consistent, and comprehensive support to countries and communities facing or recovering from various emergencies, disease outbreaks, disasters or conflicts.

The WHO has produced a new paper to set up a global stewardship framework to support the development, control and appropriate use of new antimicrobial medicines and diagnostic tools to counter the threat of a global increase in antimicrobial resistance. The Secretariat has made quite a lot of progress, but action on the ground is still slow, in the Asia-Pacific region so far, only six countries have completed their national plans and another five have plans that are being developed.

WHO assistant Director-General, Keiji Fukuda said that focus in the upcoming year will include: making progress on the Global Action Plan (established in 2015), further developing the global stewardship framework, and involving political leaders by meeting in the United Nations headquarters in New York in September.

There were two issues on childhood nutrition that highlighted the need to put health concerns above corporate interests. The first of these issues was childhood and adolescent obesity. In 2014, an estimated 41 million children under 5 years were affected by being overweight or obese, and 48% of them lived in Asia and 25% in Africa.

The Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity recommended the promotion of healthier foods, reducing the consumption of highly processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages by children and adolescents. It proposed more effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and curbing the marketing of unhealthy foods.

On the second issue, the Assembly welcomed WHO guidance on ending the inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children. According to the guidelines, to support breastfeeding, the marketing of “follow-up formula” and “growing-up milks” targeted for babies aged 6 months to 3 years should be regulated in the same manner as infant formula for babies below 6 months.

On access to medicines and vaccines, the WHA agreed on measures to address the global shortage of medicines and vaccines, including monitoring supply and demand, improving procurement systems and improving affordability through voluntary or compulsory licensing of high-priced medicines.

An interesting and well-attended side event was organised by India on behalf of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on the effects of free trade agreements on access to medicines. After remarks from the health ministers of these, the main speaker, American law professor Frederick Abbott, spoke about why the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) could make it very difficult for the TPPA members to have access to affordable medicines.

His warning was complemented by the head of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé who estimated that the annual cost of treating 15 million AIDS patients could increase from US$2 to US$150 billion without the availability of generic drugs, costing about US$10,000 per patient annually.

Air pollution and the use of chemicals were other important environmental issues highlighted by the Assembly. Every year, 8 million deaths are attributed to air pollution – 4.3 million indoor and 3.7 million due to outdoor air pollution. The Assembly has also welcomed a new WHO roadmap to respond to the adverse health effects of increasing air pollution.

Since 1.3 million deaths worldwide are caused by exposure to extremely harmful chemicals, among them lead and various pesticides. WHA would like to ensure that the use and production of chemicals is regulated to minimize adverse health and environmental effects by 2020. Some agreed actions include the transfer of expertise, technologies and scientific data, and exchanging good practices to manage chemicals and waste between cooperating countries. WHO will develop a roadmap to meet the 2020 goals and the associated SDG targets.

A controversial issue that has taken two years of negotiations was how WHO should cooperate with non-state actors. The WHA finally adopted the WHO Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA), which provides WHO with policies and procedures to engage with NGOs, private sector entities, philanthropic foundations and academic institutions.

On the one hand, there is the aim to strengthen WHO’s engagement with non-state stakeholders. On the other hand, there is the need for WHO to avoid conflicts of interest that may arise when corporations and their foundations, associations and lobbies wield large and undue influence if they are allowed to get too close to WHO. Many NGOs and several developing countries are concerned about how this corporate influence is undermining WHO’s public health responsibilities, and that FENSA will worsen rather than reverse this trend.

On the health-related Sustainable Development Goals, the Assembly agreed to prioritize universal health coverage; to work with actors outside the health sector to address the social, economic and environmental causes of health problems, including antimicrobial resistance; to expand efforts to address poor maternal and child health, infectious diseases in developing countries; and to put a greater focus on equity within and between countries.

The WHA also adopted many other resolutions on international health regulations including; tobacco control, road traffic deaths and injuries, HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, Mycetoma, integrated health services, the health workforce, the Global Plan of Action on Violence, Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, and healthy ageing.

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A Healthy Trading System Requires Progress and Engagement at All Levelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-healthy-trading-system-requires-progress-and-engagement-at-all-levels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-healthy-trading-system-requires-progress-and-engagement-at-all-levels http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/a-healthy-trading-system-requires-progress-and-engagement-at-all-levels/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 16:09:47 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145587

Roberto Azevêdo is the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO)

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

This is a challenging time for global trade. According to the current World Trade Organization (WTO) new trade forecasts, global goods trade is expected to grow by 2.8%, making 2016 the fifth consecutive year of sub 3% growth. The gross domestic product (GDP) is still the most critical variable in the trade expansion equation, and as long as GDP growth remains low, trade numbers are likely to follow a similar trend.

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

This sort of dip in the numbers is not unprecedented, and we have experienced low trade growth in the early 1980s. Though we expect to come out of this pattern of low growth in the coming years- with trade growth forecast to pick up to 3.6% in 2017, it is nevertheless of some concern.

While the level of trade growth has stayed fairly constant in recent years, it is interesting to note that its composition is changing. A key driver of trade growth from 2011-2013 was import demand in Asia.

In the last two years this has shifted, with the US and Europe as the driving force of today’s modest growth, making up for slowdowns in Asia and elsewhere. In fact, if Asia’s contribution to trade had matched its average of recent years, world trade would have grown 3.5% in 2015, rather than 2.8%.

Rather than being an abstract indicator, trade growth, often matters because trade can act as a driver of broader economic growth and job creation. It certainly isn’t the only driver, but is an essential component of any strategy for sustainable economic growth.

And so the current downturn leads us to the question: what can we do to respond?

Governments have pushed monetary and fiscal policies to their limits in recent years but there is still room to move on trade. A more proactive approach could help to stimulate global demand.

One step would be for governments to remove the restrictive barriers introduced in recent years. Currently only 25% of these measures put in place by WTO members since the 2008 financial crisis have been removed. A shift in strategy here could help make a big difference.

We can also put in force trade agreements we have reached recently. By implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement alone we could add another trillion dollars to global trade. This would include exports of about $730 billion dollars from developing countries.

Another step is, of course, striking new trade agreements. And we are seeing a lot of activity on this front both at the regional level, and through the World Trade Organization. While they have grown rapidly in recent years, bilateral and regional trade initiatives are not a new thing, pre-dating the creation of the global trading system.

These two different approaches are frequently portrayed as incompatible, however, they do not require an “either/or” strategy and can be created and implemented to complement each other. These different kinds of initiatives have long co-existed and complemented each other and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so.

Today, virtually all WTO members are involved in at least one of these initiatives. Today there are 270 regional trade agreements or RTAs in force and have been notified to the WTO with over a third in the Asia-Pacific region.

The most recent examples in the region are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. And of course there are other important initiatives such as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road, which attempt to build and develop links between several partners.

To take the example of the TPP, many of the 12 partners involved already have existing bilateral agreements with each other. The added advantage of this broader agreement is the potentially enormous market it creates. Instead of dealing with a number of different sets of rules or standards, the TPP could help to homogenize rules between all the parties.

Like several other agreements today, the TPP is an example of deep integration initiative through regional trade agreements. While earlier RTAs concentrated on only liberalizing tariffs, more recent RTAs have gone further.

Empirical evidence suggests that RTAs with deeper integration between signatories provide greater potential for the development of production chains which span national borders. WTO members in the Asia-Pacific region in particular have greatly benefited from these global value chains.

As production networks expand and regional and global value chains become more important, it is critical to minimise significant differences in legislation, rules and infrastructure, which impact international trade and investment between trading partners. This appears to be the case more and more in current RTAs and other regional trade networks.

The silk-road economic belt, for instance, is rebuilding traditional links by concentrating on issues of connectivity such as improved infrastructure including port facilities, roads, and rail links. By improving these infrastructural networks connecting Asia and Europe, it is likely to improve trade by facilitating upgraded trade routes with landlocked areas of Central Asia.

These are all important steps that need to be taken to free up international trade and facilitate greater integration in value chains.

But how does all of this regional activity fit within the global framework of the World Trade Organization?

Currently the WTO has 162 members with increasing numbers. The rules and regulations of the WTO covers 98% of global trade, therefore by and large, RTAs operate within these rules.

Indeed, our analysis of regional agreements have shown that a large number of them fall within the guidelines set by the WTO with no obvious conflicts between overlapping agreements.

Perhaps a bigger consideration is where such initiatives touch on areas that are not currently covered by the WTO, whereby different RTAs deal with the same issues in different ways. This is not to suggest that regional agreements should not venture into these areas. But I think conversations in the WTO could help us establish whether a multilateral approach is feasible or desirable. Through discussions with the WTO, we’re likely to have a much more balanced, and inclusive framework.

A healthy trading system requires progress and engagement at all levels. And we have to acknowledge that one reason for the proliferation of regional agreements over recent years was a lack of progress in striking trade agreements globally through the WTO.

I’m pleased to say that we are now changing this situation. The WTO has actually delivered an impressive amount over the last couple of years.

But it’s also important to note that a healthy trading system isn’t just about negotiating trade agreements, the WTO’s work extends far beyond negotiations. We also monitor trade policies, build trading capacity in developing and struggling countries, and we have built one of the most effective dispute settlement systems in international law.

Indeed, although some RTAs have provisions on disputes, most of the dispute settlement mechanisms provided are rarely used. Meanwhile the level of activity in the WTO’s dispute settlement system is rising very rapidly. We have dealt with over 500 disputes in the WTO’s 21 year history. And of course most of the disputes brought to the WTO involve parties who are also themselves part of an RTA.

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Climate Change Compounds Humanitarian Crises in Global Southhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 06:20:41 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145197 Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 20 2016 (IPS)

As the Global South works to overcome a history of weak institutions, armed conflict and poverty-driven forced exodus, key causes of its humanitarian crises, developing countries now have to also fight to keep global warming from compounding their problems.

“Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change adaption in fragile and conflict-affected states in the Global South have long been overlooked, as it is often perceived as too challenging or a lower priority,” Janani Vivekananda, an expert in security and climate change, told IPS.

Vivekananda, the head of Environment, Climate Change and Security in International Alert, a London-based non-governmental organisation working to prevent and end violent conflict around the globe, cited her country, Sri Lanka, as an example of problems shared by developing countries.

“Given the fragile political situation since 25 years of violent conflict ended in May 2009, ensuring that climate impacts do not fuel latent conflict dynamics is critical,” she said from London.

A politically unstable developing island nation like Sri Lanka, and many other countries in the South, will see their problems multiply in a warmer planet with higher sea levels, she said.

“Climate change is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’: it will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict,” says “A New Climate for Peace”, an independent report commissioned in 2015 by members of the Group of Seven (G7) wealthiest nations.

This is the challenge faced by the governments and organisations that will attend the first World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul. The conference was convened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “to generate strong global support for bold changes in humanitarian action.”

At the summit, the delegates will search for ways to integrate the traditional conception of humanitarian emergencies with new crises, such as those caused by climate change, which this year caused record high temperatures.

“This is why the World Humanitarian Summit’s initiative to remake the humanitarian system is so timely and so important,” said Vivekananda.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that in the absence of policies that effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100.

And even if the world were to reach the “safe limit” for global warming – a rise of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C, the target agreed in the Paris Agreement in December – the effects would still be felt around the planet, warns the IPCC, which decided in April to prepare a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The landmark climate deal is one of the key elements that the national delegations will have when they reach Istanbul, along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed in September, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, agreed in March 2015.

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

“Explicit recognition of the linkages between different types of risks and vulnerabilities is still missing,” said Vivekanada, with regard to the not yet formalised connection between these two agreements and the World Humanitarian Summit.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forming part of the 2030 Agenda are essential for understanding the relationship between climate change and humanitarian assistance.

The report commissioned by the G7 says the poorest countries with the most fragile political systems, like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Haiti face the greatest risks and difficulties adapting to climate change.

Climate pressure could hurt food production or require extra aid for local governments overwhelmed by the situation. In extreme circumstances, these phenomena can lead to forced migration.

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), more people were displaced in 2015 by hydrometeorological disasters (14.7 million) than by conflicts or violence (8.5 million).

The report also stressed the impact of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENOS) meteorological phenomenon and said that for the people most exposed and vulnerable to extreme rainfall and temperatures, the effects have been devastating and have caused displacement.

For example, El Niño caused intense drought along Central America’s Pacific coast and in particular in the so-called Dry Corridor, a long, arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is predominant and rainfall shrank by 40 to 60 percent in the 2014 rainy season.

“Hundreds of people were forced to leave Nicaragua because of the drought,” Juan Carlos Méndez, with Costa Rica’s National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Management (CNE), told IPS.

As a CNE official, Méndez is also an adviser to the Nansen Initiative, an inter-governmental process to address the challenges of cross-border displacement in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.

“This is where we see the biggest political and technical challenges. You can clearly associate displacement with a natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane, but now we have to link it to climate change issues,” the expert said.

Partly for that reason, Costa Rica and another 17 countries launched the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action in February 2015, a voluntary initiative to get human rights issues included in the climate talks.

In the final version of the Paris Agreement, the concept was incorporated as one of the principles that will guide its implementation.

The simultaneous inclusion of climate change and its humanitarian impacts in international summits is not new, but is growing.

The backdrop to the climate talks at the 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2013 in Warsaw was the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia, and in the Philippines in particular.

The human impact of the typhoon, which claimed 6,300 lives, intensified the talks in the Polish capital and prompted the creation of a mechanism to address climate change-related damage and losses.

A scientific study published in January this year found that the Philippines would experience the highest sea level rise in the world, up to 14.7 mm a year – nearly five times the global average.

“Which is why it is very urgent for the Philippines to beef up efforts on disaster preparedness, particularly in the communities with high risk for disasters and high poverty incidence,” Ivy Marian Panganiban, an activist with the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), told IPS.

Along with six other Filipino institutions, CODE-NGO is calling for locally-based humanitarian emergency response, with an emphasis on local leadership, and hopes Istanbul will provide guidelines in that sense.

NGOS “should really be capacitated and involved in the governance process since they are the ones that are in the forefront – people who are actually affected by disasters,” she said from Manila.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Many Cities Don’t Know How Dangerous Their Air Pollution Ishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/many-cities-dont-know-how-dangerous-their-air-pollution-is/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=many-cities-dont-know-how-dangerous-their-air-pollution-is http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/many-cities-dont-know-how-dangerous-their-air-pollution-is/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 05:28:07 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145176 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/many-cities-dont-know-how-dangerous-their-air-pollution-is/feed/ 0 Progress of The World’s Least Developed Countries to be Reviewedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/progress-of-the-worlds-least-developed-countries-to-be-reviewed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=progress-of-the-worlds-least-developed-countries-to-be-reviewed http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/progress-of-the-worlds-least-developed-countries-to-be-reviewed/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 01:05:36 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145105 Progress for Least Developed Countries could be a mixed blessing. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

Progress for Least Developed Countries could be a mixed blessing. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2016 (IPS)

The United Nations will undertake a major review of progress made in the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) later this month.

“Many positive steps have been made by the world’s most vulnerable countries, demonstrating what they can do with the right support, but much more needs to be done given the persistent challenges and structural bottlenecks”, Gyan Chandra Acharya, High Representative for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States said at a press conference here Tuesday.

The Midterm Review of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries will take place in Antalya, in the south of Turkey, from 27 to 29 May.

The countries defined by the UN as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) represent the poorest and under-developed segment of the international community. Two thirds of the 48 countries are in Africa, with the remaining one-third in the Asia-Pacific region, with Haiti the only LDC in the Americas. They comprise more than 880 million people – 12 per cent of the global population – half of which currently lives below the poverty line.

“We do not want to see a situation where a country graduates [from the LDC category] and then comes back again." -- Gyan Chandra Acharya.

In the past five years, the LDCs have made progress, including through access to the internet and telephone networks, infrastructure expansion, access to energy, reduction of child and maternal mortality rates, access to primary education, and women’s representation in parliament.

However development for the LDCs can be considered a mixed blessing, since many special forms of development assistance are directly targeted at these countries.

According to Acharya, this is why so-called graduation from the LDC category is more of a transition which takes place over a period of several years.

“We do not want to see a situation where a country graduates [from the LDC category] and then comes back again as an LDC,” he said.

He pointed to examples of recently graduated countries such as the Maldives and Samoa which are still receiving many of the facilities provided to the LDCs.

Acharya also said that consideration of when a country will graduate from LDC status was not only based on income.

To constitute a country as an LDC, three aspects of development are looked at, Gross National Income (GNI), Human Assets Index (HAI) and the Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI).

This reflects other aspects of an LDCs development, including their resilience to set-backs such as conflict, climate change and natural disasters.

According to the Group of 77 plus China (G77) which represents developing countries at the United Nations, “LDCs are the major victims of climate change.”

They are also vulnerable to “major health crises, natural calamities, price fluctuations of commodities, and external financial shocks,” the group said in its most recent statement on the upcoming review.

The G77 says that although the Istanbul Programme of Action stressed the importance of building the resilience of developing countries to withstand such shocks, “no visible international support has been devoted to build resilience of the LDCs.”

Acharya is hopeful for the meeting in Turkey, the review “provides an important opportunity for the global community to reaffirm its commitment to the world’s most vulnerable nations,” he said.

“Now is the time for action to ensure that no one is left behind as we build new and transformative partnerships, forging an inclusive and empowering future for millions of people living in Least Developed Countries.”

 

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West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144913 Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

For more than half a century, the indigenous people of West Papua, located on the western side of the island of New Guinea, who are related to the Melanesians of the southwest Pacific Islands, have waged a resistance to governance by Indonesia and a relentless campaign for self-determination.

But despite regular bloodshed and reports of systematic human rights abuses by national security forces, which have taken an estimated half a million West Papuan lives, the international community has remained mostly unwilling to take concerted action in support of their plight.

Now Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom since 2003, is driving a mission to build the support of African states. Following a visit to Senegal in 2010 and two visits to South Africa last year, Wenda was welcomed at the 59th Independence anniversary celebrations in Ghana in March this year.

“There has been widespread attention and further pan-African solidarity for West Papua renewed following my diplomatic visits to these African countries, both at parliamentary and grassroots levels,” Wenda told IPS.

In Ghana, Wenda met with political and church leaders, including former Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings and John Kufuor.

‘We are honoured to fight for your people. We share a similar history. It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980s,’ Jerry John Rawlings said to the Ghanaian media.

The alliance which Wenda is forging is based on a sense of shared historical experience.

“Africa is the motherland to all people and we Melanesians feel this strongly….our affinity primarily lies in our shared ancestral heritage, but also in our recent history because Africa has also suffered the brutalities of colonialism,” Wenda said.

Following decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia gained independence in 1949, but there was disagreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia about the fate of Dutch New Guinea, which the former was preparing for self-determination. A United Nations supervised referendum on its political future, named the ‘Act of Free Choice,’ was held in 1969, but less than 1 per cent of the region’s population was selected to vote by Indonesia, guaranteeing an outcome for integration, rather than independence.

At the time, Ghana and more than a dozen other African states were the only United Nations members to reject the flawed ballot.

During Wenda’s visit to South Africa last February, other leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela MP, added their solidarity.

‘I’m shocked to learn that West Papua is still not free. I call on the United Nations and all the relevant bodies, please, do what is right, as they know, for West Papua,’ Tutu said in a public statement.

The momentum continued when the Nigeria-based non-government organisation, Pan African Consciousness Renaissance, held a pro-West Papua demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Lagos in April 2015.

Indonesia’s refusal to recognise secessionist aspirations in its far-flung troubled region is often attributed not only to concerns about national unity, but the immense mineral wealth of copper, gold, oil and natural gas which flows to the state from ‘West Papua’, the umbrella term widely used for the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Since coming to power in 2014 populist Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has vowed to increase inclusive development in the region and called on security forces to refrain from abusive measures, but the suffering of West Papuans continues. In May last year, there were reports of 264 activists arrested by police ahead of planned peaceful protests. Twelve Papuans were shot by security forces in Karubaga in the central highlands in July, while in August three people were abducted and tortured by police in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, and two shot dead outside the Catholic Church in Timika.

West Papua’s political fate stands in contrast to that of East Timor at the end of last century. East Timor, a Portuguese colony militarily annexed by Indonesia in 1975, gained Independence in 2002. The positive result of an independence referendum in 1999 was widely accepted and further supported by a multi-national peacekeeping force when ensuing violence instigated by anti-independence forces threatened to derail the process.

But in the political climate of the 1960s, Wenda says “West Papua was effectively handed over to Indonesia to try and appease a Soviet friendly Indonesian government….our fate was left ignored for the sake of cold war politics.” Now Indonesia staunchly defends its right of sovereignty over the provinces.

In the immediate region, West Papua has obtained some support from Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have voiced concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations.

And last year the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub-regional intergovernmental organisation, granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua coalition. However, Indonesia, a significant trade partner in the Pacific Islands region, was awarded associate membership, giving it an influential platform within the organisation.

“Luhut Pandjaitan’s [Indonesia’s Presidential Chief of Staff] recent visit to Fiji suggests that Indonesia is continuing its efforts to dissuade Pacific states from supporting West Papua and is willing to allocate significant diplomatic and economic resources to the objective,” Dr Richard Chauvel at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute commented to IPS.

In contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific Island neighbours, Dr Chauvel continued, “African states mostly do not have significant trade, investment, diplomatic and strategic interests with Indonesia and do not have to weigh these interests against support for the West Papuan cause at the UN or elsewhere.”

How influential south-south solidarity by African leaders will be on West Papua’s bid for freedom hinges on whether championing words translate into action. In the meantime, Benny Wenda’s campaign continues.

(End)

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“Together, Civil Society Has Power”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=together-civil-society-has-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 22:53:55 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144908 Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

When Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan transgender opposition legislator, spoke at a panel on inclusion during the last session of the International Civil Society Week held in Bogotá, 12 Latin American women stood up and stormed out of the room.

Adrián was talking about corruption in Venezuela, governed by “Chavista” (for the late Hugo Chávez) President Nicolás Maduro, and the blockade against reforms sought by the opposition, which now holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

The speaker who preceded her, from the global watchdog Transparency International, referred to corruption among left-wing governments in South America.

Outside the auditorium in the Plaza de Artesanos, a square surrounded by parks on the west side of Bogotá, the women, who represented social movements, argued that, by stressing corruption on the left, the right forgot about cases like that of Fernando Collor (1990-1992), a right-wing Brazilian president impeached for corruption.“Together, civil society has power…If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.” -- Raaida Manaa

“Why don’t they mention those who have staged coups in Latin America and who have been corrupt?” asked veteran Salvadoran activist Marta Benavides.

Benavides told IPS she was not against everyone expressing their opinions, “but they should at least show respect. We don’t all agree with what they’re saying: that Latin America is corrupt. It’s a global phenomenon, and here we have to tell the truth.”

That truth, according to her, is that “Latin America is going through a very difficult situation, with different kinds of coups d’etat.”

She clarified that her statement wasn’t meant to defend President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing impeachment for allegedly manipulating the budget, or the governing left-wing Workers’ Party.

“I want people to talk about the real corruption,” she said. “In Brazil those who staged the 1964 coup (which ushered in a dictatorship until 1985) want to return to power to continue destroying everything; but this will affect everyone, and not just Brazil, its people and its resources.”

In Benavides’ view, all of the panelists “were telling lies” and no divergent views were expressed.

But when the women indignantly left the room, they missed the talk given on the same panel by Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), who complained that all of the governments in the Americas – right-wing, left-wing, north and south – financially strangled the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

He warned that “An economic crisis is about to break out in the Inter-American human rights system,” which consists of the IACHR and the Court, two autonomous Organisation of American States (OAS) bodies.

“In the regular financing of the OAS, the IACHR is a six percent priority, and the Inter-American Court, three percent,” said Álvarez-Icaza.

“They say budgets are a clear reflection of priorities. We are a nine percent priority,” he said, referring to these two legal bodies that hold states to account and protect human rights activists and community organisers by means of precautionary measures.

He described as “unacceptable and shameful” that the system “has been maintained with donations from Europe or other actors.”

There were multiple voices in this disparate assembly gathered in the Colombian capital since Sunday Apr. 24. The meeting organised by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which carried the hashtag ICSW2016 on the social networks, drew some 900 delegates from more than 100 countries.

The ICSW2016 ended Friday Apr. 29 with the election of a new CIVICUS board of directors.

Tutu Alicante, a human rights lawyer from Equatorial Guinea, is considered an “enemy of the state” and lives in exile in the United States. He told IPS that “we are very isolated from the rest of Africa. We need Latin America’s help to present our cases at a global level.”

Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang has been in power for 37 years. On Sunday Apr. 24 he was reelected for another seven years with over 93 percent of the vote, in elections boycotted by the opposition. His son is vice president and has been groomed to replace him.

“Because of the U.S. and British interests in our oil and gas, we believe that will happen,” Alicante stated.

He said the most interesting aspect of the ICSW2016 was the people he met, representatives of “global civil society working to build a world that is more equitable and fair.”

He added, however, that “indigenous and afro communities were missing.”

“We’re in Colombia, where there is an important afro community that is not here at the assembly,” Alicante said. “But there is a sense that we are growing and a spirit of including more people.”

He was saying this just when one of the most important women in Colombia’s indigenous movement, Leonor Zalabata, came up. A leader of the Arhuaco people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, she has led protests demanding culturally appropriate education and healthcare, and indigenous autonomy, while organising women in her community.

She was a keynote speaker at the closing ceremony Thursday evening.

A woman with an Arab name and appearance, Raaida Manaa, approached by IPS, turned out to be a Colombian journalist of Lebanese descent who lives in Barranquilla, the main city in this country’s Caribbean region.

She works with the Washington-based International Association for Volunteer Effort.

“The most important” aspect of the ICSW2016 is that it is being held just at this moment in Colombia, whose government is involved in peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. This, she said, underlines the need to set out on the path to peace “in a responsible manner, with a strategy and plan to do things right.”

The title she would use for an article on the ICSW2016 is: “Together, civil society has power.” And the lead would be: “If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.”

In Colombia there is a large Arab community. Around 1994, the biggest Palestinian population outside the Middle East was living in Colombia, although many fled when the civil war here intensified.

“The peaceful struggle should be the only one,” 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, who took part in the ICSW2016, said Friday morning.

But, he added, “you can’t have a lasting peace if the Palestinian problem is not solved.” Since global pressure managed to put an end to South Africa’s apartheid, the next big task is Palestine, he said.

Zeddini expressed strong support for the Nobel peace prize nomination of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. He was arrested in 2002, during the second Intifada.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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G-77 Should Adopt South-South Climate Change Program of Action: Ambassador Djoghlafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/g-77-should-adopt-south-south-climate-change-program-of-action-ambassador-djoghlaf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=g-77-should-adopt-south-south-climate-change-program-of-action-ambassador-djoghlaf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/g-77-should-adopt-south-south-climate-change-program-of-action-ambassador-djoghlaf/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 18:53:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144835 The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

The 134 members of the Group of 77 and China (G-77) made their mark on the Paris Climate Change Agreement and should now adopt a program of action to implement it, Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf told IPS in a recent interview.

Djoghlaf, of Algeria, was co-chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), together with Daniel Reifsnyder, of the United States, a position which allowed him to “witness very closely” the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.

“As the co-chair of the preparatory committee I can tell you that the G-77 has been a major actor during the  negotiation and a major player for the success of the Paris conference,” said Djoghlaf.

Djoghlaf said that the Group of 77 and China made its mark on the Paris agreement by mobilising a diverse range of countries and sub-groups, to “defend the collective interests of the developing countries.”

The group helped to find balance in the agreement “between mitigation issues that are important for developed countries and adaptation issues that are very close to the heart of the developing countries,” said Djoghlaf.

He also said that the group fought for equity, response measures, loss and damage as well as means of implementation, including financing, capacity building and transfer of technology.

“Those that are suffering the most nowadays are those that have less contributed to climate change crisis and they are using their own limited financial resources to address them, to adapt, to adjust to the consequences created by others,” he said.

Program of Action in Marrakech

“I hope that the G-77 through the leadership of Thailand will be able to take the lead and submit to its partners at the next conference of the parties in Marrakech a draft work program on capacity building for the implementation of the Paris agreement,” said Djoghlaf.

The 22nd meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Marrakech, Morocco, from 7 to 18 Nov. 2016.

Djoghlaf said the program should address North-South as well as South-South capacity building, which is needed to ensure that developing countries can implement their commitments including on issues related to the finalisation of their nationally determined contributions and preparation of their future contributions.

“It would be important for the developing countries to be able to identify their own capacity building needs and let others do it for them. It will be also important to have a framework to coordinate the South-South cooperation on climate change similar to the Caracas Plan of Action on South-South Cooperation or the Buenos Aires Plan of Action on economic and technical cooperation among developing countries,” he said.

Quoting Victor Hugo Djoghlaf said that “not a single army in the world can stop an idea whose time has come, I do believe when it comes to South-South cooperation on climate change it’s an idea whose time has come also.”

“Within the G-77, the diverse group, you have emerging countries that are now leaders in renewable energy and the energy of tomorrow and the they have I think a responsibility to share their experience and to allow other countries from the same region and the same group to benefit from their experience,” he said.

"It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay” -- Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf

“I also believe that time has come for the G-77 to initiate it’s own program of action on climate change,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that developing countries need capacity building to ensure that they can continue to participate fully in the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Unlike developed countries, which “have fully-fledged ministries dealing with climate change,” he said, “In the South there is not a single country that has a Minister of Climate Change.”

He spoke about how during the negotiations of the Paris agreement many countries of the South had only one focal point and yet sometimes there were 15 meetings taking place at the same time and the meetings also often continued into the night.

It can be difficult for this focal point “to be able to understand and to participate, let alone be heard” when there is a “proliferation of simultaneous meetings,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that countries of the South could help address this disparity by establishing national committees, which include representatives from a number of different ministries.

“There’s not a single sector of activities which is not nowadays affected by the negative impact of climate change,” said Djoghlaf.

“All the sectors need to be engaged and we will succeed to win the battle of climate change when all these ministers, economic ministers and social ministers, will be fully integrating climate change in their planning and in their decision making processes,” he said.

Djoghlaf acknowledged it’s not easy for ministers in developing countries to engage because they have other urgent priorities. “They tend not to see the importance of the impact of climate change because they believe that this is not a priority for them,” he said. Yet there is often evidence that supports a more cross-cutting approach. For example, said Djoghlaf, World Health Organization research, which shows that 7 million people die from air pollution every year, demonstrates that climate change should also be a priority for health ministries.

The beauty of the Paris agreement

Djoghlaf said that the beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol. The Paris agreement is “very balanced” and should last for years to come because it takes into in to consideration the evolving capacities and the evolving responsibilities of countries, he said.

“We need a North-South and a South-South global climate solidarity,” said Djoghlaf.

“Without judging the past, who is responsible now, and who is responsible tomorrow, and who is responsible yesterday, I think we are all in the same boat, we are all in the same planet and we have to contribute based on our capacity,” he said.

He described the success of the signing ceremony held here Friday, where in total 175 countries signed and 15 countries deposited their instruments of ratification as “unprecedented”. “This has never happened before,” he said, referring to the developing countries, which also ratified the agreement. “It is a resounding political message and a demonstration of leadership,” he said. “It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay.”

Djoghlaf also said that he was not concerned about upcoming changes to the United States domestic political situation.

“When you are a party to the Paris agreement you can’t withdraw before three years after its entry into force. In addition I do believe that this historical agreement is in the long term interest of all Parties including the United States of America” he said.

“I believe that this Paris agreement is in the long term strategic interests of every country,” in part because eventually fossil fuel energy is going to disappear.

Investment in renewable energy was six times higher in 2015 than in 2014, he added.

“We tend to ignore the tremendous impact and signal the Paris agreement has already been providing to the business community,” he said.

Another part of the Paris agreement which Djoghlaf is happy about is what he describes as a “fully-fledged article on public awareness and education.”

“It’s to ensure that each and every citizen of the world, in particular the developing countries, are fully aware about the consequences of the climate change and the need for each of us as an individual to make our contribution to address the climate change,” he said.

“There is a need also to educate the people of the world of the need to have a sustainable lifestyle this throw away society can not continue to exist forever and we need to establish a sustainable pattern of production and consumption,” said Djoghlaf.

However Djoghlaf, who was the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that he was concerned that the negotiations in 2015 didn’t adequately reflect the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity.

“Healthy biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have a major role to play to combat climate change,” said Djoghlaf, adding that 30 percent of carbon dioxide is absorbed by forests and 30 percent by oceans.

“For each breath that we have we owe it to the forests, but also to the ocean, also wetlands have a major contribution to make, the peat lands have a major contribution to make, the land itself, the fertile soil of course has a major contribution to play, so biodiversity is part and parcel of the climate global response,” he said.

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Latin America to Redouble Its Climate Efforts in New Yorkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 23:48:16 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144741 Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America will flock to sign the Paris Agreement, in what will be a simple act of protocol with huge political implications: it is the spark that will ignite actions to curb global warming.

More than 160 countries have confirmed their attendance at the ceremony scheduled for Friday, Apr. 22 in New York by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And eight have announced that they will present the ratification of the agreement during the event, having already completed the internal procedures to approve it.

The countries of Latin America, with the exception of Nicaragua and Ecuador, promised to participate in the collective signing of the historic binding agreement reached by 195 countries on Dec. 12 in the French capital.

Experts consulted by IPS stressed the political symbolism of the ceremony, and said they hoped Latin America would press for rapid implementation of the climate deal. “In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries.” -- Andrés Pirazzoli

“In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries,” said Chilean lawyer Andrés Pirazzoli, a former climate change delegate of Chile and an expert in international negotiations.

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, many of which are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, are calling for the adoption of global measures to curb global warming.

According to a 2014 World Bank report, “In Latin America and the Caribbean temperature and precipitation changes, heat extremes, and the melting of glaciers will have adverse effects on agricultural productivity, hydrological regimes, and biodiversity.”

Pirazzoli said this recognition of the threat posed by climate change in the region would be a bone of contention for the participating countries.

At the Paris Summit or COP 21 – the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the Chilean expert led the technical team of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), made up of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

Pirazzoli said that “if there is one issue that has brought Latin America together, beyond internal ideological questions, it was the issue of vulnerability.”

“That will be a mantra for the region in the negotiations that will follow the signing of the agreement,” which will get underway again in Bonn in May, he added.

Friday’s ceremony is just the first piece in a puzzle that involves the 197 parties to the UNFCCC, in which each one will have to activate its mechanism to achieve ratification of the international agreement.

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

In order for the treaty to enter into effect, it must be signed by at least 55 parties accounting for a combined total of at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this is to happen by 2020, according to what was agreed on at COP 21.

The countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century relative to pre-industrial levels to prevent “catastrophic and irreversible impacts”.

The agreement set guidelines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, for addressing the negative impacts of global warming, and for financing, to be led by the countries of the industrialised North.

In the region, the process will vary from country to country, but “according to tradition in Latin America, normally these accords have to go through two houses of Congress, which makes the process more complex,” said Pirazzoli.

He pointed out that Mexico and Panama committed to ratifying the agreement this year.

The United Nations reported that the eight countries that will attend the agreement signing ceremony with their ratification instrument in hand are Barbados, Belize and St. Lucia – in this region – along with Fiji, the Maldives, Nauru, Samoa and Tuvalu.

“A story of power of vulnerable countries is beginning to emerge, and instead of coming as victims, they will use this ceremony to show that they want to be in the leadership,” said Costa Rican economist Mónica Araya, another former national climate change negotiator.

Araya heads the non-governmental organisation Nivela and is an adviser to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a self-defined “leadership group” within the UNFCCC negotiations, which assumes strong, progressive positions.

The economist said the confirmation of their participation in the New York ceremony by almost all of the countries in Latin America was one more sign that the region is waking up.

She concurred with Pirazzoli that Latin America’s leaders are finding points in common that enable them to overcome ideological barriers, at least in this field.

“We have seen new efforts, such as the summit of environment ministers in Cartagena, which set a precedent by creating a climate change action platform for the entire region,” said Araya, referring to the 20th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in late March in that Colombian city.

But she said that in order for international efforts to be effective, change must start at home. “Public opinion and the business community should be helped to understand that our parliaments will play a key role” in ratifying the agreement, she added.

Enrique Maurtua, climate change director with the Argentine NGO Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, and a veteran of the climate talks, agreed.

“The signing of the accord is only the second step, after reaching the agreement,” he said. “Without this, we can’t go on to the third, which is ratification – the most important step in order for the accord to go into effect.”

Maurtua said these global processes need to take root at a global level, by improving their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which nearly the entire region submitted last year, with the exception of Panama, which did so on Apr. 14, and Nicaragua, which said it would not do so.

Although they account for only a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s countries pledged to reduce them in their INDCs – a numerous group with ambitious goals, including the two biggest economies in the region: Brazil and Mexico.

They also listed climate change adaptation actions, in several cases going beyond the minimum required.

Maurtua was upbeat with regard to the implementation of the Paris Agreement by 2020 and the 2016 negotiating process, which will begin in Bonn in May and will continue until COP 22 is held in Morocco.

“Latin America could very well be an example of the implementation of good practices for achieving sustainable development,” he said.

The absence of Ecuador and Nicaragua is in line with previous positions taken, where they have showed a reluctance to participate in multilateral processes.

After COP 21, Nicaragua said the Paris Agreement did not go far enough.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Maquilas Help Drive Industrialisation in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 01:59:21 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144645 Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ASUNCION, Apr 16 2016 (IPS)

“There were cases of people who stopped coming to work after receiving their first wages and then came back a few days later to ask if there was more work,” because they were used to casual work in the informal economy, said Ivonne Ginard.

Ginard, a human resources manager in the textile firm Texcin, was in charge of hiring the plant’s 353 employees and helping them make the transition from informal labour to working in a factory with set schedules, uniforms, safety measures and medical certificates to justify absences.

Texcin, a garment factory near the Asunción airport, is emblematic of the incipient industrialisation process in Paraguay, which is still an agriculture-based economy, where soy and beef are the main exports and informal employment is predominant in the cities.

The plant is a joint venture between members of the Paraguayan business community and Riachuelo, one of the biggest clothing brands in Brazil, where it has 285 stores and two industrial plants. Riachuelo decided to take advantage of the incentives provided by the law on maquila export plants, in effect in Paraguay since 2000, to produce clothing in this neighbouring South American country instead of importing from Asia.

The aim is to increase the number of workers twofold by the end of 2016 and to continue to expand, since the company has the space to build a new plant.

“Paraguay offers abundant, young, easily trained workers, cheap energy, and tax incentives for maquilas and duty-free zones, which make it possible to import raw materials tariff-free,” said Andrés Guynn, one of the Paraguayan partners, who heads Texcin.

“Our production is competitive with costs similar to those of Asia, with a big advantage in terms of time: it takes 90 days for products to be shipped from China to Brazil, while ours get to (the Brazilian city of) São Paulo in 72 hours, by truck,” he said.

“Under the maquila regime, 108 companies set up shop in Paraguay, 62 of them in the last two years, and 80 percent of them come from Brazil,” the director of the maquila sector in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Ernesto Paredes, told IPS.

Maquila or maquiladora plants are built by foreign corporations, generally in free trade zones. They import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export, and enjoy other tax breaks and incentives, as well as more flexible labour conditions.

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The maquiladora industry is dynamic, but it does not accept trade union freedom, it does not allow unions to be organised in its factories, which violates constitutional rights,” the president of the Confederation of the Working Class (CCT) labour federation, Julio López, told IPS.

Auto parts factories are predominant in the industry, in terms of both revenue and jobs generated by maquiladoras in Paraguay, Paredes said. He said the sector uses the “just-in-time” delivery system developed by Japan’s auto industry, which is an inventory strategy employed to boost efficiency and reduce waste by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process, which cuts inventory costs.

The Japanese company Yasaki and Germany’s Leoni have recently set up plants in Paraguay, employing thousands of people, nearly all of them women, in the production of electrical car cables.

And Paraguay now has its first car assembly plant. A national company, Reimplex, began to assemble J2 cars for Chinese auto maker JAC Motors on the outskirts of Asunción on Mar. 28.

Clothing factories also employ large numbers of women.

In addition, the plastics industry is expanding fast in the eastern department of Alto Paraná, on the border with Brazil, Paredes said.

Cheap local labour, which he said is “low-cost not so much because of the wages paid, but due to the low social charges” and low taxes, are especially attractive for Brazilian companies. To that is added the cost of electricity, which is 63 percent cheaper than in Brazil, according to the head of the maquila sector.

One limitation is transport and energy infrastructure. “Roads, ports, highways, real estate – all of this is lacking, although Paraguay has been investing heavily in airports, hotels, and office buildings,” he said.

One solution would be to widen the two-lane highway between Asunción and Ciudad del Este, the country’s two main economic hubs. However, the plan is not to expand the existing road, but “to build a second highway exclusively for trucks and trade,” as well as a second bridge to Brazil, said Paredes.

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Investment is also needed in another route for the transportation of heavy loads, the Paraguay-Paraná waterway, used to export soy.

“Better signalisation would double its capacity and speed up river traffic,” Gustavo Rojas, a researcher at the Center for Economic Analysis and Dissemination in Paraguay (CADEP), told IPS.

This land-locked country of 6.8 million people has the world’s third-largest river barge fleet, as well as shipyards that build them, which favours an increase in river traffic, Paredes said.

Electricity is, potentially, Paraguay’s biggest comparative advantage, since the country owns half of the energy from two huge hydropower dams: Itaipú, shared with Brazil, and Yacyretá, on the border with Argentina, with the capacity to produce 14,000 and 3,200 MW, respectively.

But it only began to use part of that energy when a power line from Itaipú to Villa Hayes, near Asunción, was completed in October 2013. The power line was financed by a Brazilian fund aimed at narrowing the development gap between countries in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Without an adequate distribution network, however, the new energy supply did not eliminate problems like the February blackout that left 300,000 homes without power in Greater Asunción.

Achieving a more secure energy supply “is a question of time,” said Guynn, who tried to place his company near the new power line.

The problem is that the national power utility, ANDE, does not have investment capacity, and “distribution is not secure and steady,” said Fernando Masi, founding director of CADEP, which carries out research on public policies and provides graduate studies in economy.

But the broad availability of energy is a new element drawing industries to Paraguay, since the other advantages, such as low labour costs and tax incentives, already existed before.

Cheap energy also tempted the British-Australian multinational metals and mining corporation Rio Tinto, which studied the possibility of producing aluminum in Paraguay, even if it had to ship in the raw material, bauxite, from far away, because electric power is the main cost of the aluminum industry.

But a major public campaign, which collected more than 100,000 signatures, managed to block the project, “which would consume more energy than all of the national industries combined,” while requiring subsidies and employing a relatively small number of people, Mercedes Canese, an engineer who was deputy minister of industry during the government of Fernando Lugo (2008-2012), told IPS.

However, another engineer, Francisco Scorza, who studied the case, said the Rio Tinto project became unviable because “China began to produce very cheap aluminum, at 1,200 dollars a ton, 40 percent less expensive than here, and Paraguay can’t afford to subsidise energy.”

CADEP’s Masi said attracting small and medium-sized industries is better for development and employment, but the maquila sector has limits. The auto parts industry, for example, is limited to producing wiring, “because there is no bilateral agreement with Brazil on the car industry,” he said.

Brazil demands that Paraguay stop imports of used automobiles, “a very high cost for Paraguay to pay,” as it has a large fleet of used Japanese vehicles known as the “Vía Chile” cars because they come into Paraguay through that neighbouring country.

The maquila industry only exported 284 million dollars worth of goods in 2015 – very little in comparison to Paraguay’s overall industrial exports of 3.0 to 3.5 billion dollars, said Masi.

Industrialisation in Paraguay “has taken off, but not at the fast pace that was expected,” he said, adding that improving energy and logistics infrastructure could help.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Africa, the Need for Greater Integrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-africa-the-need-for-greater-integration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-africa-the-need-for-greater-integration http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-africa-the-need-for-greater-integration/#comments Tue, 12 Apr 2016 15:17:13 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144577 Roberto Azevêdo is WTO Director-General ]]>

Roberto Azevêdo is WTO Director-General

By Roberto Azevêdo
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Apr 12 2016 (IPS)

There is a misconception, by some, that the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a barrier to regional integration. It is one of a number of misconceptions that do not match up with the facts like the perception that the WTO is a rich man’s club. Today the WTO has 162 members and rising at all stages of development. 43 of those members are African countries and rising. The organization now covers around 98% of world trade. It is a truly global organization, one where everybody has an equal say. And it is an organization which supports regional integration in Africa. Indeed, I would say that the need for better integration across the continent is indisputable.

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

It’s clear in the fact that intra-African trade remains just a tenth of Africa’s total trade. Or in the fact that the cost of moving goods within Africa is twice the global average. Or in the fact that an African company faces an average tariff of 8.7% when selling within Africa, against 2.5% elsewhere.

We need to tackle these barriers. And I would argue that doing this will help drive Africa’s integration globally. The statistics I just quoted show that the vast majority of Africa’s trade is with the rest of the world. And existing WTO rules give a great deal of flexibility for members to pursue regional agreements. This is plain in the proliferation of such agreements that we have seen in recent years. But they are not a new phenomenon.

Indeed, regional initiatives such as the Southern African Customs Union predate the multilateral system by some decades. Different kinds of trade initiatives have always co-existed with the multilateral system. It is important that they are coherent and compatible, so that they can all help to spread the benefits of trade.

The economic map of Africa today is defined by these efforts: from Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the East African Community (EAC) to the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement and, in due course, the Continental Free Trade Area.

The WTO supports these efforts. And the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement provides a very practical mechanism for taking them forward. This Agreement, finalised in 2013, is about simplifying and standardising customs procedures, thereby reducing the time and cost of moving goods across borders. We expect that, when fully implemented, the Agreement could reduce trade costs by an average of 14.5%.

The East African Community has already applied a range of trade facilitation reforms, which have delivered remarkable results in cutting the time and expense of moving goods between countries. Rolling out such measures would unlock the potential of many traders across the continent especially small and medium-sized enterprises. But, in order to benefit from the Agreement, first it must be ratified.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement is notable for the benefits it will deliver but also because it was the first multilaterally agreed deal in the WTO’s history. We held another ministerial conference in December last year, in Nairobi and WTO members agreed to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. This helps to level the playing field, so that farmers in developing countries may compete on better terms.

Of course domestic subsidies still exist, so there is much work still to do. But that doesn’t change the fact that abolishing export subsidies is a big step. This is something which developing countries have been fighting for over many years.

In fact, it is the biggest reform of agricultural trade rules for 20 years. And it is a key target of the United Nations’s new Sustainable Development Goals delivered just three months after the goals were agreed. In the context of regional integration it is important to recognise that results like this could only be delivered at the global level. That’s why we need trade initiatives on all levels to be working well.

And this brings me to the other topic before us today the Doha round of world trade negotiations. This action on export competition was part of the Doha round as were other elements that were delivered in Nairobi, relating to food security and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).Notwithstanding these outcomes, clearly progress on the round as a whole has been too slow. It has not delivered as we had hoped when the round was launched in 2001.

The future of Doha was a major feature of the debate in Nairobi, and in the end members could not agree on a common position. Members are committed to keeping development at the centre of our work. They are also committed to addressing the remaining Doha issues, such as agriculture (particularly domestic subsidies), market access for industrial goods and services.

But, they do not agree on how to tackle them. And, at the same time, some members would like to start discussing other issues, in addition to the remaining Doha issues. Members have wisely decided to reflect on how these differences might be overcome and how we might collectively move the agenda forward.

So we are in a very important period right now. Members are talking to each other about how to advance the Doha issues and, potentially, how to move forward on other issues as well. Of course the economic outlook is tough at present, not least given the slump in commodity prices.

To recall Nelson Mandela’s words, there is much ’wise work’ to be done.

(End)

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Focusing on Future of Food: What’s Next for Global Agricultural Research?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/focusing-on-future-of-food-whats-next-for-global-agricultural-research/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=focusing-on-future-of-food-whats-next-for-global-agricultural-research http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/focusing-on-future-of-food-whats-next-for-global-agricultural-research/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2016 17:27:53 +0000 Kwesi Atta-Krah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144562 Kwesi Atta-Krah is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) – a program led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).]]>

Kwesi Atta-Krah is the Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) – a program led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

By Kwesi Atta-Krah
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 11 2016 (IPS)

Food security scientists from around the globe gathered in Johannesburg last week with one objective: to work towards the transformation of agriculture as engine for growth in developing regions of the world. The gathering was also an opportunity to examine what farmers need to prosper in the face of social and environmental challenges.

Kwesi Atta-Krah

Kwesi Atta-Krah

The Third Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3) was the culmination of a two-year consultation process with national and regional stakeholders, and a chance to set a new agenda for today’s agricultural research, to ensure it meets the challenges of development for tomorrow.

A major theme running throughout the conference has been ensuring that “no one is left behind” in the unfolding agricultural revolution, and that research remains “future-focused”. We know that sudden shocks such as natural disasters and pest outbreaks can cripple agricultural production – just look at the impact El Niño-induced drought is having on farmers across southern Africa.

We therefore need to be investing in forward-thinking programs that will help communities prepare for such events. However this should not be just a case of researchers thinking for communities, but also of supporting communities to engage in the process of designing desired futures taking into account climate change and other scenarios.

In Africa alone, CGIAR’s global network of research centers is already working on a number of programs to make this happen. For example, a project is under way in Nigeria to map flooding patterns to guide decision-making on future flood response. It will also identify flood capture and storage solutions for flood-recession agriculture and dry-season farming.

Improving access to climate information is also going to be critical, to help farmers maintain their yields in the face of erratic weather patterns. In collaboration with AGRHYMET and the National Meteorological Services of several countries (such as Madagascar, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania), CGIAR is channelling climate information directly into farmers’ hands across Africa.

By combining traditional and scientific knowledge, locally specific forecasts are tailored to meet farmers’ needs and delivered via mobile phone and radio broadcasts. Farmers benefit from tailored information about what to plant, when to plant, when to fertilise and when to harvest, and are trained in how to interpret and apply the forecasts to their day-to-day farming.

Another overwhelmingly supported take away from the conference was the need to change our mindsets and recognise the yet untapped potential of youth for realising agricultural development, and also providing employment to themselves and others. Two dynamic young speakers (from the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) and Makolobane Farmers Enterprises) urged the audience to stop referring to youth as “leaders of tomorrow” and recognise their role as “leaders of today”.

When one stops to consider that Africa has some 200 million youth in need of employment, and Africa’s food and beverage markets have the potential to be worth US$1 trillion by 2030 – it is an obvious action point to equip young people with the skills they need to participate in this growing market.

Significant investment in training and equipment is required, to make local production, processing and marketing of these foods an attractive choice for young entrepreneurs. In her speech, the young Managing Director of Makolobane Farmers Enterprises, Dimakatso Sekhoto, highlighted the need for more young people to be able to access finance to support their businesses.

Building capacities of the youth in the area of business skills, entrepreneurship, leadership and personal development came across from a number of young people attending GCARD3 as essential support factors. For example, training to write business plans, so that young people are able to go to banks and ask for loans, backed up with the appropriate paperwork and planning, will be a critical step towards this.

It is encouraging that several initiatives are springing up aimed at supporting the “Youth in Agriculture” mission. Examples are the YPARD initiative being implemented by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), in various countries around the world. In 2012, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria, also launched the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) initiative.

The program is aimed at exposing young people to the opportunities inherent in agriculture for job creation and employment, and encouraging them to explore the various channels that are open to business in agriculture. These include areas such as the specialization and production of quality seeds; value addition through processing; fisheries and brood stock production; marketing and use of ICT in agribusiness.

At IITA, we are investing heavily in this kind of preparation for young “agripreneurs” to enter the market. The IYA initiative has now been replicated in five other countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. Many more countries are on the horizon.

In DRC, for example, the IITA-Kalambo Youth Agripreneurs (IKYA), a group of young and enterprising graduates engaged in agribusiness, aim to build agribusiness enterprises for themselves and serve as a model to other youth. Formally launched in April 2014 as an offshoot of IYA, the group has a current membership of 32 young “Business Builders”, aged between 25-32 years old from different backgrounds.

The activities of the group cut across the value chains of different crops including cassava, maize, beans and soybeans. The group has engaged in different profitable agriculture business enterprises, including production and sales of agricultural commodities and vegetables, such as agro-processing of cassava and maize, production of high-quality maize flour and cassava flour and starch, as well as fisheries.

Aiming to increase their incomes, the young and enterprising members of IKYA have also increased their business opportunities by going into value-addition activities through the development and marketing of nutritious cassava-soybean agro-foods products, aimed at improving the nutritional diversity of household diets.

In addition to this type of program, several CGIAR centers now have business incubation platforms that develop efficient manufacturing methods that can be replicated by the private sector. One new business incubation hub in Uganda – Afri Banana Products Ltd – has nurtured 39 entrepreneurs; commercialized six technologies and helped generate employment for over 420 people.

New technologies are being tested, that reduce the drudgery of agro-processing and improve efficiency, such as a mechanical sheller that can shell 18 times more groundnuts in one hour than hand shelling, and processors that can turn cassava peels into high quality animal feed. The Business Incubation Platform (BIP) of IITA in Nigeria has set up mini plants for the production of key agricultural inputs, as models for private sector engagement.

A key product from the IITA BIP is aflasafeTM for addressing the problem of aflatoxin contamination in grain and other crops. The aflasafeTM plant produces up to 40 tons of aflasafeTM a day and the BIP’s main goal is to get interested parties to invest in plant construction and laboratories all over Africa.

The GCARD process is designed to make sure that the scientists working on solutions to feed the world are listening to the needs of farmers, and other stakeholders on the ground. The national consultations have given CGIAR research centers around the world a refreshed plan of action for the countries in which they work.

Priorities such as preparing for future risks and consciously leveraging the potential of youth to catalyse agribusiness are going to be two important steps paving the way through the next decade of agricultural research. We are excited to move forward with this new era, towards a world were healthy, sustainable diets are provided for all.

(End)

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Interoceanic Canal Bogged Down in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 23:58:54 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144534 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/feed/ 1