Inter Press Service » South-South http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 30 May 2015 13:59:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 ACP Aims to Make Voice of the Moral Majority Count in the Global Arenahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140829 Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, May 27 2015 (IPS)

“Four decades of existence is a milestone for the ACP as an international alliance of developing countries,” Dr Patrick I. Gomes of Guyana, newly appointed Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, said at the opening of the 101st Session of the group’s Council of Ministers.

“With the organisation currently repositioning itself for more strategic engagements with regards to its future, this is an opportunity not only to review the past, but also to project to the decades ahead, especially in terms of how to be effective and better respond to the development needs of our member countries in the 21st century,” he added.“From the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player” – Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers

The meeting, which opened May 26, brought together more than 300 officials from the ACP group who are determined to put an emphasis on re-positioning the ACP group as an effective player in a challenging global landscape.

At the group’s 7th Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Equatorial Guinea in December 2012, the group issued the Sipopo Declaration which noted that “at this historic juncture in the existence of our unique intergovernmental and tri-continental organisation, the demands for fundamental renewal and transformation are no longer mere options but unavoidable imperatives for strategic change”.

Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers, told the opening session of this week’s Council meeting that “from the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player.”

A key focus of the 40th anniversary is how to enhance regional and intra-ACP relations in order to better position the ACP group to deliver on development goals in the post-2015 era, starting with playing a decisive role at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as at the U.N. Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be held in New York in September.

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

For ACP Secretary-General Gomes, the most critical meeting for the group will be the 8th ACP Summit, which had originally been scheduled to be held in November in Suriname before that country had to withdraw due to multiple commitments.

Inviting member countries to step forward and offer to host the event, Gomes said that the 8th Summit “must be a beacon that refines our strategic policy domains for the next decade and project a powerful political vision to serve the ACP in our engagement with the European Union.”

More importantly, that summit would provide the strategic direction and financial commitment necessary to build the capacity of the ACP group to address the development needs of its populations.

Viwanou Gnassounou of Togo, ACP Assistant Secretary-General for Sustainable Economic Development and Trade, told IPS that the group “will be fully engaged in 2015 in high-level negotiations not only calling for a strategic approach but also trying to raise our common voice in a more holistic manner.”

He said that the ACP is finalising a position paper to be presented in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, as well as at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Nairobi in December.

Participants at the Council of Ministers meeting agreed that the plethora of priorities facing the ACP today calls for widening its partnership with the European Union and beyond, embracing the global South as well as emerging economies with greater determination, and promoting South-South and triangular cooperation.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement which currently governs relations between the ACP and the European Union expires in 2020 and the ACP Secretariat has commissioned a consultancy exercise to formulate the ACP Group’s position future relations with the European Union.

The ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers, which meets May 28, is expected to place a special focus on migration and discuss recommendations from an ACP-EU experts’ meeting on trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants following the unacceptable loss of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea as people try to reach Europe.

The two sides are also expected to exchange views on the broad range of issues affecting the ACP-EU trade relations at multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as financing for development as a follow up to the ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-Development Agenda approved in June 2014, which called for “an ambitious financing framework to adequately tackle sustainable development issues and challenges.”

In this context, the declaration said that a “coherent response based on a global comprehensive and integrated approach, fuelled by traditional and innovative financing solutions and governed by principles for efficient resource use seems the most appropriate way to finance sustainable development.”

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Opinion: New World Information Order, Internet and the Global South – Part Ihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-new-world-information-order-internet-and-the-global-south-part-i/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-new-world-information-order-internet-and-the-global-south-part-i http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-new-world-information-order-internet-and-the-global-south-part-i/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:10:44 +0000 Branislav Gosovic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140746 Children surf the net in a remote island community in the Philippines where fishing is the main source of income. Credit: eKindling/Lubang Tourism.

Children surf the net in a remote island community in the Philippines where fishing is the main source of income. Credit: eKindling/Lubang Tourism.

By Branislav Gosovic
VILLAGE TUDOROVICI, Montenegro, May 21 2015 (IPS)

More than four decades ago, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) launched the concept of a New International Information Order (NIIO).

Its initiative led to the establishment of an independent commission within the fold of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which produced a report, published in 1980, on a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO).Incomprehensible to the general public and not suitable for consideration in multilateral policy forums, the Internet governance deliberations have largely been under control of the world superpower and its cyber mega-corporations from Silicon Valley.

The report, titled “One World, Many Voices,” is usually referred to as the MacBride Report after its chairman.

The very idea of venturing to criticise and challenge the existing global media, namely the information and communication hegemony of the West, touched a raw political nerve, apparently a much more sensitive one than that irked by the developing countries’ New International Economic Order (NIEO) proposals.

A determined, no-punches-spared counteroffensive was launched by the Anglo-American tandem, which silenced UNESCO, effectively banning the MacBride Report and excluding the concept of NWICO from the international discourse and U.N. agenda.

The neo-liberal globalisation and neo-con geopolitics tide was on the rise and reigning supreme on the world scene.

The common front of the South was wavering and unsure vis-à-vis the well orchestrated challenge from the North and its multilateral arsenal deployed via the Bretton Woods and WTO troika – and, indeed, via the global media it controlled.

On the defensive and in retreat, with individual countries and their leaders targeted, pressured and tamed, the Global South lowered its profile and, facing stonewalling developed countries, it effectively shelved much of its 1960s/1970s agenda, including its quest for NIIO.

A decade ago, at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the developing countries did not have the collective will and were not prepared and organised to raise and press these broader issues.

They focused on the “digital divide”, as their key concern, which, although important, was not politically sensitive and did not represent a challenge to the existing global information order.

The rise and evolution of the Internet found the South ill-prepared to deal in a comprehensive manner with its implications, challenges and opportunities that it presented, not only for the developing countries individually and collectively, but also for the world order – economic, information and political – and for humankind in general.

The U.N. was marginalised and not allowed in depth to analyse and in an integrated, cross-sectoral and sustained way to deal with the Internet, and as a result did not provide a focus and platform that could have prompted and assisted the Global South in building and evolving its own case and vision.

The Internet-related debates and analyses have largely been focused on and limited to highly specialised and technical, often esoteric, acronym-dominated questions of its governance, which, though of vital importance, has helped to conceal or bypass many fundamental concerns.

Incomprehensible to the general public and not suitable for consideration in multilateral policy forums, the Internet governance deliberations have largely been under control of the world superpower and its cyber mega corporations from Silicon Valley, and the US-centric nature of the Internet has been defended tenaciously and preserved.

The WSIS+10 Review will be taking place shortly. There is an apparent attempt by the West – assisted by its transnational corporations (TNCs) dominating and providing key services on the Internet – to minimise the political importance and limit substantive outputs of this event.

The Group of 77 (G77) and NAM have to focus not only on the non-implementation of the Tunis agenda, but also to work out their position concerning the basic, underlying issues, including the linkages between the Internet and the international development agenda, and, more broadly, the Internet’s relevance to the international economic and political order and world peace.

There is the risk that WSIS+10 Review may turn out to be a missed opportunity for the South, and yet another encounter forced to remain within the parameters drawn and preferred by the traditional, well-entrenched masters of the global information and communication order.

Waiting one more decade for the next WSIS+20 Review may not be a recommended approach given the global economic and geo-political trends.

This relative circumspection of the Global South regarding the nature and future of the Internet is compensated in part by the voices coming from some sectors of the civil society that dare stray beyond what is allowed and permissible under the reigning global paradigm.

Thus, for example, the workshop “Organizing an Internet Social Forum”, held at the 2015 World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis, articulated an alternative vision of an Internet and its directions for the future radically different from the current dogma.

And, an international conference on the Internet as a Global Public Resource was recently hosted by government of Malta and DiploFoundation.

“Global public resource” is a term akin to “global public goods”. The latter is a concept first launched by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) but expurgated from its work and the U.N. discourse during the recent period, probably seen as unsuitable and a threat to the ideological purity of the privatisation gospel, a move to accommodate the political predilections of dominant elites and the current doctrinaire aversion to anything “public”.

To move the global debate and multilateral negotiations in a desired direction largely depends on the developing countries as a collectivity, the Global South.

These countries need to grasp the gravity of the systemic issues involved, on par and indeed in some ways more important than those of the traditional international economic, financial, political and social agendas.

The moment is ripe for them to brush up on the original NAM NIIO initiative and the Report of the McBride Commission on NWICO, and consider their relevance in the age of the Internet.

They should work on an alternative vision of the Internet, its functions and governance, which should evolve into the backbone of a future global information and communication order needed in a multipolar world of the 21st century.

Currently, the Internet remains a prisoner of the dominant neo-liberal paradigm and its mantras forced upon the planet by the Western powers and in the service of their global, geopolitical and corporate interests. It needs to be liberated from these shackles.

Debate and study that view the Internet from humankind’s point of view need to be launched. This will require the Global South to do its homework in depth and fully on the implications and potential roles of the Internet, in order to prepare its platform and press for the initiating of all-inclusive multilateral negotiations and debate.

The BRICS countries together possess the necessary expertise, experience and power to provide the leadership and motor force for mobilising the Global South’s collective stand and action on the Internet.

With the high likelihood that the core countries of the West will react negatively, pressure individual developing countries (as appears to have been the case with Brazil, which has lowered its traditionally forceful public stance on Internet issues), and that obstacles within the U.N. system will persist, doing something concrete independently, via South-South cooperation will be required, and indeed is the only way out of the current impasse.

Here many options exist, including creating supporting institutions and expert bodies and organising regular deliberations, at both technical and political levels.

Bridges should be built with the progressive civil society and possibly with some like-minded countries in the North that are not too happy with the existing system.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: South-South Cooperation Vital for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 12:54:12 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140497

Dr. Palitha Kohona is Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Sustainable development is central to a range of key discussions at the United Nations and elsewhere at the moment.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The role of South-South cooperation in the context of sustainable development deserves greater recognition as significant numbers of developing countries begin to ascend the development ladder in a sustainable manner, causing fundamental changes to the development infrastructure the world has known up to now.

The steady expansion of South-South cooperation is causing a lasting impression on the existing order of things.

First, the best practices adopted by the more economically advanced developing countries could provide workable and relevant models for the others.

Some developing countries have recorded impressive economic successes and the policies they have successfully implemented could be shared. Contrary to existing practice, models of development will increasingly be borrowed from outside the developed world.

Secondly, some advanced developing countries have accumulated considerable international currency reserves and developed relevant technology which could be effectively deployed in the rest of the developing world. This is happening already.

Thirdly, the flow of funding and technology from other developing countries to the rest of the South will result in dramatic changes to relationships largely based on post-colonial and historical dependencies and the inevitable conditionalities. This would create an uncomfortable challenge for those used to the current relationship patterns.The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena.

Sustainable development was the underlying concept that inspired States as they painstakingly negotiated the Rio+20 outcomes document, The Future We Want.

The Member States are currently working on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, essentially drawing on the report of the Open Working Group (OWG), to produce a master plan for progress, to be realised by 2030, that will ensure just, equitable and inclusive growth. The report of this exercise will be submitted for adoption to the U.N. High Level Summit to be held in September 2015 in New York.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda will seamlessly expand the significant achievements secured under the Millennium Development Goals which targeted eight specific areas. The new enterprise will touch upon many more aspects of our lives, including of women, youth, children, the disadvantaged and the marginalised, in a manner that the Millennium Development Goals did not.

A process culminating in a meeting of States Parties in Addis Ababa in July on Financing for Development will build on the accords of Monterrey and Doha and will adopt recommendations on the funding aspect for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The alleviation of poverty and the elimination of hunger are at the core of this exercise. We live in a world where close to 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. It is estimated that ending poverty in the world will cost 66 billion dollars per year. Over one billion live on less than 1.25 dollars per day. Over 2.5 billion have no access to clean water and proper sanitation resulting in massive health issues, including the stunting of children.

The number of least developed countries has remained the same since the year 2000, the year the MDGs were adopted, although progress has been made towards making the world a better place over the last 15 years.

Along with addressing poverty and hunger, the international community is discussing the related challenges, inter alia, of providing better health care and education for all, creating better cities and communities, ensuring decent work, confronting the daunting challenges facing the oceans, the imminent threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, mainstreaming women and children’s issues, providing energy for all, ensuring sustainable industrialisation, and building global partnerships.

The way humanity will address the threats confronting the oceans, in particular, its riches valued at an estimated 24 trillion dollars, will have a major impact on the environment, climate change, the livelihoods of millions of people and the economies of many countries, especially the Small Island Developing States and the Less Developed Countries.

In the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, the international community failed specifically on Goal 8 which focused on partnerships. The commitments made on the delivery of assistance to the developing world by the traditional donor community, including technology transfer, failed to materialise to the extent anticipated despite the solemn accords reached at Monterrey, Doha and elsewhere.

The gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow and the elimination of poverty in many developing countries remains an ever distant dream, affecting a huge proportion of the global population.

Against this challenging background, the advances made by some developing countries provide practical examples of useful best practices and provide possible opportunities for a new framework for development cooperation.

China has pulled out over 680 million from extreme poverty in a short period of 30 years. This is an unprecedented achievement in human history. Its economy, which was at the bottom end of the world in the 1950s, is second only to that of the United States today and is expected to grow further.

Despite its headlong rush towards development and the enormity of the attendant challenges, China is also making impressive gains in the harnessing of alternative energy such as hydro, solar, wind, bio mass and gassified coal, bringing in to question the defensive contention of those industrialised countries which have argued that such a comprehensive embrace of alternative energy would result in major job losses and negative effects on their economies.

The initially costly, but essential, shift to renewable energy will facilitate continuing development in a sustainable manner, and the experiences of countries such as China, India and Brazil may provide an attractive model for other developing countries.

Many countries in South East Asia are also making rapid economic progress with Indonesia expected to become the sixth largest economy of the world by 2030. Sri Lanka, despite its developing country status, has attained enviable targets in the delivery of education services, health care and the integration of women to the national economy.

UNICEF highlights Sri Lanka as a success story. State-sponsored agricultural extension services which increasingly emphasise sustainability have been a major factor in the impressive advances made in this sector by Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh has halved the number of people living in poverty. While the experiences of any one developing country, or the technical knowhow deployed, may not necessarily be duplicated in another, useful lessons can still be learnt.

The lessons that can be shared are evident and South-South Cooperation has become a significant trove of experiences that can be accessed as the challenge of development is addressed. Interestingly, China studied the Greater Colombo Export Processing Zone of Sri Lanka before it established its spectacularly successful Shenzhen Zone.

Infrastructure projects could be and have been funded from public private partnerships, government to government arrangements or by the private sector. Africa’s current spurt of growth has been facilitated by a combination of these mechanisms, with much of the crucial funding and technology coming from China and a lesser amount from India, Brazil, etc..

Sri Lanka’s recent surge in economic expansion depended much on Chinese, and to a lesser extent on Indian, funding and technology. China’s initiative to establish an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which was initially proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jingping, is attracting even traditional donor states in unexpected numbers (57 as of now), despite initial reservations.

It is clear that South-South cooperation is playing a crucial role, especially in developing countries, in adding zest to their economies. Important lessons are being learnt and fundamental changes to established frameworks in global cooperation are being introduced. It may even be argued that the catalyst that propelled many developing country economies to a different level was the recent expansion of cooperation from other developing countries.

The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena. The states negotiating the Post-2015 Development Agenda will be conscious of the need to reflect the changing nature of the global development framework in their work.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cash-Strapped Latin American Countries Turn to China for Credithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cash-strapped-latin-american-countries-turn-to-china-for-credit/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:06:31 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140358 Cidade de Kilamba is a new housing development built entirely by Chinese firms south of Luanda, the Angolan capital, to accommodate half a million people in five- to 13- storey apartment buildings with “smart” elevators, schools, shops and leisure facilities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 28 2015 (IPS)

Angolans are generally grateful for China’s participation in the reconstruction of their central African country, in spite of the fact that some of the roads and buildings built by Chinese firms are of poor quality, and mainly Chinese labourers have been hired rather than local workers.

To rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by the civil war, Angola needed finance which was denied to it by the West, whereas China supplied credit and engineering expertise without imposing impossible conditions on a country that only achieved peace 27 years after winning independence in 1975, Angolan leaders declare.

On the opposite side of the Atlantic ocean, several Latin American countries in financial difficulties have recently turned to China as a sort of lender of last resort. Argentina and Venezuela, for example, lacking access to international credits, obtained large loans from Chinese banks.

For China, it makes no sense to refuse loans to countries with strong agricultural production or that possess plenty of commodities, especially oil and gas. There is no need to be concerned about their solvency if their products guarantee their loans, whatever the reasons for their difficulties.

Brazil’s state oil giant Petrobras announced on Apr. 1 an injection of 3.5 billion dollars from China to relieve its finances, which have suffered from the corruption scandal that has rocked the economy, the government, large companies and several political parties in the country since 2014.

The loan from China Development Bank is helping Petrobras weather a storm that also includes gross management and planning mistakes which raised the cost of constructing two refineries, of the purchase of another plant in the U.S. city of Pasadena, Texas, and of other projects by tens of billions of dollars.

The crises faced by potential Petrobras suppliers provide opportunities for China, but are not seen as indispensable. China Development Bank previously loaned Petrobras 10 billion dollars in 2009, when the oil company appeared prosperous and had recently discovered vast reserves in the pre-salt layer off the Brazilian coast.

This loan will be repaid by a minimum of 10 years’ oil supply to China.

Unequal exchange

“China’s financial power tends to accentuate the trade imbalance,” when countries or whole regions export virtually only commodities to China, and import Chinese manufactured goods, said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos de Empresas Transnacionais e da Globalizaçao Econômica (SOBEET – Brazilian Society for the Study of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation).

Iron ore and soy account for 75 percent of Brazilian exports to China, he said, while imports from China are nearly all manufactured goods.

But China “is a new trading partner with a high degree of complementarity, and a win-win situation could be created if we knew how to make the most of the opportunity,” Lima said.

“Brazil must do its homework and define what it wants from China in the long term, and then negotiate, instead of merely reacting passively to Chinese demands,” he said.

In his view, now is the time to make changes to that unequal exchange, because China is facing “the prospect of reducing its exports and stimulating the dynamics of internal demand, whereas in Brazil it is the reverse: the domestic market is weakening and more exports are needed.”

But Lima recognises that Brazil’s economic and political difficulties do not favour the definition of long term strategies and goals in negotiations with an ascendant power like China.

Booming investment

China’s growing involvement in Latin America is also marked by growing investment. SOBEET identified 69 projects announced by Brazil since 2010, the vast majority in processing industries involving medium-sized amounts, that is, less than 100 million dollars.

Only three investments are over one billion dollars: in the first, the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) invested five billion dollars, mainly for the purchase of power transmission lines; the second is for extracting and exporting iron ore; and the third is for processing soy.

The list is not complete because of the difficulty of monitoring Chinese investments that are routed through other countries, such as European nations, and arrive at their productive destination without the nationality of origin being known, Lima complained.

China has been increasing its foreign direct investments since the turn of the 21st century, and they reached over 206.8 billion dollars in 2013, according to United Nations figures published by SOBEET.

Latin America has not been a priority destination for Chinese investments. The region has received only 4.1 percent of the total, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

However this will change over the next 10 years. China will invest 250 billion dollars in the region over this period, President Xi Jinping announced in January in Beijing, at the first Ministerial Forum between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Some projects are exceptional, like the interoceanic canal in Nicaragua which will compete with the Panama Canal and will cost an estimated 40 billion dollars, four times the GDP of Nicaragua.

A large part of the capital already invested is oil-related. State Chinese oil companies are already taking part in oil and gas extraction in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

But the most spectacular growth in China-Latin America relations has occurred in trade, which increased 22-fold between 2000 and 2013, to reach 275 billion dollars in 2013. And it is set to double again by the end of this decade, Xi predicted.

The expansion in trade exacerbated the imbalance, but the terms of exchange improved with the boom in prices of Latin American commodities, which lasted at least until 2012.

Credit penetration

The amounts involved in Chinese loans to the region are lower than the trade figures, but also reflect the Asian giant’s expansion and its priority interests in oil, minerals and agricultural produce.

Between 2005 and 2014, borrowing from China by the region totalled 119 billion dollars, according to the databank of Inter-American Dialogue, a forum for political and business leaders of the Americas that includes former presidents of several countries.

Of this total, nearly half – 56.3 billion dollars – was loaned to Venezuela, which possesses the world’s largest oil reserves. Next in order of importance are Brazil and Argentina, which are big exporters of soy and received 22 billion and 19 billion dollars, respectively.

Mexico, the second largest Latin American economy, is in sixth place in terms of loans from Chinese state banks, with 2.4 billion dollars, less than one-quarter of the amount borrowed by Ecuador (10.8 billion dollars) and less even than the credit extended to The Bahamas (2.9 billion dollars).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Argentina Moves Towards Marriage of Convenience with Chinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/argentina-moves-towards-marriage-of-convenience-with-china/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:33:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139304 The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

The government of Argentina is building a marriage of convenience with China, which some see as uneven and others see as an indispensable alliance for a new level of insertion in the global economy.

The process forms part of a radical change with respect to Argentina’s diplomacy, which years back involved ties with the United States described as “carnal relations.”

President Cristina Fernández called the new relationship with China an “integral strategic alliance,” after signing a package of 22 agreements with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4.

The accords include areas like space technology, mining, energy, financing, livestock and cultural matters. They cover the construction of two nuclear and two hydropower plants, considered key to this country’s goal of energy self-sufficiency.

“Although they are important, the new agreements and others that were signed earlier are insufficient to gauge the dimension of the bilateral commitment,” said Jorge Castro, the director of the Strategic Planning Institute and an expert on China.

“For Argentina, the relationship with China has elements that are essential for insertion into the international system of the 21st century, along with other countries of the South, headed by Brazil,” he told IPS.

“These ties are between the new fulcrum of the global economy, China-Asia, and Argentina as a nation and as a regional unit,” he said.

Castro pointed out that Asia’s giant is currently South America’s leading trade partner, due to the volume of its purchases of raw materials, which implies a level of interdependence given that “China has placed the food security of its population in the hands of South American countries.”

In the case of Argentina, China is its second-largest trading partner, after neighbouring Brazil – displacing long-time partners like the United States and European countries.

In 2014, exports to China totalled five billion dollars while imports stood at 10.8 billion dollars – a bilateral record which represented 11.5 percent of this country’s trade balance, according to Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce.

Prior accords that cemented the alliance

Before Fernández’s visit to China, the two countries had already signed investment agreements in strategic sectors, such as the one between China’s Sinopec and Argentina’s YPF, two state-owned oil companies, for the exploitation of one of the Loma Campana deposits of unconventional oil and gas resources in Vaca Muerta in southern Argentina.

There was also an accord for China to provide some 2.5 billion dollars in financing for the reconstruction of the railway of the Belgrano Cargas y Logística company, which will transport Argentine and Brazilian agricultural products to Chilean ports on the Pacific ocean.

“The investment agreements with China are important to the extent that they facilitate the conditions to continue generating, for example, the infrastructure for development that Argentina needs, in a scenario” of a shortage of foreign currency, economist Fernanda Vallejos told IPS.

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

In July 2014, Argentina reached an 11 billion dollar currency swap agreement with China, to shore up this country’s weakened foreign reserves, of which it received one billion dollars in December.

The swap “has been a very powerful instrument,” which is added to measures by the government and the Central Bank to promote exchange stability and help slow down inflation, said Vallejos, a member of a group that advises the Ministry of the Economy and Public Finance.

Critical voices

Sectors of the business community are critical of the alliance with Beijing, such as the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) or the Chamber of Exports, which sounded a warning about the asymmetrical nature of the relationship.

This country’s exports to China are only half of what it imports from the Asian giant, and they are basically raw materials or farm products. A full 75 percent is soy or by-products.

Imports, by contrast, are mainly machinery and electronics, computers, telephones, chemical products, motorcycles or parts for household appliances.

The UIA said the framework agreement on economic cooperation and investment, signed in July 2014 and pending final approval by the legislature, “contains clauses that pose an enormous risk to Argentina’s development.”

“Over the last decade, China’s strategy has pursued two central objectives: to consolidate its transnational companies in global value chains and to obtain commodities and inputs with little value-added, for its growing productive and employment needs,” the UIA said in a communiqué.

“In free trade agreements in this era of globalisation, the essential thing is not trade but investment,” said Castro, who questioned the concept of “asymmetry” and backed the agreement with China.

The China expert said the relationship should be analysed in a broader context. For example, by remembering that in the next 10 years, China’s foreign direct investment is estimated to climb to 1.1 trillion dollars.

“The question is how to manage to be part of China’s flow of investment in industry in the next 10 to 20 years,” Castro said.

The UIA agrees that it is important to be part of that current, but with allocations that would not harm local goods and services, which have no chance of receiving Chinese financing, the business chamber said.

The UIA and some trade unions also worry that Chinese labour power, which is included in several projects, will displace local workers.

“Don’t worry, we continue to defend Argentine workers and the business community’s participation,” said centre-left President Fernández, who urged those sectors to engage in technical discussions about the accords.

The new empire?

Some in Argentina see the China of the 21st century as the new England of the 19th century or the United States of the 20th century, in terms of economic and territorial hegemony and domination.

They also question the construction of a Chinese space tracking and control station in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, which according to the government will monitor, control and gather data as part of China’s programme of missions to explore the moon and outer space.

Raúl Dobrusin, an opposition legislator from Neuquén, told IPS that the agreement, which grants China the use of 200 hectares for 50 years and is opposed by left-wing groups and social organisations, did not go through the Neuquén provincial legislature, which was not informed of the details of the accord.

So far there is no Chinese military presence in the construction project, said Dobrusin, but in his view, the space station poses “major geopolitical risks.”

“If there is a confrontation between powerful nations, we will be a place to be taken into account by the enemies of China…In short, we are getting into an area where the possibility of deciding whether or not to participate in conflicts is no longer a sovereign decision, they won’t ask us,” he warned.

“The alliance transcends economic matters and forms part of the search for independence, on both the economic and political fronts, which makes it possible to reach economic and social development goals, by breaking the yoke of neoliberalism and the empire-dependence logic,” said Vallejos.

China, in her view, “is far from the voracity of the Western powers…It is part of a new global order that is struggling to be born, where the role of emerging countries is no longer one of colonialism but of assuming the position of builders of our own destiny,” said the economist.

“That does not mean that China isn’t obtaining benefits from its ties with our nations, but that it is possible to build a win-win relationship for all of the parties involved,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: A New Era of Hemispheric Cooperation Is Possiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 18:34:54 +0000 Luis Almagro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138705 Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Luis Almagro
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

Two decades after the first Summit of the Americas, a lot has changed in the continent and it has been for the good. Today, a renewed hemispheric dialogue without exclusions is possible.

Back in the mid-1990s, at the time of the Miami summit, it was the time of imported consensus, models of economic and social development exclusively based on the market and its supposed perfect allocation of resources through the invisible hand.Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

Hidden under a development rationale, the greatest wave of privatisation and deregulation took over the continent. The role of the state was reduced to be a facilitator of a process based on the principle of survival of the fittest. Solidarity, equity and justice were all values from the past and poverty a necessary collateral damage.

However, these values were in the top of the minds of the people of the hemisphere, who turned their backs to these policies and instead during the past 15 years, have forcefully supported the alternatives that combine economic growth with social inclusion, broadening opportunities for all citizens.

Economic growth went hand in hand with social inclusion, adding millions to the middle class – which today accounts for 34 percent of Latin Americans – surpassing the number of poor for the first time in the history.

If this was possible it was because governments added to the invisible hand of the market, the very visible hand of the state.

And this took place within the context of the worst post war global financial crisis that led to an unprecedented recession in the United States and Europe, which the latter still strives to leave behind.

Growth with social equity turned out to be the new regional consensus.

Today, this binds the region together.

Today, conditions are present to set up a more realistic cooperation in the Americas, where all members could partner in equal conditions, from the most powerful to the smallest islands in the Caribbean.

Today, nobody holds the monopoly over what works or does not; neither can anybody impose models because the established truths have crashed against reality. While in the 1990s social exclusion in domestic policies and voice exclusion at the international level were two sides of the same token, this in not any longer acceptable.

Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

To the existing bodies, the region has added in this past decade the dynamic UNASUR in South America and CELAC in the Americas, thus leaving the OAS as the only place for dialogue among all countries of the Americas, whether large, medium, small, powerful or vulnerable.

But, governmental or inter-governmental actors by themselves are not the only answer to the problems of today´s world. Non-state actors of the non-governmental world, the private sector, trade unions and social organisations must be part of the process.

Leaders need to interpret the time in order to generate an agenda for progress, but progress that is tangible for people, for citizens, to whom we are accountable to.

Therefore, in a more uncertain international economic environment, we should focus on maintaining and expanding our social achievements and a new spirit of cooperation in the Americas can be instrumental for that.

The Summit of the Americas in Panama, in April 2015, may be the beginning of this new process of confidence building, where all countries can feel they can benefit from a cooperative agenda. This will be a historical moment because this time there will be no exclusions.

The recent good news on the diplomatic front related to the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and the participation of Cuba in the Summit represent an additional positive signal. Panama deserves the support of the entire region before and during the Summit.

This will be a great opportunity to strengthen democratic values, the defence of human rights, institutional transparency and individual freedoms together with a practical agenda for cooperation for shared prosperity in the Americas.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Can China’s Silk Road Vision Coexist with a Eurasian Union?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:03:26 +0000 Chris Rickleton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137833 Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on Nov. 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. Credit:  Russian Presidential Press Service

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on Nov. 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. Credit: Russian Presidential Press Service

By Chris Rickleton
BISHKEK, Nov 20 2014 (EurasiaNet)

There is a good chance that economic jockeying between China and Russia in Central Asia will intensify in the coming months. For Russia, Chinese economic expansion could put a crimp in President Vladimir Putin’s grand plan for the Eurasian Economic Union.

Putin has turned to China in recent months, counting on Beijing to pick up a good portion of the trade slack created by the rapid deterioration of economic and political relations between Russia and the West. Beijing for the most part has obliged Putin, especially when it comes to energy imports. But the simmering economic rivalry in Central Asia could create a quandary for bilateral relations.At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship."

Chinese President Xi Jinping elaborated on Beijing’s expansion plans, dubbed the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, prior to this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which concluded Nov. 12.

The plan calls for China to flood Central Asia with tens of billions of dollars in investment with the aim of opening up regional trade. Specifically, Xi announced the creation of a 40-billion-dollar fund to develop infrastructure in neighbouring countries, including the Central Asian states beyond China’s westernmost Xinjiang Province.

An interactive map published on Chinese state media outlet Xinhua shows Central Asia at the core of the proposed Silk Road belt, which beats a path from the Khorgos economic zone on the Chinese-Kazakhstani border, through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, before snaking into Uzbekistan and Iran. Turkmenistan, already linked to China by a web of pipelines, would not have a hub on the main route.

The fund’s aim is to “break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity by building a financing platform,” Xi told journalists in Beijing on Nov. 8. Such development is badly needed in Central Asia, where decaying Soviet-era infrastructure has hampered trade among Central Asian states, and beyond.

No matter the need, Russia, which is busy promoting a more protectionist economic solution for the region in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), may not share Beijing’s enthusiasm for the Silk Road initiative.

At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship,” according to Bobo Lo, an associate fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House.

The Silk Road Economic Belt is a case in point, explained Lo. The “mega project”, much like the original Silk Road, could eventually encompass several routes and benefit Russia’s own infrastructurally challenged east, he noted. But it might well dilute Russian influence in its traditional backyard of Central Asia.

“If you are sitting in Moscow, you are hoping that Russia will be the main trunk line [of the belt], but it seems likely it will be more of an offshoot,” said Lo. “[The belt’s] main thrust will be through Central and South Asia.”

Chinese leaders are intent on linking their Silk Road initiative to a broader project, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which they touted during the APEC gathering.

FTAAP and the Silk Road Economic Belt, along with a similar strategic plan called the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, are pro-trade in the broadest sense, seeking to break “all sorts of shackles in the wider Asia-Pacific region to usher in a new round of higher level, deeper level of opening up,” according to Li Lifan, an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Under the Chinese vision, its “grand idea” would seek to “absorb the Eurasian economic integration [project] led by Russia,” Li told EurasiaNet.org via email.

In contrast to the expansive Chinese vision for Eurasia, early evidence suggests a Russia-led union, with its tight border controls and levied tariffs, could end up stifling cross-border trade among members and non-members. Under such conditions, Central Asian states could experience a decline in their current level of trade with China. The existing Kremlin-dominated Customs Union is set to evolve into the Eurasian Economic Union on Jan. 1.

At least since the build-up to the 2013 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Central Asia-focused security organisation of which China and Russia are both members, Beijing has been very public about wielding its economic might in the region. Back then, Xi jetted across the region speaking of the belt for the first time as he signed deals worth tens of billions of dollars, most notably energy contracts with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Ever since, discussions of how to turn the belt into a reality have been uncomfortable. Moscow is reportedly steadfastly opposed to the idea of turning the SCO – which also comprises all four Central Asian countries positioned along the proposed belt’s route – into an economic organisation.

Uzbekistan has refused to join the Customs Union, which also excludes China. But the Kremlin expects Kyrgyzstan to join at the beginning of next year and Tajikistan to follow. Currently, the bloc’s only members other than Russia are Kazakhstan and Belarus.

For countries that have already been on the receiving end of Chinese largesse, the prospect of deeper economic integration with Russia may begin to seem like a limitation.

During a Nov. 7 meeting in Beijing ahead of the APEC summit, Xi and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed agreements securing Chinese credit for a railway to connect Tajikistan’s north and south, a new power plant and local agricultural projects. They also agreed on investments for the state-owned aluminium smelter Talco, an entity that once enjoyed close ties with the Russian conglomerate RusAl. Bilateral trade for the first eight months of this year increased by 40 percent compared with the same period last year, reaching 1.5 billion dollars.

“If we compare something like the Customs Union to the Silk Road Economic Belt, then of course the belt is preferable for Tajikistan,” Muzaffar Olimov, director of the Sharq analytical centre in Dushanbe, told EurasiaNet.org in a telephone interview. Tajikistan “has not decided” if it wants to join the economic bloc [the EEU], he added.

Editor’s note:  Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief Eyes Upcoming Summits to Resolve Development Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-chief-eyes-upcoming-summits-to-resolve-development-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-eyes-upcoming-summits-to-resolve-development-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-n-chief-eyes-upcoming-summits-to-resolve-development-crisis/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 18:31:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137713 IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands/IPS

IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen interviews Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

The continued widespread economic recession – aggravated by the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa – is threatening to undermine the U.N.’s highly-touted post-2015 development agenda.

Still, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is placing his trust and confidence on two key upcoming summit meetings: a G20 gathering of world leaders in Brisbane, Australia later this week, and the International Conference on Financing for Development (ICFD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next July.

In an interview with IPS, just before his departure to Brisbane, he described the G20 as “the world’s primary global economic forum”, while the ICFD, he predicted, will be “one of the most important conferences in shaping sustainable development goals (SDGs).”

Ban has already cautioned world leaders of the urgent need for “a robust financial mechanism” to implement the proposed SDGs – and such a mechanism, he said, should be put in place long before the adoption of these goals in September 2015.

In a letter to G20 leaders, he says the successful implementation of the growth and sustainable development agendas will depend largely on mobilising “all sources of financing”.

“It is difficult to depend on public funding alone,” he told IPS, stressing the need for financing from multiple sources – including public, private, domestic and international.

The G20, a rare mix of both developed and developing countries, includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus the European Union.

Overall, the G20 represents about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and over 75 per cent of global trade.

The G20 president, this time around Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, usually invites several guest countries to participate in the summit. The presidency rotates on a geographical basis.

The countries which previously hosted the G20 summit include the United States (in 2008 and 2009), the United Kingdom (2009), Canada (2010), the Republic of Korea (2010), France (2011), Mexico (2012) and Russia (2013).

At the meeting in Brisbane Nov. 15-16, Abbott will welcome Spain as a permanent invitee; Mauritania as the 2014 chair of the African Union; Myanmar as the 2014 chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN); Senegal, representing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; New Zealand; and Singapore.

The ICFD, scheduled for July 2015, is billed as a U.N. conference and will be attended by all 193 member states.

Speaking of financing for development, Ban said official development assistance (ODA), from rich nations to poorer ones, “is necessary but not sufficient.”

According to the latest available statistics, only five countries – Norway (1.07 percent), Sweden (1.02), Luxembourg (1.00), Denmark (0.85) and the United Kingdom (0.72) – have reached the longstanding target of 0.7 of gross national income as ODA to the world’s poorer nations.

Meanwhile, the economic recession is taking place amidst the millions still living in hunger (over 800 million), jobless (more than 200 million), water-starved (over 750 million) and in extreme poverty (more than one billion), according to the United Nations.

Asked about a proposal for innovative sources of financing for development – including a tax on foreign exchange transactions – Ban said he has appointed a former French cabinet minister, Philippe Douster-Blazy, as his special adviser to explore these funding sources.

The proposal for innovative financing was approved at the 2002 ICFD in Mexico and it has raised about 2.0 billion dollars so far.

Ban’s most formidable task will be to ensure that rich countries deliver on their pledges, made in 2009, to provide a staggering 100 billion dollars by 2020 for a Green Climate Fund to prevent the most disastrous consequences of climate change.

“I need at least 10 billion dollars to operationalise the fund,” he said. So far, about 2.5 billion dollars have been made available.

Meanwhile, in his letter to the G20 leaders, Ban says new threats, including geopolitical tensions and the Ebola crisis, “have emerged to create further uncertainty” for the U.N.’s development agenda.

“The G20 Brisbane summit is well timed to provide the leadership that will translate into strong global growth and positive change in people’s lives,” he wrote. “Therefore, I urge you and your fellow leaders to seize the moment in Brisbane and set the stage for success in our shared work to build a more sustainable and prosperous world for all.”

The United Nations, he said, “stands ready to partner with you in your endeavour in Brisbane – and beyond.”

But a lingering question remains: how many of the world leaders will respond to the call?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: The Group of 77 & IPS at 50http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-group-of-77-ips-at-50/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:11:32 +0000 Mourad Ahmia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137354

Mourad Ahmia is the Executive Secretary of the Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries at the United Nations

By Mourad Ahmia
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

When the Group of 77 commemorated its 50th anniversary recently, Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency was not far behind.

Established in 1964 as the largest news agency of the global South, IPS has been the voice of both developing nations and the Group of 77 for the past 50 years.

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

Both are linked together by a single political commitment: to protect and represent the interests of the developing world.

The 50th anniversary celebration of the G-77 and IPS represents an opportunity to enhance and strengthen the joint partnership in projecting and promoting the concerns of the countries of the South.

For five decades the agency has, in its own way, provided technical help to delegations of the South in promoting the global development agenda of the South.

The integral role played by the Group of 77 in economic diplomacy and projecting the development interests of the global South is a testimony to its continued relevance in the ongoing global development dialogue.

IPS’s priceless contribution in that endeavor translates into promoting a new platform for global governance through critical information and communication.

IPS supported the publication for many years of the first ever G-77 newsletter: “The Journal of the Group of 77,” as well as publishing special editions of Terra Viva on various occasions, particularly the celebration of anniversaries of the Group of 77 and the South Summits.

The initiative to establish a global network of news agencies of the South, launched in 2006 by the G-77 and IPS under the chairmanship of South Africa, is still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the G-77 has its own 50-year history of accomplishments.

When it was established on Jun. 15, 1964, the signing nations of the well-known “Joint Declaration of Seventy-Seven Countries” formed the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the United Nations to articulate and promote their collective interests and common development agenda.

Since the First Ministerial meeting of the G-77 held in Algeria in October 1967, and the adoption of the “Charter of Algiers”, the Group of 77 laid down the institutional mechanisms and structures that have contributed to shaping the international development agenda and changing the landscape of the global South for the past five decades.

Over the years, the Group has gained an increasing role in the determination and conduct of international relations through global negotiations on major North-South and development issues.The G-77 adheres to the principle that nations, big and small, deserve an equal voice in world affairs... Today the Group remains linked by common geography and shared history of struggle for liberation, freedom and South-South solidarity.

The Group has a presence worldwide at U.N. centres in New York, Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Washington D.C., and is actively involved in ongoing negotiations on a wide range of global issues including climate change, poverty eradication, migration, trade, and the law of the sea.

Today, the G-77 remains the only viable and operational mechanism in multilateral economic diplomacy within the U.N system. The growing membership is proof of its enduring strength.

From 77 founding member states in 1964 to 134 and counting in 2014, it is the largest intergovernmental organisation of the global South dealing with the Development Agenda.

The Group was created with the objective to collectively boost the role and influence of developing countries on the global stage when it became clear that political independence, to be meaningful, required changes in the economic relations between North and South.

Thus, political independence needed to be accompanied by economic diplomacy with the ultimate objective of the reform of the international economic order.

Today, the G-77 represents the greatest coalition of humanity and remains a vital negotiating instrument in economic multilateral diplomacy, and for ensuring international peace and justice through international cooperation for development within the framework of the United Nations.

This has been the thrust of the joint expression of South-South solidarity since the Group’s creation, and its collective voice has spread to every institution and international organisation representing the hopes and aspirations of the majority of humanity.

The integral role played by the G-77 in economic diplomacy and projecting the development interests of the global South is a testimony to its continued relevance in the global development dialogue.

The Group has, through its compact Executive Secretariat limited resources, managed to work successfully with its development partners to analyse issues and propose alternative solutions to development challenges.

For 50 years the G-77 contributed to the formulation and adoption of numerous U.N. resolutions, programmes, and plans of action, most of which address the core issues of development. Its role in generating global consensus on the issues of development has been widely acknowledged by world leaders, diplomats, parliamentarians, academia, researchers, media and civil society.

It is a tribute to the historical validity of the conception, purposes, and endeavours of the Group, which have withstood the test of time.

The essential rationale for the Group was, and remains, to strive for a wider participation of developing countries in global economic decision-making and for inserting a development dimension in international institutions and policies within the framework of the United Nations system.

The Group presently consists of 134 countries, comprising over 80 per cent of the world’s population and approximately two-thirds of the United Nations membership.

The Group is the world’s second largest international organisation after the 193-member United Nations, and many countries, from emerging developing economies to least developed countries and small island developing states have chaired the Group, ranging in regions from Africa, Asia-Pacific to Latin America and the Caribbean.

2014 marks a milestone in the life of the Group with the celebration of the fiftieth year of its establishment, a period during which it has nearly doubled in membership and multiplied its south-south cooperation achievements while continuing to operate as a coalition of nations in promoting North-South dialogue for development.

It is remarkable that with such a diverse membership and without a formal constitution it has managed to endure the world’s political and economic turbulence for 50 years and remain true to its original mission in promoting the United Nations’ development agenda.

The G-77 has devoted five decades working to achieve development. It adheres to the principle that nations, big and small, deserve an equal voice in world affairs.

Today the Group remains linked by common geography and shared history of struggle for liberation, freedom and South-South solidarity.

In its 50 years, the Group of 77 has solidified the global South as a coalition of nations, aspiring for a global partnership for peace and development.

Today, the Group of 77 is recognised for its work to promote international cooperation for development towards a prosperous and peaceful world.

The commitment and dedication of the Group in selflessly shaping world affairs has benefited billions of lives worldwide, and such recognition of its significant contribution during the Group’s fiftieth anniversary is most appropriate.

Happy 50th anniversary for both G-77 and IPS!

Edited by Kitty Stapp




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Outgunned by Rich Polluters, Africa to Bring United Front to Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:43:34 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136933 Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

As climate change interest groups raise their voices across Africa to call for action at the COP20 climate meeting in December and the crucial COP21 in Paris in 2015, many worry that the continent may never have fair representation at the talks.

The African Group noted during a May meeting in Ethiopia that while negotiations remain difficult, they still hope to break some barriers through close collaboration and partnerships with different African groups involved in negotiations."Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon." -- lead negotiator Tomothé Kagombet

Within the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) group, a preparatory meeting is planned for next month with experts and delegates from the 10 member countries, according to Martin Tadoum, deputy secretary general of COMIFAC, “but the group can only end up sending one or two representatives to COP meetings.”

Meanwhile, the Pan-African Parliamentarians’ Network on Climate Change (PAPNCC) is hoping to educate lawmakers and African citizens on the problem to better take decisions about how to manage it.

“The African parliamentarians have a great role to influence government decisions on climate change and defend the calls of various groups on the continent,” Honorable Awudu Mbaya, Cameroonian Parliamentarian and president of PAPNCC, told IPS.

PAPNCC operates in 38 African countries, with its headquarters in Cameroon. Besides working with governments and decision-makers, it is also networking with youth groups and civil society groups in Africa to advance climate goals.

Innovative partnership models involving government, civil society groups, think tanks and academia could also enforce governments’ positions and build the capacity of negotiators.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has noted that bargaining by all parties is increasingly taking place outside the formal negotiating space, and Africa must thus be prepared to engage on these various platforms in order to remain in the loop.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa are designing various campaign strategies for COP 20 and COP 21. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a diverse coalition of more than 500 CSOs and networks, is using national platforms and focal persons to plan a PACJA week of activities in November.

“PACJA Week of Action is an Africa-wide annual initiative aimed at stimulating actions and reinforcing efforts to exercise the power of collective action ahead of COPs. The weeks will involve several activities like staging pickets, rallies, marches, and other forms of action in schools, communities, workplaces, and public spaces,” Robert Muthami Kithuku, a programme support officer at PACJA headquarters in Kenya, told IPS.

Others, like the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and the African Youth Alliance, are coming up with similar strategies to provide a platform for coordinated youth engagement and participation in climate discussions and the post-2015 development agenda at the national, regional and international levels.

“We plan to send letters to negotiators, circulating statements, using the social media, using both electronic and print media and also holding public forums. Slogans to enhance the campaign are also being adopted,” Kithuku said.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change seems to have ushered in a new wave of south-south collaboration in the continent. The PAPNCC Cameroon chapter has teamed up with PACJA to advocate for greater commitments on climate change through tree-planting events in four Cameroonian communities. It is also holding discussions with regional parliamentarians on how climate change can better be incorporated in local legislation.

In June, mayors of the Central African sub-region gathered in Cameroon to plan their first participation in major climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris. Under the banner The International Association of Francophone Mayors of Central Africa on Towns and Climate Change (AIMF), the mayors are seeking ways to adapt their cities to the effects of climate change and to win development opportunities through mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.

During a workshop of African Group of Negotiators in May 2014, it was recognised that climate change negotiations offer opportunities for Africa to strengthen its adaptive capacity and to move towards low-carbon economic development. Despite a lack of financial resources, Africa has a comparative advantage in terms of natural resources like forests, hydro and solar power potential.

At the May meeting, Ethiopia’s minister of Environment and Forests, Belete Tafere, urged the lead negotiators in attendance to be ambitious and focused in order to press the top emitters to make binding commitments to reduce emissions. He also advised the negotiators to prioritise mitigation as a strategy to demonstrate the continent’s contribution to a global solution.

But negotiations are still difficult. Africa has fewer resources to send delegates to COPs, coupled with a relatively low level of expertise to understand technical issues in the negotiations.

“Africa is just a representative in negotiations and has very little capacity to influence decisions,” Tomothé Kagombet, one of Cameroon’s lead negotiators, told IPS.

“Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon, and this is the case with all other African countries.”

He said that while developed countries swap delegates and experts in and out of the talks, the Africans are also obliged remain at the negotiating table for long periods without taking a break.

“At the country levels, there are no preparatory meetings that can help in capacity building and in enforcing countries’ positions,” he said.

As a strategy to improve the capacity of delegates, COMIFAC recruits consultants during negotiations to brief representatives from the 10 member countries on various technical issues in various forums.

“To reduce the problem of numbers, the new strategy is that each country is designated to represent the group in one aspect under negotiation. For example, Chad could follow discussions on adaptation, Cameroon on mitigation, DRC on finance,” COMIFAC’s Tadoum told IPS.

With a complex international climate framework that has evolved over many years, with new mitigation concepts and intricacies in REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and more than 60 different international funds, the challenges for African experts to grasp these technicalities are enormous, Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environment and Development told IPS (CED). CED is a subregional NGO based in Cameroon.

“There is no country budget set aside for climate change that can help in capacity building and send more delegates to COPs. The UNFCCC sponsors one or two representatives from developing countries but the whole of Africa might not measure up with the delegates from one developed nation,” said Cameroon’s negotiator, Tomothé Kagombet.

The lead African negotiators are now crafting partnerships with with young African lawyers in the negotiations process and compiling a historical narrative of Africa’s participation and decisions relevant to the continent as made by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC process, from Kyoto in 1997 to Paris in 2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Brazil to Monitor Improvement of Water Quality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:25:32 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136376 A technician from the State Environmental Institute of Rio de Janeiro monitors water quality in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in this Brazilian city. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

A technician from the State Environmental Institute of Rio de Janeiro monitors water quality in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in this Brazilian city. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Problems in access to quality drinking water, supply shortages and inadequate sanitation are challenges facing development and the fight against poverty in Latin America. A new regional centre based in Brazil will monitor water to improve its management.

One example of water management problems in the region is the biggest city in Latin America and the fourth biggest in the world: the southern Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo, which is experiencing its worst water crisis in history due to a prolonged drought that has left it without its usual water supplies – a phenomenon that experts link to climate change.

To prevent such problems, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Brazil’s national water agency (ANA) signed a memorandum of understanding, making the institution the hub for water quality monitoring in Latin America and the Caribbean.“Access to good quality water is one of the key issues for eliminating poverty and is also one of the main problems faced by developing countries. This has serious consequences for the health of the population and the environment.“ -- Marcelo Pires

ANA will also promote regional cooperation to strengthen monitoring and oversight.

“Brazil will be a hub for the region and will act as a coordinator for training programmes carried out together with other countries,” Marcelo Pires, an expert on water resources in the strategic management of ANA, told Tierramérica.

“Monitoring, sample collection methods and data analysis are very useful for decision-makers” when it comes to water management, he said.

The regional hub will also play a strong role in the establishment of national centres in each country.

“We don’t yet have a precise assessment of the situation, but we know there are advanced monitoring centres in Argentina, Chile and Colombia,” Pires said.

ANA will also be the nexus with UNEP to disseminate information on the quality of water resources, according to the parameters set by the U.N. Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) Water Programme.

That programme has created a global network of more than 4,000 research stations with data collected in some 100 countries.

Since 2010, Brazil’s water agency has been implementing a national water quality programme in the country’s 26 states and federal district, inspired by GEMS.

Pires said access to clean water, as well as the provision of sanitation to the entire population, is a basic condition for the country’s development.

The northern Brazilian city of Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon river, dumps a large part of its waste in the area around the port. The lack of sanitation means the river is highly polluted. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The northern Brazilian city of Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon river, dumps a large part of its waste in the area around the port. The lack of sanitation means the river is highly polluted. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“Access to good quality water is one of the key issues for eliminating poverty and is also one of the main problems faced by developing countries. This has serious consequences for the health of the population and the environment,” the expert said.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the inefficient management of water resources and international cooperation among countries of the developing South were “fundamental steps” for the sustainable use of water.

“Guaranteeing infrastructure for water and sanitation is a basic condition for economic development. This challenge is made even more complex as a result of the impacts of climate change. All of this reinforces the need to adapt to the global reality,” Steiner said, announcing the agreement with ANA.

The memorandum of understanding between the two institutions was made known this month, although it was signed in July during a visit by Steiner to Brazil. It will initially be in effect until late 2018, when it could be extended.

A study carried out by ANA found that over 3,000 towns and cities are in danger of experiencing water shortages in Brazil starting next year. That is equivalent to 55 percent of the country’s municipalities.

Water shortages are a frequent aspect of life in Latin America, as is unequal distribution of water. In addition, the quality of both water and sanitation is precarious.

“Our outlook is not very different from that of our neighbours,” Pires said.

To illustrate, he noted that only 46 percent of the sewage from Brazilian households is collected, and of that portion only one-third is treated, according to the latest survey on basic sanitation.

“Brazil has a sanitation deficit. People coexist on a day-to-day level with polluted rivers. That is reflected in public health and even in the treatment of water to supply households,” Pires said.

Climate change, another variable

Climate change-related impacts also make greater integration in terms of water management necessary among the countries of Latin America, because it means episodes of drought are more frequent and more pronounced, which results in lower water levels in reservoirs.

In Latin America, 94 percent of the population has access to clean water – the highest proportion in the developing South – according to a May report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). But 20 percent of Latin Americans lack basic sanitation services.

There is also a high level of inequality in access to clean water and sanitation, between rural and urban areas.

The World Bank, for its part, notes that climate change generates a context of uncertainty and risks for water management, because it will increase water variability and lead to more intense floods and droughts.

The consequence will be situations like the one in greater São Paulo, where one-third of the population of 21 million now face water shortages, while incentives are provided to people who manage to cut water consumption by 20 percent.

Different São Paulo neighbourhoods have been rationing water supplies to residents since February.

Alceu Bittencourt, president of the Brazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering in São Paulo, told Tierramérica that this is the worst water crisis in the history of the city and is evidence of climate variability.

He added that most cities and towns in Latin America have not put in place a response to these changes in the climate.

“It will take two or three years to get back to normal. This exceptional situation indicates that climate change is changing the rainfall patterns,” he commented, referring to the worst drought in southern Brazil in 50 years.

Since Jul. 12, the water that has reached the taps of at least nine million residents of São Paulo comes from the “dead volume” of the Cantareira system of dams, built in the 1970s, which collects the water from three rivers. The dead volume is a reserve located below the level of the sluices, and is only used in emergencies.

According to official projections, the reserve will be exhausted in October if the drought does not end, which would further aggravate the crisis that is already affecting every category of water consumer, Bittencourt explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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OPINION: International Relations, the U.N. and Inter Press Servicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-international-relations-the-u-n-and-inter-press-service/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-international-relations-the-u-n-and-inter-press-service http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-international-relations-the-u-n-and-inter-press-service/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 14:37:48 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136282 This is the first in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.]]> IPS's then Director-General Roberto Savio honours the director-general of the International Labour Organisation, Juan Somavía of Chile, Oct. 29, 1999. Credit: UN Photo/Susan Markisz

IPS's then Director-General Roberto Savio honours the director-general of the International Labour Organisation, Juan Somavía of Chile, Oct. 29, 1999. Credit: UN Photo/Susan Markisz

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

In 1979, I had a debate at the United Nations with the late Stan Swinton, then the very powerful and brilliant director of Associated Press (AP). At one point, I furnished the following figures (which had been slow to change), as an example of Western bias in the media:

In 1964, four transnational news agencies – AP, United Press International (UPI), Agence France Presse (AFP) and Reuters – handled 92 percent of world information flow. The other agencies from industrialised countries, including the Soviet news agency TASS, handled a further 7 percent. That left the rest of the world with a mere 1 percent.In a world where we need to create new alliances, the commitment of IPS is to continue its work for better information, at the service of peace and cooperation.

Why, I asked, was the entire world obliged to receive information from the likes of AP in which the United States was always the main actor? Swinton’s reply was brief and to the point: “Roberto, the U.S. media account for 99 percent of our revenues. Do you think they are more interested in our secretary of state, or in an African minister?”

This structural reality is what lay behind the creation of Inter Press Service (IPS) in 1964, the same year in which the Group of 77 (G77) coalition of developing countries saw the light. I found it unacceptable that information was not really democratic and that – for whatever reason, political or economic – it was leaving out two-thirds of humankind.

We set up an international, non-profit cooperative of journalists, in which – by statute – every working journalist had one share and in which those like me from the North could not account for more than 20 percent of the membership.

As importantly, we stipulated that nobody from the North could report from the South. We set ourselves the challenge of providing journalists from developing countries with the opportunity to refute Northern claims that professional quality was inferior in the South.

Two other significant factors differentiated IPS from the transnational news agencies.

First, IPS was created to cover international affairs, unlike AP, UPI, AFP and Reuters, where international coverage was in addition to the main task of covering national events.

Second, IPS was dedicated to the long-term process and not just to events. By doing this, we would be giving a voice to those who were absent in the traditional flow of information – not only the countries  of the South, but also neglected actors such as women, indigenous peoples and the grassroots, as well as issues such as human rights, environment, multiculturalism,  international social justice and the search for global governance…

Of course, all this was not easily understood or accepted.

We decided to support the creation of national news agencies and radio and TV stations in the countries of the South because we saw these as steps towards the pluralism of information. In fact, we helped to set up 22 of these national news agencies.

That created distrust on both sides of the fence. Many ministers of information in the South looked on us with suspicion because, while we were engaging in a useful and legitimate battle, we refused to accept any form of state control. In the North, the traditional and private media looked on us as a “spokesperson” for the Third World.

In 1973, the Press Agencies Pool of the Non-Aligned Movement agreed to use IPS, which was growing everywhere, as its international carrier. At the same time, in the United Nations, the call was ringing for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and was approved by the General Assembly with the full support of the Security Council.

It looked like global governance was on its way, based on the ideas of international economic justice, participation and development as the cornerstone values for the world economic order.

In 1981 all this came to an end. Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom decided to destroy multilateralism and, with it, the very concept of social justice.

One of the first actions taken was to ask all countries working with IPS to cut any relation with us, and dismantle their national systems of information. Within a few years, the large majority of national news agencies, and radio and TV stations disappeared.  From now on, information was to be a market, not a policy.

The United States and the United Kingdom (along with Singapore) withdrew from the U.N. Scientific, Cultural and Educational Organisation (UNESCO) over moves to establish a New International Information Order (NIIO) as a corollary to NIEO, and the policy of establishing national systems of information disappeared. The world changed direction, and the United Nations has never recovered from that change.

IPS was not funded by countries, it was an independent organisation, and even if we lost all our clients from the world of national systems of information, we had many private media as clients. So we survived, but we decided to look for new alliances, with those who were continuing the quest for world governance based on participation and justice, with people interested in global issues, like human rights, the environment and so on.

It is worth noting that the United Nations was moving along a parallel path. In the 1990s, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth U.N. secretary-general, launched a series of world conferences on global issues, with the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – also widely known as the ‘Earth Summit’ – the first in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

For the first time, not only we of IPS – a non-governmental organisation (NGO) recognised by the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – but any NGO interested in and concerned with environmental issues could attend.

Actually, we really had two conferences, albeit separated by 36 kilometres: one, the inter-governmental conference with 15,000 participants, and the other the NGO Forum, the civil society conference with over 20,000 participants. And it was clear that the civil society forum was pushing for the success of the Earth Summit much more than many delegates!

To create a communication space for the two different gatherings, IPS conceived and produced a daily newspaper – TerraViva – to be distributed widely in order to create a sense of communality. We continued to do so at the other U.N.-organised global conferences in the 1990s (on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, on Population in Cairo in 1994, on Women in Beijing in 1995, and the Social Summit in Copenhagen, also in 1995).

We then decided to maintain it as a daily publication, to be distributed throughout the United Nation system: this is the TerraViva that reaches you daily, and is the link between IPS and members of the U.N. family.

Against this backdrop, it is sad to note that the world suddenly took a turn for the worse with the end of the Cold War at the end of the 1980s, when an endless number of unresolved fault lines that had been frozen during the period of East-West hostility came to light.

This year, for example, the number of persons displaced by conflict has reached the same figures as at the end of the Second World War.

Social injustice, not only at national but also at the international level, is growing at an unprecedented speed. The 50 richest men (no women) in the world accrued their wealth in 2013 by the equivalent of the national budgets of Brazil and Canada.

According to Oxfam, at the present pace, by the year 2030 the United Kingdom will have the same level of social inequality as during the reign of Queen Victoria, a period in which an unknown philosopher by the name of Karl Marx was working in the library of the British Museum on his studies of the exploitation of children in the new industrial revolution.

Fifty years after the creation of IPS, I believe more than ever that the world is unsustainable without some kind of global governance. History has shown us that this cannot come from military superiority … and events are now becoming history fast.

During my life I have seen a country of 600 million people in 1956, trying to make iron from scraps in schools, factories and hospitals, turn into a country of 1.2 billion today and well on the road towards becoming the world’s most industrialised country.

The world had 3.5 billion people in 1964, and now has over 7.0 billion, and will be over 9.0 billion in 20 years’ time.

In 1954, sub-Saharan Africa had 275 million inhabitants and now has around 800 million, soon to become one billion in the next decade, well more than the combined population of the United States and Europe.

To repeat what Reagan and Thatcher did in 1981 is therefore impossible – and, anyhow, the real problem for everybody is that there is no progress on any central issue, from the environment to nuclear disarmament.

Finance has taken a life of its own, different from that of economic production and beyond the reach of governments. The two engines of globalisation, finance and trade, are not part of U.N. discourse. Development means to ‘be more’, while globalisation has come to mean to ‘have more’ – two very different paradigms.

In just 50 years, the world of information has changed also beyond imagination. The internet has given voice to social media and the traditional media are in decline. We have gone, for the first time in history, from a world of information to a world of communication. International relations now go well beyond the inter-governmental relations, and the ‘net’ has created new demands for accountability and transparency, the bases for democracy.

And, unlike 50 years ago, there is a growing divide between citizens and public institutions. The issue of corruption, which 50 years ago was a hushed-up affair, is now one of the issues that begs for a renewal of politics. And all this, like it or not, is basically an issue of values.

IPS was created on a platform of values, to make information more democratic and participatory, and to give the voice to those who did not have one. Over the last 50 years, through their work and support, hundreds and hundreds of people have shared the hope of contributing to a better world. A wide-ranging tapestry of their commitment is offered in The Journalists Who Turned the World Upside Down, a book written by over 100 personalities and practising journalists.

It is evident that those values continue to be very current today, and that information continues to be an irreplaceable tool for creating awareness and democracy, even if it is becoming more and more a commodity, event-oriented and market-oriented.

But, in my view, there is no doubt that all the data show us clearly that we must find some global governance, based on participation, social justice and international law, or else we will enter a new period of dramatic confrontation and social unrest.

In a world where we need to create new alliances, the commitment of IPS is to continue its work for better information, at the service of peace and cooperation … and to support those who share the same dream.

Roberto Savio is founder of IPS and President Emeritus.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp




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Cuba Sees Its Future in Mariel Port, Hand in Hand with Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:16:51 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136278 The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

The Mariel special economic development zone, the biggest construction project undertaken in decades in Cuba, emerged thanks to financial support from Brazil, which was based on political goodwill, a strategy of integration, and business vision.

“Cuba would not have been able to undertake this project from a technical or economic point of view,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS. He added that the geographic setting makes the development zone strategic in terms of trade, industry and services in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Brazil financed the construction of the container terminal and the remodeling of the port of Mariel, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to handle cargo from Post-Panamax container ships that will begin to arrive when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in December 2015.

Post-Panamax refers to vessels that do not fit in the current Panama Canal, such as the supertankers and the largest modern container and passenger ships.

The port, 45 km west of Havana, is located along the route of the main maritime transport flows in the Western hemisphere, and experts say it will be the largest industrial port in the Caribbean in terms of both size and volume of activity.

Construction of the terminal, in the heart of the 465 sq km special economic development zone, has included highways connecting the Mariel port with the rest of the country, a railway network, and communication infrastructure, and the port will offer a variety of services.

In the special zone, currently under construction, there will be productive, trade, agricultural, port, logistical, training, recreational, tourist, real estate, and technological development and innovation activities, in installations that include merchandise distribution centres and industrial parks.

The special zone is divided into eight sectors, to be developed in stages. The first involves telecommunications and a modern technology park where pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will operate – two sectors which will be given priority in Mariel, along with renewable energies, agriculture and food, among others.

The Cuban government is currently studying the approval of 23 projects from Europe, Asia and the Americas for Mariel, in the chemical, construction materials, logistics and equipment rental industries.

The terminal was inaugurated on Jan. 27, and during its first six months of operation it received 57 ships and some 15,000 containers – small numbers compared to the terminal’s warehouse capacity of 822,000 containers. Post-Panamax vessels can carry up to 12,600 containers, three times more than Panamax ships.

Another economist, Pedro Monreal, estimates that the cost per container will be cut in half.

The lower costs, he said, will improve the competitiveness of Brazil’s manufactured goods, to cite one example. Mariel, where a free trade zone will also operate, could become a platform for production and export by the companies, even for supplying Brazil’s domestic market.

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Although Decree Law 313, which created the special economic development zone, was passed in September 2013, the remodeling of Mariel began three years ago, led by a joint venture formed in February 2010 by the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura, a subsidiary of the private Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, and Quality Cuba SA.

The container terminal is run by Global Ports Management Limited of Singapore, one of the world’s biggest container terminal operators, which has been working with the Cuban firm Almacenes Universales S.A, which is the owner and user of the terminal, and responsible for oversight of its efficient use.

The relationship between Cuba and Brazil is a longstanding one. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) did not hide his sympathies for the Cuban revolution, and has visited this country a number of times, first as a trade unionist and political party leader, and then as a president and former president.

Two packages of agreements signed in 2008 and 2010 between Lula and Cuban President Raúl Castro marked their interest in strengthening bilateral ties, an effort continued by current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

When she attended the inauguration of the terminal, Rousseff said the project would take 802 million dollars in the first stage, plus 290 million for the second stage. The first of Brazil’s loans was initially to go towards construction of the road, but the local government decided to start with the port.

The credit was granted by Brazil’s National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES). Havana provided 15 percent of the investment needed for the work.

“Cuba is a priority for our government, and Brazil is important to Havana,” the director general of the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (APEX-Brazil), Hipólito Rocha, told IPS.

APEX-Brazil was created by Lula and Castro to promote joint business ventures with Cuba, the rest of the Caribbean and Central America.

Odebrecht is the most important company involved in Mariel, but diplomatic sources told IPS that a total of around 400 Brazilian companies are taking part in the project. “Between our countries there is affinity, political will, an interest in integration, but business matters are also important,” Rocha said.

He added that Cuba strictly lives up to its financial commitments with Brazil, and said bilateral relations “are solid, sustainable and bring benefits to our country as well.”

Analyst Arturo López-Levy said Brazil’s involvement in the Mariel project was decisive not only because of the investment. The political scientist, who lives in the United States, says the Brazilian government is sending a message to Washington and the European Union and other emerging powers that it backs the transformations underway in Cuba.

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Russia, Vladimir Putin, also sent out signals when they visited Cuba in July, indicating their interest in expanding cooperation with Havana.

The two presidents stopped over in Cuba when they travelled to the sixth summit of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), held Jul. 14-16 in Brazil.

The strengthening of ties promises greater access to the Chinese and Russian markets, attraction of investment in areas of common interest like the pharmaceutical and energy industries, and cooperation for the modernisation of strategic areas in defence, ports and telecommunications, López-Levy told IPS.

With respect to the possible interest of U.S. businesses in getting a foothold in the special economic development zone, and to an increase in pressure for the lifting of the five-decade U.S. embargo, the analyst said “the Cuban market awakens very limited interest in the United States.”

However, he said it was “clear” that U.S. investors are becoming more interested, especially Cuban-Americans.

“In order for this motivation to turn into political pressure against the embargo, the Cuban economy has to give out clear signs of recovery and of the government’s willingness, in key areas, to adopt a mixed economy with transparent guarantees for investors and export capacity,” he said.

Rocha has a somewhat different opinion.

“The embargo is going to collapse under its own weight,” he said. “Business will knock it down.”

It was seen as symbolic that the first ship that docked in the Mariel port after it began to operate brought food for Cuba from the United States – cash-only imports, which were authorised by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Toward an Inclusive TPP Trade Pacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-toward-an-inclusive-tpp-trade-pact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-toward-an-inclusive-tpp-trade-pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-toward-an-inclusive-tpp-trade-pact/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:55:34 +0000 Dr. Harsha Vardhana Singh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135965 By Dr. Harsha Vardhana Singh
NEW YORK, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations have been hitting headlines recently, but not for all the right reasons.

The media provides an incomplete picture of its implications, focusing mainly on its process and pre-occupations of the main parties to the negotiations. These negotiations, including the most recent meetings that took place in Ottawa, Canada, in July 2014, have been criticised by Canadian and international media for being veiled in secrecy.It is important that these negotiations do not create systems which are exclusionary, fragmenting and adversely affecting overall economic opportunities.

There have been, however, leaks and statements which show the broad contours of the ongoing talks covering the large number of subject areas which aim to develop a “21st century” trade and investment regime.

There is little attention, if any, to the adverse market conditions that the TPP will generate, for countries not part of these negotiations; countries which are significantly contributing to the prosperity of those who are negotiating TPP.

The TPP is a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated by 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam (contrast this with 160 members of World Trade Organisation).

The TPP nations together account for about one-third of world trade and foreign direct investment. Thus, there is a larger interconnected world outside the coverage of TPP which is economically crucial for all concerned. It is important that these negotiations do not create systems which are exclusionary, fragmenting and adversely affecting overall economic opportunities.

Today’s trade negotiations focus significantly on issues commonly referred to as non-tariff barriers. These include standards which specify requirements for products to be sold in specific markets.

These standards could have a larger general impact, such as environment or social standards, or have product-specific effects such as specifications for cars, electric gadgets, textiles and clothing, fruits, etc. The focus of TPP negotiations suggests that there is a strong possibility for markets and economic opportunities to get fragmented.

That would create major difficulties for all. This can be prevented through specific steps to create inclusive systems, which are essential in our increasingly inter-dependent world.

In the next five to seven years, the rapid growth of middle class in regions outside the TPP and global links between trade and sustainable development could create significant potential conflicts without inclusive systems.

Photo by Jamie Levine

Photo by Jamie Levine

Just recently, I was in Beijing, China for a workshop that discussed the Implications of TPP for China and India in detail. At the event, co-organised by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the China Society for WTO Studies (CWTO), I made two strong recommendations for India, China and even other developing nations: (i) that these countries should upgrade their capacities for policies and meeting evolving standards, so that their access to major markets could continue without significant problems, and (ii) that non-TPP countries should combine forces to push for the development of more inclusive trade systems, and suggest ways of doing so.

However, the main action to develop inclusive systems within TPP has to be from those negotiating the agreement, so as to maintain substantive and effective linkages with the rest of the world.

While some additional countries may join the TPP, whenever concluded, others which may find it more difficult to do so would nonetheless be important parts of a trading system providing opportunities for sustained prosperity for all economies. Restraining their effective participation would mean restraining the positive potential of the system as a whole.

Various countries are in different stages of preparedness with respect to higher standards likely to arise from TPP. In late 2013, South Korea announced its interest in joining in TPP. There is a strong debate in China on whether or not to join TPP.

In Brazil, parts of the private sector seem open to joining this new mega-FTA, while the government appears to be reticent about it. In India, the policy makers have begun a process of upgrading domestic capacities, but it is very unlikely that India would be able to join an agreement such as TPP, for several years.

All African economies are outside the process of any of the mega-FTAs such as TPP. Their state of preparation is in general much less than the larger economies of other continents. In some instances, there is a view that TPP may not be concluded, so why worry about it!

However, progress in TPP negotiations is continuing, though at less than the desired pace of participants. It is expected to pick up in the months ahead.

Recognising the advent of the contours of a new trade regime in large parts of the global markets, China is already moving ahead with policy reform to better equip itself for a world of new trade and investment regulations.

This will help consolidate its existing position as an important hub of global value chains and its desire to move forward in the value chain to produce higher value items with state-of-art technologies. Interestingly, this preparation for a post-TPP world enmeshes well with its next stage of domestic reform.

However, even a relatively advanced developing nation such as China would find it difficult to have market access post-TPP unless the agreement incorporates an inclusive system. This task would be much more difficult for lesser developed nations. The content of standards under TPP is likely to be high, and lead to considerable cost escalation for exports of several developing nations.

In TPP, these would likely reflect standards prevailing in the U.S.; simultaneously with TPP we have the Trans-Atlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between EU and the US which have an important focus on standards. The results of TPP cannot be too different from that of TTIP in this regard.

Studies have shown that impediments to market access by standards are recognised by even exporters from the U.S. and the EU to each other’s market. Similarly, in a recent discussion of Korean emission standards for automobiles, U.S. Ford Motor Company argued that Korea’s standards and related system would raise cost by 7,000 dollars for each Ford Explorer vehicle.

Given that trade and investment play an important role in their growth performance, losing access to TPP and TTIP countries, which together account for about half of world trade, would be highly damaging for India, China or other non-member countries.

Ultimately, the most suitable action that the emerging developing economies (China, India, Brazil and others) can take at this point, would be to pool their collective energies together to press for conditions which ensure that the emerging international trade system works better for all countries, including those not part of the large free trade agreements such as TPP and TTIP.

Such synergies would be useful even for up-gradation of domestic capacities, working together with co-ordinated and cooperative programmes.

Common efforts are crucial for developing inclusive systems because each of these countries on its own will make little impact for changing the evolving regulatory regimes. A more formalised collective response would empower them to press the negotiating nations to develop more inclusive, rather than exclusionary, systems.

Dr. Singh has been with IISD as a senior fellow since October 1, 2013 and provides advice and support to the Institute’s work in China, and on multilateral trading systems.Before joining IISD, Singh served as deputy director-general at the World Trade Organisation from October 2005 to September 2013.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

 

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Nicaragua Pins Hopes for Progress on Grand Canalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nicaragua-pins-hopes-for-progress-on-grand-canal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaragua-pins-hopes-for-progress-on-grand-canal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nicaragua-pins-hopes-for-progress-on-grand-canal/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 16:25:10 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135875 Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during a meeting with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during a meeting with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

Víctor Sánchez doesn’t want gold or the comfortable future income he was promised.

He just wants to live the life he has always lived on his farm along the Banks of the Las Lajas river – but the river is slated to become part of the route followed by the Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal.

Sánchez, a 59-year-old small-scale farmer from the southwestern department or state of Rivas, told IPS that he isn’t familiar with the details of the mega-project that the government touts as the ticket for this country to lose its dubious status as the second-poorest in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti.

He is worried that he will be removed from the land where he has always lived with his extended family, and that he won’t receive compensation for his property.

That’s what he told representatives of the HKND Group at a Jul. 15 meeting in the International University of Agriculture and Livestock in Rivas. HKND is the Hong Kong-based Chinese company that was granted the concession to build the canal.

The Chinese technicians, with the support of interpreters and Nicaraguan officials, provided details of the ambitious project to a local audience in the city of Rivas, the departmental capital, 110 km south of Managua.

The canal will connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by means of a 278 km waterway, which includes a 105 km stretch across Lake Cocibolca.

The numbers involved are impressive: the canal will cost 50 billion dollars to build and will be up to 520 metres wide, with a monimum depth of 27.6 metres and a maximum of 30 metres. An estimated 5,100 vessels a year will make the 30-hour crossing through the canal.

Pang Kwok Wai, assistant director of HKND’s department of construction management, explained that the work is set to begin in December in the municipality of Brito, in Rivas, on the Pacific coast.

The department will be split in half by the canal and part of the local population will be relocated.

The project will create a city of 140,000 people on the Pacific side of the country. A 29 sq km duty-free zone will also be established in Rivas, along with four tourist complexes, an international airport with warehouse capacity for thousands of tons of cargo, a deepwater port, giant bridges and other “sub-projects” in the terminology used by HKND.

In June 2013, the government of leftwing President Daniel Ortega granted the concession for HKND Group to build and run the canal for 50 years, extendable by another 50 years.

The government argues that the canal will definitively transform the economy of this Central American nation, where 42.5 percent of the population of 6.1 million lives in poverty and 70 percent of jobs are in the informal economy.

Telémaco Talavera, the president of the National Council of Universities and a member of the Special Commission for the Grand Canal, told IPS that to carry out the work, large industrial companies will be created that will require local labour power: 50,000 direct jobs during the construction phase and 200,000 permanent jobs after 2019, when the canal is to be completed.

HKND also announces the construction of new cement, steel, dynamite, asphalt, fuel and energy plants.

The Nicaraguan government estimates that as a result of the construction work, GDP growth will accelerate from the current four-five percent to 10.8 percent in 2014 and 15 percent in 2015.

The government projects that GDP will climb from 11.2 billion dollars to 24.7 billion dollars in 2018.

HKND Group, led by the mysterious Chinese businessman Wang Jing, has given the world the impression that the project is a sure thing, from its news releases.

But doubts about the company, and especially about the fund created to finance the canal, are far from being cleared up.

The company says it hired the China Railway Construction Corporation to carry out the technical feasibility studies, the U.S. McKinsey & Company for the information analysis and the UK-based Environmental Resources Management consultancy for the social and environmental impact assessments.

HKND technical experts have repeated in public and private meetings in Nicaragua and China that the company invited businesspeople from China, Russia, the UK, the United States, Germany, Belgium and Australia to support the project.

Hopes for the future…and doubts

The canal has raised hopes among thousands of Nicaraguans for a more prosperous future, according to two national surveys.

One of the pollsters, MyR Consultores, found in a July poll that 31.3 percent of respondents thought the canal would bring benefits to a smaller or greater extent.

Another survey, by the Americas Barometer of the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University in the U.S., presented in Managua this month as well, found that 72.8 percent of those interviewed stressed the generation of jobs by the canal as a potential benefit.

But 43.4 percent of respondents were worried about the environmental effects that the project could have.

That fear is shared by dozens of environmentalists and non-governmental organisations, like the Nicaraguan Foundation for Sustainable Development, which under the leadership of biologist Jaime Incer, environmental adviser to the president of Nicaragua, is opposed to the construction work with the argument that it will irreversibly affect Lake Cocibolca.

The lake is the biggest in Latin America: 8,624 sq km of freshwater. According to the organisation’s estimates, the construction of the canal would affect 400,000 hectares of jungle and wetlands.

Incer told IPS that Nicaragua gave HKND authority over the lake and surrounding areas, which include more than 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas representing 25 percent of the country’s rainforest.

HKND Group has not yet completed its environmental impact studies. Nevertheless, it has already decided on the route to be followed by the canal, as well as the construction of a 400 sq km artificial lake and 41 giant deposits along the route to store the earth that is removed.

Another aspect criticised by opponents is the lack of transparency surrounding the project’s financing. Detractors have not received any response to their questions about who is financing the project and how they operate.

The company and its executives in Nicaragua, as well as the Nicaraguans in charge of the project, have avoided revealing the identity of their sources of financing.

“The fund is guaranteed, but it is confidential; these matters are business secrets, especially because of the companies that trade on the stock market,” said HKND’s Pang.

Talavera, with the Special Commission for the Grand Canal, told IPS that the important thing at this time is to explain to the population the reach of the mega-project and to guarantee that it brings benefits for the country. “The details about the financing will be provided when the time is right, if the financing partners decide on that,” he said.

The country’s refusal to reveal information about the partners and the origin of the funds has given rise to speculation. For example, opposition lawmaker Eliseo Núñez has insinuated that the Chinese government is behind the project – a suspicion that Wang Jing has consistently denied.

Edited by: Estrella Gutiérrez / Translated by: Stephanie Wildes

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Oil Alliance Between China and Costa Rica Comes to Life Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:22:47 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135822 The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

China’s plan to become Costa Rica’s main energy ally through the joint reconstruction of an oil refinery has been revived after the presidents of the two countries agreed to review the conditions of the project during a meeting in the Brazilian capital.

The two countries initially signed a framework accord in 2008, including Chinese participation in oil projects, especially the upgrade and expansion of the Moín refinery on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, with an investment of 1.5 billion dollars.

But criticism from public institutions, political leaders and social organisations brought the initiative to a halt.

The Costa Rican president’s office stated in a communiqué that Beijing had accepted its request to renegotiate the project, with the aim of “resolving inconsistencies in the contract,” in which each country has invested 50 million dollars so far.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González said in a Jul. 22 press conference that “we have no deadline” for that review, which all of the involved institutions will take part in.

President Luis Guillermo Solís participated in the news briefing, although he did not specifically refer to the refinery.

Under the microscope

A year ago, the comptroller general’s office ordered Soresco, the joint venture, not to use the 1.8 million dollar feasibility study due to a conflict of interest, because it was conducted by a subsidiary of the Chinese partner CNPCI.

The study saddled Recope with costs from Soresco, such as land, fuel tanks, environmental damages and the expansion of the oil pier.

The comptroller general’s office ruled that the 16.28 profit margin established could be too high. A second consultancy, the U.S.-based Honeywell, also questioned that figure.

While the agreement creating Soresco stated that each partner would pay its own workers involved in the project, Recope paid half of the wages of the Chinese employees, as well as bonuses and incentives. Recope is seeking to be repaid 12 million dollars.

Solís held a bilateral working meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Jul 17 in Brasilia, during a summit of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) with Xi, after the sixth summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping.

The upgrade of the Moín refinery, which belongs to the state oil refinery Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo (Recope), would increase its processing capacity from 18,000 to 60,000 barrels a day of crude. The company controls Costa Rica’s oil imports, and since 2011 it has had to purchase only refined products, because the plant was shut down.

The joint refinery project, or “Chinese refinery” as it is referred to locally, was criticised by politicians and a large part of organised civil society from the start.

“We have always defended the construction of a refinery, whether it was with China, Russia or France,” said Patrick Johnson, a leader of the oil workers’ union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros Químicos y Afines.”We want the confusion to be cleared up…and if the project is beneficial, then it should go ahead because the country needs a refinery,” he told IPS.

In June 2013, the office of the comptroller general brought the initiative to a halt arguing that there were serious problems with a key feasibility study. Since then, the project has been on hold.

The renegotiations should overcome the first real hurdle that China has run into in Costa Rica. In 2007, this country became the first in Central America to establish diplomatic relations with China, in a part of the world that continues to have ties with Taiwan – incompatible with relations with China.

“Having an embassy here makes it easier to deal with matters with Central America,” Patricia Rodríguez, an expert on China who was an official in Costa Rica’s embassy in Beijing from 2008 to 2010, told IPS.

China is now Costa Rica’s second-biggest trading partner after the United States. This country’s sales to the Asian giant climbed from 91 million dollars in 2000 to 1.5 billion in 2011, when a free trade treaty signed in 2010 went into effect.

In strategic terms, the joint refinery between Recope and the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation International (CNPCI) is China’s star project in the country, and the joint venture Sociedad Reconstructora Chino Costarricense (Soresco) was set up in 2009 to carry it out.

The investment is to amount to 1.5 billion dollars, of which Soresco would receive 900 million in loans from the China Development Bank. The rest will come from the partners. The construction and remodeling of the plant will absorb 1.2 billion dollars of that total.

The work was to begin early this year and was to last 42 months. The comptroller general’s office’s decision to put it on hold was due, among other things, to the fact that the feasibility study was carried out by a subsidiary of CNPCI, which it said subverted the evaluation.

The resolution had the effect of “completely paralysing the refinery upgrade process by leaving it without the technical studies necessary for it to continue,” explained Recope in a lawsuit brought against the comptroller general’s office in response to the measure.

Despite the ruling by the comptroller general’s office, the administration of conservative President Laura Chinchilla (2010-May 2014) continued to defend the refinery modernisation project. But the centre-left Solís promised during the election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, because he considered several aspects of the contract negative for the country.

The request to renegotiate the contract had the support of political sectors and in particular of lawmaker Ottón Solís, an economist and university professor who was one of the first to speak out against certain facets of the agreement.

“We have enormous bargaining power here because China is desperate to open up negotiations with Costa Rica and this country has prestige,” Deputy Solís, of the governing Citizen Action Party, told IPS.

“If we insinuate that it’s impossible to negotiate with China because they take advantage of you with unfair contracts, the whole world will be put on the alert and other countries won’t want to negotiate with them,” and that gives Costa Rica bargaining power, he said.

One of the promises made was that the upgrade of the refinery will bring down fuel costs for consumers, who currently pay 41 percent extra in taxes and profit margins for service stations and Recope’s operating costs.

Petrol currently costs 1.48 dollars a litre in Costa Rica, which makes it the most expensive gasoline in Central America. Official figures from 2012 indicate that oil consumption in the country stood at 53,000 barrels per day.

“Fuel is a fundamental element for price stability because there are public services that depend on its price, like public transportation and electricity, and the same is true in the case of the productive apparatus,” the president of Costa Rica’s consumers association, Erick Ulate, told IPS.

During the meeting with President Solís, Xi also agreed to expand the timeframe for carrying out studies for the project of widening the road connecting San José with the Caribbean port of Limón, where 90 percent of the country’s exports are shipped out. The expansion of the road will be financed with a 395 million dollar loan from Beijing.

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As Winds of Change Blow, South America Builds Its House with BRICShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/as-winds-of-change-blow-south-america-builds-its-house-with-brics/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:36:36 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135624 Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

While this week’s BRICS summit might have been off the radar of Western powers, the leaders of its five member countries launched a financial system to rival Bretton Woods institutions and held an unprecedented meeting with the governments of South America.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement signal the will of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to reconcile global governance instruments with a world where the United States no longer wields the influence that it once did.“The U.S. government clearly doesn't like this, although it will not say much publicly.” -- Mark Weisbrot

More striking for Washington could be the fact that the 6th BRICS summit, held in Brazil, set the stage to display how delighted the heads of state and government of South America – long-regarded as the United States’ “backyard”— were to meet Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

At odds with Washington and just expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) following Russia’s intervention in the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was warmly received in the region, where he also visited Cuba and Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, Putin and the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, signed agreements on energy, judicial cooperation, communications and nuclear development.

Argentina, troubled by an impending default, is hoping Russian energy giant Gazprom will expand investments in the rich and almost unexploited shale oil and gas fields of Vaca Muerta.

Although Argentina ranks fourth among the Russia’s main trade partners in the region, Putin stressed the country is “a key strategic partner” not only in Latin America, but also within the G20 and the United Nations.

Buenos Aires and Moscow have recently reached greater understanding on a number of international issues, like the conflicts in Syria and Crimea, Argentina sovereignty claim over the Malvinas/Falkland islands and its strategy against the bond holdouts.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Washington and Buenos Aires remains cool, as it has been with Brasilia since last year’s revelations of massive surveillance carried out by the National Security Agency against Brazil.

Some leftist governments –namely Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador— frequently accuse Washington of pursuing an imperialist agenda in the region.

But it was the president of Uruguay, José Mujica –whose government has warm and close ties with the Barack Obama administration— who better explained the shifting balance experienced by Latin America in its relationships with the rest of the world.

Transparency clause

In an interview before the summit, Ambassador Flávio Damico, head of the department of inter-regional mechanisms of the Brazilian foreign ministry, said a clause on transparency in the New Development Bank’s articles of agreement “will constitute the base for the policies to be followed in this area.”

Article 15, on transparency and accountability, states that “the Bank shall ensure that its proceedings are transparent and shall elaborate in its own Rules of Procedure specific provisions regarding access to its documents.”

There are no further references to this subject neither to social or environmental safeguards in the document.

After a dinner in Buenos Aires and a meeting in Brasilia with Putin, Mujica said the current presence of Russia and China in South America opens “new roads” and shows “that this region is important somehow, so the rest of the world perhaps begins to value us a little more.”

Furthermore, he reflected, “pitting one bloc against another… is not good for the world’s future. It is better to share [ties and relationships, in order to] keep alternatives available.”

Almost at the same time, Washington announced it was ready to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay, one of the subjects Obama and Mujica agreed on when the Uruguayan visited the U.S. president in May.

Mujica has invited companies from United States, China and now Russia to take part in an international tender to build a deepwater port on the Atlantic ocean which, Uruguay expects, could be a logistic hub for the region.

But beyond Russia, which has relevant commercial agreements with Venezuela, the real centre of gravity in the region is China, the first trade partner of Brazil, Chile and Perú, and the second one of a growing number of Latin American countries.

China’s president Xi Jiping travels on Friday to Argentina, and then to Venezuela and Cuba.

“The U.S. government clearly doesn’t like this, although it will not say much publicly,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“With a handful of rich allies, they have controlled the most important economic decision-making institutions for 70 years, including the IMF [International Monetary Fund], the World Bank, and more recently the G8 and the G20, and they wrote the rules for the WTO [World Trade Organisation],” Weisbrot told IPS.

The BRICS bank “is the first alternative where the rest of the world can have a voice.  Washington does not like competition,” he added.

However, the United States’ foreign priorities are elsewhere: Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And with the exception of the migration crisis on its southern border and evergreen concerns about security and defence, Washington seems to have little in common with its Latin American neighbours.

“I wish they were really indifferent. But the truth is, they would like to get rid of all of the left governments in Latin America, and will take advantage of opportunities where they arise,” said Weisbrot.

Nevertheless, new actors and interests are operating in the region.

The Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are currently negotiating a trade agreement.

Colombia, Chile, México and Perú have joined forces in the Pacific Alliance, while the last three also joined negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In this scenario, the BRICS and their new financial institutions pose further questions about the ability of Latin America to overcome its traditional role of commodities supplier and to achieve real development.

“I don’t think that the BRICS alliance is going to get in the way of that,” said Weisbrot.

According to María José Romero, policy and advocacy manager with the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), the need to “moderate extractive industries” could lead to “changes in the relationship with countries like China, which looks at this region largely as a grain basket.”

Romero, who attended civil society meetings held on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, is the author of “A private affair”, which analyses the growing influence of private interests in the development financial institutions and raises key warnings for the new BRICS banking system.

BRICS nations should be able “to promote a sustainable and inclusive development,” she told IPS, “one which takes into account the impacts and benefits for all within their societies and within the countries where they operate.”

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India’s Cut-Rose Sector Pushes Past Barriershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:33:35 +0000 Keya Acharya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135621 Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

By Keya Acharya
Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

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International Reform Activists Dissatisfied by BRICS Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/international-reform-activists-dissatisfied-by-brics-bank/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 21:39:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135613 Chandrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, talks about development banks in India, at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Chandrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, talks about development banks in India, at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
FORTALEZA, Brazil, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The creation of BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) own financial institutions was “a disappointment” for activists from the five countries, meeting in this northeastern Brazilian city after the group’s leaders concluded their sixth annual summit here.

The New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), launched Tuesday Jul. 15 at the summit in the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, represent progress “from United States unilateralism to multilateralism,” said Graciela Rodriguez, of the Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples (REBRIP).

But “the opportunity for real reform was lost,” she complained to IPS at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held in this city Wednesday and Thursday Jul. 16-17 as a forum for civil society organisations in parallel to the sixth summit.

The format announced for the NDB “does not meet our needs,” she said.

The NDB will promote “a new kind of development" only if its loans are made conditional on the adoption of low-polluting technologies and are guided by the Millennium Development Goals and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals. -- Carlos Cosendey, international relations secretary at the Brazilian foreign ministry
The bank’s goal is to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the BRICS and other countries of the developing South, with an initial capital investment of 50 billion dollars, to be expanded through the acquisition of additional resources.

“We want an international system that serves the majority, not just the seven most powerful countries (the Group of Seven),” that does not depend on the dollar and that has an international arbitration tribunal for financial controversies, said Oscar Ugarteche, an economics researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“It is unacceptable that a district court judge in New York should put a country at risk,” he told IPS, referring to the June ruling of the U.S. justice system in favour of holdouts (“vulture funds”) in their dispute with Argentina, which could force another suspension of payments.

“We need international financial law,” similar to existing trade law, and an end to the dominance of the dollar in exchange transactions, which enables serious injustice against nations and persons, like embargoes on payments and income in the United States, he said.

“Existing international institutions do not work,” and the proof of this is that they have still not overcome the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, said the Mexican researcher.

Major powers like the United States and Japan have unsustainable debt and fiscal deficits, yet are not harassed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in contrast to the treatment meted out to less powerful nations, particularly in the developing South.

During the seminar, organised by REBRIP and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, oft-repeated demands were for civil society participation, transparency, environmental standards and consultation with the populations affected by projects financed by the NDB.

These demands have not yet been included in the NDB but may be discussed during its operational design over the next few years, while the group’s parliaments ratify its approval, said Carlos Cosendey, international relations secretary at the Brazilian foreign ministry, in a dialogue with activists.

Participants at one of several panels at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held Jul. 16-17 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Participants at one of several panels at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank, held Jul. 16-17 in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Cosendey said that a disadvantage of the multilateral bank was the need for its regulations not to be confused with infringement of national sovereignty of member states. The political, cultural, legal and ethnic differences between the five countries could pose a major obstacle to the adoption of common criteria, he said.

The NDB can be constructive “if it integrates human rights” into its principles and presents solutions for the social impacts of the projects it finances, said Nondumiso Nsibande, of ActionAid South Africa, an NGO.

“We need roads, other infrastructure and jobs, as well as education, health and housing,” but big projects tend to harm poor communities in the places where they are carried out, she told IPS. It is still not known what levels of transparency and social concern the bank will have, she said.

In the view of Chankrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, the NDB will alleviate India’s great needs for infrastructure, energy, long distance transport and ports. However, he does not expect it to make large investments in one key service for Indians: sanitation.

Having an Indian as the bank’s first president, as the five leaders have decided, will help attract more investments, but he said people’s access to water must remain a priority.

Cosenday said the NDB will promote “a new kind of development.”

But Chalapurath told IPS that this will only happen if its loans are made conditional on the adoption of low-polluting technologies and are guided by the Millennium Development Goals and their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as human rights and other best practices.

Adopting democratic processes within the bank will facilitate dialogue with social movements, parliaments and society in general, he said.

Incorporating environmental issues and gender parity is also essential, said Ugarteche and Rodriguez, who regards this as necessary in order to make progress towards “environmental justice.”

Not only roads and ports need to be built; even more important is the “social infrastructure” that includes sanitation, water, health and education, said Rodriguez, the coordinator of the REBRIP working group on International Economic Architecture.

Mobilising resistance to large projects that affect local populations in the places they are constructed will be part of the response to the probable priority placed by the NDB on financing physical infrastructure projects, she announced.

The social organisations gathered in Fortaleza, with representatives from Brazil, India, China, South Africa and other countries that are not members of the group, are preparing to coordinate actions to influence the way the bank and its policies are designed, and to monitor its operations and the actions of the BRICS group itself.

Brazilian economist Ademar Mineiro, also of REBRIP, said there was potential for national societies to influence the format and policies of the NDB, and time for them to organise and mobilise. “It is an unprecedented opportunity,” he told IPS.

Russia did not originally support the BRICS bank, preferring private funding. But Mineiro said its position changed after the United States and the European Union involved multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank in sanctions against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea, a part of Ukraine.

BRICS evolved “from the economic to the political,” with its members demanding more power in the international system. The alliance is one of the pillars of the Chinese strategy to conquer greater influence, including in the West, said Cui Shoujun, a professor at the School of International Studies of Renmin University in China.

“The BRICS need China more than the other way round,” he told IPS, adding that the Chinese economy is 20 times larger than South Africa’s and four times larger than those of India and Russia.

As well as seeking natural resources from other countries, among the reasons why China has joined and supports BRICS is strengthening the legitimacy in power of the Communist Party through internal stability and prosperity, the academic said.

(END)

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