Inter Press Service » South-South http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 06 May 2016 07:15:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144913 Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program of Action in Marrakech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beauty of the Paris agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

By Mario Osava
ASUNCION, Apr 16 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clothing factories also employ large numbers of women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

Roberto Azevêdo is WTO Director-General

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

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

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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

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

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

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

Kwesi Atta-Krah

Kwesi Atta-Krah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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Interoceanic Canal Bogged Down in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 23:58:54 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144534 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/interoceanic-canal-bogged-down-in-nicaragua/feed/ 1 Turning to Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/need-to-encourage-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-to-encourage-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/need-to-encourage-agriculture/#comments Fri, 08 Apr 2016 05:45:44 +0000 Moyiga Nduru http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144529 A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Moyiga Nduru
JUBA, South Sudan, Apr 8 2016 (IPS)

Facing an unprecedented economic crisis, South Sudan — the newest nation of the world — has urged its 12 million inhabitants to turn to agriculture instead of depending on declining oil revenues.

Before the fall of oil prices below $30 a barrel in the international market, oil-rich South Sudan used to import virtually all of its basic requirements from overseas.

Chicken came from Brazil. Tomatoes, onions, maize flour, cooking oil, dairy products and beans are still being imported from neighbouring Uganda. China and Dubai export a variety of goods such as soft drinks, smart phones as well as construction materials.

All of this is unsustainable and worries the government. South Sudan has ignored agriculture since it achieved its independence in July 2011. Up to 75 per cent of the country’s land area is suitable for farming.

“South Sudan has virgin land. Yet we import most of our food from neighbouring countries,” finance minister, David Deng Athorbei, complained during a meeting organised in the national capital Juba recently to address the deteriorating economic situation in the country.

Every year, South Sudan spends between US$200-300 million on food imports, according to estimates for 2013 provided by the Abidjan-based African Development Bank (AFDB).

“South Sudan currently imports as much as 50 per cent of its needs, including 40 per cent of its cereals from neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia”, according to AFDB.

During the first two years of independence, the country was producing nearly 245,000 barrels of crude oil per day, raking in billions of dollars in revenue annually. As a result, the elite saw no value in labour-intensive activity like farming.

That is now changing. A drop in the oil output, a decline in global oil prices and the devastating conflict in South Sudan, as well as an acute scarcity of hard currency have triggered shortages of goods in the market.

South Sudan, which currently produces 165,000 barrel of crude oil per day, depends on oil revenue for nearly 98 per cent of the total government budget.

“We must diversify. We should not depend on one commodity — oil. We have gold in Kapoeta (on the border with Kenya). We have cattle,” said Gabriel Alak, a senior official of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on a popular programme, Face the Nation, on the state-owned South Sudan Television recently.

Campaigners are now focusing on food production to mitigate the impact of a devastating conflict that erupted in Juba in December 2013. The violence spread quickly to oil-producing states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.

The fighting has left hundreds of thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

At the height of the oil boom, South Sudanese businesspeople had directed their energy toward trade, ignoring agriculture.

“The business of trade is over. We now need to embark on the business of production. We have to change our ways of doing business. Let’s start with agriculture,” Athorbei advised.

In April 2015, President Salva Kiir donated 1,000 tractors to farmers around the country. He also set up the country’s first food security council headed by himself.

“I am determined to end hunger and malnutrition in the Republic of South Sudan,” Kiir said during the launch of the tractors in Juba.

“We have vast fertile lands, abundant water and climate suitable for production of wide variety of food and cash crops but the country still faces enormous challenges which prevent it from realising its full potential,” he said.

“Experts estimate that up to 300,000 metric tonnes of fish could be harvested on a sustainable basis from its share at the River Nile swamps and tributaries,” Kiir disclosed.

South Sudan produces some food crops, but the food is rotting in the bush due to poor road network to transport the commodities to the market.

Athorbei said he would set aside some money in the financial year 2015/2016 to boost agriculture. He did not say how much he would allocate.

With South Sudan joining the East African Community (EAC) on 2 March 2016, Juba hopes to invite farmers across the region to till the country’s vast lands. “This will cut transport costs and reduce food prices,” vice-president James Wani Igga told a parliamentary caucus of the ruling SPLM in Juba on March 10, 2016.

EAC comprises Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and now South Sudan, with a combined population of more than 157 million.

As South Sudan works out plan to fix agriculture, prices have continued to spiral beyond the reach of the poor. The crisis has prompted parliament to urge government to reduce inflation to mitigate the sufferings of ordinary persons.

“There is urgent need to mobilise up to US $20 million for the importation of food commodities and medicines within a period of one month. The food commodities shall be sold through established consumer cooperative network,” the chairperson for the committee for economy, development and finance in parliament, Goc Makuach Mayol, said in a 14-page report on March 7, 2016.

The parliament has also called for a probe into a US$70 million, which was disbursed by an agency known as “financial auction” to commercial banks and forex bureaux with instructions by the central bank to allocate 50 per cent for importing food commodities, 30 per cent for industrial inputs and 20 per cent for school fees and medical treatment overseas.

The parliament did not indicate when the money was disbursed. But it has demanded for a record showing how the money was spent.

(End)

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OPINION: Ignore Standard Good Governance Prescriptions To Accelerate Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/opinion-ignore-standard-good-governance-prescriptions-to-accelerate-development-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-ignore-standard-good-governance-prescriptions-to-accelerate-development-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/opinion-ignore-standard-good-governance-prescriptions-to-accelerate-development-2/#comments Thu, 31 Mar 2016 12:09:13 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144423 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development. Anis Chowdhury held various senior positions in the United Nations Secretariat in New York and Bangkok.]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development. Anis Chowdhury held various senior positions in the United Nations Secretariat in New York and Bangkok.

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 31 2016 (IPS)

Many well-meaning people believe that “good governance” is key to inclusive development. But research claiming that “good governance” is essential for rapid growth suffers from serious methodological or conceptual limitations. Existing definitions are extremely broad, suffer from functionalist tautology, or mainly refer to corruption.

Defining Good Governance

Invoking a functionalist definition (such as ‘good governance’ is “good-for-economic-development”), one cannot define a country’s ‘quality of government’ without measuring its effects. As The Economist (June 4, 2005) noted, defining ‘good governance’ as “good-for-economic-development” may generate tautological explanations and meaningless policy implications: “What is required for growth? Good governance. And what counts as good governance? Whatever promotes growth. And what is required for growth?”

Attempts to define Quality of Governance (QoG) as multi-faceted also suffer from tautology: “What is required for the quality of life enjoyed by citizens? Quality of governance. What is quality of governance? That which promotes the quality of life. . . .”.

If good governance or “QoG is everything, then maybe it is nothing”. Those who have defined ‘good governance’ as what can be shown to be “good for economic development” illustrate this problem. Many important non-economic attributes of good governance, such as trust and subjective measures of well-being, are left out by such definitions.

Thus, ‘good governance’ cannot be defined precisely, and hence, cannot be meaningfully or usefully monitored. Of course, the dire conditions typically associated with failed states probably preclude most economic or social progress, and cause declining living standards. Even recent World Bank research has been sceptical about the World Bank’s own frequently cited World Governance Indicators (WGIs), observing “there is little if any evidence on the concept validity of the six WGI indexes”.

The WGIs do not take into account country-specific challenges and environments, which could be different, not only between developing and developed countries, but also among developing countries. They also suffer from the typical biases of perceptions-based subjective measures. There is also no historical evidence that limited government is better for development — a premise of the WGIs. The view that the existence of government failures implies that minimalist government is best for development has no factual basis.

Growth

Many countries that have performed well in terms of growth, structural transformation and equity, have fallen short on the most widely used “good governance” indicators. Also, not all good governance reforms are similarly feasible or beneficial, let alone necessary or desirable in all circumstances.

For example, the United States and the Republic of Korea did not improve governance significantly until they had become quite affluent. Contrary to the often exaggerated claims about how much ‘institutions matter’, greater transparency, accountability and participation are often a consequence, rather than a direct cause of faster development.

Instead, all the ostensible evidence actually links good governance indicators to income levels. Observing the absence of any strong evidence relating standard good governance criteria to growth, Dani Rodrik notes that “the incontrovertible long-run association between good governance and high incomes provides very little guidance for appropriate strategies to induce high growth”.

Poor countries suffer a multitude of constraints, and effective growth acceleration interventions must address the most binding growth bottlenecks. Thus, as a rule, broad good governance reforms are neither necessary nor sufficient for growth.

Corruption

The popular governance focus on corruption presumes that government policy discretion and interventions necessarily lead to corruption and abuse even though there is no factual basis for this presumption. Small governments are not synonymous with the absence of corruption while countries with very low levels of corruption have relatively large governments, as in Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

Also, defining good governance simply in terms of the absence of corruption is not very useful. While corruption is antithetical to good governance, good governance implies much more than merely the absence of corruption, clientelism, nepotism, cronyism, patronage, discrimination, and regulatory or policy capture.

If good governance indicators suffer from measurement problems, and if the causality from good governance to economic growth cannot be ascertained, is there any causal link between economic growth and corruption? This is relevant, as in practice, the good governance agenda often focuses mostly on anti-corruption measures.

Conceivably, corruption adversely affects development in many different ways, especially if it diverts resources that would otherwise be invested productively. However, the evidence does not show anti-corruption measures accelerating economic growth. Rather, while all corruption is damaging in some way, and is hence undesirable, some types of corruption are much more damaging than others.

Claiming to fight corruption in developing countries generally — by implementing a laundry list of desired governance reforms — seems laudable, impressive and deserving of support, but such efforts typically ignore more feasible and targeted policies that can improve economic performance.

Necessary?

The World Bank’s 1997 World Development Report advised developing countries to pay attention to 45 aspects of good governance. By 2002, the list had grown to 116 items. Countries wanting to improve their governance must undertake a great deal more as good governance advocates continue to extend their indicators lists. And the longer they wait, the more they will need to do!

Unfortunately, the long and lengthening agenda often means that a multitude of governance reforms need to be undertaken urgently, typically with little thought to their sequencing, interdependence, or relative contributions to reforming governments to be more efficient, effective and responsive, let alone to accelerate development and alleviate poverty.

Among the multitude of governance reforms deemed necessary, there is typically little guidance about what is considered essential and what is not, what should come first and what should follow, what can be achieved in the short term and what can only be achieved over the longer term, what is feasible and what is not.

The presumption that good governance accelerates growth, and hence, that comprehensive institutional reform is a pre-requisite for development continues to lose support. Large-scale institutional transformation of the type envisioned by the good governance agenda has never been a prerequisite for accelerating economic growth or poverty reduction.

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Need for an Urgent Revision to Bond Contracts and a Debt Workout Mechanismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/need-for-an-urgent-revision-to-bond-contracts-and-a-debt-workout-mechanism-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-for-an-urgent-revision-to-bond-contracts-and-a-debt-workout-mechanism-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/need-for-an-urgent-revision-to-bond-contracts-and-a-debt-workout-mechanism-2/#comments Sun, 27 Mar 2016 08:22:06 +0000 Yuefen Li http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144382 http://www.southcentre.int/category/publications/southviews/]]>

Yuefen Li is Special Advisor on Economics and Development Finance of the South Centre For more information see http://www.southcentre.int/category/publications/southviews/

By Yuefen Li
GENEVA, Mar 27 2016 (IPS)

Argentina signed an agreement in principle on 29 February 2016 with four “super holdout” hedge funds including NML Capital Ltd, Aurelius Capital, Davidson Kempner and Bracebridge Capital. Buenos Aires would pay them a total of about 4.65 billion dollars, amounting to 75 percent of the principal and interest of all their claims of Argentina’s bonds that were defaulted on during the 2001 debt crisis. This deal would allow the return of Argentina to the international capital market after more than 15 years of exclusion.

Yuefen Li

Yuefen Li

The payment is to be made in cash before 14 April 2016, provided that Argentina’s Congress approves the repeal of Argentina’s domestic laws, namely the Lock Law and the Sovereign Payment Law, which prohibit the country from proposing terms to the holdouts that are better than those Argentina offered to its creditors in earlier restructurings.

The reason to call the four hedge funds as “super holdouts” is because they are the largest, the most combative and the most tenacious holdout creditors. Argentina floated exchange bonds in 2005 and then again in 2010 after it defaulted during the 2001 debt crisis on its bonds that were valued at nearly 100 billion dollars. Ninety-three percent of the holders of Argentine restructured sovereign bonds accepted the exchange proposals at a considerable “haircut” (i.e. discount rate) of about 65%.ed bonds). The remaining 7% of the bond holders turned down the offers.

In 2003, NML Capital Ltd first sued Argentina for repayment of 100% of the face value of the bonds they hold. As a result of the suit, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa issued his pari passu ruling which prohibited Argentina from servicing its bonds before paying the holdouts. This led Argentina to default on its debt again in 2014.

To end the stalemate, the newly elected President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, made resolving the holdout dispute a priority and in February 2016 offered to pay 6.5 billion dollars to the group of six hedge fund holdouts. Two of the funds accepted the offer but not NML and three other funds which asked for better terms.

Yet the tactics and the business model the “super holdouts” used to get a windfall out the legal battle as well the legal precedence this case left behind may have potential negative systemic impact on future sovereign debt workout. How to mitigate the negative impact and make future debt workout timely and orderly?

Current efforts have concentrated on making it more difficult for holdouts to rush to the court room through strengthening current contract clauses. However, the financial incentives to be “super holdouts” are immense.
However, NML and other holdout hedge funds have done everything within the law. Purchase of sovereign bonds on the secondary market at discount rates may be legal, but one can say that the business model of specializing in purchasing hugely undervalued bonds for the purpose of resorting to litigation and other means to force the distressed governments to pay the full face value is not ethical because it is at the expense of the ordinary tax payers and the well being of a sovereign state. Additional, Judge Griesa’s pari passu injunction is a strong leverage for the holdouts against the bond issuer. This injunction may still be held as a precedence and be resorted to in the future-a bet for bond issuer to lose the case.

Three approaches may be of value to consider for the purpose of reducing the recurrences of the NML-style “super holdouts”.

One approach is to reduce incentives for holdouts. It is common business practice for goods and services bought at huge discount in retail stores or via internet to have clear stipulations that they are either not refundable or cannot be changed or returned. People take it for granted that it is a lawful and correct business practice. To buy things at Christmas sales and go back to the stores and request for refund of the full original price of the products would be considered as unethical. Why then is it so unlawful to reject the request of the “super holdout” to get paid 100% when the bonds were bought at a fraction of their face value? Because sovereign bond contracts never mention bonds bought at very deep discount at the secondary market would be treated differently at times of debt restructuring, the issuing State then gets bound to respect the bond contract and pay it at face value.

In the absence of a multilateral legal framework on sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, reducing incentives may be done through revising the contractual terms for the bonds. In the case when the bonds were bought at a steep discount, there could be a contractual clause to limit the margin of returns to minimize the likelihood of litigating for 100% repayment. Consideration could be given to add a clause to bond contracts to the effect that “in case of a debt restructuring, the bondholders would be paid back no higher than X% of the purchase price of the bond.” The percentage could be a range and take into consideration the past holdout cases together with haircut levels of historical debt restructuring incidences. The range or specific percentage should allow sufficient profit margin and avoid the possibility of moral hazard of strategic default. In this way, secondary market operations would not be disrupted and hopefully the incentives for super holdout could be diminished.

Other ways of reducing incentives for super holdout should be examined. For instance, the statutory penalty interest rates of some of the bonds Elliott Management holds are exorbitantly high.

According to the Wall Street Journal, these bonds would bring 10-15 times of return to Elliott Management. These kinds of arrangements give insane incentives to holdout bond holders.

Another way out is to explore whether it is really beneficial for the stability of the international financial market not to regulate hedge funds specialized in debt holdout. At a time of increased social responsibilities for the institutions of the real economy, more regulations in the banking sector and more specific codes of conduct for various business sectors, should there also be some regulations and codes of conduct with respect to these hedge funds?

Finally, there have been repeated international efforts to establish an international debt workout regime or legal framework to cope with systemic issues relating to the “too late and too little” phenomenon for debt restructurings as well as the holdout problem. The IMF tried in 2003. The United Nations General Assembly set up an Ad Hoc Committee mandated to create a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructurings in September 2014.

As one outcome, in 2015 the Committee formulated the ‘Basic Principles on Sovereign Debt Restructuring’ based on years of research and consensus building in UNCTAD. However, political resistance from the developed countries has made it difficult for the United Nations to push the work to a more inclusive and substantive phase. The Argentina case has proved once again the need of a debt workout mechanism.

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Food Insecurity in the Far Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/food-insecurity-in-the-far-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-insecurity-in-the-far-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/food-insecurity-in-the-far-north/#comments Fri, 18 Mar 2016 06:52:41 +0000 Mbom Sixtus Yaounde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144237 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/food-insecurity-in-the-far-north/feed/ 0 Improving Rural Livelihoods Boost Agrarian Economieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/improving-rural-livelihoods-boosts-agrarian-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=improving-rural-livelihoods-boosts-agrarian-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/improving-rural-livelihoods-boosts-agrarian-economies/#comments Wed, 16 Mar 2016 06:30:37 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144198 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/improving-rural-livelihoods-boosts-agrarian-economies/feed/ 0 Panama’s Expanded Canal Faces a Challenging Scenariohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/panamas-expanded-canal-faces-a-challenging-scenario/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-expanded-canal-faces-a-challenging-scenario http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/panamas-expanded-canal-faces-a-challenging-scenario/#comments Fri, 04 Mar 2016 16:44:21 +0000 Iralis Fragiel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144076 Two ships go through the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, which raise or lower vessels 16.5 metres and take 40 minutes to pass through. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

Two ships go through the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, which raise or lower vessels 16.5 metres and take 40 minutes to pass through. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

By Iralís Fragiel
PANAMA CITY, Mar 4 2016 (IPS)

When the new locks of the expanded Panama Canal begin operations, they will do so amidst numerous challenges, because of the storm clouds hanging over the global economy, especially China. But local authorities and experts are not worried about the possible impact on the expanded canal.

The slowdown in the Chinese economy, the second largest client of the Panama Canal, transporting 48.42 million tons in 2015, is one of the factors causing concern regarding this motor of the Panamanian economy, which last grew six percent, the highest rate in Latin America.

But the start of operations of the expanded canal, due in May or June, does not worry Luis Ferreira, spokesman for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), an autonomous government agency.“When there were economic problems in the past, we would lose basically two to three percent of the cargo; the same thing might happen this time, but we don’t expect a substantial decrease, unless there is an all-out recession in China.” – Luis Ferreira

“When there were economic problems in the past, we would lose basically two to three percent of the cargo; the same thing might happen this time, but we don’t expect a substantial decrease, unless there is an all-out recession in China,” he said in an interview with IPS.

In 2015, China’s GDP grew 6.9 percent, compared to 7.3 percent in 2014, confirming the slowdown after years of double-digit growth.

The expansion of the 80-km canal, which turned 100 years old in 2014 and which handles approximately five percent of global trade, involved an investment of 5.25 billion dollars. Work began on Sep. 3, 2007.

With this megaproject, carried out by Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the consortium led by Spanish construction firm Sacyr, Panama hopes to increase daily ship traffic from 35- 40 to 48-51.

The canal will also be able to accommodate larger vessels. Currently, it can only handle ships with a cargo capacity of up to 5,000 tons, but once the expansion is complete New Panamax vessels with a capacity of up to 13,000 tons will be able to go through the canal.

For Panama’s productive sectors, the expansion of the canal holds out the promise of economic growth.

The ACP’s team of experts in foreign trade told IPS that the weakening of the global economy in 2015 did not affect the canal, and that no impact is expected this year either.

“The volumes of raw materials heading for China for industrial use, such as coal and iron ore, are not significant (for the canal), since there are closer sources in Australia and Brazil, which do not use the waterway,” the ACP experts stated in their collective response to IPS.

Meanwhile, the volumes of grains, especially soy, grew at a strong pace in the last few years, due to the rising demand for food in China.

The experts also said the expansion “will open up new opportunities for trade flows of non-traditional products, such as liquefied natural gas, and will offer economies of scale that will make the Panama Canal route more attractive for segments such as container vessels and dry bulk cargo ships.”

The new locks in Cocolí, on the Pacific Ocean, have 16 rolling gates. Each chamber is 427 metres long by 55 metres wide and 18.3 metres deep. The expanded Panama Canal will be able to handle New Panamax vessels with a capacity of up to 13,000 tons, up from the current 5,000 ton limit. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

The new locks in Cocolí, on the Pacific Ocean, have 16 rolling gates. Each chamber is 427 metres long by 55 metres wide and 18.3 metres deep. The expanded Panama Canal will be able to handle New Panamax vessels with a capacity of up to 13,000 tons, up from the current 5,000 ton limit. Credit: Iralís Fragiel/IPS

Cargo tonnage by origin and destination has remained steady over the last three years, according to the ACP. The United States remains the largest client of the canal, with a total cargo of 160.78 million tons in 2015.

The cargo traded between the two leading clients reflects this stability. From China to the United States, 10.37 million tons were shipped through the canal in 2013, 10.96 million in 2014 and 10.91 million in 2015. And from the United States to China, 24.95 million tons were shipped in 2013, 30.77 million in 2014 and 30.20 million in 2015.

Given the economic outlook in China and changes in the energy sources used, the ACP is also getting ready for traffic of liquefied natural gas carriers.

“An incursion into new areas of business that reinforce the transportation and logistics industries is being evaluated, such as the case of the Corozal port and the creation of a logistics park that would complement the operations of the expanded canal,” the ACP experts said.

Canal revenue totaled 2.6 billion dollars in 2015, up from 2.5 billion in 2014, and equivalent to 5.61 percent of the country’s GDP.

Jordi Prat at the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) told IPS that Panama has “a positive economic outlook but not without risks.” And in the case of the canal, the United States, which it depends on most, “is growing at a relatively strong pace,” although the vulnerability could increase if the situation in China continues to go downhill.

Prat, the IDB’s principal regional economist for Central America, said the challenge faced by this country is keeping the growth rate between six and eight percent a year, and preventing a decline in maritime trade flows, fuelled by other sources of growth.

Prat pointed out that between 2000 and 2014, the sectors that grew the most in Panama were construction (37 percent), transportation and logistics (22 percent), finance (15 percent) and public services (12 percent).

Besides the economic variables, inclusion is key to development in this Central American nation of four million people, he said.

Panama managed to reduce the poverty level from 38.3 to 25.8 percent, between 2006 and 2014, said Prat. However, inequality is reflected by the fact that 86.9 percent of the population in autonomously governed indigenous “comarcas” or counties is poor.

The IDB economist said Panama should move towards “inclusive growth, by fomenting human capital, education, and access to health and basic services, in order to boost productivity, which has not increased significantly in recent times.”

Analyst Rodrigo Noriega concurs with Prat that Panama has to seriously focus on education, training and scientific research, to bolster development.

“That is where we are limping, in education, and in corruption – these are issues that in the long term definitely hurt the Panamanian economy,” said Noriega.

He said the economy may see growth slow down in 2016 and 2017, due to external factors and the impact of the drought caused by the El El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world.

“These external factors could be reducing Panama’s GDP by 2.0 to 2.5 percent a year. What I’m saying is GDP could be growing between 7.5 and 8.0 percent, instead of the current 5.0 to 5.5 percent,” he said.

But he stressed that a project such as the expansion of the canal is not something that is undertaken with a short-term view, but to address the needs of the country over the next 30 to 50 years.

“There will be two slow years, but that is actually a good thing for us because right now we have a water shortage problem. It’s best if the ship traffic isn’t so heavy, because we need to recover in terms of water supply and take baby steps to learn to handle the larger vessels,” said Noriega.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Malawi’s Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/malawis-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malawis-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/malawis-refugee-crisis/#comments Thu, 25 Feb 2016 07:24:47 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143985 Mozambican refugees living in despair in Malawi. Credit: MSF Malawi/IPS

Mozambican refugees living in despair in Malawi. Credit: MSF Malawi/IPS

By Charity Chimungu Phiri
BLANTYRE, Malawi, Feb 25 2016 (IPS)

Imagine fleeing from your home because you feel unprotected by the people who are required to do so by law. And when you get to where you feel safer, the very same people come to persuade your keepers to let you come back with them, claiming you are running away from nothing! Well, this is the situation some 5,800 Mozambican nationals have found themselves in. Hundreds of them, including unaccompanied children, have been fleeing from Tete Province, near the Malawi border, since late last year following renewed fighting between government forces and opposition Renamo fighters.

The province is said to be one of the strongholds of Renamo, and the people say they are running away because allegedly government forces have been attacking them for supporting Renamo. They have since fled to Kapise village in Mwanza district in Southern Malawi, 300 meters from the border. About two-thirds of the refugees are women and children mostly below five years old, as well as the elderly. The refugees, whose numbers continue to steadily rise every day, are living in desperate conditions at the camp scrambling for necessities with 150 local families there.

A statement from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says that refugees do not have enough water and sanitation facilities, have poor housing, and are at risk of diseases. They are also in fear of getting attacked by soldiers from their country. A two month-old baby died of diarrhoea at the camp last month. And last week alone, MSF, which set up a clinic at the camp, treated over 380 malaria cases. Even worse, the Malawi government is under pressure from Mozambique not to recognize the people as refugees, according to MSF.

The humanitarian organization states Mozambique sent several delegates to the camp to try and persuade the displaced people to come back, arguing that there was no conflict back home. However Mozambican media reports indicate that tensions have increased in recent weeks in Tete, Zambezia and Sofala provinces, with daily attacks and shootings.

MSF, which started its intervention there in November 2015, has since appealed to the Malawi government to move the people to a more spacious camp, 50 kilometers from Kapise, and also away from the border as required by international humanitarian standards.

The alternative location, Luwani, a former refugee camp, is said to be the best option for the displaced people as it has plenty of space, a school, medical centre and a better road. Furthermore, the move, according to MSF, would also allow humanitarian actors such as The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to plan appropriate services to meet the needs of the displaced community. At a recent press briefing in Blantyre, MSF’s head of mission to Malawi, Maury Gregoire, said they are treating about 159 people every day, with half diagnosed with malaria and the rest having respiratory infections and general body pain. He said the refugees only have 14 latrines whereas the respect of minimum humanitarian conditions requires that at least 20 people have one latrine or in worst case scenarios one latrine for 50 people. According to Gregoire, people have only two boreholes for both domestic and general use: “Each person has on average eight litres of water a day, barely enough to drink and cook and well below the minimum 15 to 20 litres are recommended as a humanitarian minimum in emergency settings.”

MSF has since warned that the strain by the refugees could cause tensions with Malawian families living in the village, especially on access to water. But Malawian authorities are not yet decided on whether to move the refugees or send them back home. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Beston Chisamile told The Nation newspaper on Thursday that they were still discussing the matter with Mozambican authorities. “Our friends in Mozambique want these people to go back home, so unless a decision is made between the two parties that they should remain in Malawi, then we can start thinking about moving them to a different place,” he said.

The UN’s Refugee Agency representative to Malawi, Monique Ekoko, recently appealed to donors and other humanitarian organisations for more funding to help the refugees. Malawi has hosted refugees from Mozambique before. The Luwani Camp hosted over one million Mozambican refugees who fled from their country’s 16 year civil war between 1977 and 1992. The country is currently facing a tough economic situation of high inflation and interest rates which has left many people struggling to survive. It is estimated that about 2.8 million Malawians themselves are in need of food aid following last season’s dry spell and floods. A report by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee says about K23 billion (about US$18 million) is needed to feed such people up to the next harvest.

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Groundwater Crisis Worsens Food Insecurityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/groundwater-crisis-worsens-food-insecurity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groundwater-crisis-worsens-food-insecurity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/groundwater-crisis-worsens-food-insecurity/#comments Tue, 23 Feb 2016 07:16:39 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143957 Not abundant anymore. Women queue at a borehole in Bulawayo as the country faces a groundwater crisis in the absence of rain.  Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

Not abundant anymore. Women queue at a borehole in Bulawayo as the country faces a groundwater crisis in the absence of rain. Credit: Ignatius Banda/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Feb 23 2016 (IPS)

Sijabuliso Nleya has been kept busy in the past few weeks digging up sand. He is not a sand poacher like scores of people who local district councils across the country say are digging along dry river beds for sand used in the construction of houses. “The situation is terrible,” said Nleya, who owns a plot in Douglasdale, a small farming community on the outskirts of Bulawayo.

Together with other men, he has been filling up dry wells and boreholes, as groundwater increasingly becomes an unforeseen casualty of climate change, thanks to the absence of rainfall for long periods across the country. “The dry wells have become dangerous when in the past they were a source of our livelihood. It’s better to fill them with sand than dream that they will provide us with water one day,” Nleya told IPS.

Underground water sources sustained farming activities here earlier with maize, tomatoes, cabbages and a range of vegetables, including paprika, being sold in the city. “Only a few boreholes now are functioning and we have watched our source of income evaporate,” he explained. Zimbabwe has always considered irrigation fed by groundwater as the bulwark against low rainfall, but the climate ministry says thousands of boreholes have dried up across the country, putting a further strain on the poorly funded agriculture sector that has long relied on the rains.

In Bulawayo, hundreds of community gardens that provide economic safety nets for low-income households use borehole water. Now, with thousands going dry across the country, authorities have raised concerns about the far-reaching implications not only for incomes but health, especially as HIV/AIDS patients rely on produce from these gardens for their nutritional requirements. According to the environment, water and climate minister Oppha Kashiri, more than 12,000 boreholes across the country have gone dry, in a country that is experiencing its worst drought in recent years. “Our water sources are drying up in all the seven catchment areas,” he told journalists on February 4.

President Robert Mugabe has declared drought as a national disaster as more than a quarter of the population face food shortages. Aid agencies report that up to 2.5 million people require food assistance.” The agriculture ministry says up to 90 per cent of the rain-fed maize crop planted last year has been a write off.

According to the Southern African Development Community’s groundwater and drought management programme, up to 70 per cent of the population in the region relies on groundwater, and in a 2015 assessment noted that climate change was exacerbating the groundwater crisis. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), a government department under the water ministry, says up to 70 per cent of the population resides in the rural areas where the primary sources of water are boreholes and wells. Scarcity is now forcing humans and livestock to share water sources.

More urban residents are using groundwater. Although the drilling of new boreholes is banned, the haphazard sinking of boreholes continues and is exhausting the water table. “It is vital to highlight that groundwater is a very finite resource which can easily run out if there is no balance between replenishing of groundwater stock and extraction,” warned this agency. “Due to increasing water shortage and the growing reliance of urban communities on borehole water, minimum groundwater utilisation standards have been disregarded and this has seen a prompt decline in the water table with boreholes in some suburbs dying,” the water authority added.

Measures to introduce taxes on groundwater users has failed to stem the widespread domestic use of borehole water as the capital city struggles to provide potable water from household faucets. The absence of rainfall only worsens groundwater management. Amidst the groundwater crisis, the Vice-President Emmerson Mnagagwa on February 10 launched a US$1.5 billion appeal for drought relief, with about US$350 million expected towards the rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure largely fed by boreholes. A countrywide assessment by the agriculture ministry says more than 16,000 cattle have died because of drought. In the past, farmers relied on groundwater to ensure the availability of pastures throughout the year. Not any more

However, Peter Makwanya, a climate change researcher at the Zimbabwe Open University believes the solution could lie in building more reservoirs to harvest rainwater as many part of the country experience flash floods where millions of litres go to waste: “there are quite a number of sustainable ways to save water through rainwater harvesting. Now that groundwater levels are getting depleted, it’s not favourable to encourage people to continue exploiting underground water,” he told IPS. According to him, “farmers can also re-use grey water (water that has been used before) and this can go a long way in achieving water security. This water can be used on a small-scale basis to achieve household sustainability.”

Nleya and millions of subsistence farmers, residents and villagers, who rely on groundwater, are the human face of the ravages of climate change. “We never thought water could actually disappear in the ground as we have always had functioning boreholes and wells, we hope we get rains soon,” he said.

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Argentina’s Ties with China: Pragmatism over Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentinas-ties-with-china-pragmatism-over-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-ties-with-china-pragmatism-over-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/argentinas-ties-with-china-pragmatism-over-politics/#comments Mon, 22 Feb 2016 21:53:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143951 An inter-urban railway car in Buenos Aires on a line that connects the Retiro neighbourhood with Tigre, in the north of Greater Buenos Aires. These Chinese-made cars are part of trade and investment accords reached by the two countries in the railway industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Model of one of the two dams under construction to harness the Santa Cruz river in the southern Argentine province of that name. The project is to cost five billion dollars, and 85 percent will be financed by China. It was granted to a consortium of Argentine and Chinese companies. Credit: Represas Patagonia

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 22 2016 (IPS)

Argentina’s new government is reviewing several major projects to be carried out jointly with China. But aside from a few changes in priorities, the administration is not expected to put the brakes on an alliance that Beijing classifies as strategic.

One of the campaign pledges of the conservative Mauricio Macri, who was sworn in as president on Dec. 10, was to revise or cancel agreements with China that he considered “lacking in transparency” or “secret”.

His centre-left predecessor, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), signed a set of laws in March 2015 that gave rise to a framework agreement with China on economic cooperation and investment, strengthening relations between the two countries.

In his campaign, Macri and his associates lashed out harshly at the agreements with China. But after the excitement of the elections was over, the new government changed its tune.

“We can’t deny China’s weight in the world. It is not in Argentina’s interest to break with China,” said the new foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, describing their ties as part of “a balanced relationship with the world.”

In December, in fact, Macri used a currency swap deal (the exchange of principal and interest in one currency for the same in another) in effect with China since 2014, in the first measure he took to shore up Argentina’s foreign reserves.

And as his ambassador to Beijing he chose Diego Guelar, a diplomat who is considered one of the promoters of the alliance between China and Argentina.

“International pacts must be respected…Some believe that if we fail to honour our agreements with China, it will be well looked upon, quote unquote, by the United States and Europe,” Guelar said in an interview with the newspaper Perfil.

“But it’s quite the opposite: he who fails to honour some, does the same with others; that is, a reliable Argentina, which lives up to its international commitments and is loyal to its foreign partners, is a key factor in the credibility that we have to develop to the utmost,” he stressed.

China’s ambassador in Buenos Aires, Yang Wanming, pointed out that his country is the third-largest investor in Argentina, and that in the last five years, investments and merger and acquisition operations in Argentina have totaled 8.3 billion dollars.

Allowing these projects to go ahead “will set a good example for substantial China-Argentina cooperation in the future,” he said.

Apparently, pragmatism appears to have once more taken precedence over political rhetoric.

An inter-urban railway car in Buenos Aires on a line that connects the Retiro neighbourhood with Tigre, in the north of Greater Buenos Aires. These Chinese-made cars are part of trade and investment accords reached by the two countries in the railway industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

An inter-urban railway car in Buenos Aires on a line that connects the Retiro neighbourhood with Tigre, in the north of Greater Buenos Aires. These Chinese-made cars are part of trade and investment accords reached by the two countries in the railway industry. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Relations with China largely explain the years of economic growth after the 2001 crisis. Chinese investment in Latin America has grown significantly since around 2009,” Argentine academic Gonzalo Paz told IPS.

“The announcement that the accords would be reviewed was both a consequence of the election campaign and of the need for a thorough study of all of the issues in the relationship, and in particular of the megaprojects that were agreed in the final stage of the previous government,” he said.

Paz, an expert in relations between East Asia and Latin America at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., believes Macri will try to expand ties with long-time partners like Italy and France, and get relations with the United States back on track.

“But a top global power like China must continue to be a key partner of Argentina,” he added.

In an interview with the Argentine-Chinese cultural magazine Dang Dai, Guelar announced that, in any case, he would review things that “were done badly or carelessly.”

“I believe the criticism of those projects will lead to changes, but not to a break in relations with China,” the director of Dang Dai, Néstor Restivo, co-author of the book “Everything you need to know about China” published by the Paidós publishing house, told IPS.

“In the future it will be essential to see what new areas of cooperation open up or what projects are developed. In other words it would be a serious mistake to only focus on the management of the projects that emerged in the previous stage, and to not have a proactive policy,” said Paz.

One of the most emblematic projects to be reviewed is the construction of the Néstor Kirchner-Jorge Cepernic Hydroelectric Complex in the province of Santa Cruz in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, for a total investment of five billion dollars, 85 percent of which is to be financed by China.

In 2013, the contract for the project was granted to the Patagonia Dams consortium headed by the Argentine companies Hidrocuyo and Electroingeniería and the Chinese firm Gezhboua Group.

The complex, which includes the construction of two dams on the Santa Cruz river, will generate 1,740 MW of electricity, which is to cover eight percent of demand in this energy-strapped country once it has been completed in 2020.

Another megaproject, agreed in November, involves the construction of two nuclear plants – the fourth and fifth in the country – with a total investment of some 15 billion dollars. More than half of the parts in the plants are to be produced domestically, and 85 percent of the financing will come from China.

The agreement includes technology transfer from China and the joint exploration of third country markets.

“I don’t think there will be any backtracking in relations with China,” and the same is true with the hydropower plant, which has already begun to be built and whose contract was assigned in an international tender, Restivo said.

“It’s the biggest construction project that China is currently involved in outside of China…if the new government believes some irregularity was committed, it will continue forward on another track, but it is virtually impossible to think of stopping the project,” he said.

With respect to the nuclear plants, Restivo thinks there may be changes, based on the new government’s strategic energy plan.

“But letters of intent have been signed, and it wouldn’t look good to backpedal in relations with China, although everything is negotiable,” said the economist.

“The Chinese would protest if they were left out of what has already been signed, but they are flexible or pragmatic enough to see how to eventually compensate for a lost business deal,” he said.

The project whose future Restivo has the greatest doubts about is the one signed in August 2015 by the two governments for the upgrade of the freight rail network that links 17 of Argentina’s 23 provinces and belongs to the public railroad company Belgrano Cargas y Logística.

The agreement involves a first tranche of financing from China of 2.4 billion dollars, and a second of 2.47 billion, and foresees the transport of Argentine and Brazil agricultural products to Chilean ports on the Pacific ocean.

One of the casualties of the new government’s wave of dismissals of public employees was the payroll of the company Fabricaciones Militares, which had been commissioned to build some 1,000 rail cars, with more than 80 percent nationally-made parts – a key component in the reconstruction of the local railway industry.

“It’s quite possible that now we won’t be able to count any more on the part that interests me the most – for agreements with China to industrialise Argentina and not only serve Chinese interests,” Restivo said.

Above and beyond these uncertainties, ambassador Yang Wanming hopes for more: “To promote a higher level in the strategic integral alliance” between Beijing and Buenos Aires.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Evolving Nature of China’s South-South Cooperationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/evolving-nature-of-chinas-south-south-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=evolving-nature-of-chinas-south-south-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/evolving-nature-of-chinas-south-south-cooperation/#comments Fri, 19 Feb 2016 05:57:15 +0000 Pratyush Sharma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143924 Participants at a recent workshop on South-South Cooperation in Xiamen, China.  Credit: Pratyush Sharma/IPS

Participants at a recent workshop on South-South Cooperation in Xiamen, China. Credit: Pratyush Sharma/IPS

By Pratyush Sharma
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2016 (IPS)

China’s strength in South-South Cooperation (SSC) lies in its carrying out big-ticket infrastructure projects in diverse developing countries. It is remarkable in terms of project scale, speed and cost-effectiveness and has been playing a positive role in promoting partner’s nation-building, economic development and social progress. However, the swift completion of China’s infrastructure projects also has its sets of problems like little or no paper-work leading to lack of transparency, oversight and post-project monitoring. The backlash against Chinese labourers employed by Chinese companies in developing countries has been routinely highlighted by the international media with allegations of skirmishes with the local population, corruption coupled with resource theft.

Another important feature is the government-to-government and demand-driven nature of China’s SSC. However, this too has resulted in claims that it dispenses its development projects in partner countries at the behest of political elites rather than the general population. China is conscious of these accusations. It has taken active steps to mend its image and intends to adopt a more inclusive approach for its SSC. These include seeking social appraisal of their infrastructure projects, elucidation of outcomes and not just its output. Chinese projects not only aspire to create local jobs (output) but are also mindful of the nature of jobs (outcome) projects create for local residents in partner countries.

Other outcomes may include gender parity and pay parity of the workforce till the time the management of projects is in Chinese hands. Also, they now pay more emphasis on capacity-building and ‘direct aid’ (scholarships and fellowships), are now more forthcoming in working along with civil society organisations (CSOs) and they now focus on soft resource development. China encourages its state-owned firms to conduct social and environmental impact assessments and shoulder more social responsibility to enhance transparent management. They are now more open to coordinate with international stake-holders for carrying its development work in the global South.

Two cases in point are the coordination of Chinese humanitarian workers with the teams of multilateral humanitarian organisations in the aftermath of Cyclone Komen in Myanmar in 2015 and coordinated efforts of Chinese restoration experts with their French and Japanese counterparts in restoration projects of Ankor temples in Cambodia. Equality and mutual respect are the core values – when providing assistance, China adheres to the principles of non-interference in the internal matters of its partner, non-conditionality (both economic and political) and respecting partner’s right to independently choose their own paths and models of development.

China provides assistance to the best of its ability to other developing countries within the framework of SSC to support and help, especially the least developed countries (LDCs) to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods. For instance, the TAZARA Project, rail link between Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi (near Lusaka) in Zambia was constructed by China on demand by the leaders of the respective countries through a turn-key project worth US $500 million. The project was deemed financially unviable by Western lenders when Julius Nyerere of Tanzania approached the West to help reduce Zambia’s economic dependence on Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa (then apartheid-ridden) through this railway line.

At the China-Africa Forum Summit 2015, China identified five major pillars for bilateral cooperation in 10 major areas. These include consolidating political mutual trust, striving for win-win economic cooperation, enhancing exchanges, learning from each other’s cultures, helping each other in security, and cementing unity and coordination on international affairs. While the 10 sectors identified for priority cooperation are wide-ranging, they include the areas of industrialisation, agricultural modernisation, infrastructure, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction, public health, people-to-people exchanges, and peace and security.

Chinese projects, especially in Africa and elsewhere, have been embroiled in different controversies and have attracted a bad press, internationally and locally. China has included justice, openness, inclusiveness and sustainability as new pillars and security and terrorism issues are the new sectors where China’s SSC is venturing for the first time. China, recently brokered reconciliatory talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban. Also, the proposed triangular development cooperation between China and France; and between China and UK for Africa’s development is a never-tried-before phenomenon and remains to be seen as to how it would pan out. This particular proposal was received with a lukewarm response from African leaders.

In this regard, the role of platforms like China Agricultural University’s China International Development Research Network assumes special significance as it tries to fill the knowledge gap by sharing knowledge on international development with outstanding individuals and institutions, both within China and abroad. It aspires to develop a knowledge pool on international development in China, to facilitate the exchange between China and the international development community. An Indian counterpart Forum for Indian Development Cooperation set up in 2013 has undertaken a similar inclusive stance.

China’s strengths in SSC include prioritisation to aid payment and delivery over transparency and post-project monitoring. Financing for infrastructure projects is primarily done by China Exim Bank, which also provides concessional loans for infrastructure building and supporting the trade of Chinese goods. The China Exim bank is increasingly making use of a deal structure – known as the “Angola mode” or “resources for infrastructure” – whereby repayment of the loan for infrastructure development is made in terms of natural resources (for example, oil). On average, Chinese loans are offered at an interest rate of 3.6 per cent with a grace period of 4 years and a maturity of 12 years. Overall, this represents a grant element of around 36 per cent, which qualifies as concessional loan according to official definitions. However, the variation around all of these parameters is considerable across countries. The interest rate varies from 0.25 per cent to 6 per cent, grace period from 2 to 10 years, maturities from 5 to 25 years and overall grant element from 10 to 70 per cent.

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Gulf migration at an inflexion pointhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/gulf-migration-at-an-inflexion-point/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gulf-migration-at-an-inflexion-point http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/gulf-migration-at-an-inflexion-point/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 06:39:50 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143879 By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Feb 15 2016 (IPS)

The steep fall in global oil prices has hit Gulf economies severely. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain are expected to run huge budget deficits as shrinking revenues from selling cheaper oil cannot fund their mounting expenditures. As they tighten their belts, the brunt of adjustment will be felt by migrants, who constitute the bulk of the labour force. Reforms include cutting fuel, power, water, education subsidies and a value-added tax (VAT). This will affect migrants and reports indicate family members are returning home.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

As oil prices are likely to remain depressed — as global markets “drown in oversupply”, to borrow an expression of the International Energy Agency — the Gulf economies are looking to a future beyond oil. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is looking to diversify into mining and subsidy reforms. In an interview to The Economist, Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and defence minister stated “there were unutilised assets: expanding religious tourism, like increasing the numbers of tourists and pilgrims to Mecca and Medina will give more value to state-owned lands in both cities”.

Other Gulf economies are thinking on similar lines. Among other options, UAE is investing big time into the India growth story. The crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayan made a three day- visit to India in February and inked many agreements including investing in the country’s infrastructure, energy and aviation. India intends to tap investments of nearly $75 billion from the sovereign wealth fund of this Gulf economy, besides intensifying greater cooperation on the security front.

However, the crash in oil prices is not the only challenge confronting the Gulf. At an IISS Bahrain Bay Forum meeting last November, Bahrain’s minister for industry, commerce and tourism, Zayed Al Zayani stated that economic disorder and lack of opportunity are contributing to instability in the region. He emphasised the need for “unprecedented” economic reform across the Gulf in the wake of the lower oil revenues. These policies include the generation of millions of jobs for the youth in these economies that continue to depend heavily on expatriate labour from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines.

All of this is not good news for expatriate workers in the Gulf. The steep increase in fuel and utility charges will hit their living standards. For instance, Qatar doubled these charges in September 2015. Saudi Arabia and Oman cut subsidies in December 2015. Saudi Arabia is thinking of a VAT by end-2016. In Bahrain, the expatriate workers also face the gradual loss of subsidies. These reforms in question also include replacing expatriate with local workers — Saudi Arabia, for instance, might soon start with the 10 million jobs being occupied by non-Saudi employees.

For such reasons, migration to the Gulf is at an inflexion point. In an earlier period, when oil prices were high and rising, these economies had booming revenues to build airports, highways and ports. Since the 1970s, those who constructed such infrastructure are the 16-odd million migrants from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. As this oil-financed construction boom is over, there is less need for unskilled expatriates. As noted earlier, the Gulf economies now have the compulsion to employ their own young and increasingly educated work force.

There is thus a troubling shadow over the sustainability of private transfers or remittances to South Asian economies. In Nepal, remittances from all sources constitute 30 per cent of GDP. The consequence of return migration thus is bound to be serious for the Himalayan kingdom’s external profile. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, remittances are equally important amounting to 9.4 per cent of GDP and 8.6 per cent of GDP respectively according to the World Bank. In India, the share is less at 3.4 per cent of GDP but the problem will be serious in states like Kerala that is the ground zero for Gulf emigration.

Research has established that remittances augment savings and investments of recipient households and help in poverty reduction. If such inflows reduce over the near-term, they would worsen these distributional outcomes. While remittances contribute to better economic performance, they are also a source of output shocks when they turn volatile – see a discussion paper on the effect of remittances for 24 Asia/ Pacific economies by Katsushi S Imai, Raghav Gaiha, Abdilahi Ali and Nidhi Kaicker for the Asia-Pacific Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

In this context, Kerala’s experience is relevant since it vitally depends on private transfers, which amount to one-thirds of its net state domestic product. The Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies (CDS) has been doing pioneering work on emigration and the impact of remittances on Kerala’s economy. CDS has, in fact, completed six large-scale surveys on migration — in 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014. These surveys point to a decreasing trend in emigration from Kerala, bulk of which is to the Gulf economies. The era of large scale emigration is over.

If more South Asian expatriates return home, there is bound to be an adverse impact on the labour market. The rate of joblessness would spike upwards. With questions as to how long the good times will last on the remittances front, there is bound to be an adverse impact on South Asian economies. With less remittances inflows, they would register higher current account deficits, which is the broadest measure of the trade imbalance in goods and services with the rest of the world. Lower remittances, in turn, would lower per capita income, all of which contribute to social tensions. The challenge for policy is to cope with such inflows becoming less important in the region.

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ACP countries unite on empowerment of rural women and youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/acp-countries-unite-on-empowerment-of-rural-women-and-youth-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acp-countries-unite-on-empowerment-of-rural-women-and-youth-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/acp-countries-unite-on-empowerment-of-rural-women-and-youth-2/#comments Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:49:07 +0000 Laurent Thomas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143877 Laurent Thomas is the Assistant Director-General, for Technical Cooperation and Programme Management at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. ]]>

Laurent Thomas is the Assistant Director-General, for Technical Cooperation and Programme Management at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome.

By Laurent Thomas
ROME, Feb 13 2016 (IPS)

Women make up, on average, over 40 percent of the agricultural labour force in the developing world and yet typically they do not have sufficient access to critical resources and services to become as productive as their male counterparts. In fact, across all regions, rural women and girls continue to face significant discrimination compared with men and boys, with women being more likely than men to hold poor quality jobs and benefit less from agricultural value chains.

Laurent Thomas - Credit: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Laurent Thomas – Credit: FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Young people today constitute a staggering 1.8 billion of the world’s population and the vast majority of them live in rural areas of less developed countries. They also face enormous challenges in accessing knowledge and skills; technology and land; market and business services.

To tackle the root causes of poverty and hunger we must address the inadequacy of employment conditions and generate opportunities for young people, in particular, for young women in rural areas.

What we have learned and is now well documented is that when women and youth are empowered to earn more and have equal access to resources and opportunities, they can invest more in the health and nutrition of their families, which in turn makes for healthier rural communities, and a virtuous cycle of economic growth and development in rural areas.

Climate change, environmental threats, population growth and migration are putting additional pressures on livelihoods in rural areas where poverty is already widespread and resilience stretched to its limits. Creating more and better employment opportunities for women and youth is therefore crucial for achieving food security and driving forward economic and social progress for all, leaving no one behind.

That is why delegates from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), together with experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) and the European Union (E.U.) as well as a wide range of development partners gathered this week in Brussels to discuss Integrated Rural Development solutions to Empower Women and Youth through Jobs and Entrepreneurship.
South-South Cooperation, as a cost effective means to accelerate progress through the replication of good practices is at the centre of the debates. South-South Cooperation as a complement to the much needed official development assistance (ODA) provided by more wealthy countries, is a cost effective instrument for delivering on the 2030 Agenda and its ambitious sustainable development goals. In a growing number of countries, South-South Cooperation is already demonstrating its efficiency in improving food and nutrition security, and bringing concrete and effective solutions to the challenges of youth unemployment and economic empowerment of women in rural areas.

Recent developments in South-South Cooperation indicate that countries such as Brazil, China, Mexico, Indonesia, or Morocco – among the most outstanding southern providers of expertise in food and agriculture, are already widely sharing their experience, knowledge and capacities with other developing countries. Developed countries such as Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom or Spain have also provided support, complementary resources and expertise to South-South Cooperation programs, in what is now commonly defined as “Triangular Cooperation”.

In Uganda, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and many other developing countries, the South-South Cooperation programme supported by China and facilitated by FAO, is driving change. The presence of experts and the introduction of new, low cost but very appropriate technologies in areas such as aquaculture, irrigation, crop production, livestock, aquaculture or agribusiness resulted in a large number of poor rural women and young people equipped with the skills and technologies they needed to increase their income and make a decent living from agriculture.

Over the past decade, Brazil has lifted millions of its citizens out of extreme poverty and hunger through a judicious mix of legislation, policies, social protection programmmes, the promotion of school feeding, as well as the targeted support to family farmers including through institutional procurement. The programme named “Fome Zero” (“Zero Hunger”) received widespread national acclaim . It remains an international model of achievement in the fight against hunger. Today Brazil, in partnership with FAO, is sharing its experience with many countries of Latin America, Carribean, Asia and Africa to help governments meet their commitment for a world free of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Another ongoing example of successful South-South Cooperation facilitated by the United Nations through a joint program aims to accelerate progress towards the economic empowerment of rural women with knowledge and good practices being shared between Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, the Niger and Rwanda. The programme’s top targets are to improve food and nutrition security, increase incomes to sustain livelihoods and create wealth, in addition to generating gender-responsive policy environments, through catalysing policy and legislative reforms.

The ACP represent a unique community with a huge potential for sharing development solutions amongst its members, with the potential to leverage European Development Funds (EDF) for this purpose in what could become one of the most innovative triangular partnerships for implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the spirit of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for development financing.

All countries and organizations gathered at the symposium are committed to developing an expanded South-South Cooperation vision for the ACP, to explore how it can mobilize its constituency and partners and to harness the potential of tried and tested solutions for women and youth available amongst its membership. FAO is a longstanding facilitator of South-South and Triangular Cooperation and stands ready to help to turn this vision into concrete actions and results to serve the ACP community and the European Union’s development objectives.

You can contact Laurent Thomas at: TC-ADG@fao.org

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