Inter Press Service » South-South http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 30 Aug 2016 19:56:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 UN Negotiations Focus on What Lies Beneath the High Seashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 01:12:15 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146719 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-negotiations-focus-on-what-lies-beneath-the-high-seas/feed/ 0 The Economic Partnership Agreement has never made much sense for Tanzaniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-economic-partnership-agreement-has-never-made-much-sense-for-tanzania/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-economic-partnership-agreement-has-never-made-much-sense-for-tanzania http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-economic-partnership-agreement-has-never-made-much-sense-for-tanzania/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 17:02:17 +0000 Benjamin W. Mkapa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146567

Benjamin William Mkapa is a former President of Tanzania and the Chair of the South Centre Board

By Benjamin W. Mkapa
GENEVA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

The EPA issue has once again re-emerged when, in early July, Tanzania informed East African Community( EAC) members and the European Union (EU) that it would not be able to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between European Union (EU)  and the six EAC member states.

The European Commission reportedly proposed signature of the EAC EPA in Nairobi, on the sidelines of the 14th session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIV).

Benjamin William Mkapa

Benjamin William Mkapa

This is a major quadrennial event where all United Nations member states negotiate guidance for UNCTAD. For the European Commission, it would have been a propitious place for a signature ceremony as it would have projected the EPA as a “trade and development” agreement to the benefit of EAC.

Nevertheless, the agreement is antithetical to Tanzania’s as well as the region’s trade and development prospects.

The EPA for Tanzania and the EAC never made sense. The maths just never added up. The costs for the country and the EAC region would have been higher than the benefits.

As a least developed country (LDC), Tanzania already enjoys the Everything but Arms (EBA) preference scheme provided by the European Union.

In other words, we can already export duty-free and quota-free to the EU market without providing the EU with similar market access terms. If we sign the EPA, we would still get the same duty-free access, but in return, we would have to open up our markets for EU exports.

The EPA is a free trade agreement. Under it, Tanzania would have to reduce to zero the tariffs on 90 per cent of all its industrial goods trade with the EU, according duty-free access for almost all the EU’s non-agricultural products into the country.

Such a high level of liberalisation vis-à-vis a very competitive partner is likely to put our existing local industries in jeopardy and discourage the development of new industries.

Research using trade data shows that Tanzania currently produces and exports on 983 tariff lines (at the HS 6 digit level.) The EU produces and exports on over 5,000 tariff lines. If the EPA were implemented, 335 of the 983 products we currently produce would be protected in the EPA’s “sensitive list,” but 648 tariff lines would be made duty-free.

So the existing industries on these 648 tariff lines would have to compete with EU’s imports without the protection of tariffs. Will these sectors survive the competition?

These 648 tariff lines include agricultural products (maize products, cotton seed oil cake); chemical products (urea, fertilisers); vehicle industry parts (tyres); medicaments; intermediate industrial products ( plastic packing material, steel, iron and aluminium articles, wires and cables); parts of machines and final industrial products (weighing machines, metal rolling mills, drilling machines, transformers, generating sets, prefabricated buildings etc); parts of machines (parts of gas turbines, parts of cranes, work-trucks, shovels, and other construction machinery, parts of machines for industrial preparation/ manufacturing of food, aircraft parts etc).

We can already export duty-free and quota-free to the EU market without providing the EU with similar market access terms. If we sign the EPA, we would still get the same duty-free access, but in return, we would have to open up our markets for EU exports
The list does not stop here. Liberalisation (zero tariffs) also applies to the many industrial sectors that Tanzania and the EAC do not yet have existing production/exports ­ about 3,102 tariff lines for Tanzania.

Statistics show that in fact, for the EAC region, the African market is the primary market for its manufactured exports. In contrast, 91% of its current trade with the EU is made up of primary commodity exports (agricultural products such as coffee, tea, spices, fruit and vegetables, fish, tobacco, hides and skins etc).

Only a minuscule 6% or about $200,000 of EAC exports to the EU is composed of manufactured goods.In contrast, of the total EAC exports to Africa, almost 50% is made up of manufactured exports – about $2.5 billion – according to 2013 ­ 2015 data. Of this, $1.5 billion are EAC country exports to other EAC countries.

These figures tell two stories: One; the importance of the African market for EAC’s aspirations to industrialise. In contrast, the EU market plays almost no role in this. Two the EAC internal market makes up 60% of EAC’s manufactured exports to Africa, i.e., the EAC regional market is extremely valuable in supporting EAC’s industrialisation efforts.

The EPA would threaten this regional industrialisation opportunity that is currently blossoming since most EU manufactured products would enter the EAC market dutyfree. Just as our manufactured products are not competitive in the EU market, even though they can be exported dutyfree, might it not be the case that when EU manufactured products can come duty-free into the EAC market, EAC manufactured products may also not sell? The EPA could in fact destroy our economic regional integration efforts.

The pains EAC has taken to build a regional market may instead help serve EU’s commercial interests by offering the EU one EAC market, rather than ensuring that that market can be accessed by our own producers.

The other area where EPA hits the heart of our industrialisation aspirations are its disciplines on export taxes. At the World Trade Organization, export taxes are completely legal.The logic of export taxes is to encourage producers to enter into value-added processing, hence encouraging diversification and the upgradation of production capacities. Developed countries themselves had used these policy tools when they were developing.

The EU has a raw materials initiative aimed at accessing non-agricultural raw materials found in other countries. According to the European Commission, ‘securing reliable and unhindered access to raw materials is important for the EU. In the EU, there are at least 30 million jobs depending on the availability of raw materials.’ In implementing this initiative, the EU has used trade agreements to discipline export taxes.

The EPA prohibits signatories from introducing new export taxes or increase existing ones. For Tanzania and the EAC region with its rich deposits of raw material, including tungsten, cobalt, tantalum etc; such disciplines in the long-run would be incongruent with our objective to industrialise and add value to our resources.

The other area of loss resulting from the EPA is tariff revenue, and the numbers are not small. Conservative estimates (assuming import growth of 0.9% year on year) show that for the EAC as a whole tariff revenue losses would amount to $251 million a year by the end of the EPA’s implementation period Cumulative tariff revenue losses would amount to USD 2.9 billion in the first 25 years of the EPA’s life.

For Tanzania, the losses based on 2013/­2014 import figures are about $71 million a year by year 25. Cumulatively, just for Tanzania, they come up to $700 million over the first 25 years.

Where is the Promised Development Aid?

EU has made many promises that the EPA would be accompanied by development assistance. Hence the EAC EPA incorporates a ‘Development Matrix’ containing a list of economic development projects for the EAC. The price tag of implementing this Development Matrix is $70 billion.

The Matrix and assistance is to be reviewed every 5 years. For the time-being, the EU has pledged to contribute a paltry $3.49 million, which translates into 0.005% of the total required funds!This is also a far cry from the tariff revenue losses the region faces ­the $251 million a year mentioned above.

The only area where the EPA is supposed to serve the interest of the EAC is by providing duty-free access to Kenya. As a non-LDC, Kenya does not have duty-free access via the EU’s EBA. Kenya’s main export item to the EU is flowers ­ just over $500,000 a year.

Without the EPA, Kenyan’s flowers would be charged a 10% customs duty. There are other Kenyan exports also ­vegetables, fruit, fish – that will face tariffs. However, the flower industry has thus far been the most vocal. Nevertheless, all in all, Kenyan exports to the EU market (including the UK) amounts to about $1.5 billion.

If no EPA is signed, the extra duties charged to Kenyan exports amounts to about $100 million a year. Is this worth signing an EPA for? — The avoidance of duties of $100 million? The tariff revenue losses as the EPA is implemented (and more tariff lines are liberalised) would be comparable.

This does not even include the tariff revenue losses of the other EAC LDCs, nor the challenges posed to domestic/ regional industries. In addition, the Brexit development is further reason for the region to pause and reconsider.

The UK is a major export market for Kenya, absorbing 28% of Kenya’s exports to the EU. This reduces the EPA’s supposed ‘benefits’ by a quarter for Kenya. There is a possible solution for Kenya ­ to apply for the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences Plus scheme (GSP+). Under this, almost all of Kenya’s current exports could enter EU duty-free including flowers and fish.

This option could be explored. Alternatively all EAC countries would do well to attempt to diversify production and exports away from primary commodities towards value-added products, and also to diversify our export destinations. Africa is a critical market for EAC’s manufactured goods. Regional integration and trade is the most promising avenue for EAC’s industrial development. The EPA would derail us from that promise.

This article was published firstly in Daily News of Tanzania

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Developing Nations Seek Tax Body to Curb Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/developing-nations-seek-tax-body-to-curb-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-seek-tax-body-to-curb-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/developing-nations-seek-tax-body-to-curb-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 10:04:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146440 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/developing-nations-seek-tax-body-to-curb-illicit-financial-flows/feed/ 0 UNCTAD’s Roles Reaffirmed, but Only after Significant Wranglinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/unctads-roles-reaffirmed-but-only-after-significant-wrangling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unctads-roles-reaffirmed-but-only-after-significant-wrangling http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/unctads-roles-reaffirmed-but-only-after-significant-wrangling/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 14:24:56 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146374 By Martin Khor
PENANG, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

The United Nations’ leading development organisation UNCTAD recently obtained a renewed mandate for its work, but not without difficulty.

This is because the developed countries are now much more reluctant to give concessions to the developing countries, thus showing up the present shaky state of North-South relations and of development cooperation.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The 14th session of the United Nation Conference on Trade and Development (dubbed UNCTAD 14) concluded in Nairobi on 22 July with an agreed declaration on global economic issues.

It also gave UNCTAD another four-year mandate for its activities of research, intergovernmental meetings, and technical assistance.

Reaching this consensus was hailed as a success in multilateral cooperation on trade, development, and related issues. However, an agreement was reached, on what should have been non-controversial issues, only after a lot of difficult wrangling between the developed and developing countries.

Formed in 1964, UNCTAD is the UN’s premier economic development organisation. In its hey- day from the 1960s to the 1980s, it was the world’s most important negotiating forum on trade issues, specialising in global commodity agreements.

It helped lead the developing countries’ initiative for a “new international economic order”. It was also designated the UN’s focal point for the integrated treatment of trade and development and with areas of finance, technology, and investment.

For over half a century, UNCTAD has championed the cause of developing countries. But in recent decades, under the influence of developed countries, its role was downgraded. Many of its important issues were passed on to other organisations over which the developed countries have more control, such as the OECD, World Trade Organisation, IMF and World Bank.

The developing countries have had to fight continuously to slow down or stop the decline of the UNCTAD and the UN in general.

At UNCTAD 14, the delegations spent hectic days and sleepless nights to thrash out hundreds of disputed paragraphs which could not be agreed on even after many months of negotiations in Geneva.

Principles or even phrases that have long been agreed to as part of global cooperation are now challenged or even made taboo by the developed countries.

They had previously been amenable to place on record the need to transfer technology and provide financial resources and special treatment to developing countries.

Now it is considered almost too sensitive to propose language on “additional financial resources”and “technology transfer”, while big battles have to be waged to reaffirm the long-accepted principles of “common but differentiated responsibility” and “special and differential treatment for developing countries.”

The developed countries have become less secure in their domination over the global economy and thus they are no longer willing to recognise many of the rights of and concessions to the developing countries that are embedded in the global development system.

It was thus a big challenge for the developing countries, led by their umbrella group, The G77, and China, to get their developed-country partners to reach a consensus at UNCTAD 14, as illustrated by the following examples.

First, the developing countries fought to re-affirm the need for countries to have “policy space”. This concept agreed to at an earlier UNCTAD conference, implies that developing countries should be given the right to make use of policies and instruments required for their development.

Many trade and investment agreements have been identified as containing provisions that restrict or even eliminate the ability of developing countries to pursue pro-development policies.

The developing countries proposed language on policy space in many parts of the document, but they faced resistance. Eventually only a mild and conditioned reference was accepted, as follows: “….and respecting each country’s policy space while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and its commitments.”(Para 3 of the Declaration).

Second, the developing countries wanted an expanded mandate for UNCTAD’s important work on external debt issues. UNCTAD has been the UN system’s main organisation on debt; it has championed debt relief for poor countries, and the need for an international debt restructuring mechanism to resolve debt crises.

Developing countries wanted to stress that UNCTAD has a role in the prevention and resolution of debt crises and not just debt management, but this faced objections. Further, language was introduced to narrow the scope of UNCTAD’s debt work to one of complementing the work of the IMF and World Bank, which would have curbed its independence.

At the last minute, developing countries managed to add “as appropriate”, implying that the “complementing” function would be used only at UNCTAD’s own discretion.

Third,the developing countries wanted to mention the need to rapidly conclude the Doha Round at the World Trade Organisation. This is hardly a radical idea since the need to conclude the Doha trade negotiations has been a longstanding mantra for many years in international discussions and many declarations on development.

However, the developed countries have recently decided to give up on the Doha Round altogether, to the frustration of developing countries. Thus, at their insistence, work on the Round was not even mentioned in the UNCTAD14 outcome.

Fourth, in many other fora, including the UN climate change convention, “technology transfer” has become a taboo phrase, and even its mention has been opposed, especially by the US.

It is to the credit of developing countries that this term appears several times in the UNCTAD 14 declaration, including that UNCTAD should assist developing countries to identify ways to operationalize technology transfer (Para 40f).

Fifth, the need for international cooperation on tax issues (including how to deal with tax evasion, tax avoidance and tax havens) has become a hot topic recently. Most developing countries have been excluded from the international discussions on these issues as they are mainly held at the OECD (the club of developed countries) of which they are not members.

They asked during the UNCTAD negotiations for the setting up a UN committee on tax issues at which all countries could discuss and make decisions, but this was not acceptable to the developed countries.

However the final document but does mention taxation a number of times, thus providing UNCTAD a mandate, though limited, in pursuing the issue.

There were other positive elements too at UNCTAD 14. The role of UNCTAD as the focal point in the UN system dealing in an integrated manner with trade and development and inter-related areas of finance, technology, and investment, was reaffirmed.

Also reaffirmed is the importance of UNCTAD’s “independent development oriented analytical work”. And the conference gave a fresh mandate for UNCTAD’swork in the next four years.

These reaffirmations of UNCTAD’s roles and mandates were hailed as a victory, for it was uncertain until the last hours whether an overall agreement could be reached on the Declaration.

This situation depicts the underlying conflicting positions, with the South desiring that UNCTAD expand its mission to champion the cause of development and the North attempting to restrict the role of UNCTAD to a bare minimum.

As UNCTAD 14 neared conclusion, UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi remarked: “I’m delighted that our 194 member states have been able to reach this consensus, giving a central role to UNCTAD in delivering the sustainable development goals.”

It is to the credit of the developing countries and the G77 and China, that they succeeded in having many of their main points, although in diluted form, included in the UNCTAD 14 outcome.

Although it may not have the same clout as during its high years some decades ago, UNCTAD lives on to fight another day.

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New Alliance to Shore Up Food Security Launched in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/new-alliance-to-shore-up-food-security-launched-in-africa/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2016 17:59:47 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146365 PAP officials attend the workshop for members of the Pan African Parliament and FAO to advance the Food and Nutrition Security Agenda. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

PAP officials attend the workshop for members of the Pan African Parliament and FAO to advance the Food and Nutrition Security Agenda. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

By Desmond Latham
CAPE TOWN, Aug 2 2016 (IPS)

As over 20 million sub-Saharan Africans face a shortage of food because of drought and development issues, representatives of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Pan African Parliament (PAP) met in Johannesburg to forge a new parliamentary alliance focusing on food and nutritional security.

Monday’s meeting here came after years of planning that began on the sidelines of the Second International Conference on Nutrition organised by the FAO in late 2014.“The first port of call when there are food security issues is normally the parliament. We should be at the forefront of moving towards what is known as Zero Hunger." -- Dr. Bernadette Lahai

Speaking at the end of the day-long workshop held at the offices of the PAP, its fourth vice president was upbeat about the programme and what she called the “positive energy” shown by attendees.

“We have about 53 countries here in the PAP and the alliance is going to be big,” said Dr. Bernadette Lahai. “At a continental level, once we have launched the alliance formally, we’ll encourage regional parliaments so the whole of Africa will really come together.”

“This will be a very big voice,” she said on the sidelines of the workshop.

FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, said her role was to ensure that parliamentarians take up food security as a central theme.

“The reason why we’re doing this is because based on the evidence that we have in the FAO, is that once you have the laws and policies on food and nutrition security in place there is a positive correlation with the improvement of the indicators of both food and security of nutrition,” she told IPS.

“Last year we facilitated the attendance of seven African parliamentarians to a Latin American and Caribbean meeting in Lima, and these seven requested us to have an interaction with parliamentarians of Africa,” she said.

A small team of officials representing Latin America and the Caribbean had traveled to Johannesburg to provide some details of their own experience working alongside the FAO in an alliance which had focused on providing food security to the hungry in South America and the island nations of the Caribbean.

These included Maria Augusta Calle of Ecuador, who told the 20-odd PAP representatives that in her experience working alongside officials from the FAO had helped eradicate hunger in much of the region.

From left to right: FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, Maria Augusta Calle, and PAP Vice-President Dr Bernadette Lahai. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

From left to right: FAO Rome Special Co-ordinator for parliamentary alliances, Caroline Rodrigues Birkett, Maria Augusta Calle, and PAP Vice-President Dr Bernadette Lahai. Credit: Desmond Latham/IPS

Caribbean representative Caesar Saboto of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was also forthright about the opportunities that existed in the developing world to deal with hunger alleviation.

“It’s the first time that I’m traveling to Africa,” he said, “and it’s not for a vacation. It’s for a very important reason. I do not want to go back to the Caribbean and I’m certain that Maria Augusta Calle does not want to go back only to say that we came to give a speech.”

Saboto delivered a short presentation where he outlined how a similar programme to the foundation envisaged by those attending the workshop had drastically reduced hunger in his country.

“In 1995, 20 percent of my country of 110,000 people were undernourished,” he said. “Over 22,000 were food vulnerable. But do you know what? Working with communities and within governments we managed to drive down that number to 5,000 in 2012 or 4.9 percent of the population. And I’m pleased to announce here for the first time, that in 2016 we are looking at a number of 3,500 or 3.2 percent,” he said to applause from the delegates.

PAP members present included representatives of sectors such as agriculture, gender, transport and justice as well as health. Questions from the floor included how well a small island nation’s processes could be used in addressing the needs of vastly larger regions in Africa.

“Any number can be divided,” said Saboto. “First you have to start off with the political will, both government and opposition must buy into the idea. If you have 20 million people you could divide them into workable groups and assign structures for management accountability and transparency,” he said.

African delegates queried the processes which the Latin American nations have used to set up structures in particular.  Dr. Lahai wanted the Latin American delegates to assist the African parliament in planning the foundation.

“Food security is not only a political issue but a developmental issue,” she told IPS in an interview.

“The first port of call when there are food security issues is normally the parliament. We should be at the forefront of moving towards what is known as Zero Hunger,” she said.

But major challenges remain. After a meeting in October last year, the FAO had contracted the PAP with a view to targeting hunger in a new alliance. The PAP is a loose grouping of African nations and members pointed out that they were unable to get nation states to support an initiative without a high-level buy in of their political leadership.

Dr. Lahai was adamant that the workshop should begin addressing issues of structure. She stressed that co-ordination between the PAP, various countries and other groupings such as Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) and SADC (Southern African Development Community) should be considered.

“We need a proper framework,” she said. “It’s important to engage our leaderships in this process. With that in mind, I would suggest that we learn a great deal from our visitors who’ve had a positive experience in tackling nutrition issues in Latin America.”

In an earlier presentation, FAO representative for South Africa Lewis Hove had warned that a lack of access to food and nutrition had created a situation where children whose growth had been stunted by this reality actually were in the most danger of becoming obese later in life. The seeming contradiction was borne out by statistics presented to the group showing low and middle income countries could see their benefit cost ratio climb to 16-1.

Africa’s Nutritional Scorecard published by NEPAD in late 2015 shows that around 58 million children in sub-Saharan regions under the age of five are too short for their age. A further 163 million women and children are anaemic because of a lack of nutrition.

The day ended with an appeal for further training and facilitation to be enabled by the FAO and PAP leadership. With that in mind, the upcoming meeting of Latin American and Caribbean states in Mexico was set as an initial deadline to begin the process of creating a new secretariat. It was hoped that this would prompt those involved in the PAP to push the process forward and it was agreed that a new Secretariat would be instituted to be headquartered at the PAP in South Africa.

Dr Lahai said delegates would now prepare a technical report which would then be signed off at the next round of the PAP set for Egypt later this year.

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Q&A: Representing Developing Countries at the United Nations in New Yorkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/qa-representing-developing-countries-at-the-united-nations-in-new-york/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-representing-developing-countries-at-the-united-nations-in-new-york http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/qa-representing-developing-countries-at-the-united-nations-in-new-york/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 07:11:58 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146328 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Virachai Plasai, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United Nations and Chair of the Group of 77.  Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Virachai Plasai, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United Nations and Chair of the Group of 77. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By an IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 1 2016 (IPS)

IPS spoke with the Virachai Plasai, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to the United Nations and Chair of the Group of 77 about what it’s like to represent 134 developing countries, including China, at UN meetings in New York. Plasai spoke about some of the group’s priorities for 2016, including the selection of the ninth UN Secretary-General, the 2030 Development Agenda, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

IPS: The UN is currently selecting a Secretary-General for 2017 and G77 members have had the opportunity to question most of the candidates. Has this process been beneficial to G77 members? Do you think that this new, more open selection process will help ensure that the next Secretary-General will be somebody who understands the interests of developing countries?

Ambassador Plasai: The selection and appointment of the Secretary-General this year benefits from efforts to bring greater transparency and openness to the process, which G77 wholeheartedly support.

Of particular importance is the informal dialogues with candidates organised by the President of the General Assembly as mandated by the General Assembly. The Chair of G77 and several G77 members took part actively in these informal dialogues by posing questions on issues of interest to developing countries to the candidates. In addition, the Group have positively responded to the request from the candidates who wished to present their vision as Secretary-General to the Group and interact with the Group members.

These exercises have brought issues of concern for G77 members to the attention of the candidates. We can thus reasonably expect that the successful candidate will be well aware of the issues of concern for developing countries.

IPS: How would you describe the role of the G77 at the UN in ensuring early implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?

Plasai: The G77 have been committed to and have contributed constructively in ensuring early implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Group has called for a sincere and effective follow up on global commitments of all actors, particularly developed countries. We believe that the United Nations has a critical role to play in urging national leaders and actors to follow up on their commitments, especially in the Financing for Development Forum and the High Level Political Forum (HLPF).

In this regard, the Group called for an intergovernmental process to discuss the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda in the form of a General Assembly resolution. The Group advocates for the following points in such a process:

All 17 goals are integrated and indivisible, ambitious and evolving. The review should be systematic, and promotes a holistic understanding of the significant interlinkages across the goals and targets.

All inputs and reports, including from functional commissions, should be fed into the HLPF.

It is up to each Member State to decide how to present the voluntary national review at the HLPF. It is important not to overburden countries, especially those with limited capacities and resources.

The follow-up and review at the regional level and sub-regional levels can, as appropriate, provide opportunities for peer learning, sharing of best practices and discussions on shared targets. It is important to build on existing mechanisms.

It is important to reinforce the existing modalities of Groups of countries in special situations, including the most vulnerable ones, in particular LDCs, LLDCs, SIDS and African countries. Particular challenges facing the middle-income countries in achieving SDGs should also be recognized and supported by the international community. Moreover, we must not leave peoples and countries under foreign occupation behind.

The UN system must support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda by ensuring coherent and integrated support of the system-wide strategic planning implementation and reporting.

The Secretariat must support member states in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and must not work in silos.

IPS: The high-level signature ceremony for the Paris Agreement took place in New York on 22 April 2016 – what were some of the highlights of the day for the G77?

Plasai: The Group highlighted the following key points:

First, the Agreement is a result of the collective and tireless efforts of all parties working constructively in a spirit of compromise. It represents a step forward in our efforts on climate change.

Second, we must not forget the urgent need to enhance pre-2020 ambition, including the ratification of the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which will provide a strong basis for post-2020 efforts under the Paris Agreement. We also need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with the target to holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. We should also make efforts to limit this temperature increase to 1.5º C.

Third, the focus now should both be on the entry into force of the Paris Agreement and on delivering the major tasks to enhance pre-2020 implementation. This includes action on adaptation which is an urgent priority for developing countries. Financing for adaptation is critical; and securing the continued role of the Adaptation Fund pre 2020 and beyond 2020 is welcomed and should be enhanced.

Fourth, on mitigation, developed countries should continue taking the lead by undertaking and increasing economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets for their pledges and nationally determined contributions (NDCs). For developing countries, capacity-building support for climate action is critical. This support should be based on and responsive to national needs and country ownership. The process of capacity-building must be participatory, country-driven, and cross-cutting. Enhanced financial and technological support from developed countries will allow effective implementation and enhance ambition of developing countries.

Fifth, transformation of our economies to low carbon development pathways requires adequate, predictable and sustainable climate financing. Means of implementation is a key pillar for the implementation of the Agreement. We welcome the approval of the first projects by the Green Climate Fund. We envision that a substantive decision on increasing climate finance will be an important outcome of COP 22 in Morocco.

IPS: What are the challenges and opportunities for the Group of 77 with regard to the global indicator framework for the 2030 Agenda?

Plasai: The challenge is that the development of the global indicators is a technical process which should continue to be led by the national Statistical Offices. At the same time, it has political implications. We believe that the political balance and ambition of the 2030 Agenda should be preserved without reinterpreting the scope or intent of the targets. The tricky part is that our national Statistical Offices need to understand the inherent political sensitivity of the SDG negotiations.

In this regard, we need to avoid undue haste to prematurely conclude the work of the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goals Indicators (IAEG-SDGs). The adoption of the Report of the IAEG-SDGs by the Statistical Commission in March is just a starting point of the work on the global indicators. Further methodological work will be required with a view to continuously improving the indicators and the availability of data to address their shortcomings.

The opportunity lies in our insistence for a coordinated effort in the United Nations System to enhance statistical capacity in developing countries. Capacity-building is needed to strengthen statistical capacities at national and sub-national levels.

IPS: Achieving the SDGs will require a rethinking of how public and private funds are spent. In 2015, G77 countries called for global tax cooperation as one way to help governments in developing countries to increase their budgets. Is establishing a global tax cooperation body still a priority for the G77 countries? How will tax cooperation help developing countries to fund the SDGs?

G77 have continuously urged an upgrade of the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters to an inter-governmental subsidiary body.

We believe that such a global tax body can contribute to a coherent global tax system, less double taxation and double-non-taxation, stronger implementation, fair and consistent global action against tax havens, and more financing for development in the poorest countries.

Besides, such a global tax cooperation body will also allow all Member States to take part in and make decisions on tax matters, on a truly equal footing, and in a more accountable and transparent manner. This is all the more important in light of the recent high-profile international tax evasion cases.

It can be expected that such a global tax cooperation body can result in more effective tax policy and a more efficient domestic tax collection. At the same time, unfair international tax distortion and tax evasion can be reduced. More effective mobilization of domestic resources undoubtedly benefits the implementation of SDGs, and thus should be part of national sustainable development strategies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In addition to consultations with the General Assembly as a whole, candidates for Secretary-General had separate consultations with the 134 members of the Group of 77, as well as with the regional groups, which Lykketoft described as a “very useful” addition to the selection process.

He noted that members of the Group of 77, which represents 134 developing countries at the United Nations including China, see development issues and climate change as priorities.

This was reflected in questions posed to the 12 candidates for the role of Secretary-General on behalf of the Group during the informal hearings in the General Assembly. Each of the 12 candidates also held closed hearings with the 134 members of the Group of 77 at the UN on 13 and 14 July 2016.

The Presidency of the General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Candidates

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

According to leaked reports, Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and former head of the UN High Commission for Refugees, topped the first straw poll, with Danilo Turk, former President of Slovenia, placing second and Irina Bokova, of Bulgaria who is currently Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) placed third. Other candidates which received “encourages” from 8 or more members of the SC include Srgjan Kerim, of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Vuk Jeremić of the Republic of Serbia and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of  New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Programme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of the G77

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger.”

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

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

Leaving No One Behind

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Agreement Needs Implementation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jul 7 2016 (IPS)

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

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joaquín Roy

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Jun 27 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recently concerns were raised in Washington over the Brexit referendum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Valerie Dee

 

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

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre.

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Jun 21 2016 (IPS)

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

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

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

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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

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

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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