Inter Press Service » Regional Alliances http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:36:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 U.S. Blasted on Failure to Ratify IMF Reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:31:45 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133620 While Republicans complain relentlessly about U.S. President Barack Obama’s alleged failure to exert global leadership on geo-political issues like Syria and Ukraine, they are clearly undermining Washington’s leadership of the world economy. That conclusion became inescapable here during this week’s in-gathering of the world’s finance ministers and central bankers at the annual spring meeting here […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

While Republicans complain relentlessly about U.S. President Barack Obama’s alleged failure to exert global leadership on geo-political issues like Syria and Ukraine, they are clearly undermining Washington’s leadership of the world economy.

That conclusion became inescapable here during this week’s in-gathering of the world’s finance ministers and central bankers at the annual spring meeting here of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.The delays are clearly damaging Washington’s global economic and geo-political agenda: persuading other G20 countries to adopt expansionary policies and punish Moscow for its moves against Ukraine.

In the various caucuses which they attended before the formal meeting began Friday, they made clear that they were quickly running out of patience with Congress’s – specifically, the Republican-led House of Representatives – refusal to ratify a 2010 agreement by the Group of 20 (G20) to modestly democratise the IMF and expand its lending resources.

“The implementation of the 2010 reforms remains our highest priority, and we urge the U.S. to ratify these reforms at the earliest opportunity,” exhorted the G20, which represent the world’s biggest economies, in an eight-point communiqué issued here Friday.

“If the 2010 reforms are not ratified by year-end, we will call on the IMF to build on its existing work and develop options for next steps…” the statement asserted in what observers here called an unprecedented warning against the Bretton Woods agencies’ most powerful shareholder.

The message was echoed by the Group of 24 (G24) caucus, which represents developing countries, although, unlike the G20, its communique didn’t mention the U.S. by name.

“We are deeply disappointed that the IMF quota and governance reforms agreed to in 2010 have not yet come into effect due to non-ratification by its major shareholder,” the G24 said.

“This represents a significant impediment to the credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness of the Fund and inhibits the ability to undertake further, necessary reforms and meet forward-looking commitments.”

The reform package, the culmination of a process that began under Obama’s notoriously unilateralist Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, would double contributions to the IMF’s general fund to 733 billion dollars and re-allocate quotas – which determine member-states’ voting power and how much they can borrow – in a way that better reflects the relative size of emerging markets in the global economy.

In addition to enhancing the IMF’s lending resources, the main result of the pending changes would increase the quotas of China, Brazil, Russia, India, and Turkey, for example, at the expense of European members whose collective representation on the Fund’s board is far greater than the relative size of their economies.

Spain, for instance, currently has voting shares similar in size to Brazil’s, despite the fact that the Spanish economy is less than two-thirds the size of Brazil’s. And of the 24 seats on the IMF’s executive board, eight to ten of them are occupied by European governments at any one time.

The reforms would only change the status quo only modestly. While the European Union (EU) members currently hold a 30.2 percent quota collectively, that would be reduced only to 28.5 percent. The biggest gains would be made by the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) – from 11 percent to 14.1 percent — although almost all of the increase would go to Beijing.

Washington’s quota would be marginally reduced – from 16.7 percent to 16.5 percent, preserving its veto power over major institutional changes (which require 85 percent of all quotas). Low-income countries’ share would remain the same at a mere 7.5 percent collectively, although their hope – shared by civil-society groups, such as Jubilee USA and the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition — is that this reform will make future changes in their favour easier.

Thus far, 144 of the IMF’s 188 member-states, including Britain, France, and Germany and other European countries that stand to lose voting share, have ratified the package. But, without the 16.7 percent U.S. quota, the reforms can’t take effect.

The Obama administration has been criticised for not pressing Congress for ratification with sufficient urgency. But, realising that its allies’ patience was running thin, it pushed hard last month to attach the reform package to legislation providing a one-billion-dollar bilateral aid package for Ukraine during the crisis with Russia over Crimea.

While the Democratic-led Senate approved the attachment, the House Republican leadership rejected it, despite the fact that Kiev would have been able to increase its borrowing from the IMF by about 50 percent under the pending reforms.

House Republicans – who, under the Tea Party’s influence, have moved ever-rightwards and become more unilateralist on foreign policy since the Bush administration – have shown great distrust for multilateral institutions of any kind.

Both the far-right Heritage Foundation and the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal have railed against the reforms, arguing variously that they could cost the U.S. taxpayer anywhere from one billion dollars to far more if IMF clients default on loans, and that the changes would reduce Washington’s ability to veto specific loans.

They say the IMF’s standard advice to its borrowers to raise taxes and devalue their currency is counter-productive and could become worse given the Fund’s new emphasis on reducing income inequalities; and that, according to the Journal, the reforms “will increase the clout of countries with different economic and geo-political interests than America’s.”

Encouraged by, among others, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their Wall Street contributors, some House Republicans have indicated they could support the reforms. But thus far they have insisted that they would only do so in exchange for Obama’s easing new regulations restricting political activities by tax-exempt right-wing groups.

Meanwhile, however, the delays are clearly damaging Washington’s global economic and geo-political agenda – persuading other G20 countries to adopt expansionary policies and punish Moscow for its moves against Ukraine – during the meetings here.

“The proposed IMF reforms are a no-brainer,” according to Molly Elgin-Cossart, a senior fellow for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. “They modernise the IMF and restore American leadership on the global stage at a time when the world desperately needs it, without additional cost for American taxpayers.”

Further delay, especially now that the G20 appear to have set a deadline, could in fact reduce Washington’s influence.

While she stressed she was not prepared to give up on Congress, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told reporters Thursday the Fund may soon have to resort to a “Plan B” to implement the reforms without Washington’s consent.

While she did not provide details of what are now backroom discussions, two highly respected former senior U.S. Treasury secretaries suggested in a letter published Thursday by the Financial Times that “the Fund should move ahead without the U.S. …by raising funds from others while depriving the U.S. of some or all of its longstanding power to block major Fund actions.”

C. Fred Bergsten and Edwin Truman, who served under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively, suggested that the IMF could make permanent an initiative to arrange temporary bilateral credit lines of nearly 500 billion dollars from 38 countries who could decide on their disposition without the U.S.

More radically, they wrote, the Fund could increase total country quota subscriptions that would remove Washington’s veto power over institutional changes.

“The U.S. deserves to lose influence if it continues to fail to lead,” the two former officials wrote.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Russia Expelled From G8, but G20? Not So Fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russia-expelled-g8-g20-fast/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 21:42:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133357 When Western powers, led by the United States, decided to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations, it was aimed at punishing and “isolating” President Vladimir Putin for his intervention in Ukraine and “annexation” of Crimea. “What’s next? Expel Russia from the United Nations and the G20?” an Asian diplomat jokingly […]

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Russian President Vladimir Putin awaits leaders arriving for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on Sep. 5, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Russian President Vladimir Putin awaits leaders arriving for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on Sep. 5, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

When Western powers, led by the United States, decided to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 (G8) industrial nations, it was aimed at punishing and “isolating” President Vladimir Putin for his intervention in Ukraine and “annexation” of Crimea.

“What’s next? Expel Russia from the United Nations and the G20?” an Asian diplomat jokingly asked one of his colleagues at the U.N. delegate’s lounge last week, hinting at what could only be construed as a Western political fantasy.The procedure the G7 followed to transform itself to G8 in 1998 (with the inclusion of Russia) was as opaque as the process that led to Moscow’s virtual expulsion.

The G8 move was pretty tame because it was a decision taken by seven Western industrial nations: the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and Japan, along with the European Union.

But Russia is also a member of the G20, a coalition of both developed and developing countries, as well as the economic powerhouse called BRICS (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Australia has reportedly warned that Russia may be excluded from the next G20 summit meeting in Brisbane in November. But that is more easily said than done.

On the sidelines of last week’s Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, the foreign ministers of BRICS warned Australia against any such action.

In a statement released during the summit, the foreign ministers of BRICS said “the custodianship of the G20 belongs to all member states equally and no one member state can unilaterally determine its nature and character.”

The G20 members include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and the European Union (EU).

At a General Assembly vote last Friday, on a resolution implicitly critical of Russia on the upheaval in Ukraine, Russia’s four BRICS partners abstained, joining 54 others.

The final vote was 100 for the resolution, 11 against, but with 58 abstentions in an Assembly with 193 votes.

Chakravarthi Raghavan, editor-emeritus of the Geneva-based South-North Development Monitor, told IPS, “The G7/G8 and the G20 are at best self-appointed informal gatherings, without any legitimacy, mere costly annual exercises, where occasionally side-event meetings are of some help.”

He pointed out that the G7/G8 originally came into being in the wake of the oil crisis to tackle economic issues and promote a dialogue of the G5/G7 with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to promote agreements and avoid confrontations.

Soon, it became clear the G7 process was not effective, and the initial aim of informal but frank and spontaneous exchange of views among the leaders failed.

“Their own bureaucracies and ministries in governments did not want this process to move forward,” said Raghavan, a veteran journalist and a former editor-in-chief of Press Trust of India (PTI) who has covered the United Nations, both in Geneva and New York, for several decades.

But instead of abandoning the annual meetings, he said, the G7 continued to meet, with the original economic focus lost, and with costly preparations and meetings of “sherpas”, where the gatherings themselves became too formalised, and where the outcome had been already decided or agreed to at the lowest common measure of accord.

He also pointed out that the G7/G8 increasingly began pronouncing themselves on all kinds of subjects – with none of the leaders able to ensure the decisions were carried out in their own countries.

Vijay Prashad, author of “The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South”, told IPS the procedure the G7 followed to transform itself to G8 in 1998 (with the inclusion of Russia) was as opaque as the process that led to Moscow’s virtual expulsion.

The Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA) came together in 1974 to consolidate their response to the major thrust from the Third World Project: an assault of the oil weapon of 1973 that consolidated in the U.N. General Assembly resolution 3201 in May 1974 for a New International Economic Order (NIEO).

The G7 was formed, as former U.S. President Gerald Ford put it, “to ensure that the current world economic situation is not seen as a crisis in the democratic or capitalist system,” Prashad said.

“It had to be seen as a momentary shock, not a systematic challenge,” he added.

The collapse of the Third World Project, the rise of a new International Monetary Fund (IMF)-driven neo-liberal dispensation and the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) moved the G7 to welcome battered Russia into its arms, said Prashad, who is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.

Membership in the G7 came with the promise that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) would not move one step closer to Russia than the German border, he added.

Raghavan told IPS the annual G20 meeting pronounces itself on a range of political, economic and other arenas — but with less and less effect — whether (as they have done several times) for concluding Doha trade negotiations or other areas.

Some of their views on global financial stability – addressed to the Bank of International Settlements – have factually been very diluted in actual decisions and norms because of the lobbying of the big financial groups, both in New York and London, said Raghavan, author of the just released “Third World in the Third Millennium”.

Prashad said when the credit crisis startled the West in 2007, the G8 hastened to China and India, asking for funds.

If the money came – as it did – the G8 would wind up its operations and the G20 (with Brazil, China, India and South Africa as members) would take over as the effective executive managers of planetary affairs – which it did not, he added.

The G20 had been formed during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 to ward off any nationalistic reactions to that crash.

“As the Western stock markets rallied by 2011, the promise was forgotten,” he said.

The G8 continued – much to the chagrin of the BRICS bloc, which had assumed it would now share power.

They agree the West’s move east is dangerous, and it is unlikely they will allow for the expulsion of Russia from the G20 – itself of limited consequence, he noted.

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Commonwealth Works to Raise Climate Resilience on Global Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/commonwealth-works-push-climate-resiliance-global-agenda/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 14:07:50 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133315 As they fine-tune preparations for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa and the United Nations post-2015 development framework meeting in September, Commonwealth states are focusing on getting the international community to pay more attention to the challenges they face. “One of the key reasons that climate change is actually a substantial topic […]

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Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams (centre), flanked by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma (left) and another Commonwealth official. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams (centre), flanked by Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma (left) and another Commonwealth official. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Peter Richards
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

As they fine-tune preparations for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa and the United Nations post-2015 development framework meeting in September, Commonwealth states are focusing on getting the international community to pay more attention to the challenges they face.

“One of the key reasons that climate change is actually a substantial topic in terms of the international arena is because of the advocacy of island states,” Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams told IPS at the 53-member Commonwealth‘s third Biennial Conference on Small States last week."We are vulnerable, but we are not weak." -- Seychelles Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adams

“I think we are vulnerable, but we are not weak. We’ve got a lot to offer, we have a lot of strengths and we must use those strengths,” he said.

The two-day meeting targeted five key areas of concern for small states, including redirecting funding for climate change initiatives.

“Exposure to environmental shocks, together with the deeply integrated nature of small states’ economies, social wellbeing and the natural resource base, make environmental management an important element of resilience building in these countries,” the Commonwealth said in an outcome statement.

It said the meeting shared ideas on environmental governance indicators for resilience-building and reviewed approaches to ocean governance to maximise the benefits accruing to small states from their extensive marine areas.

St. Lucia’s Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste said it was impossible to speak about development “if we do not consider sustainability and protecting our patrimony for succeeding generations.

“Less than 20 years ago, some of the most powerful nations on the planet were trying to dodge the warnings about climate change because they felt it was a problem of poor countries, but today as the devastation of climate change continues its decimating march across Europe, North America and other parts of the globe, the inescapable reality seems to be finally hitting home,” he said.

“So America has acknowledged that colder winters are not climatic accidents. Russia has accepted its warmer winter as a phenomenon of climate change, and Europe has recognised its wetter rains as climate change in action,” he said.

“There must be a recognition, especially among the richer nations, that regardless of our GDP (gross domestic product) status, we are resource-poor and in need of financial resources to undertake resilience-building work,” he said.

Delegates also highlighted the need for ocean forecasting to predict impacts from climate change; action on land-based sources of pollution; and efforts to strengthen oceans and seas issues in the Third International Conference on SIDS process (SIDS 2014).

Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat has the capacity to represent small island states within the international community on their concerns.

“The Commonwealth is the preferred interlocutor for the group of 20 working group on development and they look forward to all the input that we can bring from the outer world,” he told IPS.

“We say very often that 90 percent of the world’s GDP is on the table of the G20, but 90 percent of the world’s countries are outside [that bloc of large economies]. So who is going to make available the dilemmas and the anxieties and the expectations of the outside world? The Commonwealth does it in a variety of ways.”

Sharma said the grouping is in the process of developing a financial instrument that would stem the economic “free-fall” of any economy should it suffer from the downsides of global development.

“The instruments that we are developing now…are both on the concept of resilience as well as the practical tool kit for various types of counter cyclical loans; which means that once an external shock is experienced, your financial obligations get naturally and immediately readjusted’, Sharma said, hinting at a debt swap for climate change, “a practical suggestion now being considered by the international community at large”.

Adams said that small island states are among the first to feel the impact of climate change “whether it be through extreme weather events or sea level rise or other issues that affect basically how we are able to create wealth that can be shared amongst our people.

“We don’t have huge natural resources that we can suddenly start exploiting. We don’t have huge populations to get economies of scale so we have to look at the things that we are able to offer…and create a framework which is more conducive for those issues,” he told IPS.

Recalling the devastation caused by heavy rains to his island, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the Christmas holidays, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony said the question remains how much longer small states will have to lobby for an internationally accepted differentiated approach to aid for small states.

“You can turn to Grenada with Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004, where damages were well over a billion U.S. dollars, or nearly 200 percent of GDP,” he said. “You can go through nearly all the islands of the Caribbean and you would see the impact of such extreme weather events.”

The problems confronting the region are not limited to extreme weather events, he noted. Last week, the regional countries participated in a simulation for a tsunami.

“We have seen the earthquake destruction of Haiti in the year 2010 and the volcanic disaster of Montserrat. We have been warned to expect a ‘big one’, an earthquake of immense destructive power,” he added. “In response to these calamities, the pledges are often many; the delivery of the promises, not so many.”

He said the realities of climate change must catapult small states to be leaders in climate change adaptation, “because we exist largely as coastal populations threatened by sea-level rise, the bleaching of coral reefs and the desertification of some territories.”

“The economic and environmental imperative is that we commit more forcefully to renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Anthony said.

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Putting Climate Polluters in the Dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-climate-polluters-dock http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/putting-climate-polluters-dock/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:30:25 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133178 Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences? A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together. He […]

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Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Workmen clear a road blocked by a landslide in Trinidad. Compensation for loss and damage from climate change has become a major demand of developing countries. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

Can Caribbean governments take legal action against other countries that they believe are warming the planet with devastating consequences?

A former regional diplomat argues the answer is yes. Ronald Sanders, who is also a senior research fellow at London University, says such legal action would require all Small Island Developing States (SIDS) acting together."There is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations...It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity." -- Ronald Sanders

He believes the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be amenable to hearing their arguments, although the court’s requirement that all parties to a dispute agree to its jurisdiction would be a major stumbling block.

“It is most unlikely that the countries that are warming the planet, which incidentally now include India and China, not just the United States, Canada and the European Union…[that] they would agree to jurisdiction,” Sanders told IPS.

“The alternative, if countries wanted to press the issue of compensation for the destruction caused by climate change, is that they would have to go to the United Nations General Assembly.”

Sanders said that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries could “as a group put forward a resolution stating the case that they do believe, and there is evidence to support it, that climate change and global warming is having a material effect… on the integrity of their countries.

“We’re seeing coastal areas vanishing and we know that if sea level rise continues large parts of existing islands will disappear and some of them may even be submerged, so the evidence is there.”

Sanders pointed to the damaging effects of flooding and landslides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and Dominica as 2013 came to an end.

The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, described the flooding and landslides as “unprecedented” and gave a preliminary estimate of damage in his country alone to be in excess of 60 million dollars.

“People who live in the Caribbean know from their own experience that climate change is real,” Sanders said.

“They know it from days and nights that are hotter than in the past, from more frequent and more intense hurricanes or freak years like the last one when there were none, from long periods of dry weather followed by unseasonal heavy rainfall and flooding, and from the recognisable erosion of coastal areas and reefs.”

For the first time in several years, Antigua's main water source, Portworks Dam, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

For the first time in several years, Antigua’s main water source, Potworks Reservoir, has run out of water as drought continues. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

At the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw last November, developing countries fought hard for the creation of a third pillar of a new climate treaty to be finalised in 2015. After two weeks and 36 straight hours of negotiations, they finally won the International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (IMLD), to go with the mitigation (emissions reduction) and adaptation pillars.

The details of that mechanism will be hammered out at climate talks in Bonn this June, and finally in Paris the following year. As chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Nauru will be present at a meeting in New Delhi next week of the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) to try and build a common platform for the international talks.

“It isn’t just the Caribbean, of course,” Sanders said. “A number of other countries in the world – the Pacific countries – are facing an even more pressing danger than we are at the moment. There are countries in Africa that are facing this problem, and countries in Asia,” he told IPS.

“Now if they all join together, there is a moral case to be raised at the United Nations and maybe that is the place at which we would more effectively press it if we acted together. It would require great leadership, great courage and great unity,” he added.

Pointing to the OECD countries, Sir Ronald said they act together, consult with each other and come up with a programme which they then say is what the international standard must be and the developing countries must accept it.

“Why do the developing countries not understand that we could reverse that process? We can stand up together and say look, this is what we are demanding and the developed countries would then have to listen to what the developing countries are saying,” Sir Ronald said.

Following their recent 25th inter-sessional meeting in St. Vincent, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller praised the increased focus that CARICOM leaders have placed on the issue of climate change, especially in light of the freak storm last year that devastated St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

At that meeting, heads of government agreed on the establishment of a task force on climate change and SIDS to provide guidance to Caribbean climate change negotiators, their ministers and political leaders in order to ensure the strategic positioning of the region in the negotiations.

In Antigua, where drought has persisted for months, water catchments are quickly drying up. The water manager at the state-owned Antigua Public utilities Authority (APUA), Ivan Rodrigues, blames climate change.

“We know that the climate is changing and what we need to do is to cater for it and deal with it,” he told IPS.

But he is not sold on the idea of international legal action against the large industrialised countries.

“I think what will cause [a reversal of their practices] is consumer activism,” he said. “The argument may not be strong enough for a court of law to actually penalise a government.”

But Sanders firmly believes an opinion from the International Court of Justice would make a huge difference.

“We could get an opinion. If the United Nations General Assembly were to accept a resolution that, say, we want an opinion from the International Court of Jurists on this matter, I think we could get an opinion that would be favourable to a case for the Caribbean and other countries that are affected by climate change,” he told IPS.

“If there was a case where countries, governments and large companies knew that if they continue these harmful practices, action would be taken against them, of course they would change their position because at the end of the day they want to be profitable and successful. They don’t want to be having to fight court cases and losing them and then having to pay compensation,” he added.

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Brazilian Innovation for Under-financed Mozambican Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/brazilian-innovation-financed-mozambican-agriculture/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 08:15:41 +0000 Amos Zacarias http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132711 Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector. Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings […]

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Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Erasmo Laldás on his strawberry farm in Naamacha, Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

By Amos Zacarias
MAPUTO, Mar 12 2014 (IPS)

Some of the technological excellence that revolutionised Brazil’s tropical agriculture is reaching small producers in Mozambique. But it is not enough to compensate for the underfinancing of the sector.

Last year, Erasmo Laldás, a 37-year-old farmer who has worked for 15 years in Namaacha, a village 75 kilometres from Mozambique’s capital Maputo, planted 15,000 seedlings of Festival, a new strawberry variety originated in the United States.

Laldás produced seven tonnes of strawberries, employing eight workers. He sold all his produce in Maputo, and in January was the lead vendor in that market, because there was already a shortage of the fruit in South Africa, his main competitor.Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

“The fruit is very good quality, it does not require as many chemical products as the South African strawberries and its harvesting season is longer than the native variety that I was growing before,” he told IPS.

Laldás is the first Mozambican producer to benefit from Brazilian and U.S. aid through technical support to the Mozambique Food and Nutrition Security Programme (PSAL).

Created in 2012, the project brings together the Mozambique Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to expand production and distribution capabioities for fruit and vegetables in this African country.

First of all, studies were needed to adapt seeds to the local climate.

IIAM received more than 90 varieties of tomato, cabbage, lettuce, carrot and pepper, which are being tested at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, 25 kilometres from Maputo.

“The results of the trials are encouraging; we identified 17 varieties that have the desired phytosanitary characteristics, and are ready to be distributed to farmers.

“We are waiting for them to be registered and approved under the seal of Mozambique,” IIAM researcher Carvalho Ecole told IPS, regretting that his country has not registered new fruit and vegetable varieties for the past 50 years.

Fruit and vegetable growing is a key sector for generating employment and income among small farmers, as this produce represents 20 percent of family expenditure, according to Ecole.

“For a long time, horticulture was neglected. When talking about food security the government thought only about maize, sorghum and cassava,” Ecole said. Moreover, “our producers still do not have credit or financing,” he complained.

South Africa is the largest supplier of fruit and vegetables for southern Mozambique. IIAM figures show that prior to 2010, nearly all the onions, 65 percent of tomatoes and 57 percent of cabbages consumed in the cities of Maputo and Matola were South African. And those proportions have been maintained.

As a result, prices are high. A kilo of tomatoes costs between 50 and 60 meticals (between 1.60 and 2 dollars) and onions a little less. When the new varieties that have been tested are available for national small farmers, prices will be lower, Ecole said.

Mozambique also imports mangos, bananas, oranges, avocados, strawberries and other fruit from South Africa.

“We need to train and empower local small farmers so that in the years to come they can produce enough to supply the domestic market,” José Bellini, EMBRAPA’s coordinator in Mozambique, told IPS.

Agricultural cooperation is the path chosen by Brazil, ever since the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva government (2003-2011), to consolidate its development aid policy, especially in Africa.

Embrapa, a state body made up of 47 research centres located throughout Brazil and several agencies abroad, has worked to transfer part of the knowledge of tropical agriculture accumulated over its 41 years of existence to other countries of the developing South. Its office for Africa was installed in Ghana.

But Brazil’s presence in Mozambique became unequalled with the creation of ProSAVANA, the Triangular Co-operation Programme for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannah in Mozambique, supported by the Brazilian and Japanese cooperation agencies (ABC and JICA, respectively), inspired by the experience that made the South American power a granary for the world and the largest exporter of soya.

The goal in the next two decades is to benefit directly 400,000 small and medium farmers and indirectly another 3.6 million, strengthening production and productivity in the northern Nacala Corridor.

Brazil is to build a laboratory for soil and plant analysis in the city of Lichinga. Embrapa is training IIAM researchers and modernising two local research centres.

But ProSAVANA is a controversial programme.

Small farmers and activists are afraid that it will reproduce Brazilian problems, such as the predominance of agribusiness, monoculture, the concentration of land tenure and production by only a few transnational companies, in a country like Mozambique where 80 percent of the population is engaged in family agriculture.

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Students at the Agrarian Middle Institute in Inhambane study the development of a variety of lettuce at the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station in Mozambique. Credit: Amos Zacarias/IPS

Supporting the PSAL makes sense in a very different way. It focuses on vegetable growing, and is clearly aimed at small producers and improving local nutrition. But it suffers from limitations of scale and resources.

“We cannot improve our production system without investment. We have taken a giant step, there is more research and technology transfer, but large investments are needed as well,” said Ecole.

Mozambique invests very little in the agricultural sector, although it has been increasing its expenditure. In 2013 it devoted 7.6 percent of its budget to agriculture, equivalent to some six billion dollars.

Thirty percent of the country’s population are hungry, according to 2012 figures from the Technical Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security. And nearly 80,000 children under the age of five die every year from malnutrition, according to Save the Children, an NGO.

There is no justification for these figures in Mozambique, which has a favourable climate and plentiful labour for large-scale agricultural production, Ecole said.

Namaacha illustrates the contradiction. It is the only district in the country that produces strawberries. It was able to supply the entire Maputo market, but many producers were bankrupted by lack of credit, said Cecília Ruth Bila, the head of the fruits section in IIAM.

“The small farmers find it difficult to get financing, and our banks do not help much, so producers give up,” she complained.

Nearly 150 strawberry farmers in Namaacha gave up growing them in the last five years because they lacked access to credit, according to information from the section.

Laldás is one of the few to continue. Perhaps that is why his dreams are so ambitious. This year he has asked for 150,000 seedlings to expand his growing area to three hectares, and meanwhile he is seeking financing to put in electricity, three greenhouses, an irrigation system and a small improvement industry.

“It will cost me a total of nearly six million meticals [nearly 200,000 dollars],” he said with optimism.

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

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Bachelet to Recalibrate Chile’s Foreign Policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/bachelet-recalibrate-chiles-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bachelet-recalibrate-chiles-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/bachelet-recalibrate-chiles-foreign-policy/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 22:21:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132690 For the past four years, the foreign policy of Chile, South America’s “miracle”, has focused more on economic  than political issues. Socialist Michelle Bachelet, sworn in this Tuesday Mar. 11 for her second (but not consecutive) term as president, must now recalibrate those policies, which have scored some successes but have also sparked tensions and […]

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Michelle Bachelet speaking to international media correspondents. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Michelle Bachelet speaking to international media correspondents. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 11 2014 (IPS)

For the past four years, the foreign policy of Chile, South America’s “miracle”, has focused more on economic  than political issues.

Socialist Michelle Bachelet, sworn in this Tuesday Mar. 11 for her second (but not consecutive) term as president, must now recalibrate those policies, which have scored some successes but have also sparked tensions and conflicts.

During her election campaign, Bachelet said the foreign policy of the outgoing president, rightwing Sebastián Piñera, had a “mercantile emphasis,” and promised she would employ a more political approach.

Her government programme contains a harsh critique.

“Chile has lost presence in the region, its relations with its neighbours are problematic, a commercial vision has been imposed on our Latin American links, and external integration options have been ideologised,” the programme says.

The War of the Pacific

Chile fought against the adjacent countries of Bolivia and Peru in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) in which an estimated 14,000 to 23,000 people were killed.

The embers of the conflict are still very much alive, especially in Bolivia and Peru, which lost significant amounts of territory to Chile.

Peru lost what is now the Chilean region of Tarapacá, and Bolivia lost what is now Antofagasta, as well as its access to the Pacific ocean.

Chile and Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations in 1978 and the tension between them continues, due to Bolivia’s demand for the recovery of its outlet to the sea.
International analyst Francisca Quiroga of the Universidad Arcis says that this country “must rebuild relationships because it has had latent, manifest, and some critical conflicts, and has invalidated and excluded its relations with neighbouring countries.”

During the Piñera government, “which had less political talent and lacked a narrative,”  discourse on Chile as an economically and commercially successful country was emphasised, something that had been present in its foreign policy since 25 years ago, Quiroga, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy, told IPS.

Bachelet (2006-2010) has ample political capital in the region and in the world, which was enhanced by her role as executive director of U.N. Women.

In her last international appearance as the president of Chile, at the 21st Rio Group Summit in Mexico in 2010, Bachelet’s leadership qualities were evident in her speech, which received an enthusiastic ovation.

“You can count on Chile, today and tomorrow, to work for our continent and for our Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). You can always count  on today’s president of Chile, who will always be a woman of Chile,” she said.

Bachelet has a close relationship with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who said she looks forward to deepening ties with Chile and affirmed that they both have “a clear understanding of the role of integration in South America.”

She is also close to Argentine President Cristina Fernández, who calls her a “dear friend,” and is on good terms with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

Piñera, in contrast, was closer to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and promoted the Pacific Alliance which also includes Mexico and Peru, seeking to create a free trade area, boost economic competitiveness and become a platform for exercising influence, especially in the Asia Pacific region.

Fundamental aspects of Piñera’s foreign policy “were subordinated to certain commercial and economic interests,” political scientist Fabián Pressacco, of the Universidad Alberto Hurtado, told IPS.

However, Piñera denies that his government neglected regional political, social and cultural issues. “That does not correspond with reality,” he told IPS during a press conference with foreign journalists.

The emphasis on the Pacific Alliance, created in 2011, “did not mean that we neglected the continent,” Piñera said.

His government worked for global integration and promoted “wider strategies that included political, social and cultural aspects,” he added.

And it participated actively in mechanisms like CELAC and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), among others, Piñera said.

But according to Quiroga, his handling of foreign policy has created some urgent challenges.

The first of these is strengthening relations with Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, the countries with which Chile shares borders.

Next, “a long-term working agenda should be established, to strengthen Latin American integration, in which relations with Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico should be secured by means of a strategy of public policies and not only commercially motivated actions,” said Quiroga.

Bachelet has nominated distinguished diplomat Heraldo Muñoz, a former ambassador of Chile to the United Nations and a high official of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as her foreign minister.

Muñoz will have to address the ongoing conflicts with Peru, which Piñera dealt with by a policy known as “cuerdas separadas” (separating commercial issues and territorial disputes as “separate strings”), maintaining relations almost entirely on the commercial plane, while the International Court of Justice (ICJ) debated a bilateral maritime dispute.

The new foreign minister will also have to face problems with Bolivia, a country with which Chile broke off diplomatic relations in 1978. Bolivia took its claim for a sovereign outlet to the sea to the ICJ in The Hague in 2013.

In spite of the tensions and exchanges of words with Piñera, Bolivian President Evo Morales decided to attend the handover ceremony, and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, announced he would visit Chile at the end of March as a gesture of “rapprochement,” his advisers told IPS.

With Bachelet as president, relations with Argentina will also be smoother, analysts say.

Ties with Argentina have been strained by the political asylum granted by Buenos Aires to Galvarino Apablaza, a former guerrilla prosecuted in Chile for the 1991 murder of rightwing senator Jaime Guzmán, and by a dispute between the Chilean airline LAN and Argentine airport authorities.

“UNASUR should become a point of convergence for integration initiatives in South America, while CELAC should be a platform for political coordination in the region,” says Bachelet’s government programme.

“In the Bachelet government, Latin America is going to be more important in a wide sense, and not just in the commercial-ideological dimension given it by the Piñera government,” Pressacco said.

An expert analyst of Latin American affairs, he predicted that the outlook of the new  team “will be more comprehensive, broader, more aware that international relations, as well as politics in general, do not work solely on the basis of economic agreements.”

Delegates from more than 20 countries will be attending Bachelet’s investiture, including nearly all the region’s presidents.

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CELAC Summit Targets Inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/celac-summit-targets-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=celac-summit-targets-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/celac-summit-targets-inequality/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 18:40:49 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130987 Heads of state and government at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) made a joint commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, and declared their region a “zone of peace”. The goals, which even the presidents regard as “ambitious”, came at the end of two days of deliberations […]

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Heads of state at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at the Palacio de la Revolución, Havana.
Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Heads of state at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at the Palacio de la Revolución, Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 30 2014 (IPS)

Heads of state and government at the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) made a joint commitment to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality, and declared their region a “zone of peace”.

The goals, which even the presidents regard as “ambitious”, came at the end of two days of deliberations in the Cuban capital, and include action for food security, access to education and better job opportunities, as instruments to reduce inequalities in the most unequal region of the world.“We have to integrate for the sake of our own development, but this is not just about more wealth and consumption, it is the struggle for human happiness." -- Uruguayan President José Mujica

By proclaiming a continent-wide zone of peace – with the exception of Canada and the United States – the region committed itself to act “as a space of unity within diversity”, and confirmed the two-year-old CELAC as the regional political forum for dialogue and collective action at the highest level, regardless of ideology.

The summit, held in Havana Jan. 28-29, was attended by the heads of all Latin American and Caribbean countries except Panama, Belize and El Salvador (in the last two cases because of illness). The meeting of 30 presidents also put an end to Cuban isolation.

“This is a historic summit,” because it has decided to address an issue that has long been demanded by the Latin American peoples: the fight against inequalities, hunger and poverty, said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Another woman, Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet who is due to take office Mar. 11, said “poverty and hunger are not the only forms of inequality,” and emphasised that governments must address “all inequalities,” including gender divisions, urban-rural disparities, and the injustice faced by indigenous people and Afro-descendants.

The 83 paragraphs of the Declaration of Havana ratified the commitment to promoting social inclusion and sustainable development with quantifiable policies, measures and goals, in order to spread “the enjoyment and exercise of economic, social and cultural rights” to all the population, especially the most vulnerable.

Among the major goals, it says, are strengthening food and nutritional security, literacy, universal free public education, land tenure and agricultural development, including family and peasant agriculture.

It also calls for decent, long-term jobs, universal public health, the right to adequate housing, and industrial and productive development as “essential factors for eradicating hunger, poverty and social exclusion.”

The Economic and Social Panorama of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States 2013, a study presented at the summit by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), shows inequality statistics for this region of over 600 million people.

The study says that the poorest one-fifth of the population on average accounted for five percent of total income, and even less in countries like Bolivia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, the wealthiest fifth received up to 55 percent in countries like Brazil.

In 2012 the poverty rate was 28.2 percent, and 11.3 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty. This means that 164 million people live in poverty and, of them, 66 million are extremely poor. These “shameful figures,” as some presidents called them, were the centre of discussions at the meeting.

Progress in recent years has been “slow, fragmented and unstable,” Cuban president and summit host Raúl Castro said in his opening speech.

According to figures from 2011 and 2012, the rate of inequality reduction has been above one percent a year only in Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, and above 0.5 percent a year in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama.

Poverty has its greatest impact on children and teenagers, since its incidence is higher in households with a large number of dependent children. A total of 70.5 million children under 18 are affected, of whom 28.3 million live in extreme poverty, according to ECLAC.

Child poverty is greatest in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru, where an average of 72 percent of children are extremely poor, based on data from 2000-2011.

The countries with the lowest child poverty rates (19.5 percent) mentioned by ECLAC were Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.

Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s executive secretary, said Latin America is a “region of contrasts” and recommended that its governments should promote public policies that contribute to poverty reduction. Employment, she said, is the “master key” to remediating inequality.

At the summit, Castro handed over the rotating presidency of CELAC to Costa Rica. In his view, Latin America and the Caribbean have all the necessary conditions to change the unbalanced social panorama outlined by ECLAC, since they possess natural riches ranging from extensive mineral reserves to one-third of the world’s fresh water.

The sub-continent also has 12 percent of the world’s arable land, the highest potential for expanding food production and 21 percent of all natural forests.

The populations of the región, said Castro, want fairer distribution of wealth and income, universal, free and high-quality education, full employment, better wages, the elimination of illiteracy, real food security, health care for all, and the right to decent housing, drinking water and sanitation.

Uruguayan President José Mujica’s contribution reflected his characteristic humanism. “We have to integrate for the sake of our own development, but this is not just about more wealth and consumption, it is the struggle for human happiness,” he said.

“We cannot attempt development that goes against human happiness. That would not be development,” said Mujica. “Defending life means being able to put aside waste and pollution,” and he asked his colleagues, “Why do we waste so much?”

Cuban analyst Carlos Alzugaray told IPS that, beyond the goals reflected in the Declaration of Havana, CELAC has emerged from its second summit “facing the challenge of consolidation” as a forum for political integration “that will foment regional cooperation and build a regional profile with a single voice.”

It also has the challenge, said the political scientist, of persuading other blocs in other world regions to “accept and recognise it as a legitimate and authoritative voice to negotiate in the name of the entire region.” This can only be achieved by “sustained, firm but cautious work,” he said.

With additional reporting from Ivet González.

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Tallying Losses, St. Vincent Begins Repairs After Deadly Flood http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/tallying-losses-st-vincent-begins-repairs-deadly-flood/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tallying-losses-st-vincent-begins-repairs-deadly-flood http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/tallying-losses-st-vincent-begins-repairs-deadly-flood/#comments Mon, 30 Dec 2013 16:23:06 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129802 Ralph Gonsalves fought to hold back tears as he shared how his cousin was killed the night before Christmas. Raymond Gonsalves was buried alive when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped more than 400 mm of rain on this island in a less than 24 hours and triggered massive flooding and huge landslides. “People have lost […]

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St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves (centre) chairs a meeting to discuss reconstruction following deadly floods on Dec. 24. At left is his Antiguan counterpart, Baldwin Spencer. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves (centre) chairs a meeting to discuss reconstruction following deadly floods on Dec. 24. At left is his Antiguan counterpart, Baldwin Spencer. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Dec 30 2013 (IPS)

Ralph Gonsalves fought to hold back tears as he shared how his cousin was killed the night before Christmas.

Raymond Gonsalves was buried alive when a slow-moving, low-level trough dumped more than 400 mm of rain on this island in a less than 24 hours and triggered massive flooding and huge landslides.

“People have lost their lives; families are suffering. I was with a family which lost five in one household,” Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, told IPS.

His cousin Raymond, he recounted, “was in his house, in the bedroom, and a landslide came down and buried him on his bed.”

“I have it in my family too,” he said. “I feel the pain, I feel the anguish of people.”"Climate change...has to be given the prominence and the priority that it deserves."
--Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda

Gonsalves told IPS that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is “on the frontline of climate change”, explaining that his cousin had been among several the government moved from their homes beside the sea following Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

New houses were built for them but even then “the ravages of wave action were too severe, so we moved them to [another] place.” They had been moved, he said, “from one disaster point to another.”

The prime minister said that while the country is not a disaster area as a whole, several areas have been declared disaster areas.

Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda, who serves as chairman of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a sub-regional grouping, arrived here on Saturday to see the destruction first-hand. He will also visit St. Lucia on Sunday.

A deadly event

The trough on Dec. 24 brought torrential rains, death and destruction not only to St. Vincent and the Grenadines but to St. Lucia and Dominica as well. Disaster officials in St. Vincent have so far recovered nine bodies, and the search continues for three more people reported missing and feared dead.

In St. Lucia, five people were killed, including Calvin Stanley Louis, a police officer, who died after a wall fell on him as he tried to help people stranded by floods.

Spencer told IPS he is convinced that there is a link between climate change, global warming and the erratic weather being experienced in the region.

“What has happened in these three member states of the OECS clearly demonstrates that the issue of climate change and associated weather issues can no longer be treated as a backburner issue,” he told IPS. “It…has to be a front burner issue and has to be addressed collectively.”

“I would say that this has to jolt all of us into the recognition that climate change is not something that we can continue to take lightly. It has to be given the prominence and the priority that it deserves.”

He hastened to point out that climate change has not skipped the attention of governments of the OECS.

“Policies and programmes have been developed in conjunction with regional and international bodies involved with this process to introduce…practicable measures,” he said. “But these devastating situations would urge us…to move more expeditiously in putting into place whatever is required to assist in combating the effects of climate change.”

Ronald Jackson, the executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), said he could not give a scientific answer connecting climate change and the Christmas Eve storm, but he strongly believed climate variability issues and climate change issues were involved.

“There is going to be a change in the culture of how we deal with these things, how we monitor the meteorological information that is being presented because we are living in very uncertain times,” he said.

A boy clears debris from his home in St. Vincent following flooding Dec. 24. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A boy clears debris from his home in St. Vincent following flooding Dec. 24. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Serious damage

Gonsalves said that during a helicopter overview of the country’s forests, the minister of works and chief engineer observed massive landslides, rivers that had spread, and land that had been denuded.

“The extent of landslides suggests the figure of about 10 percent, which is a huge number,” he told IPS, adding that the practical implications of the landsides are huge as well. “If we are seeing these logs in the lower end of the river, you could imagine the damage which is caused in the upper end. If the logs are not cleared and if we don’t deal properly with river defences, we have a time bomb” where the next heavy rains will simply add to the buildup.

The capacity of the state to respond to a disaster of this magnitude it is not at the level it ought to be, Gonsalves added.

“There are profound limitations. In the ministry of social development, we just don’t have enough persons in that area to deal with the extent of the social problems which have arisen,” he told IPS.

Two decisions regarding immediate reconstruction were reached during a six-hour meeting at the prime minister’s office Saturday. They involved financial institutions, contractors, local and regional disaster management agencies, representatives of CARICOM, and the governments of Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

The prime minister said all financial institutions have indicated that they will try to help provide the financing for the work to be done.

The island’s water authority has said that by Tuesday, the country should be up from what is now 50 percent of the population with access to water to 85 percent.

“The issue of the water is the most critical, immediate human need,” Gonsalves said. Even the country’s 42 water trucks “are still not enough to deal with the problem.”

“We will work to make our country better than it is and to use this challenging period to lift ourselves and to carry ourselves to higher heights,” Gonsalves concluded.

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Glaring Asymmetries in Bali Accord http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/glaring-asymmetries-bali-accord/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glaring-asymmetries-bali-accord http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/glaring-asymmetries-bali-accord/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 17:12:25 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129578 As industrialised countries celebrate the World Trade Organisation’s Bali accord, the developing and the least-developed countries are forced to carry their battle to another day after securing only half-baked results and grandiose promises, said several trade ministers. “While the agreements reached at Bali are important, it is important to ensure balance in the agreements,” said […]

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By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Dec 16 2013 (IPS)

As industrialised countries celebrate the World Trade Organisation’s Bali accord, the developing and the least-developed countries are forced to carry their battle to another day after securing only half-baked results and grandiose promises, said several trade ministers.

“While the agreements reached at Bali are important, it is important to ensure balance in the agreements,” said Rob Davies, South Africa’s trade minister. “We are of the view that there is structural imbalance in which the least-developed countries secured only best endeavor solutions while there is a binding agreement on trade facilitation,” Davies told IPS.

“The developing and least-developing countries secured only promises and best endeavor outcomes while agreeing to a comprehensive trade facilitation agreement,” said Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed.
In sharp contrast, the United States, the European Union, and other industrialised countries praised the Dec. 3-7 Bali Ministerial Conference for delivering the trade facilitation agreement.

“For the first time in its almost 20-year history, the WTO reached a fully multilateral agreement,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman. “WTO Members have demonstrated that we can come together as one to set new rules that create economic opportunity and prosperity for our nations and our peoples.”

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the breakthrough at Bali in wrapping up the agreement on trade facilitation, and some deliverables in agriculture, were truly significant for the trade body.

“They take the WTO from the darkness of the multilateral era to [shine] light on multilateral action,” commissioner Gucht told reporters. The EU commissioner, however, admitted that there was a lack of balance in the overall Bali agreement.

For over 15 years, the industrialised countries and some advanced developing countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Chile and Mexico have pushed hard for rapid liberalisation of customs procedures as part of the trade facilitation agreement so as to enable their exports to rapidly penetrate the developing and least developed countries without many hassles.

Proponents say the TF accord is a “good governance agreement” for customs procedures that industrialised countries want the developing and the poorest countries to implement in the coming days and years on a binding basis – failing which the latter can be hauled up at the WTO’s dispute settlement body.

In return, the developing countries managed to secure only best endeavor agreements on some issues of their concern in agriculture, such as an interim mechanism for public stockholding for food security, transparency-related improvements in what are called tariff rate quota administration provisions, and most trade-distorting farm export subsidies and export credits.

The poorest countries as part of the “development” dossier secured another set of best endeavor improvement concerning preferential rules of origin for exporting to industrialised countries, preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least-developed countries, and final monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

Ironically, the Bali accord has weakened the language on issues raised by the developing and the poorest countries as compared to what was agreed in the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration in 2005.

The Kenyan foreign minister – who was the chair of the WTO General Council at the Hong Kong meeting – spoke about this puzzling change.

“What is the guarantee that the industrialised countries will implement the promises now made in the Bali agreement, particularly the provision of financial and technical assistance to implement the trade facilitation commitments, when they did not implement the commitments that were made eight years ago?” she remarked to IPS.

The Bali package included ten agreements. They comprise a binding agreement on trade facilitation and four descriptive items in agriculture such as general services, public stockholding for food security purposes, understanding the tariff rate quota administration provisions of agriculture products, and export competition.

In the development dossier, the Bali package offered non-binding best endeavor outcomes on preferential rules of origin for least developed countries, organisation for the waiver concerning preferential treatment to services, duty-free and quota-free market access, and a monitoring mechanism on special and differential treatment.

“We have only partly accommodated the concerns of the poorest countries,” said Davies. “The priority out to be on development and implementation issues in the coming days,” the South African minister emphasised.

India steadfastly pushed hard for strong language to ensure that the public stockholding programmes for food security continued without interruption until a permanent solution was arrived at.

Despite opposition from some major industrialised countries, including the United States, and also opposition from some developing countries, India managed to secure an interim mechanism that would last for four years during which there is a commitment to find a permanent solution. If there is no outcome within four years, the interim solution will be extended till members agree to a permanent outcome.

However, there are many notification and safeguard conditions that India and other developing countries will have to implement in order to avail themselves of the interim mechanism for food security. The U.S. said these conditions are essential to ensure that public stockholding programmes for food security in one country do not cause food insecurity in other countries.

The post-Bali work programme has admitted that there are glaring asymmetrical outcomes in the “Bali Package.” “Issues in the Bali Package where legally binding outcomes could not be achieved will be prioritised… Work on issues in the package that have not been fully addressed at this Conference will resume in the relevant Committees or Negotiating Groups of the WTO,” according to the Bali Ministerial Declaration.

In short, the developing and least-developed countries will have to carry their fight as there are no “legally binding outcomes” on any of their issues. That is the message from the Bali Ministerial meeting.

Also, the Bali meeting shall be remembered for the manner in which the developing and the poorest countries remained divided thanks to a grand strategy adopted by the Northern countries.

“Unless the developing world remains united it is highly unlikely that they will make progress on their issues in the next year, and this is even more true in a period when the North is going to push hard its new trade agenda,” said a trade minister who preferred not to be identified.

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Food Security, Trade Facilitation Clash in Bali http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/food-security-trade-facilitation-clash-bali/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-security-trade-facilitation-clash-bali http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/food-security-trade-facilitation-clash-bali/#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 13:58:03 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129271 The World Trade Organisation’s ninth ministerial meeting at Bali, Indonesia has morphed into a fierce battle between the countries seeking social safety nets for hundreds of millions of poor people and those insisting on having advanced import-facilitation programmes in the developing countries on par with the industrialised nations. These two narratives openly clashed at the […]

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Second day of the WTO's ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia. Credit: © WTO/ANTARA

Second day of the WTO's ministerial conference in Bali, Indonesia. Credit: © WTO/ANTARA

By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
BALI, Dec 4 2013 (IPS)

The World Trade Organisation’s ninth ministerial meeting at Bali, Indonesia has morphed into a fierce battle between the countries seeking social safety nets for hundreds of millions of poor people and those insisting on having advanced import-facilitation programmes in the developing countries on par with the industrialised nations.

These two narratives openly clashed at the plenary meeting Tuesday. “Millions of people depend on food security and millions of people are going to see what will be done on this vital issue,” Kenya’s foreign minister Amina Mohamed told IPS.

“In Africa there are millions of people who need food security and they are all waiting to see if the ministers in Bali are going to be sensitive as an international community to the livelihood and survival concerns of the most vulnerable people,” she said.

She urged the trade ministers “to come up with a solution to send a message that we heard what you are saying and that we want to support your issue and we acknowledge food security is a vital issue.”

India’s trade minister Anand Sharma said at the plenary meeting that “Food security is essential for four billion people and is an important goal of the millennium development goals.

“Food security is non-negotiable,” said Sharma, maintaining that India cannot accept the current interim mechanism because it fails to provide legal certainty. Public stockholding of food grains to ensure food security must be respected, he said.

In the run-up to the Dec. 3-6 Bali meeting, India along with a group of countries including Bolivia, Cuba, Kenya, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe pressed hard for improved rules to ensure that their public stockholding programmes for food security are not undermined by flawed trade rules.

The rules in the WTO agreement on agriculture were largely crafted by the European Union and the United States during the 1986-1994 Uruguay Round of negotiations. While the rules insulate mega subsidisers from clear discipline, they are somewhat indifferent to the concerns of countries with large populations. “Dated WTO rules need to be corrected,” Sharma said

More importantly, “any trade agreement must be in harmony with our shared commitment to eliminate hunger and ensure the right to food, which we accepted as part of the MDG agenda,” the Indian minister said.

At issue is whether developing countries like India and Kenya, which have massive public stockholding programmes, particularly procuring food grains from small and poor farmers at minimum support prices, should face legal challenges due to rules that are inconsistent with current global economic realities.

Over the last 15 years, prices of essential food items have gone up by over 250 percent.

India, along with the members of the G33 coalition of 46 developing countries led by Indonesia, made a strong case for changing some parameters in the current WTO agreement on agriculture.

The G33 called for updating the external reference price in the WTO agreement to reflect current global prices. The coalition also demanded that excessive inflation be taken into consideration when assessing the commitments.

The industrialised countries, led by the U.S. and EU, vehemently opposed the G33 demand last year, saying they would never allow any change in the rules. But after sustained sabre rattling and intimidating threats, the developed countries backed down from their initial position, promising a more flexible response.

They offered what is called a “Peace Clause” as part of the Bali package, which would provide temporary respite – for no more than four years – from any trade disputes. But although they agreed to continue the discussion, they did not commit to finding a permanent solution.

In sharp contrast to their opposition to food security proposals from the developing countries led by India and Kenya, the industrialised countries pressed for a brand-new agreement on trade facilitation, which involves comprehensive changes in the customs and import procedures. The new TF agreement calls for a number of changes in the previous WTO rules.

If concluded at Bali, the trade facilitation agreement would save around 441 billion dollars for developing countries, said the EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht. In fact, the International Chamber of Commerce claimed that a WTO trade facilitation agreement would provide gains to the tune of one trillion dollars for the developing and least developed countries.

WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo has also made similar claims over the last three days to drum up support for the Bali package.

The trade facilitation agreement, said de Gucht, is “essentially a way to help many countries cut red tape at their borders, to become more efficient and effective traders.”

Although the industrialised countries have constantly repeated the mantra that trade facilitation would deliver enormous gains, they have so far offered no conclusive evidence to that end.

“Unfortunately, these figures depend on too many unjustifiable assumptions to be relied on,” wrote Jeronim Capaldo, an academic at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University near Boston in the U.S.

Inaccurate estimates and unclear gains have become the order of the day. “It is hard to see how uncertain gains and unequal distribution of costs [underlying trade facilitation estimates] can justify diverting resources to trade facilitation from badly needed policies such as the strengthening of social safety nets,” Capaldo argued.

The Bali meeting has brought the simmering conflict into the open. Participants described it as a clash of these two narratives – a food security-plus approach as proposed by India and other developing countries versus a TF-plus approach pushed by industrialised nations and some developing countries.

South Africa’s trade minister Rob Davies cautioned against the imbalances in the Bali package, particularly the tilt towards trade facilitation.

Kenya’s foreign minister Mohamed, meanwhile, said “I agree with India, and we all want a clear solution…I’m hopeful that language will be found to move forward on this issue… I don’t think it is in anybody’s interest to allow this ministerial to send the wrong signal that we cannot come together and that we cannot find language to satisfy millions of poor people. It is important we achieve a concrete result on this at the Bali meeting.”

The fate of the Bali package now hangs in the balance. In the next 72 hours, the world will know whether a solution could be found for addressing the food security issue – or whether the Bali package will be torpedoed due to unbridgeable differences.

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Global Trade Winds Leave the Poor Gasping http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/global-trade-winds-leave-poor-gasping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-trade-winds-leave-poor-gasping http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/global-trade-winds-leave-poor-gasping/#comments Fri, 29 Nov 2013 08:31:45 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129146 For years, it was the power chamber at the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva – the Director General’s Conference Room, more popularly known as the Green Room, where a handful of delegates would gather for important discussions and meetings. The traditional power quad – the U.S., EU, Japan and Canada – […]

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Poorer countries will find it hard to gain access to bilateral trade agreements unless the WTO helps them do so. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Poorer countries will find it hard to gain access to bilateral trade agreements unless the WTO helps them do so. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
TOKYO, Nov 29 2013 (IPS)

For years, it was the power chamber at the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva – the Director General’s Conference Room, more popularly known as the Green Room, where a handful of delegates would gather for important discussions and meetings.

The traditional power quad – the U.S., EU, Japan and Canada – would gather in the Green Room to “decide on global trade deals,” according to Masahiro Kawai, the head of the Tokyo-based Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), a think tank. That, however, was in the past.

“They sat in the Green Room and came up with agreements, but not any more,” Kawai said.

The erosion of power within the Green Room discussions, and more specifically that held by rich nations like the U.S. or Japan, is primarily linked to the rise of emerging nations such as India and China, and of newer, leaner and meaner trade groups like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), as well as the change in traditional global supply chains.

A quarter of a century ago the share of global GDP held by emerging and developing economies was below 20 percent, according to World Bank and International Monetary Fund statistics.

As of 2012, they had almost caught up with the G7 powerful industrialised nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and U.S.). The G7 share was around 48 percent while the emerging nations’ share was just below 40 percent.

They have already overtaken the G7 as the largest trading bloc in the world, accounting for just over 40 percent of all global trade. The G7 share of global trade has fallen from a peak of above 50 percent in the first half of the 1990s to around 35 percent.

“No wonder the voices of the emerging and developing nations have risen at the WTO,” Kawai said.

Another reason for the erosion of power held by the G7 is the change in global supply chains. Whereas decades back global trade would be dominated by end-products, now it is predominantly a market for intermediary products.

“Today, nearly 60 percent of the world merchandise trade is trade in intermediary products,” Kawai said.

When he researched the supply chain of the iPhone, ADBI Director of Capacity Building and Training Yuquing Xing came up with a starling statistic. Of a production cost of 178.96 dollars (2010 values), China’s manufacturing cost was a mere 6.50 dollars. The remaining costs came from over a dozen companies in five countries. The most expensive component, according to Xing’s research, was the flash memory, at 24 dollars, which came from Toshiba Co in Japan.

This new trading pattern allows China to export over 11 million iPhones a year to the U.S., the country where it was developed and where the company that markets the product is located, Xing said.

But this reinvention of global trade negotiations does not bode all that well for poorer nations and lower-middle-income nations, according to ADBI experts and others. Why? Because the emerging nations and G7 members are now eagerly negotiating and entering into regional and bilateral free trade agreements, mostly with equally powerful trading partners.

According to ADBI, there are 379 such trade agreements in force globally, with more being negotiated. There are ongoing discussions for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would bring together 10 countries on either side of the Pacific: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam.

Equally closely watched are the discussions on the jumbo Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three partnership that would bring together the ASEAN nations and Japan, South Korea and China.

“The non-tariff trading regimes are the current weapons of choice,” said Rodolfo Certeza Severino, the former secretary general of ASEAN between 1998 and 2002 and currently the head of the ASEAN Studies Centre at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

What these jumbo and super powerful trading agreements do is leave middle-income and poorer countries in an unenviable position of being left on the sidelines, unable to get in.

For example, none of the eight countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a political association, feature among India’s fifteen largest trading partners.

India’s largest South Asian trading partner is Sri Lanka, with which it did four billion dollars worth of trade last year. But here too the trade has been lopsided, with Indian exports amounting to over 3.4 billion dollars in 2012.

“These free trade agreements are setting the new realities,” Kawai said.

These new realities dictate that while the richer nations negotiate, argue and cajole for more preferential trade, the world’s poor are being left further adrift.

A recent report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development said that the 49 least developed nations recorded job growth of just over two percent in the last few decades, barely above population growth levels.

ADBI’s Kawai however sees a role for the WTO to break the trading cycle that favours the rich. The organisation should act as a catalyst for trade negotiations and as an effective arbitrator of disputes, he said. More multilateral and regional trade agreements should be promoted, with the WTO playing a critical central role, he added.

“A revamped WTO process could achieve global trade and investment liberalisation through consolidation of regional agreements, creation of cross-regional agreements, and harmonisation of rules across agreements,” he said.

Former ASEAN Secretary General Severino agreed. “In fact most of the provisions in these [free trade] agreements have to be WTO-consistent,” he said.

But with the WTO hobbled, still unable to conclude the Doha round of negotiations that started in 2001, the chances of it playing a decisive role in trade negotiations remain low, at least in the short term, both experts agreed.

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CARICOM Chastises Dominican Republic over Deportations http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/caricom-chastises-dominican-republic-deportations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caricom-chastises-dominican-republic-deportations http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/caricom-chastises-dominican-republic-deportations/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 14:32:08 +0000 Peter Richards http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129110 Outraged at a court ruling that would potentially render stateless thousands of Dominican people of Haitian descent, the Caribbean Community on Tuesday suspended the Dominican Republic’s bid to join the 15-member regional grouping. Dominican President Danilo Medina had reportedly promised that his government would not actually deport any of the persons affected by the Sep. […]

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At the bustling border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Credit: Dan Boarder/cc by 2.0

At the bustling border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Credit: Dan Boarder/cc by 2.0

By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Nov 27 2013 (IPS)

Outraged at a court ruling that would potentially render stateless thousands of Dominican people of Haitian descent, the Caribbean Community on Tuesday suspended the Dominican Republic’s bid to join the 15-member regional grouping.

Dominican President Danilo Medina had reportedly promised that his government would not actually deport any of the persons affected by the Sep. 23 ruling.“It renders an already marginalised section of the Dominican population even more vulnerable to acts of daily discrimination and abuse." -- Prof. Norman Girvan

However, Michel Martelly, Haiti’s president, said that soon after returning from Venezuela last weekend where he held talks with Dominican officials to resolve the issue, the authorities in Santo Domingo deported 300 people “who do not know the country, who do not have family in Haiti and who do not even speak the language.”

Martelly is threatening to stay away from future talks – the next round is scheduled for next week – if the Dominican Republic does not show some form of goodwill.

“We don’t have to keep meeting without them showing some action,” he told IPS, adding that the deportees included children, some “as old as one day”.

Trinidadian Prime Minister and CARICOM chair Kamla Persad-Bissessar vowed to raise the matter with the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). A delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is also visiting the Dominican Republic early next month.

“It is especially repugnant that the ruling ignores the 2005 recommendations made by the IACHR that the Dominican Republic adapts its immigration laws and practices in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights,” she said. “The ruling also violates the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations.”

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who had written two letters to President Medina on the issue, said he was also prepared to push for the suspension of the Dominican Republic from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas and the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM).

He told IPS that “quiet diplomacy” has led nowhere and “clearly we have to up the ante for the government and the relevant authority to act”.

At the heart of the controversy is the stripping of citizenship from children of Haitian migrants. The decision applies to those born after 1929 — a category that overwhelmingly includes descendants of Haitians brought in to work on farms.

CARICOM had come under increasing pressure from civil society groups in the region to respond strongly. Caribbean organisations that met in Colombia last week condemned the ruling as “immoral, unjust and totally unacceptable”.

“It renders an already marginalised section of the Dominican population even more vulnerable to acts of daily discrimination and abuse based on the colour of their skin and/or the sound of their names,” former ACS secretary general Professor Norman Girvan told IPS.

Caricom has an opportunity to “prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

But efforts to pressure the Dominican Republic to soften the ruling – only the latest salvo in decades of cultural and economic tensions between the two nations – will likely prove an uphill task.

Earlier this month, Anibal De Castro, the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to the United Sates, responding to an article published in a Trinidad and Tobago newspaper, made it clear that his country “does not grant citizenship to all those born within its jurisdiction.”

“In fact, the United States is one of the few nations that maintain this practice. In most countries, it is the norm that citizenship be obtained by origin or conferred under certain conditions. Since 1929, the Constitution of the Dominican Republic has established that the children of people in transit, a temporary legal status, are not eligible for Dominican citizenship,” he wrote.

On Nov. 6, hundreds of people rallied in Santo Domingo in support of the ruling, even suggesting the erection of a wall to ensure the division of Hispaniola that is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Emilo Santana of the group Night Watch of San Juan claimed that many Dominicans were unable to receive health services because the resources were being used to assist Haitians and urged President Medina to prevent a “silent and massive Haitian take-over of the territory.”

“I feel humiliated and angry, but not by my president, I feel humiliated by those NGOs that negotiate with the poverty of Haitians and it is they who are destroying our country,” Santana said at the rally.

Another speaker, jurist Juan Manuel Castillo Pantaleon, said the Constitutional Court “has aroused all Dominicans to defend as one man our national sovereignty”.

He described the ruling as a landmark “because it clearly defines who we Dominicans are and reaffirms the laws and institutions, as provided in the Constitution.

“The hypocritical international community which offered aid to Haiti never kept their promises and in some cases committed robbery, and intends that we Dominicans should assume responsibility for a failed state,” said Castillo Pantaleon.

A United Nations-supported study released this year estimated that there were around 210,000 Dominican-born people of Haitian descent and another 34,000 born to parents of other nationalities.

The government of the Dominican Republic estimates that around 500,000 people born in Haiti live in the Dominican Republic.

In a statement, CARICOM said it was calling on the global community to pressure the Dominican Republic to “adopt urgent measures to ensure that the jaundiced decision of the Constitutional Court does not stand”.

“The government must show good faith by immediate credible steps as part of an overall plan to resolve the nationality and attendant issues in the shortest possible time.”

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Today’s Forecast Is for Climate-Proof Farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/todays-forecast-climate-proof-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=todays-forecast-climate-proof-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/todays-forecast-climate-proof-farming/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2013 18:32:05 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129060 Even as weather extremes bedevil Caribbean farmers, Ramgopaul Roop has turned his three-acre fruit farm into a showcase for how to beat climate change. His conservation farming methods include water harvesting and growing lemon grass as mulch. Since the grass is also a weed, it discourages the growth of other harmful weeds without the use […]

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Ramgopaul Roop explains how sustainable farming, including conservation farming and a water harvesting system, has allowed him to run a successful business despite unpredictable climate conditions. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Ramgopaul Roop explains how sustainable farming, including conservation farming and a water harvesting system, has allowed him to run a successful business despite unpredictable climate conditions. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Nov 25 2013 (IPS)

Even as weather extremes bedevil Caribbean farmers, Ramgopaul Roop has turned his three-acre fruit farm into a showcase for how to beat climate change.

His conservation farming methods include water harvesting and growing lemon grass as mulch. Since the grass is also a weed, it discourages the growth of other harmful weeds without the use of herbicides.“Farmers always asked, ‘When do we plant? When is the rain going to start?’” -- Dr. Leslie Simpson

“Because of the system using lemon grass and pommecythere trees growing lower than the lime trees, my land is covered with vegetation, so that we can adapt to climate changes,” Roop told IPS.

“If it is hot, we have this natural mulch under the crop. If it is raining, it helps to reduce the soil erosion,” he explained.

Roop is now the regional administrator for the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA), an organisation mandated by the 15-member regional grouping Caricom to work with regional farmers’ groups to find agroprocessing opportunities.

CABA serves as a collective voice for farmers in the region through advocacy and assistance with trade negotiations.

Roop, who has farmed in Trinidad for 25 years, said that compliance with a country’s environmental regulations is key to success. This has proven true in the case of his own property, Rocrops Agrotech, which is used as a model farm by Trinidad and Tobago’s Environmental Management Authority.

His strategies have enabled Rocrops to supply agroprocessors with 10,000–12,000 limes weekly, 52 weeks a year, over the past five years.

“If farmers adopted the methods that I have implemented, they would be able to develop small holder farms to produce year-round to increase their level of production so that they could fulfil commitments to processing facilities,” he said.

“Small-holding farms can be developed into a sustainable unit that can be passed on to the next generation,” Roop added.

Across the region, Caribbean farmers are seeking reliable climate data to help them make better decisions when planning their crops. To meet this demand, the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP) are training meteorologists to interact directly with farmers to provide accurate, timely information on weather patterns.

Monthly or trimonthly agricultural bulletins also discuss the possible effects on agriculture of the weather forecasted by the agro-metereologists.

Jamaica has also launched a website dedicated to providing twice-daily weather forecasts for farmers. Farmers can plug in the name of their location for detailed information on temperature, humidity, windspeed and other relevant data.

The training of the agrometereologists and the publishing of the bulletins are part of a larger EU-ACP project known as the Caribbean Agrometereological Initiative (CAMI), whose aim is to improve agricultural productivity in the region through the “improved dissemination and application of weather and climate information using an integrated and coordinated approach.”

CAMI’s partners include the Caribbean Institute for Metereology and Hydrology and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), among others.

Dr. Leslie Simpson said that Caribbean farmers have been in dire need of “access to information about what is happening and what is expected to happen with regard to climate change, and then information on how they can deal with these changes and risks.”

Farmers at workshops co-sponsored by CARDI “always asked, ‘When do we plant? When is the rain going to start?’” said Dr. Simpson, who is the natural resources management specialist with responsibility for climate change at CARDI.

The region’s increasing climate variability and the effects of climate change are making it difficult for farmers to determine when best to plant their crops, since the type of crop planted at a given time of year depends on the amount of rain expected then.

Region-wide discussions with farmers revealed that the foremost needs were for seasonal and inter-annual climate forecasts, forecasting for crop disease and pest incidence, and user-friendly weather and climate information.

Dr. Simpson said that “dealing with the variability of the present weather situation is the first step [for farmers] in dealing with any future climate change.”

CAMI notes that, “Short-range forecasts are normally available one day in advance, but modern agricultural practices …require weather forecasts with higher lead time which enable the farmers to take ameliorative measures.

“Thus, for the agricultural sector, location-specific weather forecast in the medium range (three to 10 days in advance) is very important. These forecasts and advisories should be made available in a language that farmers can understand.”

A second CARDI project now underway to help Caribbean farmers deal with climate change is being sponsored by the European Development Fund and administered by the ACP. This project is to help identify strains of crops that would be resilient to climate variability and climate change.

Dr. Arlington Chesney, CARDI’s executive director, told IPS that the project would focus firstly on starches and vegetable protein since “those are critical components of the diet of the majority of people in the region.”

Among the crops identified for research are sweet potato, cassava, corn, peas and beans. Dr. Chesney said the project has done a review of the soil types and changes in temperatures and rainfall patterns in various islands over the past 20 years, preparatory to selecting the crop varieties for investigation.

“We would try to characterise these varieties morphologically and genomically. We are looking at their DNA to determine if there are some inherent characteristics that are more resilient to climate change so that we could, with time, have a group of these varieties that we could say have a better than average chance of doing well under these new [climate] conditions,” Dr. Chesney said.

Much of the DNA work will be done by CARDI’s European partner in the project, the Wageningen University in Holland, which is considered one of the foremost agricultural universities in that country.

The university “will also do matching between the DNA crop performance and ecological measurements, temperatures, and rainfall,” said Dr. Chesney. CARDI will be providing mainly logistical and technical support on the project.

Dr. Chesney, like CAMI, stresses that his organisation’s work on equipping farmers to cope with climate change seeks to ensure the region’s food supply by improving farmers’ standard of living.

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Q&A: Indonesia Still at High Risk for Catastrophic Fires http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/qa-indonesia-still-at-high-risk-for-catastrophic-fires/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-indonesia-still-at-high-risk-for-catastrophic-fires http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/qa-indonesia-still-at-high-risk-for-catastrophic-fires/#comments Thu, 14 Nov 2013 19:04:24 +0000 Lusha Chen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128824 Lusha Chen interviews Dr. NIGEL SIZER of the World Resources Institute

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Lusha Chen interviews Dr. NIGEL SIZER of the World Resources Institute

By Lusha Chen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2013 (IPS)

In June, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were enveloped in haze as hundreds of forest fires burned across the island of Sumatra, in the worst pollution crisis to hit Southeast Asia in more than a decade.

Dr. Nigel Sizer, Courtesy of the World Resources Institute

Dr. Nigel Sizer, Courtesy of the World Resources Institute

An analysis by the U.S.-based World Resources Institute (WRI) determined that 150,000 square kilometres burned – more than twice the size of Singapore. Worse, nearly three-quarters of the fires in the study area burned on peatland (a soil layer composed of partly decomposed organic material,  often several metres deep), which acts as a sink to absorb planet-heating carbon dioxide.

Dr. Nigel Sizer, the director of WRI’s Global Forest Initiative, spoke with IPS correspondent Lusha Chen about the obstacles they confronted in investigating the fires, and what countries in the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can do to prevent this recurring environmental catastrophe.

Q: Regarding the most recent fires across Sumatra, what efforts are being undertaken and what efforts should be taken to investigate the cause of the fire and potential culprits?

A: Achieving full accountability for the fires in Sumatra is important, but it will not be easy. Officials in Indonesia, Singapore, and elsewhere are currently investigating who started the fires and who is legally responsible. Several companies that operate palm oil and pulpwood concessions, as well as a few individuals, have already been implicated.

Still, it remains to be seen exactly who will be officially prosecuted and what the penalty will be. Knowing who is legally responsible can be determined only after careful collection of evidence and proper due process.

A major hurdle is that land ownership information in Indonesia is complex, difficult to obtain and opaque. Analysis from the World Resources Institute found that determining who is legally responsible managing the land where fires occurred is a huge challenge.

For example, although many fires were concentrated in company concession lands set aside for palm oil or pulpwood development, simply identifying which companies manage the land proves very difficult. The company concession data are inconsistent between the Ministry of Forestry, the provincial and district governments, and even more so with the self-reported data from the companies.

Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia should work together to try and unravel the complex ownership structures of the companies, and their subsidiaries, to understand who manages the land where fires may have occurred.

Q: In the report, you called on ASEAN leaders to act together to stop the pollution. Did this happen at the recent meeting in Brunei?

A: In October the heads of state from the ASEAN countries took some positive steps towards combatting the illegal and harmful fires that cause the haze. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand agreed to adopt a joint “haze monitoring system” and share digital land-use and concession maps on a government-to-government basis. These are good steps towards transparency and accountability.

But much more progress needs to be made. The governments stopped short of making concession and land use data entirely public, which would allow for independent monitoring of fire-prone areas by civil society. The ASEAN governments can also do more to ensure that companies operating in multiple countries in the region are held to responsible for their operations in Sumatra.

Ultimately, enforcement on the ground in Indonesia remains the most important thing. The risk of further fires will remain high unless the no-burn policies as strictly enforced at a local level. This will require support from national and local governments, as well as corporate buyers and consumers who purchase commodities produced in the area.

Q: How seriously are the fires contributing to Indonesia’s GHG emissions, and what are the long-term consequences if the problem is not addressed?

A: The fires are an enormous contributor to Indonesia’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and will have profound impacts on the country’s climate strategies.

Calculating the emissions from the fires is be extremely difficult, due to uncertainly in the depth and quantity peat, a soil layer of partly-decomposed organic material that can emit large amounts of gas when burned. According to estimates from Indonesia’s national office on climate change*, changes in land use (including fires) and the effects on peatland account for 79 percent of Indonesia’s total emissions. This is globally significant, as Indonesia is, by some accounts, the third largest emitter in the world.

The Indonesian government has pledged to cut emissions 26 percent (or 41 percent with international assistance) by 2020 compared to business-as-usual. It will be very difficult for them to meet this ambitious goal without addressing the issue of fires on forest and peatland.

Q: Slash-and-burn is a very traditional way to clear the land for planting. What efforts should be taken at the grassroots level?

A: We need greater awareness and political will from the leaders on the ground. Elected officials, local governments, and local communities need to take strong action to ensure that illegal burning is controlled. Local farmers should be given alternatives to burning, such as access to mechanised equipment that can make clearing and planting easier.

It is also vital that major plantation companies prohibit their local company operators and suppliers from burning land. Similarly, corporate buyers of commodities like palm oil and pulp and paper should ensure that their supply chains are not linked to companies suspected of burning.

Getting the markets to send the right message will help ensure that local farmers and company operators understand the damage that the fires cause.

Change on the ground cannot happen without them.

(*Citation: DNPI (2010) Indonesia’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve. Dewan Nasional Perubahan Iklim, Jakarta, Indonesia.)

 

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Pacific Pact – a Minefield for Health Care http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/pacific-pact-a-minefield-for-health-care/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-pact-a-minefield-for-health-care http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/pacific-pact-a-minefield-for-health-care/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2013 00:18:17 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127991 The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the negotiation of which is set to conclude this year, could drive research into new drugs and improve access to medicines. Except – it won’t. “The current health system is reaching its limit,” Judit Rius, manager of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Access Campaign in the United States, told […]

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Patented drugs limit patients’ access to public health care. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Patented drugs limit patients’ access to public health care. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Oct 8 2013 (IPS)

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the negotiation of which is set to conclude this year, could drive research into new drugs and improve access to medicines. Except – it won’t.

“The current health system is reaching its limit,” Judit Rius, manager of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Access Campaign in the United States, told IPS. “It is failing patients with rare diseases, for example.”

“That’s why the TPP could be a tool for promoting health and improving innovation and access, instead of fostering failed, costly systems based on monopolistic patents,” she added.

The TPP free trade accord went into force between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore in January 2006. Eight other countries are now negotiating their incorporation: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam.
Of the 29 chapters under negotiation, the ones on intellectual property, investment and government procurement contain proposals, especially from the United States, to limit research and development of generic medicines, which are sold with the name of the active ingredient and can be produced once the patent for the original brand-name drug has expired.

Because they are less expensive, generic drugs are essential in the fight against disease, especially in poor developing countries.

The TPP talks have been shrouded in secrecy. But Rius said the aspects of the TPP that have been leaked to the press would hinder R&D in generic medicines, hurting the reduction of prices that has been achieved in recent years.

“Most affected by this would be patients, organisations that supply medicines, health and economy ministries, developing countries, and companies that produce generic medicines,” she said.

These laboratories are worried.

“The TPP could lead to the extension of patents and could hamper access to medicines,” José Luis Cárdenas, a lawyer who is an adviser to the board of Chile’s Industrial Association of Pharmaceutical Laboratories (ASILFA), told IPS.

“It is not realistic to think that developing countries are going to invest in R&D to produce new molecules,” given the investment capacity of multinational corporations, he said.

The 19th round of negotiations for the TPP took place in Brunei Aug. 23-30. Since then, the talks are no longer general but thematic. There are 21 working groups negotiating the 29 chapters, which include issues like agriculture, intellectual property, environment, services, telecommunications and investment.

Pharmaceutical patents give 20 years of protection, according to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) adopted in 1994 during the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

But the WTO’s 2001 Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health reaffirmed the flexibility of TRIPS member states in circumventing patent rights for better access to essential medicines. Under this declaration, governments may issue compulsory licenses on patents for medicines, or take other steps to protect public health.

Compulsory licensing is when a government allows someone else to produce a patented product without consent from the patent owner.

Washington wants the TPP to extend the length of chemical drug patent monopolies by five years and of biologics – products that includes a number of lifesaving drugs used to treat conditions such as cancer, diabetes and hepatitis C – by 12 years.

It is also pushing for data exclusivity, which gives companies monopoly rights over drugs by restricting the use of clinical trial data by drug regulators when approving generic or bioequivalent versions of drugs. This would keep the laboratories that make generic drugs from putting their products on the market as soon as patents expire.

In addition, it is pushing for the controversial practice of “evergreening” – the name given to the industry practice of seeking new patents after making small modifications to existing drugs.

Other measures on the table are patents for diagnostic, therapeutic and clinical procedures and the creation of a supranational mechanism to settle disputes between states and corporations.

These initiatives “affect access to medicine by the most disadvantaged segments of Mexican society due to the implications for the quality, safety and effectiveness of pharmaceutical products,” Gustavo Alcaraz, of Mexico’s National Association of Drug Manufacturers (ANAFAM), told IPS.

Alcaraz forms part of the Cuarto de Junto, a group of business delegates allowed by the economy ministry to monitor the negotiations without taking notes, after they sign a confidentiality agreement.

The secrecy surrounding the talks has kept civil society, academia, or health consumers from expressing their viewpoints on what is being negotiated.

Médecins Sans Frontières has called on the participating governments not to sign any agreement that undermines public health.

In 2011, non-governmental organisations and academics urged United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health Anand Grover to issue an urgent appeal to the governments involved in the TPP talks, on the grounds that the trade deal would severely impact the public health of the poor in developing nations.

In response, Grover sent a letter to the national authorities. But only Australia, Chile and New Zealand answered, defending the secrecy around the talks and voicing assurances that the right to health would be respected.

The effects of overzealous protection of intellectual property in health have been studied.

An article published in 2009 by the Health Affairs journal states that “Our study suggests that CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement)’s intellectual property rules on data exclusivity and patents are responsible for the removal of several lower-cost generic drugs from the market in Guatemala and for the denial of entry to a number of others.”

And as a result of the U.S.-Jordan free trade treaty, “Medicine prices in Jordan have increased 20 percent since 2001,” according to a report published by Oxfam in 2007.

“Higher medicine prices are now threatening the financial sustainability of government public health programmes,” added the report.

The details of the agreement are on the table at the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum Summit, taking place Oct. 7-8 in Bali.

After a TPP meeting on intellectual property in Mexico City Sept. 23-Oct. 2, the United States and Japan are now considering proposing that the extension of patent terms only apply to developed countries, allowing shorter periods in developing nations like Malaysia and Vietnam.

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Small Island Economies Battered by Erratic Weather http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/small-island-economies-battered-by-erratic-weather/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-island-economies-battered-by-erratic-weather http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/small-island-economies-battered-by-erratic-weather/#comments Mon, 07 Oct 2013 13:36:27 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127981 Malcolm Wallace always knew on which side his bread would be buttered. At the age of 19, he built and operated his own greenhouse on his father’s farm in Dominica, planting lettuce, sweet peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. “It was very lucrative and I actually made money,” said Wallace, now a graduate researcher at the Trinidad-based […]

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A vendor selling produce at a market in Dominica, which has been alternately hit by flooding and severe drought. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A vendor selling produce at a market in Dominica, which has been alternately hit by flooding and severe drought. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, Oct 7 2013 (IPS)

Malcolm Wallace always knew on which side his bread would be buttered.

At the age of 19, he built and operated his own greenhouse on his father’s farm in Dominica, planting lettuce, sweet peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers."Every step that we make forward we are probably making two backward." -- Samuel Carrette

“It was very lucrative and I actually made money,” said Wallace, now a graduate researcher at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

“The push was financial. You do stuff and you see it’s actually making money, you are actually able to take care of your family and lime [party] a little bit. Which young person does not want that?” he told IPS.

Caribbean governments have long sought to attract more young people to their agriculture sectors, and the nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has declared agriculture and tourism the “key pillars for development in the region”.

Samuel Carrette, permanent secretary for ministry of environment, physical planning, natural resources and fisheries for Dominica, says the OECS is focusing on these two sectors in order to build a sound economic base, improve the quality of life of residents, provide employment and to reduce poverty.

But he laments that both sectors are seriously challenged by climate variability and climate change.

“For agriculture we have many situations of greenhouses being affected, being blown away by hurricanes or strong winds. We have flooding of fields, we have the issue of access roads being blocked or carried away,” he told IPS.

“The weather variability provides a very serious challenge for us in terms of scheduling activities,” he said, referring to the challenges for the tourism industry.

In 2011, Dominica experienced its worst flooding on record. That followed almost a year of drought from 2009-2010 that severely affected the agriculture sector. In 2008, the island’s fishing industry was destroyed by hurricane Omar.

“Government had to find monies to rebuild the fisheries industry by providing the fisher folk with all the required fishing gear to rebuild,” Carrette said.

The OECS is a nine-member grouping comprising Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands are associate members.

OECS countries have very limited resources – natural, physical and financial – as well as small markets and economies.

Ignatius Jean, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) representative in Jamaica and a former minister of agriculture for St. Lucia, told IPS that “food security is national security.”

Jean said that part of the IICA’s mandate is to support the member states in the management of natural resources, and coping with climate change in particular. They also work to show the linkages between the agriculture and tourism sectors.

He pointed to “the need for a multi-disciplinary approach towards managing the situation”, noting that this entails assessing the impacts of climate change and creating mitigation and adaptation strategies.

“We cannot run away from our territory. We have to learn to live with it. That is what adaptation is,” he said.

IICA has ongoing programmes to climate-proof the agricultural development strategies in Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica and the Dominican Republic.

Keith Nicholls, climate change expert with the Belize-based Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), believes the impacts of climate change will cripple tourism niche markets in the region.

He told IPS that increased storm surges brought on by climate change is impacting the dive sector, in particular coral reefs.

“Ultimately, if corals are going to suffer, then the loss of the biodiversity will represent a loss of a competitive advantage in tourism,” he said.

The increase in the severity of storms and hurricanes will also drive visitors away, Nicholls said. He argued that visitors will not come to a region deemed unsafe, especially given the vulnerability of beach resorts to storm surges.

“Tourists come here for sun and sea. Properties are losing their appeal because of beach erosion,” Nicholls said.

“Extreme drought conditions mean we have no water and the tourism industry is highly based on water resources. If tourists cannot get water in your country, they will go elsewhere to get water,” he said.

However, it is not just the absence of water that concerns Nicholls but the abundance of it.

“If it rains in the dry season and it rains all the time we are not going to want to come to such a place,” he said.

Carrette said his country, Dominica, has “been exposed to very erratic weather conditions and for us it is a bit too frequent. This is so because Dominica is exactly directly in the path of the hurricanes given its location so that predisposes us to the unfavourable conditions of the tropical winds systems.”

He noted that most of the countries in the Windward Islands are moving away from a reliance on the banana industry and trying to diversify their economies, so severe weather conditions are major setbacks.

“As small developing island states, basically every step that we make forward we are probably making two backward because we have to keep rebuilding major roads, seawalls and rehabilitating feeder roads in the context of agriculture and rescheduling of tourism activities,” he told IPS.

“We have to understand that the monies required for rehabilitation and restoration of human livelihoods are not available locally within your own budget and you do not have adequate reserves to mobilise resources to do restoration work and so you have to borrow. So for us it’s a major challenge as it increases our debt burden.”

Senior director of economic affairs at the OECS Secretariat, Randolph Cato, said recently that the total cost of climate change to the OECS tourism industry could be as high as 12 billion dollars over the next 40 years.

“We must do something about it,” he said. “Adapting to climate change will cost less than the potential damage.”

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Syria Diplomacy Helps Shuffle Global Order http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/syria-diplomacy-helps-shuffle-global-order/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syria-diplomacy-helps-shuffle-global-order http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/syria-diplomacy-helps-shuffle-global-order/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2013 17:46:07 +0000 George Gao http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127629 When U.S. President Barack Obama tried to drum up momentum for airstrikes in Syria to punish and deter the use of chemical weapons, he failed to gain much of a following. At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg – which featured leaders from 20 of the world’s top economies – the U.S. proposed a statement […]

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President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Enrico Letta of Italy during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. Credit: White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Enrico Letta of Italy during the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Sept. 6, 2013. Credit: White House Photo by Pete Souza

By George Gao
NEW YORK, Sep 19 2013 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama tried to drum up momentum for airstrikes in Syria to punish and deter the use of chemical weapons, he failed to gain much of a following.

At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg – which featured leaders from 20 of the world’s top economies – the U.S. proposed a statement to condemn Syria’s use of chemical weapons. But over half the other participants – from the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the European Union, Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico and Germany – chose not to sign."The Obama administration recognised its limits and was ready to change course rather than head into a very risky option of war.” -- James Paul

Domestically, a range of public opinion polls reflected U.S. citizens’ growing distaste for military interventions. The New York Times and CBS, for example, asked 1,011 people from Sept. 6-8 whether the U.S. should take the leading role in trying to solve international conflicts, and 62 percent of respondents said no.

“You see characteristics of a more gradual change that’s taking place,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Since World War II, the U.S. has been a “provider of last resort” in acting alone or with a coalition to address international problems, Kupchan told IPS. But now, the U.S. public is more focused on domestic issues and increasingly wary of intervening abroad.

“The U.S. simply doesn’t have the same sway that it used to,” said Kupchan, who cited a process in which power is slowly diffusing on a global scale. “In some ways, Syria is emblematic of these more long-term trends.”

The recent case over Syria was also interesting at grassroots levels. While Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pushed for intervention, public representatives in Congress and Parliament held them back.

“Not since the Vietnam War era had we seen such decisive influence from the grassroots over international policy,” said James Paul, former executive director of Global Policy Forum (GPF).

“Washington did not command the beliefs or the respect of world public opinion… Governments wanted to go along, but could not without losing their support. Even Gulf monarchs have to think about how the public will receive their policies,” Paul told IPS.

U.S. leadership?

The idea that the U.S. is “failing” to lead unilaterally is a stigmatised one in U.S. society, whereas the U.S.’s main competitors have recently trumpeted ideas of diplomacy and multilateralism.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, for example, has been touting the phrase “win-win cooperation”, in which countries engage each other as partners, and Russian President Vladimir Putin criticised the notion of “American exceptionalism” in his recent New York Times op-ed.

“There are big countries and small countries… (but) we must not forget that God created us equal,” wrote Putin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took the initiative in brokering a diplomatic deal between the U.S. and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – which forces Assad to turn over his chemical weapons arsenal to the international community at the expense of a U.S. military attack. But Obama took criticism at home for backing into such an agreement.

“Today, the U.S. has less leverage, less respect and less flexibility than it once had,” said Paul. “But we must see the Syria outcome not as a U.S. failure, but rather as a kind of success, in that the Obama administration recognised its limits and was ready to change course rather than head into a very risky option of war.”

Nonetheless, many U.S. officials are wary of Russia’s Putin, who granted the U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum in his country. Putin’s recently established anti-gay laws also cast him under a negative light in the West.

“There is a certain predisposition in the United States to look askance at partnerships with non-democracies,” said Kupchan of CFR. “That’s simply part of America’s ideological equipment.”

However, engaging diplomatically with Russia over Syria may improve bilateral relations and give new momentum for the U.S.-Russia “reset”. It may, for example, allow U.S. and Russia to renew negotiations for nuclear disarmament.

“But if this agreement stumbles, and it appears that Russia acted in bad faith, it will do more harm than good,” warned Kupchan.

Paul said that the U.S.-Russia deal finally puts the spotlight back on diplomacy at the U.N., paving a way for U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to have another try in negotiating a political settlement to end Syria’s deadly civil war.

“When the great powers use the U.N., we can breathe a sigh of relief,” argued Paul. “Hopefully, the Syrian people can anticipate peace and political renewal. Western publics, by opposing war, have made this (opportunity) possible. “

The multipolar world

On the heels of the G20 summit in Russia was another meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, which gathered heads of state from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – an assembly of former Soviet nations and China. SCO leaders have also pioneered new ideas for development and trade across Eastern Europe and Asia. When the U.S. applied for observer status to the SCO in 2006, its application was rejected.

The SCO reflects the increasing role of regional organisations and alliances to deal with international issues in a “multipolar” world. Such organisations include the European Union, the African Union, UNASUR, ASEAN and the Gulf Cooperation Council, among others

Asked if diplomacy or coercion will be the norm in a “multipolar” world, Kupchan said, “I think it could go either way. You could say that in a world in which there are multiple centres of power, those centres of power can address global challenges only through multilateral cooperation. As a consequence, you can expect more of it.

“An alternative view would be: in a world in which there is a diffusion of power, there will be more competition for primacy and status, and as a consequence, you will see less multilateralism and more geopolitical rivalry.

“But I’m enough of a realist to say that the default position will be growing rivalry, and only through really good policy and steady efforts will we tame that rivalry through multilateral cooperation,” argued Kupchan.

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The Emerging Economies and the G20 Summit at St. Petersburg http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/the-emerging-economies-and-the-g-20-summit-at-st-petersburg/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-emerging-economies-and-the-g-20-summit-at-st-petersburg http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/the-emerging-economies-and-the-g-20-summit-at-st-petersburg/#comments Tue, 17 Sep 2013 14:54:11 +0000 Shyam Saran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127557 * Shyam Saran, a former Indian foreign secretary and the current chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, writes in this column that the Syrian crisis overshadowed economic coordination issues at the recent G-20 summit. Saran, current chairman of the Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries and a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, also discusses the deliberations by BRICS leaders on the sidelines of the meeting.

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* Shyam Saran, a former Indian foreign secretary and the current chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, writes in this column that the Syrian crisis overshadowed economic coordination issues at the recent G-20 summit. Saran, current chairman of the Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries and a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, also discusses the deliberations by BRICS leaders on the sidelines of the meeting.

By Shyam Saran
NEW DELHI, Sep 17 2013 (Columnist Service)

The eighth G20 Summit convened in St. Petersburg on Sept. 5-6, 2013 was dominated by the Syrian crisis, deflecting attention from the mandate of the gathering to serve as the premier forum for international economic coordination.

When leaders of the most influential countries meet it is inevitable that the pressing political issues of the day take centre stage.

Shyam Saran

Shyam Saran

The G7 too began as a forum for economic consultation and coordination among the world’s advanced market economies in 1975, to cope with the fallout of the 1973 oil crisis.

Just three years later, in 1978, the G7 issued its first Political Declaration and became, thereafter, the political, security and economic steering committee of the most powerful nations.

The G20 has taken its first steps in the same direction and it is likely that its role as a political and security forum will evolve steadily though informally at first. This trend will be reinforced if the United Nations Security Council remains a relic of a bygone international order.

That the G20 provided a platform on which the U.S. and Russia initiated steps leading to an eventual understanding on Syria’s chemical weapons is an indication of the potential political utility of the forum. These steps were taken against a strong prevailing sentiment at the summit against a military strike against Syria, favoured by the U.S. and some, but not all, of its allies.

The emerging economies were able to reflect some of their key concerns in the Summit declaration. The unconventional monetary policies pursued by reserve currency countries such as the U.S. and lately Japan, involving significant injections of liquidity into the system and keeping interest rates at zero or near zero, have confronted emerging economies like Brazil and India with volatile capital flows and exchange rate instability.

The declaration acknowledged for the first time that monetary policies pursued by advanced economies should be “calibrated and clearly communicated”. This falls short of a coordinated approach of the G20 but will help calm markets by promising greater predictability.

Developing countries would also take satisfaction over the G20 consensus, reflected in the declaration that the profits of transnational corporations should be taxed in the country where they are generated. African countries, in particular, have been victims of the tax avoidance practices of such companies.

An Indian proposal to create an infrastructure financing facility at the World Bank to extend funding for infrastructure projects in developing countries will be the subject of a study. However, in a situation of financial stringency in most developed economies, it is doubtful whether any significant financing window for this purpose will see the light of day soon.

The leaders of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) met on the sidelines of the G8 summit. Their deliberations focused on two landmark initiatives which were announced at their fifth regular summit in Durban on Mar. 27.

On the New Development Bank (NDB) it has been agreed that its initial capital will be 50 billion dollars, a somewhat modest amount given the expectations aroused when the proposal was first made. India had wanted a figure closer to 100 billion dollars.

It is still not clear how the equity will be distributed among the five partners. China has been willing to contribute a larger share but it is reported that Russia wanted each to have an equal share. South Africa is unable to contribute a significant amount given the smaller size of its economy.

On the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), the leaders announced a figure of 100 billion dollars, with China contributing 41 billion, Brazil, India and Russia 18 billion each, and South Africa five billion.

The CRA will serve as a multi-country currency swap mechanism which will help the BRICS deal with balance of payments problems. It is similar to the Chiang Mai initiative among ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea, but which is currently 240 billion dollars and partially linked to a parallel though partial International Monetary Fund aid programme.

Whether the CRA will follow a similar pattern is not yet clear. Nevertheless China’s role as a leading partner among the BRICS is now amply apparent. It is possible that the equity distribution in the NDB may follow a similar pattern.

It may be noted that none of the BRICS members forms part of the U.S.-sponsored Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – regional trade arrangements which will fragment the global trading system and marginalise the emerging economies. It is surprising, therefore, that this challenge did not figure in the deliberations of the BRICS nor at the G-20 either.

China’s pre-eminence in the BRICS is a trend likely to be reinforced with the current economic slowdown and economic difficulties being faced by most emerging economies, in particular Brazil, India and South Africa.

Russia is a special case, not an emerging economy in the same category as the other BRICS members. It has escaped economic distress thanks to rising energy prices in the wake of spreading turmoil in the Middle East.

China’s economy is likely to decelerate in the coming months. Its growing debt, now over 200 percent of GDP, is causing concern. If the Chinese economy undergoes a major crisis as some analysts predict, its role as the prime mover in BRICS would certainly diminish.

For the present, however, China, with its seven percent growth and its three trillion dollars of foreign exchange reserves, is likely to be acknowledged as the most emerged of the emerging countries.

(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Venezuelan Pullout from Rights Pact Called “Deeply Concerning” http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/venezuelan-pullout-from-rights-pact-called-deeply-concerning/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=venezuelan-pullout-from-rights-pact-called-deeply-concerning http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/venezuelan-pullout-from-rights-pact-called-deeply-concerning/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 22:34:44 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127410 The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) says it is “deeply concerned” over the Venezuelan government’s decision to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights, a move that went into effect Tuesday. The Venezuelan government has denounced the four-decade-old convention, which currently covers 23 of the 35 members of the Organisation of American States […]

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By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 10 2013 (IPS)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) says it is “deeply concerned” over the Venezuelan government’s decision to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights, a move that went into effect Tuesday.

The Venezuelan government has denounced the four-decade-old convention, which currently covers 23 of the 35 members of the Organisation of American States (OAS), as a tool of U.S. meddling in Latin America. But rights groups warn the move will eliminate a court-of-last-resort option for Venezuelans who feel they are unable to receive a fair judicial response within their own country – an option that remains guaranteed in the Venezuelan constitution.

“This comes at the expense of the protection of rights of the people of Venezuela, who are stripped of a mechanism to protect their human rights,” the IACHR, based here in Washington, stated Tuesday.

“The Inter-American Commission calls on Venezuela to reconsider this decision … [and] regrets that, despite repeated calls by the Commission and by other international bodies for Venezuela to reconsider its decision to denounce the Convention, the State of Venezuela has not reversed that decision.”

The American Convention on Human Rights sets out how OAS countries must guarantee citizens’ human rights. It also empowers the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica, to monitor and rule on rights-related complaints that have not been dealt with through domestic judicial channels.

Venezuela is the third country to formally denounce the American Convention on Human Rights and withdraw from the Inter-American Court’s jurisdiction. Trinidad & Tobago made a similar decision in 1998 after the court criticised that country’s use of the death penalty, while Peru tried to do the same the following year.

“It is very unfortunate that the Venezuelan government has decided to go through with this action,” Francisco Quintana, programme director for the Andean, North America and Caribbean region at the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a Washington-based advocacy group, told IPS.

“Yet if the government thought it was going to get away from this international supervision completely, that’s not right – at least with regard to any human rights violations that occurred before Sep. 10.”

Indeed, given that Venezuela remains a member of the OAS, the IACHR will maintain jurisdiction to monitor the country’s human rights situation. Further, as Quintana notes, the Inter-American Court will be able to continue hearing cases of alleged rights violations from during the period that Venezuela was party to the convention, from 1977 until Tuesday.

Yet critics worry about the potential impact not only on Venezuelans who have suffered abuses but also on the strength of the overall Inter-American structure, one of the world’s oldest pan-regional rights systems. The United Nations warned Tuesday the move could “have a very negative impact on human rights in [Venezuela] and beyond”.

‘Grave backlash’

Tuesday’s withdrawal follows through on one of the last policy decisions made by former president Hugo Chavez, who in July 2012 stepped up complaints that the Inter-American Court was interfering in domestic affairs.

Chavez had earlier accused the OAS of supporting a coup against his government. But the final motivation to withdraw appears to have been a ruling by the Inter-American Court in favour of Raul Diaz Pena, a Venezuelan who was found to have been mistreated in prison after being convicted of placing bombs near Caracas embassies.

“The Venezuelan government was against the external supervision of human rights issues from an international organ – over the past decade, the Inter-American Court lodged many cases against Venezuela, and the Chavez administration began to view these as political attacks,” CEJIL’s Quintana says.

“While the court established that there were clear violations of human rights, many didn’t even take place under Chavez. Some had to do with judicial independence, others with excessive force by the police – a wide range of cases, which offered no reason for the government to become frustrated with the system as a whole. After all, these rights were explicitly protected by the system and the convention.”

On Monday, CEJIL and more than 50 other organisations from 14 countries throughout the region derided the Venezuelan move and lamented its broader implications.

“Venezuela’s denunciation of the American Convention represents a grave backlash for the protection of human rights in the region,” the groups warned. “Additionally, this denunciation is preceded in recent years by the non-compliance of most of the sentences and measures of protection issued by the Inter-American Court.”

Also on Monday, Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, reiterated Chavez’s charge that the Inter-American system was a U.S. pawn.

“[T]he U.S. is not part of the human rights system, does not acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction or the commission, but … the commission headquarters is in Washington,” President Maduro said at a news conference, according to media reports. “Almost all participants and bureaucracy that are part of the IACHR are captured by the interests of the State Department of the United States.”

Indeed, the United States, itself a member of the OAS, has signed but never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, part of a longstanding suspicion of international legal instruments. Yet rights groups are suggesting that Maduro’s criticism underlines an incongruous policy stance.

“The Venezuelan government’s attitude is highly contradictory,” Guadalupe Marengo, deputy director of the Americas programme at Amnesty International, a watchdog group, said Tuesday.

“On the one hand it is promoting universal ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights and urging other countries to ratify this instrument while, on the other, it is withdrawing from it and denying its inhabitants access to the protection of one of its bodies.”

Silence

Decisions by the Inter-American Court have increasingly rankled several Latin American governments. Yet Venezuela, along with Ecuador, Bolivia and others, has led a recent attempt to reform the Inter-American system in ways that activists say would weaken several of the IACHR’s most important tools.

That attempt was rebuffed by member states at the end of a major debate process late last year, though the push for reforms continues.

Still, advocates say there has been no significant response from OAS members to Venezuela’s decision to withdraw from the convention. “There have been no repercussions from other members,” Quintana says.

Another watchdog group, Human Rights Watch, recently sent a series of letters to the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, urging them to persuade Venezuela to rethink its decision. Yet Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division and lead author of the letters, told IPS there was “No answer – silence. It was very disappointing.”

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Little Islands Take On Australian Dominance http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/little-islands-take-on-australian-dominance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=little-islands-take-on-australian-dominance http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/little-islands-take-on-australian-dominance/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 16:56:37 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126695 A new Pacific islands forum will seek to challenge the dominance of Australia and New Zealand in a regional body. The new grouping’s approach is being billed the ‘Pacific Way’, and also the ‘green and blue’ way for its commitment to environmentally sustainable oceans as well as land. The new Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) […]

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By Kalinga Seneviratne
SINGAPORE, Aug 20 2013 (IPS)

A new Pacific islands forum will seek to challenge the dominance of Australia and New Zealand in a regional body. The new grouping’s approach is being billed the ‘Pacific Way’, and also the ‘green and blue’ way for its commitment to environmentally sustainable oceans as well as land.

The new Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) challenges the Pacific Island Forum (PIF), a 16-member inter-governmental organisation which includes 14 Pacific Island countries plus Australia and New Zealand. The PIF is headquartered in Fijian capital Suva. Fiji itself was suspended from the PIF in 2009 after naval commander Frank Bainimarama grabbed power in a coup in 2006 and refused to hold elections.

Pacific Islands Map. Credit: David Jackmanson/CC BY 2.0

Pacific Islands Map. Credit: David Jackmanson/CC BY 2.0

Bainimarama, now prime minister of Fiji, said at the launch of the PIDF earlier this month that people “have largely been excluded from the decision-making process,” and that the PIDF would do it differently.

“It has been no secret that Commodore Bainimarama has great distaste for the Pacific Islands Forum, especially over the hypocritical way that the Forum has treated Fiji since the military coup,” Prof. David Robbie, director of the Auckland-based Pacific Media Centre, told IPS.

“Attempts by the Forum to destabilise Fiji have backfired. For all the criticisms of the Fiji regime, there are positive moves to ‘open up’ the region for greater development partnerships with Asia.”

Bainimarama is riding resentment among Pacific island nations that the PIF is dominated by highly-paid Australian, New Zealand and other western expatriates, trying to impose developed country solutions on Pacific problems.

“We’re so sheltered away from the rest of society,” Kiribati President Anote Tong said in an interview with Radio Australia. “We’re a club of our own in retreat and away from questions from people demanding answers.”

At closed-door PIF meetings, leaders usually come dressed in suits, while at the PIDF meeting they were all dressed in the colourful short-sleeve Pacific-style shirts, and all discussions were in open forum.

For the first time in a major Pacific Island forum, business, church and civil society leaders sat alongside national political leaders, and spoke at the same forums. Such interaction is being projected as a ‘Pacific Way’ of consultation.

The PIDF is gaining support, said Robbie. “Bainimarama achieved a coup in successfully getting Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to the PIDF in spite of Australian attempts to prevent him going. Having the East Timor leader there was an important bridge for Asia-Pacific relations.”

The launch of the PIDF reflects new realities in the region, where Australia and New Zealand no longer have a stranglehold on aid handouts. In the past decade China and many other Asian countries have begun to give aid to and invest in the region. The PIDF meeting was funded by grants from China, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The leaders of the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Nauru attended the meeting along with the deputy prime minister of Vanuatu and the vice-president of Micronesia. Senior ministers from most other Pacific nations and territories also attended.

While Australia and New Zealand sent observers to the meeting, special envoys came from China, Russia and a range of countries such as Chile and Cuba. Government ministers were sent to represent the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar.

A clear division between Melanesian and Polynesian nations of the Pacific seems to have opened up, with leaders of Polynesian countries like Samoa, Tahiti and French Polynesia boycotting the meeting.

Polynesians are believed to be a mixture of Malay and Taiwanese who moved into the South Pacific islands more than 3,000 years ago. Melanesians are of Papuan stock, and are believed to have moved from parts of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to other Pacific Islands like Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu more than 4,000 years ago.

The Polynesian nations have a tendency to side with Australia and New Zealand in regional affairs, but Melanesian nations make up about 90 percent of the Pacific Island population, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) is an influential grouping in the region.

Australia blocked Commodore Bainimarama taking over the leadership of the MSG spearhead group within the PIF in 2010 – a decision that seems to have backfired.

“MSG is the real economic powerhouse of the Pacific and is a serious challenge to the old Forum (largely dominated by the Polynesian islands and Australia and New Zealand),” Robbie said. “And now the PIDF is a new threat.”

In an interview with IPS from Suva, executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO) Emele Duituturaga said many now expect PIDF to give more value to Pacific expertise and to be founded on Pacific perspectives.

“More importantly the governing and secretariat structures will include all sectors, especially civil society, which the PIF has been overlooking,” she said.

“The new organisation should ensure that the process and structures that are put in place are inclusive,” she added. “It will be a mistake for the governments to just set it up and expect us to go along with it.”

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