Inter Press Service » Southern Aid & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Mon, 21 Apr 2014 09:53:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Biofortified Tortillas to Provide Micronutrients in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:10:41 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133736 Latin America is one of the regions in the world suffering from “hidden hunger” – a chronic lack of the micronutrients needed to ward off problems like anaemia, blindness, impaired immune systems, and stunted growth. Brazil is heading up a food biofortification effort in the region to turn this situation around. Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras […]

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Biofortified beans. Credit: Courtesy of BioFORT

Biofortified beans. Credit: Courtesy of BioFORT

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is one of the regions in the world suffering from “hidden hunger” – a chronic lack of the micronutrients needed to ward off problems like anaemia, blindness, impaired immune systems, and stunted growth.

Brazil is heading up a food biofortification effort in the region to turn this situation around.

Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras are targets of the biofortification programme, after six countries in Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia) and three in Asia (Bangladesh, India and Pakistan).

Behind the initiative is HarvestPlus, which forms part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

CGIAR is an independent consortium leading the global effort to modify food in developing regions by adding essential minerals and vitamins.

In Latin America, the project is led by the Brazilian Biofortification Network (BioFORT), which since 2003 has brought together 150 researchers from EMBRAPA, the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, and from universities and specialised centres.

EMBRAPA food engineer Marília Nutti, who heads the BioFORT network in Brazil and the rest of the region, told IPS that the three countries in Latin America with the highest rates of micronutrient deficiency are Haiti, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

HarvestPlus developed a Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) to identify countries in the developing South with the highest levels of micronutrient deficiency.

Agronomist Miguel Lacayo at the Central American University in Managua told IPS that Nicaragua is second only to Haiti in terms of problems in the production and availability of food for a nutritious diet in this region.

An index to measure progress

The Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) ranks countries based on their potential for introducing nutrient-rich staple food crops to fight micronutrient deficiencies, focusing on three key micronutrients: vitamin A, iron and zinc.

For the BPI, country data on the prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies and production and consumption levels of target crops is analysed to help guide decisions about where, and in which biofortified crops, to invest for maximum impact.

BPIs are calculated for seven staple crops and for 127 countries in the developing South.

“The diet in Nicaragua is principally made up of maize and beans, which are eaten two to three times a day,” the expert said. “People eat a lot of maize tortillas, accompanied by beans, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Lacayo spoke with IPS during the Mar. 31-Apr. 2 Second Global Conference on Biofortification, organised by HarvestPlus in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

“The idea is to increase the concentration of iron and zinc in these two staple foods, to reduce nutrition problems. We want to help bring down anaemia levels,” he said.

Severe nutritional deficits are especially a problem among children in rural areas in Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. “It’s a chronic problem among the rural poor, who make up 60 percent of the population,” Lacayo said.

Biofortification uses conventional plant-breeding methods to enhance the concentration of micronutrients in food crops through a combination of laboratory and agricultural techniques.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that two billion people in the world today suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies, and that every four seconds someone dies of hunger and related causes.

In December 2012, the World Bank released a toolkit providing nutrition emergency response guidance to policy-makers, seeking to ensure health, food and nutritional security for vulnerable mothers and their children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the World Bank an estimated 7.2 million children under five are chronically malnourished in the region.

The Bank also warned about the economic costs of malnutrition, estimating individual productivity losses at more than 10 percent of lifetime earnings, and gross domestic product lost to malnutrition as high as two to three percent in many countries.

The World Food Programme (WFP) Hunger Map shows that the malnutrition rate in Nicaragua stands at between 10 and 19 percent, while in Haiti 35 percent of the population is malnourished.

Nicaragua began to biofortify foods in 2005 with support from Agrosalud, a consortium of institutions working in 14 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean that is mainly financed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Agrosalud has also supported the inclusion of micronutrients in foods in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.

Of these countries, Panama went on to launch a national biofortification programme, with no outside financing.

The first phase of Agrosalud ended in 2010, and Nicaragua was made a priority target in the second phase, with backing from BioFORT, initially focused on maize and beans.

“We want to support biofortified crops,” Lacayo commented. “We are going to create a network in Nicaragua with HarvestPlus, governments, non-governmental organisations, universities, and national and international bodies.”

The alliance will include 125 researchers from 25 university institutions, and the national plan is to get underway in June, with the aim of promoting food security and sovereignty in Nicaragua.

Lacayo stressed that one element of the plan will be support for small farmers in the production of seeds “for their own consumption, as well as a surplus to sell…We want to give this added value, and to strengthen small rural enterprises.”

The agronomist foresees a lasting alliance with Brazil through EMBRAPA, to help reduce hidden hunger in Nicaragua.

BioFORT’s Nutti said the network has an “innovative focus” of combining nutrition, agriculture and health.

“Biofortification is a new science. The big advantage of the project is that it has brought together agronomists, economists, nutritionists and experts in food sciences behind the common goal of having an impact on health,” she said.

Initially, HarvestPlus asked Brazil only to biofortify cassava. But BioFORT decided it was also necessary to incorporate other micronutrients in seven other foods that are essential to the Brazilian diet: cowpeas, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, maize, squash and wheat.

“This is a very big country. You have to show people that this biofortified diet is better,” Nutti said.

Brazil is one of the HarvestPlus country programmes, because it operates with its own technical resources and is seen as a model in the administration of the biofortification effort.

While in Africa, the main target of the initiative, 40 million dollars will be allocated to biofortification, the budget for Latin America over the next five years will range between 500,000 and one million dollars.

That is not much, considering the magnitude of the task, BioFORT technology researcher José Luis Viana de Carvalho told IPS.

In his view, Brazil has the experience needed to forge alliances that contribute to the development of biofortification in the region.

“Brazil is a granary due to the quantity of cereals it produces and its cutting-edge technology. We should think in terms of a 20-year timeframe for reducing the pockets of hidden hunger,” he added.

He said that in terms of public health, the cost of spending on biofortification is lower than the cost of not undertaking the effort.

“Prevention through quality food is important. Biofortification is not medicine, it is prevention. It is the daily diet,” de Carvalho said.

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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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South-South Cooperation Takes Off in Arab World http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-south-cooperation-takes-arab-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-south-cooperation-takes-arab-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-south-cooperation-takes-arab-world/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 22:39:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131917 As the concept of South-South cooperation (SSC) continues to strengthen worldwide, some of the richest countries in the Arab world have been reaching out to the poor and the needy in the developing world. The assistance has come mostly in the form of soft loans, investments, debt-relief, infrastructure building, technical cooperation and experimentation in new […]

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The UAE's Masdar City, a planned city powered by renewable energy, serves as a model of what green urban development can be. Credit: Nrman Foster/cc by 2.0

The UAE's Masdar City, a planned city powered by renewable energy, serves as a model of what green urban development can be. Credit: Nrman Foster/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 21 2014 (IPS)

As the concept of South-South cooperation (SSC) continues to strengthen worldwide, some of the richest countries in the Arab world have been reaching out to the poor and the needy in the developing world.

The assistance has come mostly in the form of soft loans, investments, debt-relief, infrastructure building, technical cooperation and experimentation in new technologies and products."The Doha Expo is a showcase for joint creativity in our region." -- Mourad Wahba

At least three funding mechanisms – the Saudi Fund for Development, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development – currently finance projects or contribute to debt relief in scores of developing countries, mostly in Africa.

In its latest report on South-South Cooperation, the United Nations singles out the 44-billion-dollar Islamic Development Bank, established by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, whose portfolio of loans and investments has been spread over many Islamic countries in Africa and Asia.

At the same time, the nine-billion-dollar Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development has been providing soft loans to governments and to public and private corporations.

The dramatic increase in SSC was highlighted at the first-ever Arab States Regional South-South Development Expo in the Qatari capital of Doha, which also showcased some of the success stories and shared experiences of more than 500 delegates from 45 countries.

Hosted by Qatar, the Expo was co-organised by the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation and the U.N. Development Programme’s (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Arab States.

Yiping Zhou, director of the New York-based U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation, told IPS the Expo in Qatar, which concluded Thursday, was a direct response to the requests of member states and institutional partners to bring practical Southern solutions closer to regional contexts.

“With a focus on the exchange of knowledge and experience, stakeholders came together at this Expo to deepen the impact of South-South development cooperation through concrete scaling up and replication efforts,” he added.

Overall, more Arab financial resources have been allocated to poor countries, with 40 percent of total Arab financial assistance to recipients of World Bank’s International Development Assistance programme, according to a report released by the Cairo-based UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States.

Additionally, some 20 percent of total Arab lending has been directed to countries eligible for heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC), including Afghanistan, Ghana, Cameroon, Mali and Senegal.

When the United Nations held a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria last month, the Kuwaiti government made a hefty contribution of 500 million dollars – far ahead of the 380 million dollars pledged by the United States.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar were also key contributors, with 60 million dollars each.

“No one nation and no one community has all the answers,” said Mourad Wahba, deputy regional director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States.

“This is why the [Doha] Expo is so important, as a showcase for joint creativity in our region,” he added.

He said the Expo brought together “many champions of development policies and technologies that transformed inspiring ideas into everyday reality in countries of the South that have achieved balanced growth and sustainable development.”

The Expo also presented “a strong incentive for all Arab countries to learn from those successful experiences in order to achieve tangible development results across the region,” he noted.

The U.N. system is already incorporating South-South approaches into national and regional development planning and programming, specifically in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.

The United Nations has also assisted Saudi Arabia to become one of only five countries worldwide to have a specific country-level outcome related to SSC in its medium-term plan between the government and the world body.

According to the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States, more than half of the nearly 800 loans and 230 technical assistance grants by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development have been distributed across 16 Arab states.

In 2010-2011, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development signed loan agreements with seven Arab countries, primarily in the energy sector.

Also in 2011, the Saudi Fund for Development financed power plants in Egypt and Syria, along with dams in Sudan, while the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development provided Bahrain with a loan to build government and administrative buildings.

Kuwait is also cooperating with the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development, based in Qatar, to promote knowledge transfer on sustainable buildings and promote overall sustainable development.

Similarly, according to the report, the UAE has been particularly active in the field of renewable and alternative energy and clean technology.

Masdar, a subsidiary of the Mubadala Development Company in Abu Dhabi, continues to host the annual World Future Energy Summit, which has provided an important platform for knowledge-sharing among numerous Southern countries.

The UAE has also recently re-established the South-South platform for the High-level Conference on Science and Technology, an important forum for South-South knowledge exchange.

Under the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation with Africa, Egypt has provided more than 250 short- and long-term experts to some 30 African countries for training and facilitation of knowledge-sharing in a variety of sectors, including water resources, health, agriculture and education, according to the report.

Egypt, which has trained more than 1,200 scholars from Kazakhstan through training courses, has also launched the Centre for South-South Industrial Cooperation for transferring technology and promoting innovation-based industrial development among African states.

Led by King Mohammed VI, Morocco has encouraged the deployment of graduates of Moroccan engineering schools to assist in development projects in rural electrification or water management, particularly in Africa.

Meanwhile, the Dubai-based Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, the largest in the Arab region with a 10-billion-dollar endowment, has been described as a major philanthropic organisation in the Arab world, while Dubai Cares, which supports primary education in developing countries, is armed with an endowment of over one billion dollars.

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Farmers in Mozambique Fear Brazilian-Style Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/farmers-mozambique-fear-brazilian-model/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-mozambique-fear-brazilian-model http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/farmers-mozambique-fear-brazilian-model/#comments Sat, 28 Dec 2013 12:08:57 +0000 Amos Zacarias http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129776 Rodolfo Razão, an elderly small farmer in Mozambique, obtained an official land usage certificate for his 10 hectares in 2010, but he has only been able to use seven. The rest was occupied by a South African company that grows soy, maize and beans on some 10,000 hectares in the northeast of the country. He […]

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Population density is high in rural Mozambique. Credit: Courtesy of União Nacional de Camponeses

Population density is high in rural Mozambique. Credit: Courtesy of União Nacional de Camponeses

By Amos Zacarias
NAMPULA, Mozambique , Dec 28 2013 (IPS)

Rodolfo Razão, an elderly small farmer in Mozambique, obtained an official land usage certificate for his 10 hectares in 2010, but he has only been able to use seven. The rest was occupied by a South African company that grows soy, maize and beans on some 10,000 hectares in the northeast of the country.

He got nowhere filing a complaint with the authorities in the district of Monapo, where he lives, in the province of Nampula. And at the age of 78, he can’t wait much longer.

Brígida Mohamad, a 50-year-old widow, is worried about one of her seven children, whose land was also invaded by a company.

“My son has nowhere to grow his crops; our ‘machambas’ [farms] aren’t for sale,” she complained when she met with IPS in Nacololo, the village in Monapo where she has lived her whole life.

These are two cases that help explain the fear among small farmers regarding the Programme of Triangular Cooperation for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannahs of Mozambique (ProSavana), which is backed by the cooperation agencies of Brazil (ABC) and Japan (JICA).

Inspired by the technology for tropical agriculture developed in Brazil, ProSavana is aimed at increasing production in the Nacala Corridor, a 14.5-million-hectare area in central and northern Mozambique that has agricultural potential similar to the Cerrado region – Brazil’s savannah.Of the 4.5 million inhabitants of the Corridor, 80 percent live in rural areas, representing much higher population density than in Brazil and other countries, where the countryside has lost much of its population as agriculture has modernised.

Of the 4.5 million inhabitants of the Corridor, 80 percent live in rural areas, representing much higher population density than in Brazil and other countries, where the countryside has lost much of its population as agriculture has modernised.

But in certain parts of the Corridor, it is possible to go two kilometres without seeing a house, as the families who depend on subsistence farming are spread out and isolated, on farms averaging 1.5 hectares in size.

Cassava is the basis of the local diet. The small farmers also grow maize, pumpkins, sunflowers and sweet potatoes for their own consumption, as well as cash crops: cotton, tobacco and cashew nuts.

The prospect of turning the Corridor into the country’s breadbasket, where agricultural exports are facilitated by the Nacala port on the Indian Ocean, is expected to intensify conflicts over land by attracting companies focused on large-scale, high-yield production on immense estates that displace traditional farming populations.

The arrival of these big investors is a terrible thing, Mohamad said. She is opposed not only to the changes directly brought about by ProSavana, but to others that could be accelerated due to the programme’s influence.

The coordinator of ProSavana, Calisto Bias, told IPS that peasant farmers will not lose their land. He added that the main objective of the programme is to support farmers living in the Corridor and help improve their production techniques.

But Sheila Rafi, natural resources officer with Livaningo, a Mozambican environmental organisation, said the way of life of local communities will be disrupted because the investors will bring in new employer-employee relations as local people produce crops for the companies, and monoculture will undermine the tradition of “producing a little of everything for their own diet.”

Generating jobs by means of investment and value chains is one of ProSavana’s stated missions. Another is modernising and diversifying agriculture with a view to boosting productivity and output, according to the website created by the Agriculture Ministry.

But the greatest fear, the biggest threat, is land-grabbing. Many are trying to protect their land by obtaining the “land usage right” based on customary occupancy (known as DUAT). But the certificate does not actually guarantee a thing, local farmers told IPS.

Under the laws of this southeast African nation, all land belongs to the state and cannot be sold or mortgaged. Farmers can apply to the government for a DUAT for up to 50 years.

Some 250 small farmers in Nacololo gathered Dec. 11 outside the home of the local chief to demand explanations about the alleged grabbing of nearly 600 hectares of land by Suni, a South African company.

The district of Malema, 230 km from the city of Nampula, is also experiencing turbulent times. Major agribusiness companies like Japan’s Nitori Holding Company operate in that area. Nitori was granted a concession to grow cotton on 20,000 hectares of land, and the people who live there will be resettled elsewhere.

Another of the companies is Agromoz (Agribusiness de Moçambique SA), a joint venture between Brazil, Mozambique and Portugal, which is producing soy on 10,000 hectares.

The lack of information from the government has exacerbated worries about what is going to happen. “We only heard from the media and civil society organisations that there’s a programme called ProSavana; the government hasn’t told us anything yet,” said Razão.

Costa Estevão, president of the Nampula Provincial Nucleus of Small-Scale Farmers, said “We aren’t opposed to development, but we want policies that benefit small farmers and we want them to explain to us what ProSavana is.”

The triangular agreement, which was reached in 2011 and combines Japan’s import market with Brazil’s know-how and Mozambique’s land, has already proved fertile ground for controversy.

Social organisations from the three countries have mobilised against ProSavana, rejecting it or demanding that it be reformulated.

Brazil wants “to export a model that is in conflict,” said Fátima Mello, director of international relations for the Brazilian organisation FASE and an active participant in the People’s Triangular Conference on ProSavana, held in Maputo in August.

Millions of landless peasants, a major rural exodus, fierce land disputes, deforestation and unprecedented use of pesticides and herbicides have been the result of the model that has prioritised agribusiness, monoculture for export and large corporations, say activists who defend family farming as one of the keys to food security.

An important component of that model is the Japan-Brazil Cooperation Programme for Development of the Cerrado, which got underway in 1978 in central Brazil and is now serving as an inspiration for ProSavana.

The technology that will be transferred to farmers in the Nacala Corridor comes from Brazil.

The Brazilian governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa, is training extension workers and staff at Mozambique’s Institute for Agricultural Research (IIAM), in ProSavana’s first project, which will run from 2011 to 2016.

Brazilian participation is also decisive in the rest of the components of the programme: the master plan assessing the rural areas and crops with good potential in the Corridor, and the project for extension and models.

“The breadth and grandeur of the ProSavana Programme contrast with the failure of the law and the total absence of a deep, broad, transparent and democratic public debate,” says an open letter signed by 23 Mozambican social organisations and movements and 43 international organisations.

The letter, addressed to the leaders of Brazil, Japan and Mozambique and signed May 23 in Maputo, also called for the environmental impact assessment required by law.

The signatories demanded the immediate suspension of the programme, an official dialogue with all affected segments of society, a priority on family farming and agroecology, and a policy based on food sovereignty.

They also said that all of the resources allocated to ProSavana should be “reallocated to efforts to define and implement a National Plan for the Support of Sustainable Family Farming.”

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Illicit Capital Leaving Developing Countries Up by 14 Percent http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/illicit-capital-leaving-developing-countries-14-percent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illicit-capital-leaving-developing-countries-14-percent http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/illicit-capital-leaving-developing-countries-14-percent/#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2013 23:48:49 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129520 Developing countries are likely losing more than a trillion dollars a year in “illicit financial flows” stemming from crime and corruption, according to new estimates. This fast-rising figure is already 10 times the total amount of foreign aid these countries are receiving. Between 2002 and 2011, governments in the developing world are thought to have […]

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By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 12 2013 (IPS)

Developing countries are likely losing more than a trillion dollars a year in “illicit financial flows” stemming from crime and corruption, according to new estimates. This fast-rising figure is already 10 times the total amount of foreign aid these countries are receiving.

Between 2002 and 2011, governments in the developing world are thought to have lost a total of almost six trillion dollars, largely due to poor governance and lax regulation, according to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based watchdog. Included in its estimates are ill-gotten wealth from purposefully incorrect trade invoices, the use of shell companies and tax havens, and other accounting gimmicks.

“This gives further evidence to the notion that illicit financial flows are the most devastating economic issue impacting the global South,” Raymond W. Baker, GFI’s president, stated in the introduction to a report released Wednesday, calling the numbers a “wake-up call to world leaders on the urgency with which illicit financial flows must be addressed.”

Particularly worrying is the fact that the rate at which these outward flows have been growing appears to be increasing substantially."Illicit financial flows are the most devastating economic issue impacting the global South."
-- Raymond W. Baker

In 2002, for instance, the earliest year that GFI’s researchers have examined, illicit financial flows are thought to have been around 270.3 billion dollars. By 2011, the latest year for which estimates are available, that figure had grown to 946.7 billion dollars, and has likely increased since then.

When adjusted for inflation, this translates into an average growth of more than 10 percent a year, while the 2011 number constituted a 13.7 percent increase over 2010.

“Outflows have certainly been increasing,” Dev Kar, GFI’s chief economist and a co-author of the new report, told IPS. “During the economic crisis both imports and exports declined, but as economic activity has recovered so too have these outflows.”

Kar also cautions that the GFI estimates are likely conservative. They include neither unofficial (“hawala”) financial flows nor large-scale cash transactions, and as such are unable to offer a glimpse of broader underworld economies, including drug or human trafficking.

Asia is seen as having the most significant problems, accounting for around 40 percent of all illicit outflows from developing countries. While Africa’s share was only around seven percent in 2011, the continent did have the highest ratio of average illicit flows to gross domestic product, at around 5.7 percent.

With Africa also the world’s most aid-dependent region, an increasing concern for many is how to staunch the flow of some of this illicit capital so it can be ploughed back into public sector spending such as on health, education and public infrastructure.

Shadow systems

Major development institutions have started paying attention to such discrepancies. The humanitarian group Oxfam estimates that some 32 trillion dollars are currently sitting in tax havens around the world, for instance, and suggests that taxes on this sum could raise nearly 190 billion dollars a year.

“Governments should agree to end global hunger by 2025 and an end to tax havens, which could help pay for this and much more,” Stephen Hale, advocacy head for Oxfam, said in a statement. “Tax-dodging effectively takes food from hungry mouths.”

The past year has actually seen notable moves by the international community to close down certain avenues used to hide or shield unreported wealth from prying states. Major multilateral groupings including the Group of Eight (G8) rich countries and the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised countries, for instance, have put tax abuse at the top of their list of priorities.

This summer, a high-level United Nations panel negotiating the next phase of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for which the deadline is 2015, stated that one of its highest priorities would be tackling the abuse of offshore tax havens and illicit financial flows.

The following month, nearly a dozen EU members agreed to the world’s first multilateral system of tax information exchange, based on similar bilateral U.S. requirements passed three years ago.

“The fact that illicit financial flows are being mentioned in the G20 and other international organisations – that didn’t exist before,” Brian LeBlanc, a junior economist with GFI and a co-author of the new report, told IPS. “Earlier, these issues were seen solely as a developing country problem but now we’re seeing developed countries taking action. So we’re making some progress.”

Yet transparency advocates urge that far more needs to be done, and GFI’s Kar says that he expects the moves that have been taken so far will have little impact on illicit financial flows in the near term.

“The G20 has basically not tackled the shadow financial system, which remains largely intact – there have been no moves to improve transparency, not much has been done on tax havens or blind trusts,” he says.

“Importantly, much of the conversation currently focuses on developed rather than developing countries. We believe that governance factors are the main engines of illicit flows, and in the major countries governance is simply not improving – in fact, it’s deteriorating in many countries.”

GFI has now put out research on illicit financial flows for several years in a row. Yet Kar says the startling estimates presented appear to have made little impact on government officials in many developing countries, even as state coffers in those countries continue to struggle in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

“In most countries it’s had almost zero impact, with government officials refusing even to acknowledge that this is a problem. Malaysia, for example, will only say that our estimates are overstated,” Kar says, noting that Malaysia ranked fourth on GFI’s list of the largest exporters of illicit capital.

“There remains a powerful, corrupt nexus between politicians and business, covering the financing of elections, non-transparency of business conduct, kickbacks in government contracting,” Kar added.

“These are huge issues, and we expect a long process before countries come to accept the fact that illicit flows are a problem – and then to move to implement policies to deal with the situation.”

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The Asia-Africa Link Is IT http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/asia-africa-link/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-africa-link http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/asia-africa-link/#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 08:38:31 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129248 Only 16 percent of Africa’s population of over a billion is online. But as Internet and mobile phone connectivity grows rapidly, the continent wants to join forces with Asian powerhouses to change its digital landscape. While offering its vast market, Africa hopes to leverage Asia’s information and communication technology (ICT) prowess to develop sectors as […]

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Women at ICT workshop in Namaingo, eastern Uganda. Credit: Susan Kinzi/IPS

Women at ICT workshop in Namaingo, eastern Uganda. Credit: Susan Kinzi/IPS

By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK, Dec 4 2013 (IPS)

Only 16 percent of Africa’s population of over a billion is online. But as Internet and mobile phone connectivity grows rapidly, the continent wants to join forces with Asian powerhouses to change its digital landscape.

While offering its vast market, Africa hopes to leverage Asia’s information and communication technology (ICT) prowess to develop sectors as diverse as banking, telemedicine, education and cyber security.

“There is a lot of opportunity for collaboration,” says Safroadu Yeboah-Amankwah, director and leader, McKinsey’s Business Technology Practice, South Africa.“North America, to be honest, is not relevant to our markets. There are very interesting opportunities in terms of South-South collaboration."

“Asia’s experience with the Internet is five or maybe 10 years ahead of Africa. A lot of the talent, skill and technology available (in Asia) may be of great use,” the Ghanaian engineer-turned-telecom strategist told IPS.

He was here to attend Telecom World 2013 organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) last month.

A large contingent of African countries led by Nigeria mounted a big roadshow at the event, both to display their growing mobile and broadband communication-oriented economies and to attract Asian investment.

“North America, to be honest, is not relevant to our markets. There are very interesting opportunities in terms of South-South collaboration, especially around banking, education and so forth, where collaborations will allow for bigger markets and therefore more innovation availability,” Yeboah-Amankwah said.

“Larger Asian and African e-commerce players could collaborate to make the opportunities even bigger. For us, integration between large African and Asian players is an exciting idea,” he added.

According to ITU statistics, more than 720 million Africans have mobile phones and some 167 million already use the Internet. And the figures are rising fast as mobile networks are built up and the cost of Internet-enabled devices falls.

But Asia is far ahead. Comparative figures show that a total of 3.5 billion out of the global 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions are from the Asia-Pacific region.

So when it comes to ICT, Africa has Asia on its mind.

“Technology is new to all of us. We are all learners. We can work together to make technology work for us,” said Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the ITU, who is from Mali.

According to ITU figures, in 2013, there are almost as many mobile subscriptions as people in the world.

Asian countries are world leaders in ICT, with South Korea heading ITUs’ global ICT development index, India known for its IT expertise, and Chinese telecom companies being the biggest global operators.

Ji-Yong Park, senior research associate at the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA), told IPS they have been helping African countries improve their Internet security. “Last year we trained over 200 government officials [from Africa],” he said.

India has assisted many African countries in upgrading their IT training facilities, among them the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT established in 2003.

Malaysia is helping set up a multimedia university in Tanzania while Thailand is launching a Thaicom satellite with a footprint over Africa to help improve communication within the continent and with Asia.

“We see Africa as the future. They have a lot of land to provide food for people around world. Their weather is the same as ours, so we can use the land of Africa, we can communicate by satellite and we can have e-agriculture and we can communicate with remote sensors,” an advisor to the Thai minister for ICT told IPS.

“African and Thai people are almost the same in terms of development and the type of people. When I go there, I feel this is a nice place, they just lack infrastructure for new kind of technology,” the advisor said.

Rebecca Okwaci, minister of telecommunications and postal services, South Sudan, told IPS, “We look towards Asia because a lot of technology we need is in Asia.”

She said China’s leading ICT firm Huawei has given a lot of technical assistance since South Sudan’s independence in 2011, as has India.

“Our ICT programme is already connected with India. Universities in India have projects with us in e-education and they are training our staff within the ministry,” she said.

Okwaci said they are also looking for assistance from Asia in telemedicine projects. “We can customise their experience for South Sudan,” she said.

African countries see the ICT partnership with Asia as a change from the old model of development assistance from the West.

“Traditionally the relationships have been in terms of grants or loans. Now we have relationships that are fuelling growth in Africa, especially in ICT,” Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT Jean Philbert Nsengimana noted.

He said his country already has a good partnership going with South Korea.

“We contracted Korea Telecom to build our national broadband, which was completed in the last two years. Now we are working together to develop the last mile connections. We get assistance in cyber security. We send our people for training,” Nsengimana said.

He also said they have strong relationships with India and China in the ICT sector.

China’s Huawei has a research and development centre in South Africa and seven training centres across Africa. It employs over 5,800 people in 18 countries and its revenue from African operations was 3.42 billion dollars in 2011.

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics last month said it hopes to corner half the 20 million smart phone sales expected in Africa next year.

The future looks bright for Asia-Africa collaborations in the ICT sector.

Eu-Jun Kim, regional director for Asia-Pacific of ITU, told IPS, “The challenges are similar, namely affordable and sustainable access, especially to broadband, and in both Asia and Africa we have vast land and vast population that could benefit from the application of ICTs.”

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Egypt Begs Gulf for Rescue http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/egypts-economy-mercy-gulf-aid/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypts-economy-mercy-gulf-aid http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/egypts-economy-mercy-gulf-aid/#comments Sun, 01 Dec 2013 08:54:23 +0000 Hisham Allam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129171 “Subsidies from the Arab world are large and reflect Arabs’ love towards the Egyptian people, but we cannot depend on that to build an economy that can compete with other countries,” said economist Dr Alia el Mahdi. She was explaining the economic situation in Egypt after the current government made repeated requests for financial assistance […]

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A woman steps away from tear gas during a riot in Cairo. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS.

A woman steps away from tear gas during a riot in Cairo. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS.

By Hisham Allam
CAIRO, Dec 1 2013 (IPS)

“Subsidies from the Arab world are large and reflect Arabs’ love towards the Egyptian people, but we cannot depend on that to build an economy that can compete with other countries,” said economist Dr Alia el Mahdi.

She was explaining the economic situation in Egypt after the current government made repeated requests for financial assistance from Gulf countries.

“Our dependence on them should not exceed temporary assistance, and it should not become the mainstay of the national economy, just to gain a better international credit rating,” she added.

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s raised its long- and short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings for Egypt on Nov. 15, from “CCC+/C” to “B-/B” with a “stable” rating outlook.

In his short trip to the United Arab Emirates last October, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi was told by the deputy prime minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, that “Arab support for Egypt will not last long, and Egypt should come up with innovative and unconventional solutions.”

El Mahdi, a former dean of the economics and political science faculty at Cairo University, told IPS that “The armed forces should stop funding the national economy and go back to their essential mission, which is maintaining security along the borders.”

She said foreign investment has almost fled from Egypt, as reflected by the small numbers of experts and foreign investors who attend economic conferences and seminars held in Egypt. “If we want to bring them back again, then there is no alternative other than political stability and security,” she said.

“Small industries in Egypt, which represent 87 percent of the volume of industrial plants and 13 percent of industrial production, are suffering badly,” she added.

El-Beblawi’s cabinet had a great opportunity to curb the economic decline that the government of ousted president Mohamed Morsi (2012-2013) exacerbated, “but they didn’t,” el Mahdi said.

“The current state of Egypt’s economy has become a disaster that requires immediate intervention to save it before it’s too late,” said Salah Gouda, head of the Economic Studies Centre in Cairo.

“The monetary reserves decreased from 36 billion dollars in January 2011 to 22 billion dollars by late November 2011,” he said. “Then they descended to 13.6 billion dollars by March 2013, due to a rise in imports as a result of not running at full production capacity.”

The unemployment rate has reached 15 percent, which means there are about 10 million people unemployed in this country of 84 million, Gouda said.

“Everyone was expecting a lot from Beblawi’s cabinet, who took the oath after the Jul. 3 military crackdown against Morsi,” he added. “But all the crises plaguing Egyptians while Morsi was in power still exist – gas shortages, traffic jams, lack of security – even train accidents.

“I can say that interim President Adly Mansour’s first hundred days have resembled the first 100 days of former president Morsi – both are disappointing,” Gouda told IPS.

He said the current regime frittered away public support after the Jun. 30 public uprising, in addition to 12 billion dollars in financial aid from the Gulf countries.

“Despite all this, the government’s performance was weak, with the ministries working merely to make it through the current period without being exposed to legal questions later,” he argued.

The military are now leading Egypt in many fields, especially the economy, standing by the current government to enforce law and security, and addressing any crises that arise. “The military are very keen to keep their prestige,” he added.

Another problem the current regime is facing, Gouda said, was that “after foreign investment fled as a result of the security situation, large numbers of businessmen belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood or supporters of the ousted president decided to withdraw their investments to strike an economic blow to the current system, and they succeeded to some extent.”

Ali Fayez, a former head of the Federation of Egyptian Banks, told IPS “the banking system stopped funding small and big projects, which led to hundreds of businessmen being on the black lists of banks as a result of their inability to pay some instalments.

“European and Gulf subsidies are vitamins and painkillers,” he said. “It would be better if they pumped real investments into Egypt, because the results would be more sustainable than cash payments.”

“Domestic debt has exceeded all safe limits since before the Jan. 25, 2011 revolution, and all the cabinets that have ruled since the fall of Hosni Mubarak [1981-2011] have depended on delaying and rescheduling payments,” Fayez told IPS. “None of the successive governments have tried to face it, and this is seen as a major burden for the coming generations.

“The only difference between the two governments, the Muslim Brotherhood and the current administration, is that the former was relying on aid from Qatar and Turkey while the second is depending on the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” Fayez said.

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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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Uruguay Keen to Become Regional Logistics Hub http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/uruguay-keen-to-become-regional-logistics-hub/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguay-keen-to-become-regional-logistics-hub http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/uruguay-keen-to-become-regional-logistics-hub/#comments Wed, 06 Nov 2013 17:40:38 +0000 Pablo Tosquellas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128651 The small South American country of Uruguay could become a major logistics hub in the Southern Cone due to the deepwater port that the government is planning to build in a tourist area on the Atlantic ocean. The project is controversial, because it would convert an undeveloped natural tourism zone in the department (province) of […]

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Location of the projected terminal (in pink) on the coast of Rocha, between La Paloma (bottom left) and Cabo Polonio (upper right). Credit: Comisión Interministerial del Puerto de Aguas Profundas

Location of the projected terminal (in pink) on the coast of Rocha, between La Paloma (bottom left) and Cabo Polonio (upper right). Credit: Comisión Interministerial del Puerto de Aguas Profundas

By Pablo Tosquellas
MONTEVIDEO, Nov 6 2013 (IPS)

The small South American country of Uruguay could become a major logistics hub in the Southern Cone due to the deepwater port that the government is planning to build in a tourist area on the Atlantic ocean.

The project is controversial, because it would convert an undeveloped natural tourism zone in the department (province) of Rocha in the southeast of the country. And it would also compete with terminals in the country’s two giant neighbours: Brazil and Argentina.

There is already ongoing tension over trade issues between Uruguay and Argentina, and the ports of Buenos Aires and Montevideo have been rivals since Spanish colonial times.

Port rivalry grows

The late October decision by Buenos Aires to ban Argentine exports from being trucked to Uruguayan ports for shipment overseas has added a new element of uncertainty to the Rocha port project.

For now, the port of Montevideo is mainly affected, as a regional transport hub that receives shipments from numerous maritime and river terminals in Argentina and transfers cargo to ocean-going vessels. If Argentina’s ban is kept in place, port operations in Montevideo could drop by 25 percent.

Montevideo, Uruguay’s main port, has an annual cargo volume of just over 11 million tons, similar to its rival, Buenos Aires - the capital of a country with a territory 16 times larger and a population 13 times larger.

According to government sources consulted by IPS, the terminal will be built in stages, and because of its geographic location and its natural depth of 20 metres, it is being offered as a lower-cost shipment point for minerals and grains from neighbouring countries.

Enrique Pintado, Uruguay’s minister of transport and public works, told IPS that the project should be a kind of “cooperative” effort among all countries in the region, to save on shipping costs so that products reach their destination, mainly China and Southeast Asia, “with less distorted prices.”

According to a document from the Inter-ministerial Commission on the Deepwater Port, the terminal could generate 50 percent savings in logistics costs for certain trade flows from the region to Asia, and could eventually handle 50 million tons a year of cargo.

The minister said the capacity of other ports in the region is “saturated”, like Santos in the southeast of Brazil, which is Latin America’s biggest container port, which means “the waiting time for loading and unloading merchandise is excessive.”

The key to the success of the new port is its natural depth, according to Pablo Genta, under-secretary of transport and a member of the Inter-ministerial Commission.

Today, ports on the Atlantic that are about 12 metres deep can handle 60,000 tons of cargo per vessel. The port in Rocha could more than double that capacity, by serving ships carrying up to 160,000 tons, Genta told IPS.

The port of Santos handles more than 100 million tons of cargo annually.

“The port of Montevideo, in the best years, handles 12 million tons,” Genta said. “And the Buenos Aires terminal just barely reached 11 million tons last year.”

The port of Montevideo as seen from the Cerro neighbourhood. Credit: Daniel Stonek/CC BY 3.0

The port of Montevideo as seen from the Cerro neighbourhood. Credit: Daniel Stonek/CC BY 3.0

Uruguay wants to attract a significant portion of the grain and mineral cargo that Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay ship to China and Southeast Asia.

But the under-secretary stressed that Uruguay’s own future production justifies the plans for the port. He was referring to the Aratirí mining project in the centre of the country, where the Indian company Zamin Ferrous hopes to extract 18 million tons of iron ore a year which would be transported to the coast through a slurry pipeline.

Economic, topographical and marine hydrology studies are currently being carried out, as well as physical-chemical studies to establish an environmental baseline, with the aim of putting it out to tender in 2014.

A law passed in January approved construction of the port in the department of Rocha, in an area that contains the beach resort towns of Mar del Plata, El Palenque and San Francisco.

The port is to cover an area of 3,027 hectares, for which land will have to be expropriated. In July, the government called for expressions of interest from potential users of the terminal.

The coastline of Mar del Plata, El Palenque and San Francisco is sparsely inhabited. The white sands and waves and natural vegetation form part of a 46-km stretch of beach between La Paloma, Rocha’s main resort town, and Cabo Polonio, a remote beach village that is inaccessible by road, has no electricity or running water, and is home to a colony of southern sea lions and South America’s most important mobile sand dune area.

Opponents of the port, especially the Movement for a Sustainable Uruguay (MOVUS), argue that there is no clear evidence that neighbouring countries will be interested in using the port.

The only obvious freight use, they say, is by the planned Aratirí open-pit mine, which does not yet have all the permits it needs, and has run up against strong social and environmental opposition.

Legal action has been taken to challenge the approval of construction of the port.

Minister Pintado argued, however, that Uruguay cannot fail to take advantage of the fact that Asia “has been shifting its interest in investment and business westward and is breaking down the North-South economic logic.”

In the mid term, he said, the port would handle shipments of grains and bulk liquids, especially oil and its by-products.

The authorities estimate the cost at one billion dollars – an investment that will be made in stages, “like the layers of an onion,” Pintado said. Different terminals will be built as neighbouring countries and the private sector express interest.

Corporación Navíos SA, a shipping company that operates under the free-zone procedure in the port of Nueva Palmira at the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná rivers, has closely followed the process and hopes to invest in the Rocha terminal, perhaps by means of a public-private contract.

The firm stores and transports freight that arrives in river barges from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Ruben Martínez, general manager of Corporación Navíos, told IPS that many of the company’s ocean-going ships set out with “incomplete” loads.

“There is merchandise, like iron ore, that requires larger vessels, which need a stop off at another port to complete their load,” he said. For that reason, he added, the activities in the ports of Nueva Palmira and Rocha could complement each other.

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Energy Integration Runs into Short Circuits http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/energy-integration-runs-into-short-circuits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=energy-integration-runs-into-short-circuits http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/10/energy-integration-runs-into-short-circuits/#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2013 23:28:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128535 Energy integration efforts in Latin America have been made in fits and starts, even though many clearly understand that the only way to solve the region’s energy shortages and high costs is by working together. Experts who spoke to IPS agreed that the main difficulties in achieving energy integration lie in the differences between national […]

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The Itaipú hydrower complex, an example of bilateral energy integration that cannot go beyond the borders of Paraguay and Brazil. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

The Itaipú hydrower complex, an example of bilateral energy integration that cannot go beyond the borders of Paraguay and Brazil. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Oct 31 2013 (IPS)

Energy integration efforts in Latin America have been made in fits and starts, even though many clearly understand that the only way to solve the region’s energy shortages and high costs is by working together.

Experts who spoke to IPS agreed that the main difficulties in achieving energy integration lie in the differences between national energy supply systems. In the region there are countries with centralised state management and others with mixed public-private systems.

Other factors that affect integration are differences in fuel prices, uncertain availability of natural gas supplies, and socio-environmental conflicts over major energy projects such as mega-dams.

To move forward towards integration, they say, commercial and technical regulations must be adopted for a viable international market for electricity, to operate interconnected systems, harmonise national regulations, and coordinate planning for connected systems, in order to develop a regional market.

Common criteria for reliability standards, rationing priorities, and distribution of congestion pricing revenues also have to be defined.

The first in-depth study on these questions in Latin America was carried out in 1964, when the Commission for Regional Electricity Integration (CIER) was founded. It is currently made up of 10 countries, including the founders – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay – as well as Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, and seven companies.

CIER has carried out more than 20 studies that have outlined the concrete possibilities for unifying the region’s power grids.

But Latin America is far from achieving energy integration, Oscar Ferreño, CIER international coordinator for generation, told IPS.

Among the factors standing in the way of integration are a lack of political will and the privatisation of a number of major power production and distribution companies and oil companies since the 1990s.

Ferreño pointed out that there is one interconnected area, among the founding members of the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) trade bloc – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (Venezuela recently became the fifth full member).

But he warned that “there is a natural barrier that is difficult to overcome: the Andes mountains.”

At any rate, several bilateral or multilateral initiatives for interconnection have been studied, and some of them could be implemented, he added.

One example is the electric power interconnection between Uruguay and Brazil, which involves a 420-km power line with a capacity of 500 MW and a high-voltage direct current converter station, that is to come onstream in mid-2014.

The Brazilian government is also discussing with Argentina and Paraguay the construction of a 321-km power line with a capacity of 2,000 MW to interconnect two binational hydroelectric dams: Yacyretá, shared by Argentina and Paraguay, and Itaipú, between Brazil and Paraguay.

The problem is that the Itaipú contract prohibits the sale of energy to a third country.

In the Andean region, meanwhile, two projects are still only on paper. One arose from a 2007 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study on the complementarities of energy resources in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

The other is the Andean Electric Interconnection, which would involve the five Andean countries and has the backing of the Inter-American Development Bank.

But the idea of establishing a regional energy network focuses on tapping the oil reserves of Argentina and Venezuela, the gas reserves of Peru and Bolivia, the hydroelectric systems of Chile and Brazil, and the region’s solar and wind power potential.

Ferreño said “energy integration is fundamental,” principally because of the variation in non-conventional renewable energies, like solar and wind power, which have a vast potential in Latin America.

“Wind can blow in the south at one point and not in the north, or it could be cloudy, so integration facilitates the homogenisation of the production of the different natural energies, which is essential,” he said.

The director of the TNS Latam consultancy, Fernando Meiter, agreed that “regional energy integration is still far off.

“It is impossible if there is no framework so that if one country has a surplus, it can be given to a neighbour. That’s basically the problem,” he said.

“Argentina has several gas pipelines to Chile and one to Uruguay, which are currently not in use. In the short term, I don’t think integration will be achieved,” Meiter said.

Argentina exported natural gas regularly to Chile until 2006, when it began to sell only small quantities because it had to cover its own domestic needs first.

Chile, even without resolving the question of the diversification of its energy mix, could turn to Bolivia, another large gas supplier. But there is constant diplomatic tension between the two countries over Bolivia’s long-standing demand for an outlet to the Pacific Ocean, which it lost to Chile in the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific.

Bolivia currently exports significant volumes of natural gas to Argentina.

According to the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE), regional energy consumption amounted to 1,073 terawatt hours in 2010 at high prices, both for residential and industrial uses.

Official figures indicate that in 2011, Chile was the country with the sixth highest prices for the industrial sector in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), at 154 dollars per megawatt hour.

Meiter noted that one of the benefits of energy integration is the ability to negotiate prices as a bloc.

“For example, if Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay could jointly purchase natural gas from any of the Arab producers, if they went together to negotiate volumes, the prices would come down,” he said.

In his view, the Andes are not an obstacle for integration, “because the infrastructure is already there. That means it’s a question of political will,” he said.

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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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Africa in Debt to Brazil: Forgiveness Isn’t Always Free http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/africa-in-debt-to-brazil-forgiveness-isnt-always-free/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-in-debt-to-brazil-forgiveness-isnt-always-free http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/africa-in-debt-to-brazil-forgiveness-isnt-always-free/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 23:25:54 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127412 The Brazilian government projects the cancellation of nearly 900 million dollars in debt owed by a dozen African countries as a gesture of solidarity. But others simply see an aim to expand the economic and political influence of South America’s powerhouse. The decision by the left-wing government of Dilma Rousseff, which is now being studied […]

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Brazil’s investments in Africa are steadily growing. The Odebrecht company leads the firms building the Cambambe hydropower complex on the Kwanza River in Angola. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Brazil’s investments in Africa are steadily growing. The Odebrecht company leads the firms building the Cambambe hydropower complex on the Kwanza River in Angola. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 10 2013 (IPS)

The Brazilian government projects the cancellation of nearly 900 million dollars in debt owed by a dozen African countries as a gesture of solidarity. But others simply see an aim to expand the economic and political influence of South America’s powerhouse.

The decision by the left-wing government of Dilma Rousseff, which is now being studied by Congress, will especially benefit the Republic of Congo, which owes 350 million dollars, Tanzania (237 million), and Zambia (113 million).

The other beneficiaries are Ivory Coast, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal and Sudan.

The decision was described by Rousseff as a “two-way street that benefits both the African countries and Brazil.”

But it was not interpreted the same way by the opposition, and some lawmakers are seeking to block congressional approval.

Cases that have been called into question include those of Republic of Congo, Gabon and Sudan, which are facing international legal action for cases of corruption and even genocide.

Authorities in those countries are “corrupt figures who buy Louis Vuitton and Mercedes Benz luxury cars. Writing off the debt of governments that enjoy such privileges sends the wrong message,” said Senator José Agripino of the opposition Democratic Party.

A statement issued by Brazil’s foreign ministry says the forgiveness of the debt is based on the rules and principles of the Paris Club of rich creditor nations, aimed at easing the debt burden of poor countries.

The communiqué said the move was not just something that occurred to Brazil in a vacuum, but formed part of “an international practice with clear objectives to keep the debt burden from being an impediment to economic growth and anti-poverty efforts.”

In an interview with IPS, political scientist Williams Gonçalves at the Rio de Janeiro State University said the argument raised about dictatorships and “supposedly corrupt governments…has nothing to do with international relations.”

Gonçalves said the critics “were not scandalised” when the United States and other economic powers “protected and financed dictatorships in Latin America.”

“And today they are protecting similar regimes in the Middle East,” he said. “Nor are the defenders of human rights and democracy raising their voices.”

Brazil’s foreign policy defends respect for national sovereignty, Gonçalves said.

“Attaching political strings and interfering in local political systems is a common practice by the United States and other major powers,” he said. “Just as we don’t want anyone to meddle in our political life, we suppose others feel the same way.”

There are other aspects to the controversy.

Senator Alvaro Dias of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party mentioned the economic objectives.

Cancellation of the debt would reopen credit lines at Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) and bolster the involvement of leading Brazilian business consortiums in the African countries in question.

Trade between Brazil and Africa climbed from five billion dollars in 2000 to 26.5 billion dollars in 2012, according to foreign ministry figures.

In Africa, Brazilian public and private enterprises have invested in sectors like oil, mining and major infrastructure works.

Marcelo Carreiro, a history professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told IPS that Brazil’s Africa policy has “strategic objectives” such as “the extension of a strategic security area and the expansion of market access.”

That is reflected by the selection of countries, many of which are in West Africa, geographically across the ocean from Brazil’s impoverished but fast-growing Northeast, he said.

That could give rise to “the creation of a geostrategic Brazilian sphere in the south Atlantic, responsible for conceptually expanding this country’s frontier towards the African coast,” he said.

This would safeguard “not only its strategic pre-salt area (the ultra-deep oil reserves hidden under a thick layer of salt off the coast of Brazil) but also the vast extension of Atlantic coast, in a ‘mare brasiliensis’,” protecting this country from future access by enemies to its territory.

The history professor said “this new carving up of Africa” is indicated by the inclusion of “the only country on the planet governed by a leader facing genocide charges,” the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

“Sudan is triply attractive for Brazil: it is rich in oil, in need of civil construction, and hungry for industrial and agricultural goods,” Carreiro said.

“It is possibly the most advantageous market in Africa, for the Brazilian economy,” he added.

Closer ties would bring additional advantages, such as support for Brazil’s aspirations to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

But Gonçalves is not shocked by this interpretation. “The forgiveness of the debts of small states by large economies is a common thing,” he said.

“The technical explanation for this cancellation is clearing the slate for those countries to pave the way for loans from the BNDES that favour the activities of large (Brazilian) companies,” he added.

But the political science expert does not see this as running counter to the principles of aid. “Solidarity and cooperation are carried out by means of loans and the implementation of projects,” he said.

“International economic relations occur under the capitalist system, which means the aim is always profit,” he said.

But the analyst believes that unlike other kinds of aid, “these projects will be carried out under financial conditions and with social objectives that do not awaken the interest of the big industrialised economies.”

Investments by South America’s giant also reach Africa through the Brazilian Cooperation Agency (ABC), with a total of 50 million dollars in projects in agriculture, health and education in 2010.

Carreiro pointed out that shortly before the debt cancellation plan was announced in May, the Rousseff administration reported that ABC would be overhauled, and its aid would be increased by 300 million dollars, mainly for Africa.

“But that was apparently seen as too little, and Rousseff decided to speed up the decision, directly buying influence in key countries in Africa,” he said.

“Earmarking 300 million dollars for cooperation projects and writing off some 900 million dollars in debt for corrupt governments are two contradictory practices in a chaotic foreign policy,” Carreiro said.

A 2012 study by the Don Cabral Foundation showed that Brazil’s presence in Africa was growing, with 34 Brazilian multinational corporations operating in the continent. In the view of 44 percent of the companies surveyed, the government’s foreign policy over the last decade has fuelled expanding international involvement by Brazilian firms.

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Pink Dollars Emerge as New Currency http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/pink-dollars-emerge-as-new-currency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pink-dollars-emerge-as-new-currency http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/09/pink-dollars-emerge-as-new-currency/#comments Sun, 01 Sep 2013 07:15:08 +0000 Sudeshna Sarkar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127188 Naomi Fontanos is seeing a change from when she went holidaying in 2002. Then she had run into ignorance about transgender people or worse at hotels, restaurants and other business establishments in Boracay, the popular tourist destination south of Manila. “[Boracay reflected] the general close-mindedness of Philippine society at that time towards lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) issues,” […]

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U.S. lesbian couple Courtney Mitchell (R) and Sarah Welton (L) getting married in Nepal under the aegis of the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT rights organisation. Credit: Sudeshna Sarkar/IPS

U.S. lesbian couple Courtney Mitchell (R) and Sarah Welton (L) getting married in Nepal under the aegis of the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT rights organisation. Credit: Sudeshna Sarkar/IPS

By Sudeshna Sarkar
KOLKATA, Sep 1 2013 (IPS)

Naomi Fontanos is seeing a change from when she went holidaying in 2002. Then she had run into ignorance about transgender people or worse at hotels, restaurants and other business establishments in Boracay, the popular tourist destination south of Manila.

“[Boracay reflected] the general close-mindedness of Philippine society at that time towards lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) issues,” Fontanos, founder of Gender and Development Advocates Filipinas, a prominent transgender rights group in the Philippines, told IPS.

“Many had never met a transwoman before.”

But the passing decade has seen remarkable changes sweeping travel destinations. Returning to the island last November, Fontanos saw her hotel sporting a rainbow-coloured flag, an indication it welcomed LGBT tourists. Other establishments too marketed themselves as gay-friendly.

The changes have been noted in London by Tris Reid-Smith, director and editor of Gay Star News, a news site focusing on LGBT issues worldwide.

Reid-Smith is revamping his site’s travel section to cash in on the growing importance of the pink dollar in the tourism industry.

“LGBT people travel more, take more holidays,” he told IPS. “With the recession in Europe and North America, families are finding it difficult to travel on holidays after meeting the priorities – food, gas bills, education for the children.

“LGBT families are smaller and travelling is more affordable for them.”

The economic change has made the travel industry realise that if they want to improve profit margins, they have to woo this growing segment.

After promotions to entice visitors from Australia and China, two of its largest tourist markets, Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) is now focusing on this neglected sector.

The trigger is the new Marriage Amendment Act that made same-sex marriages legal in the country from Aug. 19.

New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs said more than 1,000 marriage forms have been downloaded a day earlier, three times the average.

TNZ hosted one of these weddings, choosing gay Australian couple veterinarian Paul McCarthy and his partner Trent Kandler through a competition.

National carrier Air New Zealand sponsored the wedding of Aucklander lesbian couple Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau on board a plane.

Legal reforms as well as advocacy of gay rights by world leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis have also boosted pink tourism.

“Many countries have recently approved same-sex marriages,” Reid-Smith said. “Like the UK and some states in the U.S. In Asia, it is being discussed in Thailand and Vietnam. In India, colonial (anti-homosexuality) laws have been challenged.

“All this has given the community confidence that the government is on their side, society is on their side.”

A decade ago, many hotels refused to give same-sex couples double-bed rooms and they had to endure discrimination. “But now, with laws recognising them as 100 percent equal to other citizens, gay couples expect more respect,” Reid-Smith said.

Social media and the Internet have played a key role.

“Social media allowed people to discover what’s going on worldwide and comment,” he said. “It built relationships, confidence and a global community against homophobia.”

When gay rights activist Eric Ohene Lembembe was murdered in Cameroon in July, protests erupted in London. And when the Russian government showed an anti-homosexual bias, calls poured in from different parts of the world urging a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi.

“It is important for LGBT people to show that they are willing to boycott events, countries or people that are homophobic,” Jean Chong, founder of Sayoni, a Singapore-based platform for lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer women, told IPS. “We can [take] our money elsewhere and we have a choice.”

Singapore is perceived as being more tolerant than its Muslim-majority neighbours like Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. It hosts gay film festivals, saw opposition member Vincent Wijeysingha become the first politician to come out, and its annual gay rally, Pink Dot, drew a record 21,000 people this year.

Still, it has laws that criminalise sex between men and dampen tourism numbers. Surveillance and censorship still exist, and sponsorships for gay events are hard to come by.

“LGBT tourists will be wary of countries that are not welcoming since there are many other choices these days,” Chong said. “Discriminatory policies also create an obstacle to events wanting to create awareness and cater to the LGBT community.”

Gay rights will be largely influenced by how India and China, the two Asian giants with a combined population of over two and a half billion people, treat the community, says Sunil Babu Pant, founder of the gay rights movement in Nepal.

Nepal, once a conservative Hindu kingdom closed to the outside world, recognised homosexuals as natural persons in 2008. The Supreme Court asked the government to make laws to protect their rights and allow same-sex marriages.

Pant says Nepal’s giant neighbours China and India are lagging behind.

China de-recognised homosexuality as a mental illness in 2001 and public display of gay affection is regarded indulgently during Qixi festival, the Chinese Valentine’s Day. But the Beijing Queer Film Festival has faced repeated shutdowns by the state.

And while commerce capital Shanghai has been hosting an annual gay festival since 2009, public marches are still not allowed.

In India, there has been an increase in social acceptance since 2009, when the Supreme Court struck down part of an anti-homosexuality law that had made sex between men a criminal offence.

“We have seen more gay people coming out of the closet, pride parades in major cities and a vibrant gay night life emerging in the metros,” said Suraj Laishram, personal tour advisor at Indjapink, a New Delhi-based gay travel agency.

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Cuban Doctors Bring Eyesight, Healthcare to Haiti http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/cuban-doctors-bring-eyesight-healthcare-to-haiti/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-doctors-bring-eyesight-healthcare-to-haiti http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/cuban-doctors-bring-eyesight-healthcare-to-haiti/#comments Wed, 28 Aug 2013 15:41:00 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=127107 It’s Saturday, and the entrance hall of a police station in front of the busy market in Salomon in the Haitian capital has become an improvised health post. In a few minutes there is a long queue of people waiting to be seen by the Cuban medical brigade. The police officer on duty said he […]

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Many Haitian women have their blood pressure taken for the first time at mobile clinics like this one staffed by a Cuban medical brigade in Salomon market in Port-au-Prince.
Credit: Patricia Grogg/IPS

Many Haitian women have their blood pressure taken for the first time at mobile clinics like this one staffed by a Cuban medical brigade in Salomon market in Port-au-Prince. Credit: Patricia Grogg/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Aug 28 2013 (IPS)

It’s Saturday, and the entrance hall of a police station in front of the busy market in Salomon in the Haitian capital has become an improvised health post. In a few minutes there is a long queue of people waiting to be seen by the Cuban medical brigade.

The police officer on duty said he was not authorised to speak to journalists, but the extent of police cooperation is obvious. The police stations’ tables and chairs are quickly lined up along the entrance hall to facilitate the work of La Renaissance hospital workers, who carry out preventive health work here once a week.

“We are a mobile clinic,” said Damarys Ávila, the head of La Renaissance hospital, which is staffed by the Cuban medical mission. “We check for high blood pressure, cataracts, pterygium (a benign tumour of the conjunctiva) and glaucoma,” she told IPS. “We send people with these conditions to the hospital.”

Women are the majority of those waiting in line. “Women have the highest rate of high blood pressure because they bear the greatest burden of labour. Then there are dietary factors, like eating too much hot, spicy food, refined flour and salt,” she said.

“Many people have their blood pressure taken here for the first time in their lives,” Ávila said.

On a tour of this unusual health post, where in a single morning 167 poor women and men receive attention, expressions of gratitude abound.

“We seek out the Cuban doctors because they treat people well and they don’t charge. We are poor, we cannot afford to pay,” said a resident of Port-au-Prince before she raised the heavy load she was carrying on to her head.

The first Cuban medical brigade to Haiti arrived on Dec. 4, 1998, bringing relief in the aftermath of hurricane Georges. Since then cooperation has been uninterrupted and has had a decisive effect in this impoverished country, which in 2010 suffered an earthquake that killed 316,000 people, according to government figures, along with an ongoing cholera epidemic that has also claimed thousands of lives.

During this period Cuban medical personnel have seen 18 million patients, carried out 300,000 operations, saved 300,000 lives and restored eyesight to 53,000 people. According to official reports, there are 640 Cuban health professionals in Haiti, including 357 women.

The international healthcare aid to Haiti stands out not only due to its scope – it reaches the entire country – and its humanitarian impact, but also because it is preparing the country for the future by putting in place a public health system, including the reconstruction of hospital infrastructure.

Financial contributions towards these efforts come from Cuba, and also from Australia, Germany, Namibia, Norway, South Africa, Venezuela, and to a lesser extent from other countries.

The Cuban programme involves remodelling and building 30 community hospitals to act as reference centres, more than half of which have already been completed. Some 39 Haitian health ministry units are to be fitted out as healthcare centres, with or without beds, as well as 30 comprehensive rehabilitation wards.

There are two ophthalmological missions, part of Operation Miracle, one based permanently in Port-au-Prince and the other touring the interior of the country. There is a laboratory for prosthetic and orthopaedic devices, three electromedical workshops and a network for epidemiological and environmental surveillance.

Operation Miracle got underway in 2004, and by 2011 (the latest figures released) had restored or improved vision for more than two million people in 34 countries of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

John M. Kirk, a professor at Dalhousie University in Canada, said that Haitian doctors who trained in Cuba have a key role to play in creating a stronger health system in Haiti.

According to his figures, 430 of the 625 Haitians who graduated from Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in early 2011 are already working in their country. Another 115 Haitians graduated from the University of Santiago de Cuba in 2011.

ELAM was established in November 1999, and was proposed to the 9th Ibero-American Summit, held that year in Havana, as a project for training health personnel in the regional grouping, made up of 19 Latin American countries, Andorra, Spain and Portugal.

But although the initiative was praised, it was not taken up by the high officials present at its inauguration. Cuba went ahead with the programme, which today embraces 122 countries and trains “young people mainly from the poorest strata of society, who are ethnically, educationally and culturally diverse,” its website says.

In an essay on the topic, Kirk said that since the 1970s, Cuba has helped to found medical schools in various countries, like Yemen (1976), Guyana (1984), Ethiopia (1984), Uganda (1986), Ghana (1991), Gambia (2000), Equatorial Guinea (2000), Haiti (2001), Guinea-Bissau (2004) and East Timor (2005).

A report given by the Cuban health ministry to IPS says 39,310 health professionals, including 25,521 women, are on “missions” in 60 countries. Of these, 34,794 are in the Americas, 3,919 in Africa, 554 in Asia and Oceania and 43 in Europe.

As a result of the economic reforms initiated in 2010, free provision of Cuban cooperation is being reduced, although it will continue to be “absolutely free” in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and Operation Miracle will also be free in Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay and Ecuador, among other countries.

Meanwhile, the Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos Cubanos (SMC – Cuban Medical Services Marketing Company) is expanding: it offers fee-paying medical attention in Cuba and abroad to raise revenue to finance Cuba’s free public health system.

Through the SMC, Brazil has hired 4,000 Cuban doctors to work in poor areas in the north of the country.

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New Initiative Aims to Integrate Agriculture and Conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/new-initiative-aims-to-integrate-agriculture-and-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-initiative-aims-to-integrate-agriculture-and-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/new-initiative-aims-to-integrate-agriculture-and-conservation/#comments Sun, 25 Aug 2013 12:39:43 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126794 Prestigious scientists and leaders of organisations devoted to biodiversity conservation have launched an initiative to promote a new approach to agriculture.

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A family farm in the state of Rio de Janeiro, with a crop system adapted to the local impacts of climate change. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

A family farm in the state of Rio de Janeiro, with a crop system adapted to the local impacts of climate change. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 25 2013 (IPS)

It took Brazil four decades to overcome food insecurity and earn a place as a major global food supplier. Now its experiences will contribute to the evidence base for a new initiative that seeks to reconcile agriculture and the conservation of biological diversity.

“Although there are some who consider Brazilian agriculture to be aggressive and destructive, we want to share another vision for the rest of the tropical belt, which is home to the poorest countries and those who suffer the greatest food insecurity,” Maurício Lopes, president of the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency EMBRAPA, told Tierramérica*.

The Bridging Agriculture and Conservation initiative was launched in July in Rio de Janeiro by a group of global agricultural, conservation and sustainability leaders. Lopes was one of them.

The Brazilian Foundation for Sustainable Development (FBDS) and Bioversity International, a non-profit research-for-development organisation based in Rome, created the initiative.

The goal is to gather, over the course of two years, scientific evidence from the work of 25 researchers in different parts of the world, and present the international community and governments with economically viable measures.

“Brazil managed to transform large tracts of poor and arid soils into fertile areas. That was our first revolution,” said Lopes. “Then we ‘tropicalised’ crops: we brought genetic resources from different parts of the world and created the concept of tropical agriculture.”

The current challenge for Brazil is to promote another revolution integrating agricultural and forestry systems.

“The country still has 60 percent of its natural virgin forests, and we want to keep them that way, by managing them intelligently. No other country has an agricultural sector that is moving so determinedly towards sustainability as Brazil,” he added.

EMBRAPA estimates that between 50 and 60 million hectares of degraded pasture land – areas that were occupied between the 1970s and 1990s – have now been rendered productive again through recovery technologies.

“Most of the developing countries in Africa have been given only solutions based on the classical industrial model of agriculture,” explained Emile Frison, the former director general of Bioversity International. However, he noted, “the majority of the farmers are small-scale farmers and the solutions that have been provided so far have not addressed their needs. They are still poor.”

There are no “magic solutions” that can be applied everywhere, so what is needed is a new approach in which scientists and farmers work together, he told Tierramérica.

Ann Tutwiler, the new director general of Bioversity International, stressed the need to solve “multiple equations”.

The aim of the new initiative is “to look at different solutions that can help solve more than one equation, both local and global. We can identify production practices that can conserve biodiversity, reduce environmental impact and maintain or improve yields. We can identify crops that will improve nutrition and provide ecological services,” Tutwiler told Tierramérica.

The Bioversity International director criticised the “artificial division” between the nature conservation community and the agricultural sector, which is responsible for supplying the world’s population with food.

One point that everyone agrees on is the need for an agenda with incentives and government policies.

“If we don’t have that supporting policy in environment and agriculture, it is very hard to engage business, farmers and others,” said Tutwiler.

Previous efforts have proven unsuccessful.

Between 2005 and 2008, the pioneering International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) was carried out, resulting in a final report signed by 60 governments which called for the promotion of policies guided by the best scientific knowledge available. Nevertheless, the initiative soon fell into oblivion.

The president of the FBDS, Israel Klabin, believes that the IAASTD and the policies recommended were definitely a step in the right direction.

In his view, the assessment “served to inform new policies in several countries and certainly in the UN agencies, the GEF (Global Environment Facility) and the World Bank,” Klabin told Tierramérica. However, the added, “the process of transformation is a long-term process and needs to be continuously reinforced.”

“We are seeing several global efforts and initiatives underway such as soy and beef roundtables, which are multi-stakeholder initiatives involving the mainstream industry aimed towards responsible production that does not harm nature or people,” he noted.
After a lengthy consultation process, the IAASTD report presented different options and scenarios. It highlighted the need to rethink agricultural science not just to achieve yield gains and lower costs for large-scale farming, but also to focus agricultural research towards the needs of small farmers in diverse ecosystems and to areas of greatest needs.

Klabin stressed that a key difference between the IAASTD and the newly launched initiative is that the latter is a bottom-up effort, guided by scientists, business and organisations devoted to these issues, as opposed to a top-down initiative driven by governments or the UN.

“Our initiative is based on studies backed by the best existing science in terms of both agricultural technologies and environmental considerations, including climate change, the decarbonisation of the agricultural sector, and changes in the use of fertilisers, of which the most harmful are nitrogen fertilisers,” he said.

According to Tutwiler, “it is important to engage the large farmers. There are some things that they can do to change their practices and make better use of biodiversity. There are solutions, but you have to change the mentality.”

For her part, Marion Guillou, a board member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), believes the first step will be to overcome obstacles, challenges and risks.

“Then we have to choose what we will do as an original body and choose the nexus between agriculture and biodiversity. We will gather scientific evidence of where we should insist and then a set of recommendations,” she said.

The group will meet at international community forums and hopes to influence discussions on the Millennium Development Goals, climate change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“We will be having discussions in international forums in the next years, and we will have something to say. We know it will take two years to gather all that,” said Guillou.

For U.S. biologist Thomas Lovejoy, the man who introduced the term biological diversity to the scientific community in 1980, the novelty of the new initiative is the integration of conservation and agriculture to avoid a conflict that could be detrimental to both the planet’s future and agricultural production itself.

The idea is to look at agriculture as embedded in a natural landscape, added Lovejoy, the biodiversity chair of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.

“We need to produce tighter systems. The ideal agriculture is the one that doesn’t produce any waste or pollution. This is a really serious issue in agriculture worldwide and it ends up going to hydrological systems and coastal waters, creating dead zones without oxygen,” Lovejoy told Tierramérica.

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

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The World Trade Organisation after Eight Transformational Years http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/the-world-trade-organisation-after-eight-transformational-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-world-trade-organisation-after-eight-transformational-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/the-world-trade-organisation-after-eight-transformational-years/#comments Wed, 21 Aug 2013 13:52:53 +0000 Pascal Lamy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126684 Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), writes in this column that examining the way trade has changed in the last decade provides clues that can make navigating the future more manageable.

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Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), writes in this column that examining the way trade has changed in the last decade provides clues that can make navigating the future more manageable.

By Pascal Lamy
GENEVA, Aug 21 2013 (IPS)

On Aug. 31, I will be stepping down after eight years as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

We have lived through eight transformational years. We have seen the rise of China to number one world exporter, and significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. And developing countries now account for more than half of the world’s economic activity and more than half of global exports.

Pascal Lamy

Pascal Lamy

But we have also seen challenges such as two food crises, the biggest financial and economic crisis since the 1930s, pandemics and natural catastrophes which have severely impacted the functioning of global production chains.

More than 100 years ago, the Spanish philosopher George Santayana said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

The founders of the global trading system took him at his word. They saw the merit in creating the system in part because they remembered the past so well.

They remembered U.S. congressman (Willis C.) Hawley and senator (Reed) Smoot, whose pictures I have in my office to remind me of who the real founders of the WTO were. And they remembered how their notorious protectionist act accelerated the downward spiral that led world trade to contract by two-thirds from 1929 to 1934.

A system for opening trade through international rules and within the principles of non-discrimination, transparency and predictability has provided us with an insurance policy against the kinds of policy excesses of the 1930s. And it has provided a platform for growth, development and poverty alleviation around the world.

Over time, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) evolved into the World Trade Organisation, and the WTO itself has evolved in ways both large and small. Our dispute settlement system, unique in the field of international conflict resolution, has contributed to peacefully resolving trade differences.

The Aid for Trade Programme which we oversee has mobilised 200 billion dollars since it was launched in 2005. The organisation’s monitoring and surveillance capacity has helped to keep protectionism in check.

Trade has changed a great deal in the past ten years. Today, the patterns of trade, the actors involved with trade and the obstacles to trade are very different than they were a decade ago.

Global value chains have profoundly changed the way we trade. Whereas before we traded in goods, today we trade in tasks.

The fact that goods are increasingly made in the world rather than in any single country means we need to measure trade in value-added rather than gross terms to better understand how global value chains contribute to local economies and to help us devise more effective and realistic trade policies.

The actors have changed too. In 1980, China had one percent of the world’s exports; by 2011 the proportion was 11 percent. During that same time, South Korea more than tripled its share of global exports and Mexico doubled its share. For the first time in history, the South is responsible for more than half of the world’s economic activity and more than half of global exports. South-South trade now comprises 24 percent of world trade, double what it was in 2000.

Moreover, the emergence of powerful developing countries like China, Brazil, India, Mexico and Indonesia has altered the dynamics of multilateral negotiations; in trade, certainly, but elsewhere too including climate change.

These large and rapidly growing economies have also changed the way we think of developing countries. Are they rich countries with many poor people, or poor countries with many rich people?

In the past, trade negotiations were simpler: between rich countries, reciprocity was the template for negotiations while the main theme for poor countries was flexibility. Today, these lines have blurred and emerging countries have taken on greater commitments than ever before.

And the barriers that we encounter in trade today are very different from the standard tariff, the measure of choice for centuries because of its effectiveness in protecting producers. When one talks to businesses today, however, you quickly learn that tariffs are not the problem they find most onerous. Rather, they say the real difficulty is non-tariff measures.

Today, the barriers that exporters encounter are more likely to be of a regulatory nature pertaining to car emission limits, bank regulations, product and food safety standards or customs procedures.

While we can never predict anything with complete certainty, we are confident that these trends will continue into the future. As Santayana suggests, when charting a course for the future, history is among our best tools. Examination of the way that trade has changed in the last decade offers clues that can make navigating the future more manageable.

But history is a compass, not a roadmap or a GPS. History tells us what routes have been successful thoroughfares and which have been culs-de-sac. But it won’t identify every sharp turn or bump in the road.

We cannot foretell every economic shock or the impact of the next technological breakthrough. But we know there will be future economic turbulence and we know that tomorrow’s technological innovations will shape the trading environment of the future just as computer tablets, mobile telephony and satellite navigation influence the patterns of trade today.

(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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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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When Disaster Rains, Talk http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/when-disaster-rains-talk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-disaster-rains-talk http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/when-disaster-rains-talk/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 16:05:36 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126692 Gulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, was sure early this month that the second leg of the annual monsoon due in the latter half of the month was going to be bad. “Normally it peaks towards late August,” Rasul told IPS. Even before peaking, the 2013 monsoon has been deadly. By mid-August, […]

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Heavy monsoon clouds advance on Sri Lanka's southern coast near Hikkaduwa town. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Heavy monsoon clouds advance on Sri Lanka's southern coast near Hikkaduwa town. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Aug 20 2013 (IPS)

Gulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department, was sure early this month that the second leg of the annual monsoon due in the latter half of the month was going to be bad. “Normally it peaks towards late August,” Rasul told IPS.

Even before peaking, the 2013 monsoon has been deadly. By mid-August, floods in Pakistan had killed more than 80 and left over 80,000 stranded, according to the Pakistan Disaster Management Agency.

Rasul says South Asian countries need to treat the monsoon with more respect than they do.

“It is vital for the region, probably the most vital annual weather event, and we need to be better prepared. It is at our risk that we take it lightly,” Rasul said from his office in Islamabad.

The monsoon has been erratic in recent years. Last year the monsoon failed in Sri Lanka, and parts of the country’s northern, eastern and southern regions went through a drought that affected at least 1.2 million people.

This year the monsoon has been above average. Rains have been lashing the country since June, and have so far caused 58 deaths and stranded over 17,000.

“We need to have a better understanding how the monsoon is changing and be better prepared,” S. H. Kariyawasam, head of the Meteorological Department in Sri Lanka said, agreeing with Rasul.

One of the effective means of achieving this is real-time sharing of weather information among countries in the region, experts say.

Rasul sees a simple need to share information. “If countries at the beginning of the monsoon keep sending updates, then countries at the toe end like Pakistan could prepare better.”

If such a scheme had been in place, it would have proved life-saving, according to Mandira Singh Shrestha, programme coordinator and senior water resources specialist at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, Nepal.

She told IPS that as the monsoon moved north from Sri Lanka into north India, information-sharing could have alerted national and regional weather authorities in India to take precautionary measures.

The fast-moving monsoon this year, assessed by some as the fastest in over four decades, ripped into Uttarakhand region in North India by the second week of June without any warning of its deadly potential.

By the time it left, more than 1,000 bodies had been recovered. Over 6,000 people are still listed as missing. The Uttarakhand region has been left in tatters. The region was full of pilgrims who had arrived just before the traditional rainy season when the monsoon burst above their heads. No one told them the rains were moving faster than usual.

“There is a need for coordination between the hydrological and meteorological agencies for providing timely and reliable forecasts,” Shrestha said.

At a meeting attended by regional and national experts organised by the Planning Commission of India on Aug. 13 to assess the aftermath of the Uttarakhand floods, the focus was at last on sharing information, and weather updates.

Experts at the meeting said that the trans-boundary nature of disasters made data-sharing essential.

Since 2005, officials from South Asian countries have been meeting just before the monsoon through the South Asia Climate Outlook Forum set up with the assistance of the World Metrological Organisation. This year’s meeting was held in Kathmandu, Nepal in mid-April.

The final update from the meeting was that the monsoon would be “within the normal range with a slight tendency towards the higher side of the normal range.”

When it arrived a month and a half after the meeting, the monsoon was moving faster than anticipated and was more potent than expected.

Such changes, according to Kariyawasam, are becoming a part of the increasingly erratic monsoon, whose pattern is proving hard to predict.

At the April meeting participants had agreed that detailed information on the monsoon as it moved inland could only be provided by national and regional weather offices. It was not, and it is this kind of update that Rasul and Kariyawasam want shared.

“What we need is a mechanism to do this,” Kariyawasam said. Both Sri Lankan and Pakistani officials say that one of the forums that can be used is the Meteorological Research Centre under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“The SAARC platform can work better than a totally new one, because there is already a structure of regional cooperation in other areas,” Rasul said.

ICIMOD’s Shrestha told IPS that one of the models that can be adapted is the regional tsunami alert network set up after the deadly December 2004 tsunami.

“A new network of land-based seismic stations, deep water pressure sensors and warning centres have been developed throughout the region to provide early warning to the countries,” she said.

The effectiveness of such information-sharing was clear on Apr. 11, 2012 when an 8.6 magnitude undersea earthquake was reported off the coast of Indonesia. The Sri Lanka Disaster Management Centre (DMC) issued a warning within less than an hour of the earthquake, based on information received from regional networks.

More than 1,500 coastal villages from around the Sri Lankan coast were evacuated rapidly. According to DMC officials more than a million persons were moved to safe areas within hours of the earthquake.

A warning system of compatible levels does not exist when it comes to warnings on the monsoon, or fast-moving weather patterns. DMC officials say they rely on the Meteorological Department, that is currently ill-equipped to track and issue timely warnings on fast-moving weather patterns.

“It is very difficult to track these weather patterns, especially when they are moving fast,” Kariyawasam said. “Given what we are faced with now, a regional network for information-sharing is essential.”

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The Role of the State in Developing Countries under Attack from New FTAs http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/the-role-of-the-state-in-developing-countries-under-attack-from-new-ftas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-role-of-the-state-in-developing-countries-under-attack-from-new-ftas http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/the-role-of-the-state-in-developing-countries-under-attack-from-new-ftas/#comments Sat, 17 Aug 2013 12:55:05 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126588 In this column, Martin Khor, the executive director of the South Centre, warns that industrialised powers are taking aim against the role of the state in developing countries.

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In this column, Martin Khor, the executive director of the South Centre, warns that industrialised powers are taking aim against the role of the state in developing countries.

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Aug 17 2013 (IPS)

Two new trade agreements involving the two economic giants, the United States and the European Union, are leading a charge against the role of the state in the economy of developing countries.

Attention should be paid to this initiative as it has serious repercussions on the future development plans and prospects of developing countries.

The two latest attempts towards this are through the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). A new feature of both, as compared to other FTAs, will be discipline on the operations of state enterprises and a reduction of the state’s role in development.

Martin Khor. Credit: Nic Paget-Clarke

Martin Khor. Credit: Nic Paget-Clarke

The latter is a subject of long-standing discussion. The immediate post-colonial period saw a tendency towards a strong state, including government ownership of some key sectors, such as industry and banking.

Past decades witnessed a wave of privatisation across both rich and developing countries. But the state still owns or controls utilities, infrastructure, public services, banks and a few strategic industries in many developing countries.

Countries provide incentives for foreign companies, such as tax-free status. However, the state also offers special treatment to local companies, such as grants, cheaper-than-normal credit, subsidies, and government contracts.

The developmental role of the state in developing countries is now coming under attack from developed countries.

This is promoted by the big companies in the U.S., Europe and Japan, which seek to enter the markets of developing countries – the source of their future profits.

The support given by the state to domestic companies is seen by multinational companies as a hindrance to their quest for expanded market share in developing countries.

They are thus seeking to change the worldview and policy framework in developing countries, to get them to reduce the role of state enterprises as well as to curb the governments’ promotion of local private companies.

A sub-chapter on state-owned enterprises is a prominent part of the TPPA, which is being negotiated by the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Japan has just joined too.

The U.S. and Australia are leading the move to have rules to discipline the role of the government in the economy, through a two-pronged approach.

First, to get government or other monopolies to behave in a “non-discriminatory” way, including when they buy or sell goods and services. For example, they are not allowed to give preferences or incentives to local firms.

Second, companies that are linked to the government (including through a minority share) should not get advantages vis-à-vis other firms in commercial activities. Of course, the developed countries that are proposing this are thinking of their companies -how they can get more access to developing countries’ markets.

In the TTIP, a U.S.-European Union agreement, negotiations for which started in July, the EU has prepared a sub-chapter on state-owned enterprises, with rules that seem quite similar to what the U.S. and Australia are proposing in the TPPA.

Although the TTIP only involves Europe and the U.S. directly, the rules it sets are intended to have consequences for other countries.

According to press reports, the two economic giants are planning for the rules they set in the TTIP to become the standard for future bilateral agreements that also include developing countries.

They also hope that these rules will eventually be internationalised in the World Trade Organisation, which has over 130 member states.

The EU position paper on state-owned enterprises says that its aim is to “create an ambitious and comprehensive standard to discipline state involvement and influence in private and public enterprises” and for this to “pave the way to other bilateral agreements to follow a similar approach and eventually contribute to a future multilateral engagement.”

In other words, the constraints on the role of the state, and the reduction of the space for behaviour or operations of state-linked companies, will become the way of the future for all countries, if the U.S. and European plans succeed.

These attempts to curb the role of the state in the economy are worthy of serious study and counter-action.

Developing countries that succeeded in economic development were able to combine the roles of the public and private sectors in a partnership that advanced overall national development.

Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and China, have pioneered this model of public sector collaboration with the private sector.

Those few developing countries that managed to get development going were all driven by the “developmental state”, or the leadership role of government in establishing the framework of economic strategy, and the collaboration between the state, state enterprises, and commercial companies.

Ironically, agricultural subsidies, the main trade-distorting practice of developed countries and regions like the U.S., Europe or Japan, have been kept off the agenda of the FTAs negotiated by the U.S. and EU with developing countries, including the TPPA.

The developed countries are clever not to include what would be more damaging to them. Thus the developing countries are deprived of what would have been the major trade gain for them.

Naturally, there are pros and cons to any agreement, including the FTAs. Any potential gain for a country in exports or investments should be weighed against potential losses to domestic producers and consumers, and especially the loss to the government in policy space and potential pay-outs to companies claiming compensation under the FTAs’ investment rules.

But if developing countries have to come under new international rules that curb the role of the state and that re-shape the structure of their economy, then the prospects for future development will be adversely affected.
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Building the Future Enterprise by Enterprise in Rural Peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/building-the-future-enterprise-by-enterprise-in-rural-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-the-future-enterprise-by-enterprise-in-rural-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/building-the-future-enterprise-by-enterprise-in-rural-peru/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2013 23:32:34 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126555 Women and young people are central players in dozens of small businesses and environmental protection plans that are changing the lives of poor rural families in the Andes highlands of southern Peru. The initiatives are financed by the government programme Sierra Sur and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). In her colourful traditional indigenous […]

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Yolanda Chaucayaqui shows the scale model of what her town, Yanaquihua, will look like. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Yolanda Chaucayaqui shows the scale model of what her town, Yanaquihua, will look like. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
QUEQUEÑA, Peru , Aug 15 2013 (IPS)

Women and young people are central players in dozens of small businesses and environmental protection plans that are changing the lives of poor rural families in the Andes highlands of southern Peru.

The initiatives are financed by the government programme Sierra Sur and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

In her colourful traditional indigenous outfit, Yolanda Chaucayaqui shows a grey scale model that reflects what things were like until recently in her town, Yanaquihua, where deforestation and informal sector mining reigned.

Then she smiles as she shows another, brightly-coloured, scale model, which reflects the future she dreams of: avocado orchards kept green with a drip irrigation system, a water tank – and no mining.

“We want our town to be free of all of these negative things, and we are working to forge the way to a different kind of future,” she tells IPS.

Chaucayaqui rode seven hours in a cart from Yanaquihua to Quequeña, a smaller town in the region of Arequipa where hundreds of campesinos or peasant farmers took part in the last Sierra Sur/IFAD projects fair, on Aug. 3.

The fair was attended by IFAD president Kanayo Nwanze from Nigeria, who told IPS that he was pleased with the advances made, and especially with the strong presence of women.

Peru has been working with the specialised United Nations agency for 20 years, fomenting the creation of small enterprises that improve the lives of poor rural families.

Some 18,000 families have benefited from the second phase of the Sierra Sur programme in the regions of Apurímac, Arequipa, Cuzco, Puno, Moquegua and Tacna.

Of that total, 48 percent of the participants were women committed to business and natural resource management plans, who have managed to join the financial system by opening savings accounts, José Vilcherrez, the head of project evaluation and monitoring for Sierra Sur II, tells IPS.

In these southern regions, 550 business plans are being carried out, each one involving around 20 men and women. On average, 80 percent of each business is financed by the government programme, with loans from IFAD, while the remaining 20 percent comes from the community.“These women win a new space in their families, respect from their husbands and their kids. They start to be listened to.” -- José Vilcherrez

Each project is chosen through a transparent selection process in fairs like the one held in Quequeña, by the local fund allotment committee, made up of residents and authorities from the participating villages and towns.

The businesses are diverse, and women participate in almost all of the activities, from livestock-raising and pasture improvement to bakeries, dairy products, textiles and craft-making.

“These women win a new space in their families, respect from their husbands and their kids. They start to be listened to,” says Vilcherrez, who is evaluating the impact of Sierra Sur on the female population, to determine how support from the programme can be improved.

Women have asked for more information, in order to gain access to new areas of business activity, and to learn about their rights, the expert explained.

Nelly Roxana Cheña presides over a group of local craftswomen in the region of Puno. Thanks to her involvement in Sierra Sur, she discovered her talent for knitting and began to earn money to pay for schooling for her children.

“We have never appreciated our talents,” she tells IPS. “But thanks to the training, we rise at four in the morning, we get our housework done, and we work hard, to pull ahead. We want to continue to receive training,” she enthuses, surrounded by her fellow knitters and balls of yarn and wool caps.

Cheña says the women in her town are actively involved in protecting the environment. There are 127 natural resource management plans in the southern regions, where families are carrying out activities to preserve and administer water sources and soil. The best projects are rewarded with funds from the programme.

“We want to contribute to the recovery of our villages,” says Rosemary Quispe, from Cuzco region. “We want to live in nice, neat houses while preserving the natural resources for ourselves and the next generations,” adds the 19-year-old, one of the many young people taking part in the Sierra Sur projects.

Since late 2012, IFAD has been encouraging youth participation in rural areas of Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Peru, providing financial and technical support through the Young Rural Entrepreneurs programme.

In Peru, 344 young people are involved in 28 rural enterprises, half of them in the south of the country.

“Young people have few opportunities to stay in their village, which fuels poverty and migration,” Wilder Mamani, the head of Procasur, an NGO that works in partnership with IFAD, tells IPS.

Sinthia Yucra, 21, decided to stay in her village, and is generating income for her family by raising chickens.

She lives in the village of Lucre, in Cuzco region, more than 3,000 metres above sea level, where she and nine other young people now have 1,000 hens and another 1,000 chicks. Eight of the 10 people involved in the project are women.

“This has strengthened my family and brought us closer together,” Yucra tells IPS. “I never thought our parents would support us. This is exciting. I have a lot of plans for my village.”

The group, who clarified that they don’t believe in welfare-style assistance, took out a loan to launch the small business and build the sheds. They are now being trained by Procasur technicians and plan to hire an economist, to prepare for selling their products to supermarkets.

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