Inter Press Service » Southern Aid & Trade News and Views from the Global South Fri, 27 Nov 2015 15:45:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Not Yet Curtains for BRICs Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:50:16 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Nov 24 2015 (IPS)

With Goldman Sachs folding up its haemorrhaging BRIC fund, is it curtains for the acronym that defined the investment bankers’ fancy for emerging markets? It certainly appears so after China’s stock market crash and a fast slowing economy triggered fears that the dragon will set off the next global recession.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Brazil’s economy is experiencing its deepest recession in 25 years. Russia, too, is contracting due to the crash in oil prices and sanctions. India remains a haven of stability. South Africa’s growth is sluggish with very high unemployment. Against this dismal backdrop, what are the prospects of BRICs playing a vital role in the world economy?

Fourteen years ago, BRICs was very much an idea whose time had come. Goldman Sachs projected them as the future growth engines of the world economy. This acronym soon became a self-fulfilling buzz word with a life of its own. A focus on these leading emerging economies, especially since 2006, provided handsome returns that peaked five years ago. Since 2010, however, BRIC Fund assets plunged from $842 million to $98 million in end-September 2015 according to Bloomberg. With no hope for “significant asset growth” in the near future, Goldman Sachs threw in the towel on October 23, the last trading day for this fund.

These financials clearly reflect the fast-deteriorating growth prospects of the BRIC economies. They were expected to overtake the US in size by 2015. But this isn’t likely to happen. A decelerating Chinese economy, in fact, threatens the first global recession in 50 years without help from the US, says a rival investment bank. Russia and Brazil are doing much worse as they are highly dependent on commodity exports to drive their growth. As China is the biggest importer of oil, iron ore and other raw materials, this is bad news for their commodity-driven prospects. Only India’s track record is creditable as the fastest growing economy in the world.

Such concerns can only make this grouping – which globally accounts for one-fifths of GDP, 42 per cent of population, 17.3 per cent of trade, 41 per cent of forex reserves and 45 per cent of agricultural production – less cohesive to have geo-economic significance in the world economy. Analysts consider the BRICs to represent an alliance of middle -sized economies that could lead to a serious attempt to counter-balance the US, the most powerful economy in the world. This is far from obvious except, perhaps for Russia, that has faced the full brunt of US-led sanctions due to its intervention in Ukraine. This is less true of India that is deepening its relations with the US.

But the BRICs are far from happy with the US-led global financial architecture. A striking feature of all the seven statements issued at BRIC summits from 2009 to 2015 is that this grouping aims to promote peace, security, prosperity and development in a multi-polar, equitable and democratic world order. The grouping seeks a greater voice and participation in institutions of global governance like the IMF, World Bank, WTO and UN. The Durban summit in 2013, for instance, indicated that the WTO required a new leader who demonstrated a commitment to multilateralism and that he or she should be a representative of a developing country.

The formation of a New Development Bank (NDB) is in fact a concrete expression of the desire of BRICs to set up its own alternative to the US-led World Bank and IMF. NDB President KV Kamath has indicated that the bank would blaze a different trail than the Bretton Woods twins who impose an unacceptable conditionality on their loan assistance. In sharp contrast, the NDB is expected to place a greater priority on borrowers’ interests instead of the lender’s interests; that it would better reflect the expectations and aspirations of developing countries. BRICs, however, are not keen to position the NDB as a rival to the World Bank or IMF.

At a BRICs meeting ahead of the recent G-20 summit in Turkey, India’s PM Narendra Modi stated that India will guide the NDB to finance inclusive and responsive needs of emerging economies. India will assume the chairmanship of BRICs in February 2016 and the theme of its chairmanship will be Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions – the acronym lives on! PM Modi added for good measure that there was a time when the logic of BRICs and its lasting capacity were being questioned. But group members have provided ample proof of its relevance and value through action at a time of huge global challenges.

The good news is that the BRICs are cooperating and competing with one another for a place under the global sun. The seven summits from St Petersburg to Ufa testify to this. BRICs are the new growth drivers for low-income countries, especially in Africa, considering the growing importance of their trade and foreign direct investments in such economies. The BRICs may be passing through troubled times, but they do constitute a major consumer market. Incomes have grown as more and more people have joined the ranks of the middle class, resulting in greater demand for oil, cars and commodities in leading member countries like China and India.

But the grouping must seriously address the serious challenges of kick-starting its pace of expansion to power global growth as before. The BRICs may not be yielding returns to investment banks but they are in no immediate danger of fading into the sunset. Member countries after all take it seriously enough to set up a potential rival to the World Bank and IMF dominated by the US and Europe. Even if its creator has pulled the plug on the BRIC fund, the acronym will remain relevant in the future as well. Its resilience only exemplifies the profound truth of what the famous economist John Maynard Keynes stated long ago that the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else!


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Opinion: Economic Slowdown Threatening Progress Wed, 11 Nov 2015 15:16:35 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Nov 11 2015 (IPS)

Slower economic growth since 2008, and especially with the commodity price collapse since the end of last year, threatens to reverse the exceptional half-decade before the financial crash when growth in the South stayed ahead of the North. From 2002, many developing countries – including some of the poorest– had been growing much faster after a quarter century of stagnation in Africa, for example.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

But this has not been their delayed reward for sticking to policies prescribed by conventional wisdom as claimed by some latter-day apologists for the structural adjustment programmes of the last two decades of the 20th century. Instead, a more favourable international environment, including higher commodity prices, low interest rates and renewed aid flows, along with accelerated growth in China and India, have been the main reasons.

Recent trends need to be seen in a longer historical context if the right lessons are to be drawn. Economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s was generally slower than in the preceding two decades. But despite the spectacular growth of several developing countries, sub-Saharan Africa lost due to stagnation for more than two decades from the late 1970s and Latin America lost at least the 1980s.

Government policies from the 1980s – ostensibly to conform to ‘market expectations’ – often cut public spending on primarily social expenditures. As national-level inequalities grew in most countries from the 1980s, inter-national inequalities among countries continued to grow. Economic welfare in developing countries has been further squeezed by demographic pressures including rapid urbanization.

Nascent industrialization in many countries was aborted by structural adjustment and economic liberalization. Premature trade liberalization has thus exacerbated de-industrialization, unemployment and fiscal deficits without generating alternative sources of economic growth. Low income countries as well failed and failing states are generally characterized by modest industrialization which, in turn, retards structural transformation and more inclusive sustainable development.

The negative developmental implications of policies and programmes forced on developing countries, regardless of historical circumstance and economic context, are now well known. There is a world of difference between measured liberalization from a position of economic strength, as in newly industrialized East Asia from the 1980s, and their forced adoption, to meet World Trade Organization or loan obligations. Despite pious official rhetoric claiming the contrary, multilateral rules are far from supportive of sustainable development and need to be reformed accordingly.

Since the late 19th century, adverse terms of trade movements – favouring manufactures over primary commodities, temperate compared to tropical agricultural products, or manufactures from developed countries against those from developed countries – have meant that many developing countries have been producing and exporting much more, but earning relatively less from doing so.

International financial liberalization was supposed to attract private capital to fill financing gaps. But instead, it has resulted in net capital flows from the ‘capital poor’ to the ‘capital rich’, increased financial volatility and slower economic growth. Bitter experience has also shown that ‘shock therapy’ – often involving financial system ‘big bangs’ – has generally caused more harm than good.

Considering their greater vulnerability to external vicissitudes, developing countries must have greater fiscal space to ensure countercyclical capacity as well as sustained public spending for needed investments in physical and social infrastructure and human resources. Strengthening the tax base, ensuring more reliable sources of international finance and channelling aid through national budgets can be crucial.

Instead of the current fetish with eliminating fiscal deficits, a more balanced and appropriate approach to macroeconomic stabilization is needed, to minimize disruptive swings in economic activity and external balances, while fostering a virtuous cycle of greater macroeconomic stability, investment, growth and employment generation. Developing countries need to strengthen their capacities and capabilities and to ensure sufficient ‘policy space’ in order to pursue appropriate reforms favouring sustainable development.

It has often been claimed that development could only be attained through retrenchment of the state. In much of the developing world, however, this has left choice-less illiberal democracies and frustrated disenfranchised citizens. Instead, democratically accountable governments should consult widely among their citizens to promote investments for structural transformation and better employment.

The global economy now risks continuing its downward spiral into protracted stagnation. The International Monetary Fund’s improved surveillance mechanisms have not led to better international macroeconomic coordination, as touted. Instead, the path to sustainable development remains blocked by self-imposed deflationary policy constraints and a refusal to provide needed aid or to cooperate to increase taxation for all.


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United Arab Emirates and Cuba Forge Closer Ties Tue, 06 Oct 2015 19:10:19 +0000 Patricia Grogg The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, shakes hands with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez, after raising the UAE flag at the opening of the Emirati embassy in Havana on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, shakes hands with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez, after raising the UAE flag at the opening of the Emirati embassy in Havana on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Oct 6 2015 (IPS)

Cuba and the United Arab Emirates agreed to strengthen diplomatic ties and bilateral cooperation during an official visit to this Caribbean island nation by the UAE minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

During his 24-hour stay, Al Nahyan met on Monday Oct. 5 with Cuban authorities, signed two agreements, and inaugurated his country’s embassy in Havana, which he said was a clear sign of the consolidation of the ties established by the two countries in March 2002.

“I am sure that the next few years will witness the prosperity of our ties,” he added during his official meeting with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, with whom he signed an agreement on air services “between and beyond our territories” which will facilitate the expansion of opportunities for international air transport.

In the meeting, Rodríguez reaffirmed his government’s support for Arab peoples in their struggle to maintain their independence and territorial integrity.

According to official sources, the two foreign ministers concurred that the opening of the UAE embassy is an important step forward in bilateral ties and will permit closer follow-up of questions of mutual interest.

Al Nahyan also met with the first vice president of the councils of state and ministers, Miguel Díaz Canel. The two officials confirmed the good state of bilateral ties and the possibilities for cooperation on the economic, trade and financial fronts, Cuba’s prime-time TV newscast reported.

The foreign ministers of Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, Bruno Rodríguez (left) and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the Oct. 5, 2015 agreement-signing ceremony in Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The foreign ministers of Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, Bruno Rodríguez (left) and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the Oct. 5, 2015 agreement-signing ceremony in Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, signed a credit agreement with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, to finance a solar energy farm that will generate 10 MW of electricity.

Al Nahyan first visited Havana on Oct. 1-2, 2009 in response to an official invitation from minister Rodríguez. On that occasion they signed two agreements, one on economic, trade and technical cooperation, and another between the two foreign ministries.

“We have great confidence in Cuba’s leaders and in our capacity to carry out these kinds of projects,” Al Nahyan told the local media on that occasion.

United Arab Emirates, a federation made up of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain – established diplomatic relations with Cuba in March 2002, in an accord signed in Cairo.

The decision to open an embassy in the Cuban capital was reached in a June 2014 cabinet meeting presided over by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE vice president and prime minister, and the ruler of Dubai.

In late February 2015, Al Maktoum received the letters of credentials for the new ambassador of Cuba in the UAE, Enrique Enríquez, during a ceremony in the Al Mushrif Palace in the Emirati capital.

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed al Nayhan, unveils a plaque commemorating the official opening in Havana of the new UAE embassy, together with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed al Nayhan, unveils a plaque commemorating the official opening in Havana of the new UAE embassy, together with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Later, UAE Assistant Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ahmed al Jarman and Enríquez discussed the state of bilateral relations and agreed to take immediate concrete steps to expand and strengthen ties in different areas.

Enríquez also met with Cubans living in Abu Dhabi with a view to bolstering relations between them and their home country. They agreed on periodic future gatherings.

In May 2014, the UAE and Cuba signed an open skies agreement to allow the airlines of both countries to operate in each other’s territories, as well as opening the door to new plans for flights between the two countries, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) reported.

The accord formed part of a strategy to boost trade with other countries, said Saif Mohammed al Suwaidi, director general of the GCAA, who headed a delegation of officials and representatives of national airlines during a two-day visit to Cuba.

The UAE signed similar agreements with other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, as part of its effort at closer relations with this region, which is of growing interest to the Gulf country.

Talks have also been announced between the UAE and Russia to build a giant airport in Cuba, which would serve as an international airport hub for Latin America, the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper reported in February.

The proposal is being discussed by the Russian government and the Abu Dhabi state investment fund Mubadala, mandated to diversify the emirate’s economy.

In 2013 and 2014, UAE was named the world’s largest official development aid donor in a report released by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2013, the Gulf nation provided five billion dollars in ODA to other countries.

Last year, according to OECD data, the only Gulf country to have a Ministry of International Cooperation and Development spent 1.34 percent of their gross domestic product in development cooperation.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: A BRICS Bank to Challenge the Bretton Woods System? Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:12:45 +0000 Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu is Professor of International Communication at the University of Westminster in London.

By Daya Thussu
LONDON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The formal opening of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai on Jul. 21 following the seventh summit of the world’s five leading emerging economies held recently in the Russian city of Ufa, demonstrates the speed with which an alternative global financial architecture is emerging.

The idea of a development-oriented international bank was first floated by India at the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi but it is China’s financial muscle which has turned this idea into a reality.

Daya Thussu

Daya Thussu

The New Development Bank (NDB), as it is formally called, is to use its 50 billion dollar initial capital to fund infrastructure and developmental projects within the five BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – though it is also likely to support developmental projects in other countries.

According to the 43-page Ufa Declaration, “the NDB shall serve as a powerful instrument for financing infrastructure investment and sustainable development projects in the BRICS and other developing countries and emerging market economies and for enhancing economic cooperation between our countries.”

The NDB is led by Kundapur Vaman Kamath, formerly of Infosys, India’s IT giant, and of ICICI Bank, India’s largest private sector bank. A respected banker, Kamath reportedly said during the launch that “our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way.”

The launch of the NDB marks the first tangible institution developed by the BRICS group – set up in 2006 as a major non-Western bloc – whose leaders have been meeting annually since 2009. BRICS countries together constitute 44 percent of the world population, contributing 40 percent to global GDP and 18 percent to world trade.“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way” – Kundapur Vaman Kamath, head of the New Development Bank (NDB)

In keeping with the summit’s theme of ‘BRICS partnership: A powerful factor for global development’, the setting up of a developmental bank was an important outcome, hailed as a “milestone blueprint for cooperation” by a commentator in The China Daily.

The Chinese imprint on the NDB is unmistakable. The Ufa Declaration is clear about the close connection between the NDB and the newly-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), also largely funded by China. It welcomed the proposal for the New Development Bank to “cooperate closely with existing and new financing mechanisms including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” China is also keen to set up a regional centre of the NDB in South Africa.

If economic cooperation remained the central plank of the Ufa summit, there is also a clear geopolitical agenda.

The Global Times, China’s more nationalistic international voice, pointed out that the establishment of the NDB and the AIIB will “break the monopoly position of the International Money Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) and motivate [them] to function more normatively, democratically, and efficiently, in order to promote reform of the international financial system as well as democratisation of international relations.”

The reality of global finance is such that any alternative financial institution has to function in a system that continues to be shaped by the West and its formidable domination of global financial markets, information networks and intellectual leadership.

However, China, with its nearly four trillion dollars in foreign currency reserves, is well-placed to attempt this, in conjunction with the other BRICS countries. China today is the largest exporting nation in the world, and is constantly looking for new avenues for expanding and consolidating its trade relations across the globe.

China is also central to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a Eurasian political, economic and security grouping whose annual meeting coincided with the seventh BRICS summit. Founded in 2001 and comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has agreed to admit India and Pakistan as full members.

Though the BRICS summit and the SCO meeting went largely unnoticed by the international media – preoccupied as they were with the Iranian nuclear negotiations and the ongoing Greek economic crisis – the economic and geopolitical implications of the two meetings are likely to continue for some time to come.

For host Russia, which also convened the first BRICS summit in 2009, the Ufa meeting was held against the background of Western sanctions, continuing conflict in Ukraine and expulsion from the G8. Partly as a reaction to this, camaraderie between Moscow and Beijing is noticeable – having signed a 30-year oil and gas deal worth 400 billion dollars in 2014.

Beijing and Moscow see economic convergence in trade and financial activities, for example, between China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative for Central Asia and Russia’s recent endeavours to strengthen the Eurasian Economic Union. The expansion of the SCO should be seen against this backdrop. Moscow has also proposed setting up SCO TV to broadcast economic and financial information and commentary on activities in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that a new international developmental agenda is being created, backed by powerful nations, and to the virtual exclusion of the West.

China is the driving force behind this. Despite its one-party system which limits political pluralism and thwarts debate, China has been able to transform itself from a largely agricultural self-sufficient society to the world’s largest consumer market, without any major social or economic upheavals.

China’s success story has many admirers, especially in other developing countries, prompting talk of replacing the ‘Washington consensus’ with what has been described as the ‘Beijing consensus’. The BRICS bank, it would seem, is a small step in that direction.

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Will the New BRICS Bank Break with Traditional Development Models, or Replicate Them? Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:10:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The heads of state of three of the five BRICS countries - Russia, India and Brazil – pose for a photograph during the 2014 BRICS Summit. Credit: Official Flickr Account for Narendra Modi/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

Just days ahead of a summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in which the five countries are expected to formally launch their New Development Bank (NDB), 40 NGOs and civil society groups have penned an open letter to their respective governments urging transparency and accountability in the proposed banking process.

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don't have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions." -- Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights
The NDB is expected to finance infrastructure and sustainable development in the global South.

With an initial capital of 100 billion dollars, it was born from a combination of circumstances including emerging economies’ frustration with the largely Western-dominated World Bank Group (WBG) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to a 2014 Oxfam Policy Brief, another factor leading to the creation of the BRICS Bank was a major gap in financing for infrastructure projects, with official development assistance (ODA) and funding from multilateral institutions meeting just two to three percent of developing countries’ needs.

Strained by economic sanctions as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow has been particularly keen to bring the fledgling lending institution to its feet and has been pushing international rating agencies to rate the bank’s debt, as a necessary first step for it to begin operations.

Even without counting the contributions of its newest member – South Africa – the four BRIC nations represent 25 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 41.4 percent of the world’s population, or roughly three billion people.

In addition, the borders of these countries enclose a quarter of the planet’s land area on three continents.

But even as the five political leaders prepare to take centre stage in the Russian city of Ufa on Jul. 9, citizens of their own countries are already expressing doubts that the nascent financial body will truly represent a break from traditional, Western-led development models.

“The existing development model in force in many emerging and developing countries is one that favors export-oriented, commodity driven strategies and policies that are socially harmful, environmentally unsustainable and have led to greater inequalities between and within countries,” said the statement, released on Jul. 7

“If the New Development Bank is going to break with this history, it must commit itself to the following four principles: 1) Promote development for all; 2) Be transparent and democratic; 3) Set strong standards and make sure they’re followed; 4) Promote sustainable development,” the signatories added.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global network of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold international financial institutions accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “[Although] the Bank’s Articles of Agreement have an article on Transparency and Accountability […] thus far we haven’t seen any indication of operational policies on transparency or anything relating to accountability mechanisms.”

“And unfortunately,” she added, “there is no open engagement with civil society on these questions.”

“In terms of the type of development the bank delivers, we don’t have signs yet that the NDB will go in a qualitatively different direction than the Washington Consensus institutions,” Gordon told IPS in an email.

“That is why civil society groups in BRICS countries are calling for a participative and transparent process to identify strategies and policies for the NDB that can set it on a different path and actually deliver development.”

A primary concern among NGOs has been that the BRICS bank will replicate the old “mega-project” model of development, which has proven to be a failure both in terms of poverty eradication and increased access to basic services.

A recent international investigation revealed that in the course of a single decade, an estimated 3.4 million poor people – primarily from Asia, Africa and Latin America – were displaced by mega-projects funded by the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Though these projects were ostensibly aimed at strengthening transportation networks, expanding electric grids and improving water supply systems, they resulted in a worsening of poverty and inequality for millions of already marginalised people.

Following closely on the heels of this damning expose, a major report by the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the Bank’s lax safeguards and protocols resulted in a range of rights violations against those who spoke out against the economic, social and environmental fallout of Bank-funded projects.

Behind this track record, rights groups and NGOs are concerned that a new development bank operating on within a broken framework will contribute to the spiral of violence and poverty that has marked the age of mega-projects.

At a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid, there is no doubt that the developing world stands to gain greatly from a Southern-led financial institution.

What remains to be seen is to what extent the new bank will move away from the old model of financing and truly set a standard for inclusive and pro-poor development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Bumpy Road to an Asian Century Mon, 01 Jun 2015 08:06:03 +0000 Shyam Saran “Just as the world is moving towards multi-polarity, so is Asia … The economic fragmentation of the region and the competitive pursuit of security interests may well consign the Asian Century into a brief interlude rather than a millennial transformation”. Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Just as the world is moving towards multi-polarity, so is Asia … The economic fragmentation of the region and the competitive pursuit of security interests may well consign the Asian Century into a brief interlude rather than a millennial transformation”. Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

By Shyam Saran
NEW DELHI, Jun 1 2015 (IPS)

It has been apparent for some time that we are in the midst of a historic shift of the centre of gravity of the global economy from the trans-Atlantic to what is now becoming known as the Indo-Pacific.  

This is an emerging centre of economic dynamism and comprises what was earlier confined to the Asia-Pacific but now includes the South Asian region as well.

This is a region which now accounts for nearly 40 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP), which is likely to rise to 50 percent or more by 2050.  Its share of world trade is now 30 percent and growing.

Shyam Saran

Shyam Saran

This year, the region has become the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI), surpassing the European Union (EU) and the United States. China has been the main driver of this historic shift, but other Asian economies have also made significant contributions.

As the Chinese economy begins to slow, India shows promise of regaining an accelerated growth trajectory under a new and decisive political leadership. This will help extend the scale and direction of this shift. Its geopolitical consequences will be profound.

It must be recognised that the economic transformation of Asia, in particular the spectacular growth of China, has been enabled by an unusually extended and liberal global economic environment, underpinned by the faith in globalisation and open markets.

It has also been enabled by a U.S.-led security architecture in the region which kept in check, though did not resolve, the long-standing political fault lines and regional conflicts over competing territorial claims and unresolved disputes.

This relatively benign and supportive economic and security environment is in danger of unravelling precisely at a time when the situation in the region is becoming more complex and challenging.  Paradoxically, this is partly a consequence of the very success of the region in achieving relative economic prosperity.“The danger is that instead of an inclusive and regionally integrated Asia, we may end up with exclusive and competing clusters, moving at different speeds, with different norms and standards. This may well undermine the very basis of Asia’s economic dynamism”

We are witnessing new trends in the region which, unless managed with prudence and foresight, may well sour the prospects of an Asian Century.

The relatively open and liberal trade and investment regime, in particular access to the large consuming markets of the United States, European Union and Japan, is now under serious threat.

Protectionist trends are already visible in these advanced economies as they struggle with prolonged economic stagnation which is the fall-out of the global financial and economic crisis of 2007-2008.

Instead of the consolidation and expansion of the open and inclusive economic architecture that had hitherto been the hallmark of the regional and global economy, we are witnessing its steady fragmentation.

In the Indo-Pacific region, there are competing regional trade arrangements and investment regimes, with no clarity on the contours of a new and emerging economic architecture.

The United States is spearheading its Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which will include some Asian economies, but not India and China.

China has countered by proposing a free trade area encompassing the current Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) membership.  This will include China and the United States but not India and some of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economies.

The Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership (RCEP) would include all ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, but not the United States.

And finally, there is the East Asia Summit process (EAS) which includes all the above-mentioned countries but also the United States and Russia.

The danger is that instead of an inclusive and regionally integrated Asia, we may end up with exclusive and competing clusters, moving at different speeds, with different norms and standards.  This may well undermine the very basis of Asia’s economic dynamism.

In the security field, too, we are witnessing a growing salience of inter-state tensions and competitive military build-up.

The U.S.-led security architecture remains in place formally but its erstwhile predominance is diminished.

The gap between the military capabilities of China and the United State is closing steadily. As China’s security footprint expands beyond its shores, it will inevitably intersect with the existing deployment of the forces of the United States and its allies and partners.

Faced with an increasingly uncertain security environment and threatened by a more insistent assertion of territorial claims by China, the countries of the region, including Japan, Republic of Korea, members of ASEAN, Australia and India are building up their own defences, in particular maritime capabilities, and this itself is escalating tensions.

There is as yet no emerging regional security architecture which could help manage inter-state tensions in the region. This includes the growing possibilities of confrontation between the United States and China.

In the absence of such a regional security architecture, based on a broad political consensus and a mutually acceptable Code of Conduct, the region may well witness a heightening of tension and even conflict.  These developments would inevitably and adversely impact on the dense network of trade and investment relations that bind the countries of the region together and erode the very basis of their prosperity.

In this context, mention may be made of the Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative which seeks to deploy China’s surplus capital to build a vast network of transport and infrastructural links not only across the Indo-Pacific but also straddling the Eurasian landmass.

The newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiated and led by China would become a key financing instrument for the OBOR.  China has also recently come out with a new Defence White Paper, which puts forward a new strategy of Open Seas, shifting the emphasis from coastal and near sea defence to an expanding naval presence which matches China’s growing global profile and world-wide location of Chinese-controlled economic assets.

While China’s investment in regional infrastructure in Asia may be welcome, it will inevitably be accompanied by a security dimension which may heighten anxieties among countries in the Asian region and beyond.

It is apparent from the above analysis that it is no longer possible for any major power in the Indo-Pacific to unilaterally seek a position of overweening economic dominance or military pre-eminence of the kind that the United States enjoyed over much of the post-Second World War period.

Just as the world is moving towards multi-polarity, so is Asia.  It is now home to a cluster of major powers with significant economic and security capabilities and interests. The only practical means of avoiding a unilateral and potentially destructive pursuit of economic and security interests would be to put in place an inclusive economic architecture underpinned  by a similarly inclusive security architecture which provides mutual reassurance and shared opportunities for promoting prosperity.

The economic fragmentation of the region and the competitive pursuit of security interests may well consign the Asian Century into a brief interlude rather than a millennial transformation. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Opinion: South-South Cooperation Vital for Sustainable Development Fri, 08 May 2015 12:54:12 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships? Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

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

By Kanya D'Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regional integration 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A very neoliberal idea’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Argentina Moves Towards Marriage of Convenience with China Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:33:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior accords that cemented the alliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new empire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: A New Era of Hemispheric Cooperation Is Possible Sun, 18 Jan 2015 18:34:54 +0000 Luis Almagro Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

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

By Luis Almagro
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, this binds the region together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Group of 77 & IPS at 50 Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:11:32 +0000 Mourad Ahmia

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

By Mourad Ahmia

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

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

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

Mourad Ahmia. Courtesy of the G-77

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cuba Sees Its Future in Mariel Port, Hand in Hand with Brazil Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:16:51 +0000 Patricia Grogg The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

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

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocha has a somewhat different opinion.

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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India Stands Firm on Protecting Food Security of South at WTO Fri, 01 Aug 2014 18:32:00 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

The failure of the two major players in global trade negotiations to bridge their differences has put paid to the adoption of the protocol of amendment for implementation of the contested Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) for the time being. 

India and the United States failed Thursday at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to reach agreement on construction of a legally binding decision on a “permanent peace clause” that would further strengthen what was decided for public distribution programmes for food security in developing countries at the ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year.New Delhi made its choice clear to Azevedo: either members [of the WTO] agree to a permanent solution for food security or postpone adoption of the TFA protocol until there are credible outcomes on all issues, by the end of the year.

The Bali decision on food security was one of the nine non-binding best endeavour outcomes agreed by trade ministers on agriculture and development.

For industrialised and leading economic tigers in the developing world, the TFA – which would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries – is a major mechanism for market access into the developing and poorest countries.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo, who had put all his energies over the last seven months into ensuring the timely adoption of the TFA protocol by July 31 as set out in the Bali ministerial declaration, was clearly upset with the failure to adopt the protocol.

“The fact we do not have a conclusion means that we are entering a new phase in our work – a phase which strikes me as being full of uncertainties,” Azevedo told the delegates at the concluding session of the General Council, which is the highest WTO decision-taking body between ministerial meetings.

The Bail ministerial declaration was adopted at the WTO’s ninth ministerial meeting in December last year. It resulted in a binding multilateral agreement on trade facilitation along with non-binding outcomes on nine other decisions raised by developing and poorest countries, including an interim solution on public distribution programmes for food security.

The developing and poorest countries remained unhappy with the Bali package even though their trade ministers endorsed the deal. The countries of the South resented what they saw as the “foster parent treatment” accorded to their concerns in agriculture and development.

While work on clearing the way for the speedy implementation of the TFA has preceded at brisk pace at the WTO over the last seven months, other issues were somewhat neglected. Several African and South American countries, as well as India, remained unhappy with the lack of progress in issues concerning agriculture and development, particularly in public distribution programmes for food security.

Last week, India fired the first salvo at the WTO by declaring that unless there are “credible” outcomes in the development dossier of the Bali package, including a permanent solution for food security, it would not join the consensus to adopt the TFA. Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba shared India’s concerns.

Despite concerted political lobbying by leading U.S. administration officials and envoys from Western countries in New Delhi to change its stand, the Indian government informed the WTO director-general Wednesday that it wanted a substantive outcome on food security, without which it would oppose the TFA protocol.

Without bringing India and the United States into a face-to-face dialogue at the WTO, Azevedo held talks with the representatives from the world’s two largest democracies in a one-on-one format.

According to sources familiar with the WTO’s closed-door consultations, Azevedo informed India that its demand for a substantive outcome on food security would not be acceptable to members because they would not approve “re-writing” the Bali ministerial declaration.

New Delhi made its choice clear to Azevedo: either members agree to a permanent solution for food security or postpone adoption of the TFA protocol until there are credible outcomes on all issues, by the end of the year.

“India’s position remains the same,” New Delhi trade minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters after a meeting with the U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Thursday.

Given the importance of TFA for U.S. business interests, Washington yielded some ground by agreeing to a compromise, but the two sides were stuck on legal aspects, particularly on how this should be adopted at the General Council.

The result Thursday was that the differences between the two led to an adjournment of the General Council without the TFA protocol.

“We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge that gap,” the WTO director-general told members.  “We tried everything we could … but it has not proved possible,” Azevedo said.

“We are absolutely sad and disappointed that a very small handful of countries were unwilling to keep their commitments from the December conference in Bali and we agree with the director-general that the failure has put this institution on very uncertain ground,” U.S. deputy trade representative Ambassador Michael Punke told reporters.

Brazil’s trade envoy Marcos Galvao suggested that it would be possible to reinvigorate the talks despite the failure Thursday. “When we come back in September, we can come forward with the Bali package and the whole work programme,” Galvao told IPS.

In New Delhi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “our feeling is obviously that the agreement that was reached in Bali is an agreement that importantly can provide for food security for India.”

“We do not dismiss the concerns India has about large numbers of poor people who require some sort of food assurance and subsistence level, but we believe there’s a way to provide for that that keeps faith with the WTO Bali agreement,” Kerry maintained.

Credible and permanent rules for food security are vital for developing countries to continue with their public distribution programmes to address livelihood security.

“The programme enables governments in the developing countries to put more money in the hands of the poor farmers by buying their crops at stable and higher price, and use those government purchases to feed the hungry – many of those same farm families – with free or subsidised food distributions,” said Timothy A. Wise, an academic with the Global Development and Environment Institute at the U.S. Tufts University.

Several developing and poorest countries – Zambia, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Botswana, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Jordan, India, and Saudi Arabia – are currently implementing food security programmes for different food articles.

The Bali package involves nine issues in addition to the TFA and they need to be addressed “on an equal footing,” Nelson Ndirangu, Kenya’s senior trade official told IPS. “I’m sympathetic to India’s stand and I agree that all issues, including a permanent solution for food security, must be addressed along with the TFA,” said Ndirangu.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nicaragua Pins Hopes for Progress on Grand Canal Fri, 01 Aug 2014 16:25:10 +0000 Jose Adan Silva Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during a meeting with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopes for the future…and doubts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Estrella Gutiérrez / Translated by: Stephanie Wildes

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Oil Alliance Between China and Costa Rica Comes to Life Again Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:22:47 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the microscope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As Winds of Change Blow, South America Builds Its House with BRICS Fri, 18 Jul 2014 14:36:36 +0000 Diana Cariboni Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, President of China Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma take a family photograph at the 6th BRICS Summit held at Centro de Eventos do Ceara' in Fortaleza, Brazil. Credit: GCIS

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

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency clause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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India’s Cut-Rose Sector Pushes Past Barriers Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:33:35 +0000 Keya Acharya Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

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

By Keya Acharya
Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

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International Reform Activists Dissatisfied by BRICS Bank Thu, 17 Jul 2014 21:39:24 +0000 Mario Osava Chandrasekhar Chalapurath, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, talks about development banks in India, at the International Seminar on the BRICS Bank. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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BRICS Forges Ahead With Two New Power Drivers – India and China Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:07:51 +0000 Shastri Ramachandaran By Shastri Ramachandaran
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The Sixth BRICS Summit which ended Wednesday in Fortaleza, Brazil, attracted more attention than any other such gathering in the alliance’s short history, and not just from its own members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Two external groups defined by divergent interests closely watched proceedings: on the one hand, emerging economies and developing countries, and on the other, a group comprising the United States, Japan and other Western countries thriving on the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

The first group wanted BRICS to succeed in taking its first big steps towards a more democratic global order where international institutions can be reshaped to become more equitable and representative of the world’s majority. The second group has routinely inspired obituaries of BRICS and gambled on the hope that India-China rivalry would stall the BRICS alliance from turning words into deeds.The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

In the event, the outcome of the three-day BRICS Summit must be a disappointment to the latter group. First, the obituaries were belied as being premature, if not unwarranted. Second, as its more sophisticated opponents have been “advising”, BRICS did not stick to an economic agenda; instead, there emerged a ringing political declaration that would resonate in the world’s trouble spots from Gaza and Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Third, and importantly, far from so-called Indian-China rivalry stalling decisions on the New Development Bank (NDB) and the emergency fund, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), the Asian giants grasped the nettle to add a strategic dimension to BRICS.

With a shift in the global economic balance of power towards Asia, the failure of the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins in spite of conditionalities, structural adjustment programmes and “reforms”, financial meltdown and the collapse of leading banks and financial institutions in the West, there had been an urgent need for new thinking and new instruments for the building of a new order.

Despite the felt need and multilateral meetings that involved developing countries, including China and India which bucked the financial downturn, there had been no sign of alternatives being formed.

It is against this backdrop – of the compelling case for firm and feasible steps towards a new global architecture of financial institutions – that BRICS, after much deliberation, succeeded in agreeing on a bank and an emergency fund.

From India’s viewpoint, this summit of BRICS – which represents one-quarter of the world’s land mass across four continents and 40 percent of the world population with a combined GDP of 24 trillion dollars – was an unqualified success. The success is sweeter for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because the BRICS summit was new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first multilateral engagement.

For a debutant, Modi acquitted himself creditably by steering clear of pitfalls in the multilateral forum as well as in bilateral exchanges – particularly in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jiping, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – and by delivering a strong political statement calling for reform of the U.N. Security Council and the IMF.

In fact, the intensification and scaling up of India-China relations by their respective powerful leaders is an important outcome of the meeting in Brazil, even though the dialogue between the Asian giants was on the summit’s side-lines. Nevertheless, Modi and Xi spoke in almost in one voice on global politics and conflict, and on the case for reform of international institutions.

The new leaders of India and China, with the power of their recently-acquired mandates, sent out an unmistakable signal that they have more interests in common that unite them than differences that separate them.

Against this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s outing was significant for other reasons, not least because of the rapport he was able to strike up, in his first meeting, with Chinese President Xi. The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

As it happened, Modi and Xi hit it off, much to the consternation of both the United States and Japan. They spoke of shared interests and common concerns, their resolve to press ahead with the agenda of BRICS and the two went so far as to agree on the need for an early resolution of their boundary issue. They invited each other for a state visit, and Xi went one better by inviting Modi to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in China in November and asking India to deepen its involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Modi’s “fruitful” 80-minute meeting with Xi highlights that the two are inclined to seize the opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships towards larger economic, political and strategic objectives. This meeting has set the tone for Xi’s visit to India in September.

Although strengthening India-China relationship, opening up new tracks and widening and deepening engagement had been one of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s biggest achievements in 10 years of government (2004-2014), after a certain point there was no new trigger or momentum to the ties. Now Xi and Modi are investing effort to infuse new vitality into the relationship which will have an impact in the region and beyond.

As is the wont when it comes to foreign affairs and national security, Modi’s new government has not deviated from the path charted out by the previous government. BRICS as a foreign policy priority represents both continuity and consistency. Even so, the BJP deserves full marks because it did not treat BRICS and the Brazil summit as something it had to go through with for the sake of form or as a chore handed down by the previous government of Manmohan Singh.

Before leaving for Brazil, Modi stressed the “high importance” he attached to BRICS and left no one in doubt that global politics would be high on its agenda.

He pointed attention to the political dimension of the BRICS Summit as a highly political event taking place “at a time of political turmoil, conflict and humanitarian crises in several parts of the world.”

“I look at the BRICS Summit as an opportunity to discuss with my BRICS partners how we can contribute to international efforts to address regional crises, address security threats and restore a climate of peace and stability in the world,” Modi had said on eve of the summit.

Having struck the right notes that would endear him to the Chinese leadership, Modi hailed Russia as “India’s greatest friend” after he met President Vladimir Putin on the side-lines of the summit.

India belongs to BRICS, and if BRICS is the way to move forward in the world, then BRICS can look to India, along with China, for leading the way, regardless of political change at home. That would appear to be the point made by Modi in his first multilateral appearance.

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BRICS Build New Architecture for Financial Democracy Wed, 16 Jul 2014 20:41:04 +0000 Mario Osava The five BRICS leaders pose for the cameras at the sixth annual summit in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

The five BRICS leaders pose for the cameras at the sixth annual summit in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Mario Osava
FORTALEZA, Brazil, Jul 16 2014 (IPS)

The BRICS alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) launched the New Development Bank (NDB) and Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) during its sixth summit, institutionalising a new financial architecture for the emerging powers.

Two other agreements, one for Cooperation among Export Credit and Guarantees Agencies and another on Cooperation for Innovation among national development banks, complete the structure established Tuesday Jul. 15 by the five heads of state in the northeastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza.

The BRICS Summit concludes Wednesday with a meeting between the five leaders and the presidents of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held in Brasilia, as well as several bilateral meetings.

The NDB and CRA are not being created “against anyone,” but as a “response to our needs,” said the summit host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, at a press conference after the meeting with Vladimir Putin (Russia), Narendra Modi (India), Xi Jinping (China) and Jacob Zuma (South Africa).

BRICS leaders reject interpretations that the mechanisms have been created in opposition to or as alternatives to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), part of the Bretton Woods global financial system established in the 1940s.

Social inclusion - a voice from India

A key promoter of the New Development Bank and the country that will appoint the first NDB president, India was also the voice of social concerns at the Sixth BRICS Summit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Fortaleza that fighting poverty should be the main focus of the group, especially through construction of the Sustainable Development Goals which will shape the development agenda after 2015.

Food security is another issue that Modi identified as a priority, as did members of the Indian business community who participted in the BRICS Business Forum on Monday Jul. 14. It is a highly sensitive topic in India, where hundreds of millions of people live in poverty, most of them subsistence farmers in rural areas.

BRICS should not be a centralised, hierarchical institution, but should focus attention on local areas and people, and involve youth, Modi said in his speech at the Summit. He suggested the creation of a Young Scientists’ Forum and a BRICS university, using the internet for intensive contact between students in the five countries.

The uniqueness of BRICS, he said, is that “for the first time” it brings together a group of nations on the basis of “future potential,” rather than existing characteristics. This “forward looking” idea creates fresh perspectives and institutional changes for a more stable world, overcoming present economic conflicts and turbulence, Modi said.

The theme of the BRICS Summit is “Inclusive growth: sustainable solutions.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country, which is the major trading partner of 128 nations, seeks “win-win” cooperation to promote better world economic governance.

Africa is in urgent need of “inclusive and dynamic growth,” said Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, while Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the formation of a BRICS Energy Association, with a fuel reserve bank to ensure the energy security of its member states.

The NDB will complement existing multilateral and regional financial institutions, whose lack of resources constrain financing of infrastructure projects in developing countries, according to the summit’s final declaration, signed by the participating heads of state.

The CRA, a mechanism through which the five countries make available a total of 100 billion dollars from their reserves, is a currency pool that provides financial security for its members, without departing from the IMF, summit speakers said.

If one of the BRICS countries wishes to borrow more than 30 percent of the sum it is entitled to, in order to overcome threats to its balance of payments, it will have to face questions from the IMF about conditions of payment, said the Brazilian finance minister, Guido Mántega.

Brazil, Russia and India can withdraw up to the value of their contributions of 18 billion dollars each. South Africa may take out twice the five billion dollars it will contribute to the mechanism, and China up to half its 41 billion dollar commitment.

The new institutions “consolidate” the BRICS alliance, Mántega said. Before they become operational, they must be ratified by the countries’ parliaments, he said.

The bank and the reserve fund are so constituted as to prevent aspirations of dominance, Rousseff said. The countries will have equal shares in the NDB, of 10 billion dollars each, and equal voting rights. The capital may later be doubled.

Bank presidents and its governing councils will be appointed on a rotating basis.

China will contribute 41 percent of CRA funds but decisions will be taken by a broader majority, reaching consensus for the negotiation of larger loans, Mántega said.

But the NBD headquarters will be located in the Chinese city of Shanghai, and it will be difficult to avoid the economic and monetary weight of the Asian power from translating into greater decision-making power for Beijing.

The NDB’s composition avoids inequalities at the outset, but equal participation is only a formality as “in practice the future trend will be towards greater Chinese influence,” according to Carlos Langoni, former president of the Brazilian Central Bank.

To be effective, the bank will have to increase its initial capital of 50 billion dollars, recruiting new financing resources, and in this as well as in crises the “dominant role” of the country offering most capital and guarantees is an influential factor, added Langoni, who is the present director of the World Economics Centre at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.

China is interested in diversifying its investments, in multilateral and regional institutions as well as bilaterally. In recent years it has become the largest investor in Latin America.

It already participates in several regional financial mechanisms, such as the Chiang Mai Initiative, similar to the CRA and involving countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and it is seeking to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as an alternative to the Asian Development Bank in which Japan has decisive influence.

Langoni believes that the BRICS, with the CRA resting on “mega-economies” with their enormous currency reserves, will in the long term be able to “grow faster and have more weight than the IMF, which is already facing difficulties raising funds because of its rules.”

However, the IMF will remain the most powerful multilateral financial body over the next decade, he said.

The rise of the BRICS reflects a multipolar world, as the alliance includes military powers like Russia and China, nuclear powers like both these countries and India, and “moderators” without military ambitions like Brazil and South Africa.

Progress in strengthening and institutionalising the group at its Fortaleza summit could help reduce border tensions existing between China and India, or between Russia and the West, Langoni said.

In his view, what cements the group is its “frustration over the action of multilateral bodies, particularly the IMF,” in the face of the financial crises. These institutions are very complex and made up of a large number of countries.

The BRICS countries can operate with greater ease with their own financial instruments, which can also supply their urgent needs for investment in infrastructure, especially in Brazil and India, he argued.

The BRICS “found their identity” by working with the Group of Twenty (G20) industrial and emerging countries to defend the stimulation of growth, rather than recession-inducing austerity, after the 2008 global financial crisis, Mántega pointed out. Later they came to demand reform of the IMF, which spearheaded response to the crisis.

Some reforms to grant emerging countries greater participation in IMF decision-making were approved by the G20, but then stalled because they were rejected in the U.S. Congress.

The IMF is regarded as extremely undemocratic, because the United States has power of veto and some countries of the industrial North have a majority of votes, in contradiction with the present correlation of economic forces and the weight of emerging powers.

The absence of reforms “negatively impacts on the IMF’s legitimacy, credibility and effectiveness.” The reforms must lead to the “modernisation of its governance structure so as to better reflect the increasing weight of emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs),” says the Fortaleza Declaration, signed by the five BRICS leaders.

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