Friday, 21 December 2007

Global democracy as a realistic perspective of foreign policy

Global public policies increasingly affect the lives of people around the world. From trade agreements to a new treaty on climate change, from UN sanctions against Iran's nuclear program to peacekeeping in Darfur, global public policy has become too important to bypass the democratic process. That’s the starting point of a new book by Didier Jacobs, Global Democracy: The Struggle for Political and Civil Rights in the 21st Century. The author is special advisor to the President of Oxfam America. The book's bumper-sticker version is: “One person, one vote for global public policy decisions!”

The book develops that slogan as:
* A long-term vision for foreign policy to promote peace and prosperity, with a time horizon of several decades.
* A vision that can be achieved through incremental steps; the struggle for global democracy is already under way. The book is relevant to today's foreign policy debates. For example, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, Rudy Giuliani, endorses the book's cornerstone medium-term proposal: opening NATO membership to any countries in the world that meet “minimum standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility.”
* A vision that fits the trends of shifting power in world affairs: rising power of the “global middle class” (e.g., Brazil, Russia, India, China); pressure from the so-called “anti-globalization movement” gathering those who feel disenfranchised; and the ideological dominance of the “global upper class”: global democracy is all about civil and political rights – the creed of Americans and Europeans.

The first part of the book is geared to political scientists. It challenges the “global governance” literature, which oversells the merits of “transparency, accountability and participation” to fix the “democratic deficit” of global public policy. Participatory democracy is a complement, not a substitute, of representative democracy. The book proposes a rigorous analytical framework to think of democracy in the international context. The second part of the book is geared to practitioners of international affairs – government officials, think-tank researchers, NGO activists, journalists etc. With numerous illustrations of current events, it argues that global democracy is both realistic and desirable to tackle the 21st century's global challenges in the areas of peace, human rights, economic development, and the environment. The book positions global democracy as an alternative foreign policy doctrine, superior to “realism'” “neo-conservatism”, or “internationalism”. For more information on the book click >>> here.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Open letter of social movements to the creation of the Bank of the South

(Eurodad) Coinciding with the signing on December 9, in Buenos Aires, of the South Bank's Founding Act, hundreds of social movements, networks, organizations and personalities from throughout Latin America and the world are presenting to the Presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, an Open Letter expressing their expectation with regard to the creation of the new financial institution together with proposals intended to ensure that the Bank can indeed contribute to the integration of the region's peoples and the full enjoyment of human and environmental rights and the right to development.

The text manifests the movements' conviction that this South-South entity must break with the experience of existing multilateral organisms such as the World Bank, the IMF, the IDB, and the Andean Development Corporation (CAF), "which are widely recognized today for their non-democratic, non-transparent, regressive, and disaccredited operations". The South Bank must also contribute to overcoming "the negative experience of economic liberalization suffered by the region, with its consequences of ever more indebtedness and the constant draining of capital, deregulation, and the privatization of public patrimony and basic services”.

Among other key points, which build on the proposals presented in June of this year, this Second Open Letter highlights the importance of the South Bank forming an integral part of a new regional financial architecture, which would also include the creation of a South Fund - with the functions of a regional Central Bank, and a common monetary instrument. It also underscores the need for transparency and participation of the social movements in both the negotiating phase as well as the eventual operation of the institution and calls on the Presidents to inform and consult with society and incorporate clear mechanisms of citizen control in the Bank’s establishment.

Entitled For a South Bank Oriented to a Sovereign and Sustainable Development Matrix for the Integration of the Continent in Solidarity, the Open Letter further affirms the need for the new Bank to be an instrument "to safeguard and channel savings within the region, interrupting the recurrent cycles of exaction of national and regional efforts through manoeuvres and deals on the basis of public indebtedness and securities, the subsidization of privileged and/or corrupt local and international private economic and financial groups, and constant backing for speculative transborder capital flows."

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Bali Roadmap: First statements

On the Bali Roadmap decision Friends of the Earth Europe declared:

"The United Nations climate talks in Bali reached an agreement today, but Friends of the Earth Europe has expressed disappointment at the weak content, following many attempts to derail the talks by the United States, Japan and Canada. But the European Union and key developing countries stood their ground on the need to include an agreement that emissions cuts should be in the range of 25-40 percent, as demanded by climate scientists. This provides some indication of ambition but still leaves a lot of work to be done.

The United States and Japanese governments, supported by Canada, shot down strong proposals from developing countries on adaptation, technology transfer, and reduced deforestation. The rest of the industrialised countries failed to reign in their obstructive behaviour.

Friends of the Earth Europe climate campaigner Sonja Meister said: 'The EU woke up too late in these negotiations - they confronted the Bush administration and stayed firm in keeping up the range of emission targets, but they should have done so much sooner and stronger. To bring back the trust and build up much needed momentum, the EU should clearly isolate the Bush administration, take real action at home and accept its fair share of the responsibility for financing the adaptation and mitigation costs of climate change in developing countries.'

Friends of the Earth Europe has called for the EU to step up its commitment and publicly agree to unconditionally reduce its emissions by at least 30 percent by 2020, through domestic action alone. On top of this, huge additional obligations will be needed from the EU and other industrialised countries. The Bali deal does include an agreement on the Adaptation Fund which will begin to deliver funds for developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and an agreement to review how industrialised countries will meet emissions reduction targets in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

The limitations of the deal include:

* Developing countries are obliged to provide verifiable reporting, but will not be given sufficient financial and capacity support to enable them to do so

*Plantations could still be included the deforestation scheme, which would water down its impacts

Friends of the Earth International Chair Meena Raman said: 'Around the world millions of people are already suffering the effects of climate change. People outside the talks have sent a strong message demanding climate justice. This message must no longer fall on deaf ears. We only have two years to build on this weak outcome and develop a just deal which ensures tough action from industrialised countries and assistance for people in the developing world.'"

In a first statement Elliot Diringer, the director of International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change said:

"Governments today took a critical step toward an effective global response to climate change. The Bali roadmap leaves open a host of key issues. It doesn’t explicitly nail down the scale of effort needed or the nature of the actions to be negotiated. It puts no one on the hook right now for emission reductions. What’s important, though, is that it lets no one off the hook either. It challenges all governments to confront the tough issues ahead and opens the way for the first time to a comprehensive negotiation of post-2012 commitments.

Two years ago in Montreal, many governments were barely prepared to open an informal “dialogue” on future climate action. Here in Bali, all governments agreed to move past dialogue to negotiations with the very ambitious goal of a new global agreement in 2009. They also implicitly recognized that, in addition to emission targets for developed countries, this agreement will have to allow for other types of commitments for developing countries in order to achieve the broadest possible participation.

With their decisions on adaptation, deforestation, and technology, governments addressed key developing country concerns and laid important groundwork for a post-2012 agreement. Ultimately, these and other elements need to be integrated in a comprehensive package spelling out specific binding commitments for all the major economies. Governments can waste no time if they’re to achieve that between now and 2009.

The critical first step is an unequivocal signal by the United States that it is prepared to negotiate a binding international commitment. Having joined other governments in launching this new U.N. process, the Bush administration must not use its upcoming meeting of major economies to stall or steer countries away from binding commitments. With Congress now well on its way to enacting an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, it’s time for the administration to support mandatory emission limits at home as a foundation for a fair, inclusive, and effective global agreement."

Friday, 14 December 2007

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Delayed debt cancellation hurts Haiti, CEPR finds

Delays in debt cancellation threaten to cost millions in urgently needed funds, and Haiti would benefit from immediate debt relief instead, according to a new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). The paper, Debt Cancellation for Haiti: No Reason for Further Delays, notes that Haiti is supposed to have most of its debt cancelled under the IMF and World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative, but this process is still in its early stages, and is likely to fall behind schedule. The delays could have tragic consequences for Haiti, which is the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere and has a life expectancy of 53 years.

"Because of the endemic dire poverty, the recent hurricanes and other natural disasters, and because of their own role in damaging Haiti's economy through a previous aid embargo, multilateral institutions should cancel Haiti's debt as quickly as possible," said economist Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of CEPR and co-author of the paper. Haiti could receive $464.4m in debt cancellation from the World Bank, and as much as $525m from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) under the HIPC Initiative. Before this can happen, however, Haiti must meet a series of conditions, which have taken previous countries an average of three years to complete. If Haiti's debt cancellation is similarly delayed, it may owe over $44.5m in debt service payments - an amount equal to 26% of the Haitian government's public health budget.

The paper also notes that the track record of IMF conditions placed on countries under debt cancellation agreements has not been positive, and that this presents another reason to cancel the debt immediately, rather than subject Haiti to extended conditionality. Haiti was previously excluded from the HIPC process due to a technicality, and was not allowed the debt cancellation received this year by the other HIPC countries in the Americas. The paper also recalls the World Bank and IDB's role in cutting off funds to Haiti beginning in 2001, which crippled the economy and contributed to the toppling of Haiti's elected government in 2004.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

IDA replenishment: European governments miss major opportunity

(Eurodad) Five days after the EU-Africa Summit, where European governments promised to build fairer partnerships with poor countries they are failing to deliver on their promise. European non-governmental organisations spoke out as European governments gather in Berlin this Thursday and Friday to confirm their financial contributions to the World Bank’s biggest fund to poor countries, the International Development Association (IDA). More than 13,000 people from across Europe have called on their governments to withhold funding from the World Bank until it ends its practices of attaching harmful economic conditions to loans and debt relief, and of funding fossil fuel development.

“European governments should not be taken in by the Bank’s assurances that conditionality is a problem that has been dealt with. Using the Bank’s own figures we’ve found that more than two thirds of loans and grants (71%) from the World Bank’s International Development Agency (IDA) are still linked to sensitive policy reforms on developing countries, mostly privatisation and liberalisation. And stories from communities around the world demonstrate the negative impacts of the Bank’s inappropriate economic policies.” says Alex Wilks, coordinator of the European Network on Debt and Development (EURODAD).

While the World Bank declared its commitment towards combating climate change in Bali, financing for oil and gas remains firmly on its agenda. The Bank increased its support for fossil fuel projects during the past years – by 90% between 2005 and 2006 alone. Investments in renewable energy, which have a double positive result both for climate and poverty reduction, only make up 5% of the budget for all energy projects. “The World Bank refuses to release the information on the overall emissions of the projects financed by the institution”, remarks Elena Gerebizza from Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale (the Italian World Bank campaign). “Many of these projects have had negative development impacts, responding to the energy needs of western governments and benefiting western oil corporations while harming the climate and poorer people.”

European governments are about to miss the final opportunity in Berlin to send a strong signal to the World Bank that they want to see major reform of the economic model of development that is being forced on poor countries. Without the threat of cuts to its funding, the Bank will be able to continue pursing policies that are devastating the economies and environments of poor countries.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Pankaj Ghemawat: The world is not flat

In an important book Harvard economist Dani Rodrik asked some years ago: “Has Globalization Gone Too Far?” Not that far as many globalization enthusiasts and also globalization critics do argue, Pankaj Ghemawat would possibly respond to the question. In a new book, Redefining Global Strategy, Ghemawat who is Professor in Barcelona and Harvard says the world is not flat as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote. Businesses that don’t take into account specific political, cultural, and economic differences are set up to fail. Countering the conventional wisdom about globalization, Ghemawat argues that the world is actually “semiglobalized”. In the video below he explains why.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Leaked draft law exposes weak EU standards for agrofuels

A leaked copy of a new draft law to regulate the use of agrofuels (biofuels) in Europe reveals that the EU will fail to protect the environment and the world's poor, warned Friends of the Earth Europe. The proposed Renewables Directive is due to be launched early in 2008. The Directive will introduce into EU law a mandatory target that all fuels for transport contain at least 10% agrofuels by 2020, and sets out a plan on how to achieve this "sustainably". Friends of the Earth Europe criticises the draft Directive as it:

* Fails to acknowledge the growing international concerns about the impact of agrofuels on the environment and food security and presses on with a mandatory target.
* Does not sufficiently address the knock-on effect of rising food prices.
* Will not prevent agrofuel production from pushing other farming activities (e.g. cattle ranching or other crops) into rainforests or other important eco-systems. The Commission proposes to just monitor the situation.
* Provides no criteria to protect people in developing countries from the negative impacts of agrofuel production. Land disputes, forced evictions, human rights abuses and poor working conditions occur frequently in many countries producing crops for Europe.
* Introduces only limited "sustainability criteria" aimed at preventing deforestation and damage to wetlands but ignores other important ecosytems such as threatened biodiversity-rich savannahs (for example, the Brazilian Cerrado). The criteria are only applicable to crops used as fuels in transport but not for the same fuels used to produce electricity.
* Prevents EU member states from introducing stronger criteria at a national level.

The European Commission is expected to define the greenhouse gas savings that an agrofuel would have to meet - compared to fossil-based fuels - in order to be supported by the EU. However the leaked draft is still missing this figure, indicating continued internal disagreement within the Commission.

Bank of the South must learn from World Bank’s failures

The Bank of the South, a multinational funding institute is inaugurated today by seven Latin American nations to finance regional development projects. The seven participating members are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Seven presidents attend the official launch: outgoing Nestor Kirchner of Argentina; Hugo Chávez from Venezuala; Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from Brazil; Rafael Correa from Ecuador; Evo Morales from Bolivia; Tabaré Vázquez from Uruguay and Nicanor Duarte Frutos from Paraguay. If lessons from past World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) failures are learned, the launch of the Bank of the South represents a strong opportunity to combat Latin American poverty, according to the international anti-poverty agency, ActionAid.

The South can lead in making the world financial system more democratic by implementing its voting system giving equal votes to member countries. “Latin American countries are breaking new ground by discarding the discredited one dollar one vote model of the World Bank and IMF in favour of equal votes for all participating countries,” says Anne Jellema, ActionAid International policy director. The Bank of the South could be also a strong tool to reduce poverty and inequalities in Latin America. “We call on the new bank to take into account the disappointing track record of big infrastructure projects funded by the World Bank and not focus heavily on financing such projects as has been announced by several member states, ActionAid points out. “Focusing on social policies would have a stronger impact for millions of poor people residing in Latin America, and would give Latin American leaders the credibility to support poverty-related policies worldwide”.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

NGOs warn trade ministers not to undermine climate talks

International NGOs such as development agency Oxfam welcomed a long overdue meeting of trade ministers in the sidelines of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali over the weekend to discuss how trade policies can contribute to, and not undermine, action on climate change. The meeting has been convened by the Indonesian government. Trade ministers from 30 countries, including the US, EU, Brazil, India and China, will discuss cross-cutting trade-related climate issues such as the liberalisation of "climate-friendly" technologies, and "mutual supportiveness" between the WTO and the UNFCCC regimes. However, the meeting has been seriously compromised by a proposal from the US and EU that uses the climate crisis to push for their trade liberalisation schemes heavily criticised at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This is a double whammy for poor countries. Not only are poor people bearing the brunt of climate change caused by industrialised nations, but rich countries are now also seeking to boost their exports by opening up developing countries' markets.

The US and EU have billed their proposal to eliminate tariff and non tariff barriers on a range of goods and services that can have environmental uses as bold and new, but according to Oxfam, it is neither. "The UN conference on climate change is being used as a pretext to dust off old proposals that haven't gotten anywhere at the WTO," said Barry Coates, Executive Director of Oxfam New Zealand in Bali. "A high priority for action on climate change is support of developing countries to access affordable and clean technology and to develop technology that is most appropriate to the challenges they face. But rich countries have done little to honour their commitments." The proposal would open up developing country markets to goods that are mainly produced in rich countries. The list contains products and services, such as medical, surgical or laboratory equipment and sanitation services, with uses that extend beyond environmental benefit and certainly beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Also, green technologies developed in rich countries can be too expensive and are not always the most appropriate for developing countries.

Friends of the Earth International President Meena Raman said: "This informal trade ministerial taking place behind closed doors on the sidelines of climate talks is deeply worrying. What the climate negotiations need is trust and transparency. The World Trade Organisation's anti-poor, anti-environment agenda must be kept out of the UN climate process." The proposal of the United States and the European Union tands to benefit business interests especially in rich countries rather than people affected by climate change in the developing world, according to FOE International. Meena Raman added: "Technology transfer is not about reducing trade barriers. If the EU and US were serious about helping developing countries tackle climate change, they should be radically reducing their own emissions and living to up their obligations by paying their climate debts. This includes the costs of adaptation and mitigation, including technology transfer and forest conservation. Instead, we see them pushing intellectual property rights onto the poor that block the transfer of desperately needed environmental technology."

The WWF urges the need to explore how the global financial and trade systems can contribute to combating climate change. Global financial and trade systems are important but only means to sustainable development and serve those larger objectives of common global concerns. Those include to overcome effectively the current climate crisis which if not effectively addressed will put the world and especially its most vulnerable communities into jeopardy. Communities and countries who should ideally benefit from global trade and finance transactions. The WWF recognizes that this was the original idea behind the initiative by the Indonesian Government to organize dialogues between selected ministers of trade and finance on climate change issues. The WWF is, however, concerned that governments are not ready to have such a free exchange of ideas, rather it seems that certain governments will try to misuse the climate talks to further their usual agenda on e.g. trade issues as reflected in some of the Doha and other disputes.

In order to achieve the goal of addressing climate change trade and finance ministers should clearly frame the discussion in terms of finding ways and means to address climate change through financial and trade mechanisms in a way that promotes sustainable development and equity. The WWF proposes the following issues:

1. As an outstanding and urgent issue for the current negotiations, technology and finance for Mitigation and Adaptation are key Building Blocks for a post-2012 global climate framework. Without speedily scaling up the efforts to provide substantially new and additional resources to developing countries, support for a truly global low carbon trajectory and meeting the needs of the poor will fail. Therefore, industrialized countries’ Trade and Finance ministers need to provide adequate and predictable mechanisms required in the context of a Bali Mandate and beyond. Equity, fairness, monetary capacity and current as well as historic responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions requires this as a fundamental non-negotiable precondition for global trust and confidence building among all nations, a prerequisite for success for the next two years of climate negotiations which need an encouraging sign by the rich countries’ F & T ministers at the Bali talks.
2. Trade policies can be used to increase the market share of energy efficient and low carbon technologies such as renewable energies. Policies should then be implemented in such a way that it reflects global priorities rather than narrow national (or regional) interests. The EU decision to limit the import of low cost energy saving light bulbs from China on the basis of “anti-dumping” is an example of how policy should not be implemented.
3. Proposals should be developed in cooperation between proponents from Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 countries in order to increase the potential to reflect common interests. The proposal by the U.S. and EC for Liberalizing Trade in Environmental Goods and Services in the WTO Negotiations enforces polarization between Annex1 and non-Annex1 countries where transcendence is needed.
4. Public subsidies of fossil fuels contribute to a lock-in into a carbon-intensive energy system. It is therefore necessary to start a process to shift public investments away from fossil fuels towards low carbon, highly-efficient and sustainable technologies. This should occur while ensuring that the cost is not shifted onto the poor who are often dependent on fossil fuel energy for daily needs.
5. Public financial institutions should reflect the interests of broad society. Internationals Financial Institutions and Export Credit Agencies should therefore phase out investments in fossil fuels and increase investments in energy saving, renewable energy and sustainable low carbon technologies.
6. The democratic control of public finance managed by International Financial Institutions and Export Credit Agencies should be strengthened. This should happen through an increased role for national parliaments and increased public participation and transparency (good governance).
7. Public procurement can make an important contribution to stimulating green technologies to move out of the start-up phase. Governments should move to 100% green procurement.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Venezuela is not Florida: Chavez’s immediate concession

This blog is called ‘The European Civil Society Round-Up’. But this time we prefer a US citizen to comment. It’s Mark Weisbrot

Last Monday, with less than 90 % of the vote counted and the opposition leading by just 50.7% to 49.3%, President Chavez congratulated his opponents on their victory. They had defeated his proposed constitutional reforms, including the abolition of term limits for the presidency. No one should have been surprised by Chavez's immediate concession: Venezuela is a constitutional democracy, and its government has stuck to the democratic rules of the game since he was first elected in 1998.

Despite the non-renewal of the broadcast license for a major TV station in May - one that wouldn't have gotten a license in any democratic country - Venezuela still has the most oppositional media in the hemisphere. But the U.S. media has managed to convey the impression to most Americans that Venezuela is some sort of dictatorship or near-dictatorship.

Some of this disinformation takes place through mere repetition and association (e.g. "communist Cuba" appearing in thousands of news reports) -- just as 70% of Americans were convinced, prior to the Iraq war, that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the massacres of September 11. In that case, the major media didn't even believe the message, but somehow it got across and provided justification for the war.

In the case of Venezuela, the media is more pro-active, with lots of grossly exaggerated editorials and op-eds, news articles that sometimes read like editorials, and a general lack of balance in sources and subject matter.

But Venezuela is not Pakistan. In fact, it's not Florida or Ohio either. One reason that Chavez could be confident of the vote count is that Venezuela has a very secure voting system. This is very different from the United States, where millions of citizens cast electronic votes with no paper record. Venezuelan voters mark their choice on a touch-screen machine, which then records the vote and prints out a paper receipt for the voter. The voter then deposits the vote in a ballot box. An extremely large random sample - about 54% - of the paper ballots are counted and compared with the electronic tally.

If the two counts match, then that is a pretty solid guarantee against electronic fraud. Any such fraud would have to rig the machines and stuff the ballot boxes to match them - a trick that strains the imagination.

In 2007, Venezuelans once again came in second for all of Latin America in the %age of citizens who are satisfied or very satisfied with their democracy, according to the prestigious Chilean polling firm Latinobarometro - 59%, far above the Latin American average of 37%.

It is not only the secure elections that are responsible for this result - it is also that the government has delivered on its promises to share the nation's oil wealth with the poor and the majority. For most people - unlike the pundits here - voting for something and actually getting what you voted for are also an important part of democracy.

The Bush Administration has consistently sought regime change in Venezuela, even before Chavez began regularly denouncing "the Empire". According to the U.S. State Department, Washington funded leaders and organizations involved in the coup which briefly overthrew Chavez's democratically elected government in April 2002. The Washington Post reported this week that the Bush Administration has been funding unnamed student groups, presumably opposition, up to and including this year.

Venezuela must be seen as undemocratic, and Chavez as the aggressor against the United States, in order to justify the Bush Administration's objective of regime change. As in the run-up to the Iraq war, most of the major media are advancing the Administration's goals, regardless of the intentions of individual journalists.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (

GCAP calls for an end to unfair trade deals at Africa-EU summit

On the eve of the Lisbon Summit aimed at approving a new Joint Africa-EU Strategy, European and African members of the world’s largest anti-poverty alliance, the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), warn Heads of State not to build the new strategy on unfair trade deals. Campaigners call on the leaders to build Africa-Europe relations based on pro-development trade justice rather than unfair free trade. They also ask them to include civil society inputs, which foster greater ownership of the strategy by the people it directly affects. “Fair and equitable trade must be a fundamental component of relations between Europe and Africa if poverty is ever to be addressed. Yet, the new EU-Africa Strategy suggests that trade relations should be built on free trade and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs),” said Thomas Deve of GCAP Africa, Zimbabwe. “EPAs are being negotiated outside the framework of the Africa-EU Strategy, under a timeframe imposed by the European Union (EU) that will leave poor countries in Africa worse off.”

Civil society groups in Africa and Europe have, for months, loudly criticized the devastating effects these trade deals will have by taking away people’s rights, undermining and decimating the livelihood of African small-scale farmers and producers, as well as disrupting trade and regional integration processes in Africa. “Trade agreements should not limit the development policy choices for any country,” said Christophe Zoungrana, GCAP Africa Coordinator. “There is little partnership, consultation and strategising grounded in African priorities or fundamental trust in the trade negotiation. We do not believe these trade agreements are fair and we should not build a new partnership between Africa and Europe on such an unfair basis.”

GCAP calls on the EU to lift the deadline imposed on the EPAs negotiations (31 December) and to allow more time to explore pro-development alternative deals. Secondly, GCAP calls on the EU not to penalize countries using import tariffs if they fail to sign the EPAs. Finally, the alliance wants to see an end to the use of development aid as a bargaining tool for trade and investment agreements. Civil society movements involved in the consultation process leading to the new EU-Africa Strategy complain that this has not been inclusive, that the objectives of the new strategy are too vague and that adequate resources have not been allocated for implementation.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

OECD governments failed to manage globalization fairly, unions say

On the occasion of a meeting between trade union leaders and OECD Ambassadors, unions have called on OECD governments to rebalance growth among OECD regions, to reverse growing income inequality, to regulate financial markets and to live up to their promises of supporting development in developing countries. These calls are included in statements from the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) to the OECD’s Economic Policy Committee, and from the ITUC and Global Unions to the recent IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings. According to the statements, so far governments have failed to manage globalisation adequately or to ensure workers an equitable share of economic growth. That much is evident from the falling share of wages as a proportion of national income throughout the countries of the OECD. While a small segment of the populations of these countries are pocketing huge gains, the vast majority of working people have seen stagnant real wages over the last decade. In the US, for example, which may now be heading towards a serious economic slow-down, median real wages are lower today than they were in 1999.

OECD governments must therefore commit themselves to achieving a more just and sustainable global economy. And they must ensure that globalisation progresses in an inclusive way that benefits not only the already developed countries and a few emerging economies, but in a real way delivers economic and social progress to over one hundred developing countries still in desperate need of development, and without which they won’t be able to lift their people out of poverty. “Promises were made at the G8 summits in Kananaskis and Gleneagles to assist and to help developing countries” said Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary. The results to date are far from enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or progress the Decent Work Agenda. Governments must live up to their promises and report on the measures that have been and will be taken in order to fulfil these commitments. A greater number of low-income countries must be granted debt cancellation without economic policy conditionality, such that they can devote more resources to achieving the MDGs rather than servicing unsustainable debts.

John Evans, TUAC General Secretary commented that, "The phenomenal growth of credit derivative markets and of 'alternative' investment funds in the past four years has been regarded by the OECD as a positive development in spreading and mitigating financial market risks. The recent sub-prime financial crisis proved the opposite. The rapid transformation of the hedge funds and private equity industry from a niche to a mainstream business has not been matched by comparable changes in national regulations and international cooperation. Central Banks' short term monetary reaction to the sub-prime crisis, necessary as it is, leaves unaddressed the existence of large gaps in the regulatory coverage of global financial markets. These gaps come at a cost for the real economy and its workers."

The TUAC statement to the OECD emphasises that governments must address the lack of adequate regulation of financial markets. Extreme stock exchange volatility and large currency swings again and again hit workers on their job and income security. Governments must step up their efforts to increase coherence and ensure that workers aren’t left to pay the price of such crises whenever they happen. Ryder continued “We see the problems that this can cause for governments when things aren’t going their way: can the US for example keep cutting rates to rescue the financial markets and save their economy when the dollar is getting hit as hard as it is? In our view, this deadlock is the result of flawed policies that have benefited investors rather than working people. - and that unfortunately are being mimicked all around the world.”

William Easterly on Aid and Poverty

Monday, 3 December 2007

Provisional website of the Slovenian EU Presidency

Slovenia, which will undertake the presidency of the Council of the European Union from 1 January to 30 June 2008, inaugurateed a provisional version of its website. Through the website it is possible to have access to accreditation applications, meeting schedules and information on Slovenia and the programm of the Slovenian presidency. The official logo of the presidency (see picture) has also been published.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

EU: Far-reaching trade deal with East Africa

On 27 November in Kampala, the East African Community (EAC) initialled a goods-only trade agreement with the European Union (EU). According to a joint statement, the EAC will open their markets to 80% of EU goods within 15 years. This covers mainly industrial inputs and capital goods. About one fifth of EAC trade will be completely excluded from any market liberalisation requirements. The deal is seen as an interim step towards agreeing a full Economic Partnership Agreement by mid-2009. Luis Morago, Head of Oxfam International's EU Office stressed the developing countries “have been placed under enormous pressure to sign. Despite concerns raised by many, including the IMF, African civil society, trade unions, and academics, the Commission has ignored possible alternatives and insisted on the deadline. They have essentially forced the East Africans to choose between guaranteeing markets for their agricultural exports today, and maintaining a degree of protection to promote future industrial growth - which all developed countries have done in the past.”

This agreement could lead to unemployment and loss of vital government revenue that might otherwise be spent on health and education. It suits the Commission to spread the impression that regions are falling into line and the rest should do so too. But NGOs urge other countries to take heed of the range of voices raised against these deals and continue to ask the Commission for more time to negotiate a pro-development deal and for feasible alternatives to be considered.

Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson, the European commissioner for trade, strongly criticised the positions taken by Nigeria and South Africa in the EPA talks. Speaking to MEPs last week, Mandelson alleged that the big countries are holding back their neighbours in the regional groupings involved in the talks from signing deals by an end-of-year deadline set by the EU. His comments were sharply criticised by anti-poverty campaigners, who alleged that he is seeking to sow divisions among developing countries.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

US coalition calls for World Bank reforms

A coalition of US development and environmental groups has released a joint platform containing needed World Bank reforms, ahead of the 15th replenishment of the International Development Association (IDA) negotiations in Dublin, Ireland. As World Bank President Robert Zoellick ramps up a $37bn fundraising campaign to replenish the Bank's International Development Association (IDA), a coalition of US development and environmental groups has released a joint platform containing needed World Bank reforms. The platform identifies three critical reform areas the World Bank needs to address: ending economic policy conditionality, fighting energy poverty and climate change and increasing transparency and accountability at the World Bank. The coalition has also launched a lobbying campaign urging the US Congress to require World Bank reforms while considering requests for additional appropriations for the World Bank in 2008.

A similar campaign is underway in Europe.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

IPCC Synthesis Report: 'Unequivocal' climate change hits world's poorest people

NGOs such as Oxfam International and Friends of the Earth International have welcomed the findings of the just released Synthesis Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the culmination of its 2007 assessment of climate change causes, impacts and solutions. This year – for the first time in its 19-year history – the IPCC reported "observed impacts" of climate change, stating that warming of the climate system is "unequivocal." The report makes clear that unless there is rapid action to curb emissions global temperature increases will exceed 2ºC within this century – the threshold beyond which climate change is likely to lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts for millions of the poorest, most vulnerable people.

Responding to the report Antonio Hill, Policy Advisor at Oxfam, said: "The science is clear and immutable. Climate change is happening and poor people, the majority of them women, are bearing the brunt. Severe weather events and changing climate patterns are destroying homes, crops and livelihoods forcing people in poor countries, who are least responsible for climate change and least equipped to deal with its impacts, to adapt so that they can make a living and feed their families. Rapid action to curb emissions by 2015 is paramount but so too is providing money, technology and information right now to help the poorest, most vulnerable people who are already taking steps to adapt to their new reality. The IPCC throws down the gauntlet to governments to take urgent action both internationally under the UN and domestically to reduce the impact of climate change – the litmus test will be the UN climate conference in Bali next month when governments meet to negotiate a new agreement to tackle climate change.”

At the Bali Conference, Oxfam calls on governments to agree to:
1. A clear path towards an adequate and fair, global post-2012 climate change agreement, and
2. Concrete and speedy progress on increasing money available to poor communities for climate adaptation now.

Friday, 16 November 2007

EPA negotiations: European and international trade unions appeal to Commission

On the eve of a critical decision on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) at the European Union General Affairs and External Relations Council on 19 November, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) today reiterated their call for an extension of the EPA negotiating deadline. In a common statement ETUC and ITUC called for the Cotonou Agreement trade preferences to be extended until the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are in a position to conclude EPAs - if, and only if, they choose to do so.

"The Commission needs to do the right thing, legally and morally. It should include in the Generalised System of Preferences plus (GSP+) those ACP countries that currently meet the criteria - including ratification and full implementation of the eight ILO core labour standards - or undertake to meet those criteria within six months at the most," said ETUC General Secretary John Monks. "It is clear that many countries are not in a position to sign EPAs.
It's time to offer the them some breathing space and seriously explore the alternatives, as the European Commission is obliged to do under the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement."

If necessary, development assistance and cooperation with the ILO should be offered to countries in order to facilitate the implementation of the ILO conventions. The Least Developed Countries not able to access GSP+ preferences can be offered trade preferences under the Everything But Arms scheme. "We understand that the Commission is worried about the end of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) waiver, but in the unlikely event of a challenge the ACP countries can state convincingly that given the lack of progress on the Doha round and the fact that their group contains some of the poorest countries on earth, an extension of the Cotonou preferences would hardly be unjustified," argued ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder. "For those countries that do choose to negotiate EPAs, a greater degree of non-reciprocity and a period of up to 25 years for implementation are necessary preconditions to boost sub-regional integration, which is a stated aim of these negotiations. ACP countries should not be pressured into negotiating areas such as intellectual property and investment provisions if they do not wish to do so."

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Indian government supports employer in cover-up of worker rights abuses

International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has criticised attempts by the Indian government and the Bangalooru Court to cover up serious labour rights violations by the Fibre & Fabrics International company (FFI) and its subsidiary Jeans Knits Pvt. Ltd in the Indian city. Local labour rights groups, supported by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) initially exposed the violations in 2005. Following this the company, which supplies jeans to Dutch company G-Star and other international brands, took legal action in 2006 in the Bangalooru Court to ban the local groups, CCC and ICN from speaking about or publicising the violations. Our photo shows activists protesting outside G-Star.

The CCC subsequently took the issue up with under the procedures of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, stressing that under the gagging order, local trade unions cannot operate freely, and that companies doing business with FFI cannot implement any credible form of corporate social responsibility programme. The company filed a court case against the CCC, ICN, internet provider Antenna and adsl supplier Xs4ALL, alleging that they engaged in cyber crime, defamation, racism and xenophobia. Refusing to accept that they are represented by a lawyer rather than travelling to India to appear in person, the Court issued summonses against the four organisations and seven individuals. A November 20 Court hearing is expected to determine whether the court will seek to issue international arrest warrants against the worker rights advocates.

The initial report put forward by the CCC and ICN on the company based on interviews with workers from various parts of the company’s operations, revealed physical and verbal abuse of the workforce, hazardous working conditions, lack of proper employment contracts, long working hours and non-payment of overtime entitlements. CCC and ICN did acknowledge that some improvements had been made by the company management after the release of the report, but that serious problems continued to exist. They called on the company to take part in a process of dialogue with the local trade union GATWU and independent mediators, however the company continued its court action instead.

“All these people have done is to try to tell the truth about severe exploitation of the FFI workers,” said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder. “Instead of supporting the employer’s use of the local Court to threaten labour rights supporters with criminal proceedings which carry penalties of up to two years in prison, the Indian government should be defending the rights of its own people and not leaving them at the mercy of unscrupulous bosses”, he added. The ITUC understand that the attack on CCC and ICN has now been taken up with the Dutch and other European governments and the European Commission by the Indian Trade and Commerce Ministry, which has claimed that the publicity around this and similar cases is a “non-tariff barrier” to trade. In past years, India has consistently refused to allow any discussion at the WTO of violations of labour standards.

Friday, 9 November 2007

NGOs walked out of OECD meeting on official export credits

For years NGOs have asked for effective implementation of environmental and social standards, as well as for coherence of OECD export credit schemes with related goals and agreements. Earlier this week they walked out of an OECD meeting called to consult civil society organisations. The groups cited the recent approval by ECAs of projects that flagrantly violate internationally accepted environmental and social standards as well as the failure of most ECAs to take effective action to address sustainable development, corporate social responsibility, corruption, and sustainable debt relief. OECD taxpayers support some $100bn annually in ECA loans, insurance and guarantees for large scale projects in developing countries and economies in transition.

While appreciating efforts by chairs of the Export Credit Working Party (ECG) and staff of the OECD Secretariat to foster dialogue between NGOs and ECG national Members, and noting good working relations with a number of national ECA environmental practitioners and officials, NGO representatives pointed to ECG members' collective unwillingness to engage in substantive exchanges of views, pointing out that lack of progress threatens the credibility of the OECD to effectively address many broad overlapping issues, from sustainable development to debt and bribery, in which ECAs are critical players. “The approval this summer of German, Austrian and Swiss export credits for the Ilisu dam in Turkey, which violates World Bank/IFC environmental and social policies on many counts, demonstrates a flagrant disregard for basic environmental and social standards, and for the OECD Recommendation on 'Common Approaches on the Environment and Official Export Credits'”, notes Bob Thomson, Paris based Facilitator of ECA Watch. ECA-Watch is an international network of NGOs advocating effective ECA action in avoiding environmental and social harm, and credible ECA measures to fight corruption, cease promotion of unsustainable debt in poor countries, and increased transparency.

In a letter to the OECD ECG, the NGOs stated: ”There is a growing and urgent credibility crisis in the implementation of the Common Approaches. This crisis is a direct consequence of ineffective peer review, inadequate monitoring and inadequate transparency with respect to specific projects, accentuated by the categorical refusal of the ECG to discuss these very issues in specific cases.” Proposing greater transparency and more public and formal peer review processes as practiced by other OECD entities, the Groups regretted having to draw attention to the ECG's democracy and development deficit, reiterating their willingness to return to the table, bringing their expertise with respect to international best practices, when appropriate new modes of consultation and greater openness to dialogue are proposed. An ECA Watch paper summarises the OECD export credit policy’s incoherence and weak implementation.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

NGOs brand EIB the weakest link in EU development aid

At the European Development Days in Lisbon, NGO campaigners concerned about the expanding financing role of the European Investment Bank (EIB) in developing countries have called for the EIB to urgently strengthen its lending standards and procedures. According to Magda Stoczkiewicz, Policy coordinator for CEE Bankwatch Network, its recent big funding increase will make the EIB the largest multilateral lender in developing countries by volume. Yet, compared to other lenders, the EIB's environmental and social standards and policies leave a lot to be desired. The EIB should adopt policies and procedures that help to uphold strong environmental, social and human rights standards for investments in developing countries, rather than serving as a support bank for European corporations.

A new report commissioned by CEE and written by the International Rivers Network (IRN) details how to date major dam projects financed by the EIB have damaged communities and the environment and have failed to bring development benefits. The report, Raising the bar on big dams: Making the case for dam policy reform at the European Investment Bank, provides case studies of five controversial dam projects in Africa and one in Laos where the EIB has been involved in the project financing. The report highlights that despite making vague references to the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams (WCD), the EIB currently has no sector policy for dams. The report recommends better analysis of up front options to meet energy and water needs, a key tenet of the WCD. "Our report shows that the EIB has invested more than €400m in projects that have had huge costs on all fronts for poor countries ill equipped to resolve their problems," said Lori Pottinger, Africa Campaign Director at IRN. "EIB-supported dams have pushed species to extinction, led to worsening poverty for people forced out by their huge reservoirs, permanently damaged critical natural systems that support millions, and led to huge debt burdens. The EIB is now investing or considering investing millions more in future problematic dams that are likely to repeat this sorry history. From Ethiopia to Congo, large dams now on the drawing board or under construction with EIB help are setting Africa up for future failure as a changing climate renders them a poor solution for adapting to new hydrological realities."

A similar picture has also been revealed in a new study from Friends of the Earth France, EIB: six years financing the plundering of Africa. The report shows how the EIB is providing important financing to large-scale mining projects in African countries. Between 2000 and 2006, in Africa, the EIB granted more than €364m in loans to the mining industries, and since early 2007 the EIB has already approved loans of more than €300m for two giant mining projects in Madagascar and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Whereas the effects on poverty alleviation of such projects are very controversial, their devastating consequences on environment and local communities' lives have been unfortunately amply demonstrated.

Monday, 29 October 2007

First round of trade negotiations EU-Central America: Risky imbalances

NGOs have today criticised the EU for its aggressive position in the bi-regional trade and political negotiations with Central America. Last week, the first official round of negotiations between the European Union (EU) and Central American countries begun in San José, Costa Rica, with the view of establishing a comprehensive “Association Agreement” between both regions, covering trade, political dialogue and cooperation aspects. Luis Guillermo Perez, Executive Secretary at CIFCA, said: "These negotiations are a risky gamble for Central America. There are enormous institutional, commercial, cultural and developmental imbalances between the two regions, yet the EU insists on applying a one-size-fits-all approach in the negotiations. In such a scenario, European interests will be best served, while Central Americans will be the net losers".

Stepping away from its traditional multilateral approach, the EU is currently negotiating a series of bilateral agreements with various countries and regions in the world. These agreements all include provisions for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Past experiences of FTAs between rich and developing countries have shown these agreements are not a win-win game: "They create winners and losers - and the losers are often the poor and marginalized groups as well as the environment", declared Camilo Tovar, representative of ALOP in Europe. Erik Van Mele from Oxfam said: "Small producers in Central America will not be able to compete with the subsidised European agribusiness imports, and as a consequence, they will lose even more markets and income. This is a fact: fourteen years after the implementation of the FTA between Mexico and the United States, hundreds of thousands of small farmers have left the countryside".

The NGOs wrote last week to European Commissioners Benita Ferrero-Waldner (External Relations) and Peter Mandelson (Trade), expressing their concerns about the negotiations, and the lack of involvement of civil society. "So far, transparency in these negotiations has been almost inexistent. We believe the European Commission should urgently propose a mechanism to make the negotiations transparent and open to civil society participation", concluded Lourdes Castro from Grupo Sur.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Lessons from Argentina: How unorthodox wisdom propelled high-growth recovery

Argentine Senator Cristina Fernandez Kirchner seems to be headed for a solid first-round victory in today’s presidential election, and a new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) looks at the economic expansion that has propelled her candidacy. "Argentina challenged the conventional economic wisdom, and won," says economist Mark Weisbrot, co-Director of CEPR and lead author of the paper. Argentina's economy has grown by more than 50% in real (inflation-adjusted) terms during the past five and one half years of expansion, making it the fastest-growing economy in the Western Hemisphere. Unemployment fell from 21.5 to 9.6%, and more than 11 million people, or 28% of the population, have been pulled across the poverty line. Real wages have increased by more than 40 percent.

A number of policy choices seem to have contributed to the recovery, some of them unorthodox and controversial. Among these were: the Central Bank's targeting of a stable and competitive real exchange rate; Argentina's break with the IMF and its policy prescriptions; and its tough bargaining with international creditors over defaulted external debt. The paper, Argentina's Economic Recovery: Policy Choices and Implications, looks at these and other policies, as well as the role of the IMF during the recovery. The authors argue that Argentina's recovery and its successful macroeconomic policies may have important lessons for other middle-income and also low-income countries. This is especially true at a time when the influence of the IMF and allied institutions over economic policy has declined drastically in recent years. The paper also looks at the current state of the economy.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Trade Union Summit on Europe-Africa in Lisbon

Today a major two day Trade Union summit that will address the relationships between Europe and Africa is opening in Lisbon, Portugal, bringing together more than 60 trade union leaders from Africa and Europe ahead of a European Union – African Union Summit planned for 8 and 9 December during which a Joint Strategy for future and existing cooperation between the two continents is to be adopted. Many trade union leaders from both Africa and Europe are concerned by the minimal attention that the Joint Strategy devotes to labour issues and decent work. This lack of interest from EU and AU leaders is hard to understand as the creation of more and better jobs is a common aspiration of peoples from both Europe and Africa.

Under the slogan “putting decent work at the heart of the Joint EU-Africa Strategy” trade union leaders will discuss issues related to employment, respect for workers’ rights, social dialogue, migration and economic partnership agreements (EPAs). Participants in the Summit include on the European side: José Antonio Vieira da Silva, Portuguese Minister of Labour and Social Solidarity, Margarida Marques, director of the European Commission Representation in Portugal, Ana Gomes, European Parliament, Maria Helena André, Deputy General Secretary of the ETUC, João Proenca (UGT-P) and Manuel Carvalho da Silva ( CGTP-IN Portugal) and on the African side: Bience Gawanas, Commissioner Social Affairs Department of the African Union, Andrew Kailembo (ICFTU-AFRO) and Adrien Akouete (DOAWTU). ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder leads the International delegation.

A final political Declaration will be adopted. The Declaration will include proposals that social dialogue be given a central place in the EU-Africa Strategy as it is a key mechanism of democratic governance. Trade unions are likely to renew their call for sustainable development and the respect of workers’ rights, especially in the oil and mining sector in which many European multinational enterprises are operating. Finally it is expected that trade unions will urge European leaders to carry out their long-standing promises regarding development assistance and debt cancellation.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Global Coalition: World Bank needs an oil change

More than 200 organisations from 56 countries are calling on the World Bank and other international financial institutions to end subsidies to the oil industry. In a statement, the groups refer to ‘oil aid’ as one of the most glaring barriers to fighting climate change and addressing energy access in developing countries. As the heads of the World Bank gather in Washington this weekend to discuss their energy lending and climate change strategy, the latest annual report of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) indicates that little has changed in the institution’s approach. In 2007, the private-sector lending arm of the World Bank provided more than $645m to oil and gas companies. This is an increase of at least 40% from 2006.

“The World Bank’s approach to climate change and energy is inconsistent and contradictory,” said Jennifer Kalafut of NGO Oil Change International. “Despite commitments to cut global greenhouse gas emissions, it continues to increase support for oil extraction projects around the world.” In 2006, the World Bank increased its energy sector commitments from $2.8bn to $4.4bn. Oil, gas and power sector commitments account for 77% of the total energy sector programme while ‘new renewables’ account for only 5%. “Investing in renewable electricity will save 10 times the fuel costs than if we stayed on a ‘business as usual’ course with fossil fuels,” said Daniel Mittler from Greenpeace International. “We can cut global CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, while addressing issues of energy access for the poor and maintaining global economic growth.”

The Bank’s support to the oil sector is also highly inequitable. While the majority of its oil projects are designed for export to wealthy countries, 1.6 billion people, including 500 million in sub-Saharan Africa, still lack access to electricity. “By funding these oil projects the World Bank is undermining its own goals of fighting energy poverty and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is also perpetuating problems of conflict and human rights violations often associated with extractive projects, as in the case of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline,” said Korinna Horta from Environmental Defense, a U.S-based NGO. The hundreds of groups and affected communities that have signed this statement are demanding that the World Bank and other public financial institutions stop financing oil projects. They assert that development assistance should be tackling the issue of energy poverty and building clean energy pathways rather than subsidising big oil.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Zoellick should address World Bank's dam past, change its future path

(IRN) As World Bank President Robert Zoellick prepares for his first meeting with the Bank's shareholders this weekend, a new report of the International Rivers Network reveals that the Bank approved more than US$800m for nine hydropower projects in fiscal year 2007. This is more than it provided for renewable energy and efficiency projects combined. As the Bank jumps back into the big dam business and neglects better energy and water solutions, the legacy of its past dam projects tragically lives on. This Bank-funded dam legacy includes the displacement of at least 10 million people, lost livelihoods, damaged ecosystems, corruption, massive debt burdens and, in some cases, serious human rights violations. People from Argentina to Zambia are still waiting for past promises to be met and for damages to be repaired.

The International Rivers Network's October 2007 briefing paper, The World Bank's Big Dam Legacy, sums up some of the low-lights of the World Bank's dam history. "The World Bank defends its renewed zeal for large dams with assertions that it has learned from past mistakes. This claim is not credible as long as the legacy of the Bank's dam projects remains unresolved," asserts Shannon Lawrence of International Rivers Network (IRN). A new IRN report, Shattered Lives, Broken Promises, which was launched in Washington today describes the heartbreaking case of the Bank's water-project legacy in southern Pakistan. Ann-Kathrin Schneider of IRN, who is working with communities in Pakistan, explains: "The Bank-funded canals and drainage systems have contributed to the destruction of lakes and wetlands upon which coastal communities depend for fishing and animal-grazing. The Bank has failed to ensure that these communities receive adequate compensation or that these critical wetlands are restored."

International Rivers Network, the Bank Information Center, the Center for International Environmental Law and the Heinrich Boell Foundation today hosted a high-level panel discussion on the need to improve the World Bank's tools for addressing its legacy of harmful projects. "The new presidency offers a chance for the World Bank to address the unresolved legacy of its past," said IRN's Ann-Kathrin Schneider at this event. "The Bank should develop remedial action plans with the people who have been harmed by its past projects, and pay reparations to compensate for their suffering. The mandate of the Inspection Panel should be extended to monitor the implementation of such action plans."

Cotton subsidies: US must react to WTO Panel

The US must act immediately to reform its trade distorting cotton subsidies, otherwise its credibility as an international trading partner will be undermined, and significant damage will be done to the multilateral trading system, said Oxfam in response to a WTO panel ruling that confirmed that the US has failed to reform its program sufficiently. The US is still paying billions of dollars of such subsidies to its cotton farmers, despite having lost a WTO case against Brazil in 2005, with no encouraging signs of reform coming from the US Congress. There is little time for the US Congress to make more meaningful reforms to agricultural subsidies in order to comply with international trade rules before facing possible retaliation from Brazil.

"This ruling reinforces the need for reductions in US cotton subsidies in both the context of the Doha Round and the 2007 Farm Bill," said Isabel Mazzei, head of the Geneva office of Oxfam International. "The US cannot continue to ignore the WTO and the effects of cotton subsidies on global markets and, ultimately, the livelihoods of poor farmers in the developing world." In 2005, the WTO ruled that US cotton subsidies violate WTO rules and gave the US until September 2005 to reduce them. In response, the USDA agreed to reform export credit programs to comply with the ruling, and Congress eliminated the Step 2 cotton export subsidy program in 2006. But these programs represent only 10% of the overall cotton subsidy programs and some of the most trade distorting programs, like the counter cyclical payments were left untouched. In September 2006, Brazil asked for a WTO "compliance panel" to determine whether the US has done enough to comply with the ruling. This week, the WTO has confirmed that the US has failed to reform its agricultural subsidies enough to comply.

According to a recent study conducted by Dan Sumner and others at the University of California Davis for Oxfam, reforming US cotton subsidies would increase world cotton prices by 6-14%, resulting in additional income that could feed an additional million children for a year or pay school fees for at least two million children living in extremely poor West African cotton growing households. A typical cotton-producing household in West Africa has about 10 family members, an average life expectancy of about 48 years and an adult literacy rate of less than 25 percent. Cotton is often the only source of cash income for these families who live on less than $1 a day per person.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Pressure on EU for flexibility in EPA negotiations is growing

Oxfam International has welcomed the decision of 5 October by Ministers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Mauritania to officially request an extension of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations into 2008. Oxfam believes that the European Union (EU) must use this occasion to show its commitment to the spirit of the Cotonou partnership, and continue talks until all sides agree to a deal that will boost development. In the extra-ordinary Ministerial in Abidjan, Ministers concluded that the EU’s latest proposal, which will still require extensive liberalisation, does not address the development needs of the region. They were very clear that it is not possible to conclude an ‘inclusive’ and ‘balanced’ agreement this year and called on the European Union to maintain the Cotonou trade regime to allow negotiations to continue.

According to Ablasse Ouedraogo, special adviser to West Africa’s chief negotiator, “West Africa has been negotiating in good faith, but as our Ministers stated in the declaration, it is now absolutely clear that we can’t reach an agreement by the end of the year. We call upon Europe to enter into a constructive dialogue with us, providing the necessary time to forge an agreement that will enhance regional integration and support West Africa to take advantage of globalization.” The position of the West African Ministers reflects the concerns of producers and civil society organizations. “The African Industrial Association (AIA) welcomes the ECOWAS decision,” said David Thual, Adviser to the AIA president. “The AIA urges negotiators to take advantage of the forthcoming months to define an EPA, that takes into account the difficulties African industry is facing and offers real development prospects”.

In the past two weeks, events in other ACP regions have followed a similar pattern. In the Caribbean, extraordinary Ministerial talks with the European Commission ended without agreement. The European Commission and the Pacific have agreed to try and sign a deal concerning only the trade in goods by November, leaving other areas for negotiation in 2008. However, even this is unlikely to be achieved as many areas of disagreement remain between the two parties. Talks in East Africa remain fraught with difficulties and exporters are getting anxious. To avert disruption of trade the Seychelles has asked for immediate entry into the preferential scheme that many Latin American countries use (GSP+), which would give nearly the same access to the EU market as the current Cotonou scheme. Other East African countries have asked the EU for ‘interim’ measures to be put in place to continue negotiations in 2008.

So far, the European position remains that a free trade agreement is needed by the end of Dec 2007 – even if it only covers goods. If not, tariffs on ACP exports will be increased. The challenge now is for Europe to show more meaningful flexibility. Eric Hazard, Oxfam’s West Africa Campaign Manager said, “These events send a strong political message demanding action from Europe. European countries need to listen to ACP regions, re-orient talks towards development and urgently take steps to ensure that discussions on all issues can continue into 2008.”

Friday, 12 October 2007

New International Coffee Agreement reflects interests of small scale coffee farmers

The agenda of small-scale farmers and workers makes headway in the new International Coffee Agreement (ICA) which came to successful conclusion last week as members of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) concluded a year and a half of negotiations. The ICA serves as the operating charter of the ICO, the only forum that brings the majority of coffee producing and consuming countries together to address critical issues facing the coffee sector. For years campaigns such as Oxfam’s coffee campaign have identified the ICO as an important venue for strengthening small farmers’ interests. The new ICA reflects such advocacy work and puts many important issues on the ICO's agenda for the coming years.

The following points, included in the new version of the ICA, are victories for small-scale farmers and work across the world:
* Recognition of the relationship between a sustainable coffee market and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals;
* Objectives to develop a sustainable coffee sector in economic, social and environmental terms and enhance the capacity of local communities and small-scale farmers to benefit from coffee production;
* Acknowledgement of the importance of establishing and strengthening cooperation with NGOs;
* A new article on the ICA's project work, which has included efforts to improve farmers' productivity and sustainability;
* Creation of a new 'Consultative Forum on Coffee Sector Finance' which will bring together experts to discuss finance and risk management with a emphasis on the needs of small and medium scale producers and local communities; and
* Expansion of the ICO's role in disseminating information about the coffee supply chain with emphasis on facilitating access to information by small coffee producers to assist them in improving their financial performance.

While the new ICA adds important elements to the ICO's mandate, the Agreement itself expresses intention. The true value of the new Agreement will be as good as the implementation, which means that while NGOs welcome this development they will continue to push ICO member countries to follow through on the promises made to small farmers and farm workers. In particular, Oxfam continues to call on ICO members to create forums for small-scale farmer organizations to have direct channels to voice the challenges they face as farmers struggle to earn a decent living from their coffee crop.

Monday, 8 October 2007

G20 meeting in November: Contribution to responsible lending?

(Eurodad) NGOs from around the world, including Eurodad, CIDSE and Jubilee US, have written to South Africa’s Finance Minister, Mr Trevor Manual, ahead of the G20 meeting in Cape Town (17-19 November) to demand representation at the meeting. One of the major items on the agenda is the discussion around a “Charter of responsible lending” that was mentioned during the last G8 meeting, held in Heiligendamm (Germany) on 6-8 June. The letter says:

“We recognise that the G20 is a more inclusive forum than the G8. We believe such an important discussion ought to take into account the interests and proposals of all stakeholders: sovereign lenders, sovereign borrowers, private lenders and civil society groups from both lending and borrowing nations. This is why, in the spirit of ownership of such an important global initiative, we request the following:

* Representation of civil society organisations at the G20 meeting.
* Facilitation of and support for a pre-CSO meeting.
* Discussion around the principles and proposals for a responsible financing framework as tabled by civil society organisations.

We believe the G20 discussion in November can act as a stepping stone towards the setting of commonly agreed - and fair – rules in international sovereign debt management.”

Following-on from this initiative, Eurodad will launch its own “Charter for Responsible Lending” later this month. The charter outlines the essential components of a responsible loan in order to improve the quality of lending and help to avoid future rounds of unsustainable and illegitimate debt, as well as fairness should repayment difficulties arise. Eurodad’s charter will be published on the Eurodad website once finalised. A series of dialogues and discussions centred on the proposals outlined in the charter is being organised over the coming months. Contact for further information.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Trade unions to multinationals: Leave Burma now!

(ITUC) The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is writing to several hundred companies known or suspected of having business links to Burma to pull out of the country and "stop propping up the brutal regime", and is calling on governments to extend economic sanctions to cover all economic sectors. While numerous foreign companies have ceased doing business with Burma, under pressure from the international trade union movement and human rights and democracy groups, many multinational companies still have relations with the military dictatorship. "No company can claim to have clean hands if it is doing business in or with Burma, since the Generals take their cut out of every deal. We have been calling for several years on companies to disinvest, and those who have refused to do so will now be exposed to the full weight of public condemnation for effectively supporting a ruthless, corrupt and bloody dictatorship", said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

According to the trade unions, Burma's economy is built on absolute repression of its workforce, with the use of forced labour still rife in the country despite international pressure on the regime to respect fundamental rights. The case for full and effective sanctions is now absolutely compelling, and any company which does not withdraw voluntarily must be made to do so by governments and international and regional organisations including the United Nations and the European Union. The international trade union movement and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have for many years called on the EU to include Burmese state monopolies covering gas, oil, mining, tropical woods and precious stones in the list of companies with which EU-based multinationals are forbidden to do business.

Top of the ITUC list are several key multinationals with well-documented business links to Burma, including Caterpillar (USA), China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Daewoo International Corporation (Korea), Siemens (Germany), Gas Authority of India (GAIL), GlaxoSmithKline (UK), Hyundai (Korea), ONGC Videsh Ltd (India), Swift (Belgium), and Total (France). Several hundred other companies are currently being investigated for links to Burma, and the results will be published shortly. Military aid will be a special focus of the trade union campaign, which will also look closely at the junta's growing economic links with India, China and several other countries. India's trade for example has grown from some US$341m in 2004-5 to $650m the following year, with a target of US$1bn set for 2006-7. - "Companies which think they can continue to pretend that their business with Burma somehow helps ordinary people there are seriously mistaken. They will come under unprecedented pressure to pull out," said Ryder. The ITUC is asking its affiliates to join worldwide Burma democracy and human rights demonstrations.

EU’s assurances on trade rejected by campaigners

(Eurostep) Anti-poverty campaigners have refused to accept a claim by the European Commission that it is not “steamrolling” African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries into signing free trade deals. On 27 September, some 200 organisations in 40 countries banded together to hold an international day of protest against the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that the Commission hopes to sign with ACP states by the end of this year.

Peter Mandelson and Louis Michel, the European commissioners for trade and development aid respectively, issued a statement, which attempted to refute some of the arguments against the EPAs that their officials have drafted. The commissioners said that the EPA negotiations are “certainly not about EU companies and investment muscling into these markets”. “In fact, if we exclude South Africa, we trade less with all of sub-Saharan Africa than we do with South Korea alone,” the commissioners added. They also denied that they are ‘steamrolling’ ACP countries into signing accords by 31 December, insisting instead that they are “doing everything in our power to be as flexible as they can”. Still, they warned that steep tariffs would be imposed on imports from the ACP if the deadline is not reached.

Oxfam spokesman Alexander Woolcombe argued that the Commission’s assurances were not consistent with its demands that the EPAs cover topics such as terms of investment for Western firms and opening up the public procurement markets of poor countries. The ACP side has asked repeatedly that such issues should be taken off the agenda. “Very few ACP countries will be ready to sign an EPA by the end of this year and must not be coerced into doing so,” said Woolcombe.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

First EU report on policy coherence for development

(CIDSE) Presented as a staff working paper, the first report done by the Commission on Policy Coherence for Development doesn’t bring much new information but confirms the fact that there is still a long way to go. It closes with the following remarks:

"In terms of concrete results however, progress remains below the ambition set in the European Consensus on Development. Awareness and knowledge remain insufficient. The involvement of actors beyond the development community is still limited, both within the institutions and within civil society and the private sector.
Continuous high-level political commitment is needed to ensure further progress so that, the coherence, effectiveness and visibility agenda of 'Europe in the World' becomes a reality.
This in turn calls for increased awareness of the fact that development and poverty reduction are eventually in Europe's own interest … There are also still a number of potential links that should be further explored. Dialogue with developing countries on the effects of EU policies other than aid must be enhanced, at country and regional levels as well as globally. The process of drawing up Country Strategy Papers offers a framework in which the Commission and Member States can develop such policy dialogue. The relevance of the PCD approach to developing countries' own policies should also be considered, since in most policy areas the positive impact of EU policies depends on parallel efforts being undertaken by partner countries. The inclusion of PCD in the new Joint EU-Africa Strategy under preparation is an important step in that direction."

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Thursday, 27 September 2007

Protesters unite around the world against EU's unfair Free Trade Deals

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the start of negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and the ACP (African, Caribbean & Pacific) countries. Thousands of campaigners, workers, farmers and activists from across Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific will take part in coordinated events on September 27th to protest against the proposed EPAs. The protesters argue that free trade deals along the lines proposed by the European Union would destroy livelihoods and the environment and undermine future development and regional integration. They are calling on national Parliaments and Governments, as well as EU institutions, to abandon the draft EPAs that are now on the table.

The protesters also demand that the European Commission (EC) stops threatening to raise import tariffs on ACP products and cut development aid to the ACP countries if they do not sign EPAs by the end of the year. They insist that the EC ensures that ACP exports to the EU are not disrupted, and consider interim measures such as an enhanced version of the EU's preferential market access scheme known as GSP+. In ACP countries, Governments are urged to resist EU bullying tactics and to make sure that farmers', workers' and consumers' interests are defended.

More than 200 organisations in over 40 countries organise events in dozens of cities across the EU and ACP. Campaigners will march in Port-au-Prince, Dakar, Nairobi, and Bamako. In St Vincent activists will attend a Stop EPAs concert, and meetings with Government officials will be held simultaneously in Ouagadougou, Copenhagen, Kampala, London and many other cities. In Brussels a protest will take place in front of DG Trade offices. Marc Maes of the Brussels-based NGO coalition 11.11.11 said: "The EU has put forward draft texts in all 6 EPAs regions. These texts, which are almost identical, have little development content but instead reflect the EU's interests and trade approaches. They fail to fulfil the development goals the EPAs were supposed to meet." Tetteh Hormeku of the Third World Network Africa, based in Accra, Ghana said: "The EU's use of pressure on ACP countries is not acceptable, nor does it make sense: imposed EPAs will definitely not reflect ACP interests and concerns."

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