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 2ÂșC 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.