sexta-feira, 8 de maio de 2009

Fair Trade Day!

Tomorrow will be the Fair Trade Day

It’s taken 60 years to get to World Fair Trade Day 2009. It’s vital that it doesn’t take another 60 years to correct the imbalance in trade that leaves millions of people living in poverty with the threat of climate change and a financial crisis hanging over us all.

The Fair Trade movement is complex and organic. It has emerged over time and continents through networks of groups and individuals - everyone who stakes a claim to its success is probably right. What you can know for sure is World Fair Trade Day was adopted by the World Fair Trade Organization (formerly IFAT) and its members in 2001 in Arusha, Tanzania, to promote global awareness of Fair Trade. Safia Minney, the founder of PeopleTree and pioneer of Fair Trade Fashion, has played a pivotal role in driving and shaping the global event. And that its roots extend back into Northern Europe and the NEWS network of Worldshops that has been fundamental in underpinning and promoting Fair Trade; creating access to markets on behalf of producers the world over.

World Fair Trade Day has grown into a global festival of Fair Trade with events organized worldwide, on and around the second Saturday of May by members of the World Fair Trade Organization across 70 countries. Events have included Fair Trade breakfasts, talks, markets, live performances, a lift, fashion shows, carnivals, festivals, processions and protests, to drive Fair Trade and campaign for justice in trade and promote sustainable social and environmental policy. 100% Fair Trade organizations and the products and produce of marginalized communities are showcased on the day.

The World Fair Trade Organization was formally established in 1989 and is unique in representing both Southern and Northern Fair Traders across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Pacific Rim. It represents the world’s leading Fair Trade cooperatives, groups and companies, all of which have demonstrated a 100% commitment to Fair Trade. Thw WFTO touches 110million lives and many millions more on World Fair Trade Day. Register an event and watch the Sustainable Economy flourish.

quinta-feira, 7 de maio de 2009

No Blank Check for the IMF

For three decades, the IMF has imposed "structural adjustment" on the developing world, using different names. In exchange for providing loans and, more importantly, a stamp of approval needed to access donor money, the IMF requires countries to adopt a series of market fundamentalist policies. These include deregulation (including of financial services), privatization, opening to foreign investment, orienting economies to export markets, removing protections for local producers growing food or manufacturing for the local market, removing labor rights protections, cutting government budgets, raising interest rates, and more.

Furious at being subject to IMF dictates, over the past decade almost all middle-income countries paid back their loans to the IMF and refused to have anything to do with the institution. Only African and other poor countries remained under IMF control.

The financial crisis has breathed new life into the IMF. Now headed by a new Managing Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Fund proclaims that it has changed. The days of harsh conditionality are over, it says.

That's a pronouncement to be applauded … except that the evidence of actual change in IMF policy is disturbingly hard to find.

The Fund's loans since September 2008 to countries rocked by the financial crisis almost uniformly require budget cuts, wage freezes, and interest rates hikes. These are exactly the opposite of the policies that make sense in recessionary conditions. They are exactly the opposite of the huge stimulus measures taken in the United States and other rich countries. They are the opposite of the interest rate reductions in the United States (now effectively at zero) and other rich countries.

In Ukraine, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Pakistan, Serbia, Belarus and El Salvador, the IMF has told countries to cut government spending, an analysis by the Third World Network shows. This means less money for health, education and other vital priorities. Earlier this month, the IMF told Latvia -- where the economy is expected to contract 12 percent this year -- that its loans would be suspended until it further cuts spending.

The IMF has also instructed almost all of these countries to raise interest rates, the Third World Network analysis shows.

The IMF has ballyhooed a new, low-conditionality lending program, known as the Flexible Credit Line. But that is available only to "good performing" countries -- which will be the countries least in need of loans.

In some countries, there may be a modest loosening of Fund conditions. But the basic framework remains in place.

Putting on its best face at a meeting it convened in Tanzania on the impact of the financial crisis on Africa, the Fund said in a policy paper that a few poor countries might have some capacity to undertake small stimulative programs. "A few countries may have scope for discretionary fiscal easing to sustain aggregate demand depending on the availability of domestic and external financing." But even then: "All this must be done carefully so as not to crowd out the private sector through excessive domestic borrowing in the often thin financial markets."

But for countries in weak positions -- the vast majority -- "the scope for countercyclical fiscal policies is limited."

And, the Fund continues to counsel against capital controls, which could limit the ability of foreign funds to enter and flee a country easily. This is of central importance, because it is concern about a currency attack that is the rationale for why poor countries cannot undertake stimulative measures. Capital controls would be the obvious remedy. But since the Fund rules them out a priori, countries are helpless, and denied the right to use the same Keynesian tools available to the rich countries.

The opportunity to win real change at the IMF is this: The new money for the Fund's coffers has not yet arrived. The United States has pledged $100 billion of the $500 billion in new money that G20 countries said they would provide for the Fund (they also announced plans for an additional $250 billion through issuance of Special Drawing Rights, a kind of IMF currency).

(Full article here)

quarta-feira, 6 de maio de 2009

Socialism's comeback

Socialism's comeback

The return of socialism to the political debate shows the possibility of reviving the mostly hidden but rich tradition of working-class struggle and resistance in this country.

Demonstrators march on May Day in Paris in a protest that united all the trade union federations (Sipa)Demonstrators march on May Day in Paris in a protest that united all the trade union federations (Sipa)

SOCIALISM IS back--in the media, in political debate, and, on May Day, in the streets.

May Day is International Workers Day, a socialist holiday marking the struggle for the eight-hour workday in the U.S. more than a century ago. Since then, it's traditionally been a day of celebrations for the labor movement and the left.

In recent decades, May Day in much of the world has become a kind of ritualized demonstration with little political impact. But this year, it was a day of angry protest in Europe against anti-worker policies carried out by governments amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Hundreds of thousands of workers marched in Paris behind socialist and trade union banners. Greece, too, saw mass protests.

Demonstrations in the U.S. on May 1 were far smaller. Nevertheless, May Day, long ignored in this country, has been re-established on the U.S. political scene thanks to the immigrant rights movement. That's an important achievement, because for decades, May Day was seen through the lens of the Cold War--it was a foreign, "communist" holiday that had nothing to do with U.S. workers.

In reality, May Day is as American as apple pie. The first May Day protests in 1886 were led by anarchists and socialists in Chicago--four were hanged in the political witch-hunt that followed a bombing in Haymarket Square. So it's entirely appropriate that May Day 2009 once again finds socialism back in the political mix.

A recent Rasmussen opinion poll found that only a bare majority of people in the U.S. say they prefer capitalism as an economic system. Among people under 30, there was an even split between respondents who chose socialism, those who preferred capitalism, and those who weren't sure.

The poll findings highlight a political change that goes well beyond the shift in mainstream U.S. politics symbolized by the Democratic sweep of last November's elections. Indeed, the Rasmussen poll shows the possibility of reviving the mostly hidden but rich tradition of working-class struggle and resistance in this country.

It isn't difficult to understand why socialism has a new appeal. Capitalism, the system that seemed so unchallengeable just a few years ago, is now in its worst crisis since the Great Depression.

Jobs are disappearing, homes are being foreclosed on, working-class living standards are being steadily ground down--and then there's the specter of ecological catastrophe, present in everything from the frightening outbreak of a new strain of swine flu to relentless climate change.

All this confirms the strongest, and yet simplest, argument for socialism--the reality that capitalism is incapable of meeting the needs of the majority of people in society.

(Full article here)

terça-feira, 5 de maio de 2009


By Sanjay Suri

LONDON (IPS) - It seemed like a lot of money at the time. The leaders of the group of eight richest countries, the G8, met in Gleneagles in Scotland and announced 50 billion dollars in new aid, half of that for Africa and half for the rest of the world.

That was 2005, the word recession was buried in a dictionary somewhere, governments and companies were on a high, with many of the financial figures inflated by financial jugglery that no one then had seen through, and by a debt that would repay itself because how could this club of wealth and power ever go wrong.

The trouble with money is that ideas of it may or may not be real, or all real. But when you have to pay, money then begins to feel more real. Neither Africa nor the other half saw even a decent fraction of those 50 billion dollars. The British government, pushed along by a public show of larger morality provoked by rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono made the right announcements.

In the weeks and months that followed, the British, to be fair, kept their part of the commitment, as interpreted by the government. The other players in the band went silent.

And if in the days of wealth the rich could not deliver 50 billion, who in hard times will deliver a trillion? If they can find that trillion, or the 1.1 trillion, that is.

There is such a spin on figures about, Kumi Naidoo, co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) alliance, and one of the most seasoned campaigners for development for the poor, told IPS. In Gleneagles the rich countries counted debt cancellation as a part of the aid money figures. Aid money is counted in all sorts of manipulative ways.

But one way or the other aid only declined after that. That 2005 G8 meeting had committed a significantly smaller amount, and after that there was a drop in aid from countries such as Italy and Canada, says Naidoo.

This time the trillion dollars plus is not being spoken of as an aid package. But it has been accompanied by a good deal of rhetoric that it is intended to help poor and struggling economies. Considering that there isnt an economy that is not struggling, that money is for everyone.

But there is a pledge that about 250 billion dollars that the International Monetary Fund can in a sense just create through an increase in its special drawing rights (SDRs) will help the poorer countries get support for trade. GCAP is not reassured by the pledge.

There is an over-reliance again on using the IMF and the World Bank as delivery figures, and we know that in the past they have messed up badly, said Naidoo. And in any case, while this money has been promised for trade facilitation, very few developing countries have the export credit facilities in place that can enable them to take advantage of this. This will mostly benefit the North rather than the South.

And on the fundamental issue that could do something to reduce the imbalance, there is no commitment at all: to see that the Doha round of trade negotiations becomes the Doha development round, as originally agreed. This is the current round of negotiations for a single world trade agreement that was launched in Qatar capital Doha in November 1991, but remains deadlocked because leading developing countries are blocking the push from the U.S. and the EU to drop tariffs, while they make no commitment to dropping subsidies.

The EU and the U.S. and countries like Japan are acting in their self- interest, said Naidoo. They have completely violated the Doha development round. Unless the trade system is fair, industries across many developing countries could simply go down.

Many campaigners are worried that the G20 declaration makes no commitment to fair distribution of the additional money said to have been made available.

We welcome the 1.1 trillion dollars for global economic recovery, Duncan Green, Oxfam spokesperson, said in a statement. But we must ensure that poor countries get their fair share - that Uganda benefits as well as Ukraine.

Oxfam too expressed concern that IMF has been named the distributor of the new money. We have deep concerns about how central the IMF has become in this crisis, said Green. The fund has been given a blank cheque but its reform remains no more than a promise.

We hope that the old world of G8 meetings where developing countries were just invited for a photo opportunity is dead. Gordon Browns new world order must be one that works for 192 countries not just eight or 20. (END | IPS NEWS | 04042009)

segunda-feira, 4 de maio de 2009

Will Doha, like Dracula, Come Back from the Dead?

Will Doha, like Dracula, Come Back from the Dead? Print E-mail

By Walden Bello and Mary Lou Malig*

Like the good Count of Transylvania, the so-called Doha Round of trade negotiations of the World Trade Organization collapsed twice--the first time during the Cancun Ministerial Meeting in September 2003, the second during the so-called Group of Four meeting in Potsdam in June 2007--only to come back from the dead. But has the silver stake that will render Doha truly and really dead finally been driven through its heart by the unraveling of the most recent “mini-ministerial” gathering in Geneva?

Stampeded into the WTO

When the Uruguay Round that established the World Trade Organization (WTO) was negotiated from 1986 to 1994, the developing countries were largely bystanders. Governments that had been members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were dragooned into its successor organization by the threat that if they did not come in on the ground floor, they would be subjected to a painful accession process should they decide to join it later. In the meantime, they were told, they would, like North Korea, become isolated from global trade. Preferring the devil they knew to the devil they didn’t, most members of the GATT signed on a document that subordinated all dimensions of a nation’s economic life to the goal of expanding international trade.

Most had not had the time to really absorb the fine print of the 500 plus pages, something that was evident in the case of Indonesia. When the Indonesian government declared in 1997 that it would build up its car industry by applying the so-called “local content” policy, or mandating the sourcing of a growing portion of a car’s parts to local industries, the US, EU, and Japan—the home countries of the big car corporations—informed it that this would be a violation of the Trade-Related Investment Measures Agreement (TRIMs) of the Uruguay Round and that they would haul Indonesia to a WTO dispute-settlement court. Smaller countries than Indonesia, with minuscule trade bureaucracies, were even more disadvantaged.

From Seattle to Doha

In any event, by the time the Third Ministerial of the WTO rolled around in late November 1999, developing countries had come to a collective realization that they had bargained away significant space for development in signing on to the Uruguay Round and thus were in no mood to agree to launching another round to liberalize global trade, as the big trading powers demanded. At the same time, farmers, environmentalists, workers, anti-HIV-AIDS activists, and other sectors of civil society globally were up in arms against the doctrine of “trade uber alles”--as Ralph Nader described it--that was enshrined in the WTO. It was this synergy between the massive protests in the streets and the rebellion of developing countries at the Sheraton Convention Center that resulted in the spectacular collapse of the Third Ministerial Meeting in Seattle.

But the EU and US were undeterred. The Fourth Ministerial Meeting in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001 saw developing countries subjected to tremendous pressure to agree to the launching of a new round in order to “save” the global economy following the September 11 events. But there was more than moral pressure in the name of the anti-terrorist struggle that was involved. As Aileen Kwa and Fatoumata Jawara documented in their now classic Behind the Scenes at the WTO, not too subtle threats of retaliation for recalcitrance were combined with offers of massive aid packages. Most countries were excluded from decision-making, which was effectively confined to a select group of about 30-35 governments handpicked by the EU and US. The result was the “Doha Development Round,” which had little to do with development and everything to do with expanding developed country access to developing country markets.

The bitter experience of being subjected to divide and conquer tactics in Doha proved to be a turning point for the developing country politics in the WTO. Alliances were formed—among them, the Group of 20 led by Brazil, India, South Africa and China, to demand cuts in developed country agricultural subsidies and greater access to developed country markets, and the Group of 33 led by Indonesia and the Philippines to push for the creation of “special products” that would be exempted from tariff reductions and for “special safeguard mechanisms” like protective tariffs against surges of highly subsidized agricultural imports from the developed countries.

(Full article here)

domingo, 3 de maio de 2009


By Sanjay Suri

LONDON - The ease with which leaders spoke of trillions of dollars at the G20 summit in London April 2 were no doubt intended to signal to the world just how serious leaders are about getting the economy right again. That these fabulous figures may never add up is another matter.

On early trading April 3, the markets showed no great excitement. The Financial Times index was in fact marginally down, after rising on hopes through Thursday that the leaders will somehow do something.

It just might be that what got through was not so much confidence as an anxiety to present it. Some of the additions seem to have counted in a touch of desperation.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown produced the biggest figure of all – 5 trillion dollars. And a trillion, not to forget is a thousand billion, or a million million if you like. It takes all of 12 zeroes after one.

And the five trillion? It would be, Brown said, the absolute sum total of all financial stimulus in all forms in all countries by the end of 2010. For example the new capitalisation of banks in the U.S. and in Britain, measures like quantitative easing that mean in effect that governments simply print more currency notes, or generate new money electronically to swell availability for banks and bonds.

Some of these billions – and at the G20 billions sounded like small money – have come and disappeared. Take the 100 billion dollars or so of quantitative easing announced by the Bank of England. It was meant to inspire confidence. No one has seen either the money or the confidence.

And the U.S. fiscal stimulus, alongside the money going into the automobile industry seems not to have brought a fraction of the results it was intended to. With the first flows of that trillion as good as evaporating, Browns total would include money that came and also went, almost soon as it came. Never mind where. But certainly not in a way that may have made a huge difference to the economy.

And given these early trends, it must take a lot of confidence for Brown to project that more such money will continue to come in all of the rest of this year, and all of the next. Gordon Brown may well go wrong by a few trillions here and there. At other times that would expose an economist to serious charges of error of judgment; now nobody minds too much whether trillions will add up to a total of five. And this is at least partly because governments now carry very little credibility.

And the lack of credibility in such figures might of itself undermine the confidence they were intended to instil.

The other trillion, a more precisely worked out 1.1 trillion dollars, was announced for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), regional development banks and international trade finance.

This includes 750 billion dollars in funding for the International Monetary Fund, 250 billion for trade finance and 100 billion for multilateral development banks.

Of this 500 billion dollars in loans will come from member countries, 100 billion each from the EU, the U.S. and Japan, and 40 billion from China. The rest, it is assumed, will come from somewhere else.

And now the IMF too is going the way of the U.S. and Britain by manufacturing money, for which the official euphemism is of course quantitative easing. And that will come by way of an extra 250 billion dollars in special drawing rights, a sort of lending currency that is the IMFs own.

The declared intention is that all this is for the poor. Another declaration comes that the IMF will also sell its gold to fund aid for poor countries. A lot of poor people in the world, and others not so poor but hit hard by recession will be looking to see how much of this money comes along to make anything better for them.

About half the world – more than 3 billion people – live on less than 2.50 dollars a day. And talking billions, that is a real figure.
(END | IPS NEWS | 03042009)