Friday, July 27, 2007

Dealing with Errant Regional Members, ASEAN-Style

As ASEAN sits on the cusp of a historic change rooted in the celebration of its fortieth anniversary in August, it was slightly all-too-predictable that I would attempt to proffer my analysis of where it's going.

To be blunt: ASEAN is going places! And if its places you're asking me to be specific on, let me be just that. ASEAN is writing a charter, kind of like a constitution, that will

"set a standard of behaviour in inter-state relations, but also in how they govern internally."

As other regional integration agreements become more conscious of practising a rules-based regionalism, it was not going to be surprising that an organisation like ASEAN that is reputed to work on the basis of consensus, would want something that would be more regimented and structured.

MC Abad, the big boss at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) unit in ASEAN's Secretariat based in Jakarta, told AFP:

"It will prescribe the way forward with the consent of all ASEAN members upon adoption"

To be a bit more specific about what ASEAN is seeking to do with the Charter, it's important to bear in mind that around the discussions of a rules-based ASEAN, predicated on human rights, was going to be an implicit way of talking to some of the errant members of the forty-year-old organisation. Specifically: Myanmar:

Egoy Bans, a spokesman for the regional advocacy group Free Burma Coalition - Philippines, welcomed the rights commission, calling it a small step forward for ASEAN, which in the past repeatedly sidestepped the issue of rights abuses.

"Hopefully, once we have this rights organ under the charter, ASEAN countries can begin engaging Myanmar on the issue of human rights," Bans told AFP.

"It's all about political will. When they (ASEAN members) engage the junta, they should do so by pushing for complete reforms because the constructive engagement policy has failed," he said

Whether the policy of constructive engagement has failed or not is moot; what matters, now, is that ASEAN is movng on. As to whether they will continue to enjoy (not quite sure whether that's the right word!) the observer status of blocs like the EU and the superpower of the US in their discussions is another matter altogether. It matters, in my view, because I see an ASEAN that can go its own way without a European Union sitting in on its discussions or the US.

What is so exciting for me about this development is that ASEAN, when this succeeds, will have succeeded where the EU failed in 2005, when the Netherlands and France said "no" to a European constitution. The flip side is that ASEAN citizens might not be as aware as their European counterparts are on any potential loss of sovereignty that might be accrued, as it were, from an ASEAN Charter.

Either way, when passed, the bar will have been set for other regionalisms to follow. I'm rather convinced that the eight-member SAARC, being the closest regional integration agreement to ASEAN, might be following developments quite closely. If not, it better!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sporadic Posting for a while

We may have passed the middle of the year already, and every one might have forgotten how close to Christmas we are all getting. I raise this issue, because it strikes me every day, off-late, that time is running out for the numerous things we want to do.
Blogging offers a grand escape from the realities of life, and I am not about to stop it soon.
Suffice-to-say, whether it's about Venezuela getting goose-bumps from the friction of leaving MERCOSUR for a better alternative; me getting late with the writing of my novel; appreciating beautiful parts of Accra by way of pictures I have taken--but not yet posted--or pontificating about some of the challenges of living and working in my ever-so-beautiful country of Ghana, I shall blog about it.
Just that: next week, as this week has proved to be, I shall be a bit busy.
Internet provision that has remained this side of sporadic, coupled with a battle against viruses--both computer-related and otherwise--has been the bane of my blogging, but I shall definitely recover the week of the 23rd of July.
You can for sure expect more soapboxing from then!
have a good weekend!

Monday, July 09, 2007

You Can Bank on Something Big Happening in MERCOSUR!

There is something rather peculiar about the calibre of political leaders in Latin America that I don not find on the continent of Africa.

Somehow, it's that ability to look beyond the handouts of the IMF and the neoliberal policies that have afflicted them, and come out with a vision that is people-centred. When Africans, especially the South Africans, are keen to espouse the notion of NEPAD, and contemporraneously and ineluctably link it with the integration of Africa, somehow, somewhere, these Latin American leaders are turning agianst this type of Pavlovian attachment to what is, frankly in my view, a new colonialism, predicated on financial ties.

It is no surprise therefore to see that there's something big coming from Latin America again--specifically the MERCOSUR region.

The Bank of the South--described as "an ambitious and strategic gambit[sic--gamble??] in regional integration"--is going to radically transform how regional integration is done in that region. It only had to be the idea of the more progressive of the MERCOSUR countries--Venezuela and Argentina.

Despite a hitch between these two countries in a joint proposal against the Ecuadorians in the conception of the Bank of the South, it is clear that this Bank is going to deliver. IT is ambitious, without a doubt, and has vision unmatched in the region thus far.

In an explicit attempt to divest itself of the IMF/WB and other neoliberal financial policies, this bank, aiming to start operations in 2008, has five key characteristics:

1. bank's clients should not be large corporations;

2. rather it should give loans "to the public sector, to small producers, to local communities, to municipalities, and to states or provinces." (Toussaint)

3.Finally the document asserts that BoS should not be a behemoth like the World Bank with its 13,000 employees,

4. it should account for operations and activities on an annual basis.

5. It required an annual public debate for the bank to explain its activities to the citizenry whose taxes it used

Chile and Uruguay are absent from the debate on the BoS on account of their proximity to the US, deemed not just antagonistic, but which policies are necessarily anathema to the progressive vision of the BoS.

It was going to be evident the US would complain about a project like this. If there have been muted complaints, it's probably because Rice and her cohorts are too busy trying to carve Africa, EU-style, by way of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Forum due in Accra from 16 July this year (next week).

Either way, the Bank of the South is going to be reclaiming the state:

the Bank of the South can play a decisive role in reuniting a region divided by decades of neoliberalism. To implement the neoliberal model, its main beneficiaries—the financial institutions and monopolistic corporations—have weakened or dismantled the power of the nation state. It may be that one of the primary tasks of the BoS could be rebuilding state control and regulations

It's important to just touch very briefly on how MERCOSUR is doing things, If we take the example of the BoS, we read that:

Energy will be one of the first priorities of the new bank and one of its first projects will be to finance the proposed South American Gas Pipeline, which will link Venezuela with Argentina, passing through Brazil. This will be a real regional integration project because the gas transport is oriented toward regional economic development as opposed to exporting it to markets in the developed world.

I couldn't help but shake my head in wonderment about the--yet again--Pavlovian response by ECOWAS countries towards the West African Gas Pipeline, which has CHEVRON owning a stake. Euphemistically speaking, it is the project manager.

Honestly, can ECOWAS countries not manage their own ECOWAS gas pipeline? Perhaps, it's time to start taking cue from our MERCOSUR friends!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Venezuela' s Looking at the MERCOSUR Fine Print...

Grandiloquent pronouncements against imperialism nothwithstanding, it is very easy to think of Chavez as a deluded leader who only goes to confirm that socialism is going the way of the dodo. Seriously speaking, let's face it, Chavez might attract "right-wing" criticism, but he certainly has an idea about how to bring in the role of the state. Perhaps refusing to renew the operating license for RCTV, a private Venezuelan television station may have attracted cacophony among the right-wingers who feel it spells a categorical loss of free speech. However, no-one said he had to be perfect.

Today, sounds like he's a marked man. He's particularly irked by the right-wingers of the Brazilian and Uruguay camp who feel he has little to offer beyond pronouncements of imperialism left, right, and centre. Chavez himself believes:

Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) must be reformulated, Chavez insists, since both are marked by Capitalism and fierce competition.


He's currently in Iran, where he is said to have made the arguments above. Now, interestingly, if Venezuela choses to rescind his decision to join MERCOSUR, he is ready to join ALBA:

"If the Brazilian Right is stronger than the idea of integration, then we will withdraw from Mercosur ... our model is one of integration and we believe in it deeply and it is called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA)."

With Rwanda and Burundi having joined the East African Community on 1 July from the quasi-defunct Economic Community of Central African States(ECCAS), it just goes, in my view, to underscore how the plethora of regional economic communities offer necessary comparative advantages--both economic and otherwise--to countries. Without a harmonisation, it is evident that countries might start withdrawing and crossing the carpet, as it were, whenever a dispute arises.

In the specific context of the African Union government, which radio reports indicate, at the time of writing, that the "gradualists" are taking the day, it brings into sharp relief the utmost importance of fine-tuning and harmonising the RECS so as to avoid situations like this one befalling Chavez and Venezuela.