Thursday, October 25, 2007


I am particularly encouraged by this release from the UN's African regional commission UNECA ( I think it marks an important step towards a degree of proactiveness and "joint-up thinking" that has been sorely lacking between the regional commissions and the UN system on development.
A pet personal theme of mine has always been using regional commissions to set standards on how regional integration can work--it does not have to be a pipe dream; it is certainly an attainable goal if, as always, there is sufficient commitment!
At a time that the UN is celebrating its 62 years, this is certainly welcome news!

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <>
Date: 25 Oct 2007 07:32

Press Release



New York, 24 October 2007Reaffirming their commitment to work together to enhance the impact of United Nations development activities, the United Nations Regional Commissions and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today signed a Cooperation Framework at UNDP Headquarters in New York.

The Cooperation Framework is intended to build on the complementarities between the work of the Regional Commissions and UNDP.  The Regional Commissions and UNDP have agreed to collaborate, coordinate and complement each other in assisting Member States achieve the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals.  They also commit to sharing knowledge on policy development issues, programmes, and emerging priorities to support sustainable human development; and to address issues likely to benefit from regional or multi-country involvement.   Using their comparative strengths, the Regional Commissions and UNDP will work together  to encourage organizational effectiveness at the global and regional level and also, where relevant, at the national and local levels.  Joint collaboration is expected to focus on a number of areas, including human resources development; country-level planning processes; follow-up to United Nations Summits and international conferences; regional coordination; knowledge management; regional and inter-regional technical cooperation; advisory services at the country level; and joint products and initiatives at the regional and global levels.

Upon the signing of the new agreement, Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, and current Coordinator of the Regional Commissions, stressed that the implementation of the Cooperation Framework, through channeling the comparative strengths and capacities of the Regional Commissions and UNDP, should result in more effective and efficient support and service delivery to the developing countries in the various regions and to UN country development work. This should also foster more coherence in UN development work at the country, regional and global levels.      

Mr. Kemal Derviş, UNDP Administrator and Chair of the Untied Nations Development Group, emphasized that strong partnerships are critical to the provision of quality development services and expressed confidence that the new Cooperation Framework will mark a new stage in this partnership for results. He also pledged UNDP's continuing support to building a more responsive and effective Untied Nations at the country and regional levels.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Prospects for an AU govt: ISS Paper Review

Prospects for an AU govt: ISS Paper Review

18 July, 2007

By E.K.Bensah II


Even at the best of times, regional integration is slow and protracted, and at the very worst, a problematic enterprise. Key institutions like the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa maintain that a combination of lack of ratification of protocols, coupled with the overlapping membership are some of the primordial reasons why regional integration in Africa is as encumbered as it is. To this end, a united African Union government would offer a new way of Africa doing things its own way, and what better place to discuss an AU government than in the very country that spawned one of the greatest Pan-Africanists that ever lived—Dr.Kwame Nkrumah;l even better was the fact that this discussion would take place at the Ninth Summit of the African Union, held in July.


It is against this backdrop that the South-African based Institute for Security Studies would launch seven papers in Accra, looking at different facets of regional integration. Given the wide scope of issues flowing from any conception of an AU government, it was important to focus on some of the challenges that might give vent to the detractors of a union government. Some of these challenges were elaborated on by one of ISS”s academics.


To say that Dr.Mzukisi Qobo, a research associate at the South African Institute of International Affairs, is against union government is, in fact, to do a disservice to the man, for he is not so much against any conception of union government as he is against one that fails to take into account a market-based approach. Operating from the principle that the current rhetoric is “decidedly state-centric and obsessed with anti-imperialism”, his take is explicit: a greater involvement of non-state actors, as well as “a normative convergence on the issues of democratization and promotion of human rights.”


While noone has denied the utility of democratic dispensations at the domestic level facilitating an enabling environment conducive to economic growth, it would seem that this is not the end-all and be-all. The use of non-state actors—often a codeword for the private sector—may be palatable, only insofar as it feeds into the ideal of a regional integration project that is people-centred. Without the people element, the conception of an AU government predicated merely on the development of the economy would seem myopic in the extreme.


That said, the author outlines four main challenges associated with regional integration in a manner that reflects his attachment to the neo-classical paradigm based on export-orientation.


In his view, the biggest challenge to regional integration in the context of prospects towards a United States of Africa is to do with Africa’s view of globalization. He maintains that African countries are not enjoying the benefits of globalization, because they have been so imbued by the anachronistic ideas of a Pan-Africanism that is impractical. Her writes: “the Pan-Africanist ideology is slowly becoming eclipsed by pragmatism. Notions such as Ujaama or African socialism coined by Julius Nyerere are gradually losing their popular appeal, as various countries start to favour market-based approaches”. Alarmingly, without citing who these leaders are, the author maintains there are “an emerging group of African reformers…increasingly realizing that history’s inexorable evolution is not to the socialist nirvana of autarchy and self-reliance but to a market-based economy and global interdependence.”


Secondly, Qobo argues that African countries mismanaged their economies after colonialism, which inevitably led to corruption. It is interesting to note that he makes little mention of the impact of the deleterious effects of IFI-imposed policies of the World Bank and IMF, and the extent to which they played adverse effects on the countries of African economies.


He even goes on to make the spurious argument that despite the World Bank “channeling massive financial resources towards the improvement of the infrastructure is[sic] areas of water and roads, public financial systems and local economic governance in various countries”,  African economies had failed to create a more enabling environment for business. Let’s remember that for Qobo, a sound environment conducive to “bold” economic reforms spell success in African regional integration.


He cites as a third major challenge the absence of a Central Bank for Africa, which has caused chaos in Africa’s financial system: “the advantage of an independent Central Bank is transparency, predictability, and accountability in monetary policy. This lends”, he writes, “credibility to the economy and insulates monetary policy, especially interest rates, from being manipulated by politicians for short-term gains.”


This point, whilst credible, is utopian, for the current practice where money from donors is tied to aid comprehensively inhibits any control that African countries might have on regulating their finances. That the Bretton Woods institutions enjoy a great stranglehold and say in the capital account of AU countries is sufficient to render an idea like this null and void. The impression, regrettably, one gets from reading this is that the author appears out of touch of the practical obstacles that remain from the current relationship with our donors.


A fourth point that he makes that lends greater credence with some of the key challenges is the issue of debt servicing, and the extent to which it cripples AU countries’ economies: “Africa is also a continent that is adversely affected by soaring foreign debt and is highly dependent on flows of overseas development assistance—most of which is re-channeled [by way of consultants] and multilateral credit institutions to service debt.”


These four main points in the paper are further underscored by an attempt at alternatives, with the first being a regional integration that runs in the vein of the European Union, where membership is incremental, and with “the criteria for membership includ[ing] democratic indicators, fiscal prudence and monetary policy variables.”


Put simply, fiscal prudence is about rolling back the state by spending less on provision of social services, and much more of this kind of ideology finds expression in much of his paper. He writes, for example, about the need for “bold” and “far-reaching” economic reforms. In fact, he makes no secret that, in his view, this is the way for Africa and its regional integration. To him, such measures, taken at the domestic level, would set a precedent at the regional one.


In other words, a more liberalized domestic economy should translate into a regionally-liberalized space, where there is a greater focus on export-orientation and market-based approaches. He goes so far as to argue that even if a regional mechanism is to “have credibility, larger countries or groups within the integrating regions need to play a more active and influential leadership role.” These “larger groups” he talks about are reminiscent of the role of hegemons within the existing regional groupings (South Africa, Nigeria, to name but two). Regrettably, he fails to expound on this point beyond saying that the hegemons facilitating a climate conducive to investment.


What he does do, however, is give a score card of some of the existing regional integration initiatives which he considers “promising”: SADC, CEMAC; COMESA; EAC; and ECOWAS. Analysed through the filter of the extent to which they have pursued “comprehensive trade liberalization and facilitation measures”, his result is as evident as it is emphatic: “despite these successes, it should be stressed these RECS still have a long way to go to achieve the objectives of the A[frican] E[conomic] C[ommunity].”


However, he raises another point that seems as ridiculous as it is spurious. In his view, one of the areas of “notable success” is the establishment of the Pan-African Parliament in March 2004. He maintains: “this has a value for enlarging the space for dialogue and ensuring factors beyond the executive arms of government participate in shaping continental development and influencing processes of regional integration and cooperation.” For a so-called Pan-African law-making body that enjoys an administrative status over an executive one three years after its inception, this argument is risible in the extreme.



Throughout the paper, Qobo gives in many times to the apparently alluring appeal of the leitmotiv of corruption and mismanagement to explain away some of the challenges facing African countries on the rocky road towards the magnificent vision of an African Union government. This line of thinking, however, is one drop short of myopic because it fails to fully acknowledge the nebulous and nefarious prescriptive policies of what the Monde Diplomatique newspaper called in 2002 as the “other axis of evil”: the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the WTO.


Although Qobo, at some point, refers to regulation, he is far too late in the game of advocating market-based reforms that we leave the article in visceral repulsion at this over-the-top suggestion of bold economic reforms setting a precedent for the regional.




This is an uneditted version of a review that appeared in TWN-Africa’s African Agenda (vol10.3)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

UNCTAD discusses regional FTAs etc

TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues

11 October 2007

Third World Network



UNCTAD Board debates regional cooperation and development

Published by SUNS #6337 dated 4 October 2007



By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 3 Oct 2007


The Trade and Development Board of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Wednesday held a discussion on the agenda item of interdependence and global economic issues from a trade and development perspective, focussing on regional cooperation and development.


The focal point for these discussions was UNCTAD's flagship publication, the Trade and Development Report 2007 (TDR), whose theme this year was on regional cooperation and development (See SUNS #6319 dated 10 September 2007).


The Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD is currently holding its fifty-fourth session from 1-11 October.


In introducing the TDR at the session, UNCTAD Secretary-General Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi said that UNCTAD had published a highly illuminating report that emphasized an analysis of the proliferation of regional integration worldwide.


Supachai also noted that regional integration does not have to encompass trade alone. After the Asian financial crisis, there was financial cooperation in the region to pool reserves, he said, pointing, for example, to the "Chiang Mai" initiative.


Heiner Flassbeck, Director of UNCTAD's Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, presented the main findings of the report as well as an overall outlook of the global economic situation.


He noted that surplus countries are seeing their currencies depreciate while deficit countries are seeing an appreciation of their currencies. This could be a dangerous development, he said, and asked whether the international adjustment mechanism is working.


Flassbeck also pointed to the issue of destabilizing speculation, in that floating exchange rates, induced by interest rate differentials, frequently move in the wrong direction - leading to "false pricing" in the international product markets. Carry trade is also a source of imbalance for some economies.


He stressed that regional cooperation in the financial field is one way of getting out of these problems. "We need to look in a coherent way to reap the benefits of globalization, and regional cooperation is one extremely important ingredient."


Honduras, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that the TDR this year is focussed on a key development strategy called regional cooperation. The report provides rich analysis and comparative experiences that are useful and needed by academics and trade negotiators to study and take decisions on regionalism and regionalization.


Cooperation and regional integration is not a new phenomenon, it said. It is a core element of the development strategies for developing countries. The report says that South-South regionalism includes substantially the provision of regional public goods and the re-configuration and merger of political space in one economical regional space to benefit all members of the group, the G77 added.


The nature and implementation of regionalism is one thing and the impact on developing countries is another. What is required is permanent monitoring and assessment.


The analysis of regional South-South trade agreements shows the importance of placing more attention on the way to manage and solve potential imbalances in trade distribution and the economic benefits among members with different levels of development.


The G77 highlighted that a single instrument for South-South regionalism is the GSTP among developing countries.


As to North-South FTAs, the G77 said that the analysis in the report on this issue is especially interesting. The report said that it is necessary for careful assessment of the costs and benefits by developing countries before signing these agreements. The challenge is to maximize the potential benefits of the agreements and minimize the possible costs.


The G77 also highlighted what it considered key parts in the North-South FTAs that could help guarantee benefits to developing countries. It said that Special and Differential Treatment has to be explicit and correctly provided in terms of long periods of transition and product coverage.


Less-than-full-reciprocity in tariff cuts has to be slow and gradual. The treatment has to be also incorporated under the WTO rules in the regional FTAs, so that the North-South agreements with due flexibility for developing countries could be WTO-compatible.


Honduras also said that the Doha Round provides the opportunity to rewrite special and differential treatment in Article XXIV of the GATT. It added that the rules of origin have to be flexible. There has to be a strong development dimension in every effort towards more deep integration. Deeper integration should be gradually pursued and only when developing countries are ready, said Honduras.


The Philippines, on behalf of the Asian Group, aligned itself with the statement of the G77. The Asian Group believed that this year's TDR is timely, as it offers a clear picture of the world economy and contains pragmatic policy options which we in the international community should give full consideration. This is especially relevant as we embark on our formal preparatory process for UNCTAD XII.


The Asian Group noted that the TDR points to some encouraging economic trends in Asia. Accelerated economic growth allowed East and South Asia to more than double their per capita GDP in only 14 years. The performance of East and South Asia was almost exclusively responsible for the overall reduction in global inequality and progress towards the achievements of the MDG goals.


The Group said that the TDR points out that although the overall world economic situation is more favourable for developing countries than at any time since the early 1970s, large external shocks originating in developed countries could have serious effects on Asia. The TDR therefore points to the importance of fostering a more stable global environment as well as the need to further advance initiatives that will lead to greater global economic stability.


As the TDR points out, said the Philippines, these imperatives are being addressed in Asia through several regional initiatives including through regional integration. It should be noted, however, that regional integration itself is not a guarantee for successful development.


Thus, there is a need to focus on regional integration efforts which are part of a broader development strategy aimed at faster domestic capital accumulation and technological progress in the most promising industrial and service sectors of each country.


Regionalism can then be a viable development path, even if at times, it might require a transfer of national policy space towards a regional policy space, allowing sufficient flexibility and greater coherence at the regional level.


A clear example of this transfer of policy space is when regional coordination preserves the policy space needed to effectively manage FDI, especially when un-coordinated national policies aimed at attracting FDI lead to a race to the bottom as governments cut regulations and offer generous tax incentives.


The Asian Group said that regional cooperation should therefore also include coordinated and joint action in policy areas that strengthen the potential for growth and structural change in developing countries, including macroeconomic, financial, infrastructure and industrial policies.


In this regard, economic cooperation among developing countries, including at the regional level, to improve transport facilities, provide commercial information, and which pool efforts in areas such as energy, water supply, research and development, and knowledge generation, can be crucial for the success of development strategies.


The Asian Group said that given that developing countries today have less options for public policies in support of development and structural change than the more advanced economies at similar stages of development, it may indeed be useful to explore how regional cooperation can widen national policy space by enabling individual countries to undertake bolder projects for development.


Like the previous year's TDR, this year's report is a very useful exercise in presenting options of operationalizing policy space, thus responding to UNCTAD's mandate on policy space stemming from the Sao Paulo Consensus and the world summit.


In this regard, said the Philippines, the Asian experience of pursuing development through an eclectic mix of policy instruments, rather than a focussed approach based on prevailing orthodoxy, has delivered positive results.


Indeed, those countries which best weathered the Asian financial crisis were those which pursued pragmatic and effective policies based on their own unique needs and circumstances, rather than those which adhered more closely with the orthodox policy prescriptions.


The Philippines said that Asia's broader experience in applying diverse policy instruments in response to unique situations and circumstances is reflective of the region's pragmatism and its willingness to address challenges with the most effective tools available.


A specific example is in the area of addressing the need for greater systemic stability in order to prevent a recurrence of the Asian financial crisis. In the absence of an effective international mechanism to address global imbalances, some Asian countries have recognized that regional cooperation can be effective in providing some security against abrupt corrections of exchange rates and volatility in financial markets.


In particular, said the Asian Group, regional cooperation may help developing countries deal with shortcomings in the international financial system in three areas: provision of regional payment facilities and short-term balance-of-payments financing; provision of long-term development finance; and protection against exchange rate volatility and currency misalignments that can distort trade flows and undermine fruitful trade relations.


Of particular interest in this regard are regional initiatives which seek to promote greater financial and monetary stability especially in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, the Asian Group said, pointing to initiatives such as the Chiang Mai initiative, which is geared towards both crisis management and prevention.


This initiative involves not only ASEAN countries but also China, Japan and Korea, underling that there are often interests common to developed and developing countries and that effective cooperation is possible in filling important gaps in the global economic architecture.


Brazil, on behalf of GRULAC, supported the statement of the G77 and considered that the TDR is an important contribution to the discussion of regional cooperation and development.


Portugal, speaking on behalf of the EU, welcomed the TDR as a strategic element to the debate on regional cooperation and development. Wide in scope, said the EU, the report represents a positive contribution to the discussion on this issue, even if the EU did not fully share its analysis.


The purpose is to evaluate, from a trade and development perspective, regionalism as a political option for developing countries and economies in transition. It addresses, also, the relations between globalization, regionalism and development and the implications, for those countries, of North-South free trade agreements or regional trade agreements.


The EU said that it remains committed to the multilateral trading system as a priority to guarantee benefits for all economies, in particular the LDCs. However, in parallel to the multilateral approach, said the EU, we believe that we cannot disregard the regional context and therefore disagree with the report's judgment that North-South bilateral or regional trade agreements "threaten the coherence of multilateral trading system".


We cannot accept either that "new regionalism denotes a departure from multilateralism," said the EU. The multilateral system provides common rules allowing all countries to participate in international trade according to the same principles and using their natural competitive advantages to generate economic growth.


The multilateral system, while being a powerful tool to fight poverty and promote cooperation between all main international actors and the developing and least developed economies, also constitutes a privileged forum to debate ideas and to find common approaches, thus providing a wider understanding of the world's economic problems and goals.


Nevertheless, said the EU, strengthening regional trade agreements (RTAs) is a complementary approach that must not be neglected and that represents a new trend amongst the main trade partners. One does not contradict the other, the EU said, adding that we need to pursue new opportunities, sharpening our efforts to open markets and tackle trade distortions both within the multilateral system and through bilateral and regional initiatives.


The EU said that RTAs also provide the basis for much more far-reaching trade liberalization (regulatory initiatives and elimination of non-tariff barriers to trade) than have so far been possible within the WTO. In this context, we must ensure that regulatory aspects of regionalism are based on clear and fair rules boosting sustainable development for all countries.


The EU supported the findings of the report that regional cooperation among developing countries has the potential to support national development strategies and that there appears to be an untapped potential for closer regional integration among developing countries. The EU also believed that North-South agreements do not threaten multilateral rules, but complement them.


Iran said that this year's TDR provides a good analysis of the outcome of regional agreements. This analysis indicates that the so-called neo-regionalism, in the form of South-North agreements which are primarily bilateral free trade agreements based on the principle of "reciprocity", mostly place the developing countries in situations that compared to the limitations imposed on them as to the implementation of national development policies, creation of opportunities necessary for the adjustment of their industrial production structure, the benefits accruing to them from deep liberalization and expanded trade, are generally not so much effective or useful.


Iran said that developing countries are increasingly participating in RTAs with developed countries for better market access and higher FDI flows and transfer of technology. But the main problem they have in North-South agreements is the insufficient attention to development needs, development level, and limited capacities in these countries. Ignoring these facts, developed countries keep raising their expectations.


Iran noted that RTAs may provide the partners from developing countries with considerable new trading opportunities or may also attract more FDI.


But there can also be disadvantages for them, because RTAs usually demand deeper liberalization of trade in goods and services, liberalization of foreign investment and government procurement, new rules on certain aspects of competition policy, stricter rules on intellectual property rights, and the incorporation of labour and environmental standards, while measures that can most benefit developing countries such as removing agricultural subsidies by developed countries are left out.


North-South RTAs could have positive effects on developing countries depending on the structure of these arrangements, the level of existing protection, and the formulation of rules. Improved market entry conditions including simplified rules of origin, mutual recognition of standards and trade facilitation measures would also be particularly beneficial to developing countries, said Iran.


Also there is a need for these arrangements to take into account the interest of developing countries in the form of special and differential treatment in commitments and disciplines, said Iran, adding that UNCTAD has an important role to play in assisting developing countries to deal with the interface between multilateralism and regionalism.


A representative of Third World Network congratulated UNCTAD for the TDR on regional cooperation and development, which it said is a very pertinent issue. The theme of regional cooperation should be a building block towards international cooperation. The best way towards this building block is to have South-South cooperation. This is important because countries at similar stages of development can help each other by expanding their markets.


Two very interesting and comprehensive sections in the report are that which relate to North-South trade agreements and South-South agreements, said TWN, adding that it was disappointed by the criticisms made to the report in relation to North-South FTAs and was surprised at statements that say that such FTAs are coherent with the WTO agreements.


The section on North-South agreements accurately portrays the dilemmas that developing countries face. Most North-South FTAs on balance give rise to more costs than benefits. The apparent aim of developing countries is to expand their trade and employment through these agreements.


However, said TWN, in reality, we face more problems. In the area of trade, because of the reciprocal nature of the FTAs, developing countries have to bring down their tariffs mostly to zero for agriculture and industrial products. This has caused very significant dislocation of farms, local firms and jobs.


At the same time, increase in exports for most developing countries is limited due to continued agriculture subsidies in the North, which are not addressed in the FTAs, and due to limited supply capacity.


Whilst gains are limited in trade and in most cases are negative, said TWN, developing countries lose out in their loss of policy space. In particular, they have to agree to take on obligations in relation to the Singapore issues which have been rejected in the WTO, as for example, the investment chapter with its pre-establishment rights and in some cases, investor-to-state dispute settlement and free transfer of funds. This has a tendency to crowd out local industry as well as set conditions for financial instability.


TWN said that the procurement chapter erodes the policy space of developing countries to use government expenditure as a tool for boosting economic and social development. The interpretation of competition inhibits the role of government to assist local companies. On IPRs, many of the flexibilities permitted by the TRIPS agreement are severely eroded. All these are erosion to policy space and poses a serious development threat.


TWN thanked UNCTAD for highlighting these problems in the report which it said is useful for raising awareness of civil society in the South. It was also of the view that the chapters on regional cooperation in the South and financial cooperation provide excellent material to foster South-South cooperation in trade and finance areas.


It called for UNCTAD to develop its role in advancing these discussions through seminars and further studies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's in the Eyes: Prayers for a Dying SAARC? Cross-Fertilising AU Dynamics!

At a time when the African Union's Peace and Security Council has well and truly slapped sanctions on the "rebellious" Comoros Islands, restricting their travel, and freezing their accounts, it beggars belief that in September, in a piece on the BBC about SAARC, a SAARC citizen would have written this in respect to the putative failure of SAARC:

Apart from OAU/OUA no other regional organization can rival the irrelevance of SAARC. The initiatives on the economic side which drove MERCOSUR, ASEAN, NAFT, EEA, usually have been put on sidelines. Pakistan does not even accord Most Favored Nation status to India. SAARC conferences are big fund guzzlers in a region that excels in poverty. It is completely irrelevant, particularly for India, to break out of the mold of 'Greater India' or Akhanda Bharat mindset and focus more on economic development, it does not need more laggards to pull it down. A good example is European Union, quite a choosy, club, which has elected to exclude Turkey. Sometimes less can even turn out to be more!
Sandeep Chowdhury, Germany

I'm not quite sure what to do about such comments--whether to laugh or cry. On the flip side, it reveals the profound misunderstanding that exists by many worldwide on the different types of regionalisms that exist, and the qualitative nature of those regionalisms.

I can very well imagine that there are many EU citizens who have probably never heard of ECOWAS or COMESA or even the ACP Group--even though it's well and truly ensconced some five minutes drive, on Avenue Georges Henri, past the metros of Schuman, into the European Communities!

Back to the SAARC expatiation, and you see something a bit predictable and sinister. Predictable, because casual observors of the region have talked at length about the apathy exuding from the region by India in reconciling with Pakistan--and how that is a key factor in injecting vigour into the seven/eight-- (if you count Afghanistan) member regional organisation established since 1985. It's going to be 22 years old this December, and I daresay the analysis around that period will be...more of the same.

Sinister, because a lot of the blame is predicated on an India-Pakistan nexus of (atavistic) and historical "hate".

Looking specifically at some of the submissions by readers, the comments ranged in between these answers:

  • Saarc is a failure because of India

  • without economic integration like the EU and NAFTA and (name your western economic cooperation agreement), SAARC will be irrelevant

  • Pakistan should go it alone, because it can benefit where it is losing from SAARC

  • India should go it alone because it is not adding to or gaining anything from SAARC

  • It is important to indicate that the submissions came from India; Germany; USA; Zimbabwe; UK; Pakistan; Canada; Italy; Pakistan; and Maldives (another member of SAARC)

    One submission from Pakistan maintained:

    The only thing that the Saarc summit has ever been able to decide is where the next Saarc summit should be held. It is a pathetic organisation - though mind you there are others in competition with it in being useless for example Sadc - the Southern African Development Community.
    Alia Mansuri, Pakistan

    It is interesting, also, to note that the submission above about "OAU" (it's been the AU since 2003!!) was made by I presume a SAARC citizen in...the more "successful" EU.

    I was priviledged some three weeks ago to have been part of a seminar on regional integration, hosted here in Accra, by my organisation, and organised by CODESRIA. in which one academic from Tunis presented a paper about the Arab Maghreb Union being highly irrelevant out of the AU RECs (and the world).

    This to me says that whilst the submission from Germany was profoundly myopic about the qualitative nature of regionalisms worldwide, the sense that citizens of "failing" regionalisms--never mind failing states are waking up to smell the bitter coffee that there are better examples elsewhere.

    Without forcing a pun, they're truly getting critical on regional integration perspectives. A little more progressive views might help, though!;-)


    Paulo Jorge

    JOHANNESBURG (IPS) - Enthusiasm tempered with notes of caution has characterised the IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) Business Forum, held in Johannesburg in the run up to the latest heads of state summit of the three countries.

    Roughly two hundred delegates were in attendance at the forum Tuesday, many eager about the prospects for increasing trilateral trade. At the same time, they were acutely aware of barriers that still hinder progress.

    "The current level of trade amongst the three countries is very low, dismally low, and business is worried about those levels of trade amongst the three countries," Jerry Vilakazi, chief executive officer of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), told IPS, adding that only two percent of the combined foreign trade of the three states was conducted with each other. BUSA speaks for South African business on matters that concern it nationally and internationally.

    Vilakazi said that more needs to be done to help business people in the IBSA nations recognise opportunities for trade and investment. "We need to understand: What are the trade opportunities that we have not leveraged within the three countries?"

    To achieve this understanding, Vilakazi believes business people should meet each other more often between the heads of state summits, and hold special sessions dedicated to exploring trade opportunities.

    Sceptics claims that IBSA trilateral trade is unlikely ever to reach heights that would challenge existing trade links with the industrialised North, because all three states essentially have emerging economies that produce similar exports.

    However, this point of view was rejected by Habil Khorakiwala, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, who argued that there is in fact "a great degree of complementarity".

    He also identified four areas where, in his view, there is considerable scope for synergy between the three countries: agriculture and food processing, pharmaceuticals, transport and energy.

    Khorakiwala pointed out that India has a "huge energy deficit" while Brazil is a world leader in biofuels, and South Africa has developed innovative methods of producing synthetic fuels from coal. He believes that these differences in the energy sector provide ample opportunity for more South-South co-operation.

    Khorakiwala, who also heads up a large pharmaceutical company in India, believes that although all three IBSA members manufacture pharmaceutical products, there is room for trade in this sector because they do not turn out the same products.

    He noted, however, that trilateral trade is being seriously impeded by the inadequate transport links between India, Brazil and South Africa. It is notoriously difficult to book a flight between India and South Africa, and equally difficult to find a seat on the daily flights between South Africa and Brazil.

    While the airline companies are eager to take advantage of the rising demand for travel between the IBSA countries, governments have been slow to negotiate and approve routes and landing rights. South African Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa made a commitment to the forum to address this issue.

    He also promised to deal with another complaint voiced by several Indian businessmen, concerning difficulties in arranging visas to visit South Africa. They said this had discouraged many of them from exploring business opportunities here.

    Mpahlwa said that South-South trade was growing rapidly. He acknowledged, however, that there are still far more barriers to trade between countries of the South than there are for their Northern counterparts.

    He also recognised that in many cases it is non-tariff barriers -- bureaucracy and regulations -- that have the greatest dampening effect on trade between developing nations.

    Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Luiz Inácio da Silva of Brazil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India will sign a number of important agreements when they meet in the South African capital, Pretoria, Wednesday. These accords are stepping stones towards a free trade agreement covering all three countries.

    Wednesday's gathering will be the second IBSA summit.

    IBSA was established in 2003, amidst hopes that the three regional powers could boost South-South co-operation and trade. (END)


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    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    African Union Peacekeepers Were Only Doing Their Job, but ASEAN must act in Myanmar

    Recent events in Burma and Sudan have conspired to remind me about the need to have regional responses to these regional crises. Regional, because Myanmar is a member of ASEAN, and Sudan, a member of not just IGAD, but the more formidable African Union.

    When I heard the news of the 10 AU peacekeepers having been killed over the weekend, I found myself almost on the verge of tears.

    What happened to "never again" in Rwanda? More importantly, I couldn't help but remember, in uncanny parallels, how 10 Belgian peacekeepers were killed in Rwanda, prompting a hasty retreat. Whether Belgium was justified or not in the withdrawal, let's just say that in 1994, at the height of the genocide, no-one could have blamed them.

    In my view, a quick reminder of the quasi-parallels are worth reminding ourselves about:

    In January 1994, three months before the killings, Major General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda, informed the Belgian government that the Hutus were preparing for a large-scale slaughter of Tutsis. Despite repeated warnings, the Belgians refused to provide or request further assistance.

    In February, Belgian Foreign Minister Claes sent the Belgian Senate a telex that reported the possibility of genocide. No additional precautions were authorized.

    The massacres ultimately were provoked April 6, 1994, by the death of Rwandan President Habyarimana, a Hutu, blown up in his jet as it approached Kigali airport on his way back from Arusha, Tanzania. Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, also a Hutu, was killed on the same plane. The two presidents had just agreed to let Tutsi refugees in Burundi return to Rwanda.

    Reacting to Habyarimana’s death, Hutu leaders proceeded with their plan to exterminate Rwanda’s Tutsi minority.

    General Dallaire, the UNAMIR commander, saw the developing danger. He asked Uwilingiyimana, Rwanda’s Hutu prime minister, to speak on Rwandan radio to help calm the nation. He sent 10 Belgian soldiers in U.N. blue berets to pick up Uwilingiyimana at her house.

    The Belgians took gunfire at the house, and when Uwilingiyimana tried to slip out the back, the militant Hutus caught her and killed her on the spot.

    Then the 10 Belgians, with U.N. advice, agreed to disarm, and the Hutus took them in trucks to Camp Kigali, a military compound. Here, a mob of Hutu soldiers attacked the Belgians.

    The Hutus beat several of the Belgians to death with iron bars. A few peacekeepers ran to a cinder block hut and tried to fight off the attackers. Hours later, the last of the 10 was killed with a grenade.

    Shocked by the death of the 10 Belgians, Foreign Minister Claes asked U.N. secretary-general Boutros-Ghali for permission to withdraw all Belgian troops from the peacekeeping force. Claes also told Boutros-Ghali that the U.N. should suspend its entire operation in Rwanda.

    In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Boutros-Ghali said a Belgian withdrawal would cripple the UNAMIR mission

    In the same vein, a Nigerian withdrawal would cripple the AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan) that is about to become part of a UN-AU hybrid 26 000-strong force. This, despite the fact that Nigerian AU peacekeepers were also killed--and Nigeria has been emphatic about this, too:

    "The Federal government of Nigeria condemns this attack and is concerned that this incident may undermine the credibility of the international mission," presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi said in a statement.

    But he ruled out any withdrawal from the peacekeeping mission.

    "Nigeria will still continue to participate because we are committed to our commitment in Darfur under the UN/AU hybrid force," Adeniyi added.

    Meanwhile, it was interesting that in all the responses of conflict management offered by listeners to BBC World Service news last Friday in News Hour, it had to take Mark Malloch-Brown, former UN Deputy Secretary-general now-turned junior foreign minister in the Gordon Brown administration in the UK, to talk about an ASEAN response to the crisis in Myanmar/Burma.

    In a manner which I personally felt was slightly self-serving on Australia's part, it was interesting to read that Australia did not wholly condem an ASEAN response; in fact, it praised ASEAN:

    perhaps most significantly, the ASEAN leaders meeting in New York last week released an uncharacteristically strong statement condemning the violence, calling for the release of all political detainees, including Suu Kyi, and imploring all parties to find a political solution.

    Perhaps I spoke too soon?:

    It is ASEAN's new robust position that offers an opportunity for Australia.

    Having successfully assumed a leadership role at APEC and enjoying strong relationships with a number of ASEAN countries — including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and ASEAN's chair, Singapore — Australia is well positioned to work with them in co-ordinating a regional response, including multiparty talks.

    However it turns out in Burma, what with China, Japan and India playing key roles in the resolution of the crisis, what is crystal-clear to me is that the world ought to be moving slowly and surely towards a time when crises -- as exemplified by that of the ambush of the AU peacekeepers (ending in a meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council), and that of Burma -- prompt a visceral direction towards a regional response.

    About this, there must be no question.