Summary, Overview & Development Report 2.1
The Case for UN LDC3: August 2001
By Emmanuel.K.Bensah, ICDA Secretariat
The paradox of the African continent is one that touches us all. Here is a rich continent, with many resources, unexploited as they are; yet here also is a continent that comprises 34 Least Developed Countries. Surely there is something seriously wrong with this picture?
A Thousand Words
They say a picture paints a thousand words, and after the mini-debacle at Genoa, this was perhaps even truer. Who can forget the clashes between the Italian police and anti-globalisation protesters? Worse, still, who can actually remember what positive and constructive outcomes came out of the summit?
According to Boaventura de Sousa Santos, whose article featured in 27 August's WTOIL (Learning from Genoa), there was a report following Genoa, entitled "Debt Relief & Beyond", which he argues "clearly reveals the insurmountable contradiction between the neo-liberal economy and the welfare of the majority of the world population". Words that would not have shocked us had we not heard it all before. Sousa Santos goes on to argue that the report "proclaims the success of the initiative in the case of 23 countries", insisting that in the short run, "debt sustainability will depend on the greater integration of these countries in the world trade." He adds that considering there are no radical changes proposed to ameliorate this situation, it falls short of nothing but hypocrisy.
This hypocrisy is exacerbated by the fact that, as Mohamed Sid-Ahmed, writing in Ahram Weekly argues, "the organisers of these increasingly unpopular meetings have every interest in discrediting their critics by focussing attention on the anarchist minority to falsify the overall picture and drown the voices of the disciplined demonstrators". (WTOIL 20 August, How Useful Is The G8?).
Sid-Ahmed maintains that despite the moniker of "anti-globalisation" attached to the protesters, those at Genoa are not against the process of globalisation, per se, "but to the way it is being implemented by the proponents of neo-liberalism." Out of these proponents, the most ardent are multinationals, which de Sousa Santos takes a hack at in his essay. He writes: "there would be less famine in the world if the least developed countries were allowed to protect their economic activities from the voracity displayed by the 200 larger multinationals, which hold 28% of global trade, but only one percent of global employment."
In short, these two articles provided the basis, in August's WTOIL, with special focus on the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries', for people to engage themselves in a refreshing analysis of the developing world, especially the so-called "poorest of the poor", in the wake of Genoa.
That said, if there is anything both articles agreed on, it is that dialogue and/or debate is paramount at this sensitive politico-diplomatic juncture before the WTO confabulation in November. Sid-Ahmed's exhortation for debate - a "wide-ranging public debate, not a restricted discussion conducted behind high walls by a handful of leaders whose decisions will impact on the whole of humankind" - pales in comparison to that of de Sousa Santos, who argues that "dialogue is…urgent". He contends that "cynical rhetoric of empty concessions must give way to a global social contract guaranteed by a new and equally global democratic political framework." Very nice words, but will the leaders, this time, get the picture?
The framework, as mentioned by de Sousa Santos, would necessarily include one of the very crucial cornerstones of the economies of the Least Developed Countries - food security, which also occupied pride of place in August's WTOIL. Food security is actually defined in an article - Agriculture and Food Security - by the NGO US-Africa Trade Policy Working Group as the "means assured access for every person, primarily by production or purchase, to enough safe, nutritious, and culturally acceptable food to sustain an active and healthy life with dignity". (WTOIL 20 August).
In this same article, the issues underpinning food security, as well as its ramifications are discussed at length. Though it dates from 1997, and is produced by the NGO US-Africa Trade Policy Working Group, it provided one with some very sobering statistics.
On average, the article maintains, "food insecure Africans consume 1,470 calories/day, far below the minimum requirement of 2,350 calories; women grow up to 80% of Africa's domestic food supply, but agriculture and rural development programs tend to focus on male farmers and export crops." Finally, between 1969-1971 and 1990-1992, "the proportion of the region's population with inadequate access to food rose from 38% to 43%, while the absolute number of hungry people doubled, from 103 million to 215 million." These statistics truly do fly in the face of what pro-globalisation and proponents of across-the-board trade liberalisation like to tell us.
Barring the statistics, food security remained a crosscutting issue in August's WTOIL, as exemplified by the two articles on the ramifications of the UNDP's Human Development Report, Making Technologies Work For the Poor.
In a follow up to SOD Report 1.1(Pandora Revisited: The Plight of LDCs and Food Security), in which Dr. Devinder Sharma's article advanced an incisive criticism of how the UNDP was toeing the transnational companies' line, the first, "Open Letter from Lead Author of the UNDP HDR 2001 Report", responds indirectly to Sharma's arguments.
The above article by the lead author of the HDR 2001 report, Sakiko Fukada-Parr, attempts to mollify the angst expressed by NGOs that the report is nothing but what Sharma calls "deft manipulation" as indicated in SOD Report 1.1. Fukada-Parr argues that 800 million people do not have "adequate food, and 1.2 billion people in the world live on only $1 a day" - or 600 million people as the conservative UN estimate has been. He concedes that GM crops "are not a silver bullet that can feed them", especially since at the root of poverty remain very "complex social, political and economic reasons why there is more food than the world's six billion people need".
However, his argument that more money poured into R&D (research & development) of GM crops is a "promising avenue for accelerating progress in tackling global poverty and hunger challenges" is not so much a sinister as a specious argument, for implicit in this argument is the idea that multinationals, whose very nature is to put profit ahead of any kind of humanitarian objective, have the upper hand.
In the second article, Devinder Sharma Responds to Open Letter from UNDP, the author in question offers a damning indictment of the Human Development Report, arguing that even in his own country of India, there is "a dubious distinction of an unmanageable food surplus exceeding 60 million tonnes on the one hand and a staggering population of 320 million hungry people on the other". He maintains that if one were to eradicate hunger from India -- one of the most populous countries in the world - "a third of the world's hungry would be out of the hunger trap". Why this is not happening, or has not happened, speaks volumes of the hypocrisy inherent in the global system - one that "perpetuates hunger, which in reality has become part of the criminal act of exploiting the poor and hungry".
Finally, the August editions of the WTOIL briefly covered two articles that broached the issue of globalisation. The two articles that covered these were both featured in the WTOIL of 20 August.
The first, UNDP Chief Lists Ills of Globalisation, featured the speaker and chief, Economic Unit of the UNDP, Dr.K.K.Kamaludeen, in an interview with Lagos paper, The Guardian. In the interview, the UNDP chief argues how "globalisation has not really benefited Nigeria because the country is yet to get what it takes to profitably participate in the phenomenon". He maintains that globalisation, far from enabling opportunities for a country like Nigeria to benefit from goods coming in and domestic goods going out, which would favour Nigeria's economy, the reverse has been true as Nigeria's "level of production is still largely crude and unable to compete with international standards." Kamaludeen argues that Nigeria's participation in globalisation "has triggered unemployment".
However, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy who was in Egypt in April would be very quick to disagree about this adverse aspect of globalisation. In fact, on his visit to Egypt, he outlined four major areas of concern that the EU is looking at in the run-up to the WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha in November. (WTOIL 20 August, Globalisation Done Gently)
The first area of concern - put forward to the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs - resides in the statement that "changes should be introduced to the WTO system to integrate developing countries into the world trading system and that the poverty gap must be reduced". Lamy pointed to the approval of the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative as a step to this effect.
The second area, according to Ahram Weekly, lies with investment and competition rules, "which he sees as indispensable for more secure and transparent market access and a predictable climate for foreign direct investment."
Thirdly, one of the most important aspects that has been a bone of contention for many a developing country - let alone an LDC - are "the protectionist measures taken by advanced countries against the formers' products for social and environmental reasons".
Finally, Lamy stressed the importance of "a better dialogue between the International Labour Organisation and the WTO" with respect to labour issues.
° The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have called upon countries "to apply clear-cut, science-based international food safety and quality standards to protect health and trade in food". The FAO will be setting up an Internet-based information system on food safety, plant and animal health with other UN agencies and partners. This could include a rapid reaction system on food safety issues. (WTOIL 13 August)
° The New African Initiative (NAI) was mooted in Lusaka in July. The initiative is by and for Africans. The initiative will also recognise peace, security and good governance as preconditions for development, and receiving ODA and FDI. The German government has pledged DM 800 million in funding for sub-Saharan Africa this year German Minister of State at Federal Foreign Office Ludger Volmer said. Swiss government will soon remove all trade barriers for the LDCs. (WTOIL 13 August)
° A North American event, GROUNDWORK 2001, to take place in October will be first of its kind to support FAO's TeleFood campaign to reduce world hunger. It will do this through a week-long series of concerts and community activities in SEATTLE and WASHINGTON from October 14 to October 22. Honorary Chair of the Advisory Committee, Louise Ciccone, better known as Madonna, has pledged support for the event, saying that « the first casualty of hunger is hope. It"s shameful », she continues, « how little it really takes to help, and how easily we are all discouraged from doing so. » (WTOIL 13 August)
° The two regional Africa groupings of SADC and COMESA are to team up in order to prepare for the 4th WTO Ministerial Conference. Meeting in August brought together EGYPT, COMESA's largest economy and SOUTH AFRICA, SADC's economic powerhouse. They are to formulate a strategy for adavancing Africa's interests at the WTO meeting « and ensuring solid trade gains for the continent ». The meeting, about cooperation, was paramount considering earlier problems regarding membership poaching between the two regional groupings. (WTOIL 20 August).
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