Some Great Podcasts from the WTO’s 2009 Public Forum

By Michael Cebon | November 12, 2009

At the end of September the WTO ran its annual public forum, this year entitled “Global Problems, Global Solutions: Towards Better Global Governance”.  The forum happens each year, and is a chance for governments, NGOs, academics, business and students to come together to discuss and debate some of the major issues which arise out of the global trading system.

This year saw some fantastic sessions organised by a variety of international NGOS, all of which can be downloaded as MP3 audio files here.

To save you some time, I’ve picked out the ones I think are probably of most interest to readers of this blog:

That should keep you listening for a few hours!

Topics: Bilateral FTAs, European Trade Policy, Global Economics, Global Justice Movement, Globalisation & Development, Globalisation & Energy, Globalisation & Food, Globalisation & the Environment, US Trade Policy, WTO | Comments Off

Trade, Labour Mobility and Development in the Pacific – Public meetings in Sydney & Melbourne

By Michael Cebon | November 11, 2009

I know it’s been a while since there’s been much action on this blog, but there’s lots of posts in the pipeline!

In the meantime, if you’re in Melbourne or Sydney, you may be interested to come along to a special public meeting next week, to be addressed two prominent Pacific Island trade activists:

Trade, labour mobility and development in the Pacific.

The Australian government has been pushing for greater regional economic integration in the Pacific islands, and promoting a regional trade agreement known as PACER-Plus. But what will free trade and increased overseas investment mean for workers and local communities in the Pacific? What are the costs and benefits of increased labour mobility in the Pacific and seasonal work schemes which provide access for Pacific workers to the Australian and New Zealand labour markets?

Join us to hear from two leading campaigners for trade justice in the Pacific:

* Maureen Penjueli from Fiji is co-ordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG), which links regional community, church and women’s organisations to raise awareness about the social, cultural and economic impacts of PACER-Plus and free trade in the Pacific.

* John Salong from Vanuatu is director of the Vanuatu Women’s Development Scheme (VANWODS), a non-government microfinance group, which provides disadvantaged women with access to credit and income earning opportunities. John has been active in the debate about remittances, seasonal labour mobility and development options for rural communities in Vanuatu.



Date: Monday 16 November 2009, 6.00pm

Venue: Meeting room 1, Ground floor, Trades Hall (Corner Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton – enter off Victoria Street).
Full Details here (PDF)


Date: Thursday 19th November 2009 at 6pm
Venue: Mitchell Theatre, Level 1, Sydney Mechanic School of Arts, 280 Pitt Street, Sydney CBD .
Full details here (PDF).

The speakers have been organised by Aid/Watch, and are being supported by Global Trade Watch.  For further information contact: Gary Lee (Aidwatch) on (02) 95578944 or Nic Maclellan on 0421840100.


There’s also a meeting in Canberra:

Date: Tuesday 17 November 2009 at 6pm
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Manning Clark Centre, Australian National University
Full details here (PDF)

Topics: Australian Trade Policy, Bilateral FTAs, Events & Actions, Globalisation & Development, Globalisation in the Pacific | Comments Off

Coffee vs Cocaine: An Argument for Fair Trade

By Michael Cebon | August 19, 2009

The World Fair Trade Organization – the peak body for Fair trade organisations including producer cooperatives and associations, export marketing companies, importers, retailers, national and regional  networks – has recently released this powerful short film/ad which argues that the “drug war” taking place on streets around the world is largely the result of farmers not being paid enough for conventional crops, and as a result, switching to more lucrative drugs.

Over the last 15 or so years (and going back to the collapse of the international commodities agreements in the 1980s), WTO, bilateral and regional free trade agreements have brought down the barriers to subsidised US & EU produce in most of the world’s nations.  The effect has been to progressively driven down the price of legal commodities in most countries, and force farmers into debt and off their land, as they find their own produce unable to compete with the cheap imports.

How many have reacted to this situation by switching to drug crops like coca for cocaine?  Seems a pretty logical choice, from their perspective.

One answer (the one proposed in the film) is to buy fair trade products, and support fair prices for the few million farmers who are certified to produce Fair Trade commoditeis.

Another – more serious – answer would be to push governments to re-negotiate international agreements to ensure that the prices of (legal) commodities support the billions of farmers around the world who grow them. (About 50% of the world’s population currentlyt depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.)

Have a look and tell us what you think in the comments below.

Topics: Fair Trade, Globalisation & Development, Globalisation & Food | Comments Off

FTAs & TRIPs blocking access to life-saving medicines: UN Special Rapporteur on health

By Michael Cebon | June 16, 2009

Anand Grover is a lawyer who has appeared in several hundred cases in his native India representing and unholding the rights of people suffering from HIV/AIDS.  He established the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS in India.

Last year, he was also appointed by the Un to the position of “Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.  (Yes, that’s his actual job title!  Fantastic isn’t it – I wonder how he fits it on his business cards?)

Anyway, on June 2 Grover presented his annual report to to the UN Human Rights council. (You can also download his accompanying speech here – most of the quotes below are from the speech.)

His report is an outstanding, scathing attack on the effects of the WTO’s TRIPs agreement, and other bilateral & regional FTAs in denying ordinary people around the world access to life-saving medicines.

He starts with some worrying statistics:

Nearly 2 billion people lack access to essential medicines, and massive inequalities still remain regarding access to health services and medicines around the world, which is partly due to high costs, Improving access to medicines could save 10 million lives a year, 4 million in Africa and South East Asia.

Then he sheets home the blame:

TRIPS and FTAs have had an adverse impact on prices and availability of medicines by creating obstacles for States to comply with their obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to health. Similarly, the lack of capacity, together with external pressures from developed countries has created obstacles for developing countries and LDCs to use TRIPS flexibilities to promote access to medicines.

I am particularly concerned that the supply of generic medicines is now in doubt as countries that have been the generic producers have become TRIPS compliant and have had to introduce product patents.

Among a variety of evidence of how these agreements are blocking access to medicines, his report recounts a shocking story I heard in Thailand in 2007 when I was there filming Squeezed. The story is this:

Thailand also faced pressure following its attempts to lower prices of medicines through compulsory licensing. Between 2006 and 2007, Thailand issued compulsory licences for HIV and heart disease medicines in order to meet its obligations to provide universal access to medicines. In 2007, Thailand was placed on the Special 301 Priority Watch List. The position of the European Commission was also unwelcoming of the measures taken by Thailand. One of the affected companies withdrew seven pending applications for registration of new medicines in Thailand, thus effectively withholding them from the Thai market.

I always thought that this was extraordinary: a pharmaceutical company withholding its medicines from a market that’s in need (and willing to pay!) in “punishment” for a government taking steps to protect the health of its citizens!

Anyway, the impacts of TRIPs and the TRIPs+ provisions of mnay FTA are much wider – it’s worth having a look at the report to see just how wide.

Unforunately the recommendations which accompany the report are neccesarily conservative (nothing inthere about abolishing TRIPs altogether, I’m afraid.)  But it does recommend against TRIPs+ provisions for developing countries (like the ones that Australia includes in its FTAs):

Developing countries and LDCs should not introduce TRIPS-plus standards in their national laws. Developed countries should not encourage developing countries and LDCs to enter into TRIPS-plus FTAs and should be mindful of actions which may infringe upon the right to health.

Which is a start.

Topics: Australian Trade Policy, Bilateral FTAs, European Trade Policy, Globalisation & Development, Globalisation & Health, US Trade Policy, WTO | Comments Off

Wash-up from the G20 meeting…Finally!

By Michael Cebon | June 16, 2009

Wow – it’s been almost 2 months since there was any movement on this blog – sorry for the long hiatus, but hopefully you’ll forgive me once you see some of the great new posts that are in the pipeline…

So, to pick up where I left off, I did promise a follow-up on the G20 meeting in April.  You don’t really remember it? Don’t worry: not that much ended up happening anyway.

Quick summary for those with not much time: The IMF won, ordinary people lost.

For a more in-depth analysis, the Bretton Woods Project has a good summary of what was decided (more money for the IMF and for its Special Drawing Rights) and and what was glossed over (real reform of the IMF, real money for the world’s poorest, and concrete commitments to slowing greenhouse emissions) at the meeting.

The Third World Network also offered some great analysis of the outcome – you can get a flavour of it with article titles like “A DEVELOPMENT-BLIND G20 OUTCOME THAT EMPOWERS AN UNREFORMED IMF” and “Reality behind the hype of the G20 Summit

Online think tank Foreign Policy in Focus also featured a great analysis from  John Cavanagh and Robin Broad titled: “London Econ Summit: Born of Good Intentions, But Ends in Disastrous Results“.  Needless to say, they weren’t impressed at the outcomes either (note to John & Robin: don’t give away your punch-line in your title!)

And just released today (!) is a new report from organisations involved in the Put People First alliance in the UK, which finds that progress at the April G20 was insufficient to create “transformative” economic change.  The report argues that G20 leaders strengthened  institutions like the IMF which hace been responsible for overseeing the policies that caused the global financial crisis in the first place. But luckily there are a variety of positive recommendations for changes that governments should make at the next G20 meeting (in November), in areas like

You can download the full report from the Put People First website here.

Please leave a comment if you’ve seen some other, incisive analysis of the meeting….

Update: Just remembered: if you want more analysis, check out G20 Voice, an initiative of Oxfam GB bringing together 50 bloggers to analyse the G20 meeting.

Topics: G20, Global Economics, Globalisation & Development, IMF & World Bank | Comments Off

G20 Lead-up Round-up

By Michael Cebon | April 3, 2009

The leaders of the G20 group of countries are meeting in London today to try to work out what to do about this global economic crisis thingy. This has been a highly anticipated meeting, and there’s piles and piles of opinion and analysis from all and sundry about what they should or shouldn’t be agreeing to do.

If you haven’t been following the discussion, below is a collection of some of the best or most important reports and articles I’ve seen in the lead-up to the G20 meeting, including the various issues around the financial/economic crisis which will be discussed there, and the various governments and non-government bodies that have opinions about it all.  In the next few days I’ll also post some of the best analysis following the summit about what gets decided.



- Nobel Prize Winner and former World Bank cheif economist Joseph Stiglitz has been leading a commission which has been looking at hw to reform the global economic system.  The grandly named Commission of Experts of the President of the UN General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System released its report about a fortnight ago.  The Commission has made some exciting, far-reaching and possibly (hopefully!) world-changing recommendations for new global institutions.  You can read the full report here (PDF), or a summary article from Stiglitz in The Guardian here: Reform is needed. Reform is in the air. We can’t afford to fail. There’s more extended coverage of the report from the Third World Network here and here.

- The Africa Progress Panel is Chaired By Kofi Annan, and brings together a variety of political leaders and experts on development including Michel Camdessus (former Managing Director, IMF), Goodall Gondwe (Minister of Finance, Malawi), Gilbert Houngbo (Prime Minister, Togo), Trevor Manuel (Minister of Finance, South Africa), Simon Maxwell (Director, Overseas Development Institute), Festus Mogae (former President of Botswana), Linah Mohohlo (Governor, Bank of Botswana), Todd Moss (Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development), Benno Ndulu (Governor, Central Bank of Tanzania) and Ngaire Woods (Director of the Global Economic Governance Programme, University of Oxford).  The panel has just issued its report ahead of the G20 meeting, warning that “reform of global governance will fail if poorest countries are sidelined.”  The report, New Multilateralism is available here.

- From 25 to 27 of March, the UN held an Interactive Thematic Dialogue of the UN General Assembly on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development at its headquarters in New York.  The Dialogue brought together many of the key players in the international development world – you can find a good summary of the meeting here, or read some of the more in-depth reports, including from UN Conference on Trade And Development, the World Bank, and the International Labour Organisation, or watch some of the hours of video on the Dialogue home page, including this excellent one of Joseph Stiglitz’s presentation (Real Player software needed).

What should be done (articles from the Guardian):

On the Summit:

On the Protests (from London’s Guardian – again!):

More places to look for more analysis of the crisis and the G20 summit:


Topics: G20, Global Economics, Global Justice Movement, Globalisation & Development | 1 Comment »

(Mildly) Funny on Friday

By Michael Cebon | March 27, 2009

I just noticed this fairly amusing short film from the World Development Movement in the UK, about the EU’s trade policies – a bit slap-sticky, but makes a good point!

Topics: Bilateral FTAs, European Trade Policy | Comments Off

If you only read one thing from this blog . . .

By Michael Cebon | March 26, 2009

Maybe you should make it this report just published by the UK’s War on Want. Trading Away Our Jobs: How free trade threatens employment around the world is an incredibly valuable report, documenting in detail the way that free trade policies have systematically destroyed employment opportunities for people across the developing world, through use of case studies in Africa & Latin America.

The report is only 27 pages long, so if you have a change, please read through it.  Otherwise, here’s the main thrust, from the Executive Summary:

This report examines the empirical evidence of the impact of free trade agreements on jobs. Using studies and statistics collated here for the first time, the report shows how past trade liberalisations caused huge job losses in both Africa and Latin America, the two continents that bore the brunt of early experiments in structural adjustment and other free trade policies. Findings from those experiments reveal a pattern of deindustrialisation, job losses and falling wages whose impact continues to be felt to this day, condemning whole generations to unemployment and poverty and stifling hopes for sustainable development.

In sub-Saharan Africa, trade liberalisation led to job losses across a wide range of countries, including Kenya, Malawi, Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe and Morocco. Zambia saw unemployment double as the formal sector lost tens of thousands of jobs. Nor were these short-term losses: even today the vast majority of Zambian workers are forced to eke out a living in the informal economy, and 95% do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families above the $2 a day poverty threshold. Industrial employment in Ghana fell by 17% during the first eight years of trade liberalisation reforms, and by 22% for women.

Latin America experienced a similar loss of industrial and manufacturing jobs as a result of trade liberalisation. Unemployment in Latin America increased from 7.6 million to 18.1 million over the 1990s, almost entirely through the loss of existing jobs. Trade liberalisation in Brazil alone reduced net employment by 2.7 million jobs between 1990 and 1997. In Mexico, the trade liberalisations which saw the rise of the maquila sector brought huge job losses in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, as well as a catastrophic decline in the value of wages. In real terms, the minimum wage dropped to just one fifth of its 1976 value by 2000.

Despite this evidence of the impact of previous trade liberalisations, some politicians are still calling for the swift conclusion of the Doha round of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Yet the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has calculated that millions of jobs are at risk in developing countries as a result of the new trade liberalisation which the Doha round would require. Even the EU’s own assessment predicts that a conclusion to the Doha round along the lines currently proposed will cause significant job losses across the agricultural, industrial and service sectors of the developing world.

. . .

Free trade is no answer to the current economic crisis. At a time when unemployment levels are already rising sharply as a result of the global recession, further trade liberalisation will only exacerbate the threat to jobs. The free market approach undermines the possibility of decent work and of achieving sustainable development. War on Want believes that states must retain the policy space and levers of control in order to govern markets, manage international trade and provide decent work for all.

Download the full Trading Away Our Jobs report here.

Topics: Bilateral FTAs, European Trade Policy, Global Economics, Globalisation & Work, WTO | 1 Comment »

China Calls for New Global Currency

By Michael Cebon | March 26, 2009

It’s a big day when one of the world’s major powers calls for a fundemental reform of the global economy.  Britain’s Gordon Brown as been issuing vague calls for global financial reform, but no real concrete proposals.

Now China has taken the lead, calling for a new global currency which seems to closely resemble the Bancor – JM Keynes’ 1940s proposal for a global reserve currency to solve large global economic credit & debt imbalances.

Chinese central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan released an essay on Monday calling for a similar system:

“A super-sovereign reserve currency managed by a global institution could be used to both create and control global liquidity.  This will significantly reduce the risks of a future crisis and enhance crisis management capability.”

It is of course an excellent idea – if only the US had agreed to Keynes’ proposal in 1944 in the first place!

Topics: Global Economics, IMF & World Bank | Comments Off

Taking The Credit – New Report on Financial Services Liberalisation

By Michael Cebon | March 21, 2009

The World Development Movement in the UK have just released an excellent report into the impact of financial services liberalisation (which usually occurs through free trade agreements) for the world’s poor.

The report says that

Liberalisation of overseas markets has been pushed aggressively by the industry’s lobbyists via free trade deals, firstly at the World Trade Organisation and more recently at the bilateral level.

It highlights two major impacts:

Firstly, the entry and presence of foreign banks is associated with the ‘cherry-picking’ of richer customers (both individuals and large businesses) and a decline in services and credit for poorer customers and smaller businesses. Rural communities are especially affected; foreign banks rarely have a meaningful presence outside large urban areas.

Secondly, the entry and presence of foreign banks produces a discernible and negative shift of credit away from productive activities (investment in agriculture, industrial production or local services) which can boost local development, and towards personal consumption, via credit cards and credit for items such as cars and mortgages.

You can dowload the full (52 page) report here or get a 2-page briefing here.

Topics: Bilateral FTAs, European Trade Policy, Global Economics, Globalisation & Development, US Trade Policy, WTO | 1 Comment »

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