The ICC’s impacts

There is an interesting discussion at the Monkey Cage on the impacts of the ICC. This should interest some of my International Law and Africa in World Politics students.

“How is the ICC supposed to work?” (James Fearon)

To me it looks like a well-intentioned but not fully thought out institutional experiment that will tend to be used primarily as a way to make rich countries feel better about cases whether they aren’t willing to intervene, while the institution itself sometimes has consequences that contradict its avowed purpose.

“The ICC, Deterrence, and Amnesty” (Erik Voeten)

My own tentative view is that the ICC likely has little meaningful effect on deterring or encouraging the worst forms of human rights abuses but may have a marginally positive effect at reducing abuses in countries where “mid-level” human rights abuses occur; not unlike the international human rights regime more generally.

Africa Notes: Africa and the WTO

Regardless of the Doha Round’s continued stumbles, the WTO is alive and relevant. In fact, its dispute settlement system handled more new disputes in 2012 than in a decade or more (World Trade Law).

African states continue to stay engaged with the institution. Only one African state is involved in the new disputes. South Africa is a respondent to Brazil’s complaint about SA’s anti-dumping duties on Brazilian chicken(tralac). But Ethiopia is reportedly set to finally join that organization as a member in 2014 (tralac). And African states have put forward two important nominees to head the organization (WTO). John Alan Kyeremanten is Ghana’s nominee and has apparently received some support from the AU. There may be a question about how serious he is about this posting, though, as reports surfaced recently about him making a bid for Ghana’s presidency in 2016 (GBC News). Kenya’s nominee is Amina Mohamed, currently a top UN executive official. Kenya’s decision to put forward its own nominee was controversial at the continental level as it disrupted Ghana’s hope to have their candidate be the sole African candidate (GBN). Indeed, it is possible to think that this will effectively split the African vote and hurt either candidate’s chance at getting the top job. However, there are those who suggest this might be Africa’s “turn” (SAIIA). The candidates are due to be formally introduced to the General Council next week. A final decision by WTO members is due by May 31st.

Some African states may be eyeing Russia as a trade partner with renewed interest following its accession to the WTO last year (ICTSD). Commodities like sugar may do well, and some analysts say small exporters will benefit from the leveled playing field the rules-based system provides.

Many African countries are likely to benefit (or at least receive funds) from the WTO’s Aid for Trade Initiative which has reportedly raised $200bn (not all of that goes to Africa) (mb.com).

Despite all of this engagement and interest, the Doha Round’s failings have had a clear impact on perceptions regarding the ability of the WTO to support a pro-development agenda. One of the more recent signs of this is Oxfam’s decision to drop trade as a core issue in its new “If” campaign, which apparently is replacing its Make Poverty History campaign (Duncan Green).

Global Elections: the race to be the next leader of the WTO

After 8 years in office, Pascal Lamy, the long-standing, cool-headed leader of the World Trade Organization will step down. Lamy (France, and former EC Commissioner for Trade) was the fifth Director-General of the WTO. Past leaders included Supachai Panitchpakdi (2002-2005, Thailand), Mike Moore (1999-2002, New Zealand), Renato Ruggiero (1995-1999, Italy) and Peter Sutherland (1993-1995, Ireland, also the last leader of the GATT). (WTO)

Lamy has presided over the WTO during some difficult times. Most notably, he has repeatedly tried–and failed–to revive the Doha round of trade talks. This has not been his fault, the D-G has limited power to impact members’ behaviors. And one could say that he has succeeded in fending off the complete death of the negotiations. However, one can wonder whether a fresh face might help revive talks.

Who is running for office?

According to Reuters, we only have two names at the moment (Reuters). Formal nominations will be made in December

The African Candidate
It is common for regional blocks to put forward their own candidates and the African Union may have the clearers mechanisms for doing this. Several potential African candidates have been mentioned. Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also was an important candidate for the World Bank’s top job earlier this year, has reportedly expressed no interest in running for the WTO position (PeaceFMOnline). Nigeria’s current trade minister, Olusegun Aganga, has also been mentioned. Another possibility that has been mentioned is South Africa Trade Minister Rob Davies (Reuters). But apparently the AU has decided it will be none of the above. There are a number of reports stating that the African Union has decided that Ghana’s former trade minister, Alan Kyremanten, should hold the post (Ghana Joy Online; AfricaNews.com). Kyerematen currently is the trade advisor at the UN Economic Commission for Africa and head of the African Trade Policy Centre. (thisafrica.com). As Reuters reports, this was a contentious decision. However, if he can get all of Africa’s WTO members to back him, then that would be (a) the first time all of them supported the same candidate and (b) a significant portion of the WTO’s membership, which could go a long way towards getting him elected to the job.

New Zealand Again?
Another likely candidate is New Zealand’s trade minister Tim Groser. However, it has barely been a decade since someone from New Zealand held the post, making his chances unlikely (The New Zealand Herald).

Other possibilities
Reuters mentions a number of possible candidate from Mexico and Costa Rica, with some broader speculation about Brazil’s Ambassador to the WTO, Roberto Azevedo, as a possible Latin American choice.

Bottom Line
It is still way too early to tell what will happen in this competition for the WTO’s top job. But it is clear that the game is afoot.

Africa Notes: WTO Roundup

The WTO and Sustainable Development
Lesotho Ambassador Mothae Maruping is the current chair of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development. ICTSD has a nice report of their recent meeting and its focus on sustainable development. One thought is how to integrate the WTO’s Aid for Trade program with the goal of developing a green economy. Nevertheless, it is clear that some developing countries may also see the WTO as a shield from any radical green agenda that might try to restrict their ability to trade. The delegate from Benin:

Benin said that the WTO should facilitate the elimination of distorting trade practices related to environment that are “incompatible with sustainable development”. “It is important to avoid creating new trade barriers, imposing new conditions to aid, and deepening the technological gap between developed countries and developing countries

The WTO and Regional Integration within Africa
Peter Draper has a nice discussion of the relevance of WTO rules for regional integration efforts in Africa (ICTSD). He anchors his discussion with consideration of the proposed tripartite preferential trade agreement (T-PTA) between SADC, COMESA, and the EAC (basically uniting southern and eastern Africa). He points to a WTO report which singles some of the issues in maintaining coherence between WTO rules and the rules of these new trade arrangements. His overall conclusion seems to be that the negotiating parties strive to maintain coherence with WTO rules and perhaps even allow the WTO’s help with a “mulilateralizing regionalism” component.

Doha Round
Trying to Move Forward
The BRICS would like to remind us that Doha is not yet dead (MN). Both at their own summit last month and at a G-20 meeting in Mexico, they made this point. The WTO’s Director-General Pascal Lamy continues to try to breathe new life into the round. His most recent innovation is the creation of a 12-person panel of stakeholders which include corporate leaders, former heads of state, and leaders of various international institutions. Former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae is the sole African representative to the panel.

Positive DevelopmentsAgriculture
One of the major sticking points has been agriculture, especially for many African countries. The Doha Round began with a major campaign criticizing European and American farm subsidies and support for undermining agriculture in developing countries. Many of these subsidies continue, but there are some signs of change in Europe, at least. ICTSD reported this week that total EU farm support has dropped a bit and overall trade-distorting support has dropped even further:

Overall trade-distorting support – a category including amber, blue, and de minimis support – reportedly fell to €18.3 billion, a figure that is below the €22 billion cap that would be established under the draft Doha agriculture accord. (ICTSD)

Is Doha Dead?
YouTube Preview Image
Monty Python: Not Dead Yet

ISA 2012: Presentation on Participation in IOs

Here is the abstract of the paper I am presenting tomorrow:

This paper addresses an understudied, but highly relevant research question: why do states participate in some international organizations more than others?  Playing an active role in all fields of global governance requires resources that only a few countries have.  Most countries have to pick and choose where they will expend their diplomatic energies.  While others have monitored state participation in individual international organizations (for instance, on the WTO: Michalapolous 1998; Blackhurst et al. 1999), such studies have primarily focused on understanding obstacles to participation rather than considering why states may choose to participate in some organizations rather than others. A number of factors could drive those choices, including: a state’s own financial resources, a rational estimation of a countries’ primary interests, trust in coalition partners to represent their interests, external financial support for participation, and institutional inertia provided by past participation. We measure participation at two levels: meeting attendance and meeting “voice” (the number of times states actively speak during meeting, analyzed by coding meeting minutes and reports). This is part of an on-going empirical study of state participation in global governance. For the purposes of this present paper, we focus primarily on three international organizations which overlap with a focus on food safety governance: the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Trade Organization. We also primarily focus on patterns of African state participation.

Special thanks to my research assistant, Ivan Stoitzev!

The WTO’s Doha Round

The Doha Round still limps along.

You know the WTO is in trouble when…
… The Financial Times says negotiations are dead. In 2008 they argued that leaders should admit the talks are over. They haven’t really been optimistic since.
… We start to argue that an assassination will save it. Jagdish Bhagwati, one of the great spokesmen for concluding the Doha negotiations, starts grasping at straws. For instance,his letter to the Financial Times on May 6th, argues that Osama bin Laden’s assassination provides just the opportunity that is needed to restart the round.
… We say we should kill the talks in order to save them. That is the logic that Bhagwati claims they are using when his (and Sutherland’s) High-level Expert Group on Trade advises that the Doha Round be abandoned if there is no agreement this year. “Our idea,” he states, “was that just as the prospect of an imminent hanging concentrates the mind, the deadline and prospective death of the Doha Round would galvanize the world’s statesmen behind completing the last mile of the marathon.”

Should we narrow the agenda and what are the obstacles to doing this?
The Financial Times has editorialized on the progress of the talks a number of times.This past April, they suggested the WTO should move away from its current all-or-nothing approach to negotiations. It is important, they argued, that the WTO show it is a “rule making system [that] can adapt and renew itself.”

That concern and approach has driven WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy’s move to conclude a limited version of a Doha deal this year. However, “Doha Lite” seems to be hitting roadblocks as well. (“Doha lite runs into rough weather”, June 10). The US is at the center of this. Alan Beattie reports (“WTO scrambles to savage Doha talks” FT, June 12.) that the US is a major stumbling block to progress on the Doha Round. As I write in my book manuscript, African countries have been able to wield significant influence in the round by reasonably demanding that the US change its support for one commodity: cotton. Indeed, cotton–and other agricultural issues–remains a major issue.

Why should we save the Doha Round?
While I was on vacation, Sutherland and Bhagwati’s Trade Experts Group published their important report, “World Trade and the Doha Round.” You can download it here. In it they argue that the Doha Round should definitely be saved. Some of the highlights:

  • There is a moral argument, as well as an economic argument, that needs to be considered: “Indeed before the twentieth century the conventional case for trade was a moral one: that it promoted economic integration and therefore peace, and that the efficient allocation of resources that it encourages pushes down prices for clothes, food and consumer goods. The argument that open trade damages the interest of workers in developed countries too often misses completely the fact that it has rendered the goods they buy cheaper, more diverse and in many cases more sophisticated than at any previous point in human history.”
  • And then there are the familiar economic reasons for open trade: competition promotes efficient specialization, open trade is linked to economic growth, etc.
  • The WTO is under threat: PTAs and other regional agreements, the lack of political will on the part of country leaders today, and the continuing struggle to accommodate the wishes of emerging powers are all part of this.

Other ad hoc solutions for governing global commerce are not better. I agree with Bhagwati, for the most part, when he says that Preferential Trade Agreements are starting to take over the rule-making agenda (also one of the conclusions made in the report above).

We also don’t want to have 1930s-style destructive economic competition. As Pascal Lamy and others have warned, the recent financial crisis already has increased protectionism around the world but that sort of policy can lead to mistrust and threaten not just the global economy but also global security. As a recent report from Roubini Global Economics (gated) suggests, the WTO has played an important role in stemming such problems.

Finally, if the “we” in my question above is the United States, then there might be an even more poignant reason to act and try to conclude the Doha Round now. We may not get the agreement we most desire (we definitely will not, nor will anyone else) but it is even less likely that we will get a deal we like in the future. The American economy may recover from its recent crisis and begin to grow again, but all signs point to our gradual relative economic decline. This could be our last great shot at putting our mark on global economic governance and ensuring that an institution we created survives the inevitable change in the distribution of power.

On that note, I keep thinking I should write a post (or something) on this theme: The United States should act like a great power, but think like a middle power. That is, we should use our power resources which still allow us to dominate on most global issues, but we should be interpreting our interests more and more in terms of how we will like the international system to look when we are no longer so dominant.

The WTO is more than Doha
However, I believe it is too easy for the casual observer to interpret the faltering Doha talks as signs of a weak institution. The WTO still clearly matters a great deal in global economic relations. Countries still expend considerable resources to participate in the daily meetings in Geneva and the dispute resolution system is still one of the most relevant (if not the most relevant) quasi-judicial process the international system has (although there is the occasional concern about its future, such as in this post by Hufbauer and concerns expressed in Elsig and Pollack’s recent piece).

Apparently, Lamy thinks we may know by the end of this month whether a deal this year will be possible (“WTO’s Lamy Says Working on ‘Early Harvest’ Trade Deal”, June 13, Washington Post). I will definitely be watching.

Mubarak is gone, and the African Union is MIA

This coming Monday there will be a Foundation Laying Ceremony for the African Union’s new “Peace and Security” Building at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This buidling houses the AU’s efforts to support peace, security, and stability across the Continent. One can only hope that this structural foundation will be more than just material.  The Continent needs ideas, leadership, and resolve. So far, such things have only appeared sporadically in the rhetoric of the institution’s leaders. Nowhere have innovative ideas and leadership been more missing than during the recent string of political crises across Africa.

The events culminating in the departure of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s Presidents have received the most attention from the international media. What is striking is that at the same time these events began to unfold, 25 African leaders were meeting in Ethiopia for their regular AU Summit.  Almost nothing was said about Tunisia and Egypt. When leaders finally said something, it came at the end of the summit and was not part of the formal agenda. Perhaps ironic was what they did instead. The dictator of Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang, was chosen as the AU’s leader for the year. Fortunately, this position is largely ceremonial and provides Obiang with little power. Unfortunately, it is symbolic.  Despite all of the efforts that some have made to make the AU a progressive institution, supportive of good governance and capable of efficiently reacting to the needs of its members, the AU is still in many respects a club for African leaders.  The choice of Obiang is not the only controversial choice AU leaders have made in recent months. Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe was called on by the African Union to help find a “democratic solution” in Cote d’Ivoire.

To be fair, the African Union has not remained completely silent on Egypt. As noted above, some comments were made outside the formal agenda regarding events in Egypt and a minor declaration regarding Tunisia became part of the final report. Also the African Union’s record on dealing with “unconstitutional regime changes” includes some positive actions in Togo and Comoros, as Adekeye Adebajo at the University of Cape Town has noted.

Additionally, one could argue that the political events in Tunisia and Egypt are primarily a phenomenon that belongs to the Middle East, that their relevance to African is peripheral. However, this would be wrong for several reasons. First, it would miss historical role that countries such as Libya and Egypt have played in supporting the AU and framing its agenda. Second, it would miss the ways in which the demonstration effects of Tunisia have reverberated in other parts of the continent. Most of the effects have indeed been felt in North Africa.  Northern Sudan has seen protests, and just on the heels of the historic election for secession by South Sudan. Algeria, reportedly, is also feeling the impacts. However, other parts of Africa may be getting picked up in the “contagion”.  Gabon has experienced unrest as well with an opposition leader attempting to claim the presidency, inspired by events in Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire. Some are trying to find ties between Tunisia’s events and recent events in Zimbabwe.

Many countries in Africa seem to be going through an important period of political transition. It would be great if their Continental body could begin to play an active role in managing these transitions, both for these countries and for the African Union.

The WTO, Summer 2010

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been central to my research agenda for a long time now. I am currently in the process of completing a book manuscript that examines African participation and influence in global economic governance. I begin with the assumption that they have to work through coalitions, and then proceed to consider how different institutional environments impact their ability to form and maintain such coalitions. I find that those institutional environments can vary in several important ways, including how specific international and regional institutions overlap. For instance, when institutional environments require rule-making to take place across multiple institutions (such as the case of trade-related food safety measures, where rules are made at the WTO, Codex-Alimentarius Commission and elsewhere), then the obstacles to forming and maintaining coalitions increase. And, indeed, we see African states have more difficulties in impacting rule-making in such environments.

Given the centrality of the WTO to most areas of economic governance, I pay close attention to on-going developments in that organization. This past summer, several stories grabbed my attention: the status of the on-going Doha Round of negotiations, Lamy’s attempts to invigorate that round with a “cocktail approach”, and the on-going struggle to reform trade-distorting US domestic cotton support. This post touches on those themes and several others.

Doha Round Status

The Doha Round is not dead, though reports of its demise recur on a regular basis. One needs to remember that multilateral trade negotiating rounds have always taken a long time to conclude (last time, the Uruguay Round began in 1986 and only officially concluded in 1994). Additionally, there are now many more member states and economic power is more diffuse than it was during past rounds. So it should be no surprise that there have been a number of obstacles to concluding the current round of negotiations. Indeed, towards the beginning of the summer, attempts to conclude the Doha Round seemed to take another blow, as the G8 abandoned a pledge to conclude trade negotiations this year. However, some also cautiously report on continued progress, including sources in India (for instance, The Economic Times).

Director-General Pascal Lamy’s recent report to the WTO General Council tries to frame the WTO’s Doha Round and “Aid for Trade” as important contributions to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. However, his main strategy for keeping Doha alive seems to be linked to beverages…

“Shaken, Not Stirred.” Cocktail Approaches to Negotiations

My attention has been captured lately by Director-General Pascal Lamy’s new strategy in multilateral negotiations: the cocktail approach. He seems very excited about it. There are three core ingredients to this cocktail: (1) Chair-led consultations, (2) informal bilateral discussions, and (3) consultations with Lamy. He speaks of these dynamics as occurring both horizontally and vertically. The idea, apparently, is that these ingredients are already here, and that what is needed is for us to shake them vigorously (perhaps Lamy has an affinity for Bond, since he says that simply stirring this favorite cocktail of his is not enough).

Generally speaking, his method would involve:“Chair-led processes within the Negotiating Groups, maintaining an overview of the entire negotiating landscape (transparency and inclusiveness), and smaller groups in variable geometry and bilateral contacts remain necessary and essential –moving towards a more horizontal view of the issues (negotiating groups and the TNC remaining the anchor of the negotiating process).”

This is not the first time a cocktail approach has been used to encourage progress in WTO negotiations. The idea goes back at least to Tim Josling and Allan Rae who describe its application to agriculture negotiations back in 1999. The idea, they suggested,was to take current tariff levels and treat each level with a different modality. For instance, states could eliminate tariffs where current levels are below 5%, but for tarriffs that are extremely high (say, 300%) states may agree to simply allow space for bargaining. In their analysis applying the “cocktail” approach did have some benefit for African states. Their approach was embraced by a number of negotiators in the early phases of the Doha Round and continues to be mentioned today.

Looking at the broader negotiation literature, cocktails have had other metaphorical use. Cocktail can refer to a hybrid approach in negotiating tactics by individual actors intent on pushing or securing an advantage (see Matos et al. 1998).

Cotton

I am also asked, when I speak about the role African states play on the cotton issue, whether they are merely following another state’s lead (Brazil). I always say that this might be the case with dispute settlement, where African states have only acted as third-party supporters of Brazil’s activities. However, African states have clearly been leading players in using cotton as an issue to press for greater advantage in negotiations on agriculture in the Doha Round. If Brazil’s strategy has been to use judicial processes, African states have tried to push for a legislated solution.

This summer it became even clearer that Brazil stands alone on the cotton issue. It seems to have forgotten the rhetoric of how the “South”, including Africa, is hurt by wrong-headed agricultural policies in the industrialized “North”. Indeed, Brazil’s cotton farmers now apparently are being paid US subsidies. In return for not applying WTO-authorised trade sanctions, Brazil has decided to accept payment from the US to its farmers. As the Financial Times notes, this just makes them new stakeholders in the US Farm Bill. This is too bad, as Brazilian sanctions, while generating a number of negative externalities for Brazilian consumers and American exporters, could also have generated positive externalities for Africa’s more needy cotton farmers.

The WTO is not just the Doha Round

While the apparent lack of progress in the Doha Round might seem to signal a lack of commitment by the international community to this organization, it is far from being the case that the WTO’s relevance relies only on that round.

For one thing, the WTO administers a number of international agreements. One of those, which member states do not have to sign, is the Government Procurement Agreement. This agreement tries to encourage transparency and the principle of non-discrimination in government procurement. Signing the agreement ensures formal access to government procurement contracts in other signatory countries. The United States is one of 40 such countries. So, as the Financial Times reported, it is not surprising that China is actively trying to negotiate access to the agreement. Accession requires the consent of the current parties (Article XXIV, 2).

Indeed, the WTO has played a central role in economic disputes between the US and China in recent years. See, for instance, recent US concerns about China’s garments and textiles.

The WTO also plays a central role in many economic disputes between Europe and the United States. Two of those disputes, one about European subsidies for Airbus andanother about tariffs on certain electronic products, both resulted in WTO panel decisions that favored the US, though Europe is appealing at least the Airbus decision.

My colleague, Peter Rutland, has a nice piece in the Financial Times about Russia’s bid to enter the WTO. It is, as he notes, “embarrassing” that Russia is the only major economy not included in the 153-member organization. He notes many of the important obstacles to that bid: some member countries (Georgia) don’t like Russia very much these days, Russian leaders don’t always seem particularly committed to the process, and the United States has raised a number of objections along the way. Rutland’s piece is partly a reminder that some of these and other challenges remain, even as US President Obama announced last month a joint commitment with Russia to see the bid through. I think that much of this analysis is right, but I would add one more obstacle to Russia’s bid: the on-going Doha Round. If Russia were to join, it would also have a major voice in the on-going negotiations (especially if they continue to drag out). Russia is a big enough player that it could upset many of the deals and alliances that have been made over the last decade. That could be both good and bad for progress in the negotiations. But is is unlikely that it would be neutral.

The spread of norms and the UN vote to make access to water a human right

A friend from my Peace Corps days posted on Facebook the UN press release that the General Assembly has adopted a resolution “Recognizing Access to Clean Water, Sanitation as Human Right, By Recorded Vote of 122 in Favour, None Against, 41 Abstentions.”

This isn’t exactly getting major press coverage. And, indeed, just because the UN General Assembly calls something a human right doesn’t automatically make it so, though it can be important in the development of such a norm. Some, however, have argued that it already is a human right. Since we need water to live, and since a right to life is enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, then perhaps there is already consensus on this? (See the post by Jennifer Vettel at Columbia’s Earth Institute). But 41 nations did choose to abstain, including (please note with appropriate shock) famed human rights-leading Canada. Of course, the US also abstained. As did, apparently, some developing countries who were concerned about incurring greater legal obligations for providing water to their citizens then they could possibly fulfill (see the Huffington Post on this).

So what is the significance of this General Assembly vote? At this point, it seems to me unclear that much will change if change requires politically costly choices. As Iman Kurdi suggests in his post on ArabNews.com, it is unlikely that Israel or Turkey will change or reverse their dam-building, which has infuriated neighbors in the past. So I would expect others interested in building dams (Ethiopia, for instance) are probably proceeding without giving such human rights concerns a second thought. Possibly the biggest impact will be to act as a fundraiser for the UN’s various water and sanitation-related initiatives. As the International Law Observer reports, there is a clear non-binding appeal to states and international organizations to commit resources.

While the impact of the resolution is therefore limited. It does help bring needed publicity and international attention to an important problem. One of my students here at Wesleyan University, Oluwayimika Taiwo-Peters, is tackling this head-on in her home-country of Nigeria this summer. She is visiting local schools as part of a health education program she created, and installing a rainwater catchment system at a local school. Her activities remind me of my old Peace Corps days as a water and sanitation volunteer in Northern Ghana! But the bottom-line is that for many people in Africa — and close to a billion people worldwide — reliable access to safe water and sanitation is an important obstacle to development and happiness. So I will hold out the hope that this norm continues to grow.

And since we are talking about norms, this isn’t a bad place to mention Schrad’s recent book on The Political Power of Bad Ideas, which The Duck of Minerva reviews. The excellent point of the book is to explore how not just good ideas (we need clean water) but also bad ideas (prohibition counts as one of these, in his view) can be spread via advocacy networks. I haven’t read this yet, but Charli Carpenter’s post makes me want to!

News and Comment: the G20 and Africa Part 2

The G20 has a lot of issues on its plate and at the top of the list, obviously, is the on-going financial crisis.  I have already commented on the problems African countries face in getting their voices heard. On that point, Africa may have an ally in Pope Benedict who, recently returned from his Africa travels, noted the problems of adequate representation from those “who suffer most from the harmful effects of a crisis for which they do not bear responsibility”. The Pope suggests states rely on the UN and associated institutions. Jeffrey Sachs has also jumped on this bandwagon, noting that while South Africa will be present “South Africa by itself represents South Africa”.  And we all know that South Africa is not a “typical” African country (if there is such a thing).

On the point of South Africa, it might be useful to remember that President Motlanthe himself may not be in the strongest position to represent his country’s interests, given all the recent upheaval within the South African political system and the temporary nature of his position as President.

NGOs, such as Oxfam, are trying to use their influence to encourage the G20 to commit to aiding Africa as it deals with the crisis. Duncan Green, head of research for Oxfam, highlights their main requests of the G20 in a recent blog post. He comments as well on a leaked copy of a G20 communique, obtained by the Financial Times.  Indeed, the way these conferences usually go, it is likely that at least some of the major decisions have already been negotiated ahead of time. Which leaves one to wonder whether adding an African voice at this point could make a difference.

The World Bank has published figures (reported on BBC News) that somewhat echo the gloomy global economic forecasts of the IMF and OECD.

The forecast predicts that developing countries will need $1.3tn in external financing to repay debt and cover balance of payments problems, and may fall short.

The idea that African countries, in particular, could be major losers in this crisis has been underscored by a number of analysts and commentators including Egypt’s finance minister, Oxfam’s Duncan Green (commenting on the case of Zambia), and Kofi Anan (who argues that the crisis “hits Africa twice”).

Other G20 news:

Apparently, protestors see the G20 meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate their unhappiness with a wide range of global issues, from the financial crisis to the “siege of Gaza” to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  While I understand their frustrations with global leadership on these matters, I don’t think it helps their cause to get into fights with the British police.  Apparently, these frustrations are being vented worldwide.

China is trying to exhibit its leadership potential as well.  This has included lobbying for a new “super-sovereign reserve currency to replace the U.S. dollar”, the provision of advice to rich countries, and lobbying to stop states from moving towards trade and investment protectionism.

The Chinese are not the only ones worried about protectionism. Pascal Lamy, head of the WTO, has warned that moves towards protectionism may further impact the already troubled Doha round of trade negotiations.