On July 26, 2018, farmers in Xai-Xai, Mozambique, achieved a milestone. They met to formalize their new farmers’ association, elect leaders, and prepare a petition to the local government for land. The association, christened Tsakane, which means “happy” in the local Changana language, was the culmination of six years of resistance to a Chinese land grab that had sparked protest and outrage. The association now has a request pending for its own land.
With the Chinese rice plantation floundering, the Tsakane farmers offer a vivid demonstration that perhaps the best way to grow more food is to give poor food producers more land.
The rise and fall of a land grab
I first visited the vast rice fields of Xai-Xai, three hours up the coast from the capital city of Maputo, in 2017. Since 2008, Mozambique had been one of the leading targets of large-scale agricultural investment projects, widely denounced as land grabs by critics. Community resistance had halted most such projects in Mozambique, including ProSAVANA, the controversial Brazil-Japan initiative, which was intended to be the largest land grab in Africa.
A new United Nations report warns that the potential benefits to developing countries of digital technologies are likely to be lost to a small number of successful first movers who have established digital monopolies.
According to the Trade and Development Report 2018 (TDR 2018), subtitled ‘Power, Platforms and the Free Trade Delusion’, while developing countries need to invest more in digital infrastructure, they must also address the ownership and control of data and their use.
Developing countries will need to protect, and extend, available policy space to successfully integrate into the global digital economy. Stronger competition and regulatory frameworks will also require multilateral cooperation.
This article was published in September at Common Dreams, before Canada’s negotiators signed onto the “new NAFTA” (officially, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA). The agreement still needs to be ratified by the legislatures of each country, and opposition by Mexico’s farm movement could induce the new president, López Obrador, to oppose it. –Eds.
The smooth ride to a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may have just hit the bumpy roads of rural Mexico. On Tuesday, leaders of Mexico’s farm movement strongly condemned the new agreement announced between the United States and Mexico, calling on the new president they supported in recent elections to get involved and slow the race to the new agreement.
“We need to push our new president to stop the signing of this agreement,” said farm leader Gerónimo Jacobo in an interview. “This is life or death for us. With NAFTA it will be a slow death. Our national sovereignty is at stake here!”
On August 27, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he had reached a deal with the Mexican government on a new version of the NAFTA. In a garbled televised phone call, the president congratulated lame duck Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, claiming he had fulfilled his campaign promise to “replace NAFTA” and christening the new deal “The U.S.-Mexico Free Trade Agreement.” For his part, Peña Nieto, whose party was trounced in July 1 elections, claimed the agreement as his legacy.
Via the Real News Network; Pt. 2 of a series, “US Policy Toward Global Internet Governance Is Misguided Says Richard Hill.”
LYNN FRIES: It’s The Real News. I’m Lynn Fries. We are continuing our discussion with Internet governance expert Richard Hill. Richard Hill is president of the Association for Proper Internet Governance and a former official at the International Telecommunication Union. Welcome back, Richard.
RICHARD HILL: Thank you.
LYNN FRIES: Let’s pick up where we left off in Part 1. Your concluding point was that there should be no discussion of free flow of data at the World Trade Organization until certain preconditions are met; notably, global agreement on antitrust regulation and on data privacy protections. Talk now about the background to this. Talk more about this U.S.-led push.
Via the Real News Network; Pt. 1 of a series, “US Policy Toward Global Internet Governance Is Misguided Says Richard Hill.”
LYNN FRIES: It’s The Real News. I’m Lynn Fries.
The U.S. and the private companies it backs have far more say regarding the global internet than anybody else, and they use this power for political ends, mass surveillance; and for economic ends, the very high profits reaped by companies such as Google. The U.S. and its allies have systematically blocked discussion on Internet governance as it pertains to public policy at any United Nations forum that might not conform to U.S. expectations. The U.S. largely denies that certain internet services should be public services, or public goods, and rejects any intergovernmental role in supervising, much less regulating, the Internet.
These are all points related to internet governance raised by Richard Hill. Here to talk to us about all this is Richard Hill. Richard Hill is president of the Association for Proper Internet Governance, and a former senior official at ITU, the International Telecommunications Union. Dr. Hill holds a Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard, and is author of The New International Telecommunication Regulations and the Internet. Welcome, Richard.
RICHARD HILL: Thank you.
LYNN FRIES: What do you make of this call by Microsoft for governmental regulation of face recognition software?
While it might not seem like it now, President Donald Trump is a gift to free market-oriented economists and policymakers. His clumsy approach to protectionism has ignited a trade war that inevitably will harm the U.S. economy. When the pendulum inexorably swings the other way after the Trump fiasco, free trade ideology will return with a vengeance. This is a potential tragedy for left-leaning policy analysts who have long been concerned about the excesses of neoliberalism and argued for a more measured use of tariffs to foster local economic development. As such, it critical that we distinguish between Trump’s right-wing nationalist embrace of tariffs and the more nuanced use of this tool to support infant industries.
As a development geographer and an Africanist scholar, I have long been critical of unfettered free trade because of its deleterious economic impacts on African countries. At the behest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the majority of African countries were essentially forced, because of conditional loan and debt-refinancing requirements, to undergo free market–oriented economic reforms from the early 1980s through the mid-2000s. One by one, these countries reduced tariff barriers, eliminated subsidies, cut back on government expenditures, and emphasized commodity exports. With the possible exception of Ghana, the economy of nearly every African country undertaking these reforms was devastated.
This is not to say that there was no economic growth for African countries during this period, as there certainly was during cyclical commodity booms. The problem is that the economies of these countries were essentially underdeveloped as they returned to a colonial model focused on producing a limited number of commodities such as oil, minerals, cotton, cacao, palm oil, and timber. Economic reforms destroyed the value-added activities that helped diversify these economies and provided higher wage employment, such as the textile, milling, and food processing industries. Worse yet, millions of African farmers and workers are now increasingly ensnared in a global commodity boom-and-bust cycle. Beyond that cycle, they are experiencing an even more worrying long-term trend of declining prices for commodities.
In its Economic Outlook last Augutm, the OECD took the view that the US slowdown was not heralding a period of worldwide economic weakness, unlike, for instance, in 2001. Rather, a “smooth” rebalancing was to be expected, with Europe taking over the baton from the United States in driving OECD growth.
Recent developments have broadly confirmed this diagnosis. Indeed, the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years. Against that background, we have stuck to the rebalancing scenario. Our central forecast remains indeed quite benign: a soft landing in the United States, a strong and sustained recovery in Europe, a solid trajectory in Japan and buoyant activity in China and India. In line with recent trends, sustained growth in OECD economies would be underpinned by strong job creation and falling unemployment.
The United States has had the world’s largest trade deficit for almost half a century. In 2017, the US trade deficit in goods and services was $566 billion; without services, the merchandise account deficit was $810 billion.
The largest US trade deficit is with China, amounting to $375 billion, rising dramatically from an average of $34 billion in the 1990s. In 2017, its trade deficit with Japan was $69 billion, and with Germany, $65 billion. The US also has trade deficits with both its NAFTA partners, including $71 billion with Mexico.
President Trump wants to reduce these deficits with protectionist measures. In March 2018, he imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminium, a month after imposing tariffs and quotas on imported solar panels and washing machines. On 10 July, the US listed Chinese imports worth $200 billion annually that will face 10% tariffs, probably from September, following 25% tariffs on $34 billion of such imports from 7 July.
By Gino Brunswijck, Maria Jose Romero and Bodo Ellmers, The European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad)
Argentinians are experiencing deja-vu this month as the government announces massive layoffs and a hiring freeze as part of an adjustment package attached to a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Thousands of public servants are being forced yet again to swallow the bitter pill of austerity, which the IMF programme – published last Friday – aims to patch up through increased targeted social assistance.
To appease popular discontent, the government and IMF officials have emphasised that this time the Fund has changed its ways. However, a comparison between previous and current agreements points to business as usual, focusing on traditional austerity with a few cosmetic tweaks.
There seems some disagreement as to whether Nero played the violin or the harp as Rome burned in AD 64. Whatever happened 1,954 years ago, there was considerable complacent fiddling in Brussels after the 4 March Italian election. To replace the centrist government of neoliberal Matteo Renzi Italian voters cast 60% of their ballots for two anti-EU parties, the aggressively xenophobic coalition of Lega neo-fascists and the anti-immigrant 5 Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S).
Confounding the hope and expectation of the EU elite, this pair formed their misbegotten government in Rome in April. The anti-EU rhetoric of these two parties, plus their promise to breech EU budget rules – end fiscal austerity – ended the fiddling and set off alarm bells.
The EU elite quickly moved to prevent this anti-establishment government from rocking the Brussels neoliberal consensus. The nominally neutral Italian president refused to accept the first proposed coalition government of the Lega-M5S. The refusal did refer to thee proposed racist immigration policies, nor to its aggressively anti-Roma policies. Unacceptable to the president that the person nominated for finance minister, who had long standing opposition to the euro (see commentary by Yanis Varoufakis).
Should anyone miss the implied priories of the Italian establishment, the president sought to form an interim government that would continue Brussels-designed austerity policies. To lead that government the president chose a former functionary of the International Monetary Fund. This affront to the electoral process proved short-lived. Soon the far right Lega and eclectic right M5S were back in government with a different, but no less anti-austerity, finance minister.