Cultivating Responsibility: Where Does the Buck Stop in Agricultural Investment?

Jennifer Clapp

A recently published Oxfam briefing paper, Smallholders at Risk, challenges a number of mainstream assumptions about the role of private-sector investment in developing country agriculture. The conventional wisdom from the World Bank and other powerful actors is that private investment in the sector will benefit smallholders and enhance food security.

Oxfam’s research shows that, even in cases where private investors claim to be investing “responsibly”, the outcomes can nonetheless be harmful to food security and smallholder livelihoods. This happened in the cases the organization examined in Paraguay, Guatemala, and Colombia involving large-scale private investments in soy, oil palm, and maize that displaced farmers, degraded the environment, and contributed to hunger.

The general response to this kind of outcome has been to promote voluntary initiatives that encourage more responsible investment. A spate of recent initiatives explicitly seek to promote responsibility among investors in the sector: the responsible agricultural investment (RAI) principles currently being developed by the Committee on World Food Security, the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (PRAI) promoted by the World Bank and UNCTAD, as well as a range of other initiatives including commodity specific certification schemes.

These efforts aim to ensure that private sector investment avoids the kind of pitfalls that Oxfam’s research highlights. But voluntary initiatives alone are unlikely to make much of a difference, no matter how strongly they are worded.

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Investor Treaties in Trouble

Martin Khor

The tide is turning against investment treaties that allow foreign investors to take up cases against host governments and claim compensation of up to billions of dollars.

Indonesia has given notice it will terminate its bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with the Netherlands, according to a statement issued by the Dutch embassy in Jakarta last week.

“The Indonesian Government has also mentioned it intends to terminate all of its 67 bilateral investment treaties,” according to the statement.

It has not been confirmed by Indonesia. But if this is correct, Indonesia joins South Africa, which last year announced it is ending all its BITS.

Several other countries are also reviewing their investment treaties.

This is prompted by increasing numbers of cases being brought against governments by foreign companies who claim that changes in government policies or contracts affect their future profits.

Many countries have been asked to pay large compensations to companies under the treaties.

The biggest claim was against Ecuador, which has to compensate an American oil company US$2.3bil (RM7.6bil) for cancelling a contract.

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Governments and Activists are Fighting the Corporate “Right” to Sue Governments

Robin Broad

This post is drawn from a new article regular TCB contributor Robin Broad wrote with John Cavanagh, “A Strategic Fight Against Corporate Rule,” The Nation, February 3, 2014.

Over the past several decades, multinational corporate Goliaths have helped to write and rewrite hundreds of rules skewing tax, trade, investment and other policies in their favor. The extraordinary damage these policies have caused has become increasingly apparent to the communities and governments most directly affected by them. This, in turn, has strengthened the potential of a movement that’s emerging to try to reverse the momentum. But just like David with his slingshot, the local, environmental and government leaders seeking to revise rules to favor communities and the planet must pick their battles carefully.

We have come to believe strongly that one of the most promising of these battles takes aim at an egregious set of agreements that allow corporations to sue national governments. Until three decades ago, governments could pass laws to protect consumers, workers, health, the environment and domestic firms with little threat of outside legal challenge from corporations. All that changed when corporations started acquiring the “right” to sue governments over actions—including public-interest regulations—that reduce the value of their investments. These rights first appeared in little-known bilateral investment treaties. Twenty years ago, corporate lawyers embedded them in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Today, more than 3,000 trade and investment agreements and even some national investment laws grant foreign investors these powers.

The Obama administration is attempting to insert similar anti-democratic investor protections in new trade and investment agreements with countries that border the Pacific and with the European Union. Hoping to expedite the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in early 2014, U.S. congressional leaders introduced fast-track trade promotion legislation that would severely limit Congress’s ability to amend such agreements. The widely anticipated move set off a storm of protest from unions, environmentalists, liberal members of Congress and others, and will likely remain a high-profile fight in the United States in the coming months.

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Governments and Activists are Fighting the Corporate "Right" to Sue Governments

Robin Broad

This post is drawn from a new article regular TCB contributor Robin Broad wrote with John Cavanagh, “A Strategic Fight Against Corporate Rule,” The Nation, February 3, 2014.

Over the past several decades, multinational corporate Goliaths have helped to write and rewrite hundreds of rules skewing tax, trade, investment and other policies in their favor. The extraordinary damage these policies have caused has become increasingly apparent to the communities and governments most directly affected by them. This, in turn, has strengthened the potential of a movement that’s emerging to try to reverse the momentum. But just like David with his slingshot, the local, environmental and government leaders seeking to revise rules to favor communities and the planet must pick their battles carefully.

We have come to believe strongly that one of the most promising of these battles takes aim at an egregious set of agreements that allow corporations to sue national governments. Until three decades ago, governments could pass laws to protect consumers, workers, health, the environment and domestic firms with little threat of outside legal challenge from corporations. All that changed when corporations started acquiring the “right” to sue governments over actions—including public-interest regulations—that reduce the value of their investments. These rights first appeared in little-known bilateral investment treaties. Twenty years ago, corporate lawyers embedded them in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Today, more than 3,000 trade and investment agreements and even some national investment laws grant foreign investors these powers.

The Obama administration is attempting to insert similar anti-democratic investor protections in new trade and investment agreements with countries that border the Pacific and with the European Union. Hoping to expedite the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in early 2014, U.S. congressional leaders introduced fast-track trade promotion legislation that would severely limit Congress’s ability to amend such agreements. The widely anticipated move set off a storm of protest from unions, environmentalists, liberal members of Congress and others, and will likely remain a high-profile fight in the United States in the coming months.

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Most African Leaders Not Making Promised Investments in Agriculture

Timothy A. Wise

Cross posted from Global Post.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The African Union commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the Maputo Declaration on agricultural development with the launch of the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security” last week at its summit in Addis Ababa.

Around the summit, following discussions of the political and humanitarian crises in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, I heard the talk turn to agriculture. And African governments certainly have a lot to talk about.

Since Maputo, which mandated that African governments commit to spending at least 10 percent of their budgets on agriculture by 2015, 20 nations have pledged to do so under the rubric of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP). Agricultural spending has doubled across the continent, a notable achievement that has shown solid results in increased food production and economic growth for those countries that have fully invested in the sector.

But there is a long way to go. According to a new report from the nonprofit ActionAid, most governments are not “walking the talk” – they are failing to live up to their CAADP commitments.

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TPPA: When Foreign Investors Sue the State

Martin Khor

Originally published at Third World Economics.

The investor-state dispute system, whereby foreign investors can sue the host-country government in an international tribunal, is one of the issues being negotiated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

In the public debate surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), an issue that seems to stand out is the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. It would enable foreign investors of TPPA countries to directly sue the host government in an international tribunal.

In most US free trade agreements (FTAs) with investor-state dispute provisions, the tribunal most mentioned is the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an arbitration court hosted by the World Bank in Washington.

ISDS would be a powerful system for enforcing the rules of the TPPA, which is currently being negotiated by the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. Any foreign investor from TPPA countries can take up a case claiming that the government has not met its relevant TPPA obligations.

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When Foreign Investors Sue the State

Martin Khor

In the recent public debate surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), an issue that seems to stands out is the investor-state dispute settlement system (ISDS).

It enables foreign investors of TPPA countries to directly sue the host government in an international tribunal.

In most US free trade agreements, the tribunal most mentioned is ICSID, an arbitration court  hosted by the World Bank in Washington.

The ISDS is a powerful system for enforcing the TPPA’s rules. Any foreign investor from TPPA countries can take up a case claiming that the government has not met its relevant TPPA obligations.

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At the TPPA Open Day

Martin Khor

Last Thursday I took part in an unusual Open Day on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in Kuala Lumpur.

A thousand people turned up at the event, showing how this trade agreement has aroused great public interest and concern.

The organiser of the half day event was the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which had been criticised by several citizen groups as not revealing enough information about the TPPA.

It was unusual because the Trade Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed spoke frankly of a “trust deficit” on TPPA between MITI and the public.

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Poor Empiricism: The “Middle Income” Trap

C.P. Chandrasekhar

Increasing evidence that the era of high growth in Asia may be nearing its end has triggered speculation on ways to revive growth in the region. It has also challenged the belief that more developing countries would like the first generation new industrialisers in Asia (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong) transit to developed country status in a relatively short period of time. This has spawned a new industry involving the use of multi-country, inter-temporal GDP numbers to identify the countries that have escaped being stuck in the so-called “middle income trap” and the lessons that can be learned from them. Academic economists (Barry Eichengreen, Donghyun Park, and Kwanho Shin, 2013) and international institutions like the IMF (Regional Economic Outlook: Asia and Pacific, April 2013) and the ADB (Jesus Felipe, March 2012) have jumped on to the bandwagon.

A typical analysis would first use the data to say something of the following kind: Growth slowdowns are more likely to occur when countries reach income levels (measured in PPP terms) that identify them as being in the “middle income range”. But some countries, such as the first tier new industrialisers in Asia, managed to escape this middle income trap. Examining their experience (even though they are few in number) points to what needs to be done if others such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam are to ensure sustained growth that takes them to developed-country status.

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Poor Empiricism: The "Middle Income" Trap

C.P. Chandrasekhar

Increasing evidence that the era of high growth in Asia may be nearing its end has triggered speculation on ways to revive growth in the region. It has also challenged the belief that more developing countries would like the first generation new industrialisers in Asia (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong) transit to developed country status in a relatively short period of time. This has spawned a new industry involving the use of multi-country, inter-temporal GDP numbers to identify the countries that have escaped being stuck in the so-called “middle income trap” and the lessons that can be learned from them. Academic economists (Barry Eichengreen, Donghyun Park, and Kwanho Shin, 2013) and international institutions like the IMF (Regional Economic Outlook: Asia and Pacific, April 2013) and the ADB (Jesus Felipe, March 2012) have jumped on to the bandwagon.

A typical analysis would first use the data to say something of the following kind: Growth slowdowns are more likely to occur when countries reach income levels (measured in PPP terms) that identify them as being in the “middle income range”. But some countries, such as the first tier new industrialisers in Asia, managed to escape this middle income trap. Examining their experience (even though they are few in number) points to what needs to be done if others such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam are to ensure sustained growth that takes them to developed-country status.

Read the rest of this entry »