Thursday, March 24, 2016

Talking of Raw Deals

In my scheme of things, a conference is worthwhile if it can give you at least one extraordinary takeaway. At the South-South Conference organised recently by RIS in New Delhi, I was pleasantly surprised to come across at least three great presentations.

The first was by Prof. Thomas Pogge of Yale University. Quite unlike the regular Indian academics who drown the audience with high sounding jargon and bombast, Pogge started out on a modest note, and put forth a few statling facts:

  • 62 richest individuals have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the world population
  • Corporate lobbying for a tax holidays -- for every $1 spent on lobbying the corporations saved them $220 in taxes
  • Globalization is increasing inequality

Contrary to the official government position of USA, Pogge congratulated the Indian government for standing up the evergreening and bullying tactics of bigpharma!  

Then came Branislav Gosovic. He was introduced as an expert on South-South issues but prefered to call himself 'just a student' with a Montenegro tribal instict to stubbornly resist anything that was perceived as injustice.

Gosovic talked of his 40 years of witnessing how the UN system - particularly institutions like the UNCTAD was subverted by the developed countries. According to him, the 1960s was the 'Golden Age' during which poorer countries - the G77 - were consolidating themselves under the UNCTAD banner.

Then came the Heritage Foundation, a US-based think-tank that put out a 2000 page report highlighting how such a consolidation would harm the interests of the reining world powers. Inspired by this report a series of steps were taken to throttle UNCTAD. Its dynamic leaders were removed before the Uruguay Round, funding was curtailed and steps taken to undermine the G77.

According to Gosovic, what remains of UNCTAD is just a hollow shell. The only global think-tank that now stands up for the G77 is the South Centre, Geneva.

A representative from the South Centre, Manuel Gomes and Jomo Kwame Sundaram of Malaysia, reinforced some of the points mentioned by Pogge and Gosovic by presenting data on -

  • Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS): Tracing of  Illicit Financial Flows -- MNCs in developing countries charge their loal subsidiaries all kinds of fees....and in the end claim that there is no income to be taxed at all!
  • Aid allocations have gone down from the promised $ 0.7% of GDP to $ 0.29%

  • TPP Treaty -- Bilateral Investment Treaties now allow private companies to sue governments and force them to act against national interest:
    • French in Egypt over increase of wages
    • Robert Schillier's book -- Malaysia herbicides -- carcinogenic, and a mild form of agent orange. Action by the government to protect the health of its citizens drew them into an expensive legal battle with the MNCs
The RIS conference was a great way to bring together bring together countries and people who do not  (yet) have the money, power and institutional support enjoyed by the OECD. Whether it will takes things beyond the talking and report-publishing, into the realm of real action, remains to be seen.


* RIS Conference on South-South Cooperation -
* Wiki - Thomas Pogge -
* TED Video - Medicines for the 99 Percent with a "Health Impact Fund" - -
* Jomo Kwame Sundaram -

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