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Malcorra tells WTO members “there is life after Buenos Aires”

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The Chair of the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) told the organization’s members on 19 October they need to decide very soon which issues can be resolved at the conference and which require further work.

Susana Malcorra, Argentine minister and Chair of MC11, had requested the opportunity to speak to heads of WTO delegations and report on a meeting of 40 ministers which she co-chaired in Marrakesh on 9-10 October. That meeting, which was also co-chaired by Moroccan Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy, was  designed to bridge differences between members ahead of the Ministerial Conference to be held in Buenos Aires, 10-13 December.

She said there were many issues on which WTO members were far apart. Members, she said, needed to decide which issues were “ripe” for a decision at the Ministerial Conference and which may not yet be ready but for which a process could be agreed to put these issues “in motion beyond Buenos Aires”, with an eye toward reaching agreement in the near term. 

“There is life after Buenos Aires. And if we have a combination of results and processes after Buenos Aires almost everything on the table could be put into one of those baskets and the meeting can be considered a success,” she told the heads of delegation.

In her view, the issue on which agreement in Buenos Aires was most likely was the reduction of fisheries subsidies but she conceded there were differences regarding the level of ambition that could be attained at MC11. She suggested that some elements might be agreed at the Ministerial Conference while others could be taken up afterwards and finalised at the next Ministerial Conference in 2019.

She said agriculture is among the most important and challenging issues facing the membership. She referred specifically to the issues of public stockholding for food security purposes, reductions in trade distorting domestic subsidies and reform of cotton trade as elements on which the members needed to find common ground.

Ministers in Marrakesh, she explained, took up a range of other issues as well, including trade in services, electronic commerce, and facilitating greater participation of smaller companies and women entrepreneurs in global trade. If a multilateral accord cannot be reached on these issues in Buenos Aires, Ms Malcorra suggested members agree on work programmes to advance these issues post MC11. 

As important as any result, she said, was to clearly demonstrate that trade can be inclusive and can bring benefits to people around the world.

“Our people require that whatever we do in these halls reflects them and includes them. At a moment when there is introspection about how trade affects people we need to do everything we can to demonstrate this,” she said.

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World Bank, Gates Foundation, DFID Join Forces to Improve Education Quality Around the World

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The World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the UK’s Department for International Development today announced a new partnership that will develop tools governments can use to better monitor the quality of their education systems, allowing policymakers to take real-time decisions to ensure that all children are learning. This collaboration will advance the goals of the Human Capital Project, a global effort to accelerate more and better investments in people for greater equity and economic growth.

The multi-year partnership, which was announced during the Education World Forum in London, will provide countries with an integrated system for tracking the how well education is delivered and how well countries are progressing toward their policy goals. The World Bank will take the lead on developing the new tools under a multidimensional Global Education Policy Dashboard, working together with education and governance experts from around the world. The Dashboard will soon be tested in 13 countries and it will be progressively expanded to more countries.

All children should have the right to learn how to read and write so they have the voice and skills needed to advocate a better and prosperous future for themselves and their communities. UK aid is making sure millions of children around the world can access 12 years of quality education, to help them reach their potential and help lift their countries out of poverty,” said Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s International Development Secretary and Human Capital Champion. “Our innovative partnership with the World Bank and Gates Foundation will help governments analyze evidence to show why children aren’t developing these essential skills and recognize what interventions they can put in place to improve their education systems and invest in their most important assets – their own people,” she added.

As the recent World Development Report 2018 highlighted, being in school isn’t the same thing as learning, and much of the world is facing a learning crisis. The new partnership seeks to upend that crisis by empowering countries with new data on the most important indicators linked to better learning outcomes. These indicators cover three dimensions at different levels of the system—quality of service delivery, policies, and political commitment to education—to allow more holistic monitoring of progress than is currently possible.

Tackling the learning crisis requires improving the quality of every child’s experience in school,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Senior Director for Education. “As the largest financier of education in the developing world, the World Bank is committed to supporting the measurement of what students are learning and how well school systems are performing. This is critical in allowing policymakers to see which aspects of the system are working, and which need fixing.”

Improving education systems requires a multi-faceted approach: children have to be ready to learn, teachers need to teach successfully, schools need to have the right materials, and school management has to provide appropriate leadership and oversight. To get this right, education polices need to be aligned with the goals. This partnership will provide countries with reliable data on the functioning of the whole education system along these dimensions while highlighting the gaps between their actions and best practices.

The ability to read fluently by grade 3 is critical and underpins learning in later grades which is why the education dashboard emphasizes foundational learning as a key outcome,” said Girindre Beeharry, Global Education Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The dashboard provides actionable information on key bottlenecks to learning in the education system which will make it a valuable tool for reform-minded policy-makers.”

In this way, the Global Education Policy Dashboard will allow governments to track progress with their investments and policy reforms to improve learning, starting from what’s happening in the classroom all the way to the decisions taken in ministerial meetings. It will provide countries with data to make decisions that have a real impact on student learning, boosting human capital and giving the next generation the ability to succeed.

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On One-Year Anniversary of China’s Ivory Ban, New Campaign Targets Travelers Abroad

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More than one year after China implemented a full ban on commercial ivory sales, several surveys indicate Chinese travelers are still purchasing ivory at souvenir shops in neighboring countries. To counter this trend, China Customs and the National Forestry and Grasslands Administration (NFGA) are partnering with WildAid and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on a national campaign to remind travelers that their “souvenirs could be contraband.”

In the new public awareness campaign, popular Chinese actor Huang Xuan, dressed as a Customs officer, informs travelers that purchasing wildlife products is driving certain species toward extinction and reminds them that it is illegal to bring ivory into China, even as souvenirs.

The campaign comes as part of a three-year initiative by China Customs to tighten security at borders and halt imports of illegal wildlife products. Since 2018, Customs has made two trips to Africa to extradite Chinese nationals involved in wildlife smuggling.

Since domestic sales of ivory were banned in China, there’s been a clear decline in illegal sales and demand for ivory on the mainland, according to a survey released by TRAFFIC and WWF in September 2018. Twelve percent of respondents claim to have purchased ivory in the past 6 months compared to 26 percent of respondents who reported doing so in a similar 2017 pre-ban survey, a 54% decline.

Yet the same TRAFFIC and WWF study shows that more than 18 percent of outbound travelers bought ivory products on trips abroad, with Thailand and Hong Kong being the top two markets. Other destinations popular with Chinese travelers are also of concern. In Laos, more outlets are selling new ivory items to meet Chinese demand, according to a Save the Elephants investigation, with nearly all vendors in the market being Chinese and prices quoted in Chinese yuan. And just this month, more than 73 kilograms of ivory products were confiscated from a souvenir shop in Laos. The ivory products were hidden in secret drawers under the shop’s counters.

The new public awareness campaign will appear on public media and customs entry and exit points at airports, train stations, and border crossings, particularly where China borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.

“WildAid brings decades of experience delivering high-impact media campaigns to protect wildlife to this partnership,” CEO of WildAid Peter Knights said. “We’ve seen how these campaigns generate results in increased awareness and reduced consumption of wildlife products such as shark fin. This message with Huang Xuan will reach tens of millions of people, and will help build on the recent momentum to end the devastation caused by ivory consumption.”

“WWF’s goal is to reach Chinese travelers who have the means to buy ivory and access to it in popular destinations where ivory can still be found,” said Jan Vertefeuille, senior director for advocacy at WWF. “This campaign is the kind of collaboration we need between government agencies and conservation groups to get the word out that ivory is illegal to bring home and it’s not socially acceptable.”

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Human Rights

Another 170 migrants disappear in shipwrecks: UN call for an end to Mediterranean tragedy

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Refugees from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa await assistance and a health-screening by the Spanish Red Cross in the port of Malaga, after disembarking from a Spanish rescue ship. 19 September 2018. © UNHCR/Markel Redondo

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, stated on Saturday that “no effort should be spared” in saving lives at sea, following reports of two new shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea, in which some 170 people either died or went missing.

“The tragedy of the Mediterranean cannot be allowed to continue,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

According to various NGOs, about 53 people died on the Alborán Sea, in the western part of the Mediterranean. One survivor is understood to have been rescued by a passing fishing boat after being stranded for more than 24 hours at sea and is receiving medical treatment in Morocco.

According to UNHCR, Moroccan and Spanish rescue vessels have been searching for the boat and survivors for several days to no avail.

The Italian Navy are also reporting another shipwreck on the central Mediterranean. Three survivors, who were taken for treatment on the island of Lampedusa, reported that another 117 people, currently dead or missing, had boarded the ship with them in Libya.

UNHCR has been unable to independently verify the death tolls for these two shipwrecks, but in 2018, 2,262 people lost their lives attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.

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