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WTO Fundamental to Economic Recovery and Sustainable and Inclusive Growth

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Asia-Pacific business leaders from the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), meeting virtually this week, called on the region’s Trade Ministers to take the lead in a credible, relevant and strengthened World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Globally, we face significant health and economic challenges. Fundamentally trade can and must be at the centre of tackling both the immediate crisis and of laying the groundwork for a return to growth. The WTO is core to that effort,” said ABAC Chair Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood of Malaysia.

Dato Rohana explained that ABAC had issued a statement of support for a reformed WTO ahead of the meeting of APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) taking place on 25 July. She said that ABAC had been deeply concerned at the levels of human suffering and severe economic contraction caused by the pandemic.

“Our message to Ministers is that global problems demand global solutions – and the WTO’s multilateral rules-based system must be at the heart of those solutions,” said Dato Rohana. “We are calling on APEC economies to lead a process of reform in the WTO to ensure that trade rules remain fit-for-purpose.”

She said that we need to liberalise trade in essential medical supplies and facilitate the movement of essential workers, so that for this and any future pandemics, those critical products and services can get to where they are needed most. Likewise, APEC economies should reaffirm their commitment to well- functioning agriculture markets, so that we do not add a food security crisis to the disruption of the pandemic.

“We also need to ensure that the WTO’s rules remain relevant and credible. It is imperative that we get the WTO’s dispute settlement system fully functioning again by appointing new members to the Appellate Body. We need more transparency around what economies are doing on trade. We must complete the unfinished business of the Doha Round, including by eliminating fisheries subsidies, making meaningful cuts to trade-distorting domestic support in agriculture and helping services and investment to work better,” she added.

Dato Rohana said that just as importantly, the WTO needed to stay responsive to modern business and social concerns. There is a need to review the rules in other areas to ensure that they are doing the job. The rules must also be updated for the digital age and support aspirations for sustainable and inclusive growth. That means substantive outcomes on e-commerce and a permanent moratorium on Customs duties on electronic transmission, tools to transition to a low-carbon economy by eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and better ways for women and small businesses to succeed in trade.


ABAC STATEMENT ON THE WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION JULY 2020

The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) is deeply concerned about the fundamental challenge to global wellbeing represented by COVID-19. We face a “crisis like no other”. The multilateral rules-based trading system, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its core, has a key role to play in our response in both the short term to the pandemic and for longer-term economic rebuilding. ABAC urges APEC economies to lead work in the WTO both to enhance short-term responses, and for the longer-term strengthening of the multilateral rules-based trading system.

A strong commitment to a credible, relevant and strengthened WTO that reflects evolving business needs and models is crucial to help rebuild business and investor confidence and to improve the trade landscape in the age of COVID-19.

APEC economies should thus reaffirm their support for urgent reform of the WTO in the strongest terms. The process to appoint a new Director General must not be allowed to distract from the following critical tasks, but rather must contribute to achieving them:

1. Drawing on the lessons of COVID-19, reform WTO rules for better responses to crises

WTO rules for trade in goods and services can enable essential medical supplies, essential workers and food supplies to get to where they are needed most. APEC economies should lead an initiative in the WTO to enable economies to respond more effectively to crises, including by:

  • committing to the permanent elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on a sectoral basis, covering an agreed list of essential medical supplies such as medical equipment, medicines and basic hygiene products such as hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment;
  • committing to measures to ensure that supply chains are resilient, even in times of crisis;
  • committing to removing barriers to the movement of essential personnel in times of crisis;
  • committing to shoring up trade in food and agriculture, by removing unjustified export restrictions and non-tariff barriers and strengthening value chains; and
  • enhancing transparency to make the trade and investment environment more predictable.

2. Work to strengthen the multilateral rules-based trading system

The WTO provides a crucial foundation for sustained prosperity. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 have shown that declining trade, worsened by protectionism, exacerbates the depth and duration of economic contraction. On the other hand, trade based on WTO principles of openness, non-discrimination, predictability and transparency can help to revitalise growth for the longer term, including for the most vulnerable.

i. Resolve the unfinished business from the Doha Round

Meaningful improvements are needed to the existing framework of rules, commitments and obligations to revitalise trade and achieve more sustainable and inclusive growth. APEC economies should take the lead in pressing for concrete outcomes, including on the following items of ‘unfinished business’ from the Doha Round:

  • the elimination, as quickly as possible, of ‘fish subsidies’ that contribute to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and the destruction of global fish stocks;
  • a meaningful cut in trade-distorting domestic support in agriculture, to drive better outcomes for markets, for food security, for development and for the environment; and
  • improvements to rules for the domestic regulation of services, to enhance the ability of the sector to drive economy-wide productivity gains and create jobs.

ii. Fully functioning dispute settlement is fundamental to the multilateral trading system

The WTO dispute settlement system has resolved over 400 disputes, and forestalled many more. Every economy will be worse off if this system cannot operate to its fullest extent. APEC economies should:

  • support the urgent appointment of a full slate to the WTO Appellate Body; and
  • engage constructively to implement necessary reforms to the Appellate Body

recognising that some economies have joined the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement as a temporary option to settle appeals.

iii. Initiatives to reflect the evolution of trade will revitalise the multilateral trading system

WTO rules must better reflect modern business and societal concerns. APEC economies should:

  • commit to enhanced transparency, to demonstrate that the system remains fair and balanced for all and to promote predictability in international trade;
  • drive agreement on substantive outcomes in the WTO negotiations on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce, to enhance the key role of digital technologies as a dynamic enabler of trade, including in response to the pandemic;
  • seek agreement to a permanent moratorium on Customs duties on electronic transmissions, to avoid stifling innovation and growth in the digital economy;
  • advance work on investment facilitation with a view to facilitating flows of investment;
  • support the initiative to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, consistent with a commitment to transition to a low-carbon economy, in response to climate change;
  • support other initiatives that encourage more inclusive participation in trade, including by women, small businesses and young entrepreneurs, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19; and
  • encourage greater involvement of the international business community in WTO processes, that would enhance transparency and improve predictability in the trade environment.

APEC economies should ensure that all of these outcomes are consistent with WTO principles and are designed with a view to serving as building blocks to multilateral outcomes in the future. Global challenges demand global solutions. The APEC Business Advisory Council and the wider Asia-Pacific business community fully supports APEC’s leadership in this most critical area. 

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EU Politics

EU boosts humanitarian aid budget for 2021 as needs rise

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As global humanitarian needs worsen further due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the effects of climate change, the European Commission has adopted its initial annual humanitarian budget of €1.4 billion for 2021. This represents an increase of more than 60% compared with the initial humanitarian budget of €900 million adopted last year.

Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management said: “Humanitarian needs are growing globally and we need a budget to match. Our increased budget will allow the EU to continue to play a leading global role in responding to emerging and existing crises. Ultimately, humanitarian aid is about saving lives. Yet the gap between the financial resources provided by donors and the rapidly increasing humanitarian needs in 2021 is growing. To leave no one behind we therefore need more international partners to step up to fill this gap. We should not forget that only a global response will solve global issues, such as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which affects everyone.

EU humanitarian in 2021 will be allocated as follows:

  • €505 million will be allocated to Africa to support people affected by the long-term Lake Chad Basin crisis, impacting Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad; those suffering from food and nutrition crisis, worsened by security incidents and community conflicts, in the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger); and those displaced by armed conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic and Horn Of Africa (Somalia and Ethiopia).
  • €385 million of EU humanitarian funding will be allocated to the needs in the Middle East and Turkey to help those affected by the Syria regional crisis, as well as the extremely severe situation in Yemen.
  • €180 million in humanitarian assistance will continue to help the most vulnerable populations in Asia and Latin America. In Latin America, this includes those affected by the crises in Venezuela and Colombia. The European Union will also continue to provide help in Asian countries such as Afghanistan, where the conflict has been qualified as one of the deadliest conflicts worldwide, and Bangladesh, which is currently hosting almost one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The EU will also allocate €28 million to fund projects addressing crises in Ukraine, Western Balkans and the Caucasus.
  • The rest of the funding, €302 million, will be used for EU humanitarian air services and for unforeseen humanitarian crises or sudden peaks in existing crises.

Since climate change is increasing communities’ vulnerability to humanitarian crises, the funding will also help vulnerable populations in disaster-prone countries to prepare better for various natural hazards, such as floods, forest fires, earthquakes, and cyclones.

Background

The European Union has been providing humanitarian aid since 1992 in over 110 countries, reaching millions of people across the globe each year. EU assistance is delivered through humanitarian partner organisations, including UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, and the Red Cross family, who have signed partnership agreements with the European Union. The EU closely tracks the use of EU funds via its global network of humanitarian experts and has firm rules in place to ensure funding is well spent.

In order to address these complex challenges, the Commission intends to publish in the first quarter of the year a renewed strategic document on EU humanitarian action, proposing ways how the EU, together with its partners and other donors, can step up and show leadership in times when the need for humanitarian aid is greater than ever.

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Africa Today

EU boosts sustainable cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon

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The European Union will contribute €25 million to enhance the economic, social and environmental sustainability of cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon who are, respectively, the first, second and fifth biggest cocoa producers, generating almost 70% of the world production. This funding strengthens the partnership between Team Europe (composed of the EU, its Member States, and European financial institutions) and the three cocoa producing countries and aims at ensuring a decent living income for farmers, halting deforestation and eliminating child labour.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, said: “The EU trade agenda is underpinned by EU values. By investing in programmes to promote fair trade and sustainability in the cocoa sectors of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon, we are strengthening our trade and investment relationships for our mutual benefit. Building the social and environmental aspects of the cocoa supply chain will deliver further economic benefits for local farmers and cooperatives.”

Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships, said: “European consumers are demanding fair and environmentally sustainable products and producing countries committed to address sustainability issues in their cocoa value chains. It is time to make a real change and the EU is committed to play its part as an honest broker between economic operators, development partners, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon.”  

Following the launch event of the EU inclusive dialogue on sustainable cocoa, the “Cocoa Talks”, on 22 September 2020, today takes place the Cocoa Talks inaugural round-table webinar with the participation of EU public and private stakeholders and selected representatives of the two main producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The objective of this dialogue is to enhance cooperation and coordination to support sustainable cocoa production in the framework of the Living Income Differential (LID) initiative, launched by the two producer countries to ensure decent revenue to local farmers.

The EU dialogue will be mirrored by similar dialogues at country level. Concretely, the €25 million will fund parallel multi-stakeholder dialogue events at national and regional level in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon, involving government, private sector companies and civil society. It will improve the ability of farmers’ cooperatives and other bodies to represent local communities. It will train farmers on sustainability, tree replacement, reforestation, and ensure their awareness of child labour regulations.

Background

Cocoa is a major contributor to export earnings, as well as the main source of livelihoods for almost seven million farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Indirectly, cocoa contributes to the livelihoods of further 50 million people. At the same time, cocoa production entails particular risks relating to child labour, low revenues for local farmers, deforestation and forest degradation.

The European Union is the world’s largest importer of cocoa, accounting for 60% of world imports. Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon are major suppliers of cocoa into the EU market, to which the first two have duty-free and quota-free access under their respective Economic Partnership Agreements.

In June 2019, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana took an initiative on cocoa prices that led to an agreement with the cocoa and chocolate industry to create a Living Income Differential (LID) to ensure decent revenue to local farmers. At this stage, it is a US$400/ton premium paid beyond the price of the cocoa futures markets. Cameroon has expressed interest to join the initiative.

Building on this initiative and in line with its political priorities under the EU Green Deal and the Commission’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to child labour, the EU engaged in a partnership with Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to link this price increase to further action with respect to deforestation and child labour related to cocoa production.

It translated into an EU-based multi-stakeholder dialogue launched on 22 September 2020 with representatives from the EU institutions and Member States, civil society, private sector and Ivoirian and Ghanaian representatives to:

  • Advance responsible practices of EU businesses involved in cocoa supply chains;
  • Feed into other relevant horizontal Commission initiatives (e.g. on due diligence, deforestation);
  • Feed into the policy dialogue between the EU and the producer countries; and
  • Identify support projects on sustainable cocoa production.

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Human Rights

Sri Lanka: ‘Forced’ cremation of COVID victims’ bodies must stop

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A thermometer gun is used to take a boy's temperature in Sri Lanka. © UNICEF/Chameera Laknath

The Sri Lankan Government should end its policy of compulsorily cremating victims of COVID-19, independent UN human rights experts said on Monday.

In a joint appeal, Special Rapporteurs Ahmed Shaheed, Fernand de Varennes, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule and Tlaleng Mofokeng, said that the practice ran contrary to the beliefs of Muslims and other minorities.

It ran the risk of increasing prejudice, intolerance and violence, they said in a statement, insisting that no medical or scientific evidence indicated that burying the deceased increased the risk of spreading communicable diseases such as COVID-19.

To date, more than 270 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in Sri Lanka; a significant number have come from the minority Muslim community.

All of the deceased were cremated in line with amended health guidelines for COVID-19 patients, which were issued on last March.

‘Aggressive nationalism’

“We deplore the implementation of such public health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country” the experts said.

“Such hostility against the minorities exacerbates existing prejudices, intercommunal tensions, and religious intolerance, sowing fear and distrust while inciting further hatred and violence”, they added.

“We are equally concerned that such a policy deters the poor and the most vulnerable from accessing public healthcare over fears of discrimination”, they said, noting that it would further negatively impact the public health measures to contain the pandemic.

‘Immediate’ cremation

Information received by the experts indicates that cremation often takes place immediately after test results are provided, without granting family members reasonable time or the opportunity to cross check or receive the final test results.

There have been several cases of cremations based on erroneous information about COVID-19 test results, the experts said.

They noted that the President and Prime Minister had instructed the health authorities to explore options for burials in Sri Lanka.

Disregard

“However, we are concerned to learn that the recommendation to include both cremation and burial options for the disposal of bodies of COVID-19 victims by a panel of experts appointed by the State Minister for Primary Health Services, Pandemics and COVID Prevention, was reportedly disregarded by the Government”, they said.

“We strongly urge the Government of Sri Lanka to stop the forced cremation of COVID-19 bodies, to take all necessary measures to combat disinformation, hate speech and stigmatization” of Muslims and other minorities, “as a vector of the pandemic, and to provide remedy and ensure accountability for cremations that were carried out by error.”

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and are neither UN staff nor paid for their work.

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