What is ACTA and why is it in the news?
- An ACTA is an acronym for anti-counterfeiting trade agreement; otherwise also known as ‘Trips Plus’ that is reportedly being given a shape by countries such as the US, Japan, the EU, Australia and South Korea.
- The ACTA being negotiated between eleven countries (it also includes Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, NZ, Morocco and Singapore), proposes to widen the scope of protection and setting up higher standards for enforcement of intellectual property rights. It would extend to import, export and in-transit goods and includes infringement of all IPRs.
- While the negotiations for the agreement have been going on for more than three years, the international community got to know about it this April through media reports.
- It is feared that it could hamper India’s trade in a number of areas including pharmaceuticals and IT products.
- Therefore India and China have decided to rake up the issue at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
On the predicament of Europe over its debt crisis
- The text book solution to a sovereign debt crisis and loss of competitiveness — as is the case with Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy — is a substantial cut in government spending and a deep enough currency devaluation that makes the country’s exports competitive. In addition, structural reforms to address the problem of inflexible labour markets and loss of competitiveness are needed. If there is enough appetite for the country’s exports in the rest of the world, fiscal consolidation and a stable economy should be the end result. This economic prescription is difficult to follow in crisis-ridden Europe because the eurozone countries are unable to individually depreciate their currency. This robs these countries of a very potent tool to address the crisis and regaining competitiveness sans currency depreciation would be harder and more painful involving recession and deflation.
Riots in Kyrgyzstan
- Deadly riots swept through Osh and another southern city of Jalalabad,Kyrgyz news agency AKI press reported on Sunday. Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbek groups set ablaze cars, and looted stores and markets. The Kyrgyz interim government, which imposed curfew in the entire Jalalabad region, has allowed police and troops to shoot to kill in order to control the riots.
- About 117 people have been killed over the past three days in what is being described as the worst ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan in the last two decades. The interim government in Kyrgyzstan, which took power in April after a popular revolt toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, had appealed for Russian help to quell the riots.
- Media reports added that violence continued unabated with Kyrgyzs rioters torching Uzbek villages and slaughtering residents. More than 75,000 Uzbeks are said to have crossed over to Uzbekistan. Tensions between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks have erupted earlier too, and appear to have been reignited by the ouster of the president in April. Local Uzbeks largely support the country’s new leadership in a predominantly Kyrgyz stronghold of the former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
- The provisional government has accused Bakiyev of provoking the violence in order to destabilise the country.
- There are about 116 Indians trapped in Osh and Jalalabad towns. For the present they are reported to be safe.
Schengen at 25
- The Schengen area, associated in this part of the world with a single travel visa — valid across several countries in the European Union (EU) and beyond — is now 25 years.
- It symbolises an arena of relative success in the grand project of regional integration. It is hard to make a similar claim with equal confidence, many would argue, with respect to the other visible sign of transnational integration — the decade-old single currency — in the wake of the handling of the impact of the financial crisis in the 16 countries that constitute the eurozone.
- The Schengen area, now comprising 22 of the 27 EU states besides Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway, entails the absence of internal barriers in a territory along a 42,673 km external sea and 7,721 km land borders.
Building a bright future with coherent effort
- The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) annual summit ended in Tashkent with the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan agreeing to further enhance regional stability and seek common development.
- Against the backdrop of complicated regional and international situations, it is both a necessity and the collective wish of these countries and their peoples to safeguard regional stability, and cooperatively promote social and economic advancement of the entire region.
- The Tashkent declaration, issued at the end of the six-member summit, stressed the importance of constructive dialogues and cooperation among SCO member states, with a particular emphasis on countering new threats and challenges that have emerged in the security sector.
U.N. imposes sanctions on Iran
- The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has by a heavy margin imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran.
- Of the 15 members in the Council, 12 voted in favour of sanctions. Turkey and Brazil opposed the sanctions, while Lebanon abstained.
- However, Brazil and Turkey, both of whom had signed a nuclear swap deal with Iran last month, warned that the latest sanctions would impede diplomacy on Iran’s atomic programme.
- The new sanctions include provisions that prohibit Iran from purchasing heavy weaponry, of various types, including attack helicopter and missiles.
- It recommends all countries to inspect cargo from Iran, suspected of containing banned items at their ports and airports.
- Banning licences of banks suspected of funding nuclear activities is also part of the recommendations.
- Besides, a travel ban and asset freezes for a number of individuals, including senior nuclear officials and associated firms is proposed.
- Hours before the UNSC vote, Russia, France and the United States responded to the nuclear swap deal that Iran, Turkey and Brazil had signed last month.
- While the full details of the response were still awaited, diplomats familiar with the issue said that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Yukiya Amano conveyed to Iran, the response of the three countries, the so-called Vienna group.
- The Vienna group apparently wants some significant changes to the Tehran document.
An analysis A needless provocation
- Driven by myopia and sheer bloody-mindedness, the United States and 11 other members of the United Nations Security Council have voted to tighten sanctions on Iran. Brazil and Turkey, which recently brokered an important fuel swap agreement with Tehran, voted against the sanctions resolution while Lebanon abstained.
- What matters is not the specific provisions contained in the latest round of sanctions but the fact that Washington insisted on pushing them through just when a small window for confidence-building and trust between Iran and the international community had been opened by the Turkish-Brazilian initiative. Under their proposal, which the International Atomic Energy Agency is now considering, Iran will promptly transfer 1,200 kg of low enriched uranium — roughly half the amount the IAEA estimates it has produced to date — to Turkey, where it would be held in escrow.
- Russia and France would then fabricate an equivalent amount of enriched uranium fuel rods suitable for use in the Tehran Research Reactor. Once these rods are ready, they will be exchanged for the Iranian LEU.
- Although the swap addresses an issue distinct from the one Iran is currently being sanctioned for, the successful implementation of the agreement would have been a major confidence-building measure. The U.S. and its allies would have succeeded in removing from the territory of Iran half its LEU stockpile — an amount that could theoretically be used to fabricate one nuclear device should Iran leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty and start weapons-grade enrichment.
- From the Iranian point of view, it would have demonstrated that the international community was capable of reasonableness and flexibility. From there, the Turks and Brazilians, perhaps supplemented by other powers, might have been able to move their engagement with Iran to a higher level, securing answers to the few remaining questions the IAEA has about the Iranian nuclear programme.
- But Wednesday’s sanctions resolution changes everything. They send a signal to the diverse stakeholders in Tehran that reasonableness doesn’t pay. Iran is likely to harden its attitude, thereby allowing the U.S. and its allies to take one more step down the path of confrontation.
- India, which has a major economic and strategic stake in the preservation of peace in the Persian Gulf and West Asia, should stop being a passive bystander to the crisis that is now looming large. By insisting on sanctions at this stage, the P-5 have only succeeded in scoring own goals. India may not be a member of the U.N. Security Council but that should not preclude it from actively pursuing a diplomatic end to the standoff.
The curse of Okinawa
- Japan’s new Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, faces unenviable challenges. He was elected to the office by the Democratic Party of Japan following last week’s sudden resignation by Yukio Hatoyama.
- Credited with fashioning the election victory of the centre-left DPJ only eight months ago, Mr. Hatoyama managed to become dramatically unpopular in record time.
- A controversy over financial irregularities during the election campaign destroyed the impression that the new government represented change from the sleazy money politics of the Liberal Democratic Party.
- But the trigger for Mr. Hatoyama’s resignation was the U.S. military presence on the island of Okinawa. Of nearly 40,000 American troops in Japan under a bilateral security treaty, over two-thirds are in bases in Okinawa.
- The local population resents them. The DPJ made an election promise to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Okinawa, and specifically to move the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma off the island. The plan was fiercely opposed by the U.S., which sees its presence in Okinawa as vital; the island is located strategically close to North Korea and China. Public anger mounted when it became apparent that the U.S. carried more weight on this issue than voters, and that all Mr. Hatoyama could do was relocate the base to a less-populous area on the island. Across the rest of Japan, he was blamed for mishandling relations with an important international ally. With elections to the Diet’s upper house due in less than a month, he opted to fall on his sword, leaving the mess to his successor.
Three-day "peace jirga
- Only way out is exit
- A three-day "peace jirga" in Afghanistan has given rise to more questions than answers.
- President Hamid Karzai called the jirga to win an endorsement for a peace deal with the Taliban so that it could be held out as a nationally mandated plan.
- The Taliban, the real and deadly opposition, was not invited; and the non-attendance of some heavyweight opposition politicians took away from the moment. Still, this traditional assembly, seen as a very Afghan way of taking crucial decisions, has helped the embattled Mr. Karzai put behind him some of the controversy surrounding his re-election last year.
- But the workability of the proposed peace deal is another matter. Foremost among the difficulties relates to the issue of what can be gained by negotiating with a reactionary and brutal group that rejects every way of ordering the world except its own, and Al-Qaeda’s. Secondly, the Taliban has a strong card to play: it will not negotiate unless its condition that all foreign troops in Afghanistan must leave is met.
- Mr. Karzai, however, wants to implement his plan under the protective umbrella of the U.S./ NATO security forces. His game plan is to wean away ‘non-ideological’ Taliban fighters with an amnesty, cash, and jobs. There is talk of offering asylum to hardline Taliban leaders in another country, possibly Saudi Arabia, and of working on the international community to have some other Taliban leaders taken off a US/UN blacklist.
- This would have made sense were the Taliban on the verge of military defeat. It is inconceivable that at this point, when the Taliban senses victory, the core leadership will opt for voluntary exile. Then there is the matter of how compatible Mr. Karzai’s plan is with the interests of Pakistan and the United States.
Israel’s rogue behaviour
- Tuesday’s attack on an unarmed, humanitarian flotilla of activists carrying relief supplies for the besieged and blockaded people of Gaza is a reminder to the world of the lawless, outlaw nature of the Israeli state. Although the death toll is still unclear, as many as 10 activists, several of them Turkish nationals, died when Israel Defence Forces commandos swooped down on the vessels in international waters and used grossly disproportionate force to overcome the not unexpected resistance they encountered.
- The boats, their passengers, and cargo have all been illegally detained. Among those locked up by the Israelis are a number of journalists from around the world who had joined the flotilla to cover the story. The criminal Israeli response to what was intended to be a Gandhian act of solidarity with the Palestinian people is the product of the international community’s failure to ensure that Tel Aviv’s illegal and immoral blockade of Gaza was lifted. Israel cut off Gaza from the rest of the world in June 2007 as a means of weakening the political hold Hamas has on the territory. The rocket attacks were a pretext for the blockade, which quickly escalated into a full-scale war on the people of the territory. Gaza suffers all the evils of occupation despite the withdrawal by the Zionist forces in 2005.
- The Israeli invasion of 2008-09 led to the commission of war crimes as documented by the UN-mandated Goldstone Commission. And the blockade of Gaza and its people amounts to collective punishment of civilians, another grave breach of international humanitarian law. Any other country would have been hauled over the coals by the UN Security Council for such rogue behaviour but Israel enjoys the backing of the United States. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama held out the faint hope of a more even-handed approach to the problems of West Asia.
- But as President, he has dismally failed to exert the kind of pressure needed to get Israel to withdraw from the territories it has illegally occupied since 1967. The crime that played out on the high seas on May 31 is very much part of the crime of occupation. There is little sense in the UNSC asking for an inquiry into the incident when previous inquiries into Israeli behaviour — notably the Goldstone report — ended in the dustbin. At the very least, the international community must ensure the immediate end of the Israeli embargo on Gaza. No goal or logic can justify subjecting an entire civilian population to an economic blockade. India has joined democratic forces round the world in condemning the attack on the flotilla. It must move beyond this now and actively work for the lifting of the inhuman blockade.
The way forward in Nepal
- A political and constitutional crisis of sorts was averted in Nepal last week when the three biggest parties — the Maoists, the Nepali Congress, and the Unified Marxists-Leninists — agreed to extend the life of the Constituent Assembly (CA) by another year.
- Under the interim statute adopted after the overthrow of the monarchy, the CA’s term was set to expire on May 28, 2010, the assumption being that two years was sufficient time to write the new constitution. In the light of the interminable squabbling among the big three, that goal turned out to be hopelessly ambitious. But what guarantee is there that the new deadline of 2011 will be met? So far, at least, the outlook is not very promising.
- The three-point agreement on the basis of which the CA’s life was extended spoke of forming "as soon as possible… [a] national consensus government."
Courtesy: Dialogue India CAG Weekly By Om Prakash (Goldy sir)