Double standards in ‘Free Trade’

Wealthier countries in Europe make extensive use of import taxes to make imported goods more expensive and protect domestic business. At the same time they cajole African countries to sign free trade agreements which prevent them from imposing import taxes on European products which puts local farmers in Africa out of business.

This means that there is double standard in how trade rules are applied and that global trade works to benefit rich countries at the expense of poorer countries.

This is according to an interesting DW documentary called ‘the deceptive promise of free trade’ which suggests that Free trade is not an effective tool for global development.

EU countries imposing tariffs

Wealthy countries such as Germany and Switzerland make extensive use of taxes on imported goods (tariffs) to increase their price and protect domestically produced goods and jobs.

China has one of the most efficient bike manufacturing factories in the world, and mass produces bike more cheaply than any other country, so Germany has put a tax on bikes imported from China so as to protect the German bike manufacturing industry.

It also does the same with bikes manufactured in countries close to China such as Cambodia as bike manufactures in such countries also benefit from cheap parts made China and can produce them almost as cheaply.

As a result of these import tariffs, companies manufacturing bikes in China are able to survive – NB they still import all the parts from China, but they assemble the parts in Germany – it’s only the finished bikes which have an import tax on them.

In contrast the United States which does has not historically taxed bikes manufactured in China has seen all of its American bike production companies go out of business.

Another example of tariffs being used to protect domestic producers is in Switzerland which has the highest wages in Europe – here food production would be unfeasible if it had no import taxes because wages are so much lower in other countries.

However, there is still food produced in Switzerland because of protective tariffs on some products. These are flexible – they are quite low most of the year but during harvest time they increase several times – as with strawberries for example.

Producers in Germany and Switzerland are obviously highly supportive of nationalist protectionist policies. Saying they are good for jobs and the environment.

Free Trade Agreements prevent African countries from imposing tariffs.

In Cameroon, we get to see a local onion farming co-operative which used to produce onions, but has had to stop (and switch to cassava) because of cheaper onions being imported from Europe and flooding the market.

Cameroon is not allowed to raise tariffs further on EU onions because of a free trade agreement it signed with the EU (the EPA agreement).

As a result local farmers are either going out of business or having to switch products, the problem is that the product they switch to might also be undercut by cheaper EU imports in the future – the farm in this documentary is now growing Cassava, which is used to make flour, but there is already a history of cheap imported Wheat flour from the EU undermining local economies in Senegal, so it’s probably only a matter of time

Double Standards in the use of import taxes

It seems that we live in a world where richer countries increasingly ignore the World Trade Organisation and use tariffs to protect their domestic industries from cheaper products produced mainly in China.

While the EU cajoles countries in Africa to sign trade agreeements (probably in return for much smaller sums of development aid) which prevent them from protecting their own domestic food producers from EU agricultural products.

Subsidies also benefit farmers in the EU

The documentary also covers subsidies, showing how EU farmers benefit from government hand-outs which make their goods artificially cheap, a topic also dealt with anther DW documentary.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a crucial update to the ‘free trade topic’, which is a core part of the global development option.

Philanthropy and Development – can it ever be enough?

I stumbled across the example of the coreographer Sherrie Silver using her fame, money and skills to raise awareness of African cultures through dnace and to campaign for better funding for opportunities for young farmers in rural Africa.

Below is an example of the kind of Development advocacy work she has been involved in:

Sherrie Silver is originally from Rwanda and educated in the UK, and has had a successful career at a very young age, and it’s pretty impressive to see someone so young already working to give something back.

To my mind its hard to find anything to dislike about this kind of advocacy – it seems to be coming from a pure desire to help on the part of an individual that’s done OK for themselves, and the particular awareness campaign above certainly seems to be involving young people in developing countries.

It’s also an interesting example of the kind of ‘development assistance’ that even neo-liberals would agree with -if it’s philanthropy it’s not coming from the State, so they’d probably be OK with it.

But is this kind of Advocacy work effective at promoting development?

In itself getting young people to put up dance videos isn’t going to do anything to encourage African governments to invest in young people, so I don’t really get the logic here!

However, I guess this is useful in busting myths about underdevelopment in Africa, it is empowering, it is peer to peer and puts youth in rural Africa on a level footing with youth in cities in Western countries – I mean they’re just as capable at dancing and video editing.

But i just don’t get how putting videos of rural youth in Africa dancing is going to encourage financial investment in agriculture?

Maybe I’m missing something?!?

How Drones are changing Africa

Inventors and entrepreneurs across Africa are using Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to tackle some of the ‘development problems’ which the continent faces.

Combating poaching, tracking illegal shipping activities, monitoring oil spills and adding value to Safaris.

In Nigeria, archaeologists are using drones to map traces of the ancient Yoruba civilization

In Sudan, they are being used to fight desertification: by monitoring signs of drought and to plant Acacia trees which prevent social erosion.

In Rwanda, drones deliver blood to 50% of the country’s blood transfusion centres: centres in remote areas can now receive emergency supplies within 30 minutes by drone-parachute, simply by sending a text message.

(Al Jazera)

Is China’s Involvement in Africa a new form of Colonialism (i.e. neocolonialism)?

China’s development over the last three decades has depended heavily on its investment in Africa: it relies on a number of natural resources extracted from Africa, and is also one of the major leasers of land in Africa (which it uses to export crops back to China). In order to facilitate the extraction of natural resources, return, thousands of Chinese workers now live and work in Africa, and the Chinese have developed infrastructure (roads for example) in many African countries.

The Chinese claim that most partnerships between Chinese businesses in Africa are mutually beneficial, a win-win arrangement between the Chinese and the ‘host nation’ – China gets resources, Africans get jobs and development.

Critics, however say that what the Chinese are doing in Africa is just a continuation of colonialism, and another form of neo-colonialism: it is basically a wealthier nation extracting resources as cheaply as possible from desperately poor countries and giving them as little as possible in return.

The three articles below are well worth a read to get an idea about the range of opinion on this matter:

  1. This Global Policy article: ‘The New Colonialism in Africa’ makes the case (as you can tell by the title) that China are basically neo-colonists
  2. This Guardian Article is more neutral.
  3. This Harvard Political Review article seems to take a more sympathetic view towards China, focusing more on the benefits of development for African nations.

Students might like to read through them, compile a list of arguments and evidence for and against the view that China’s involvement in Africa benefits Africa, rather than just China. 

 

The End of Poverty? A Documentary taking a ‘Dependency Theory’ View of Underdevelopment and Development

This 2008 Documentary seeks to answer the question of why there is still so much poverty in the world when there is sufficient wealth to eradicate it.

In order to answer this question, the video goes back to 1492, which marks the start of European colonialism and the beginning of the global capitalist system, making the argument that European wealth was built on the back of a 500 year project of extraction and exploitation of the Americas, and then Asia and Africa.

Using various case studies of countries including Venezula, Bolivia, and Kenya the video charts how brutal colonial policies made the colonies destitute while the wealth extracted led to the establishment of global finance, the industrial revolution, and the foundation of a global capitalist system which locked poor countries into unequal relations with rich countries.

Following Independence, a combination of unfair trade rules  and debt, managed through global institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation have effectively kept these unequal relationships between countries in place, meaning wealthy countries have got richer while many ex-colonies have remained destitute.

This video is quite heavy going, and jumps around from continenent to continent a bit too much for my liking, which, combined with a lot of sub-titles (as many of the people interviewed are not English-speakers) does make it quite hard to follow. Nonetheless, this video does offer a systematic account of a Dependency Theory view of underdevelopment and development, including interviews with numerous politicians and activists from development countries as critical thinkers such as Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz and Naomi Klein, among many more.

Gender Equality in Rwanda

Rwanda makes an interesting case study of a developing nation which appears to have atypically high levels of gender equality. It ranks no 7 in the Gender Empowerment Index, just behind the Nordic countries, and actually has a higher proportion of girls enrolled in education than boys (97% compared to 95%).

Given that East and North African nations typically have the lowest levels of gender equality in the world (take neighbouring DRC as an example, Rwanda not only bucks the regional trend, but it also bucks the general trend of the correlation between higher GDP and greater levels of gender equality.  So what’s its secret? I’m not exactly an expert in Rwandan history, but here are five things which might explain the high reported levels of gender equality in Rwanda.

Firstly, the genocide, may have (somewhat perversely) played a role in female empowerment.

In the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda found itself a country composed of 70 percent women. The violence had been perpetrated by — and largely toward — men. There were simply fewer men due to death, imprisonment, and flight. Killings also targeted civic leaders during the genocide. Out of more than 780 judges nationwide, only 20 survived the violence. Not 20 percent, 20 total.

These skewed demographics resulted in a power vacuum. Prior to 1994, women only held between 10 and 15 percent of seats in Parliament. Out of sheer necessity, and a desire to rebuild their country, women stepped up as leaders in every realm of the nation, including politics.

Or in the words of one Rwandan woman….. “Many women were left as widows because of the genocide. Others had to work hard in the place of their jailed husbands for allegedly taking part in the genocide. So even young girls got that mentality to perform genuinely to access good jobs, and good jobs means going to school first,”

Secondly – (and no doubt related to the above) women’s rights have been rooted in the constitution for over a decade – The constitution stipulates that at least 30% of government positions should be filled by women. Rwanda now tops global league tables for the percentage of female parliamentarians. Fewer than 22% of MPs worldwide are women; in Rwanda, almost 64% are.

Thirdly (and probably a knock-on effect from point two) Rwanda spends huge proportions of its national budget on health and education, according to World Bank statistics. In 2011, almost 24% of total government expenditure went to health and 17% to education. High expenditure on the former has greatly improved maternal health and reduced child mortality, while high expenditure on the later has meant there is sufficient money to fund education for both boys and girls (as a general rule)

Fourthly (and probably a knock on effect from the above three points) – A relatively high proportion of women are employed in public sector jobs – In the education system – women have also outnumbered men as primary school teachers. Higher up the education system, things are not equal, but they are improving rapidly – At secondary school, however, fewer than 28% of teachers are women, up from 21% in 2001. In higher education, only 16% of teachers are women, but this is up from 10% in 1999 and 5% in 1990. In every local police station there is a ‘gender desk’ where incidents of gender related violence can be reported (something which I think is pretty much unheard of in most African countries.)

Fifthly, there is the role of women’s support groups in rebuilding the country after the decimation caused by the genocide. These groups initially just offered a place for women to talk about their experiences of being widowed and raped, but they morphed into workers co-operatives, which has, 20 years later, led on to a very high degree of engagement with women in local politics, which is increasingly integrated with national politics.

Limitations of Rwanda’s Gender Equality….

As with all statistics, they don’t tell the full picture, one of the posts below makes the following cautions – Firstly, 60% of Rwandans live below the poverty line, and while those women how have jobs in politics and education are on decent wages, there aren’t actually that many people in the population employed in these sectors and gender equality means very little to the vast majority of women when they can’t afford to eat. Secondly, DV statistics don’t make for pretty reading, with 2/5 women saying they have experienced domestic violence, with 1/5 saying they have experienced sexual violence – And you can imagine how low the prosecution rate of men is for such crimes.

A few thoughts on the meaning of all this….

Rwanda has experienced excellent economic growth compared to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which suggests that Gender Empowerment has a positive effect on development, but obviously this conclusion has to be treated with caution because there are so many other variables which need to be taken into account.

If it is indeed the prevalence of women and the absence of (certain types of?) men from a society which encourages development, there are some pretty challenging implications – Most obviously it raises the question of how we are to reduce (certain types of) male influence in developing countries?

Sources

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/datablog/2014/apr/03/rwanda-genocide-growth-political-repression-data

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/07/rwanda-women-empowered-impoverished

http://thinkafricapress.com/rwanda/women-gender-equality

http://harvardkennedyschoolreview.com/rwanda-strides-towards-gender-equality-in-government/