“Watching the world, watching our Regions”
Volume 1, Number 1 - 21 August, 2006
The RegionsWatch BIMANORI News features selected news, with links to further information about regional integration efforts worldwide. It is emailed free-of-charge to subscribers twice a month. Comments and suggestions are welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find these summaries posted simultaneously on http://regionswatch.blogspot.com
1. LEGISLATIVE INSTRUMENTS / CONVENTIONS / PROTOCOLS
o COMESA MUST GO: MBOWENI
o ASEAN CHARTER TO BE COMPLETED AT ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY: INDONESIAN FM
o SADC MEET TO DISCUSS BLOC’S INVESTMENT PROTOCOL
2. FORUMS-SOCIAL AND OTHERWISE
o ECOWAS YOUTH FORUM DELEGATES LAMENT INACCESSIBILITY TO FUNDS
o AN ALTERNATIVE TO A FAILED MERCOSUR
o GEOPOLITICAL DIARY: A NEW IRANIAN POLE?
o THE UNCERTAIN FATE OF MERCOSUR
o SADC PROGRESSES
o CARICOM VOTE SEALS TOP OAS POST FOR CHILE
o BRAZIL, PORTUGAL FOSTER COOPERATION MERCOSUR-EU
o EAC FORCES IN JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES
o VIETNAM SNUBS UNFAIR EC TARIFFS
4. COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES
o EAC UNKNOWN IN EAST AFRICA
o TRIPOLI HOSTS MEETING OF CEN-SAD COMMUNICATION OFFICIALS
o ASEM STILL LACKS VISIBILITY AFTER 10 YEARS
5. REGIONAL INSTITUTIONS
o SADC PARLEY IN THE OFFING
o WAMA PAVES WAY TO MONETARY UNION
o NIGERIA TO SPEND 12% OF 2007 BUDGET ON HEALTH
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so when regional organisations go making ostensibly grandiose claims that they will create a single currency, seek economic convergence, or establish an army, it is easy to speculate that these are not articulated outside a context.
In this first-ever edition of RegionsWatch’s BIMANORI, we bring you, in keeping with the tag of “Making Regions Accountable”, a whole, different perspective of the filter through which to examine regional integration efforts.
“Bimanori” (Bi-monthly Analysis on Regional Integration), seeks to focus on news on five particular aspects of regional integration:
• Legislative instruments / conventions / protocols
• Forums-social and otherwise
• Communication strategies
• Regional institutions
All these five, in some way or another, lend themselves to a degree of accountability. You can read more about it on the RegionsWatch blog: http://regionswatch.blogspot.com.
For the sake of reference, you can find the excerpts for the articles below in each edition. In addition, we will attempt to bring you a context upon which a lot of the trends and developments are predicated. It is RegionsWatch’s earnest belief that by looking at contexts, one begins to provide a rationale as to the trajectory of the regional integration agreements.
In this case, there are three important contexts. The first is the debacle of the collapse of the WTO agreement in July; the second is the regional crisis of Lebanon and Israel, which has, thankfully, seen a “cessation of hostilities” by the UN-despite what many may have perceived to be its characteristic pussy-footing. Finally, there is, especially now that his country is a full-fledged member of MERCOSUR, the context of the apparent growth of leftist ideology as expressed by Venezuela’s Chavez in Latin America.
Understanding Regional Integration...
I think it’s fair to say that regional integration is often rendered to a level of abstraction that it is quite understandable why citizens, as in the East African Community case, have no idea what it stands for, but a bunch of regional ministers meeting every now and then.
So when Libya’s Qaddafih organises a meeting of CEN-SAD communications officials, you begin to feel that CEN-SAD recognises there is a communication problem about how the organisation projects itself. In fact, the officials also met to discuss the modernisation of the technical communication facilities, as well as tariff systems among member states.
It’s important to understand that it is one thing to have an ineffective communications policy even when you are doing good work, and quite another to have one for the sake of having one. When one reads how ASEM, (Asia-Europe Meeting) still after ten years, is considered irrelevant, or how the Organisation of American States (OAS) is being seen as “an increasingly irrelevant institution”, you begin to wonder whether it is not better to focus on transforming the regional institution instead of lamenting over how it never became part of the consciousness of those citizens to whom it was supposed to mean something.
...and pruning it
Truth be told, it is RegionsWatch’s view that considering the gamut and proliferation of regional partnerships, it might be better to streamline processes within existing and well-established regional organisations, such as ASEAN; MERCOSUR; ECOWAS; SADC; COMESA; Andean Community; etc and look at how to fast-track particular processes on, say, a regional economic currency. In addition to this gargantuan effort could be the discarding, or possible disbanding, of other regional arrangements that are merely predicated on economic development, or a mere consideration to subsume them into these well-established ones.
One understands that this is a view that would not be palatable to those keen to dispense free-trade medication, but it is definitely something that is very much food for thought. The absence of an alternative like this would only create, especially in the context of the failed talks of the WTO, a free-for-all by the QUAD (comprising the same usual suspects of Canada, the EU; US and Japan) and otherwise, for bilateral deals increasingly done on the sly, and predicated almost exclusively on economic development.
Jabbing the Hegemon Hard
Speaking of which, when CARICOM showed two fingers to the US over its selection of the Socialist Chilean Interior Minister Jose Miguel Insulza, it was doing more than taking a gentle swipe at the US; it was also underscoring the importance of the OAS removing itself from the growing perception of irrelevance, and moving it towards what the article calls “a political approach”, rather than one solely based on economic development-as is the approach former aspirants Francisco Flores, former president of El Salvador; and Mexico’s foreign minister Luis Ernesto Derbez [who was in the infamous WTO green room in Cancun!! Work out the mathematics!], respectively, would have adopted.
Other than the economics, however, what is clear is that when it comes to regional integration projects, a lot of work needs to be done to move the regional entities forward. Be it in terms of creating a charter for it (as is the case of ASEAN as it looks forward to celebrating forty years of its existence); be it by way of an investment protocol for SADC; or a redefinition of a clear and present putative nuclear power as a regional hard-man, such as Iran, in the Middle East.
It is therefore sad to see what, in effect, is a vilification of some countries in the Latin American region, such as Venezuela-simply because Chavez has been uttering some leftist ideology that does not seem to gel with the proponents of free trade. That he has been publicly aligning himself with Cuba’s Castro has done little to help his image.
Then again, he is far from the only one to mix with Castro. CARICOM recently threw its support behind Castro, warning “ill-wishers not to “create problems for the Cuban people at this time.”” Things are definitely happening in the region; and it’s easy to speculate that the big US Of A might not be too keen on these developments and trends.
Political Spaces, Tectonic Shifts
If we take a look at the trends and developments that this newsletter alone has thrown up, we can begin to see an interesting set of tectonic shifts that might run counter to the convention of ‘practising’ regional integration.
First of all, with COMESA being asked to disband by none other than SADC, is an interesting development that is worth watching. Worth watching because South Africa is the putative hegemon in the Southern African region, and when it barks, its smaller neighbours usually listen, on account of its economic clout.
If we forget for a second the fact that a lot of band-wagoning happens when conflicts like these surface-and usually in favour of the “big guy” (South Africa)-we can already see that it was going to be inevitable that a lot of the neighbouring countries would prefer allying themselves with the de facto hegemon, as expressed by the decision of some to tie their currencies to the weightier South African rand, than ally themselves to the ostensibly-ailing COMESA.
Already, it’s not looking good, with COMESA having lost Mozambique and Tanzania to SADC. With SADC heavyweights talking about a SADC central bank, a currency (modelled on the EU), and now a SADC Parliament (though on paper since 1996) that will play catch-up to the ECOWAS Parliament and East African Assembly already in existence, it’s not hard to predict the trajectory of this most internecine of political inter-regional conflicts.
This calls into question whether negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are going to foster such inter-regional conflicts over which country ought to be considered the hegemon to the degree that, say, ECOWAS will begin to ask questions about the relevance of UEMOA or the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). That referred to above could be a sign of things to come. What’s more, it might go to underscore the degree to which the EU, as a quintessential economic actor, has managed, to some extent, to foster a divide-and-rule strategy over the Africa Union’s Africa Economic Community that is supposed to underpin the regional entities already-established on the continent.
Speaking of conflicts, at the time of writing, there has been an effective “cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hezbollah-thanks to the UN resolution passed last week in New York.
Seeing as nature just loves a vacuum, one country that has already made headline-news is keen to promote itself as the new regional entity in the Middle East: Iran. The article below maintains that “Tehran has openly begun to challenge the geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East.”
The article suggests that Iran is well-aware of the weakness of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in dealing with issues “threatening the region”. Furthermore, it has facilitated a rapprochement with Egypt-considered the “mover and shaker” of League of Arab States (LAS)-, and is therefore keen to exploit the vacuum by creating a regional organisation that would comprise the country itself, Iraq, Syria; and Lebanon.
This new development has sent the Saudis scattering like rats in the woodpile to try to steer Turkey away from Iran, which has already-established good relations over Iraq.
Chavez has talked about MERCOSUR forming an army, and creating energy pacts within the grouping; as well as buying out national debt so as to form strategic alliances.
There are claims that MERCOSUR is unnecessarily politicising itself, especially with Chavez’s articulations that are considered as ‘ranting’. There are also queries over Paraguay and Uruguay-two of the founding members of the grouping. Paraguay is supposed to be uncomfortable with Chavez, but wants to stay for what it can get-which could be, in exchange for a US military base, a preferential trading agreement with the USA. As for Uruguay, it is supposed to be re-thinking its membership of MERCOSUR. This leaves the space for Chile.
One article, by Sam Logan for the Swiss-based ISN Security Watch, entitled An Alternative to a Failed MercoSursic, is really about how Chile is the “free trade agreement expert” . This expertise, it is suggested, could make it the quintessential alternative to MERCOSUR, on account of its Pavlovian attitude and strategy on FTAs. This line of argument serves to underscore the ideology underpinning the article.
In the final analysis, it is in RegionsWatch’s view not ‘absurd’ as claimed by one commentator, for MERCOSUR to have an army-because it is not practised “even in the EU”! The West African grouping of ECOWAS during the Liberian conflict of the 1990s established ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group) initially on an ad-hoc basis. It was set up to respond to a sub-regional imperative of conflict resolution for the Liberian conflict. It is now being subsumed under the much-talked about African Economic Community (AEC) as part of the established regional grouping’s (of ECOWAS, SADC, IGAD) standby force.
That there are two good articles castigating MERCOSUR suggests very strongly that something monstrous is afoot. Especially with Venezuela in the MERCOSUR house, it is clear that it is making some uncomfortable watching and monitoring for free-trade proponents - of which there are many! Watch out for some more MERCOSUR bashing over the next couple of weeks and months.
Finally, as regards ASEM, with ASEAN and APEC there, is there really a need for ASEM?
Making Regions Accountable
1. COMESA MUST GO: MBOWENI
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has been called upon to disband to give way to the emergence of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) monetary union, with South African Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni lambasting the continent’s biggest trading bloc for being an obstacle to the attainment of a common currency in SADC
2. ASEAN CHARTER TO BE COMPLETED AT ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY: INDONESIAN FM
The ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Charter is expected to be completed and ratified at the 40th anniversary of ASEAN on August 8, 2007, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda said.
3. SADC MEET TO DISCUSS BLOC’S INVESTMENT PROTOCOL
Finance Ministers from the Southern African development Community (SADC) next week meet in Maseru, Lesotho, to discuss the regional grouping’s Finance and Investment protocol, with a view to harmonising fiscal polices among member states.
The Summit, which runs for two days beginning August 17, will also see Tanzania taking over the chairmanship of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defense and Security.
4. ECOWAS YOUTH FORUM DELEGATES LAMENT INACCESSIBILITY TO FUNDS
Youth delegates participating in the ongoing Second Edition of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) Youth Forum have lamented difficulty in accessing funds to support youth entrepreneurship.
5. AN ALTERNATIVE TO A FAILED MERCOSUR
In a region where loud voices of integration shout over a reality of failed trade policies, Chile’s alternative to access to the Pacific may be a viable solution.
6. GEOPOLITICAL DIARY: A NEW IRANIAN POLE?
The Iranians have taken their desire to emerge as the regional hegemon to the next level. Emboldened by the direction of the Lebanese crisis, and backed by its Arab (mostly Shiite) allies, Tehran has openly begun to challenge the geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East.
7. THE UNCERTAIN FATE OF MERCOSUR
Several days ago, Córdoba, Argentina, was the stage for a meeting of presidents of MERCOSUR countries, a gathering that stood out for its markedly leftist tinge. This was mostly because several other regional leaders were invited, but only two attended: Evo Morales, who was recently elected president in Bolivia, and veteran dictator Fidel Castro, who has governed Cuba since January 1, 1959.
8. SADC PROGRESSES
Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomao of SADC said at a press briefing in Gaborone yesterday that some of the achievement gained during Mogaes tenure include European Unions reaffirmed commitment to support SADC and its headquarters project
9. CARICOM VOTE SEALS TOP OAS POST FOR CHILE
In a defeat for the White House, the socialist interior minister of Chile appeared to clinch the top OAS post with strong backing from Caribbean nations.
10. BRAZIL, PORTUGAL FOSTER COOPERATION MERCOSUR-EU
FROM : HTTP://WWW.PLENGLISH.COM/ARTICLE.ASP?ID=%7B7E24FA3D-5C5E-4861-A0A9-6BFF8B9F6B0E%7D&LANGUAGE=EN
Brasilia, 10 (Prensa Latina) Brazil requested Portugal to support an agreement between the Southern Common Market and European Union.
The issue topped the agenda of the meeting between Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, at the Planalto Palace (executive headquarters) in Brasilia on Thursday.
11. EAC FORCES IN JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES
East African Community (EAC) defence forces will carry out a joint disaster management exercise in Jinja, Uganda, from September 20 to 30, this year
12. VIETNAM SNUBS UNFAIR EC TARIFFS
Hanoi, Aug 10 (Prensa Latina) Vietnam called "unacceptable transgression of international free trade laws" the European Commission ten percent tariff raise on leather shoe imports from Vietnam.
The protectionist measure is a harsh blow to Vietnam s leather shoe industry that will cause a 14-16 percent plus accumulative rate by September when added to the four percent tax it has paid since April.
13. EAC UNKNOWN IN EAST AFRICA
MANY people in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania do not know about the East African Community (EAC).
14. TRIPOLI HOSTS MEETING OF CEN-SAD COMMUNICATION OFFICIALS
Tripoli, Libya, 07/20 - Officials in charge of communication of the Community of Sahelian-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) convened here Tuesday to discuss the modernisation of the technical communication facilities and tariff systems among member states.
15. ASEM STILL LACKS VISIBILITY AFTER 10 YEARS
KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 (Bernama) — Ten years after the launching of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Bangkok in 1996 amid much optimism, substantive cooperation between both regions leaves much to be desired and tangible achievements lacking ahead of the sixth summit in Helsinki this September.
16. SADC PARLEY IN THE OFFING
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) will soon have a Parliament, Shoshong MP Duke Lefhoko told a press conference on Friday
17. WAMA PAVES WAY TO MONETARY UNION
The process of integrating the economies and currencies of West African States is in full gear, as the West African Monetary Agency (WAMA), set up in 1992 to facilitate this process, has embarked on a vigorous sensitization campaign by organising seminars in all the fifteen ECOWAS member countries on a regular basis
18. NIGERIA TO SPEND 12% OF 2007 BUDGET ON HEALTH
Abuja, Nigeria 07/29 - Nigeria is to allocate 12% of its 2007 budget to the health sector, President Olusegun Obasanjo has told West African Health Ministers meeting here.
Opening the ministerial meeting Thursday, he reaffirmed his administration`s determination to continue to treat health as "a national priority along with education, food and nutrition."
The RegionsWatch BIMANORI is a fortnightly newsletter issued by RegionsWatch News Service. Its purpose is to circulate selected information on regional integration, efforts, trends and developments worldwide, through the filter of regional integration initiatives and developments.
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