News, June 29th

Albania PM calls Kosovo leader’s indictment ‘shameful stain’

Albania’s prime minister on Monday called the indictment of Kosovo’s president and other former rebel fighters a “shameful stain” on world justice.

Kosovo President Hasim Thaci and the others were indicted by a prosecutor at The Hague on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during and after a 1998-1999-armed conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbia.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama made an unexpected visit to neighboring Kosovo to meet with top leaders, including Thaci and former parliamentary Speaker Kadri Veseli, both part of a group of former independence fighters accused of war crimes.

The indictment was made public last week, but a pretrial judge at The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers has yet to decide on whether to proceed with the case.

Rama’s unannounced visit to Kosovo, which also has a predominantly ethnic Albanian population, was a signal of support from neighboring Albania. He tweeted that the indictment was a “shameful stain of 21st century” world justice. Thaci plans to address the country in the evening.

Thaci was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation army, or KLA, that fought for independence from Serbia. The fighting left more than 10,000 dead — most of them ethnic Albanians — and 1,641 are still unaccounted for. It ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign that forced Serbian troops to stop their brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanians and leave Kosovo.

Thaci’s indictment also disrupted a White House meeting between Kosovo and Serbia leaders initiated by U.S presidential envoy Richard Grenell, which would have been the first official talks between Serbia and Kosovo in 19 months.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Serbia refuses to recognize.

The United States and the European Union have been working to help normalize ties between the two countries which still remain tense.

Australia’s ignorance the main cause for rising tensions with China: Australian media

The cause of tension in the Sino-Australian relationship is largely due to the ignorance of the Australia side, said a report of The New Daily on June 26, citing new research from The Australia Institute.

Australia is doomed to continue its tit-for-tat with China because Australia’s political class don’t understand its biggest trading partner, the new research claimed.

According to the report, in Australia there are only 20 academics and think tanks with expertise in China, and no specialist schools for training policymakers.

Although no one knows how many people are employed in the federal government to provide advice on China, our “stupid” approach reveals how little we understand it, Allan Behm, head of the International and Security Affairs Program at The Australia Institute, told The New Daily.

“If you’ve got about 20 people who know about China, you’re a hell of a long way beyond the queue line,” Behm was quoted as saying. “Our politicians don’t understand what they’re dealing with. They don’t have enough factual knowledge. They don’t understand its history or culture. They don’t know enough about Asia in general.”

The second thing, Behm noted, is “we take cues from the confrontation between Washington and Beijing and we fit into the slipstream of Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo,” stressing, “that’s stupid because Trump is unhinged and Pompeo is a loyal acolyte.”

In April, Australia enflamed bilateral tensions with China by calling for an independent international inquiry into the outbreak of COVID-19. “This shows we’re picking fights where we don’t need to,” Behm said. “We handled COVID-19 extremely badly.”

Australian needs to invest in education about China while exercising soft power and not parroting American foreign policy, the article added.

“China is here to stay, and we have to deal with it,” said Behm. “All of that requires knowledge and great skills in advocacy. And finely honed diplomatic skills.”

From rebellion to revolution

A profound rebellion against racism has been sweeping the country for a month. Millions have taken to the streets in every part of the country, shaking public opinion. Elite institutions, individuals and corporate brands are scrambling to offer symbolic sacrifices at the altar of racial justice in the hopes they will be spared from the righteous wrath in the streets.

At the same time, the police are wantonly attacking protestors and continuing to murder Black people, making a mockery of all the “official” declarations of “anti-racism.”

Hidden in just this fact is the most important lesson: The capitalist system grants concessions only in defense of its own stability. None of the grisly facts of racism was unknown or undocumented prior to the assassination of George Floyd. The only thing that has changed is people are willing to burn down buildings and confront the “shoot-to-maim” riot brigades.

Stability has not been restored. Massive crowds continue to come out into the streets; unions are taking strike action for Black Liberation; and a big cultural moment featured a Black Communist as the hero.

Various attempts to extinguish the flames of resistance–through force or flattery–have had the opposite effect. For the authorities this begs the question of what will get people out of the streets? Those in the streets meanwhile grapple with what it takes to make substantive changes and what would even constitute “real change.”

There are many rebellions, fewer revolutions. Rebellions are usually associated with fighting the good fight, revolutions with winning it. We remember many slave rebellions across the Americas, but only one slave revolution. We celebrate the heroism of Nat Turner and Dessalines equally but recognize that their achievements are of different orders.

Rebellions express the inability of the current system to resolve its own contradictions using the existing political framework. Revolutions resolve those contradictions: a new framework, a new system.

The uprising that erupted after the murder of George Floyd is beset on two sides. On the one hand the forces of “law and order;” on the other an assorted group of “reformers” seeking to placate resistance through cosmetic change. In other words, on both counts, the familiar strategies of counterinsurgency designed to quench any rebellion to the status quo: repression and co-optation.

And they are right to be concerned as this new upsurge in the Black Liberation Movement coincides not only with a pandemic but also a severe economic crisis and the unfolding disasters associated with climate change. The idea of socialism — the extension of social and economic rights — is rising and unsettling the capitalist status quo. The LGBTQ movement and the rise of #MeToo are taking aim at thousands of years of social and cultural conventions.

The oppression of Black America is so central to the country that the struggle for Black Liberation has often acted as a detonator, so to speak, setting off broader social struggles throughout the system. In today’s volatile mix, the charges now rigged to blow may be too difficult for capitalism to withstand.

Those in the streets are learning concretely about their own power. The scale of the response to the uprising — from nearly every corner of the capitalist class — has also revealed that they fear that the struggle of the Black community will grow and expose a distinct source of weakness.

Moving from rebellion to revolution is ultimately figuring out how to operate the “detonator factor” capitalist elites fear so much.

This is the political context with which we now approach the question of “reforming” or “defunding” or “abolishing” the police.

The first really “modern” police department in the United States were the Charleston City Guards formed in the 1730s. They were created out of fear that the more informal methods employed before were not sufficient to prevent slave revolts.

Policing has further roots in the growth of urban centers in the mid-19th century. The expanding capitalist economy was growing through large influxes of immigrants rendering former methods of social control less effective. Notably, the rise of policing in this context was not a response to rising crime; in fact, in some early police bastions, crime appeared to even fall in the decade preceding the formation of police departments. They were about control.

The issue was not the scale or intensity of the “crimes” but who was committing them. Those with the power to mold public opinion identified the new working classes as a particular threat. They saw and portrayed the workers as a mob, prone to licentiousness, who must be controlled for the good (read: stability) of society. 

The Boston Council noted, for instance, the need for police based on the “great numbers” arriving in the city without the benefit of “New England training” who can be “held to restraint” only by “fear of the lawgiver.”

In both cases the police were not a reflex response to “crime.” Then–and now–they were the instrument for controlling classes of people deemed “criminal,” prior to any individual action. The essence of deploying the police as a “preventive” force is clearly predicated on determining that “crime” is “natural” to some more than others.

Any system of laws, to be effective, has to establish some universal legitimacy. Having the police known as purely protectors of property and order for the rich would not do. So, they grew to include other auxiliary functions and were recast in popular culture and by the political elite as unbiased and heroic “public servants.” Policing became the generally accepted means by which two crucial needs are secured for the populace at large: personal safety and contract enforcement. This perceived legitimacy of the notion of policing gives the police as an institution tremendous cultural authority.

In reality, crime is at historic lows and what crime is out there isn’t being dealt with terribly effectively by the police. Less than half of (FBI described) “violent” crimes (46 percent) are ever solved, and only 17 percent of “property crimes.”

Despite the perception that the police are out there “fighting a war” as they always put it, being a cop is actually less dangerous than being a farmworker, groundskeeper, septic tank servicer,  garbage collector, truck driver, roofer, or flight engineers — just to name a few of the 15 jobs officially more dangerous than being a police officer.

There is no real war with crime. Yet in city after city, militarized police drain 30 to 40 percent of municipal budgets. There is certainly a signal that something else is at play. Take for instance “Stop-and-Frisk,” widely lauded for years as a very effective “crime-fighting mechanism” in every major city in the U.S. Many millions of people were stopped in New York, but only 0.3 percent resulted in a jail sentence longer than 30 days. Only 0.1 percent led to a conviction for a violent crime. Despite the racial disparities in the number of stops, whites who were stopped were 50 percent more likely to be found with a gun than Blacks.

The police were undoubtedly aware of these dismal results in real-time. So, what other explanation can there be other than the issue wasn’t stopping crime but asserting dominance over areas pre-determined to be “criminal?”

From its beginnings until now policing is a system of social control. The police are not focused on “crime” generally but on certain communities and places, and the types of “crimes” that allow them to maximize their presence and overall social control. Wages stolen by employers adds up to more money than all other forms of theft combined. The police do not even investigate wage theft, which is restricted almost solely to civil law and financial penalties. People who steal literally millions of dollars they are legally obligated to pay are routinely treated much better by the legal system than someone who robs a liquor store of $500.

With the obvious racist bias and less than stellar public safety effect of policing, it’s no surprise that the movement in the streets is gaining almost universal support for “defunding the police.” Others in the movement are pushing reforms to give communities more tangible democratic control over policing and some call for the police to be abolished.

“Law and order” politics asserts that any reduction in the scope of policing is a recipe for chaos. The real issue, then, which immediately confronts those looking to restrict or get rid of the capitalist police is what will you do about “crime?” “Crime” is the one issue that allegedly has no cure. One person victimizing another is deemed to be a natural human trait, often buttressed by the “pathologies” allegedly stemming from a “culture of poverty.”

In reality, though crimes have roots, like any other social issue. Any program to limit the police must on the other side push for a social transformation to address these roots.  It stands to reason that decreasing poverty would also decrease certain property crimes and robbery. Formal and informal “violence interrupters’ have demonstrated in miniature that empowered community members, armed only with moral authority, can make significant reductions in shootings and murders. After thousands of years of subordination of women to men, only a dedicated struggle and empowered society-wide movement against woman’s oppression can eliminate sexual assault. It only appears that “crime” cannot be eliminated because the current system of U.S. capitalism cannot resolve the contradictions of this society — in fact it institutionalizes and perpetuates the conditions, the inequality, the exploitation and abuse that make safety and security precarious.

From this perspective “police abolition” takes a whole other dimension. The police are not an eternal regulator of human behavior, but a product of a certain stage of development of class society, built and expanded amid a particular time and certain conditions.  Total social transformation, first to address the conditions that give rise to so many “crimes,” but also empowering the oppressed, will create new economic, social, and cultural conditions where the police are not necessary. The end of class society, oppression, and exploitation — such a society where just, equal, and sustainable relations between people is the norm — is communism.

The issue of abolishing the police isn’t simply an issue of will, or lack of imagination but objective realities. The police did not emerge out of a bad idea — but as a special body of armed men to protect a highly unequal and oppressive ruling class. If we recognize that these are the roots of the police, and that the “crimes” they allegedly respond to also have roots in the social order, then it follows that the only way to eliminate such specially armed instruments of social control is to get at these roots.

With that being said, even in the here and now, with all the existent social problems, oppressed communities are so over-policed and over-incarcerated and policing and incarceration so ineffective it’s clear both could be dramatically curtailed and replaced more effectively right away.

What is really at stake is not the debate over how much policing can or cannot be reformed in the short term. What is essential is the struggle for power, the struggle to define the horizons of where we are headed. Capitalist reformers or communist revolutionaries?

Currently the movement in the streets is facing a debate of strategic importance: whether or not it is consistent to be for the abolition of police and call for the jailing of killer cops. One school of abolitionists answers that question in the negative — arguing that to use the “system” to jail killer cops is to reinforce the ideological existence of the overall policing-incarceration system.

This position is often presented as more “revolutionary” on its surface but in practice it would, if adopted, set the “revolutionaries” against the mass sentiment of Black people who entered into this generalized rebellion out of a desire for justice. The killing of George Floyd and so many others continues the legacy of Jim Crow-style injustice and racist lynching’s — most vicious crimes which were never punished. The mass desire to punish the white supremacists and racist cops who have killed Black people for centuries is not wrong!

Crafting slogans is not about which combination of words is the cleanest or free of contradiction from the standpoint of philosophy or “discourse.” This may be the standpoint of some, but throughout history, what drives forward mass revolutionary politics is the gap between what a government says and what it does, the gap between its laws and stated ideals versus its actual practice. These contradictions — not the most revolutionary slogans — are what draws masses of people into rebellion. The fight for the most basic demands can lead people, if these demands are not met, to the most revolutionary conclusions.

Historically it is only a relatively small group of people who are drawn into struggle based on agreement with a worked-out formula for what a new society will look like. The art of revolutionary politics — especially in a rebellious moment like this one — is to first and foremost identify that which has brought the masses into motion, to tap into it, to affirm it, and to validate it with fighting slogans that keep the rebellion going. Secondly, it is to introduce concepts and slogans that allow the movement to widen its vision, to make it harder to co-opt by the ruling class, and that further illuminate the path of struggle ahead. But this cannot come at the expense of the first task! To do so would be to reduce the movement to the “true believers” and isolate it from the mass sentiment that is ultimately the driver of history.

In the formal sense it can’t be denied that to make a demand on a system or an established legal process is to legitimate it to some degree. Why that is such an issue, is not clear.

Historically it’s a fact of struggle. The 20,000 slaves who fought on the British side in the “Revolutionary War,” and put on the monarchy’s uniform, explicitly legitimated the British crown but was their struggle against slavery unjust? Likewise, for the honorable warriors of Florida’s Negro Fort who terrorized Southern slave holders under the ultimate “authority” of King Ferdinand of Spain. The enslaved and free Black people of Haiti who rose against the planter class did so invoking the documents and principles of France’s bourgeois revolution. In Reconstruction, Black communities across the South utilized whatever laws and federal forces that they could to defend their gains and hold in check the racists intent of beating, intimidating, defrauding, and killing them.

Voting is the ultimate legitimation of the system. Should Black people not have fought for the right to vote? Should people not defend voting rights on the basis that voting feeds the bourgeois electoral logic?

When workers fight and strike for a better contract with their employer, they are accepting the underlying exploitative logic of capitalism — that the employer pays less to the workers than what they earn from the sale of their products. When tenants invoke their rights against an abusive landlord, they are ultimately invoking the laws of the capitalist state to show that they are right; and using one or another instrument of that state, the courts, and the force of law. But they are not wrong either.

Furthermore, Cuba certainly applies a “carceral logic” towards counterrevolutionaries, but where would Assata Shakur be, or all the gains of the revolution for the working class, without Cuba’s determined struggle against U.S. imperialism and to prevent counter-revolution? If we can accept the working class’s right to self-defense, and can accept the use of violence under certain conditions to prevent oppression and injustice, how could we object to a workers’ state’s use of prisons? The “carceral” logic of prisons is just an institutionalized form of that same violence. In our current context it’s easy enough to recognize the need to abolish the death penalty, but do we put death row on the same plane as the Haitian slave soldiers who hung French officers? Each situation has its own context.

The apparent contradictions at the level of discourse are in fact only surface deep. There is no contradiction between, on the one hand, demanding cops face the same judgment for murder as the rest of society, and on the other hand desiring that the capitalist state be smashed and replaced with a workers’ state, and for that matter working towards a society free of class division and the absence of a state altogether.

Take for example the 78 percent of Black people who responded to one poll that they wanted “tougher” charges against Derek Chauvin (murderer of George Floyd).  But why would they be considered to have any particular view on the ultimate legitimacy of the police? Many of those, while embracing a carceral logic for Chauvin and other killer cops, would also declare themselves for the total elimination of the current police institutions.

The very idea of a revolutionary process implies that things have to go through stages. One set of demands and one struggle leads to the next.

What is the particular context that gives the struggle against police terror such ability to capture the attention and drive the political agenda of the country? Without a doubt because police terror is the raw edge of the oppression of Black people in the United States. It always has been. It’s an encapsulation of the humiliation and brutality that marks the wide spectrum of indignities perpetuated by racist America. More than any other thing, unchecked racist police brutality has been the number one driver of urban rebellion within the Black communities for over 60 years. If the police were immediately arrested and punished accordingly after each case, there would be no rebellion. It is the Jim Crow legal system, the double standard, that sparks such outrage and militancy. This has to be recognized.

The oppression of Black people as a people, a nation, was the central pillar of early capitalist wealth and Black labor became essentialized as reserved to the lowest wages, classifications marked more frequently by unemployment than other strata of workers.

The oppression of Black people is so central to capital that any rebellion from the Black community questions, even in some of its most basic forms, major shifts in the way society will need to be organized in order to address racism. If just the struggle for Black Liberation can shake the system, this shows that the actual achievement Black Liberation can only mean the total transformation of the capitalist system.

This is clear enough in the streets where specific critiques about policing are voiced interchangeably with general reflections of the brutal impact of racism on Black people. Police terror is just one major aspect of what is clearly a war on Black America.

Deepening the rebellion and pointing towards revolution means embracing its strategic position. The struggle against police brutality can be elevated to one for liberation. Stopping the war on Black America means stopping the capitalist dynamics undergirding the oppression of Black people. Capitalist dynamics lay at the heart of so many unresolved contradictions that the need for a broad front against the capitalist system becomes clear, at least to movements that want to move from righteous rebellion to victorious revolution.

Iran asks Interpol to arrest Trump over general’s death

Iran said on Monday it has called for Interpol to arrest US President Donald Trump and 35 other US officials for the January killing of its top general in an American drone strike.

Tehran prosecutor Ali Qasi Mehr, quoted by state news agency IRNA, said 36 US political and military officials “involved in the assassination” of General Qasem Soleimani “have been investigated and were ordered to be arrested through Interpol.”

“These people have been charged with murder and terrorist acts,” he said.

“At the top of the list is US President Donald Trump, and his prosecution will continue even after the end of his term,” said the prosecutor, referring to his bid for re-election in November.

Qasi Mehr, quoted on the judiciary’s Mizan Online official website, said “the Iranian judiciary has issued arrest warrants against the 36.”

He called for the international police agency Interpol to issue red notices, which are not arrest warrants but issued for those wanted for prosecution or sentencing.

Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani in a Jan 3 drone strike near Baghdad international airport.

Soleimani, a national hero at home, was “the world’s top terrorist” and “should have been terminated long ago”, Trump said at the time.

Brian Hook, the US point man on Iran policy, scoffed at the Iranian request to Interpol as a “propaganda stunt.”

“Our assessment is that Interpol does not intervene and issue red notices that are based on a political nature,” he told a news conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

“This is a political nature. This has nothing to do with national security, international peace or promoting stability,” Hook said.

“We see it for what it is. It’s a propaganda stunt that no-one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish.”

The killing of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, provoked massive outpourings of grief at home.

Iran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but Trump opted against responding militarily.

While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad left no US soldiers dead, dozens suffered brain trauma.

Iran issues arrest warrant for Trump over Soleimani killing, US calls it ‘propaganda stunt’

Iranian officials angry over the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani have now reportedly issued an arrest warrant for President Trump – but the U.S. is calling it a “propaganda stunt”.

The announcement was made Monday by Tehran prosecutor Ali Alqasimehr, who told the state-run IRNA news agency that Trump and 35 others are facing “murder and terrorism charges” in connection to the Jan. 3 attack in Baghdad that killed the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.

Alqasimehr was quoted as saying that Iran has asked Interpol to put out a “red notice” for Trump and the others – the highest-level arrest request issued by the international organization.

Interpol later issued a statement saying its guidelines for notices forbids it from “any intervention or activities of a political” nature and that it “would not consider requests” of this kind.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, dismissed the arrest warrant announcement during a news conference in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

“It’s a propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish,” Hook said.

The U.S. killed Soleimani and others in the January strike near Baghdad International Airport. It came after months of rising tensions between the two countries. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile strike targeting American troops in Iraq.

Alqasimehr did not identify anyone else sought other than Trump but stressed that Iran would continue to pursue his prosecution even after his presidency ends.

Israel’s illegal annexation plans for Palestine, ‘disastrous’ for wider Middle East – Bachelet

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned Israel on Monday not to proceed along the “dangerous path” of annexing a swathe of occupied Palestinian territory, urging the Government to listen to its own former senior officials along with the “multitude of voices around the world”.

“Annexation is illegal. Period. Any annexation. Whether it is 30 per cent of the West Bank, or five per cent”, Michelle Bachelet stated, adding that it would have “a disastrous impact on human rights” throughout the Middle East.

She warned that if Israel goes ahead, the “shockwaves will last for decades.”

While acknowledging that the “precise consequences of annexation cannot be predicted”, she upheld that they are likely to be disastrous for Palestinians, Israel itself and for the wider region.

According to news reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set 1 July as the potential date to unilaterally annex parts of the occupied West Bank – as Palestinians warn of a return to resistance, even violence.

The UN rights chief cited the Secretary-General’s call for Israel to abandon its annexation plans, saying that she backs that appeal “one hundred per cent.”

Noting other attempts to annex parts of the territory, Ms. Bachelet maintained that this latest move would will not only seriously damage peace efforts but may also “entrench, perpetuate and further heighten serious human rights violations, that have characterized the conflict for decades.”

As population centers become enclaves, in addition to restricting movement, significant tracts of private land could be illegally expropriated or become inaccessible for Palestinians to cultivate land they legally own.

Moreover, Palestinians living within the annexed zone would experience greater difficulty accessing essential services like education and health, and humanitarian access may also be hindered.

Palestinians would come under even heavier pressure to move out of the annexed zone, and entire communities that are currently not recognized under Israel’s planning regime, would be at high risk of forcible transfer, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR).

And Palestinians outside the annexed zone risk seeing their access to natural resources cut off, their opportunity for natural growth removed and even their ability to leave and return to their own country, severely restricted.

Meanwhile, settlements, which are already a clear violation of international law, will almost certainly expand, increasing the existing friction between the two communities, OHCHR pointed out.

Calling the situation “a highly combustible mix”, Ms. Bachelet expressed deep concern that even the most minimalist form of annexation, would lead to increased violence and loss of life, “as walls are erected, security forces deployed, and the two populations brought into closer proximity.”

“The existing two-tier system of law in the same territory will become embedded, with devastating impacts on the lives of Palestinians who have little or no access to legal remedy”, she asserted.

The UN rights chief spelled out that under international humanitarian or human rights law, illegal annexation would not change Israel’s obligations as the occupying power.

“Instead”, she said, “it will grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution, undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations, and perpetuate the serious existing human rights and international humanitarian law violations we witness today”.

In closing she maintained that “the shockwaves of annexation will last for decades, and will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians”.

“However,”, concluded the High Commissioner, “there is still time to reverse this decision”.

Pennington Country reports six new cases amid less testing

The trend of less testing on Sundays continued this week as South Dakota discovered 35 new cases of coronavirus on only 564 tests.

The state now has 6,716 cases of COVID-19 illness — 807 of those reported to be active cases.

Pennington County completed 44 tests and found six new cases. The county now has 129 active cases — down eight from Saturday.

The number of hospitalized patients across the state is down to 70 — about the same level as numbers from early May. There are 36 patients in the care of the Monument Health system.

The outbreak at the Avatara Arrowhead extended care facility in Rapid City continues to grow as now 47 residents and 20 staff members have tested positive.

Oglala-Lakota County completed only two tests for Monday’s report and found one new case. Fall River County tested six people and found one new case. Meade, Lawrence, and Custer counties tested a total of 37 people with no new positive tests.

Charles Mix County came in just behind Pennington County with five new cases. Codington and Roberts counties each added four cases and Lincoln, Minnehaha, and Brule counties each had two new positive tests.

Beadle, Brown, Davison, Gregory, Hanson, Hughes, Lake, Todd, and Tripp counties each identified one new case of COVID-19 illness in Monday’s report.

Project Signing: Government of India and World Bank Sign Agreements to Increase Access to Affordable Housing for Urban Poor in Tamil Nadu

The Government of India, Government of Tamil Nadu and the World Bank today signed an agreement to help low-income groups in the state of Tamil Nadu get access to affordable housing.

The agreement was signed for two projects – $200 million First Tamil Nadu Housing Sector Strengthening Program and $50 million Tamil Nadu Housing and Habitat Development Project – to strengthen the state’s housing sector policies, institutions, and regulations.

The $200 million First Tamil Nadu Housing Sector Strengthening Program is the first of a series of two single-tranche operations. The first operation supports the government’s ongoing efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing by gradually shifting the role of the state from being the main provider to an enabler. It will also aim to unlock regulatory barriers and incentivize private sector participation in affordable housing for low-income families. The second operation will look to deepen these measures to make the affordable housing sector more efficient and inclusive.

The agreement was signed by Sameer Kumar Khare, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance on behalf of the Government of India; Hitesh Kumar S. Makwana, Principal Resident Commissioner, on behalf of the Government of Tamil Nadu; and Sumila Gulyani, Acting Country Director, India on behalf of the World Bank.

“Providing safe and affordable housing is a key priority for the state of Tamil Nadu as identified in its vision document,” said Sameer Kumar Khare, Additional Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.  “With the allocation provided under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) and the two projects from the World Bank, a large number of the urban poor in the state are expected to get access to better housing and, in the process, improve their living conditions.” 

Nearly half of Tamil Nadu’s population is urban, and this is expected to increase to 63 percent by 2030. An estimated 6 million people are currently living in slums (representing 16.6 percent of the state’s urban population).

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put urban households at an unprecedented risk of increased poverty, loss of human capital, assets and livelihoods. The impact will be most acute among the poor, particularly those living in overcrowded slums with limited access to basic services,” said Sumila Gulyani, Acting World Bank Country Director in India. “The projects will support the state’s vision of providing safe affordable housing with improved living conditions for the poor and vulnerable.

Concurrently, the Board also approved a $50 million Tamil Nadu Housing and Habitat Development Project to support innovations in housing finance and strengthen housing sector institutions in the state. It will finance the newly created Tamil Nadu Shelter Fund (TNSF) – an innovation in housing finance in India – by providing an equity contribution of $35 million.

This initial support to TNSF will enable cross-subsidization opportunities where higher returns from commercial and high-income developments will compensate for lower returns from affordable housing. This will make affordable housing commercially viable for potential investors. The project will also strengthen the capacity of key housing institutions including the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, the state’s main provider of affordable housing; Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, the land use planning authority for the Chennai Metropolitan Area; and Tamil Nadu Infrastructure Fund Management Corporation Limited, the asset management company of TNSF.

“Global experience shows that the public sector alone cannot address a growing housing demand, especially as countries undergo rapid urbanization,” said Yoonhee Kim, Senior Urban Economist, World Bank and Task Team Leader for the Housing Sector Strengthening Program. “The public sector can play an important role in providing regulatory and market incentives to make affordable housing more attractive for the private sector.”

Abhijit Sankar Ray, Senior Urban Specialist, World Bank and Task Team Leader for the Tamil Nadu Housing and Habitat Development Project added: “Both projects will complement each other and strengthen key institutions to transform the housing sector in Tamil Nadu.”

The $200 million and $50 million loans from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), have a maturity of 20 years including a grace period of 3.5 years.

WTO report on G20 shows moves to facilitate imports even as trade restrictions remain widespread

While import-restrictive measures introduced by Group of 20 (G20) economies continue to cover a growing share of trade, the WTO’s latest biannual monitoring report on trade measures — the first to cover a time period coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic — points to significant moves to facilitate imports, including products related to COVID-19. During the mid-October 2019 to mid-May 2020 review period, G20 economies implemented 154 new trade and trade-related measures, 95 of them import-facilitating and 59 import-restrictive. Of these measures, 93 (about 60 per cent) were linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New import-restrictive measures unrelated to the pandemic covered an estimated USD 417.5 billion worth of merchandise trade, the third-highest figure recorded since May 2012. Tariff increases, import bans, stricter customs procedures, export duties and other such measures introduced during the review period affected 2.8 per cent of G20 trade. Meanwhile, the stock of import-restrictive measures implemented since 2009 and still in force continues to grow – now affecting an estimated 10.3 per cent of G20 imports (USD 1.6 trillion).

However, the WTO report also finds evidence of steps towards more open trade policies across sectors, including goods, services, and intellectual property.

New import-facilitating measures, such as tariff reductions, the elimination of import taxes and the reduction of export duties, covered an estimated USD 735.9 billion worth of trade, excluding policies relating to the pandemic. This figure is the highest recorded since 2014 and is sharply higher than the USD 92.6 billion trade coverage of import-facilitating measures recorded during the previous monitoring period from May to October 2019.

The initial COVID-19 outbreak saw many governments introduce trade restrictions, over 90 per cent of them export bans on medical products, such as surgical masks, gloves, medicine, and disinfectant. Since then, G20 economies have repealed 36 per cent of these restrictions. They have also lowered barriers to imports of many pandemic-related products. As of mid-May 2020, 65 of the 93 pandemic-related trade measures implemented during the monitoring period – or about 70 per cent – were of a trade-facilitating nature. The remaining 28 measures, 30 per cent of the total, could be considered to have trade-restrictive effects.

Commenting on the report, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said:

“Historically high levels of trade-restrictive measures remain a source of concern, all the more so at a time when international trade and investment will be critical to rebuild economies, businesses and livelihoods around the world. That said, we also see some encouraging indications: not since 2014 have import-facilitating measures implemented during a single monitoring period covered more trade. 

“There are signs that trade-restrictive measures adopted in the early stages of the pandemic are starting to be rolled back. There is no room for complacency: building on these positive indicators will demand consistent efforts and leadership, starting with the G20. Exceptional circumstances require exceptional responses, and this is the time for G20 governments to work together to facilitate a rapid and inclusive economic recovery.”

The report – the 23rd in a series dating back to the global financial crisis in 2009 – was the first to be prepared against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. The full impact of the viral outbreak and associated lockdown measures is not yet reflected in trade statistics, but according to WTO data published on 22 June, world trade fell sharply in the first half of the year.

In addition to details about trade measures put in place during the review period, the report, in line with its mandate, provides details on general economic support measures put in place by governments. The new report also describes the unprecedented number and extent of emergency support measures introduced in response to the economic and social disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the 468 COVID-19-related economic support measures identified appeared to be of a temporary nature and included a broad range of support programs, loans, credit guarantees and stimulus packages. Several measures were one-off grants, others included disbursements staggered over a period of a few months to up to three years. Some of these measures form part of emergency rescue programs collectively worth in excess of several trillion US dollars.

The WTO trade monitoring reports have been prepared by the WTO Secretariat since 2009. G20 members are: Argentina; Australia; Brazil; Canada; China; the European Union; France; Germany; India; Indonesia; Italy; Japan; the Republic of Korea; Mexico; the Russian Federation; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; South Africa; Turkey; the United Kingdom; and the United States.

This Report covers new trade and trade-related measures implemented by G20 economies between 16 October 2019 and 15 May 2020. This period included the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already delivered an almost unprecedented shock to the global economy and caused significant social disruption. Although the full impact of the pandemic is not yet reflected fully in trade statistics, it is expected to be very substantial.

In its trade forecast of 8 April, the WTO considered two scenarios for the crisis, one relatively optimistic and the other more pessimistic. Under the optimistic scenario, the volume of world merchandise trade would fall by 12.9 per cent and world GDP would decline by 2.5 per cent. Under the pessimistic scenario, trade would contract by 31.9 per cent and GDP would shrink by 8.8 per cent. As of mid-June, preliminary trade data and trade-related indicators for the first half of 2020 are more consistent with the optimistic scenario than the pessimistic one but actual outcomes could easily fall within or even outside of the forecast range, depending on how the crisis unfolds.

World trade was already slowing before the pandemic struck, weighed down by heightened trade tensions and slowing global economic growth. Merchandise trade was down 0.1 per cent in volume terms in 2019, marking the first decline since 2009. Trade growth also slowed in nominal terms in 2019, as the dollar value of merchandise exports fell by 3 per cent to USD 18.89 trillion. Although commercial services exports increased by 2 per cent to USD 6.03 trillion in 2019, the pace of growth was down sharply from 9 per cent in the previous year.

Overall, G20 economies implemented 154 new trade and trade-related measures during the review period, of which 95 were of a trade-facilitating nature and 59 were trade-restrictive. Sixty per cent of these measures (93 in total) were linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of these 93 measures, 65 facilitated trade while 28 restricted trade. In the early stages of the pandemic, several of the measures introduced by G20 economies restricted the free flow of trade, principally for exports. But as of mid-May 2020, 70 per cent of all COVID-19 related measures were trade-facilitating. Of the pandemic-related trade restrictions recorded, export bans accounted for more than 90 per cent. Around 36 per cent of the COVID-19 specific trade restrictions implemented by G20 economies had been repealed by mid-May.

Excluding COVID-19-related measures, G20 economies implemented 61 trade and trade-related measures during the review period. These included 30 new measures aimed at facilitating trade during the review period. The trade coverage of these non-COVID-19 related import-facilitating measures implemented during the review period was estimated at USD 735.9 billion, the highest figure for such measures since November 2014. G20 economies also put in place 31 new trade-restrictive measures unrelated to the pandemic. The trade coverage for these new import-restrictive measures was estimated at USD 417.5 billion – the third-highest value recorded since May 2012. The trade coverage of import restrictive measures has soared since May 2018 as a result of global trade tensions. It is estimated that 2.8 per cent of G20 trade was affected by import-restrictive measures implemented during the current review period. Import-restrictive measures implemented since 2009 and still in force affect an estimated 10.3 per cent of G20 imports (USD 1.6 trillion).

All WTO issues regularly covered by this Report saw significant activity both before and after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the review period, 203 trade remedy actions were recorded for G20 economies. The monthly average of trade remedy actions initiated was slightly higher than the average for the last eight years while the monthly average of trade remedy terminations was the lowest over the same time span. During the review period, initiations of anti-dumping investigations accounted for around 80 per cent of all trade remedy initiations, which also includes safeguards and countervailing actions.

In services, most of the new measures introduced by G20 economies between mid-October 2019 and mid-May 2020 were trade facilitating, but a number of new policies appeared to be trade restrictive, including in areas related to foreign investment and in areas considered strategic or linked to national security. Most of the 51 services measures adopted by G20 economies in response to the pandemic appeared to be trade-facilitating.

G20 economies continued to implement general economic support measures as part of their overall trade policy, a fact confirmed by Secretariat analysis despite governments’ low response rate with respect to these measures. In addition, G20 economies also implemented a large number of emergency support measures in response to the economic and social turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the 468 COVID-19 related general economic support measures identified, including monetary, fiscal, and financial measures as well as preferential loans, credit guarantees, and stimulus packages, collectively worth several trillion US dollars, appeared to be temporary in nature. These emergency support measures are central to governments’ strategies to address the pandemic-induced economic downturn and to prepare the ground for a strong recovery. Regular monitoring of support measures introduced in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic will be important for members to be able to track their evolution and effects as the world exits the health crisis and enters a recovery period.

G20 economies continued to be very active in notifying their sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, accounting for 66 per cent of all regular notifications and 35 per cent of emergency notifications since 1995. From 1 February until 15 May 2020, ten G20 economies submitted 15 SPS notifications and communications related to measures taken in response to the pandemic. The nature of most of these measures has shifted, from initial restrictions on animal imports and/or transit from affected areas and additional certification requirements, to, as of April, trade-facilitating measures such as the use of electronic certificates for checks. Similarly, G20 economies are the most frequent users of the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee’s transparency mechanisms. As of 15 May 2020, G20 economies had submitted 20 COVID-19 related TBT notifications, covering a wide range of products including personal protective equipment (PPE), medical equipment, medical supplies, medicines, and food.

Most questions raised in the Committee on Agriculture during the review period focused on policies implemented by G20 economies. In relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, three WTO members informed the WTO of temporary measures to respond to food security threats.

The Report also covers developments in G20 economies in trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS). Several G20 members implemented specific IP-related measures aimed at facilitating the development and dissemination of COVID-19 related health technologies, as well as at relaxing procedural requirements and extending deadlines for administrative IP matters.

Work continued in the first months of 2020 to advance negotiations, particularly on fisheries subsidies, building on the decision taken by members at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in late 2017. Groups of members also continued to pursue discussions on other issues, including electronic commerce, investment facilitation, women’s economic empowerment, domestic regulation in services and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). However, delegations’ ability to engage in detailed negotiations has been constrained by restrictions on movement and the refocusing of priorities on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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