China: Energy deals advance Russian partnership
On September 27, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on a three-day state visit, signed two joint statements with President Hu Jintao, one “deepening their strategic partnership,” the other commemorating the end of the Second World War. The two leaders agreed to commercial arrangements in the coal, nuclear energy and banking areas. Their joint inauguration of the Chinese stretch of a pipeline connecting Siberian oil fields and the Pacific Ocean coincided with the launching, according to People’s Daily, of a large, joint venture oil refinery near Shanghai. It will consume mostly Russian crude oil. Agreements were also signed on fighting terrorism and separatism. Tass news reported that Russia’s state-owned Gazprom Corporation will “completely assure China’s growing demand for gas.”
Afghanistan: Civilian deaths and war crimes
Philip Alston, former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, recently called for investigation by the UN Human Rights Council of high levels of civilian casualties caused by U.S. and British forces, as well as by the Taliban. The UK Guardian newspaper reported that multifaceted warfare has accounted for at least 1,000 Afghan civilian deaths during the first half of 2010. The International Criminal Court has questioned British authorities regarding investigations of alleged war crimes, which are not being prosecuted, says Alston. Any war crimes committed in Afghanistan, a signatory of the treaty establishing the ICC, are subject to its jurisdiction. Because the United States never signed that treaty, suggests Alston, the UN Human Rights Council becomes the appropriate venue for investigation.
Trinidad and Tobago: New leader axes international industrial project
Kamla Persad Bissessar, leader of the People’s Partnership Coalition that swamped the Patrick Manley government in elections last May, made good early in September on a campaign pledge. Her finance minister announced cessation of construction of an aluminum smelter plant owned jointly with the Brazilian Votorantim conglomerate and financed by China’s Exim Bank. Legal challenges are likely. Spokespersons cited by Inter Press Service mentioned potential health and environmental risks plus excessive distance from raw materials and aluminum markets. Plans are afoot to use the abandoned construction site for manufacture of alternative energy and agro-business products. Nevertheless, almost two weeks later work was continuing at the site, reported the Miami Herald. Persad Bissessar is her nation’s first female prime minister.
Nigeria: Unions want say in major oil legislation
The two major oil workers unions threatened in late September to close oil and gas facilities if the pending Petroleum Industry Bill, 10 years in the making, passes. Their joint statement, reported on allAfrica.com, denounced lack of labor input in legislative and review processes and apparent governmental willingness to promote temporary labor contracts, outsourcing of work, and reduced fuel subsidies for the population. Aiming to restore an oil export industry buffeted by insurgencies, corruption, environmental abuse, and deteriorating facilities, the government has attempted to mollify oil corporations, who are displeased with the bill’s provisions for tax increases and reduced profits. Increased revenue would be directed at improving services in the Niger River Delta, as per demands of insurgents there.
Germany: Corporation promises lifetime jobs
Trade union analyst Hagen Lesch opined, “I have never heard of anything similar.” The reference was to a pledge by Siemans engineering conglomerate, employer of 420,000 people worldwide, to avoid “forced redundancies among its 128,000 German workforce.” As reported September 22 by the Financial Times, the promise of long-term, even lifetime, employment builds upon the response by the German corporation to the current recession, one centering on “state-sponsored shorter working hours and on other flexible measures.” The Siemans pledge followed “warning strikes” by steelworkers demanding a 6 percent wage increase as their IG Metall workers union sought an end to 10 years of wage restraint. The union-company relationship “has survived the acid test of the financial crisis,” said a union spokesperson.
Cuba: Restrictions on U.S. food sales cuts both ways
Over the past year, Cuba’s food importing company Alimport lost $102.9 million due to U.S. restrictions affecting food sales to Cuba. They include a requirement for cash payments and a ban on U.S.-affiliated foreign companies making contact with Alimport. That money could have been used to buy 337,000 tons of wheat, 451,000 tons of corn, or 109,000 tons of poultry. The Cuban News Agency in late September suggested removal of restrictions would hike U.S. food exporters’ income to around $1 billion annually and the U.S. share of Cuban food imports to 64 percent. U.S. food sales to Cuba were down 35 percent from May to June over the previous year, with $710 million in 2008 sales dropping to $528 million in 2009.