Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday, 30 December 2013
Goodbye to an eventful 2013
The year that is passing was choked full with environmental, economic and political milestones – a few for the better but many for the worse.
Another eventful year is passing us by, choked full of environmental and political milestones, whistle-blowing revelations, confusing economic trends and more natural disasters.
2013 is leaving us behind; its events will affect how the world is shaped in 2014 and beyond.
The global economy did not collapse; instead there was some good news in a nascent recovery in the United States whilst the economic powerhouse of China kept steady growth (although at a now lower path of 7 to 8 per cent).
Most European countries remained mired in austerity-driven recession or slowdown, with deteriorating social conditions, but Germany continued its good performance and took increasing flak for its perceived self-centred policies.
It was in the developing countries that the economic tide was turning, and for the worse.
Their exports softened, GNP growth rates fell, and many of them (including big countries like India, Indonesia, South Africa) became exposed to volatility in financial markets and currencies.
We can expect greater vulnerability of developing countries in the new year to the “tapering” or reduction of government pumping of money in the US. The expected results, such as capital outflows, weakening currency and higher interest rates, can cause destabilisation or even new crises, in some developing countries.
On the political front, the big global news was the revelation by whistle-blower Edward Snowden about the mind-boggling widespread surveillance by the US National Security Agency not only of citizens around the world but also the phone calls and emails of prominent politicians like the German Chancellor, the Brazilian President and the Indonesian President and his wife.
The story is not yet finished, as newspapers are still coming out with more revelations. The fallout in terms of trust in the US, and the need for global governance of the internet, is still at its beginning stage.
The environment continued to deteriorate. The “haze” returned to Malaysia, revealing that there is yet much to be done in Asean cooperation on stopping forest fires.
Water shortages in Malaysia’s Klang Valley reminded us that a looming water crisis may rival climate change as the number one global ecological problem.
More extreme weather events marked 2013, especially Typhoon Haiyan that flattened big parts of the Philippines, but also rains and floods in India, China, Europe and also Malaysia and wild fires in Australia.
The UN climate convention (UNFCCC) gave recognition to the devastation, by setting up a global mechanism to deal with “loss and damage” caused by climate change, but how it will work remains to be negotiated.
It was a spark in an otherwise bleak climate scene. The landmark 400 ppm (parts per million), measuring how much Greenhouse Gases are in the atmosphere, was crossed in some weather stations, showing how global emissions are continuing at record high levels.
The IPCC (inter-governmental panel on climate change) released the first of its three new reports, sounding yet another alarm bell. But at the UNFCCC negotiations, progress was slow with continuing wrangling on how rich and poor nations should share the burden of emission reduction.
2013 also saw heightened public concerns about free trade agreements and investment treaties. In Africa, the African Union and many countries continued their fight against what they perceive as a lop-sided Economic Partnership Agreement model put forward by the European Commission.
The TPPA became a lightning rod for public debate and protests, as pieces of the secret texts were leaked, causing grave concerns about the effects on national sovereignty, economic policies, domestic producers and state owned enterprises, and access to medicines and food security.
Public interest groups and some Congress members in the US itself made demands for more transparency, and raising all kinds of issues, including the need to curb currency manipulation through the TPPA.
But the opposition to TPPA was strongest in Malaysia, with many organisations representing business, health, consumer and environmental interests calling on the government to provide more information and calling for the country to resist various aspects of the TPPA or to pull out altogether.
Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Abdul Razak himself raised concerns while at Summit meetings in Bali in October about how some TPPA issues such as government procurement, state owned enterprises, investor-state dispute system and intellectual property could affect national sovereignty.
The year-end deadline for signing the TPPA went by, and a new deadline for “early 2014” was set, but the continuing controversies may take the negotiations well into 2014 and perhaps beyond.
Back on the political front, there were events and trends such as the phasing out of US troops in Afghanistan, the intensification of the political and street battles in Thailand, the dramatic events in Egypt, the breakthrough in talks between Iran and the West, the coming into power of the new President and Premier in China, and last but not least the General Elections in Malaysia.
The year also saw the passing of Nelson Mandela. That sad event fittingly saw a global reflection on the need for effective leadership in resisting and ending intolerable injustice and suppression such as apartheid represented, but also for national reconciliation once that battle is won.
Meanwhile, there is still little progress in the long battle of the Palestinians for statehood and justice, as the building of settlements and the many other acts of occupation continue.
May the new year bring some new positive developments to the Palestinian people and their struggles, but that is more of hope than expectation.