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Tax havens are entrenching poverty in developing countries | Richard Miller

Category : Business

Poorer nations lose three times more money to havens a year than they get in aid. The G8 has the chance to change this

The Guardian has brought yet more news about the widespread use of tax havens by some of the world’s largest multinationals operating in developing countries. From ActionAid’s own investigations we know that these tax havens can all too often provide vehicles for tax avoidance that hits the world’s poorest hardest.

In the case of just one FTSE100 multinational we recently investigated – Associated British Foods, maker of Ryvita and Silver Spoon sugar – we found the company had used tax haven conduit companies to legally avoid enough Zambian tax to put 48,000 children in school. Zambia is a nation where almost half of children fail to complete their education.

Tax haven secrecy can also be used to deflect scrutiny from a range of unaccountable transactions in developing nations. Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel last week highlighted mining deals involving two FTSE100 multinationals, carried out through companies in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Gibraltar, which the panel claims have deprived the Democratic Republic of Congo of an estimated $1.36bn – almost twice the country’s education and health budgets combined.

From near-deserted Caribbean islands to major financial centres, tax havens offer a harbour for wealth and profits siphoned from around the world. Tax havens provide the legal machinery for tax avoiders, and protection for illegal tax evaders, denying developing economies the public revenues needed for hospitals, schools, clean water and functioning roads. The figures are staggering. According to the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, developing countries lose three times more money to tax havens each year than they receive in aid.

The statistics cannot, of course, show the tax impact of each tax haven company. Some may indeed have real business, and not simply be avoiding taxes in places where real business is done. But this is precisely the point: corporate reporting fails to show the transactions and tax bills of multinationals’ operations in many of these jurisdictions. And these same jurisdictions often deny this information to under-resourced tax authorities in the world’s poorest countries too.

Tax haven structures may be nearly universal, but they are not a fact of nature in modern business. Financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown and mining company Fresnillo, for instance, have no tax haven subsidiaries at all, despite operating in sectors that are no strangers to “offshore”. Others are making efforts at least to disclose their tax structures around the world: when ActionAid put questions about their tax haven companies to all FTSE100 companies, 15 responded with significant extra details.

Yet overall there is little incentive not to place profits and assets in tax haven companies, or to disclose these profits and assets, unless governments themselves end the secrecy and abusive tax regimes that tax havens offer. The countries represented at June’s G8 have a unique combination of economic and political weight, responsibility and jurisdiction over the problem. The UK alone is responsible for one in five of the world’s tax havens, more than any other single country in the world. Yet while the UK and other wealthy countries have recently begun to push their tax havens to disclose the financial assets that their taxpayers hold offshore, these deals as yet leave developing countries out in the cold.

The G8 can and must commit to ending the anonymous ownership of tax haven companies and trusts, and making tax havens disclose the information that tax authorities around the world desperately need. To fix the biggest part of this problem the information it generates must be available for all countries – including the poorest – from day one.

When the UK government convenes the leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries at the G8 summit this June, it has an opportunity, an interest and a duty to do something extraordinary: to tackle one of the biggest hidden obstacles in the fight against poverty by putting an end to tax havens. With David Cameron, George Osborne, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, other world leaders and ordinary taxpayers calling for change, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. None of us – from the richest to the poorest countries – can afford for the G8 to miss it.

HMRC to help Ethiopia and Tanzania collect taxes

Category : Business

Aim is to reduce reliance on overseas funds while ministers hope to distract from lack of aid commitment

The government is to help Ethiopia and Tanzania to build their tax-raising powers and so reduce their dependency on overseas aid to run an effective government.

David Gauke, the Treasury minister, will announce the initiative on Tuesday in a public interparty debate on tax transparency and aid organised by the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. Ministers hope the move will mollify aid agencies over the absence of legislation entrenching an aid commitment in the Queen’s speech.

HMRC claims there has been a 40% increase in tax revenue collection in Ethiopia since 2010, when the British government became involved. Nearly 78% of Ethiopia’s tax revenue came from fewer than 1,000 individuals in 2012, the Ethiopian customs and revenue department recently reported.

Tanzania’s tax revenues to central government were equivalent to 15.7% of GDP in 2011-12, with the gap between tax revenues and public spending averaging about 12% of GDP over the past three years. The shortfall is covered by aid and government borrowing. Three-quarters of tax revenues are raised in the region of the capital, Dar es Salaam.

Gauke will say HMRC will work with both Ethiopian and Tanzanian tax authorities to undertake a health check to look at the structure of their revenue authorities, their potential to raise tax, and the degree of corruption or evasion either by individuals or companies. The authorities will be focusing on tax inspector training, a complaints handling process and a risk management system.

Separately, campaigners are concerned about the lack of information on tax co-operation by international companies operating in Africa.

Potential revenues lost to developing countries through tax avoidance and evasion amount to three times the sum that they receive in international aid, it has been estimated.

The hugely complex world of tax transparency is high on the agenda for David Cameron at the G8 meeting of industrialised leaders this summer. George Osborne has already announced a deal to increase tax transparency in overseas territories, but campaigners have been seeking greater detail to evaluate its true impact.

In addition, the IF campaign has been pressing for a requirement in the finance bill for UK companies and wealthy individuals to report their use of tax schemes that have an impact on developing countries.

When such tax schemes are identified, the UK should use its current powers to notify the tax authorities of developing countries and assist in the recovery of the money they are owed.

IF also wants the UK to use its presidency of the G8 to launch a convention on tax transparency. Under such a convention, countries would commit to preventing individuals and companies from hiding wealth so that it is untraceable; tax havens would be required to share with developing countries any important information on hidden wealth and assets; and developing countries would receive assistance in recovering taxes due to

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Jamaica’s decades of debt are damaging its future | Nick Dearden

Category : Business

The latest IMF loan does not ‘rescue’ Jamaica, whose debt must be written off if its people are to take control of their economy

Many people in Jamaica would have trembled as they read the financial press last week, telling them that their country is, again, due to be “rescued” by a loan package put together by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Over 40 years, Jamaica has been “rescued” on countless occasions. In the 1980s, the island became almost a byword for “structural adjustment”. Jamaica is one of the most indebted countries, spends twice as much on debt repayments as it does on education and health combined, and looks set to miss several millennium development goals. After four decades of austerity, the country has a few lessons for the likes of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

The IMF has announced a $1bn (£650m) loan to “help” Jamaica meet huge debt payments due in coming years. As usual, the loan is to be accompanied by four years of austerity – precise details still pending, though a pay freeze, amounting to a 20% real-terms cut in wages, has been agreed.

This austerity will be applied to an economy that has effectively not grown since 1990. Huge debt has been a constant burden, with foreign debt payments of more than 20% of government revenue every year. When the financial crisis hit, the island was pushed into full-scale recession, before being pounded by Hurricane Sandy last year.

But Jamaica’s problems go back much further. The island’s economy has been shaped by centuries of violence, plunder and slavery. Hundreds of thousands of lives were wasted on sugar plantations, which “kept the wheels of metropolitan industry turning” in Britain.

Jamaica never recovered from slavery; former slaves remained deeply impoverished, and the economy almost totally dependent on foreign capital, mining and raw materials, while importing food and other essentials.

Jamaica became independent from Britain in 1962, but it was only in the 1970s that the government of Michael Manley initiated policies to reduce dependency on foreign capital, improve living standards and fight inequality. He supported health and education, nationalised industries, increased taxation on foreign investment and encouraged agricultural self-sufficiency.

Manley became a major figure on the global stage, joining leaders of the non-aligned movement to support the New International Economic Order – a radical set of economic policies to give developing countries genuine economic independence and reduce global inequality. In 1975, Manley told Americans: “Gross maldistribution of the world’s wealth and food is no longer a moral offence only. It now represents the greatest practical threat to peace and to any desirable development of mankind.”

But his project ran up against the oil crisis of the 1970s. As the price of imports rocketed and exports fell, Jamaica was forced to run up debts. When interest rates rose at the start of the 1980s, debt payments shot up: from 16% of exports in 1977 to a gigantic 35% by 1986.

This gave the IMF and World Bank the leverage to impose large-scale structural adjustment policies. The impact was devastating. During the 1980s, the number of registered nurses fell by 60%. Abolition of food subsidies and currency devaluation made the cost of food rocket, while the IMF held down wages. Health, education and housing were run into the ground. Many suffered what Oxfam called “a grim daily struggle to pay for food, clothing and transportation – even on the part of people who 10 years ago would have been considered middle-class”.

Ten years later, Manley returned to office, accepting the impossibility of creating an independent economy, and embracing neo-liberal policies as the only solution, much to the delight of the US and IMF.

There has been no progress in cutting hunger, or increasing basic water and sanitation provision. In 1990, 97% of children completed primary school. Now only 73% do. In 1990, 59 mothers died in childbirth for every 100,000 children born. Now it is 110.

Jamaica has repaid more money ($19.8bn) than it has been lent ($18.5bn), yet the government still “owes” $7.8bn, as a result of huge interest payments. Government foreign debt payments ($1.2bn) are double the amount spent on education and health combined ($600m).

Jamaica is classified as upper middle income. It was never eligible for debt relief. It has gone through deals with domestic private lenders to reduce interest rates, with little impact on government debt. As always, foreign creditors are fully protected.

Jamaica is not alone. Several Caribbean countries are also dangerously indebted. The IMF itself says: “Since growth in the current environment is virtually non-existent, significant fiscal consolidation is inevitable, but may not be enough to bring down such high debt levels.” Translation: countries like Jamaica need to make deep cuts, but because there is and will be no growth, the debt will remain.

The IMF “rescue” is a rescue for Jamaica’s creditors. It spells more suffering for its people. As Europe enters a fourth year of debt and austerity, Jamaica enters a fourth decade. The island’s debt needs to be written off, to open up the possibility for a better future and allow the people to take control of their economy.

Bali post-2015 talks may yield progress on private sector tax payments

Category : Business

Private sector can be a driver of development – but only if developed countries address global tax laws

Developing countries fully realise the importance of the private sector in creating jobs, a theme that dominates all national consultations conducted by the UN on any future set of development goals.

Harnessing the power of business for development has long been a subject of discussion. “Productive capacity”, another term for business, featured prominently in the conference of the least developed countries in Istanbul in 2011.

So it is in Bali, where a UN high-level panel appointed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, is holding its third substantive meeting on the development agenda after 2015, focusing on global partnerships. In recognition of the role of the private sector, the UN panel includes Paul Polman, the boss of consumer goods giant Unilever.

The private sector is certainly being trumpeted by Justine Greening, the UK’s international development secretary, who is deputising for David Cameron because the prime minister could not make it to Bali due to a diary clash.

In a recent speech at the London Stock Exchange, Greening said she wanted to see “far more businesses joining the development push with the Department for International Development” (DfID). Her enthusiasm for the private sector is not shared by many civil society groups. In a communique released on Sunday, civil society organisations struck a sceptical – if not hostile – note to business.

“The private sector is increasingly emphasised by governments as an important development actor, but it is one that lacks appropriate regulation and accountability: the conditions for private sector engagement risk undermining development gains rather than supporting them, through sharply escalating human inequalities,” said the communique.

The NGO Save the Children has adopted a more nuanced position, acknowledging the private sector as an important driver of development – creating jobs, innovating, providing products that meet development needs and through paying taxes.

Citing the $648bn of inward foreign investment to developing countries in 2011, Save the Children said in a new policy brief (pdf) that the engagement of the private sector in the conception and implementation of the post-2015 development framework is critical to its success.

Businesses, however, should adopt a “do no harm” approach, argued the brief authors. This means analysing the potential harm that products, practices and suppliers and their day-to-day business may do.

“It means they must adhere to legislation, but much more than that, it includes adhering to international human rights standards, respecting international labour and safety conventions, paying taxes appropriately, and addressing environmental impact,” said the report.

That multinationals should pay their fair share of taxes may be one of the concrete results from this high-level panel process, said Claire Melamed, head of the growth, poverty and inequality programme at the Overseas Development Institute thinktank.

“If there is momentum on sorting out tax rules, then it is a big step,” she said. “If developed countries sort out global tax laws, this could be one of the things people will remember from this process.”

The debate on jobs and taxes reflects the Jekyll and Hyde approach of the private sector. Greening neatly – if inadvertently – encapsulated this in her London speech, when she praised SAB Miller, the brewing giant, for working with 1,200 farmers in South Sudan to supply its brewery in the capital, Juba; according to ActionAid, governments in Africa may have lost as much as £20m through SAB Miller’s non-payment of tax.

“You do see companies with a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) that do everything to avoid taxes,” said one business representative who did not want to be named. “They will say it is within the law but, if they have aggressive tax avoidance, how does that sit with their CSR declaration?”

How indeed. Save the Children is urging the high-level panel to recommend in its report to the UN general secretary in May that all parties to the post-2015 goals ensure greater transparency and accountability by all companies. A potential indicator would be a legislative requirement that all large companies report on their non-financial performance – a commitment that would cover environmental, social and governance impacts.

Such legislation, said Save the Children, could be accompanied by a robust set of guidelines that could take the global reporting initiative – a framework for gauging sustainable businesses – as a starting point.

There are various other instruments on accountability, such the UN’s global compact, which sets out guidelines for corporate behaviour, the EU’s accounting directive and the extractive industries transparency initiative, to name but a few. In fact, part of the problem is the proliferation of transparency mechanisms – hence Save the Children’s favouring of the GRI, which it considers the most sophisticated existing framework.

The commitments to transparency and accountability could be the condition for businesses that want to be “partners” in development, said Melamed. The incentive for businesses would be the chance to tap new markets and make profits, but the quid pro quo would be for them to abide by such principles as the GRI.

“Governments,” said Melamed, “can say to companies that want to be partners, for example, in nutrition goals: ‘You can’t be be in the partnership unless you meet transparency on reporting and labour standards’.”

Osborne must resist hawks’ call for defence cash

Category : Business

Pressure is mounting on chancellor to keep his military-minded MPs on a short leash and top up the aid budget

Pressure is mounting on George Osborne to keep his military-minded MPs on a short leash and top up the aid budget. It needs to rise from £8.6bn in 2011 to £11.3bn next year to fulfil Britain’s pledge to the UN to donate 0.7% of Gross National Income.

More than 100 economists followed up a letter last week from leaders of the UK’s biggest companies urging the chancellor to stay the course. There are also 170 charities pushing the benefits of aid, especially its potential to build self-sufficiency through agriculture and infrastructure investment.

It must be welcomed that the chancellor appears ready to stick to his guns and not siphon money away to spend on various armaments – as many Tory supporters wish – but he should heed the warnings of those who argue that civil servants in the department for international development, forced to rush to meet spending targets, could invest unwisely.

Ministers’ oil industry ties prop up high-carbon policy, report alleges

Category : Business

The World Development Movement’s report Web of Power cites reluctance of City’s vested interests to invest in low carbon fuels

Close links between senior government ministers and the oil industry risk perpetuating dependence on a high carbon energy policy which is pushing the planet to the brink of climate catastrophe, a report has warned.

The World Development Movement (WDM) believes that up to a third of all coalition ministers may have past or present links with fossil fuel companies or with financial and services companies supporting oil or gas projects.

The WDM’s (, Web of Power, also highlights the revolving door between oil companies and the big banks, with many executives sitting on the boards of both at the same time.

This, WDM said, perpetuates the City of London’s vested interest in the status quo and breeds a reluctance to invest in low-carbon forms of energy such as wind power. Most of the links between ministers and carbon companies are revealed by the politicians themselves in their register of interests or elsewhere, but WDM said it was surprised and alarmed at the scale of the connections.

Among the top coalition names to have worked for Shell or other petroleum producers are the business secretary, Vince Cable, foreign secretary William Hague and international development minister Alan Duncan. The education secretary, Michael Gove, is among those who have received financial backing from people connected with hydrocarbons – in this case Aidan Heavey, the boss of Tullow Oil. Greg Barker, energy and climate change minister, was formerly employed at the Russian oil business Sibneft, while Maria Miller, secretary of state for culture, was on the staff at Texaco and Alan Robathan, a defence minister, was at BP.

On top of this, education minister Elizabeth Truss was a commercial manager at Shell while Robert Goodwill, who works in the government whips’ office, holds shares in Russian oil and gas companies Lukoil and Gazprom.

“If we are to move away from a high carbon economy, the government must break this nexus and regulate the finance sector’s investment in fossil fuel energy,” said the campaigning group, which claims the top UK banks underwrote £170bn in bonds and share issues for fossil fuel companies between 2010 and 2012.

WDM shows a huge number of cross-connections between the energy companies and the banks that fund much of their operations. RBS, still 82% owned by the British taxpayer and a leading funder of fossil fuel projects, has Sir Philip Hampton as chairman. Hampton was formerly finance director at British Gas and at oil and gas explorer BG.

Another RBS non-executive director, Brendan Nelson, is chairman of the audit committee of BP and a former chairman for international services at accountant KPMG. Meanwhile, Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, is a non-exec at HSBC bank while Standard Chartered bank has ex-Shell director Paul Skinner on the board along with Om Prakash Bhatt, who holds a similar position on the board of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

Alex Scrivener, a WDM campaigner, said he believes a third of government ministers have links to either the fossil fuel industry or the financial sector companies that bankroll it. “While the direct influence of fossil fuel companies is an obvious problem, the financial sector lobby also has a strong vested interest in ensuring the government allows unfettered investment in dirty energy to continue. Many of the City financiers donating to senior politicians depend on fossil fuel investments for their profitability,” he said.

Scrivener highlighted donations to the shadow cabinet from accounting firms such as KPMG and Deloitte, both of which have dedicated oil and gas departments and get a lot of business from fossil fuel companies. “We desperately need regulation to stop banks and other investors ploughing billions into unsustainable fossil fuels – will this happen when government, big finance and big oil are so closely intertwined?”

The Guardian contacted Cable, Hague and others mentioned in the report for comment but had received no reply by the time of going to press.

World Trade Organisation’s new boss will face an in-tray filled with problems

Category : Business

This month, the Geneva-based trade body will start the hunt for a new director general, but is the decline of globalisation making it irrelevant?

At an elegant 1920s building set in a lush park on the shore of Lake Geneva this month, nine senior global politicians – six men and three women – will be attending an extraordinary job interview. The World Trade Organisation, once the hated target of anarchists and anti-globalisation protesters furious about unfair rules and backroom deals that locked poor countries out of the world’s markets, is seeking a new director general.

Yet few angry campaigners are expected to throng the centre of Geneva on 29-31 January, as the candidates file into the WTO’s headquarters to set out their vision for the future of the global marketplace. More than five years into the financial and economic crisis, the once-hot topic of “globalisation” is no longer where the action is.

“The WTO has lost an incredible amount of sex appeal,” says Ricardo Meléndez-Ortiz, chief executive of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, a Geneva-based thinktank.

In 1999, when a WTO meeting in Seattle was brought to a halt by street riots, it was the focus for protesters’ rising sense of injustice about the impact of globalisation on the world’s poor. Yet 14 years later, many of the most fraught issues rocking the world economy – on tax, on immigration, on exchange rates – are being fought out far from Geneva. And there are signs that aspects of the “globalisation” that was the WTO’s raison d’etre are being quietly unpicked.

The WTO, which polices international trade law as well as being a forum for negotiations, is having to arbitrate a growing number of international disputes, as the temporary truce called for by the G20 countries in the depths of the financial crisis gives way to a more fractious climate.

China and the US, for example, are battling each other over allegations that China unfairly subsidises its solar power industry. At the same time, multinational firms are beginning to reverse the relentless process of outsourcing, which has seen supply chains stretch out across the globe.

Meanwhile, the increasingly powerful emerging economies, burned by the experience of the financial crisis, are asserting their right to protect themselves against the surges of “hot money” that leave their economies vulnerable. Brazil, for example, has used taxes on foreign exchange – anathema in the days of the so-called Washington consensus – to try and stem the appreciation of its currency, the real.

“The days of expecting a lot out of outsourcing are gone,” says Simon Evenett, professor of trade and development at St

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Swiss fear role as haven for secretive resource traders will cost the country

Category : Business

Swiss ‘tradition of looking the other way’ could be about to end amid calls for tighter regulation on traders such as Glencore

There are no oil rigs on Lake Geneva but each year enough oil to meet Swiss needs 75 times over is traded electronically in the nondescript offices that hug the shore of the largest lake in the Alps.

There aren’t any coffee plantations in Switzerland either, but more than 60% of the world’s coffee beans pass – electronically – through the country. And it has some of the finest pastures in western Europe, but only enough to grow a tiny fraction of the 80m tonnes of grains and oil seeds that are bought and sold by its traders every year.

The traders behind these deals make the country SFr20bn (£13bn) a year – more than the GDP of Zambia – but the locals are beginning to ask if the easy money is really worth it.

Switzerland’s famously low taxes and light regulation have transformed the country into the world’s leading wheeler-dealer in everything from oil, copper and zinc to coffee, sugar, wheat and the other staples of daily life.

Now, concerned at the country’s global reputation for tax avoidance and speculation in basic commodities, Swiss public and politicians are considering action against the secretive trading companies that have given it a starring role at the heart of scandals stretching from the Congo to Colombia.

Carlo Sommaruga, a Swiss MP and member of the national council, the lower house of the federal assembly, says a series of controversies – Trafigura’s dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast, Swiss traders’ role in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal and, most recently, a boss at the world’s biggest commodity trader, Glencore, telling investors that droughts were good for business – are dragging Switzerland’s reputation through the mud. “Resource-trading companies’ activities will not only result in a bad reputation for them,” he said. “We are afraid the whole of Switzerland will suffer from a loss of reputation.”

Sommaruga says the Swiss government needs urgently to introduce laws to tighten regulation on traders or there is a “great risk” that the country will be branded as “the new haven for vultures”, extracting the world’s resources and “propagating hunger”.

He wants the Swiss government, which is preparing to report the findings of a six-month inquiry into the secretive industry, to legislate to make Swiss parent companies “civilly and criminally liable” for human rights violations and environmental crimes abroad.

The investigation, which is being carried out jointly by the finance, economy and foreign ministries, was launched after Josef Zisyadis, a former MP for the Alternative Left party, stood before parliament to deliver a blistering attack on the industry. “These companies are characterised by a complete lack of transparency, human rights infringements and damage to the environment,” he said last year. “They are masters of tax evasion that inflicts massive damage on resource-rich countries.”

Special tax breaks for traders and companies that operate largely offshore have helped make Switzerland the perfect home for the commodity groups, and have helped them grow tenfold over the past decade. They now represent more than 3.5% of the country’s GDP.

Sommaruga’s focus is on companies that trade in food and “rejoice in drought”. His demands come after a Glencore boss said the worst drought to hit the US since the 1930s would be “good for Glencore”.

“In terms of the outlook for the balance of the year, the environment is a good one,” Chris Mahoney, head of Glencore’s agricultural division, told investors this summer. “High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities [exploiting price differences in different markets].”

Sommaruga said Mahoney’s frank comments during the company’s results presentation this summer showed that Glencore, and other trading and mining companies, were “totally dehumanised”. “Profit maximisation comes before the life and health of the poorest people on our planet,” he said. “That they can rejoice in a drought and the profits generated illustrates the monstrosity of the company.”

Mahoney, who won a silver medal rowing for Great Britain at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, denied the company’s trading drove up prices, and claims he meant the company made more from the extra logistics of moving grain to the right places during droughts.

“What we do does not drive prices higher. In fact, our agricultural products business alleviates supply shortages,” he said. “We have invested billions of dollars in farms, storage and transport infrastructure to increase the global supply of agricultural products and physically get them to where they are needed in the most efficient way.”

However, the latest management statement from Glencore, which is one of the biggest companies in the FTSE 100 (meaning most pension funds are automatically required to buy its shares), show the company has benefited from a 26% rise in the wheat price over the last three months.

Ivan Glasenberg, Glencore’s multi-billionaire chief executive, said the company’s $6bn (£3.7bn) takeover of the Canadian grain company Viterra “transforms our already strong agricultural business at a time when industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time”.

Glencore, which already controls about 8% of the world’s traded wheat market, made $146m of profit before interest and charges on $9.4bn of revenue from its agricultural business in the first six months of this year.

The perceived profiteering from food trading has helped spark protests against the country’s commodity firms. They had previously been able to brush off scandals such as Trafigura’s toxic waste dumping, which led to 17 deaths in 2006 (Trafigura denies any wrongdoing).

“About the worst thing you can speculate with is hunger,” said David Roth, president of Switzerland’s Young Socialists. “If people lose their houses, it’s bad; if they speculate with food and people starve, it’s the worst thing you can do.

“We’re not playing any more. They crossed the line: something has to be done,” he said as he peeled through sheets of the 45,000 signatures collected for his petition calling for Switzerland to ban all speculation in food prices.

Roth, 27, claims to have won broad political support for the petition. If he can get 100,000 signatures within 18 months, the government will be forced to hold a referendum on the issue.

“When we are collecting signatures on the street, people say ‘oh you’re from Juso [the Young Socialists party] – I don’t like you, but it is a good issue’,” he said. “People who are absolutely not on our side [politically] have signed our petition. It is a moral issue.”

Roth said Switzerland’s “long tradition of looking the other way” could be about to end. “We have tried to crack down on the banks and hedge funds [which have been forced to comply with international money-laundering regulations], now it is time for the traders,” he said.

“The bad-guy image isn’t good for the rest of the country – we don’t want Swatch shops to be boycotted.”

South-east Asia, China and India: economic outlook

Category : Business

GDP growth in South-East Asia will recover to a ‘robust’ annual pace of 5.5% over the next five years – despite the recent weakening of China and India, according to the OECD

Visit link: South-east Asia, China and India: economic outlook

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Cancer doctors pledge to take prevention and treatment to the poor

Category : Business

Aids doctors joined with activists to lead the fight for treatment in the developing world. At a meeting in Switzerland, cancer doctors took the first tentative steps towards adopting their mantle

Doctors were at the forefront of the Aids treatment revolution a decade ago, denouncing stigmatisation and inequality from conference platforms and lobbying politicians alongside the activists. Could we see the cancer doctors take up the banners and the slogans on behalf of the poorest in the same way?

Until last weekend, I personally did not think so. But in a lakeside hotel in Lugano in Switzerland, at a meeting of the World Oncology Forum, I watched what looked like a process of radicalisation take place. Nearly 100 of the world’s leading cancer doctors were there – extremely emininent clinicians and scientists. The question for discussion over a day and a half was “Are we winning the war on cancer?” Broadly speaking, the answer seemed to be no, on two fronts. The first was that scientific progress had not delivered hoped for cures, even for countries with substantial amounts of money to spend on drugs. The second was that people in low and middle-income countries are dying of cancers that are preventable and curable in the richer world. And it was that second front that the Forum agreed to tackle in an unprecedented way.

Some of the oncologists present, who spend their time in high-tech labs and well-equipped wards in Europe and the USA, did not anticipate the way the meeting would develop, I suspect. There was much very interesting discussion about the failures of the much-hyped and hoped-for targeted therapies, which I wrote about here. There was also a lot of anger at the tobacco industry, which doctors held directly responsible for millions of deaths past and to come.

But tobacco control is now most needed in poorer countries where cigarettes are dirt cheap and the companies look to expand their sales. Cancer is a global issue and growing fastest in low and middle-income countries. Professors Rifat Atun of the London Business School and Felicia Knaul, director of the Harvard Global Equity Initative powerfully put the case for doctors to fight for better care and prevention in the developing world. Knaul spoke of the unnecessary deaths of children from leukaemia and women from breast and cervical cancer.

Children with leukaemia divide, such that in Canada almost 90% can hope to survive where in the poorest countries of the world, 90% can expect to die.

Atun and Knaul are joint authors of a new book, called Closing the Cancer Divide: a blueprint to expand access in low and middle income countries. It aims to show what can be done and stamp out four pernicious myths:

1. Cancer treatment is unnecessary because the burden of disease is not great in the developing world – untrue. Over half of all new cancer cases and two-thirds of deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

2. It is unaffordable for most poor countries – untrue. The economic burden of cancer on those countries is high, the costs of lost productivity outstrip the costs involved in care and only 5% of global cancer spending currently takes place in low and middle-income countries.

3. Cancer prevention and treatment is unattainable because of inadequate human and physical resouces – untrue. Screening for breast and cervical cancer, for instance, can be integrated into other programmes such as maternal and child health and HIV care.

4. It is inappropriate because the resources are needed for high-burden infectious diseases – untrue. Expanding cancer care can strengthen whole health systems, many cancers are associated with poverty just like infectious diseases and at least half of all deaths from cancers in developing countries are preventable.

Atun told the meeting that what the Aids community did, they could and should do too. By the end of it, goaded as much as guided by Lancet editor Richard Horton, they drew up a list of ten principles for a declaration to be published in the New Year. While some were about better drug development, most were about ending the shameful neglect of cancer in the developing world.

Next stop – the barricades.