Saturday, April 12, 2008

Taking Poland in stride, Russia waits for EU-Russia Partnership

Russia reacted calmly last Thursday in Brussels to Polish President’s quips about conditional support for European Union-Russia partnership talks. Polish President Lech Kaczynski was quoted earlier last Wednesday as saying that the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, opposed by Russia, was linked with a wider debate about the EU’s strategic partnership with Moscow.

Speaking to Tejinder Singh, Editor- in-Chief of New Europe, the European Weekly in Brussels, Vladimir Chizhov, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the EU outlined Russian position not only on the subject of Polish veto with respect to the relations with the EU but also in broader terms on Russia-EU strategic partnership.

Referring to the press reports from Reuters attributed to Kaczynski, Chizhov said, “This would have raised serious doubts regarding the coherence of Polish policy but then came the disclaimer from the Polish government that the President had been misinterrupted. That’s funny but it shows how sensitive the whole thing is.”

Reflecting on the delay in negotiations over the much-awaited EU-Russia partnership agreement, the ambassador lamented, “My negotiating mandate was formally approved by the Russian government back in November 2006 so it has been a year and half that I am sitting here waiting for my interlocutors to get their mandate.”

“The Commission needs approval of the mandate from the Council and this has been procrastinated by that Polish veto.”

Citing a Russian saying, “A bad example is the most contagious one,” Chizhov wondered, “Now it seems that may be some other countries will try to solve their own national problem or pamper their national ego by further procrastinating this particular issue.”

“I don’t think it would be in the interest of the EU but I am not pressing my interlocutors to get down to the negotiating table. If the EU needs time to mature, so it be then.”

Coming to the much talked about issue of Kosovo and its unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), the Russian ambassador said, “The reaction of some countries to recognise UDI has been illegitimate, running contrary to UN charter, to existing norms of international law and more specifically to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 and the 1975 Helsinki Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

Agreeing that, “It is not unique that some territories declare independence but the international community has many possible options to reacting to that, the ambassador said, “Unfortunately this time the wrong option was chosen by a number of countries.”

Going down the memory lane, the ambassador told New Europe, “Look for example what happened 25 years ago, when there was a unilateral declaration of independence on Northern Cyprus. That particular incident led to UNSC unanimously adopting Resolution 541 which explicitly urged all UN member states not to recognise so called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and not to establish any official contacts with it. Yes one country disobeyed that Resolution but only one and that’s how things remain to this moment.”

Giving a “purely pragmatic point of view,” the ambassador warned, “Kosovo has no chance of becoming a member of the UN, getting a seat at OSCE and other international organisations.”

“Only less than 40 countries have recognised it out of 200 and its already almost two months since the UDI. This is not something one can call international recognition, so summing up I could say that the issue of Kosovo’s final status has not been resolved.”

Elaborating on the role played by the EU, the Russian diplomat said, “I would split the issue into two main elements: one is recognition, a majority of EU member states have recognised independence of Kosovo but a third of EU members states have chosen not to do that and among them there are countries that have a strong view against recognising. So the EU does not have and will not have a common position on this very important problem of European politics.”

“Secondly, the EU has decided to despatch a civilian - police mission, EULEX, to Kosovo. It’s a classical case of the road to (hell) paved with good intentions. We would not mind the EU taking its share of responsibility for what is happening in and around Kosovo. We would not mind the EU organising a mission but on one necessary condition that this mission be mandated by the UNSC. Otherwise it lacks legitimacy.”

“Its not without reason that the UN Secretariat has been rejecting any approaches from EU for handover from UNMIK to EULEX.”

Lambasting the basics behind the appointment of Peter Feith as the EU Special Representative, the Russian ambassador said, “In that capacity he can do what the EU tells him but not certify Kosovo’s constitution. His opinion is as private as mine, or yours. Secondly, his other capacity that he claims, that of International Civilian Representative, is self-proclaimed and does not hold water.”

Suggesting a way out the Russian diplomat said, “I don’t think the situation is completely irreversible. Of course it’s difficult to rectify, but the only way to do that it at this point in time is to resume negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade. Only a negotiated solution has a chance of becoming a viable solution. Not a one sided solution, not an imposed solution.”

Adding a warning sign to the ongoing jubilations, the ambassador said, “When I hear, particularly in the first days after Kosovo’s independence, sighs of relief across Europe saying this has solved the last outstanding problem following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, that this last page of Balkan crisis has been turned, I feel the need to disappoint those people. Having dealt with Balkans much longer than I could have wished in the beginning, I would say that a new page of Balkan crisis has been opened.”

Questioning the timing of release of the new book “The Hunt: me and War criminals,” by Carla del Ponte, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in which she reports allegations that KLA fighters, at a senior level, had authorised and profited from an organ-harvesting racket preying on Serbs transported from Kosovo, the Russian diplomat asked, “Firstly why did she wait for eight years before publishing that?”

“But is it just a coincidence that allegations concerning not just unnamed Kosovoars but quite particularly those that are in power, accusing them of having been involved in human organ trading and killing of innocent Serb civilians happen now?”

“Why did it not appear before the recognition of Kosovo?”

“Looks a bit strange! And nervous reactions from some governments including her own Swiss government that chose to hurriedly despatch her to Buenos Aires does not contribute to confidence on this issue.”

Chizhov, the Russian diplomat disclosed that, “Yesterday the Russian government formally appealed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to inform UN about what it thought about it, to check if those allegations correspond to the facts and if so what ICTY plans to do about it. The acquittal of a former prime minister of Kosovo by the Hague Tribunal is a shame. Having cleared the case of witnesses through murder and intimidation thus the process has been led to a false end.”

Coming to the labyrinth of pipelines, gas, oil and taps turning off and on with regular political factors, Chizhov, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the EU lamented the “too much politisation of the whole issue,” clarifying, “Those pipelines were not build yesterday, they were built 35 years ago, and that was during the Cold War and throughout the Cold War and afterwards there was not a single instance when the supplies would have been disrupted for political or other reasons except technical failures occasionally.”

“Even during the last few years there were no disruptions of energy supplies from Russia to the European Union. Whatever problems there might have been with the transit countries over payments, over debts, those were between the Russian supplier and the transit countries. Yes, we are aware that some of them actually went as far as blackmailing, using as leverage the possibility of redistributing the transit load from its original destination to the Western Europe to their own needs. The responsibility for that rests completely with those transit countries and not Russia.”

Calling energy “a complicated risky business, requiring huge investments,” the Russian diplomat said, “You have to spend hundreds of millions of Euro before getting the first drop of oil or first cubic metre of gas and that requires not only money but also technical effort and time. So when we speak of energy security, it can not be limited to security of supply, security of transit is another element but also security of demand.”

Addressing the politically sensitive topic of gas supplies in Europe, the Russian ambassador said, “It’s done primarily through trunk pipelines and for that to work the basis is long term agreements. It is quite natural that many European countries and their governments are keen to have such agreements in their pockets for as long as possible. One should not be surprised that some of them are eager to sign contracts with Gazprom for the period until 2030 or even 2035.”

Chizhov declared, “Whatever is developed as alternate energy sources, the backbone for at least next 50 years is going to be hydrocarbons. As long as world economy depends on hydrocarbons there should be an equitable partnership between supplies, consumers and of course transit countries.”

On the question of some countries like Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and others playing a major role developing their bilateral relations with Moscow, the diplomat said, “I believe that overall today in the EU there is a resurgence of protectionism, perhaps related to soaring prices of energy. We may see the same situation in Europe with regard to food prices as food market is also globalised.”

Lambasting the energy policies of the European commission the Russian chief negotiator said, “With this famous third energy package proposals of the commission, it’s not surprising that eight or nine member states spoke against it, not to mention major energy companies of the Western Europe, who are quite annoyed with this concept of unbundling.”

“It’s not to say that I regard unbundling as such bad. By the way, Russia is in effect unbundling its electricity production, but there are certain specifics. The gas sector would face huge difficulties if it is unbundled in the EU.”

With the demand for food growing around the world the Russian ambassador accepted the fact that “Russia is the largest consumer of EU produced food which in the long term is bad. But for the time being it is inevitable and last year we bought more than five billion Euro worth of food from the EU.”

Striking a note of optimism about Russian efforts to gradually substitute imported food stuffs with domestically produced, the Russian diplomat agreed, “We have to cope with the increasing level of demand and increasing level of income of Russian consumers who for some strange reason prefer French wines or French cheeses to Russian ones.”

“The quality of food that the consumer expects is ever increasing and with it the local agriculture sector in Russia is very rapidly developing and in certain areas it has managed to cover all of the demand. But there are still some niches for import so the overall demand has not gone down for the time being.”

Last but not the least the Russian diplomat was candid in denouncing the ways and means of tackling the issue of Russian minorities in Baltics.

Highlighting the way Lithuania “chose the obvious and most reasonable solution meaning that all Soviet citizens residing in Lithuania acquired citizenship,” the Russian diplomat was critical of the Estonian and Latvian methods as those led to 36 percent of residents of Latvian and 28 percent of Estonia those of Russian origin, losing their basic rights as citizens after independence.

“This situation - of these residents of Latvia and Estonia not having political rights is a shame not only for these countries but also for the European Union as they are supposed to have fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria.”

Focus from seals to humans

Delegation highlights humane, historic side of hunting

Humans risk their lives for their livelihoods since the days of yore and the fact came alive with the death of four seal hunters in the icy North Atlantic waters recently.

While the protesters were trying to find more footage to prove the “inhumane” angle and a Canadian delegation was visiting Europe to nullify those efforts, the accident cut short this year’s hunt for the area of Iles-de-la-Madeleine as hunters left the ice floes out of respect for their lost comrades.

In the comparatively warmer labyrinth of European Union, a delegation from across the Atlantic, led by Loyola Sullivan, Canada’s Ambassador of Fisheries Conservation, argued the case of an “age-old” traditional way of life for seal hunters and the right to selfdetermination.

Echoing the sentiment, Paul Okalik, Premier, Government of Nunavut, told New Europe, “We are here to tell the truth and explain our story. When people open their eyes and ears they will understand that we are doing what every human on earth is doing - earning a living, eating and surviving.”

The visit came in the light of earlier reports that European Commissioner Stavros Dimas was considering a ban on seal products within the EU in the coming months.

Reiterating her earlier comments, Barbara Helfferich, the spokeswoman for commissioner Dimas, told journalists last week, “We are concerned about inhumane hunting of seals. We support sustainable hunting. We are preparing a paper, a communication that takes account of these issues and we hope to have something ready before June or before the summer to be correct.”

Asked to comment on the fact that the Canadian seal hunt is already on and the commission report is not expected before the summer, Helfferich said, “The season for Canada is on. It is limited to particular Canadian quota. Whatever we are doing, we are doing in general, we are not targeting any particular country. So I can not comment on season or not season.”

Confirming the visit of the Canadian delegation she said, “I have nothing more to say on the issue. Mr. Sullivan has been visiting the commission, the cabinet of Commissioner Dimas.”

Lamenting the negative publicity by vested interests, Sullivan told New Europe, “The bad publicity caused by misinformation is of great concern to us. Our job is to correct this misinformation to ensure the public have all the faces on the issue. Unfortunately, this misinformation is driven by various groups who use the seal harvest as a main method of raising money.”

Earlier at a press conference, Sullivan hinted at retaliatory action by Canada within the framework of World Trade Organization (WTO) in case the EU considers ban on seal products, “I believe strongly that there shouldn’t be restrictions on access to markets... The European Commission has an obligation to live up to their commitments. We hope they exercise that right.”

Reflecting on the position of the Canadian government which is taking these EU trade action threats “very seriously,” Sullivan said, “(The Canadian government will defend) the legitimate sustainable, humane, economic activity for some of the most disadvantaged people in our country.”

Challenging the information being churned out by various sources about Canadian seal hunting, Kathy Dunderdale, Minister of Natural Resources, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador said, “We have to keep doing what we’re doing now to ensure that the correct information gets out. We challenge those engaged in the debate to be responsible with regards to their research and to ensure that the information they are putting forward is correct.”

Earlier, one reliable Canadian government source familiar with the hunt had told New Europe, “The recommendations made in the recent report by the European Food Safety Authority (published in December 2007) uphold the legitimacy and humaneness of the hunting practices and techniques that are used, regulated and enforced in Canada’s annual commercial seal hunt. Canada has also supplied information to the authors of a study commissioned by the European Commission on the socio-economic and animal welfare aspects of seal hunting.”

Although Greenland, Norway, Russia and even the EU member state Finland take to seal hunting, it is only Canada’s annual culling of seals which attracts ire of international environmental campaigners and animal protection groups.

Canadian culling on EU radar

Brussels mulls action on “inhumane” Canadian seal killings

The European Union is contemplating action against the alleged culling of young seals by Canada, the spokeswoman for Stavros Dimas, European environmental commissioner told journalists last week.

Answering questions during the regular midday press conference, Barbara Helfferich, the spokeswoman, confirmed that Commissioner Dimas is, “looking into the matter of the inhumane killing of seals and we are preparing a text to be presented in the next few months to address this issue.” “We hope to have it before the summer,” Helfferich added.

Welcoming the expected trade sanctions move by the commission, Neil Parish, Conservative MEP and President of the European Parliament’s Animal Welfare intergroup, said: “As the culling season gets underway, the time has come for the Commission to take action. The slaughter of seals in Canada, including seals that are just a few weeks old, is barbaric and the EU should not condone it.”

While announcing the total allowable catch (TAC) and other management measure for the 2008 Atlantic seal hunt, Loyola Hearn, Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, said in early March, “The seal hunt is an economic mainstay for numerous rural communities in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the North.”

The minister stressed, “The government has taken further steps to ensure the hunt continues to be conducted in a humane manner, adopting recommendations of the Independent Veterinarians Working Group.”

Reacting to Canadian claims, MEP Parish said, “The methods used - cudgeling with a ‘hakapik’ or shooting - have too often not killed the seal outright and I am not satisfied with Canadian assertions that seals are not still being skinned alive.

“Many countries in Europe and around the world have introduced or are considering a ban on these imports, but I believe it would require the entire EU to implement a single ban to ensure the demand for seal skins dries up,” MEP added.

One reliable Canadian government source familiar with the hunt told New Europe, “Canada’s seal hunt is humane, sustainable and responsible. We are aware that the (European) Commission is looking at what steps to take regarding the seal hunt. The Government of Canada is committed to the sustainable management of its renewable resources.

“The recommendations made in the recent report by the European Food Safety Authority (published in December 2007) uphold the legitimacy and humaneness of the hunting practices and techniques that are used, regulated and enforced in Canada’s annual commercial seal hunt. Canada has also supplied information to the authors of a study commissioned by the European Commission on the socio-economic and animal welfare aspects of seal hunting.

“In addition to the existing regulatory requirements to properly strike and check for unconsciousness, a third step, that of bleeding to ensure death, will be required as a condition of licence for 2008.”

Canada’s annual culling of seals attracts the ire of international environmental campaigners and animal protection groups. With Belgium and the Netherlands already banning the import of seal-derived products while Germany and Austria are considering closing their markets too, the European Union is now toying with the idea of a ban which the industry pundits predict will devastate the seal product industry as onethird of the products head for the EU.

Interview with: Pavan Duggal; Advocate, Supreme Court of India

A warning against the Internet’s dangers

Cybercrimes ranging – from child pornography and racism to identity theft, fraud and cyber terrorism – were addressed at a Council of Europe conference in Strasbourg on April 1 – 2.

More than 200 participating experts from all over the world, as well as representatives of governments, police forces and the Internet industry – including Microsoft, eBay, Symantec and McAfee – interacted in a series of workshops while reviewing the effectiveness of current cybercrime legislation, identifying new threats and trends and discussing ways to improve international co-operation and the functioning of the 24/7 contact points.

The guidelines were floated based on the existing Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime and call for formal partnerships between internet service providers (ISPs) and law enforcement.

On the sidelines of the Conference, Pavan Duggal, Advocate, Supreme Court of India; President, Cyberlaws.Net; President, Cyberlaw Asia; Member, .org Advisory Council, spoke to Tejinder Singh, Editor-in-Chief of New Europe about his experience and vision on the subject.


The guidelines adopted at the Conference are voluntary for ISPs and law enforcement, and are intended to be a set of best practices to supplement a particular country’s existing laws against cybercrime. Do you find these enough to face the growing menace of cybercrime?


The guidelines adopted at the conference are a very interesting way to deal with the emerging menace of cybercrime. Considering the fact that different countries across the world have different national legislations that impact cyber crimes in one way or the other, it is extremely important to come across a common platform of understanding which should encapsulate the best practices pertaining to cooperation and sharing of information between the law enforcement agencies and the network service providers.

In this regard, the guidelines that have been approved at the conference are a tremendous move forward. The said guidelines are the repository of all prevailing international best practices pertaining to cooperation between law enforcement agencies and the Internet service providers.

Although these are voluntary in nature, these become the starting point for developing a healthy cooperative relationship between the police and the network service providers. The said guidelines cover in detailed and minute manner, the various nuances that are essential for a healthier relationship between the law enforcement agencies and the service providers.

I personally see the guidelines adopted at the conference as a great step forward and subsequent attempts will only try to better the existing body of knowledge that has been so encapsulated in the best practices that have been so encapsulated in the said guidelines.


What are the legislative avenues available to law enforcement officials to tackle cyber crime?


There are various legislative avenues that are available to law enforcement officials to tackle cybercrimes. The said legislative avenues depend upon nation to nation and depend upon the various prevailing laws that have been so legislated and prevailing at the relevant time in the concerned national jurisdictions. For example, to take the case of India, India has got a distinct law relating to the electronic environment which has detailed provisions on various cyber crimes and the punishments of the same.


Being a cross-border crime, what do you see the future at the global level?


The future belongs to Cybercrime. The last decade has shown that while technology has developed on a neck breaking speed, the law is invariably behind technology when it comes to regulating cyber crime. That explains the reason why, despite having the best of intentions, nations are not able to keep abreast. Their existing laws are still not able to tackle cybercrime and the cutting edge level. In the coming times, I have reason to believe that cybercrime is going to grow extremely rapidly, who will become extremely sophisticated and will become far more pervasive in the relevant years.


According to some experts, France, UK and US have good legislation while rest of the world including rest of Europe is still struggling to get a hold on the situation? How do you see the progress being made in this sector?


The progress in the area of having appropriate national legislations to regulate cybercrime has been very erratic. There have been some nations which have come across with good legislations to prevent and regulate cyber crimes. However the vast majority of the nations still have no clue on how to effectively deal with cyber crimes. I think the progress in this area, progress will also be in fits and starts. We are not likely to have a uniform trend of all countries simultaneously coming up with good legislations to cover cyber crimes.


India, a vibrant democracy and open society is on a fast track to the Virtual World. How do you perceive the Indian government handling the situation arising out of this?


The Indian government has been alive to the need for regulating various kinds of kinds of cyber crimes. Despite the fact that the Indian Information Technology Act 2000 is an ecommerce enabling legislation, still the Indian government inserted various provisions concerning different cyber crimes and the punishment in order to effectively regulate emerging cyber crimes in India.

Various provisions concerning different cyber crimes were inserted in the Indian Information Technology Act 2000. The cyber crimes covered include the offence of hacking, damage to computer source code, publishing obscene electronic information, breach of protected system, breach of confidentiality and misuse of Digital Signature certificates.


Indian police are still considered a baton-wielding, tobaccochewing and rough-handling force so how do you see it coming to grips with cybercrime?


This is one of the big challenge areas. It is true that the Indian police has to change itself radically in order to come to grips with cybercrime. A majority of people in the Indian police do not even have knowledge of computers and their functionality.

Under the Indian cyberlaw, since cyber crimes are perceived to be specialised crimes, they can only be investigated by police officer not below rank of a Deputy Superintendent of police.

However, practical experience has shown that DSPs invariably do not have the time to investigate cyber crimes. It is high time that the Government comes up with a dedicated budget on creating more awareness and training on cybercrimes.


As you are actively involved at domestic level in the prosecution of Cybercrime, please give some examples of how it was tackled and what you expect in future?


I am involved on a very active level at the domestic level in India. I was the counsel for the complainant in India’s first cyber crime conviction that took place in 2003. This is a case where my client was a big multi-national electronics company and on its own website, a call centre executive had misused the credit card number of an American lady who had no knowledge of the transaction. The Central Bureau of Investigation registered the case of the complainant and thereafter arrested the call centre executive, who was convicted for online cheating. Thereafter there has been only one the conviction pertaining to cyber crime in India.


Moreover, how these experiences can be shared at global level?


The experiences of India can be shared on a global level. India can also become a model leader, if it comes up with adequate and effective provisions which are a deterrent against the commission of cyber crimes. In addition, these experiences can be shared at the global level for developing countries, who have not enacted any cyber laws, and/or laws on cyber crimes in order to not reinvent the wheel but leapfrog keeping in mind the experiences of nations like India in regulating cybercrimes.


What are your recommendations to Indian federal and state governments when it comes to dragging their feet while making legislation on this subject?


My recommendation to the Indian federal and state governments is that India as a nation needs to act very fast when it comes to the area of the regulating cyber crimes. In India, it will be imperative to have an appropriate dedicated legislation specifically dedicated to cyber crime, which should supplement the Indian Penal Court.


How vulnerable we are today in the growing social technical world?


We today are extremely vulnerable in the growing social technical world. The Web 2.0 phenomenon has brought in social networking as the norm of the day. People are getting onto the social networking bandwagon without any application of mind and without thinking the potential consequences of revealing all their personal information on such networks. If people today are not careful about placing their personal information on the Internet, they may have to repent for a lifetime for the same. Unfortunately people have no clue about what kinds of information is being targeted and misused by Cyber criminals. People need to be extremely careful about the dangers of Internet as they emerge.


How has your experience been enhanced by attending this Council of Europe Conference on Cybercrime?


The Octopus Conference on Cybercrime organised by the Council of Europe has been a unique learning opportunity. The quality of speakers, the variety of subjects covered and the depth of the discussion that has taken place, has been remarkable and the said conference has immensely increased enhanced my perspectives on various nuances of different emerging cyber crimes and its related trends across the world.

This conference has provided not just an opportunity to listen and interact with the best minds working in this area but also has provided a platform to share about the ongoing developments pertaining to Cybercrime legislation that exists in India.

This conference has also enabled me to update the members of the world community about the various developments that are taking place in India pertaining to regulation and prevention of Cybercrime.

All said and done, this conference has been an excellent opportunity for learning, interaction and more importantly for expanding the midstream horizons and discussing about newlyemerging trends and thought processes concerning cyber crime across the world.

EU awaits official WTO ruling

Leaked documents suggest US can impose sanctions

The year 2008 has brought another loss to the European Union in its more than a decade-old tariff dispute with Latin American banana producers and the US, as a leaked interim report from the World Trade Organization (WTO) clearly sided with the US on who can then levy sanctions on European imports equal to damages incurred by US companies.

Have patience, do not react and this too shall pass! The mantra advocated by many in the labyrinths of power in Brussels seems to have slipped badly as 11 years down the road the “Banana Wars” of the late 1990s came back knocking on the doors of the European Commission.

Joining the fray, the US had said in a statement: “The US request relates to the EU’s apparent failure to implement the WTO rulings in a 1996 proceeding initiated by Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and America.”

After the 1996 WTO ruling, the EU had committed to bring its tariff-quota regime for bananas in compliance with the ruling no later than January 1, 2006, said the US statement, lamenting the fact that “the EU banana regime put in place on January 1, 2006 features a zeroduty tariff quota that is allocated exclusively to bananas from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. Bananas of Latin American origin do not have access to this duty-free tariff rate quota and are subject, instead, to a 176 Euro/ton duty.”

During a press conference later, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Mariann Fischer Boel had wondered why in the first place the US was interested in the banana sector as it is not a banana producer, but then she answered her own doubts with the mention of Chiquita, a major banana company, as the possible cause for US to intervene.

The Commissioner, however, added that the EU will look into the matter and take appropriate steps. Chiquita, based in Cincinnati in the US, could not be contacted for their immediate reaction but it had said in its annual report last year that the tariff added USD 75 million in net costs in 2006.

European banana sector sources told New Europe that other US exporters, including Del Monte and Dole, are also affected, adding that the European Commissioner has her facts correct that no bananas are grown in the US, but in the trade circle of today’s era of globalisation everyone is aware of the large farming interests of these leading world exporters globally, especially in the Latin American region.

The US statement pointed out that WTO ruling had said “the EU’s regime discriminates against bananas originating in Latin American countries and against distributors of such bananas, including several US companies,” adding “The EU was under an obligation to bring its banana regime into compliance with its WTO obligations by January 1999.”

The EU’s tariff-only banana policy took effect in 2006, after a nearly five-year transition from a license-and-quota system that the US and Latin American producers had fought since its introduction in 1993.

The WTO ruled against the old system in 1997 and upheld US sanctions of European goods in 1999.During negotiating for a single tariff system to modify its complex web of duties and quotas for imports, the European Commission had suggested EU duties of 230 Euro and then scaling them down to 187 Euro, but WTO panels had rejected the proposals arguing that those were discriminatory against Latin American (Latam) nations.

Out of that deadlock emerged the figure of 176 Euro, but the conflict simmered on.Even after the introduction of the new EU single tariff system, there was widespread dissatisfaction, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere got into the driver’s seat to find a political solution based on a thorough monitoring of the EU banana imports and various price systems in force.

But, after waiting nearly for a year, Ecuador decided to go ahead with the WTO route culminating in a victory late last year. On November 23, 2006 Ecuador was joined by Colombia as a third party. Panama and the US followed and more countries are set to join in the fray according to sector insiders.

The EU’s current banana import policy significantly differentiates access treatment as a tariff-quota volume of 775,000 tonnes is exclusively reserved for bananas of ACP origin. ACP bananas within the quota enter duty-free (i.e., at a 176 Euro/tonne margin of preference), with unlimited ACP over-quota access authorised at a tariff of 176 Euro/tonne.

On the other hand, an “autonomous” tariff of 176 Euro/tonne (a rate more than double the previously-applicable rate of 75 Euro/tonne) applies to all other bananas.Bananas are the most important agricultural product in Ecuador, and its exports account for 25 percent of all Ecuador’s agricultural exports. Some 22 percent of all banana output is aimed for the European Union market but this share to EU 27 today is down by 3.3 percent.

On the other hand, in Europe it is a “sensitive” commodity and there is a protection regime for the sector.While bananas grown within the bloc have shrunk to only 11 percent of the total EU supply, highly-subsidised production is important to the Spain’s Canary Islands, the French overseas departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe and Portugal’s Madeira and Azores islands.In 2007, Europeans ate some 4.9 million tonnes of bananas, making the bloc the world’s biggest banana market but consumption per capita remains two kilogrammes below the average consumed in the US.

Over two-thirds of the fruits consumed come from Latin America, earning a total of approximately 637 million Euro in tariffs for EU coffers and a further “duty-free” 16.3 percent from Africa and Caribbean countries.

It’s interesting to note that only on Colombian bananas is there a taxation of 200 million Euro, and social pundits along with market observers agreed that this money could be utilised to aid rural communities, such as Colombia, where former presidential candidate and Colombian-French citizen Ingrid Betancourt is kept as a hostage.

Bananas are set to be prominent in the upcoming finalisation of Association Agreements with Central American and Andean countries while appearing on the radar of WTO Development Round but according to reliable WTO sources in Geneva, the latest leaked ruling can be appealed against by the European Union only when these are finalised and published.

Much hype about nothing as Fitna hits the virtual world

The 24103 link was the gateway to Fitna, the film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, but now it has an official statement explaining the removal of the online film, blaming the British media as one of the factors.

While watching the film before its removal from the website, I kept waiting for the “substance” that will provide judgement for all the media frenzy plus strong reactions from political leaders to a move from one of their own creed.

“Fitna,” meaning “strife” is nothing but a 15- minute assorted montage of a parochial politician bent upon serving a stale dish of stolen works of journalists and photo-journalists sprinkled with verses from the Koran, which is sacred to millions of Muslims.

Being a Christian myself, I can vouch for many verses from the Bible, which can be as vicious as ones quoted in the short “assortment.” I refuse to call it a film. I actually felt cheated as having gotten the promise of a “film,” and all those statements from prime ministers and presidents with a heightened security alert and the finale: just 15 minutes of sick stolen works.

Just to give an example: Imagine stills of Muslim demonstrations showing people with “God bless Hitler” placards. There is a lack of historical factual statement here because it’s a known fact that when Jews were being persecuted in Europe, they were living safely in Muslim countries where they were free to practice their faith.

Add to that the scrolling messages at the end of the film reading; “The government insists that you respect Islam, but Islam has no respect for you ... Nazism was defeated in Europe ... Communism was defeated in Europe. Now the Islamic ideology has to be defeated ... Stop Islamisation. Defend our freedom.”

And on top of it all, the clipping of the little Palestinian girl was nothing but simply straight out of a sick mind as one could see she’s completely indoctrinated with hatred and she spoke at that age without even understanding what hate means as love is the emotion that comes naturally to children that age.

Even the dumbest person in the world knows that every Muslim is not a terrorist, a jihad supporter, as not all Christians can be labeled crusaders. Actually, I can imagine Osama bin Laden laughing his head (or turban) off watching this film because Wilders generated a media hype and failed to live up to it while highlighting al-Qaeda propaganda that to be a good Muslim one needs to be a believer in terror tactics.

Result: in the future, even if you do have a vicious product to generate hatred between communities, there won’t be many buyers at projected value and people won’t flock to the Internet to check it out.

Another by-product came free: Wilders got some more cheap notoriety (not popularity) reinforcing the notion that manipulation and dishonesty prevails in the different strata of politics and among politicians.

Moreover, I am happy that Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who drew the original Prophet Mohammed cartoons, is pushing for legal action as he felt that the cartoons were taken out of context.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the Dutch Prime Minister aptly rejected it all with a statement on the Dutch Television saying that “the film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence.”

Final word: Fitna, “the film” can still be seen at Google Video at /videoplay?docid=3369102968312745410

Desertion rate drops in Afghanistan: NATO

There has been a dramatic fall in the number of trained Afghan soldiers leaving the Afghan National Army (ANA) over last couple of years, according to top military training officer in Afghanistan.

Addressing international journalists in Brussels through a video link-up with Kabul, Robert W. Cone, the commanding general of Combined Security Transition – Afghanistan said, “Probably 18 months to two years ago we had an AWOL (Absent Without Official Leave) rate that was over 20 percent, which is totally unacceptable in a modern army. Today, as we speak, I think that number is actually below eight percent and the Afghans continue to work this very hard.”

Stressing the strong ties Afghan youth have with their families, the General said that during the leave programme there are delays, explaining a new pragmatic approach to address the problem.

“We call it a managed leave programme where every Afghan soldier, just like every western soldier, knows when his next break is going to be and then can take it - it’s complicated here, of course, because the banking system is not that mature and often they have to carry that money home to their families.

“A large number of Afghans will go on leave during the Eid period, and a significant number will come back. It’s normally a transportation delay that they can’t get back from where they went home to and they can’t get back in time, so they’ll show up several days or a week late because of transportation problems.

“In many ways, they’re very much like western soldiers in terms of their expectations of care by their chain of command.”

Outlining an optimistic future for the ANA, he said, “Their goal and objective is to assume responsibility for their own security as quickly as we can get them properly manned and equipped.”

General Cone told journalists, “They have been under development now for over six years and they are now at a strength of about 51,000 troops in the fielded force, and another 10,000 that are currently in training, in the training centres across this country.”

Coming to the police department, General Cone minced no words in admitting the tough challenges faced by that sector now and ahead. “The police development lags behind the army some number of years. The police problem is much more complicated in its nature because it’s constantly in interaction with the people and frankly there are many more opportunities for corruption and inappropriate activity. “The history of policing in Afghanistan is problematic. And many of the police in the past have been members of former militias and had not had the kind of training and professional education that we as westerners find acceptable in a modern police force.”

Pointing out ways to root out corruption, the General said, “Things like pay reform, ensuring that the police are paid adequately so they are not prone to what is known as one-handedcorruption, which is that they don’t make enough money and so therefore they must attempt to gain money illegally.”

Making repeated stressed requests for “police trainers,” the General said, “We need additional police trainers to assist us to broaden this programme. Fifty-two districts in a nation where there’s 364 is where we require additional assistance... some of them have already stepped forward, for instance, Great Britain, Canada, have stepped forward and offered on a bilateral basis police trainers to assist in this programme.”

“We currently have some 1,300 police trainers that are employed in the field.” Explaining the need for the large number of police trainers, the General said, “The number of police trainers we currently need is a number of about 2,300. That includes about 800 actual police trainers, policemen who go to the field, but because it’s dangerous here in Afghanistan they require a security force that goes with them.”

Highlighting the aptitude of Afghans to fight, General said, “The challenge with them is not in this willingness to fight, it is in the higher level skills of things like command and control, logistics, applying close air support; the professional military skills.”

Predicting the Afghan army growth to surpass 80,000, the General said, “That is the internationally- agreed upon number from the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board. That will be some 14 brigades and six commando battalions with associated logistics support, aviation support, artillery support, and that force - that number will be achieved, we predict, in March of next year.

“And things like, for instance, the air-force capability will not be fully online until 2013 and so that - again, because it takes much longer to teach them English to fly an aircraft, to teach them to fly, for instance, the C27 which we’re buying from Italy will be their primary airlift aircraft, and so that will take longer.

With the international clamour growing for more international soldieries, there was a very candid admission from the General on the frontlines saying, “... We would like to see and that is the Afghans taking the majority of the fight, taking the fight to the enemy, because they know the ground, they understand the language, they know the people, and again, using ISAF forces as reinforcement.

“That is the emerging model and I think all can see the value of this that the Afghans are on point and provide the majority of the combat forces engaged in the operations,” added General Cone. Reflecting on ethnic-balancing employed in the country’s armed forces, General Cone said, “For instance, the 209th corps is commanded by a Hazara, his chief of staff is a Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik, and what I think is interesting having watched Afghan operations in the countryside is the amazement of the Afghan people looking at this army as a model of ethnic integration.”