Weekly News Review

20th June 2003

Transatlantic Trade War: US-led coalition starts to crumble

The aggressive attempt by the US administration to force genetically modified (GM) foods into the European Union (EU) is starting to weaken, according to Friends of the Earth International.

The US started proceedings through the WTO against the EU’s moratorium on GM foods on 13th May 2003, along with Argentina, Canada and Egypt, and with the support of nine additional countries.


However, Egypt quickly backtracked and decided not to start proceedings at the WTO alongside the US-led coalition. El Salvador and Honduras were among the nine supporting countries but have refrained from taking part in the WTO consultations demanded by the US. Canada has distanced itself from the US by requesting a separate consultation with the EU. India, a big agricultural country, did ask to take part in the consultations. India is in the process of developing legislation on GMOs. Last week it was announced that the UN “Cartagena” Biosafety Protocol, a treaty regulating trade in GMOs, will become law in September 2003 [2]. Paradoxically, many of the countries originally supporting the US have either bans or moratoria for GM products in place. New Zealand  has a moratorium on planting GMOs, Australia has a number of state-level  bans, Peru  has a ban on GMO crops, El Salvador a ban on GM seeds and Mexico  a ban on GM maize.

Commenting on these developments, Ricardo Navarro, chair of Friends of the Earth International said:  ''The US-led attempt to force-feed the world genetically modified foods appears to be losing support. The right of countries to take a precautionary approach on any new technology is fundamental to protecting people and our environment. Friends of the Earth urges Europe to stand firm in this dispute not only for its own sake but also for the increasing number of world citizens who are concerned about GM.''


EU buffer states and UNHCR "processing" centres and "safe havens"


Plans to send all refugees and asylum-seekers to be immediately sent to EU "closed

reception centres" for "processing" and to force all twenty "neighbour" states to create a new "buffer" zone, along with a number of other racist, inhuman EU proposals are revealed and discussed at here

EU cuts funding for treatment of torture victims


European Union funding for the treatment of torture victims has been cut by one third. Campaigners said that the move threatens specialist rehabilitation centres around the globe. Read all about it at here


Brown says no short cut to euro entry


In a speech this week Gordon Brown said that there would be no short cuts to euro entry and that he would not put the British economic stability at risk. He said, “The five tests are our guarantee of economic stability. And I can say today that the same comprehensive and rigorous approach we followed on the decisions announced last week will continue at all times. It is because stability is so fundamental to British economic success that I can assure you that there will be no short-cuts and no fudge”.

Also speaking at the Mansion House, Bank chief Sir Eddie George took the opportunity of saying that he believed the time is not right to join the euro now, saying, “I agree with your assessment that the economic case for euro-entry has not yet been made.”


However, the Chancellor undermined his message by saying that the Government is still keeping open the option of a further assessment next year. Brown said, “We will report on progress on these reforms in the Budget next year and we can then consider the extent of progress and determine whether on the basis of it we make a further Treasury assessment of the five tests which - if positive next year - would allow us at that time to put the issue before the British people in a referendum.”


The credibility of the Government’s euro policy was further damaged when Peter Hain claimed that the British economy was approaching convergence, saying “we are well down the road and nearly there” (speech at Bloomberg, 18 June).


The UK “No” campaign, which supplied this report,  commented that “The Treasury’s assessment rightly pointed out that structural differences between the British and Eurozone economies – for example in housing markets – mean that joining the euro would destabilise the economy. However, these are not issues that are going to just go away in a year to suit the political timetable of the Government and the Government has discredited the 5 tests by suggesting that they might. The Government should have taken the opportunity in the assessment to say at least that we can’t join the euro in this Parliament.”


Joining the euro would mean more expensive mortgages for UK homeowners


As part of his plan to force the British economy into convergence with the Eurozone, the Chancellor (finance minister) is looking at ways of moving people onto fixed rate mortgages to become more like the Eurozone. However, according to research by the mortgage broker “The MarketPlace”, such fixed rate mortgages would be at least 1.75 percentage points more expensive than the cheapest loans available. David Bitner of The MarketPlace, said that the move to higher interest rates could cost borrowers £12 billion a year – around £1,000 each.

Bitner said, “The Chancellor is willing to remove the competitive, flexible, choice-driven mortgage market borrowers have become accustomed to and replace it with a system that offers borrowers very little. The knock-on effects of moving to a fixed system could be huge – inflation, property prices and consumer confidence are likely to be dramatically affected” (Sunday Express, 15 June).


Ray Boulger, senior technical manager of broker Charcol said, “On odd occasions, 25-year fixed-rate mortgages have sold well, but only when they have offered very competitive rates. They will never sell in huge quantities.” David Hollingworth of broker London and Country, said, “The cost of a 25-year fix is what puts people off. People who have fixed over the longer term in the past have often got caught out, stuck on a higher rate. This has cost them a lot of money to get out of. Home owners tend to be prepared to look ahead five years at a time, and you can get very competitive deals at less than 4 percent over this period, which adds to the attraction” (Independent on Sunday, 15 June).

Unlike in many other countries, British people on low incomes commonly own their own homes.

Thanks to the UK “No” campaign for this report.

War crimes suits filed in Belgium against Bush and Blair

War crimes lawsuits have been filed in Belgium against eight top officials including US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Belgian authorities confirmed. Read all about it at here

What's Happening?”

Atilio A.Boron Interviews Noam Chomsky

Atilio A. Boron: Looking at the recent US policies in Iraq, what do you think was the real goal behind this war?

Noam Chomsky: Well, we can be quite confident on one thing. The reasons we are given can't possibly be the reasons. And we know that, because they are internally contradictory. So one day, Bush and Powell would claim that "the single question," as they put it, is whether Iraq would disarm and the next day they would say it doesn´t matter whether Iraq disarms because they will go on and invade anyway. And the next day would be that if Saddam and his group get out then the problem will be solved; and then, the next day for example, at the Azores, at the summit when they made an ultimatum to the United Nations, they said that even if Saddam and his group get out they would go on and invade anyway. And they went on like that. When people give you contradictory reasons every time they speak, all they are saying is: "don't believe a word I say." So we can dismiss the official reasons." Read the rest at here

Water Privatisers on the Defensive

"Activists from around the world succeeded in making water privatisation the dominant, most controversial issue during the one-week Forum. Their testimonies on the often disastrous local experiences with transnational corporations running the water delivery systems torpedoed the PR strategy of pro-industry think-tank World Water Council (WWC), which co-organised the forum."  In this article, our friends at Corporate Europe Observatory analyses the results of the World Water Forum which took place in Kyoto, March 16-23. Read the article here