Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and other leaders involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) announced late yesterday that 15 of the 16 countries have finalised the text, and are prepared to sign the trade deal in early 2020.
India is the only one not to join, a joint leaders’ statement saying the country had “significant outstanding issues”. Negotiations will continue in the hope it may join later.
The RCEP now involves Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, covering 2.5 billion people.
A lost Indian market, for now, and concerns about corporate power
India’s absence severely diminishes the market access Australia hoped to gain. Australia already has a free trade agreement with ASEAN, and has bilateral free trade agreements with all of the other countries.
India would have been the main area of additional market access for Australian agricultural and other exports.
RCEP negotiations have dragged on since 2012. Much attention has focused on India’s resistance to lower tariffs and emphasised the importance of concluding a major trade deal in the face of US president Donald Trump’s America-first protectionism.
But there is a hidden contentious agenda of non-tariff issues that has influenced India’s decision and could restrict future government regulation by giving more rights to global corporations.
These deserve more public discussion in Australia, and reflect the widely divergent levels of economic development of RECP countries.
A secret deal
As usual, the wording of the RECP deal is secret. The final text will not be revealed until after it is signed.
This secrecy favours corporate players, which have the most resources to lobby governments.
Leaked documents reveal the industrialised countries, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, have been pushing non-tariff rules that suit their major corporations, similar to those in the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
These have been resisted by developing countries, which have more vulnerable populations, and wish to preserve regulatory space to develop local industries.
Concern over foreign investor rights
The contested proposals include foreign investor rights to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in international tribunals if they can argue a change in law or policy will harm their investment. This is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS.
Tobacco company Philip Morris used ISDS to sue our government for compensation over our plain packaging law, a public health measure designed to discourage young smokers. Australia won in the end, but at a cost to taxpayers of $12 million.
Most of the 983 known ISDS cases have been taken against developing countries, with increasing numbers against health, environment, indigenous land rights, labour laws and other public interest regulation in both developing and industrialised countries.
ISDS has been reportedly excluded from the RCEP text. India was one of the main opponents of ISDS. We won’t know for sure whether ISDS is still excluded until the text is released after signing.
Other concerns over patents and e-commerce
Even more contentious are proposals that pharmaceutical companies should be given longer patent monopolies on medicines than the current 20 years. This would delay the availability of cheaper medicines, at greatest cost to developing countries.
There are also proposals to extend to developing countries’ rules on patenting of seeds and plants that apply to industrialised countries. This would make it more difficult for millions of small-scale farmers in developing countries to save and exchange seeds with each other as they have done for centuries. They lack the capacity to use the legal system to obtain patent rights and lack the funds to buy patented seeds.
The RCEP also includes an e-commerce chapter that mandates free cross-border data flows for global corporations such as Google and Facebook. This makes it more difficult for governments to regulate them.
For example, if trade rules forbid requirements to store data locally, then national privacy laws and other consumer protections cannot be applied to data stored in other countries.
The recent Digital Platforms report of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission recommended more, not less regulation of these corporations. That was in the face of scandals about violations of consumer privacy, misuse of data in elections and tax evasion.
Developing countries are also concerned rules favouring the global tech companies will lock in their market dominance at the expense of local IT industry development.
These conflicts between governments have been deepened by national pressures from civil society groups in RCEP countries including Australia. When RECP negotiations were held in Australia in July this year, 52 community organisations, including public health, union, church, environment and aid groups endorsed a letter to the trade minister Simon Birmingham. They asked him to oppose ISDS and longer medicine monopolies in the RCEP, and to release the text for independent evaluation before it is signed.
Show us the deal
Even without India in the deal, the Australian government says it will boost local jobs and exports.
But without India, claimed market access gains are marginal for Australia and must be evaluated against the costs of expanded corporate rights and restraints on future government regulation.
That’s why the text of the RCEP deal should be released before it is signed and there should be independent evaluation of its costs and benefits for both Australia and its trading partners.
India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft has settled into lunar orbit, ahead of its scheduled Moon landing on September 7. If it succeeds India will join a very select club, now comprising the former Soviet Union, the United States and China.
As with all previous Moon missions, national prestige is a big part of India’s Moon shot. But there are some colder calculations behind it as well. Space is poised to become a much bigger business, and both companies and countries are investing in the technological capability to ensure they reap the earthly rewards.
Last year private investment in space-related technology skyrocketed to US$3.25 billion, according to the London-based Seraphim Capital – a 29% increase on the previous year.
The list of interested governments is also growing. Along with China and India joining the lunar A-list, in the past decade eight countries have founded space agencies – Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Of prime interest is carving out a piece of the market for making and launching commercial payloads. As much as we already depend on satellites now, this dependence will only grow.
In 2018 382 objects were launched into space. By 2040 it might easily be double that, with companies like Amazon planning “constellations”, composed of thousands of satellites, to provide telecommunication services.
The satellite business is just a start. The next big prize will be technology for “in-situ resource utilisation” – using materials from space for space operations. One example is extracting water from the Moon (which could also be split to provide oxygen and hydrogen-based rocket fuel). NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, has suggested Australian agencies and companies could play a key role in this.
All up, the potential gains from a slice of the space economy are huge. It is estimated the space economy could grow from about US$350 billion now to more than US$1 trillion (and as possibly as much US$2,700 billion) in 2040.
At the height of its Apollo program to land on the Moon, NASA got more than 4% of the US federal budget. As NASA gears up to return to the Moon and then go to Mars, its budget share is about 0.5%.
In space money has most definitely become an object. But it’s a constraint that’s spurring innovation and opening up economic opportunities.
NASA pulled the pin on its space shuttle program in 2011 when the expected efficiencies of a resusable launch vehicle failed to pan out. Since then it has bought seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to get its astronauts into space. It is now paying SpaceX, the company founded by electric car king Elon Musk, to deliver space cargo.
SpaceX’s stellar trajectory, having entered the business a little more than a decade ago, demonstrates the possibilities for new players.
To get something into orbit using the space shuttle cost about US$54,500 a kilogram. SpaceX says the cost of its Falcon 9 rocket and reuseable Dragon spacecraft is about US$2,700 a kilogram. With costs falling, the space economy is poised to boom.
Choosing a niche
As the space economy grows, it’s likely different countries will come to occupy different niches. Specialisation will be the key to success, as happens for all industries.
In the hydrocarbon industry, for instance, some countries extract while others process. In the computer industry, some countries design while others manufacture.
There will be similar niches in space. Governments’ policies will play a big part in determining which nation fills which niche.
There are three ways to think about niches.
First, function. A country could focus on space mining, for instance, or space observation. It could act as a space communication hub, or specialise in developing space-based weapons.
Luxembourg is an example of functional specialisation. Despite its small size, it punches above its weight in the satellite industry. Another example is Russia, which for now has the monopoly on transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.
Second, value-adding. A national economy can focus on lower or higher value-add processes. In telecommunications, for example, much of the design work is done in the United States, while much of the manufacturing happens in China. Both roles have benefits and drawbacks.
Third, blocs. Global production networks sometimes fragment. One can already see the potential for this happening between the United States and China. If it occurs, other countries must either align with one bloc or remain neutral.
Aligning with a large power ensures patronage, but also dependence. Being between blocs has its risks, but also provides opportunities to gain from each bloc and act as an intermediary.
The first space race, between the Soviet Union and the United States, was singularly driven by political will and government policy. The new space race is more complex, with private players taking the lead in many ways, but government priorities and policy are still crucial. They will determine which countries reach the heights, and which get left behind.
Tensions are on the rise in Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian state situated mostly in the Himalayas. For decades, it has had constitutional autonomy from India.
The region is an area of major territorial conflict between India and Pakistan. Parts of the Kashmir valley have been under Pakistan’s control since the 1948 Indo-Pakistani war and both India and Pakistan have since fought two more wars claiming title to Jammu and the whole of Kashmir.
But yesterday, the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government’s decision to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. This status gave it the independence to have its own constitution, flag and the ability to make its own laws for its residents.
To do this, the government has abolished Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, and announced a plan to divide the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
In recent weeks, India has discharged some 35,000 troops to the Indian parts of Kashmir, adding to the 500,000 troops already stationed in the territory. India also cancelled a major Hindu pilgrimage, asked tourists to leave and imposed curfews in parts of the state.
India cites the threat of militancy in the territory emanating from Pakistan as the reason for recent lockdown and security measures.
So what happens now?
From now on, Jammu and Kashmir will be considered a part of India, the same as other Indian states. It will be subject to the Indian constitution in its entirety.
The Indian government, following its election promises, claims that removing the special status will provide better economic and political opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir, the same as those available in mainland India.
India Tomorrow part 3: Kashmir
But skeptics believe that such a rushed move is merely a cover for changing the demographics of the Muslim-majority Kashmir to make it more Hindu, in the same way Israel expanded into Palestinian territories.
The abolition of Article 35A removes a constitutional hurdle for foreigners to buy land, settle in Jammu and Kashmir and increase the non-Muslim population there.
Until now, the expansion of the non-Muslim population was restricted due to strict property, political and entrepreneurial state laws for non-residents.
What does Article 370 do?
Adopted in 1949, Article 370 grants Jammu and Kashmir an autonomous status under the Indian constitution.
The article exempts the state from the terms of the constitution and limits the Indian Parliament in making laws for Jammu and Kashmir, except on matters of defence, external affairs and communications.
The Jammu and Kashmir legislature must approve any other law the Indian Parliament passes before it takes effect.
The article states that specific provisions in the Indian constitution can be extended to Jammu and Kashmir through presidential orders. But this can only happen with the agreement of the state government.
One such provision is Article 35A, which was passed through a presidential order in 1954. It allowed the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define rights and privileges for the permanent residents of the territory.
Article 370 was first adopted as a temporary term under the “Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions” section of India’s constitution when India had committed to holding a plebiscite in the territory to let the residents decide their political future.
But how valid is India’s move?
According to India’s constitution, Article 370 could only be modified or revoked at the recommendation of Jammu and Kashmir’s constituent assembly. The constituent assembly, however, dissolved itself in the 1950s, arguably entrenching Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in the Indian constitution permanently.
This means that abolishing Article 370 through yesterday’s presidential notification may be unconstitutional. And if this is the case, revoking the existing constitutional authority means India would be ruling Jammu and Kashmir by force.
Is conflict likely?
The predominantly Muslim Kashmiri population has strong reservations about an influx of Indians into their homelands, particularly since 2008. Then, the Jammu and Kashmir government agreed to grant 40 hectares of forestland to a Hindu pilgrimage site to provide for housing facilities for pilgrims, but was met with strong public protests against the idea.
Over the years, despite the Kashmiris’ concerns, the Indian right-wing groups, with the help of central government, have been encouraging Hindus to undertake the pilgrimage in big numbers.
Recently, US President Donald Trump offered to mediate the territorial conflict between Pakistan and India for a solution to the decades-old crises.
India has always maintained the dispute to be a bilateral issue between the two countries and refused to accept any third party’s involvement. Pakistan, on the other hand, regards it an international issue which, similar to the Israel-Palestine conflict, requires the UN and other international players to play their parts.
But bringing Jammu and Kashmir under India’s rule means this dispute will become more internalised between the two countries. This is concerning to Pakistan and could, once again, reignite border tensions between the two countries.
The links below are to articles reporting news relating to the persecution of Christians in India.
For more visit:
The links below are to reports of the persecution of Christians in India (the most recent are at the top).
For more visit:
With the final approval of the Adani Carmichael coal mine now apparently imminent, it is important to ask how it has seemingly defied the assessment of experts that it is not financially viable.
After all, it’s only a week since the Chinese owner of another mine planned for the Galilee Basin, the China Stone mine, suspended its bid for mining leases because of commercial considerations.
But such a purely financial analysis ignores the political forces driving the development of the coal industry in both India and Australia.
Mates in India, mates in Australia
In short, both are locked into what I describe as a model of crony capitalism, in which special deals are handed out to projects such as Adani that tip the scales in favour of development.
The actions of China and Japan in deploying enormous state power to export their respective coal technologies to Southeast Asia strengthens the hands of those pushing such developments.
In my recent book, Adani and the war over coal, I outline a network of power that for several decades has promoted the development of Australia’s coal resources in the interests of national and international corporations.
The mining companies, then the big four banks became part of it, lending billions in the rush to develop Australian coal mines as Asian countries sought to lock in long-term supplies. The Minerals Council of Australia, the New South Wales Minerals Council and the Queensland Resources Council, with their collective close ties to both political parties, handled public relations.
Yet they have faced resistance from the rise of an anti-Adani movement that links grassroots environmentalists, peak environmental lobby groups and progressive organisations such as GetUp!
By mid-2018, these campaigners seemed to have backed the Carmichael mine into a cul de sac by scaring off both Australian and foreign investors. They had also pressured the Queensland government to withdraw its support for a loan to the project from the Commonwealth government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.
Then Adani surprised them by announcing that it would scale back the project and fund it from its own resources. On the face of it this seemed unlikely, but it had help.
Adani and Modi have history
The chairman and founder of the Adani group, Gautam Adani, has had a long relationship with the recently re-elected Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.
Modi played a decisive role in paving the way for Adani’s latest mega deal: selling coal-fired power from a plant in the Indian state of Jharkhand to nearby Bangladesh.
The power for Bangladesh is set to be fired by Carmichael coal. Many Australians would be concerned to learn that our coal is to be used to power one of the most climate-challenged countries on the planet, but we have this on the authority of Adani’s previous Australian-based chief executive, Jeyakuma Janakaraj.
Twelve days before the 2019 Indian election date was announced, the Modi government gave approval for an Adani project in Jharkhand to become the first designated power project in India to get the status and benefits of a Special Economic Zone, saving Adani billions of dollars in taxes, including clean energy taxes.
The Indian state will provide land, infrastructure and water for the project and shoulder the burden of pollution. The cost of the power to Bangladesh is not expected to be cheap.
Will we be asked for more?
Adani’s form suggests it might come back to Australia for more. Following the re-election of the Morrison government it is already being speculated that the pro-coal Minister for Resources, Matt Canavan, will revisit the original proposal for a billion-dollar government-sponsored loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to construct the railway from the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port.
The Adani saga points to a critical flaw in the Paris climate agreement. It is an agreement between nation states, but what those states do is often determined by arrangements between politicians and private companies that feel no particular obligation to keep global warming to less than two degrees.
We are pawns in a larger, climate-destroying game.
The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition in India’s federal election represents a key marker in the modern history of India. It was the most extensive and probably most expensive election campaign in the country’s history, with 900 million voters casting their votes in one million polling stations over 38 days. Some 83 million Indians were first-time voters, with 15 million of them aged 18 and 19.
The great Indian festival of democracy – as the elections are often called – is seen as the most challenging exercise in making all Indians feel they have a say in the running of the government.
And the return of Narendra Modi as prime minister is both an opportunity and challenge for the country.
The 2019 parliamentary elections were the most “presidential” since the era of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi four decades ago, with a focus more on the personality of one leader (and his track record) than the candidates standing for office and their respective parties.
I travelled across India to the hustings in as many as 50 parliamentary constituencies and witnessed firsthand the “Modi phenomenon.” In constituency after constituency, BJP candidates evoked Modi’s name and displayed his image every opportunity they could.
Modi’s larger-than-life presence
Modi was projected as the only leader who would revive the great Indian civilization and save the country from the powerful elites and corrupt politicians who made up what the BJP deemed the “anti-national” opposition.
At times in the campaign, his personality assumed almost mythological proportions. The defining image was of the Indian leader shedding his regal robes and retreating to a bare cave in the Himalayas, close to one of the important centres of Hindu pilgrimage, where he meditated in a monastic saffron shawl. This reinforced his popular image as a puritanical and incorruptible leader whose first choice in life was to be a monk.
In contrast to this imagery, the opposition parties ran lazy, tired campaigns that failed to have much impact.
The Congress Party, the country’s once-dominant political party, did not improve much on its devastating results from the 2014 election. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the sister of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, tried hard to mobilise voters with rousing speeches and campaign events, but these were just brief moments in the longest campaign in Indian electoral history.
The Congress Party’s traditional hubris showed little signs of abating as it abandoned any chance of building potentially winning coalitions that could have countered the Modi juggernaut.
The only real resistance to the BJP-led coalition came from India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, where two strong regional parties suspended their traditional rivalry to establish an alliance, but even that coalition did not live up to its initial promise.
The Modi campaign succeeded not just in appealing to nostalgia for India’s greatness or in the ultra-nationalism that peaked after airstrikes against what India viewed as terrorist camps in Pakistan in February. It was actual delivery on the ground.
The social welfare schemes built around providing lavatories, cooking gas and direct cash transfers to India’s poorest have had tremendous impact across the country. Surprisingly, even the more woolly-headed schemes of the Modi government, such as his chaotic demonetisation decision in 2016 and a poorly implemented introduction of GST, were perceived by many voters as policies that were well-intentioned, but badly executed by the toxic bureaucracy seeking to undermine Modi.
In part due to these social welfare schemes, the BJP expanded its presence in states where it has traditionally had little previous success, including Bengal, Odisha and many parts of southern India.
What Modi’s win means for India
So, what can Indians expect from a BJP-led government for the next five years? Based on what we have seen since 2014, the government will be centralised and driven primarily from Modi’s office. Fortunately, the messiness of Indian democracy and the strengths of the constitution will prevent the country from leaning towards authoritarianism, so that should not be a concern.
The previous Modi government has shown it was possible to take a pragmatic approach to social and economic policies.
There are many key challenges that will require a fine balancing act. These include a further liberalising of the economy, with the structural changes needed to make it easier to do business in India and attract more foreign investment. Creating jobs and skills training for the vast numbers of young Indians remains a formidable challenge, as does India’s struggling agrarian sector, which has reached a crisis point.
It remains to be seen if the activism of the BJP’s rank-and-file members, as well as the party’s supporters in the Hindu nationalist movement, can be managed without compromising on key policies that India needs for social cohesion and to continue growing the economy. It will also fall to Modi to reassure ethnic and religious minorities – many of whom have fallen victim to Hindu mob attacks – that they are part of an inclusive vision for the country.
In terms of foreign policy, Modi has demonstrated deftness in New Delhi’s relations with powers like China and the US, as well as other countries in the region. There are sure to be new challenges with Pakistan, in particular, as well as an increasingly belligerent China, but Modi has already shown he has a unique ability to build a personal rapport with other leaders.
On March 27, India announced it had successfully conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test, called “Mission Shakti”. After the United States, Russia and China, India is now the fourth country in the world to have demonstrated this capability.
The destroyed satellite was one of India’s own. But the test has caused concerns about the space debris generated, which potentially threatens the operation of functional satellites.
There are also political and legal implications. The test’s success may be a plus for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is now trying to win his second term in the upcoming election.
But the test can be viewed as a loss for global security, as nations and regulatory bodies struggle to maintain a view of space as a neutral and conflict-free arena in the face of escalating technological capabilities.
According to the official press release, India destroyed its own satellite by using technology known as “kinetic kill”. This particular technology is usually termed as “hit-to-kill”.
A kinetic kill missile is not equipped with an explosive warhead. Simply put, what India did was to launch the missile, hit the target satellite and destroy it with energy purely generated by the high speed of the missile interceptor. This technology is only one of many with ASAT capabilities, and is the one used by China in its 2007 ASAT test.
Power and strength
Since the first satellite was launched in 1957 (the Soviet Union’s Sputnik), space has become – and will continue to be – a frontier where big powers enhance their presence by launching and operating their own satellites.
There are currently 1,957 satellites orbiting Earth. They provide crucial economic, civil and scientific benefits to the world, from generating income to a wide range of services such as navigation, communication, weather forecasts and disaster relief.
The tricky thing about satellites is that they can also be used for military and national security purposes, while still serving the civil end: one good example is GPS.
So it’s not surprising big powers are keen to develop their ASAT capabilities. The name of India’s test, Shakti, means “power, strength, capability” in Hindi.
Danger of space debris
A direct consequence of ASAT is that it creates space debris when the original satellite breaks apart. Space debris consists of pieces of non-functional spacecraft, and can vary in size from tiny paint flecks to an entire “dead” satellite. Space debris orbits from hundreds to thousands of kilometres above Earth.
The presence of space debris increases the likelihood of operational satellites being damaged.
Although India downplayed the potential for danger by arguing that its test was conducted in the lower atmosphere, this perhaps did not take into account the creation of pieces smaller than 5-10 cm in diameter.
In addition, given the potential self-sustaining nature of space debris, it’s possible the amount of space debris caused by India’s ASAT will actually increase due to the collision.
Aside from the quantity, the speed of space debris is another worrying factor. Space junk can travel at up to 10km per second in lower Earth orbit (where India intercepted its satellite), so even very small particles pose a realistic threat to space missions such as human spaceflight and robotic refuelling missions.
As we’re seeing clearly now in social media, when technology moves fast the law can struggle to keep up, and this leads to regulatory absence. This is also true of international space law.
Five fundamental global space treaties were created 35-52 years ago:
- Outer Space Treaty (1967) – governs the activities of the states in exploration and use of outer space
- Rescue Agreement (1968) – relates to the rescue and return of astronauts, and return of launched objects
- Liability Convention (1972) – governs damage caused by space objects
- Registration Convention (1967) – relates to registration of objects in space
- Moon Agreement (1984) – governs the activities of states on the Moon and other celestial bodies.
These were written when there were only a handful of spacefaring nations, and space technologies were not as sophisticated as they are now.
Although these treaties are binding legal documents, they leave many of today’s issues unregulated. For example, in terms of military space activities, the Outer Space Treaty only prohibits the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in space, not conventional weapons (including ballistic missiles, like the one used by India in Mission Shakti).
In addition, the treaty endorses that outer space shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. However, the issue is how to interpret the term “peaceful purposes”. India claimed, after its ASAT test:
we have always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes.
When terms such as “peaceful” seem to be open to interpretation, it’s time to update laws and regulations that govern how we use space.
New approaches, soft laws
Several international efforts aim to address the issues posed by new scenarios in space, including the development of military space technologies.
A similar initiative, the Woomera Manual, has been undertaken by Adelaide Law School in Australia.
Though commendable, both projects will lead to publications of “soft laws”, which will have no legally binding force on governments.
The UN needs to work much harder to attend to space security issues – the Disarmament Commission and Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space can be encouraged to collaborate on the issues regarding space weapons.
It is in everyone’s best interests to keep space safe and peaceful.