Hot (Headed) Yoga


October 14, 2014

Hot (Headed) Yoga

by
on October 13, 2014

 (The conclusion of a two-part series)

Note to readers: Yesterday, in an article headlined “Fed Up,” I reported that many members of the World Trade Organization have reached the end of their patience with a handful of members — India, and a few African and Latin Americans who love to nurture their grudges against the “rich” countries. Frustrations that such countries have poisoned the WTO’s negotiation atmosphere have been gradually building since the WTO was launched in 1995. The tipping point came in July, when India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, vetoed the only successful multilateral trade negotiation the WTO has ever conducted.

As the future viability of this vital international trade rule-making institution is now on the line, it’s important to take a closer look at how the present fight started, and why. Today’s report offers more details on: where Modi is coming from, exactly what he wants, and who his sympathizers are. While India claims to speak for the world’s poor, that certainly is not the view of an increasing number of developing countries around the world. India’s trade distorting agriculture subsidies have caused food riots in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These days, complaints of the harm that India is inflicting upon other poor countries are surfacing again, particularly in Rwanda and other African countries. Concluding, the report highlights how leading WTO member countries plan to move on, with or without the cooperation of India and the other laggard countries.

So where is Modi coming from?

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi of India at UNGA

Modi, proudly, is a hardline Hindu right-winger, an economic nationalist who boasts of a 56-inch chest. He is a tough guy, a man who loves a brawl. His top political aide is dodging a prosecution for various murders. Modi himself has denied (unconvincingly) his role in the killings of some 2,000 Muslims in organized riots in his home state of Gujarat, back in 2002.

And in the past week, Modi has rather exuberantly been raining mortars and machine-gun fire across a populated India-Pakistan border area of Kashmir. The fighting, which has broken a tenuous truce reached in 2003, has so far killed nearly 20 civilians and displaced nearly 20,000 civilians, according to news reports. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses,” a senior Indian Home Ministry official has told Reuters reporters Rupam Jain Nair and Mehreen Zara-Malik. Modi himself has boasted that “it is the enemy that is screaming.” Kashmir, with the possible exception of the Korean DMZ, is perhaps the world’s most dangerous border. A border where Hot Heads on both sides brandish their nuclear weapons.

Some of the other opinions that Modi brandishes are less scary, but well, unusual. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 27, Modi called for an “International Yoga Day.” He asserted that “yoga,” “spiritualism” and clean living could contribute to a better global environment. “By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change,” he explained to the diplomatic dignitaries. Meanwhile, back in New Delhi, the clean-living prime minister has authorized “hundreds of projects” to clear pristine forests, making way for mega power plants and other industrial projects that previous Indian governments had rejected on environmental grounds, Tommy Wilkes has reported for Reuters.

Modi held the WTO’s trade-facilitation package hostage to India’s demands to be allowed — permanently — to violate existing WTO restrictions on the subsidies it is allowed to dole out to uncompetitive Indian subsistence farmers. Adding to the indignity: previous Indian governments had agreed to those WTO rules in the 1980s. And the Indian government that Modi replaced in May had duly signed onto the Bali Package last December. As U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said last week, India has now “reneged” on its signed obligations.

Moreover, Modi’s demands have left WTO diplomats scratching their heads, wondering what he might have been smoking.

Food Insecurity

Since obtaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, India’s leaders have never figured out how to feed their people. In the name of “food security,” Indian governments have been buying food from the country’s farmers, paying above-market prices. The grains are then stockpiled. Perhaps half of the mountains of grain rot away, or are eaten by rats. Much of the rest is siphoned off by corrupt (politically connected) operators for sale on the black market.

What doesn’t rot or is not stolen is then doled out to feed India’s infamously malnourished urban population — especially when elections loom, which in India is often.

Perhaps because politics trumps economics, Indian politicians — no matter which party is in power —  have been increasing the subsidies, making bigger stockpiles.  And they have been demanding permission from the WTO to keep jacking up the subsidies as much as they want, even higher than the allowable limits that Indian governments have pledged to honor.

In Bali last December, the Indian negotiators won a generous four-year “peace clause.” That gave New Delhi four years to go ahead and violate existing WTO limitations by increasing agriculture subsidies, without fear of being held legally accountable. As the purpose of the WTO’s trade negotiations is to reduce trade barriers, not allow additional protectionism, this was arguably overly generous.

Yet the four-year grace period still wasn’t enough for Modi, when he came into office in May. He demanded that India be given the “permanent” right to break the existing rules — and right away, by the end of this year, thank you. Many diplomats, in many ways, have told the new Indian leader that this would never happen. Undeterred, Modi, somewhat joyously, brought down the Bali Package, thus shaking the foundations of trust that the WTO must have to remain viable.

At least, the ploy has generally played well at home. Indian officials have launched a whispering campaign, some of which has made its way into various Indian news accounts, falsely accusing the WTO’s top leadership of favoring the rich countries.

Claiming the Moral High Ground

Modi, like all of his predecessors dating to Jawaharlal Nehru (who ran India from 1947 to 1964, useful information for readers who are crossword puzzle addicts), has claimed that he holds the high moral ground. We are simply demanding the rights to feed our own poor, and we are the champion the world’s poor, so goes the refrain.

Some champion.

India is the world’s largest exporter of (subsidized) rice. The subsidies distort food markets in other countries by driving down prices. That’s bad enough in normal years for farmers in African and other nations who have to compete with the cheap Indian rice. Of course, the Europeans and Americans aren’t exactly innocents in such matters. But at least they have long ago moved away from stockpiling surpluses that cause real damage in world markets, preferring to pay their farmers cash subsidies that are considered less trade-distorting.

But India seems stuck on stockpiling and other protectionist schemes that cause real harm to trading partners. Remember the 2008 food riots in Haiti, Cameroon, Senegal and other countries? Global rice prices had skyrocketed after India put a damper on supplies by slapping on export controls during the previous year’s election season. Not only has no Indian politician ever apologized for the damage those export controls inflicted — after coming to power this May, Modi quickly imposed new price controls on onions and potatoes.

More recently, Rwanda’s trade minister, Francois Kanimba, explained to Shawn Donnan, the world trade editor of the Financial Times, how India’s present agriculture subsidies are hurting his country’s farmers. Rice and sugar from India had been reaching Rwanda “at such low prices [that] you are left wondering if these are really global market prices, simply explained by the competitiveness of the Indian economy,” Kanimba said. Donnan noted that the same concerns are being expressed in Nigeria, Benin, and other African food importers. This is “why the solution India is seeking at the WTO, which celebrates its 20th birthday in January, is unlikely to be palatable to many of its members,” Donnan concluded.

India’s claims to speak for the world’s poor used to be accepted automatically in the Third World. Signs that that’s been changing surfaced at the WTO’s Bali meetings last December. At a press conference, India’s then top trade official, Anand Sharma, asserted that India was only seeking “food security” for poor people everywhere. Sharma was humiliated by a furious journalist from Benin, one of the world’s poorest countries. “You don’t speak for us,” the Benin journalist angrily shouted. Those of us who were in the room will never forget the emotions on display at that press conference. (For further details, see “India’s Bali Debacle,” which I authored for the Wall Street Journal Asia. The piece, along with two other investigative reports into India’s WTO stance in recent years, is posted on the Wall Street Journal section of www.rushfordreport.com.)

India’s Admirers

These days, Modi’s been enjoying his success in having placed himself on the WTO’s center stage, even though he is playing the role of a pariah. Modi knows he enjoys the tacit backing of envious fellow economic nationalists in places like Venezuela, Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Ecuador and Cuba. Such leaders love to nurture their grudges against the rich countries, seeing the WTO as a tool of the rich. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa runs with this crowd. These days, Zuma must be especially envious of Narendra Modi’s nerve.

Zuma is another economic nationalist who is skeptical that the WTO’s multilateral trade liberalizing negotiations will benefit South Africa. But he might be better advised to seek some sound economic advice as to why South Africa’s economy has been losing its dynamism.

Two very savvy Pretoria-based authorities on what used to be called “political economy” — Mzukisi Qobo of the University of Pretoria and Peter Draper, of Tutwa Consulting — recently succinctly explained Zuma’s attitude on economics in a May 27 article in South Africa’s Business Day. Under Zama’s economic guidance, South Africa’s economic growth has been on a steady decline, Qobo and Draper noted. Nor does Zuma seem to grasp the “gravity” of the economic challenges that are holding his country back, they added. “He also seems to have given up on leaving a great economic legacy, and instead prefers to manage a balancing act of contending factions within the African National Congress (ANC).”

Zuma’s trade minister, Rob Davies, is a member of the Politburo of South Africa’s Communist Party. That fact speaks well of Davies’ personal courage in having opposed apartheid in the days when to do so was to risk one’s life. But it doesn’t necessarily suggest that Davies’ economic credentials are sterling. Many African observers worry that South Africa, traditionally the most solid African economy that still regards itself as the “gateway” to the rest of Africa, will inevitably be left behind. Watch the East Africans — especially the emerging ties and improved infrastructure linking Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya — many African watchers say. Yes, these countries also have their own economic weaknesses. And in the WTO, the East Africans seem to be split on whether to speak out in favor of India, or against. Still, one has a growing sense that their future could be brighter than South Africa’s, depending upon how well they manage to integrate themselves into the global economy. At some point, the South Africans will likely kick themselves for their lack of economic foresight.

Zuma first worked earlier this year behind the scenes with the Addis Ababa-based African Union (an opaque organization which wasn’t even a participant in the Bali negotiations) to reopen the Bali deal. Conveniently, Zuma’s former wife now heads the AU. But Zuma and the AU came under intense pressure, mainly from Europeans and Americans, but also by dozens of other WTO member countries. They backed down during African Union meetings held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in August. Since then the African Group of WTO members has basically been holding their tongues, trying to pretend that what India has done, hasn’t really happened. (For the background, see “Power Plays in the WTO,” www.rushfordreport.com, June 3, 2014). South African and African Union officials declined repeated requests for comment, as did a spokesman for the WTO’s Africa Group.

In sum, what the Africans started and India’s Modi finished was the tipping point. Leading circles in the WTO — the “North” definitely, and many in the “South” — believe that this time, the chronic naysayers have simply gone too far.

An Uncertain Plurilateral Future

While the WTO’s future is presently clouded, one thing appears clear: no longer will a handful of malcontents be allowed to poison the chances of dismantling as many of the world’s remaining trade barriers as possible. That means the WTO will turn away from its tradition of conducting trade-liberalizing negotiations on a multilateral basis. Instead, there will be smaller groups of like-minded countries that will work together to facilitate trade flows. This is the so-called plurilateral option.

The future likely model has precedents. The WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement has 43 member countries (counting the European Union’s 28). The GPA’s rules, which are only extended to participating countries, are aimed at improving transparency and competitive bidding when governments agree to award contracts to all bidders (as opposed to just doling out lucrative contracts to well-connected domestic cronies). China, New Zealand, and eight other countries have been negotiating to join in that plurilateral. No African country has shown interest in joining in such an experiment in open government. Nor has India.

India is, however, a member of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement, a plurilateral WTO success story that dates to 1997. ITA signatories, including India, have slashed tariffs on imports of high-tech gadgets like computers and telecommunications equipment. But India has refused to participate in ongoing negotiations to expand the ITA’s product coverage to include new inventions — iPhones, iPods and so forth — that weren’t invented in the 1990s. In fact, Modi has already moved in the opposite direction: jacking up tariffs on imports of iPhones.

Late last week, the WTO’s director-general, Roberto Azevedo, described the uncertain future for further WTO multilateral trade negotiations, especially if “no solution” is found for the “Bali impasse.” In such a case, the director-general noted to a business audience in Toronto on Oct. 9,  “then members must ask themselves some tough questions — about how they see the future of the Bali package and the post-Bali agenda. And what this means for the WTO’s negotiating function.”

Translated from the nuanced diplomatic language, Azevedo was pointing to a plurilateral future for the WTO, at least until the benefits of multilateral trade liberalization become apparent to the laggards. It might even turn out that the Bali deal will proceed as a plurilateral arrangement. India and the backward-looking African and Latin countries will be offered the choice to be left behind, if they prefer.  Such, it appears, is their future — at least until the day comes when they will be willing to take off their economic dunce caps.

Fed Up

(First of a two-part series), October 12, 2014

Sometimes in life, there comes a tipping point when — enough is enough. And that pretty much describes the present mood in the Geneva-based World Trade Organization. The Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, Europeans, Canadians, Scandinavians, Japanese — basically, all of the most important trading centers around the world that comprise the vast majority of world trade — have had it. They are fed up. Fed up with India, especially. India’s new prime minister, the pugnacious Narendra Modi, has brought all WTO negotiations to a halt, thanks to his unprecedented recent veto of the only successful multilateral trade-liberalizing negotiation in the institution’s nearly twenty years of existence.  “Disgusted” even more, as one diplomat based in a European country un-delicately puts it, because Modi’s reasons simply defy economic logic.

Leading WTO members have also had it with various African and Latin American leaders like those in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Bolivia. The leaders of such countries have gradually eroded their credibility by making no secret of the fact they just don’t really believe in the WTO’s core mission of dismantling trade barriers on a multilateral basis. Fed up with how the economic laggards have meanwhile been holding the rest of the WTO’s 160-member countries hostage to their parochial demands.

Over the years, the WTO and its predecessor international trade rules-making organization have operated on two core beliefs. First, that trade liberalization must be done for the good of all members, on a multilateral basis. Second, that the negotiations to dismantle trade barriers will be reached by consensus — but with the expectation that member countries will conduct themselves with a certain civility, and restraint. The institution cannot function when those core beliefs are trampled upon.

True, some WTO members like Switzerland, Norway and Japan who are presently outraged at India have their own protectionist rackets that they defend vigorously in negotiations (think only of Japan’s 500-plus percent rice tariffs). But, in significant contrast with India, such respected WTO member countries always conduct themselves with civility and restraint. It is unthinkable that they would wreck the institution for domestic political gain.

The frustrations with India and the other chronic economic under-achievers who have anti-colonial chips on their shoulders hardly stop at the traditional “North-South” divide between the rich countries and their former colonial possessions. Privately, some key officials from countries that have traditionally identified themselves with the WTO member countries from the “South” — including Mexico, Brazil, Pakistan, and even some in Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Benin — share the frustrations. True, some of these same countries can’t seem to make up their minds which side they are on — Kenya comes immediately to mind, as do Tanzania and Uganda. Africans have often joined in the constant attacks against the WTO since it succeeded the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1995. But now, there seems to be an emerging fear in Africa that things have gotten out of hand, and that vulnerable African economies will suffer the consequences of India’s irresponsibility.

And there are the more economically enlightened smaller countries in the “South” — like Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, and Chile — that have been prospering because they have wisely embraced the global trading system. These admirable symbols of what trade liberalization can accomplish have been leading by their examples. And they are growing weary of the continuing shrill attacks against the system brought by WTO members who just don’t get it.

In short, there is a growing belief in leading WTO circles that if the institution is going to survive, it can no longer continue to do business as usual. Leading trade diplomats in Geneva and other key capitals have concluded that WTO’s future ability to liberalize trade cannot be based on the traditional consensus-based multilateral approach, where any single member can enjoy veto power. Instead, the WTO’s future negotiations will focus on a so-called plurilateral approach, where smaller groups of like-minded countries that genuinely want to liberalize trade will do so. If the laggards don’t participate, fine. From now on, well-placed diplomatic insiders vow, no longer will weak countries which aren’t really important international trade players anyway, be allowed to poison progress for everyone else. India, for example has about a 1.9 percent share of global trade flows, but Indian leaders seem to think they deserve 90 percent of the attention.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “trade, or die.” Now, for the World Trade Organization, the new mantra is becoming “change, or die.”

Such are the impressions gleaned from nearly two-dozen confidential interviews conducted over the course of several months with key players in the USA, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This two-part series offers details and analysis aimed at explaining in in clear language what many thoughtful trade diplomats would like to say publicly, if they were not constrained by the requirements of diplomacy.

An Institution Under Constant Attack

With apologies for the use of the personal pronoun, I have been covering the WTO and its predecessor the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade — the GATT — for more than three decades. Launched in 1947 by the United States and 22 other countries, the GATT became the world’s most successful international economic experiment. Seven successive multilateral trade-liberalizing rounds contributed to expanding global prosperity by slashing tariffs and dismantling trade barriers. The last of those negotiating successes, called the Uruguay Round, set up the WTO in 1995.

And that’s when multilateral trade liberalizing negotiations pretty much hit the wall. One could say the GATT morphed into the General Disagreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Remember the famous 1999 anti-trade riots in the streets of Seattle? Many Third World countries inside the WTO’s ministerial meetings quietly cheered the unruly protestors who trashed that beautiful city. There would be no Seattle Round. In 2001, the WTO did manage to launch the Doha Round (for trivia fans, named for the city in Qatar where that year’s ministerial meetings were held). But the Doha Round has been in deep trouble ever since.

In 2003 many African countries openly celebrated their success in killing that year’s WTO ministerial in Cancun. We came to make demands, not make concessions, the Africans boasted. Indian negotiators contributed to that failure, although to their credit, the Indian official delegation seemed crestfallen that they had gone too far. They had not meant to put the Doha negotiations in intensive care.

Then in 2008, a deal was close to being struck in Geneva that would have completed the Doha Round. Among other economic benefits, trade-distorting agriculture subsidies for both rich- and poor countries would be substantially reduced. Financial services would be allowed to flow more freely across international borders. And both rich- and poor countries would do more to open their markets to global competition. But that deal also collapsed in bitterness. While there is plenty of shared criticism for the 2008 failure, it was clearly India’s intransigent “non-negotiable” demands that did the most to poison the atmosphere. And this time the Indian negotiators, led by their abrasive trade minister, Kamal Nath, returned to New Delhi boasting of their triumph.

In those previous WTO trade spats, at least, everyone came away from the battlefield vowing, at least for public consumption, to do better the next time. Until this year, when some of the Africans and the Indians struck again. The bitter irony is that the present mood comes in the wake of the WTO’s most impressive negotiating success, where the rich- and poor countries (finally) worked together for the common good to give global trade flows a significant boost.

Meeting in Bali last December, the WTO’s then 159 member countries agreed to a so-called Trade Facilitation deal that promised, over time, a trillion-dollar economic payoff. Essentially, the wealthier WTO members have already been giving poorer countries hundreds of millions of dollars annually to help facilitate trade by fixing embarrassments that have long clogged Third World borders — corrupt customs offices and cumbersome red tape, inefficient ports, shoddy roads, and such. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand why difficult borders prevent the rising economic prosperity that stems from enhanced trade flows. The Bali deal promised much more assistance to speed the movement of goods and services across borders. The deal was a win-win for everyone: both for giant multinational corporations that move goods and services across borders, and for millions of citizens of poor countries whose living standards would stand to rise along with the resulting expanded trade opportunities.

The Bali Package was the first successful multilateral trade-liberalizing deal in the nearly two decades of WTO history. Finally, the institution had shown that it could deliver something meaningful on the multilateral negotiating table. The general belief was that the success in Bali would spur the revival of the Doha Round, which now has been floundering for thirteen years.

But now those hopes have been dashed. On July 31, India’s Narendra Modi vetoed the schedule to implement the Bali deal.  Since then, all subsequent efforts to give Modi a face-saving way to back off have failed. There are some (slim) hopes that meetings in the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva scheduled later this week could put the deal back on track. But the sad truth is that the Bali deal has acquired a definite Humpty Dumpty look. The essential trust in the system — that countries will honor what they have agreed to instead of negotiating in bad faith — has been lost. It will not easily be regained. Whether it will be officially declared or not, the Doha Round is dead.

The WTO’s wealthy countries are even bitterer because they had had to work very hard, for years, just to persuade the poor countries to accept substantial financial sums to bind themselves to do things they should have long ago done themselves, in their own self-interests.

Adding to the bitterness, Modi’s demands simply made no good sense. He was fighting for policies that are clearly not in India’s best interests. “India’s economy is today the least integrated into global production chains among the world’s top-25 exporting economies,” Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, Natalia Macyra, and Erik Van Der Marel of the highly respected European Centre for International Political Economy in a recent paper: India & the WTO. “India is failing in sectors it chooses to protect, and is only competitive in sectors where it chose to liberalise, for example its IT services sector and the outsourcing business.”

Nor are the specific agriculture policies that Modi has fought for in the interests of other WTO countries that import Indian rice and other grains. In recent years, and up to the present, India’s domestic farm policies have inflicted economic damage in other poor countries. India’s grain exports have distorted food prices not only in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, and on to Haiti and some African countries as well.[See Part 2, the conclusion: “Hot (Headed) Yoga”]

 

Anwar Ibrahim’s Response to Najib’s 2015 Budget Proposals


October 13, 2014

Anwar Ibrahim’s Response to Najib’s 2015 Budget Proposals

Anwar Ibrahim Ops Leader

When I said I had great difficulty in understanding our Finance Minister’s 2015 Budget Speech which he delivered to our august Parliament last Friday, I could not have been more serious. PM Najib’s slogans and acronyms left me puzzled, in particular his National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS).

This concept was borrowed from Blue Ocean Strategy, a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Professors at INSEAD and Co-Directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. Based on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries, Kim & Mauborgne argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space. They assert that these strategic moves create a leap in value for the company, its buyers, and its employees, while unlocking new demand and making the competition irrelevant. The book presents analytical frameworks and tools to foster organization’s ability to systematically create and capture blue oceans. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Ocean_Strategy)

That was why I sought the help of my friends, associates and readers of this blog to explain Najib’s 2015 Budget proposals in simple layman’s terms. But judging from the number of responses I received by way of comment, the 2015 Budget was not taken seriously.

Here is a speech (below) in Parliament by Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Opposition Leader and former Minister of Finance. His response to Najib’s 2015 Budget  proposals makes a lot of sense to me. Despite my occasional disagreements with the politics and antics of the Opposition leader, I acknowledge that in debating the 2015 Budget, the Opposition leader presented an excellent critique in Parliament. Please judge it for yourself and then make your comments.–Din Merican

Tan Sri Halim Saad set to take Sumatec up the corporate ladder


July 31, 2014

Tan Sri Halim Saad set to take Sumatec up the corporate ladder

by Sharen Kaur@www.nst.com.my – 31 July 2014 @ 1:15 AM

ASSET INJECTION: Firm targeting more than RM1b profit by 2018, say sources

FORMER Renong Bhd Executive Chairman Tan Sri Halim Saad is scaling up Sumatec Resources Bhd, which is set to make more than RM1 billion in net profit by 2018.

Halim Saad3

Halim controls 24.9 per cent of Sumatec and has been maintaining his shares since last November as he believes that the company can grow fast. “He is not selling his shares any time soon. He plans to build up the company by injecting more assets into it. He is eyeing some oil and gas (O&G) assets in Central Asia,” said a source.

Sumatec expects to produce 30,000 barrels of oil a day in Kazakhstan by 2018. Sources say the company is targeting an average net profit of US$30 (RM95.30) per barrel. “This means it will make around US$900,000 a day from 30,000 barrels, or more than US$328.5 million a year, compared with less than US$20 million currently from existing operations,” said the source.

For the financial year ending December 31 2014, Sumatec is projecting RM69 million in profits. The firm is producing oil at the Rakuschechnoye field with Markmore Energy (Labuan) Ltd, which is 99 per cent-owned by Halim.

Sumatec expects to produce 5,000 barrels of oil and gas a day from this field in the next three years. It is also acquiring Borneo Energy Oil and Gas Ltd, which owns 100 per cent of Buzachi Neft LLP, for US$250 million in cash and shares.

Buzachi has two 25-year contracts  to explore and produce oil and gas in the Karaturun Vostochnyi and Karaturun Morskoi fields, also known as Buzachi Fields.

At a recent media briefing, Sumatec Chief Executive Officer Chris Dalton said he expects the acquisition to be completed by October. He said the two assets will contribute US$1.62 million to Sumatec’s profits in the fourth quarter.

Sumatec is targeting to produce 25,000 barrels of oil and gas a day from the Buzachi Fields.  Meanwhile, Sumatec is expected to move out of its  PN17 status by next month and will submit its application to the Securities Commission soon.

ASEAN political-security community challenges


July 13, 2014

ASEAN political-security community challenges

Munir Majidby Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my (07-12-14)

 THE People’s ASEAN would not be a reality if the politics is not right – both the domestic political systems in which the people live and the wider regional order that underpins the peace, stability and prosperity of their lives.

Economic Growth and Political Rights

As ASEAN member states are increasingly discovering, the previous contention that economic growth andASEAN_logo_1 benefit will satisfy citizens without need to be over-excited about political rights, is wearing thin. That model does not work any more, if it ever did. Certainly, if nothing else, the ICT revolution and social media have provided a shared marketplace of experiences in political societies across the globe. It is no longer possible to pull the wool over people’s eyes. So state authorities have to get smart to it, whatever political system they profess.

In this connection, the notion of an ASEAN political-security community (APSC) is apposite. The APSC blueprint actually is hard to be faulted. Whoever writes these things, and those who adopt them, must really know what’s happening around them, even if they do not quite come along in action against their profession in words.

Read this: The APSC… ”will ensure that the peoples and member states of ASEAN live in peace with one another and with the world at large in a just, democratic and harmonious environment.” Some more: “The ASEAN states will offer democracy, rule of law and good governance, and will ensure respect for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedom”.

All good intention. However, even if this is all aspiration, it stretches credulity when it is observed how some states in ASEAN have stagnated as communist regimes, others have regressed into persecution and murder of minorities and workers, and yet another has introduced draconian religious laws.

APSC and Human Rights

Little wonder then that there is so much cynicism about, for example, the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) set up in 2009 under the auspices of the APSC “to promote and protect human rights.” Where in ASEAN, through the AICHR, are human rights being protected on their violation?

It is in their promotion that refuge is taken. Even so, the promotion is gentle. Go to the AICHR web-site and you will see many pictures celebrating numerous workshops to promote human rights. More ASEAN meetings while religious minorities are being persecuted and put to the sword in enough ASEAN member states.

These are all difficult situations to handle no doubt. ASEAN Foreign Ministers try to discuss the Rohingyas issue but Myanmar would not have it, and will only do so on a bilateral basis with states facing refugee problems as a consequence of its human rights violations. And it comes to pass.

Well, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, and where has the world been? Rwanda-Burundi, Bosnia, Syria, Palestine… the list is endless and the suffering never-ending. So why pick on ASEAN? But, shall we say, ASEAN is talking about community-building and higher standards of commitments to good governance? Therefore, there is every reason to hold ASEAN to a better protection on human rights and treatment of citizens.

The laudable objectives of the APSC, and in the setting up of the AICHR, should not be left on the shelf as we approach the end of 2014. The blueprint itself provides for biennial review. This review process should be reported and be held in a more open fashion, with the participation of representatives of civil society, who must however appreciate the issues of state sovereignty and ASEAN cohesion.

The hard question is not how to put aspiration down in words but how to implement it in difficult situations and circumstances. That review process should come up with creative ideas of making the words turn into at least some action, at least in respect of protection of human rights, and not just kick the matter to long grass by having more workshops and meetings to study it.

ASEAN, China and South China Sea

South China Sea

When it comes to international relations and the wider regional order, the gap between verbal exhortation and actual action is just as wide. For the longest time, ASEAN behaved as if there was no serious situation arising from the South China Sea disputes. And when ASEAN got real about it, emboldened China would suggest, it was only after US intercession. This was not good for relations with China or for the resolution of the dispute.

While no doubt there is a grave threat of the outbreak of conflict, especially from various stand-offs between China and Vietnam, China with the Philippines, the damage already done is to China-ASEAN relations. These have been extremely beneficial economically for the region. Their further development could be retarded by this “spoiler”, not to mention the threat it poses to existing economic links.

Of course, if there was actual conflict, it is something else again. We will be in new territory of uncertainty, suspicion and fear which, as we know, are bad bedfellows for investment and economic activity.

Against these near existential threats, ASEAN has been reticent and not united in addressing the South China Sea disputes. Whereas, in the APSC blueprint, it is clearly stated ASEAN will seek full implementation of the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of States of 2002 and the establishment of a binding code of conduct under the declaration in the South China Sea.

Has there been any urgency to achieve all this before matters came to a head, before America got more involved again in regional affairs and, yes, before China got more assertive with its claims? It could be charged that ASEAN’s desultory approach has carried a cost to the stability of the regional order.

ASEAN is, of course, not one unit, it is only inter-governmental, but it makes claims for itself and gives false hope of its effectiveness by proclaiming all sorts of things in so many words, including this blessed thing about ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture. These last six exact words are to be found word for word in the blueprint and, indeed, have been repeated countless times at diplomatic convocations where those who know very well this is not the case repeat it for ASEAN’s happiness.

The APSC blueprint has been too extravagant, especially measured against ASEAN inaction. Not just on the South China Sea, but also in other pronounced areas such as conflict resolution mechanisms and the pacific settlement of disputes in the broader context.

ASEAN-a great economic prospect but...

ASEAN is a great prospect, especially its economies. But the market does not buy on prospective earnings indefinitely. If that was the case, it would be buying Latin America which, in terms of total economic size (against ASEAN’s combined much touted 7th largest in the world) is three times the Indian or Russian economy, and almost as large as China or Japan.

The point is ASEAN does have great prospect, but it will not come of itself. There has to be a more realistic mission statement, better structure and management – and better managers. Then the prospective earnings ratio might even rise.

So there has to be a reset and a rethink about how ASEAN can improve performance against all its limitations. But not just among government leaders and officials. And not to be assigned to some council of elders who would come back some years later with a document even older. It has to be fresh and dynamic involving people with ideas from all levels of society.

Yes, ultimately the political leaders of the region would decide – based however on a good and realistic plan for the future of the People’s ASEAN.

 Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

 

“Friendly” Advice to Najib on Leadership


July 12, 2014

“Friendly” Advice to Najib on Leadership

by Nigel Aw@www.malaysiakini.com (07-11-14)

Taking a shot at Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s comparison between Brazil’s devastating defeat in the World Cup semifinals and the need for strong leadership, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad offered some pointers.The former premier said a strong leader would reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

“I think it is Najib himself who said we need strong leaders. What is the qualification of a strong leader? It is the ability and willingness to stand up against foreign pressure and protect the interest of this country. If you don’t do that then you cannot be considered a strong leader,” he told a press conference in Shah Alam.

Tun Dr. MahathirMahathir was speaking to reporters after launching a book entitled ‘TPPA: Malaysia is not for sale’ by the Malay Economic Action Council (Mtem). Asked if he thought Najib was a strong leader, Mahathir, who celebrated his 89th birthday yesterday, replied: “I don’t know.” “Because it all depends on the test or challenges he faces and how he handles it,” he said.

Asked if Najib’s stance last Friday that Putrajaya intends to go ahead with the TPPA but on Malaysia’s terms was assurance enough, Mahathir insisted the agreement should be scrapped altogether.

“In the first place, why is it (TPPA) done in secret if it is not to cheat people? I think the mark of a goodThe Silent One leader is the ability to reject what is not good for this country,” he said.

Earlier in his speech, Mahathir repeatedly made references to Najib’s statement on the need of strong leaders in making his case against the TPPA. He added that the country had been able to develop well even without free trade agreements in the past.

Mahathir was also asked about Pakatan Rakyat’s leadership in Selangor but he appeared to have mis-heard the question and instead commented on BN’s leadership in the state.

“I’m sorry to say, we should have done better in the last election but we did worse in 2008.There is a lack of leadership there or the system we used was all wrong and we should not continue to do wrong things,” he said.

Abide by the Constitution

On another matter, Mahathir said the country should abide by the constitution which provides for a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.

“If you break that, people will break other parts of the constitution then there will be chaos,” he added. He was asked to respond to readers’ comments in his latest blog posting which raised concerns about the Johor royal family’s involvement in the Iskandar region.

In the blog posting, Mahathir had weighed into the rapid development in southern Johor but expressed concern that it might become a region of foreigners like Singapore.

Asked what he thought about the comments to his posting on the royalty’s involvement in business, he replied: “If people feel we are a free country, we are very liberal, people can speak their mind, no more ISA so people can say what they like.

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position


July 8, 2014

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position

img_enewletter-issue7-01Malaysia  ranked 12 in List of 60 economies

Malaysia moved up the world competitiveness ranking again, securing a spot in the enviable top dozen and improving the country’s attractiveness to investors.

The International Institute for Management Development (IMD), a Switzerland-based top-ranked business school, lifted Malaysia to 12th position from 15th last year in a list of 60 economies.

“The improved rankings will renew interest and attract investments to the country,” IMD World Competitiveness Center director Professor Arturo Bris told the New Straits Times. The country also continues to be ahead of the United Kingdom (16th), Australia (@17th), Finland (18th), New Zealand (20th), Japan (21st) and South Korea (26th).

Malaysia, Bris said, improved its openness to foreign markets and attracted capital and investment at increasing rates.

In a separate statement, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed saidMiti's Mustapa 12th position was Malaysia’s best performance in the past four years and reflected the progress of the Government Transformation Programme and the Economic Transformation Programme.

“Malaysia expects a much better performance in the next three to five years as more of its initiatives begin to bear fruit,” he said.

The Survey

The World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014 is the 26th publication since 1989.The findings are compiled each year by IMD’s World Competitiveness Center in a survey of 60 economies called the World Competitiveness Yearbook.

The yearbook analyses and ranks the ability of each nation to create and maintain an environment that sustains the competitiveness of enterprises.The survey rates at the availability of fixed telephone lines, broadband, railroad network, part-time employment market, illiteracy, medical assistance and other criteria.

The report is based on statistical data and perception data obtained through a survey that reviews 338 criteria in four categories:

  1. Economic Performance covers the domestic economy, international trade, international investment, employment and price.
  2. Government Efficiency looks into public finance, fiscal policy, institutional framework, business legislation and societal framework.
  3. Business efficiency looks at productivity and efficiency, the labour market, finance, management practices, attitudes and values.
  4. Infrastructure rates technological, scientific, health, environmental and educational infrastructure.

In the category of countries with gross domestic per capita of less than US$20,000 (RM64,300), Malaysia remained at the top among 29 economies. Among countries with populations above 20 million, Malaysia climbed up to 4th position from 5th last year.

In ASEAN, Malaysia remains number two after Singapore and ranked third in the Asia Pacific region compared with fourth last year, while Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are fourth, fifth and seventh respectively.

Malaysia has consistently performed well in other international surveys, including being ranked 6th by the World Bank in Ease of Doing Business 2014, 24th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 and 32nd in the Global Innovation Index 2013 by INSEAD Business School.