Accessible Tourism

TRAVEL IMPACT NEWSWIRE โ€“ Edition 22 (2010) โ€“ 06 April 2010

1. Thais Begin Bid To Clear Out Bangkok Protests

Less than 24 hours after the Thai tourism industry held a protest against Thailand's anti-government "red shirt" protestors to highlight the impact of the ongoing confrontation on the countryโ€™s largest foreign exchange earning industry, the red-shirts moved straight into the heart of Bangkokโ€™s main shopping and tourism district. The occupation began on Saturday April 3 and continued through that night into Sunday April 4. On Tuesday April 6, the government has armed itself with a court order declaring the occupation illegal and given the police authority to move in and move the protestors out. This is now under way at the time of writing.

The standoff over the April 3-5 period decimated the weekend business, amongst both local and foreign visitors. Affected hotels include the Grand Hyatt Erawan, the Renaissance, InterCon and Holiday Inn, the Four Seasons, Novotel Siam Square, the Arnoma, Centara Grand as well as a number of smaller boutique inns and guest-houses. Many guests moved and/or rebooked themselves into other hotels. Those who were due to depart were told to leave at least two hours before they would normally do in order to allow enough time in the event of unforeseen developments.

Cancellations poured in, especially the MICE sector, with a major factor being the lack of insurance coverage in the event of unforeseen developments. A walk through the lobbies of some of the hotels by this editor indicated a near-deserted status. All the hotels have erected barricades. Some are allowing their properties to be used for toilet facilities, especially for those demonstrators who have brought their children along. Some hotels appear to have negotiated an agreement with the demonstrators to provide access. A number of minibuses and taxis could be seen rolling up to the driveway of the Inter-Con.

Many of the department stores and shopping centres were closed over the weekend. Some on the fringe of the protest areas re-opened on Monday, but closed two hours earlier than normal in the evenings due to the low business levels and in order to give their staff a chance to get home. Souvenir and other vendors in the area have complained of a drastic loss of business.

Another affected area is Rajdamnoen Avenue, near the UN buildings and the main government areas, where another large stage has been erected along with tents and shelters being used by the protestors for overnight facilities. The subsequent traffic disruptions have impacted the meetings at the UN. However, a visit by this editor to the Khao Sarn road area, a popular haunt for backpackers and budget travellers, indicated life was quite normal. Although there has been a huge drop in business in that area, it is less than in other parts of the city.

Last Friday April 2, the Thai tourism industry held a small anti-protestor protest, with the leaders saying that they not interested in taking political sides, just on ensuring that the daily livelihoods of the thousands of industry workers are not disrupted. However, one red-shirt protest leader was heard telling supporters that for the Thai tourism industry to protest against their protest was a case of double standards. He noted that no tourism industry leaders had protested when the opposite faction, the pro-present government yellow-shirts, had shut down Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport for 10 days between November-December 2008, causing far more damage to tourism than the present crisis.

Tuesday April 6 is a public holiday in Thailand and a confrontation has started as the government bids to clear the streets. The government has declared 11 main thoroughfares in Bangkok off-limits to protests and blockades. Initially the anti-government demonstrators declared that they were going to deliberately target these off-limit areas as their next takeover spots, but then changed their minds on April 6 morning. The police have announced that they now have a court order declaring the disruption of public movement as illegal.

Thus empowered, an initial force of unarmed police has been sent in to start clearing the area. At the time of writing, an eyeball-to-eyeball standoff is under way. Police are repeatedly stressing in their public statements that they are unarmed. The demonstratorsโ€™ legal and democratic right to protest is also being upheld, but only in the designated areas. The government is clearly taking every possible step to ensure that its actions are in line with the rule of law, and do not lead to an outbreak of violence.

On Monday April 5 night, the atmosphere at the action area in Bangkokโ€™s central shopping district was very much like that of a Thai provincial market fair. Roadside stalls were doing a robust business selling the red T-shirts, scarves, jackets and clappers, as were the food vendors. Tourists were mingling among the demonstrators, especially Chinese who from their accent, seemed to be from Hong Kong and/or the Guangdong part of China. Many were seen visiting the Erawan shrine and taking pictures of the demonstrations. One enterprising guide had taken his clients to the scene and was explaining to them what was going on from a vantage point on the walkway just under the Skytrain station.

The anti-government demonstrations began on March 14, and were relatively peaceful in the first stage. The TAT figures indicated that there was a steady increase in arrivals at Bangkok airport. Every day since then, arrivals at Bangkok airport showed a steady increase, with the entire month of March ending with a 17.6% increase in arrivals. This would indicate that business which was heading for the provincial destinations has been less affected, and tour operators have been successful at convincing clients to shift to other destinations rather than cancel entire trip. The figures for April, however, are likely to show a different picture.

Hundreds of the protestors are poor provincial folk, many of whom have never come to Bangkok and are easily manipulated by people with their own hidden agendas. The leaders claim to be seeking dissolution of parliament and new elections, which are being packaged as a fight for democracy. This editor asked some of the grassroots demonstrators if they knew why they were here. They parroted the party-lines being mouthed by their leaders and speech-makers. Local media have reported that the poor rural folk are earning an average 500 baht (about US$15) to cover their costs. Costs of the entire protest, including the large concert-style stage erected in the middle of Bangkok, sleeping facilities for the demonstrators, transport & communications systems, etc, are estimated to be in the range of US$3-4 million per day. Most of the bills are being reportedly paid by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now in exile following his conviction on a number of financial and fraud-related charges.

The tourism industry leaders, fearing the impact over the upcoming Songkran Thai New Year holiday between April 13-18, another relatively high season for tourism, have been appearing regularly on local TV and radio calling for peace and calm. Indeed, the travel industry is now beginning to fret about the long-term impact. A key question is now how this is going to end. Some Thai hoteliers said they are appalled by the crude and offensive language being used in the speeches by the anti-government demonstrators. โ€œWhat will happen to the country if these people emerge victorious,โ€ said the sales and marketing director of one of the CBD-area hotels.

The start of efforts to disperse the protestors will be welcomed by the general public which had initially despaired about the confusing signals sent by the Thai authorities. In November 2008, the security authorities were impotent when those agitators moved in and took over the Bangkok airport. This time, the authorities were unable to prevent the agitators taking over one of Bangkokโ€™s busiest intersections, erecting a huge stage right at the doorstep of the Police hospital. Not only did this cut off access to the police hospital, impacting on thousands of poor people who use its low-cost facilities, the loud music and blaring speeches must have been a huge disturbance to the in-patients.

Tuesday April 6 will be a crucial day in the history of Thailand. So far, things are being done in a typical Thai-style, with short-term pain being preferred over long-term pain. However, the red-shirts are losing patience and becoming more agitated and confrontational. The heat is not helping calm tempers. It is a very delicate situation.

2. โ€œRecent Financial Crisis Signals End Of An Era.โ€ UNCTAD Chief Says Radical Reform Of World Financial System Now Imperative

The Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is taking the lead in warning the world about the need to reform the world financial system and avoid a recurrence of the recent financial crisis. Given the fact that the travel & tourism industry has been a major victim of the financial crisis, industry leaders need to start taking cognizance of this call and join the bandwagon for change that is designed to prevent a return to โ€œcasino capitalismโ€ and the boom-and-bust scenarios, and their alternative establishment of a more steady, stable and sustainable system.

UNCTAD is today headed by Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, a former Thai Finance Minister who was at the forefront of efforts to clean up the mess in the aftermath of the 1997 Thai financial crisis. Drawing upon his unparalleled experience in rebuilding the Thai economy after that crisis, Dr Supachai has called the recent financial crisis a โ€œmega eventโ€ that ended an era. He is pursuing an overhaul of international economic governance in order to ensure lasting stability and prosperity.

In his remarks to the EximBank of India, in Mumbai on March 18, Dr. Supachai assessed some of the contributing factors to the crisis, including overreliance on market forces and macroeconomic imbalances that might have been prevented had there been greater international monitoring and regulation. He warned of the dangers of continuing โ€œbusiness as usualโ€ and ignoring the lessons that could be learned from the crisis. At the national level, perhaps the greatest lesson was that trade liberalization and market reform do not automatically lead to sustainable growth for the developing world; the most successful countries were those that had also ensured an enabling economic role for the State while encouraging innovative private-sector investment in productive capacities and job creation.

Dr. Supachai also advocated action at the international level to avert a recurrence of the disastrous effects of the removal of capital controls, the unsupervised proliferation of innovative financial instruments, and the financialization of commodities. While countries should be given more autonomy over their own use of capital controls, a multilateral framework was also needed to manage exchange rates. โ€œReal exchange-rate changes that determine the competitiveness of the whole economy cannot be left to the marketโ€, he warned, observing that most of the financial crises in the post-Bretton Woods era of floating exchange rates had been characterized by nominal interest rate differentials that triggered large short-term capital flows. The experience of the current crisis similarly illustrated the need to โ€œstabilize trade and financial relations by reducing the potential for gains from speculative capital flowsโ€.

The crisis, which ultimately stemmed from โ€œpoor governance and a structural inability in the world economy to correct systemic imbalancesโ€, had turned mainstream economic thinking โ€œon its headโ€, inducing a โ€œradical changeโ€ in government policy and international economic governance, said the UNCTAD chief. The crucial task ahead, he insisted, was to keep that impetus for change alive, ensuring that economic governance works primarily โ€œto achieve the goals of prosperity, security and stability, which are the prerequisites for sustainable poverty alleviationโ€.

Dr Supachai pressed the same theme in his speech to world parliamentarians at the 122nd Assembly of the International Parliamentary Union in Bangkok on March 29. He said that substantial reforms -- more than mere "window dressing" -- should be pursued nationally and internationally to prevent opaque financial instruments, speculation, and the build-up of large financial imbalances between countries from causing a repeat of the current global recession. He said, that "the crisis provides a rare opportunity to forge a more balanced and inclusive global economy through two channels: measured government intervention and strategic policy action at the national level, and better coordinated and more inclusive economic decision-making at the international level."

Dr. Supachai said UNCTAD is concerned that with the worst of the financial crisis apparently over, "talk of reforming the financial sector, particularly at the international level, has become a good deal more muted.โ€ He added, โ€œUNCTAD strongly believes that the crisis could have been prevented if there had been stronger governance mechanisms to regulate financial innovation and the build-up of various imbalances at the national and international levels. Moving forward on this reform agenda to create a new pattern of balanced and sustainable growth will require bold thinking."

Well-defined rules, with a transparent and fair system for judging infractions, should be "orthodoxy" for the international financial system as they are for the international trading system, Dr. Supachai said. "(I)t is โ€ฆ imperative to provide for an institutional framework for better international coordination of financial regulation and supervisionโ€ฆ. Such an agreement would hopefully address the current potential for regulatory arbitrage," he added. "Equally important is to reshape international monetary arrangements that help avoid the build-up of large current-account imbalances and their counterpart โ€“ large unbalanced asset positions across countries."

Dr. Supachai said that continued global dependence on a single reserve currency is becoming a concern, reviving the idea that an equitable system of special drawing rights (SDRs) might eliminate the need for developing countries to hold vast reserves of dollars as protection against reverses in their capital flows. These reserves "now represent a considerable opportunity cost for development," the Secretary-General said.

Countries also could tackle large build-ups of reserves through regional arrangements such as the Chiang Mai Initiative, whose multilateralized currency swap agreement came into effect on 24 March. He also called for reform at the IMF "so that it can focus most properly on what its founders intended: the avoidance of contractionary macroeconomic responses to financial shocks and instability."

UNCTAD has also been organising expert-group meetings to discuss how regulations and the setups of government institutions can help developing countries improve their infrastructure services sectors (ISS) -- sectors that provide such key functions as comprehensive banking and financial operations, energy, telecommunications, and transportation. ISS is crucial for supporting markets for agriculture, manufacturing, and service industries in developing countries. It forms the backbone of national economies.

According to UNCTAD, regulation aimed at correcting market failures and meeting other policy objectives such as universal access to essential services has been widely recognized as fundamental in ensuring the provision of quality infrastructure services and maximizing their contribution to economic and social development. However, building and maintaining workable regulatory and institutional frameworks (RIFs) poses challenges for all national governments. There is no single prescription: RIFs need to be adapted to individual countries' specific needs and circumstances. Evolving economic, social, technological and environmental developments require governments to frequently adapt RIFs to new conditions, and they must have sufficient institutional capacities and skills to guide, negotiate, regulate, and monitor ISS.

A recent UNCTAD survey of 87 respondents from regulatory agencies indicates that in many cases the challenges faced by regulatory agencies are similar. However, least developed countries (LDCs) face special constraints. They often are short of appropriate personnel, financial resources, and equipment. The expert meetings are providing an opportunity to explore regulatory and institutional frameworks that are the "best fit" for individual countries. Governments are getting a chance to review the experiences and lessons learned by others that have already modified their regulations and frameworks.

The expert meetings were called for by the organization's Trade and Development Board at its July 2008 executive session. They come at a critical moment, as the full impact of the economic and financial crisis on infrastructure services in developing countries is still unfolding and recovery measures and regulatory overhauls are still being implemented.

3. Impact on F&B Sector: Volatile Prices Limit Potential Of Commodities Markets, Inaugural Commodities Forum Told

Geneva, 22 March 2010 โ€“ Taming volatile price shifts for crude oil and the other raw materials that many developing countries export and depend on for economic growth will require a better mix of policies and market mechanisms by governments, producers, those involved in international financial and credit markets, and others, according to speakers at UNCTADโ€™s inaugural Global Commodities Forum this morning.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, opening the two-day conference, said over 85 developing countries depend on commodities for more than 50% of their export earnings. The commodities boom that began in 2002 after more than two decades of declining prices raised hopes that such nations could reinvest climbing profits into reducing poverty and diversifying their economies, he said โ€“ but then the boom turned to bust as the global recession struck in 2008.

Prices are only now beginning to recover, Mr. Supachai said, and immense challenges remain for commodity-dependent countries seeking to meet the Millennium Development Goals and other poverty-reduction targets. In addition to seeking ways to increase stability in commodities markets, he said the Forum will highlight how countries โ€“ both importers and exporters โ€“ can limit their exposure to commodity price volatility and mitigate the detrimental effects of commodity price swings.

The Forum will also address other pressing issues in the sector, including recent developments in the extractive industries; investment in improving the productive capacities of the commodities sector; options for mitigating risks in commodities production and trade; commodity finance and related legal issues; and policy options for minerals and metals producers.

Jean Feyder, Ambassador of Luxembourg and President of UNCTADโ€™s Trade and Development Board, told the meeting that the Forum, or GCF, is intended to provide a neutral, high-level platform for reaching a convergence of views on price volatility and other commodities issues. The relationship between commodities exports and prices and poverty reduction also must be discussed, he said.

Mohamed Saleh Al-Sada, Minister of State for Energy and Industry Affairs of Qatar, said the price of oil, despite the best efforts of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to stabilize it, had tripled to over US$ 145 per barrel in July 2008 and then had fallen to less than $40 per barrel six months later. Since then, prices had recovered to about $70-80 per barrel. Speculation in commodities markets had contributed to the price swings, and speculation thrives on uncertainty, he said. Transparency in production and pricing can reduce the opportunity for such exploitative practices. What is needed are prices high enough to provide for economic growth and ensure long-term investment to ensure future supplies. Disparities between oil and gas prices also need to be addressed, the Minister said.

Germanico Pinto, Minister of Non-Renewable Natural Resources of Ecuador, and President of OPEC, said petroleum markets are enduring a period of great uncertainty. The challenges are complex and international cooperation is vital, as the global economy, especially in the energy field, is thoroughly interconnected. Increased speculative activity has led to price fluctuations that do not reflect actual supply and demand, Mr. Pinto said. Any global energy dialogue must focus on security of energy demand and supply โ€“ consumers must be certain that their needs for energy will be met, while producers must have sufficient certainty of demand that they can invest in harvesting future supply, he added.

Ali Mchumo, Managing Director of the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), said the Fund now has 106 member countries, and its intent is to harvest stable development from commodities production and exports. The sector must be transformed to become a major contributor to poverty reduction. Many developing countries remain highly dependent on commodities exports, and hence are vulnerable to the price volatility that plagues the sector, he said. While using commodity exports for growth, such countries must eventually break away from their extreme dependence on the sector.

Richard H. Jones, Deputy Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, said the agency was founded in 1974 in the immediate aftermath of the 1973 oil shock. Its main aim is to promote energy security, and its member countries maintain oil stockpiles so that supply can continue at times of uncertainty and disruption. Market transparency and openness are vital for taming uncertainty and limiting shifts in prices, he said, adding that the organization uses research and forecasts to help keep current situations clear and to give an indication of future supply and demand.

Marwa J. Kisiri, Head of the Geneva office of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP), said many ACP countries are highly dependent on commodity exports, and the long-term trend has been towards declining returns from the sector; supply-side constraints also hinder the growth prospects of such nations. A development perspective is vital if international efforts are to succeed in responding to the challenges facing commodity-dependent countries, he said, and a successful conclusion to the Doha โ€œdevelopment roundโ€ of trade negotiations also is needed.

Pierre-Francois Unger, National Councillor and Head of the Department of Economy and Health of the Republic and State of Geneva, said a multidisciplinary approach is needed for facing commodities problems, and Geneva, an international city, is a fitting location for the Forum. Geneva is one of the worldโ€™s leading centres for commodities trading, especially oil trading, second only to London, Mr. Unger said.

4. Warning About The Return of "Global Financial Casino" Players

The following commentary appeared in the March 2010 issue of UNCTAD Policy Briefs

The international community has allowed global monetary incoherence to reign before and after the crisis. Indeed, โ€œmarketsโ€ were permitted to manipulate currencies in a way that made some sovereign governments and central banks look like penniless orphans. The need for a new approach to global macro-economic governance is more urgent than ever, because todayโ€™s currency chaos has become a threat to international trade and could be used as an alibi by major trading countries for resorting to protectionist measures.

In fact, the calm after the storm of the recent financial meltdown did not last for long. Institutional โ€œinvestorsโ€ are back in business in global currency markets. With their resurgence, countries are again facing huge inflows of hot money that cannot be put to any productive use, but which create severe price misalignments and trade distortions. The global โ€œcasinoโ€, nearly empty a year ago, is crowded again, and many new bets are on the table. However, the recovery in the real economy is modest at best. In fact, the rebound of stocks, commodity futures and currency trade in several emerging and developing economies since March 2009 displays the makings of highly correlated big new bubbles and the threat of a new round of financial crisis. Of even greater concern is that the crisis notwithstanding, faith in โ€œmarket fundamentalismโ€ is unswerving. That faith continues to sustain the naรฏve belief that a solution to misalignment may be found by leaving the determination of exchange rates to unregulated financial markets.

The effects of the new exuberance on financial markets are adverse for countries with once-fragile currencies, such as Brazil, Hungary and Turkey. Exploiting the differentials between interest rates, the so-called currency carry trade in these countries and in the big financial markets of the North has become even easier today. Rates in the North are generally close to zero, whereas maintaining โ€œconfidenceโ€ in countries with weaker currencies โ€“ under the aegis of IMF programmes since the onset of the crisis โ€“ has called for higher rates than before. The first results of the new โ€œconfidenceโ€ in weak currencies are ominous. An appreciation of the Brazilian real and the Hungarian forint has forestalled urgently needed gains in competitiveness and could again lead to severe overvaluation, a dramatic distortion of trade patterns and new imbalances.

Recent actions taken by some developing economies, such as Brazil, to intervene in foreign exchange markets have to be evaluated in light of the dramatic failure of the currency markets to get the prices right. Re-imposing a 2% tax on purchases by foreign investors of real-denominated fixed-income securities and stocks, for example, is not a market-unfriendly policy. Rather, such measures serve to safeguard the efficiency of markets for goods and services by protecting their prices from becoming a punching ball of financial market prices, which are driven by an undifferentiated (if not irrational) appetite for risk. In the brave new world of liberalized global trade and finance, the treasuries of sovereign governments of the largest developing economies โ€“ and even some developed countries โ€“ can be seriously challenged by the power of financial flows.

And in the absence of a truly multilateral exchange rate system, each country naturally pursues whatever works best in the circumstances.

Global Monetary Chaos: Systemic Failures Need Bold Multilateral Responses

Amidst continued financial crisis, the question of the global trade imbalances is back high on the international agenda. A procession of prominent economists, editorialists and politicians have taken it upon themselves to โ€œremindโ€ the surplus countries, and in particular the country with the biggest surplus, China, of their responsibility for a sound and balanced global recovery. The generally shared view is that this means permitting the value of the renminbi to be set freely by the โ€œmarketsโ€, so that the country will export less and import and consume more, hence allowing the rest of the world to do the opposite. But is it reasonable to put the burden of rebalancing the global economy on a single country and its currency? This policy brief contends that the decision to leave currencies to the vagaries of the market will not help rebalance the global economy. It argues that the problem lies in systemic failures, and as such, requires comprehensive and inclusive multilateral action. In fact, as a response to the current global crisis that originated elsewhere, China has done more than any other emerging economy to stimulate domestic demand, and as a result its import volume has expanded significantly. Private consumption is rising at breakneck speed.

According to several estimates, Chinese private consumption increased by 9% in 2009 in real terms, dwarfing all the other major countriesโ€™ attempts to revive their domestic markets. But even in the preceding decade, real private consumption, at an average 8% growth rate, was an important driver of growth, backed by wage and salary increases in the two-digit range and strong productivity growth. Unit labour costs (nominal compensation divided by productivity) are rising more there than elsewhere, resulting in a continuous loss in competitive power even with a fixed exchange rate. Expecting that China will leave its exchange rate to the mercy of totally unreliable markets and risk a Japan-like appreciation shock ignores the importance of its domestic and external stability for the region and for the globe.

Neither Floating Nor Pegged: Reforming Global Exchange Rate Governance

It is time to break with a sterile polemic that ignores the increasing evidence from a range of experiences showing that both absolutely fixed/pegged and fully flexible/floating exchange rate systems are suboptimal. These so-called โ€œcorner solutionsโ€ have added to volatility and uncertainty and aggravated the global imbalances. With this as a starting point, the debate can move forward to explore new common formulas for exchange rate management that increase consistency between trade and financial flows in a globalized economy.

In order to address global imbalances coherently, governments need to act in the same spirit of multilateralism that characterized the international fiscal response to the crisis at its most critical moments in 2008. A coherent approach to restoring balanced trade calls for policies that address and prevent currency speculation at the global level. Even those who criticize governments for stabilizing exchange rates and intervening in financial markets generally recognize that a viable long-term solution to the problem of massive trade distortions and global imbalances cannot be expected from individual central banks trying to find a unilateral solution to a multilateral problem like the exchange rate.

The World Trade Organization was established to help countries coordinate and manage the multilateral trading system, and the Basle Accords set global standards for banking. But the global monetary system has no such agreed regulatory system for enabling trading partners to avoid distortions stemming from financial shocks and, most importantly, exchange rate misalignments. Such a framework for limiting the degree of exchange rate deviations from the fundamentals would provide the missing link in dealing with the crucial but neglected source of imbalance and instability in the globalized economy. In the meantime, countries should be able to retain the policy space needed to limit the speed and change the direction of capital flows when the collateral damage threatens to become unbearable.

How do we get there?

As proposed by UNCTAD in its Trade and Development Report 2009, a number of crucial targets aimed at governing global trade and finance can be met through one measure: a โ€œconstant real exchange rate ruleโ€. Since the real exchange rate is defined as the nominal exchange rate adjusted for inflation differentials between countries, a constant real exchange rate (CRER) can be maintained if nominal exchange rates strictly follow inflation differentials. With a CRER rule, higher inflation is automatically offset by the devaluation of the nominal exchange rate.

A constant real exchange rate can help achieve several main targets. It:

1. Curbs excessive currency speculation of the carry trade type, because the interest rate differentials reflect the inflation differentials.

2. Prevents unsustainable current account deficits and currency crises by excluding long-lasting currency overvaluation as a policy option.

3. Helps to avoid unsustainable debt by removing the tendency for countries to move deeper into unsustainable current account deficits based on the erroneous perception that they have earned the โ€œconfidenceโ€ of financial markets and rating agencies.

4. Avoids the imposition by creditors of unwarranted pro-cyclical conditionality in case of crisis, because the support needed to ward off speculation against a currency would come automatically from the revaluing of partner currencies, given the systemic intervention obligations.

5. Minimizes the need to hold international reserves, because with symmetric obligations under the CRER rule no country has to hold reserves to defend its currency but only to compensate for potential volatility of export returns. Needless to say, introducing the CRER rule would call for major political commitments and be fraught with technical difficulties that would have to be hammered out. To get such a scheme off the ground, in-depth analysis would be needed to identify the level at which real exchange rates could be fixed with the least possible friction. This is, however, feasible if the political will exists to put international trade on a rational basis. Such a rule could include giving more flexibility and exemptions to LDCs in the case of idiosyncratic shocks and lasting structural weaknesses. In conclusion, the CRER rule goes further than instruments that focus on national taxation of capital flows, on the unconditional provision of international support in times of crisis, or on simply throwing sand on the โ€œgreasyโ€ wheels of the financial system to decelerate the pace of speculation. With an explicit exchange rate rule, the problem is dealt with at source by removing the incentives for speculation.

Most important: Through a multilateral framework such as this, mutual recrimination over exchange-rate management and the threat of trade wars will give way to a more balanced and coherent discussion of the problems of an interdependent, and indeed very much โ€œcoupledโ€, world economy.

5. Downloadable Free: UN Statistical Yearbook Provides Comprehensive Update On State Of The Asia-Pacific Region

Bangkok (UN ESCAP Information Services) โ€“ Recent trends in the Asia-Pacific region documented in a new United Nations report show increases in research and development spending and access to technology, unemployment rates staying low because of employment in the informal sector, and high rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases and smoking.

These findings are contained in the Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2009, released today by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The Yearbook is the regionโ€™s leading compilation of statistical data and provides a detailed picture of the major economic, social and environmental trends over the past two decades. โ€œThe Yearbook provides readers with a comparison of economic, social and environmental trends in Asia-Pacific and between Asia-Pacific and other regions,โ€ said Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.

โ€œThere are still millions of people in Asia who work in the informal sector, and stand outside of formal statistics. We must work to improve our ability to gather this information. Without accurate data to develop good policies, these people remain uncounted and unprotectedโ€

According to Dr. Heyzer, the trends documented in the Yearbook show poverty is reducing and the region is catching up with the rest of the world, but they also point out areas in need of improvement, such as health care, education, social protection, sustainable development and providing basic infrastructure and services for all.

Unemployment Remains Artificially Low

Formal unemployment averages around 5 per cent in the Asia Pacific region even during hard economic times where the unemployment level would be expected to rise- according to data compiled up to 2008, the most recent information available. This is because many of the people who would be otherwise unemployed have found work in the informal sector, which can provide little to no social protection or security and does not help create long-term sustainability for development.

Asia-Pacific Region Spending More On Research And Development

From 2002 to 2007, Asia and the Pacific increased its overall share of global spending on research and development, more than any other world region, with the main contributor being China.

However, despite the rapid growth in research, the region still has a lower proportion of researchers per population than all other regions except Africa. Thus, it still has a lot to do in terms of training and job creation to catch up with the leading countries.

Another way of accelerating development is to bridge the digital divide by providing access to technology and the Internet. The number of Internet users in the region increased from 160 million in 2001 to 712 million in 2008. However, a number of countries have yet to reach the figure of one person per 100 โ€“ as with Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar and Timor-Leste.

Environmental Cost Of Economic Development

The cost of high economic growth in Asia and the Pacific is reflected in deforestation, forest degradation and loss of biodiversity. In 2008, Asia and the Pacific had the worldโ€™s highest number of threatened species, with almost one-third of all threatened plants, and over one third of all threatened animal species. South-East Asia contains the most countries with species under threat; Malaysia and Indonesia both have over 1,000 threatened species.

Communicable And Non-Communicable Diseases Threatening Health

In about one-third of Asian and Pacific countries, more than 40 per cent of lives are lost to communicable diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, measles and cholera. In Afghanistan, the proportion is 77 per cent, while in Tajikistan it is 72 per cent, and in Cambodia, 67 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, in about one-fifth of countries, most lives are lost to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases โ€“ as in China (59 per cent), Russian Federation (62 per cent), Japan (76 per cent), and New Zealand (77 per cent).

One of the common causes of non-communicable diseases in the region is smoking. Average smoking prevalence for females is only around 6 per cent but for males it is much higher โ€“ in East and North and South-East Asia well over half of all men smoke and in South and South-West Asia one-third does.

In many countries โ€“ such as Georgia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia, Russian Federation, Philippines and Timor-Leste - more than 20 per cent of adolescents aged 13 -15 are smokers. The issue is even more serious in the Pacific โ€“ in Papua New Guinea nearly half of those in the same age range smoke followed by, in the Federated States of Micronesia (46 per cent), and in Tuvalu (36 per cent).

The Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2009 uses annual data from the most respected international data sources, both within and outside of the UN system in order to maximize the comparability of indicators across countries and regions as well as over time. The Yearbook can be downloaded for free here.

6. Is Israel About To Trigger A New Middle East War?

By Conn Hallinan, AlterNet, April 3, 2010

Many in the Israeli establishment openly advocate attacking Iran. Danny Yaton, former head of Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, told the German Council on Foreign Relations "The entire world should take military action to prevent Iran from getting the bomb."

The Sunday Times (London) reports, "According to well-placed sources, Israel is speeding up preparations for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear sites." The Israeli daily Haaretz says that the Netanyahu government is asking the Obama administration to supply Israel with GBU-28 "bunker buster" bombs and refueling tanker aircraft, both which would be essential for a strike at Iran.

Read the full story from:

Source from: Travel Impact Newswire

By: Executive Editor: Imtiaz Muqbil
When: 7/2/2014

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