U.S. Sends Bangladesh Symbolic Trade Message
The U.S. administration announced that, given safety and labor rights concerns, it has suspended Bangladesh’s special trade privileges. Bangladesh was previously allowed tariff-free export of roughly 5,000 products to the United States. Bangladesh is one of 125 countries that is granted such privileges under the World Trade Organization’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. Earlier this year, Bangladesh’s Commerce Ministry said, “Compliance with rights, including labor rights, will necessarily be gradual” in poor countries like Bangladesh. But just a month later, the Rana Plaza building collapsed killing 1,129 people. Days after that, a fire broke out in another factory. Both incidents were the result of ineffective bureaucracies and corporate neglect. In a letter to Congress today, President Barrack Obama said that the United States would withdraw trade privileges to Bangladesh because it was “not taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights.” Today’s announcement may have a largely symbolic impact, as most of Bangladesh’s exports to the U.S. are not covered under the GSP.
Libya Sees Violent Uptick
Libyan Intelligence officer Giuma Misrati was killed yesterday when his car exploded in Benghazi. This comes as part of a two-day rash of violence in Libya, which has also seen heavily armed paramilitaries clash in the capital of Tripoli. Earlier this week, the commander of the Supreme Security Committee (SCC), which was instrumental in the toppling of Muammar al-Gaddafi, was killed in a tense fire fight with an army-aligned militia from the western mountain town of Zintan. Yesterday, the SCC engaged with a militia to the south of Tripoli using heavy machine guns and mortars. According to a military source in Libya, “It seems the fighting is a continuation of what happened yesterday. It could be a revenge attack for the death of the commander.” Armed factions formed during the effort to oust Gaddafi tow years ago have by some accounts tripled in size and capability, causing significant difficulties for the nascent Libyan government, as it attempts to assure security in the North African country. Benghazi, which birthed the 2011 revolt, has seen more than it’s share of violence since. Just last week, an empty police station was utterly demolished in a bombing. And the city remains off-limits for foreigners, after a spate of violence targeted Western diplomats late last year. Deputy head of Benghazi’s local council, Saad al-Saity worries that “there are some people who are trying to use this city as an arena for settling scores.”
Botswana Auctions Diamonds
The world’s largest diamond producer, the Botswana-owned Okavango Diamond Company, opted against selling to European and Israeli diamond hubs for the first time, and has instead elected to auction its own gems directly. The Motswana government hopes to create a native diamond rival to cities like Antwerp and Tel Aviv and thereby repatriate value-added jobs like gem sorters, clerks, and jewelry makers. Massive gem conglomerate De Beers, which owns a controlling interest in Debswana, Botswana’s largest gem mining firm, has begun to shift its base of sales from London, to the capital city, Gaborone. The company expects to be selling roughly $6b in diamonds each year, creating a substantial boost in the country’s tax revenues. This week’s auction is expected to be modest, but already the auction has proven valuable to the local economy.
Portugal Hobbled by General Strike
The largest Portuguese trade unions went on strike today in protest of unyielding austerity measures which have created an economic slump unseen since the 1970s. While public services like transit and waste removal ceased, private workers largely did not participate in the strike; electrician Augusto Nery explained, “It’s simple. If I don’t work, I don’t eat. The government disgusts me, the austerity is stifling us, but protesting won’t feed my family.” With unemployment hovering around 18 percent, many workers cannot afford to miss even a single day of work. “These austerity policies punish the country, violate the people, penalize workers and pensioners, so the strike will be a cry of resistance to these policies,” said Carlos Silva, leader of the UGT union. The austerity policies are the result of the terms of Portugal’s €78b ($100b) bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund two years ago. Today’s strike is the fourth general strike in half as many years, but the Portuguese government, which enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, has given no signal that it will be swayed from its aim to push the austerity until Portugal completes its end of the bailout agreement in mid-2014.