Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Insatiable in Pursuit of the Uneatable

For all the blubbering Western powers, such as the EU and the US, do over aid and development, they show their true colours when it comes to trade. Western trade policies with developing countries are designed to increase their own markets, increase their supply of cheap raw materials and labour, destroy anything that may create even the smallest bit of competition and, in general, retain their position of dominance and exploitation.

The EU is currently trying to push India into signing a trade agreement that will threaten the supply of cheap and affordable antiretroviral (ARV) medications to developing countries. India is one of the few countries in a position to produce generic equivalents of branded versions that demand extortionate prices. The issue is, ostenibly, over whether India should be allowed continued access to the data they need to produce the drugs cheaply.

The EU is happy to spend enormous sums of money on this kind of pursuit, far more than they spend on 'aid'. And even though EU and US money is going towards the purchase of a lot of ARVs used in developing countries, they seem content to pay more for, presumably, a lot less of an identical product in the future. And this is at a time when all sorts of crazy policies are being discussed to increase the number of people on ARVs to several times present levels. (There is some discussion of these policies on my other blog, which deals with Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and other technical 'fixes' for HIV.)

The apparent contradiction in vastly increasing the cost of products that their own funding will be used to purchase in ever increasing quantities is not really a contradiction at all. So called 'aid' money is mainly used as a subsidy for their own industries, especially the pharmaceutical industries. And compared to the amount of money that goes into promoting the interests of Big Pharma, aid money is little to write home about, anyway.

Despite claiming to have the interests of developing countries, including India, at heart, the EU seems intent on destroying the Indian generic drug industry. If developing countries, especially African countries, cease to be a market for these affordable drugs, there will be no other viable markets large enough to sustain the sector.

You might think that this would mean the EU is scoring an own goal but it is just what Big Pharma would like. They have never really wanted a supply of affordable generic drugs, why would they? They couldn't care less who buys their drugs as long as they pay a price that keeps their profit margins at levels they are accustomed to.

A few million Africans may die but that's just collateral damage to the pharmaceutical industry. And the thought of millions of Africans dying could make for a great publicity campaign to increase the amount of money the EU and the US are willing to pay for overpriced drugs. With competition out of the way, top prices are guaranteed. That's how the free market works, it appears.

Just in case you thought all that free market (for developing countries), anti-subsidy (except for wealthy countries) liberalism had been entirely discredited by recent global financial crises, think again. Those who gained from the policies of the past are doing very well, thank you, it's ordinary people who are, as always, paying the price. According to an article by War on Want, the deregulation that has caused so many problems is to continue. Clearly it didn't cause any problems for some people.

And talking of maintaining policies that have caused devastation up to now, the EU is busy pushing biofuels as a 'green' alternative to fossil fuels. Not only is biofuel production not a green alternative in any sense, production of biofuel in large quantities requires even greater exploitation of developing countries than is seen at present.

Vast tracts of land in developing are currently being used to produce food and raw materials for Westerners. But these tracts of land are nothing to what is being grabbed to supply Western cars with cheap fuel. The question of whether there will be land enough left over for developing countries to grow enough food to survive is not really being asked by the land grabbers. Water, in short supply in many countries, will become even scarcer in the pursuit of 'green' biofuels.

Production of biofuels will involve large scale destruction of environments to make way for factory production methods needed to produce 'cheap' fuel. The process of grabbing land is already underway, has been for several years. Perhaps the EU hopes that any increase in carbon emissions will occur in countries too poor to measure the pollution or to do anything about it.

The extent to which Western powers exploit developing countries should never be forgotten when the subject of 'charity beginning at home' comes up. Rich countries may be looking for ways to reduce spending but what they spend on development is a mere pittance, much of it never reaching the supposed recipients. The best thing rich countries could do is reduce their levels of exploitation. Then, whether they continue providing aid and how much they provide may cease to be relevant.


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