CURRENT B.I.T.S CONCERNS
ELPIDIO V. PERIA
3 Nov 2012
Come this Tuesday, 6 November, Americans will troop to the polls for a general election involving all their officials at the state and federal levels, but more particularly, for their President. New York Times quant (numbers guy) Nate Silver in his blog http://www.fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com summarizes all the national tracking polls for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, his Republican Party challenger and from updated poll results dated 1 November, puts the chance of Obama winning the Presidential plum at 80.9% and Romney at 19.1%.
The Philippines, being a former US colony, with so many Fil-Ams and other migrant workers working in the US, including those who dream of working there, has an interest in the outcome for the bearing it will have on, as what this blog is concerned about, on biodiversity, innovation, trade and societal (B.I.T.S) issues that will impact also on similar Philippine policies here.
Let us start with biodiversity issues. The US is a signatory but have not ratified the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD), along with three other countries ( Andorra, Holy See, South Sudan) that have not signed the said treaty.
In spite of it being a non-Party to the CBD, the US works with like-minded countries like Canada or Japan, or EU, depending on the issue, to obstruct developing country demands, including the fight to secure greater international funding to support global biodiversity conservation work, which is part of the obligations of developed countries by way of the common-but-differentiated-responsibilities principle enshrined in Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development back in 1992, also the time when the CBD, along with other Rio treaties, like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as well as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UN CCD), was also adopted.
Another related concern on biodiversity on which the US plays a role that has an impact on the Philippines is biodiversity prospecting, or bioprospecting, the collection of biological material or so-called natural products on the ground either by way of direct gathering of these specimens up-front or through the use of traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities, which usually increases the chances of these natural products being a useful “hit”, with potential pharmaceutical, industrial or commercial use later if more R&D work on it is further pursued. The US government pursues bioprospecting work in developing countries through the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG), a research consortium composed of key US entities like the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Back in 1994, a possible research by this group in Luzon was criticized by UP scientists led by Dr. Romy Quijano for allegedly committing “biopiracy”, another way of doing bioprospecting, but without the necessary permission or prior informed consent from communities or the outright taking of these biological materials out of the country without further protocols on how benefits from these researches are done.
Recently, the ICBG has partnered with the University of the Philippines to secure funding for its bioprospecting activities through the National Protocol Implementation Fund. In previous years other US universities, particularly the University of California in San Diego, has also partnered with various units of the same State university to also do collection of marine and terrestrial specimens for taxonomic work, even if the key officials of UP who partnered with these groups, like Dr. Perry Ong, said in previous press releases that these collection activities, have all complied with the necessary government regulations on bioprospecting.
Whoever wins next week’s US Presidency, be it Obama or Romney, the US policy on being a non-Party to the CBD is expected to stay, along with its usual obstructionist tactics in the negotiations on key issues involving the CBD, with the help of its like-minded partners in the so-called JUSCANZ (Japan, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand)group of countries.
On the innovation front, Barack Obama’s administration is surprisingly pro-intellectual property, supporting the negotiations on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a plurilateral (limited only to a small number of countries willing to enter into the agreement) agreement dealing with the stronger enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs). Stronger enforcement of IPRs result in higher costs in medicines, educational materials like books and CDs and software, entertainment (movies, games,music).
As to trade, Barack Obama’s administration has not shown zealousness in getting a good compromise on the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization, which has failed, since 2001, to secure the interests of developing countries for better treatment in the rules of trade under the said international organization. This would have meant greater access to the US market by export products of interest of developing countries, though the Philippines often get in through other market access mechanisms by virtue of its relationship with the US.
One societal concern of which the US also plays a role, which is not really that positive also for developing countries including the Philippines, is climate change. Here in this Rio Treaty, the UNFCCC, the US is a signatory and a ratifying country even if it withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, a derivative agreement of the UNFCCC which sets rules on how Annex 1 countries will cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 5%.
In all the negotiations of the UNFCCC, the US has led in refusing to make commitments to cut its GHG emissions, denying historical responsibility for the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, which is the driving factor for global warming, which increases over-all global temperatures, which in turn drives changes in climate and other weather variabilities, thus the term climate change. The US has also worked with other countries, this time called the Umbrella group, whose composition is somewhat similar though not completely equivalent as there are also the former Russian republics who are a part of it, to institutionalize a voluntary “pledge and review” system of emissions cuts, which also targets big developing countries like China and India into its scheme, to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
When it comes to biodiversity, innovation, trade and society (B.I.T.S) issues of interest to the Philippines, it seems that whoever is elected President, US policies are expected to remain the same, though if Romney gets elected, the pro-business orientation of these policies gets highlighted, while respect for women’s rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, and also human rights is expected to be de-emphasized, including support for international environmental work, particularly climate change.