Tag Archives: Thailand

Is the European Commission sweet on land grabbing? Trade benefits, sugarcane concessions and dispossession in Cambodia – UPDATED

by David Pred

David Pred is co-founder and managing associate of Inclusive Development International (IDI), an association working to make the international development paradigm more just and inclusive.

Before you reach for that Tate and Lyle sugar packet to sweeten your coffee, you might want to think twice.  While most Tate and Lyle sugar packets carry the Fair Trade label, Cambodian farmers who were displaced and dispossessed by their suppliers say that if you are buying this product, you are buying their blood. Earlier this month, representatives of affected communities called for a consumer boycott of companies selling sugar grown on stolen land, including Tate and Lyle Sugars.

Over the past several years, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have been uprooted from their homes, farmlands, and forests by companies that have been granted concessions for the development of agro-industrial plantations.

The sugarcane industry has been one of the worst offenders in this land-grabbing crisis. In the last five years, land concessions totaling tens of thousands of hectares have been granted to private companies for industrial sugarcane production.  These concessions have led to the destruction of protected forests and the pollution of water sources. Local farmers’ crops have been razed and their animals shot. Homes have been burned to the ground. Thousands of women and children have been left destitute.  Some have been thrown in jail for daring to protest.

Despite the abundant evidence of these crimes, none of the responsible individuals and companies have been held to account. As if that wasn’t scandalous enough, this ‘blood sugar’ is being exported to Europe, where it receives special trade benefits under the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative.  Through this preferential trading scheme, the world’s least developed countries are able to export goods to the EU with zero tariffs or quotas, and in the case of sugar, at a guaranteed minimum price.

It should be a crime to peddle goods produced on stolen land, but instead the land-grabbers are awarded special trade privileges.

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The Economist on land and natural resources in Southeast Asia

by Rhodri C. Williams

The Economist has run a number of interesting pieces on housing, land and property (HLP) issues as well as natural resource disputes, in southeast Asia (readers be warned: the paywall arrangement now allows non-subscribers to view five articles for free every week, but I think the below pick just squeak in).

Beginning with Burma/Myanmar, a pair of articles from last week’s issue highlight the dark economic underbelly of the country’s current political reform process. A comment on the standoff over the opposition’s refusal to swear an oath to “safeguard” the current, military junta-installed constitution notes the risk that the political debate about the constitution may be a sideshow. Given that the reforms made so far have been enough to ease economic sanctions on Burma, and that the generals that have symbolically conceded political power continue to retain their economic interests, the Economist concludes that “all the boasts of political reform look less like a blueprint for democracy, and more like the generals’ pension plan.”

These concerns serve to reinforce earlier inferences (discussed here and here in TN) that a wave of dubious privatization that preceded the current round of political liberalization may have been intended to allow the military leaders of the country to cash in on their land and natural resource grabs. The extent of this rapaciousness is documented in a separate Economist article, which describes how the nearly feudal style of military occupation of the rebellious ethnic states in Myanmar has opened the door to both wholesale natural resource theft and drug trafficking:

On the back of its formal military role, the army has also built up a suffocating economic grip on the region. Across Myanmar, the national army has for years pursued a policy of “living off the land”. Battalions are obliged to become their own farmers and businessmen in order to feed themselves and pay their wages.

In my earlier comments on Burma (linked above), I raised the risk that liberalization could follow the same path as in Cambodia, where a neo-patrimonial regime has dangled the barest of fig leaves over its essentially predatory governance mode. The continuity of this tradition has been confirmed in this week’s Economist, which reports on the apparent killing by the Cambodian military of Chhut Vuthy, an activist against illegal logging who founded the Natural Resources Protection Group.

Remaining with Cambodia, it seems that what one does within one’s own borders is one thing, but that cross-border rapaciousness will not be tolerated. The Economist also reports this week that Cambodia has led fierce protests against a unilateral decision by Laos (cheered on by Thai construction interests) to begin construction of a massive dam on the Mekong River, despite a recommendation by a regional commission that further study on the downstream effects be undertaken.

Finally, HLP rights expert Daniel Fitzpatrick is quoted in an interesting report on East Timor. There, it seems the post-independence government succeeded to the ‘state land’ previously taken from smallholders by successive Portuguese and Indonesian occupiers, and is now facing a familiar dilemma. On one hand, justice requires some form of recognition of the claims of those previously dispossessed in the countryside. On the other hand, the lure of badly needed revenues from international concessions beckons.

Week in links – Week 21/2011

Good riddance Mr. (rat)Kom(l)adic.

– The New York Times reports on how the global land rush functions in a less permissive environment. The BRIC shows cracks as China, not satisfied with importing raw materials from Brazil and selling it finished goods, begins to make a play for control of soya growing land. Brazil fights back by doing what China has, ironically, always done – restricting foreign ownership of land.

– Both National Public Radio and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have provided updates on the state of forced evictions in Cambodia. The NPR piece puts the ongoing controversy over the Boeung Kak Lake settlement in Phnom Penh (most recently blogged on here) into regional perspective by describing similar urban evictions in the Philippines and Thailand. The ABC story also describes the ongoing evictions related to an Australian funded project to reconstruct Cambodia’s rail lines, previously described by Natalie Bugalski here. However, the most impressive quote (by David Pred of BAB-Cambodia) concerns Boeung Kak and the latest innovations in forced eviction tech:

Families refused to accept the compensation that was being offered to them, so they just started directing the sand pumping machine at the houses and literally drowning them in mud.

– For those who may have inadvertently missed the latest high drama in Bosnian politics, Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, scored a little noticed and quite possibly Pyrrhic victory in convincing Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik not to hold a referendum on whether to say nasty things about State judicial institutions. Commentators on Balkan Insights noted that the whole thing may have been a very successful bluff by Mr. Dodik, and that the political establishment in Sarajevo continues to feed the type of resentment that props up Mr. Dodik by denigrating it.