Sino-U.S. geo-political competition, high-tech cold war and their implications for the global financial market

By Dr Ming-chin Monique Chu, Lecturer in Chinese Politics at the University of Southampton.

Panel photo

 

Dr. Ming-chin Monique Chu, Lecturer in Chinese Politics at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Southampton, was invited to take part in a panel debate at Sibos 2019 held in London last week. During the debate, she shed light on the implications of Sino-U.S. high-tech cold war and other risk factors for the global financial industry. Also in the panel were Gerard Lyons (Netwealth Investments) and Elizabeth Rosenberg (Centre for a New American Security). For the recorded session at Sibos, a global financial industry event with more than 9,000 delegates held every year, see: https://www.sibos.com/media/video/big-issue-debate-navigating-era-renewed-great-power-competition-25-sept-2019.

On 28th August 2019, Monique was quoted by the South China Morning Post for an in-depth news analysis of China’s semiconductor industry: https://www.scmp.com/tech/big-tech/article/3024687/how-china-still-paying-price-squandering-its-chance-build-home-grown.

Monique has published two books (one co-edited) including The East Asian Computer Chip War (Routledge, 2013/2016), which was cited by the Semiconductor Industry Association’s 2015 annual report. Her research interests include globalization-security nexus with reference to semiconductors, artificial intelligence and security, problematic sovereignty on China’s periphery, and Chinese foreign policy. She has appeared in many international news media such as BBC World News, BBC World Service, Fuji Television Network, Radio France International, Deutsche Welle, and South China Morning Post.

 

Europe’s Russia Dilemma Is Older and Deeper Than It Seems

Kamil Zwolski, University of Southampton

The conflict in Ukraine effectively began between 6.30pm and 8.30pm on November 28 2013. This is when Ukraine’s then president, Viktor Yanukovych, confirmed that he was not going to sign an association agreement with the EU – a deal that the Russian government held in contempt. The result is well-known: mass pro-European protests in Ukraine, the ousting of Yanukovych, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and the protracted war in eastern Ukraine. But why did this happen, and why did it unfold in the way it did?

People have been asking these questions since the Ukrainian conflict began. When Yanukovych made his decision, Herman Van Rompuy, then president of the European Council, reportedly vented his frustration: “You are acting shortsightedly. Ukraine has been negotiating [the EU Association Agreement] for seven years because it thought that it was advantageous. Why should that no longer be the case?” Despite the years of political upheaval, revolution and war that followed Yanukovych’s decision, no single clear answer is forthcoming.

For anyone interested in the future of Europe’s relationship with Russia, grappling with the question of why Ukraine changed course is a crucial part of understanding not just the roots of the Ukrainian conflict, but the deeper geopolitical dynamics that have played out in Central and Eastern Europe for centuries.

As always, in 2013, Russia was worried about the future of its influence in its “near abroad” – the term used in Russian political language to denote former Soviet republics. Towards the end of the year, Russia went out of its way to discourage Yanukovych from signing the agreement with the EU, even resorting to threats; Vladimir Putin’s representative, Ukrainian-born Sergey Glazyev, explained to Yanukovych that “the association agreement is suicide for Ukraine”.

The EU, meanwhile, faced a fiendish dilemma. The situation was neatly summarised by Alexander Kliment of the Eurasia Group during a 2015 House of Lords hearing on the future of EU-Russia relations: the question was whether it was “more important for the European Union to expand its political and economic influence in the former Eastern bloc countries” or “to have a functional, stable and growing relationship with Russia”.

In other words, the EU had two options: to stay as unified and assertive as possible while pressuring Russia to stop its arguably expansionist behaviour, or to accept that Russia was just “different” and try to influence its foreign policy by forging links where possible. And despite the events that followed in Ukraine, the EU has yet to make a choice.

As I argue in my recent book, European Security in Integration Theory, this dilemma has deep roots; in fact, it dates back at least to the period after World War I.

Friends and foes

In 1918, the severely weakened European powers had to face a new, potentially mortal threat in the east: Soviet Russia. As they tried to figure out how to safeguard European security in this new environment, they had two options almost identical to the ones Europe has today.

One idea is associated with the approach called European federalism; the other idea is associated with the approach called international functionalism. The ideas behind these two approaches are quite simple: whether the best way to face down an external threat is to unite Europe as closely as possible in opposition, or to engage the threatening power (namely Russia) openly, through forging functional links where possible – on trade, say, or culture – in hopes of changing its behaviour.

One of the most famous advocates of European federalism was Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, a Japanese-born Austrian aristocrat and politician. Between the two world wars, he promoted a close integration of European countries, just as the staunchest advocates of the EU’s “ever closer union” do today. What’s interesting is how he justified it. Writing in 1926, he painted a dark picture of a Europe under threat:

The world hegemony of Europe is overthrown for all time. Once feared, Europe is now pitied. From its dominating position, it has been thrown back upon the defensive. Threatened in a military way by a Russian invasion; threatened economically by American competition.

Today, calls for further European integration are often justified not in hopeful terms, but by references to the threatening “external environment”.

The current president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has warned that “the challenges currently facing the European Union are more dangerous than ever before in the time since the signature of the Treaty of Rome” – and pointed out that whereas European countries can’t on their own do much to counter Russia and China, a properly united EU is “a partner equal to the largest powers”.

But today as in decades past, there are many who take the opposite view. Back in the 1930s, one alternative was advanced by the Romanian-born British thinker David Mitrany.

Mitrany argued that international relations should not be organised around regional integration blocs, but based on the functional idea of “binding together those interests which are common, where they are common, and to the extent to which they are common”.

According to this mindset, Europe would be better off engaging Russia on matters such as counterterrorism co-operation, hoping that the cumulative effect would make Russia more accountable and peaceful. One modern organisation taking this approach is the EU’s CBRN Centres of Excellence, a worldwide network of local experts and collaborating partners concerned with addressing chemical, biological radiological and nuclear risks. Also choosing the co-operative style are the specialised agencies of the United Nations, such as the International Labour Organisation.

The ConversationFor all that the last 100 years have transformed the continent, Europe is still in the same Russian bind. Its thinkers and politicians have spent nearly a century debating Russia’s proper place and different ways of co-operating with it. If the 21st-century’s European players re-examined these old arguments over the limits of integration with their eastern neighbour, they would be better equipped to deal with the problems they face today.

Kamil Zwolski, Associate Professor in International Politics, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Argentina’s Foreign Policy: In the Path to Change?

By Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


Next 1st December, Argentina is going to take over the presidency of the G-20. In late 2018, it will host the summit of the International Trade Organization. The Macri administration argues that this role is an ‘acknowledgment to the change’ the country is undergoing. How much changed has happened since Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015? The recent mid-term elections (on 22 October 2017) offer an opportunity to assess the records.

cumbre-del-g-20-2263999w620.jpgIn an effort to highlight contrasts with the predecessor and expand its base of support, change has been the key slogan of the coalition in government called, indeed, Cambiemos (let’s change). In foreign policy, two ideas summarised this proposal: ‘re-joining the international community’ (volver al mundo) and adopting pragmatism (des-ideologizar). In other words, Argentina now attempts to resume its historical goals, principles and roles, open and integrate itself to the world, and pursue what officials call an ‘intelligent’ and ‘mature’ positioning in world affairs. The underlying goal is to re-establish other countries’ confidence, presumably lost in the past decade due to a confrontational rhetoric and conflictive actions mostly inspired by economic and political nationalism.

Two years down the road, there are some signs of changes, although these are still a work in progress. First, efforts to mend relations with the US led to establishing a good rapport at the presidential level during the Obama administration. This continues under Trump’s term as trade negotiations progressed and changes in Argentina’s policy orientation and discourse are welcome in Washington.

Second, expanding and diversifying partnerships follows from an aggressive trade and investment strategy. These include reviving MERCOSUR (the regional trade bloc of which Argentina is founding member), pursuing trade agreements with the European Union, and joining as observer the Alliance of the Pacific in June last year (another regional organization formed by Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Chile). This last move is consistent with increasing economic links with China and Asia more broadly –where four of the ten main destinations of Argentina’s exports are (i.e., China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia, in that order). In other regions of the world, redefining relations has proved to be more controversial at the domestic level: the agreement with Iran (signed during the previous administration) has been declared non-constitutional. The President accepted this judicial decision and did not use his veto power in this case. Iranians have been linked to the 1990s terrorist attacks to Israeli institutions in Buenos Aires. Former president Cristina de Kirchner and other high officials were to be prosecuted when a federal judge died the day before presenting the evidence. Both legal cases are still open in the context of increasing efforts of the Judicial power to re-gain autonomy and enhance transparency.

Third, relations with regional partners deserved special attention in the last two years because of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. In clear contrast with the Kirchners’ alliance with Chavez and Maduro, Macri forcefully requested the liberation of political prisoners, denounced violations to human rights, and was in favour of not allowing Venezuela to take over the pro-tempore presidency in July 2016. He was keen on ‘passing from rhetoric to action’ and even applying the Organization of American States’ Democratic Clause. This position finally prevailed within the bloc: on 5th August 2017 MERCOSUR finally applied the 1998 Ushuaia’s Protocol, suspending rights and obligations of Venezuela as member state for indefinite time (i.e., ‘until the democratic order is restored’).

Fourth, the bilateral relationship with the UK also shows some signs of change. Aware of the constrains posed by the long-standing dispute over the Malvinas/Falklands Islands, Argentina argued that this item should not be the focus of the relationship as it represents, at most, a figurative 20% of the links with the UK; instead, Macri’s government proposed to concentrate efforts on the remaining 80% which promises mutual benefits. This new approach led to a joint declaration in early 2016 and some progress afterwards. One of the goals in that document was achieved: clarifying the identity of Argentine soldiers who died during the war and were buried in the islands. The other two are still pending: resuming flights to/from the islands and ending sanctions to economic activities by islanders. Political, diplomatic and cultural relations improved and intensified in the last two years, in the spirit of ‘construction of empathy,’ as the British Ambassador to Buenos Aires called it, that is, setting a positive, mutually beneficial and long-term bilateral agenda.

These incipient changes are not exempt of pitfalls and criticisms. The 20/80 figure used to represent relations with the UK is questioned by the opposition, which also charges the government with a lukewarm approach in the defense of sovereign claims at international forums and an ambiguous approach to the case of Venezuela. Trade partnerships also represent a source of concern because of Argentina’s trade deficit and specialization in commodities. This is more of a continuity than a change between the current and the past administrations, and a pending issue in the governmental agenda. Another sign of continuity is to be found in the management of this area of public policy: as usual, presidential diplomacy is at the driver’s seat of most initiatives in foreign policy. Signs of dissent within the Cabinet (as the ones recorded between Macri and his former minister of Foreign Affairs over the issue of Venezuela) are seen as detrimental to the overall strategy. The replacement of Susana Malcorra by Jorge Faurie in that post (last June) was presented, in the official discourse, as a sign of ‘continuity and trust,’ presumably meaning that, from now on, no fundamental changes and disagreements in foreign policymaking are to be expected.

In sum, foreign policy might not have been a top consideration for voters in the recent mid-term elections, but it certainly contributed to construct a narrative about the identity of the coalition in power and to suggest a path to the future, a projection of national interests in a certain direction that seeks social support. Macri won the recent elections, defeating the dominant political force (Peronism, in its multiple forms). However, a narrative based on contrasts with the predecessor inevitable has limits in the long-run. Interest groups and society at large are eager to see, for instance, if Argentina has the capacity to resume steady economic growth, capture foreign investments, or play a leadership role at the regional level. In other words, the challenge is now to show if slogans translate into concrete changes at both the domestic and international level.

Anarchy and International Relations: A Reconsideration

By Jonathan Havercroft and Alex Prichard. Jonathan Havercroft is Associate Professor in International Political Theory at the University of Southampton (Academia.eduGoogle Scholar). You can read more posts by Jonathan here.


What is anarchy? Despite its centrality to the self-image of the discipline of International Relations, few have critically enquired into the essence of this concept.  Most still deploy textbook definitions, namely that anarchy is the absence of rulers, of a centralized authority, or a system of self-help. This basic understanding of anarchy is largely uncontested. However, by contrast, the study of the purported causal effects of anarchy, rather than the meaning of the concept itself, has arguably shaped the evolution of the discipline over the last fifty years at least. Debates between classical and neo-realists, and between neo-realists and neo-liberals, revolved around understanding ‘order without an orderer and organizational effects where formal organisation is lacking’.

The rejection of the terms of these two debates, including a rejection of anarchy, was central to the evolution of normative and critical IR theory. Anarchy was synonymous with statism, with the absence of morality, and what Jo Freeman called, in a different context, ‘the tyranny of structurelessness’, where hierarchies and domination proliferated in the absence of formal institutions. Elsewhere, the analytical virtue of anarchy was itself questioned, such that to focus on anarchy was itself a problematic collusion with the gendered and Eurocentric legacies of modernity. Barry Buzan and Richard Little (2001) argued that IR’s failure to speak beyond the confines of our own academic and intellectual silos was primarily a function of the discipline’s ‘anarchophilia’. IR has had little influence, they argued, because our core concept has had such little traction outside the neo-neo debates that have shaped so much of the discipline, but little else.

Yet despite this extensive debate, few have taken the time to interrogate the concept’s plural meanings, to see what the consequences might be if anarchy itself were defined differently. This paucity of critical conceptual analysis is surely a function of how uncontested the meaning of this concept has been, despite its centrality to the field.

In a recently published special issue of the Journal of International Political Theory we seek to puff at the glowing embers of this debate. Our aim is to take stock of, examine, and reconsider the concept of anarchy, and its place in the study and practice of international relations. We contest mainstream conceptualizations of anarchy by drawing upon original research in political philosophy, medieval history, pluralist theory, history of political thought, and of course, IR theory. The aim is to investigate how differing conceptions of anarchy can advance the study of world politics. Our conclusion is that there are a range of ways in which anarchy can be defined, deployed, and perhaps even appropriated by IR theorists, and that ‘the anarchy problématique’ has plenty of life in it yet.

 

The Root of China’s Decline

By Dr. John Glenn, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. You can read more posts by John here.


 

The New Year augured in a slew of negative economic data, both for China and the world economy in general. China’s growth rate in 2015 was the lowest in 25 years and capital outflows totalled around a trillion dollars placing further pressure on the yuan.[i] As pointed out in my latest book, although China has approximately $4 trillion worth of currency reserves, there is a limit to how much the government can intervene in the offshore yuan market and it is thus likely that further domestic devaluations of the currency will be forthcoming. This will have major ramifications for the world economy should the rest of the region follow suit and engage in competitive devaluations of their own currency. In addition, it has huge import for China’s global ambitions with regard to establishing the yuan as a major international reserve currency. Ironically, just when the IMF has included the yuan as part of the basket of currencies that states receive when borrowing from the IMF, countries are becoming increasingly wary of using the yuan because of the decline in its relative value.

Industrial overcapacity worldwide is driving the price of primary commodities and manufactured goods downwards as supply outstrips demand and leading to closures of factories in China and elsewhere. The international effects of overcapacity are being greatly exacerbated by the devaluations of the yuan and it is highly likely this will be one of the major issues that policy-makers will seek to address in the coming year. As highlighted in the book, the issue of state subsidies for China’s industries will also become one of the main issues on the global agenda in the next few years and it is likely that a concerted effort by the major powers will be made through the WTO to finally resolve this.

 

Pre-Tax Return on Capital in China

glenn

Source: Esteban Maito, ‘China 1978-2011 – Rate of profit’[ii]

 

It is also highly likely that capital outflows will continue apace and may even quicken as the rate of return on investment and profits continues to fall to more normal levels (it has already declined by ten per cent from the heights of the nineties).[iii] Given that China, to some degree, still relies on technological innovation from foreign firms, this may have greater repercussions than would normally be expected.

It is notoriously difficult to predict events, none more so than at the international level. Certainly, China has been very active in the last few years in making its presence felt in the region and further afield. As this book has pointed out the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is not simply about providing an alternative to the World Bank. Major infrastructure projects elsewhere may help mitigate the problem of overcapacity domestically. The announcement of the ‘one belt, one road’ policy facilitating greater connections with Central Asia overland and across South Asia through to East Africa via maritime routes will not only enhance trade it will also provide major projects for China’s domestic firms. Yet, it is unlikely that this will stem further reductions in China’s growth. Whether this will lead to the ‘Japanification’ of its economy will depend upon the ability of the Chinese state to further intervene in the economy and the willingness of the other major economies to look the other way in the interests of stability. But one thing seems certain, its global ambitions and challenge to US supremacy will, for the time being at least, have to be scaled back. Moreover, if the deterioration in the economy continues, then such ambitions may have to be curtailed indefinitely.

 

John Glenn’s latest book, China’s Challenge to US Supremacy will be available shortly through Palgrave Macmillan.

 

[i] Larry Elliott, ‘Davos 2016: Global economic fears grow as stock markets dive – live’, The Guardian, 20 January 2016. Available here.

[ii] https://www.academia.edu/13939966/China_1978-2011_-_Rate_of_profit. The data is originally from Hongbin, Qu, Julia Wang & Sun Junwel, China inside out. Return on capital: perception vs reality, HSBC Global Research, Hong Kong, 2013.

[iii] Owen Freestone and Dougal Horton, ‘China’s High Rates of Investment and Path Towards Internal Rebalancing’, in Ligang Song, Ross Garnaut And Cai Fang (eds), Deepening Reform For China’s Long-Term Growth And Development, Canberra: Australia University Press, 2014, pp. 107-33

Courting Diasporas: The Politics of Emigration Policies in Latin America

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


Dr Ana Margheritis was recently invited to give a talk at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy on the politics of emigration policies in Latin America.

A short interview with Dr Margheritis on the subject of her talk is below, and the full audio and a summary is available here.

 

 

 

 

Argentina departs from the Kirchner model, but Mauricio Macri now has to govern a divided nation

By Pia Riggirozzi. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


Read Dr Pia Riggirozzi’s new piece for The Conversation on the outcome of Argentina’s 2015 presidential elections.

Follow this link for the full article.

Dr Ana Margheritis on the National Elections in Argentina

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


PAIR’s Dr Ana Margheritis has been busy in the national and international media over the past week, offering reflection and analysis on the current national elections in Argentina. Ana has contributed to discussion programmes for Radio FM4 in Austria and for the BBC World Service, and featured in an article in the Daily Express.

You can listen to/view each of Ana’s contributions by following the links above.

Upcoming Conference on Global Migration

This year the Institute for Latin American Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, have situated global issues (including migration) at the top of their agenda for debate. They invited Dr. Ana Margheritis to co-organize an interdisciplinary conference with broad aims. Please find more details in the call for papers and link to webpage below.

Managing Global Migration: New Perspectives from Latin America and Europe

November 12, 2015

Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

This one-day ILAS conference at the University of London will present and debate new research on the multiple ways and means of addressing and managing global migration flows between Latin America and Europe. The conference will move beyond area studies by focusing on two world regions historically linked by human mobility and cultural exchange but now grappling with significant demographic changes and new migration trends. These changes and trends include the reversal of flows, the greater heterogeneity of migrant groups, the pull of women leaders in family migration projects, the concentration of newcomers in non-traditional destinations, the intensification of dual or multiple engagements in the country of origin and residence, and the development of new forms of citizenship beyond borders. The aim of the conference is to assess how and to what extent state and non-state actors in both Latin America and Europe are coping with and capitalizing upon the complex and creative implications of these new trends.

We aim to critically address the need to reconcile the political regulation of new trends in human mobility with democratic and multicultural demands for respect of rights and difference. We welcome papers that address this broad scope and aim from a variety of disciplinary, methodological, experiential, and comparative perspectives. ILAS aims to publish a selection of previously unpublished papers. Limited funding is available for travel expenses of participants. Please submit an abstract of 250 words with short bio and contact information by SEPTEMBER 15 to the conference co-organizers:

Dr. Ana Margheritis, University of Southampton
A.Margheritis@southampton.ac.uk

Dr. Mark Thurner, ILAS, University of London
mark.thurner@sas.ac.uk

Bargaining for Developing Countries in Access to Medicines

By Pia Riggirozzi. Pia Riggirozzi is Associate Professor in Global Politics at the University of Southampton (@PRiggirozziAcademia.edu). You can find more posts by Pia here.


An earlier version of this piece first appeared at Latin America Goes Global.

By bringing together the 12 South American countries, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is advancing an effective rights agenda in access to medicines and attention to developing country demands. 

In an open letter to the heads of government of all Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiating countries, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, expressed serious concerns over provisions under TTP and bilateral trade negotiation that threaten to restrict access to affordable medicines for millions of people in low- and middle-income countries, and hence their right to health as expressed by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in numerous international declarations. This is the case for instance of the EU-Andean Trade Agreement on Access to Medicines in countries such as Peru and Colombia. It is estimated that the introduction of the measures on patent protection would lead to an increase of 459 million USD in Peru’s total pharmaceutical expenditure by 2025;    and of 756 million USD in Colombia’s total pharmaceutical expenditure, leading to a significant decrease in consumption of life saving medicines.

Facing this scenario it is not surprising that attention to access to medicines as an issue of rights is increasing. In 2014, a joint commission from the medical journal The Lancet and the University of Oslo published policy report in which it cited the imbalance of political power between nations as a major cause of health care inequality across the world. According to the report, disparities in health are not just linked to poverty but also to the unequal distribution of material and knowledge resources across nations and the capacity to influence global governance.

While there have been tremendous global advances in expanding civil liberties—through international laws and practice—much of the normative infrastructure and policy to support rights was crafted and is still shaped by the interests of the developed north.  Even in the morality of rights—civil, political, social, and economic—power rules.

International frameworks pushing for universal human rights in relation to social and economic development are still filtered through institutions such as the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) and northern donor organizations.  These are conservative institutions that have been slow to embrace broader economic and social rights, including health.

Today, though, in the new rash of regional organizations, can the Global South reset the norms and rework global (health) governance in support of rights and social justice goals?

While the Global South has struggled to advance broader economic and social rights in the development agenda, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has focused on a significant concern for its regional members: the right to health.

 

Access to medicines and the right to health

In the area of health, developing countries have historically been disadvantaged in the access to medicines and influence in setting the global health agenda—a result of they weaker status relative to business and the developed north.  Developing countries’ access to medicines has been hampered by trade negotiations that reinforce existing intellectual property standing and international institutions and laws governing intellectual property rights that favor business over patients in the developing world.

In South America, the high cost of medicine and the lack of alternatives to existing drugs is particularly acute.  Medicines not only define who lives and who dies but also why (and how) countries in the south.  According to the Secretary General of UNASUR, Ernesto Samper, almost 30 percent of the total public and private health care in South America is spent on medicine. UNASUR picked up this challenge, creating the UNASUR Health Council—one of the first councils created by the new regional group—and forming an alliance with the regional health think tank, the South American Institute of Health Governance (Instituto Sudamericano de Gobierno en Salud, ISAGS), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The new alliance is in a far strong position to pursue South America’s agenda in medicine than the traditional Washington, DC-based Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) UNASUR/ISAGS is in a better position to deliver effective health governance than PAHO, which is focused on “health coverage” instead of UNASUR/ISAGS’ more ambitious agenda of “universal access to health.”  These two approaches represent different ways of addressing how health care reaches societies, and ultimately speak of different conceptions of entitlement and equality. ISAGS focus has been on the broader idea of strengthening health governance capacity, advocating the right to health and supporting policymaking and policy reforms towards the universalization of health care. In this capacity it has trained policy-makers and practitioners by setting up UNASUR-sponsored public health schools in Bolivia, Guyana, Peru and Uruguay, and assisted in the creation of a UNASUR network of public health schools.

ISAGS has also provided support directly to ministries of health in Guyana and Paraguay on primary care and the preparation of clinical protocols, and has supported reforms aimed to move towards universalization of health sector provision in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.  ISAGS is involved in the diffusion of information on combating HIV/AIDS, influenza and dengue fever across the region, and has developed mapping techniques to coordinate shared policies for the production of some key medicines.

Policy advances of this sort—concrete, modest, focused and cheap to deliver taken in a relatively short timeframe and below the radar of political commentary—are unusual in previous efforts in at regionalism in South America.  And they stand as evidence of UNASUR’s focused, grounded approach.

ISAGS has begun to scale up its level of activity on behalf of UNASUR, once again with relatively little attendant publicity. ISAGS has been quietly targeting global health governance forums and is trying to establish a joint bargaining position for South American negotiators vis-à-vis pharmaceutical companies and in the World Health Organization (WHO). ISAGS now holds meetings prior to each annual gathering of the WHO, so that UNASUR member states coordinate their actions at the WHO.  It’s an approach that both UNASUR and ISAGS are now using to speak out more widely on behalf of other developing countries.

 

Reclaiming sovereignty, rebuilding diplomacy

As part of this campaign, UNASUR has also begun to take action on access to medicines.  The strategy centers on coordinating active resistance to the dominance of pharmaceutical companies under a motto that links regional health diplomacy with sovereignty.

For instance, UNASUR is setting up a “Medicine Price Bank”, a computerized database revealing the prices paid by UNASUR countries for drug purchases.  By making the information public and comparative, UNASUR is seeking to provide policymakers and health authorities information to strengthen the position of member states in purchases of medicines vis-à-vis pharmaceutical companies. Likewise, UNASUR’s Health Council has approved a project for the mapping regional pharmaceutical capacities in 2012, to coordinate common policies among member states for production of medicines.

Within the WHO, UNASUR has pressed to change international norms regarding the combat of counterfeit medical products. Until recently that effort was spearheaded by the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), an agency led by big pharma and the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) and funded by developed countries engaged in intellectual property rights enforcement.

At the 63rd World Health Assembly in 2010, UNASUR successfully proposed that an intergovernmental group replaced IMPACT to act on, and prevent, counterfeiting of medical products. This resolution was approved at the 65th World Health Assembly in May 2012. In the course of the meeting, UNASUR also lobbied for opening negotiations for a binding agreement on financial support and research to meet the pharmaceutical needs of developing countries, and issue that was resumed at the 67th WHO meeting last May.

More recently, a key policy has been agreed in support of the establishment of a fund to negotiate centralized purchases of the Hepatitis C virus treatments. This proposal, agreed by UNASUR Health Council in July 2015, will represent a milestone in the region in savings through price negotiation on an innovative and expensive medicine. It could also create incentives for the industry as centralized purchases could be a more conciliatory route towards medicine price reduction rather than the practice of compulsory licenses and direct government price cuts in the region.

The presence of UNASUR in this type of health diplomacy, and its coordinated efforts to redefine rules of participation and representation in the governing of global health, demonstrate that there is a new logic and momentum in regional integration and regional policy-making in Latin America. These actions create new spaces for policy coordination and collective action.  In the all-important case of health rights, UNASUR—and other regional institutions too—can become an opportunity for practitioners, academics and policy makers to collaborate and network in support of better access to healthcare, medicines and policy-making.

 

Author’s note: This article draws on a combination of documentary analysis and interview data. Some of the research was carried out in the context of the research project Poverty Reduction and Regional Integration: SADC and UNASUR Health Policies (PRARI)’, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), grant ref. ES/L005336/1. The article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the ESRC. For information on the project: http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/prari/