Wednesday, March 23, 2011

China-East Africa Community joint efforts against Counterfeits

By Esther Nakkazi

Most Chinese goods have a bad repute in east Africa; they are counterfeits, cheap and of low standard but do compete favorably on the market as consumers believe that their quality is at par with the price.
So trade between China and east Africa continues to grow. Data from the Chinese embassy in Uganda, shows that in 2010, the total trade value between China and east Africa states was US$3.89 billion, a 40 percent increase from 2009 principally for hi-tech, electromechanical, textile and agricultural products.
And now the Chinese government says, they intend to increase this trade value, through cracking down on the production and trading of counterfeits, which are on the increase in the east African Community (EAC) market.
Already, China has imposed punitive measures on its exporters of counterfeits into the African market that are as harsh as death. And, China is counting on the EAC governments to partner with it.
“Through our joint efforts, I hope there would be no China made counterfeits in the EAC market. I also hope more highly cost effective Chinese products will be brought to the East African market for the well-being of the people here,” said Zou Xiaoming, the economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese embassy in Uganda.
To stop the counterfeits, heavy fines and death for the offenders have been imposed. For instance China says that; ‘a company found exporting counterfeits to Africa would have its illegal gains confiscated; a fine ranging from 50 percent to two times the value of the counterfeit would be imposed and it would be banned from exporting business in the future.’
Also the direct manager of the counterfeits would be charged with a criminal offence and if found guilty, sentenced to several years in prison, life imprisonment or even a death penalty according to the counterfeit value and effect caused by the counterfeits.
This move comes after increased complaints from east African states about counterfeits on the market made in China.
But to safe guard its share of the African market where Chinese investment hit $9.3 billion in 2009, China further wants to ‘safeguard African consumer rights and welfare as well as keep a good reputation of Chinese products’.
With a syndicated joint action operation running for five months in all its east African related embassies, China says the special intensive action ends this month but the mechanism to fight counterfeits would keep going forever.

But east African traders remain skeptical about China’s commitment to fight counterfeits in the region. To most of them, although east African governments have redress mechanism for Chinese exporters that are cheated, there have been no reciprocal measures by China.
“When Ugandan importers go to China and they do not pay, we have a platform for redress but the commercial division of the Chinese government is not vigilant enough to help us when we buy poor products from China,” said Issa Sekitto, the spokesperson Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA).
The resigned culture of the east African consumer, uncooperative manufacturers and the lack of governments’ vigilance and enforcement still keeps counterfeits on the EAC market, traders in Uganda said.
“China manufactures specifically for the US and Africa market. When you go to China, they sell you goods for the ‘Ugandan market’, which are of very low quality. If they are committed to stopping counterfeits they should stop them at base,” said a trader in Kampala importing Chinese cheap goods.
The counterfeits market is too big with so many lobbyists protecting it, ‘I doubt that China has the capacity to fight it. I think they want to hear what we say and capitalize on it but the can not stop counterfeits.’
Well, China, seems to be committed especially with the ‘joint effort’ it is seeking with the east African governments and its aspiration to court Africa for its raw materials.
“Recently, we paid visits to several governments and organizations, which expressed sincere willingness for cooperation. Right now, we are working on joint action mechanism arrangements, which should include information sharing, standard harmonizing, enterprises monitoring and capacity building,” said Xiaoming.
The unwillingness by east African manufacturers who remain silent and fight the counterfeits battle ‘underground’ or those that label their goods with ‘made in China’ labels also remains obscure.
“When you talk to manufacturers they remain silent because they fear it would affect their goods. China should have registered agents in the east African market to enforce their trade marks,” said Beatrice Tinka, the director communications at the Uganda Allied Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (UACCIA).
“If we treated the problem from the source, (China) then east Africa would have reduced the problem of product production,” said Sekitto.
According to Sekitto the EAC states are not at the same level so China should stop as much as possible the products that come in the market because it is only China that has the capacity to stop counterfeits.

This was the printed version of the story:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Uganda should have transparent legislation in extractive industries

By Esther Nakkazi
Future oil payments made to Uganda may be made public as civil society campaigners mount pressure in the UK and the rest of Europe, for transparency legislation in extractive industries. Last week over 200 activists from Uganda wrote to Prime Minister Cameron telling him “the only losers [from the law] would be those who plan to steal the revenue.
Uganda has so far cloaked its nascent oil industry in secrecy, keeping the Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) it signed with participating oil companies under wraps despite the information Bill laws that would allow access.
European leaders have in recent weeks lent their backing to the law with President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Osborne of the UK both arguing that Europe must now act on this issue.
In the UK Parliament, two weeks ago, a backbench bill was introduced suggesting all oil, gas and mineral companies listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) would have to start reporting their payments to all governments where they operate.
LSE has more than 80 extractive companies listed, representing more than 1 trillion pounds of capital. Tullow oil, Uganda’s main operator in the extractives industry is listed on the LSE.
Civil society activists argue that if legally binding measures for transparency in Europe and Uganda were passed; there would be a big impact in the information available to Ugandan citizens to demand for proper use of oil resources.
“Having access to this information challenges vested interests. Ultimately it is in the interest of all our citizens that there is access to this information,” said Winnie Ngabiirwe, the executive Director, Global Rights Alert and Chairperson, Publish What You Pay – Uganda.
Dickens Kamugisha, CEO, African Institute of Energy Governance says everything in the oil industry has been done in secrecy despite the fact that there exists the access to information laws.
“If transparency rules come in place, they will enhance the desired public debate and enable citizens to make decisions based on the information available.”
The US, already has legislation to force extractive industry firms listed on the New York Stock Exchange engaged in the extractive industries abroad, to be more transparent. This came in the form of the Dodd-Frank Act passed last July. However, as Tullow are not NYSE listed the law will not currently impact Uganda. CNOOC and Total are listed in the US and would have to report their payments if as expected they enter Uganda formally later this year.
The US listed firms, engaged in extractive industries, are required by law to report how much they pay to governments on a country and project basis, in an annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“The US passed a law but for countries like Uganda this law can only help if it is also implemented in the EU,” said Albert Charles Okello Oduman, a legislator in Uganda.
Some companies listed in the US like China’s CNOOC and Petrochina will shortly begin disclosing under the law, but also there are those that do it on a voluntary basis like Talisman Energy in Canada, Statoil Hydro in Norway and Newmont Mining in the US.
Civil society activists under the ‘Publish what you pay’ coalition are at the forefront of this campaign. Joe Powell, a policy analyst at coalition member ONE, said, “Transparency is the first step to better oil governance in Uganda. If Europe passes this law it will empower people with information needed to hold the Government’s leadership accountable.”
Some companies have opposed the law. Peter Voser, CEO of Shell, argued at a recent conference that it would undermine the national sovereignty of countries where natural resources exist. However, Henry Banyenzaki MP, Chair of Uganda’s Parliamentary Forum on Oil and Gas disputed this claim. In a letter to Voser seen by the East African says: “This oil belongs to the people, not to political and business elites. Sovereignty can only be enhanced by empowering people with the type of information which the Dodd-Frank Act will provide”.
Africa is well endowed with resources that do not seem to be beneficial to it. Data from the BP statistical Review of World Energy 2010 shows that, for over two decades, proven oil reserves in Africa have increased by 112 percent while the total value of known deposits is $40 trillion.
Also, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the developing countries is largely from the extractive industry, which if well managed can have a transformative effect on Africa.
NB: This story has also been published in The EastAfrican of March 21-27

Monday, March 14, 2011

Uganda Bioethics Expert on Obama Global Inquiry

Julius Ecuru, 37 years, is the assistant Executive Secretary at the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST). Last week, Ecuru was named a member of the International Research Panel for US President Barack Obama's Bioethics Commission.

He has been involved in research and ethics for the last 13 years and has played a major role in developing Uganda’s guidelines for research involving humans as research participants.

Recently, he was named member of the International Research Panel for US President Barack Obama's Bioethics Commission. He will investigate the effectiveness of the current US rules and International standards for the protection of human participants in scientific studies.

Obama called for the investigations after the discovery last year, that the US, over 60 years ago had deliberately infected Guatemalan prisoners with sexually transmitted diseases for a medical study.

With his expertise in science, policy and ethical values in research, Ecuru and the panel will find out if volunteers in medical research sponsored by the US in developing countries are protected from harm and unethical behavior. He spoke to Esther Nakkazi below are the excerpts;

Qn; Do you think the International Research Panel you are part of will unearth any serious unethical behavior on human participants by US researchers in Africa and elsewhere?
I think it will be a revelation that in the past, research on human participants was unethical. But now there are international rules and standards, which cannot be breached.
President Obama also wants to be assured that these rules and standards protect the people involved in research. If the panel finds any gaps then we shall report back to the commission.
By examining the current norms we get to understand their adequacy in protecting research participants.
Qn; What is the history of research in Africa? Was it experimentation on human beings?
It is not vey clear if Africa had human participants abuses in research like the case of Guatemala cited by President Obama and up to what magnitude. Most of the documented abuses happened outside Africa.
I think the interest of the colonialists was different. They wanted to understand tropical diseases, improve cash crops production etc so probably humans were involved in research but it was not well documented. We do not know much. So this is an area I would encourage that some investigations be done in Africa.
Qn; If it was done do you think it was ethical?
We do not have well documented unethical behavior in Africa. But that is because research ethics is quite new in Africa we still do not know what was done back then. There were no clear frameworks of how human participants could be handled in research.
For instance in Uganda, research involving humans as research participants started only about 20 years ago when we started the first HIV vaccine trials. That was in 1997. We need more studies on the history of research ethics in Africa.
Qn; How ethical is research done in Africa today?
Protection of people during research is universal, but countries should also have their standards. For instance, Uganda has its own rules and regulations for protecting humans as research participants.
What countries do should be consistent with international standards and should be adequate. But you find that some African countries do not have their own standards. They rely on International standards but there are so many differences in culture, practice etc. The local rules are equally important, they should not be inferior and should exist.
Qn; If you could give us a sense of how many studies are carried out in Uganda, which involves human participants?
Uganda has 400 new studies every year and cumulatively 300,000 Ugandans participate in research every year. Of the studies done about 60-70 percent involve human participants, (medical research) and 5 percent of the studies are clinical trials.
This therefore underscores the need for an ethical research so that they protect the rights and welfare of individual research participants.
Qn; But sometimes it may not be unethical at the level of the individual but the human biological samples like blood or tissue that are taken away by international researchers. How do you control that?
We now have a strict policy. A researcher can only take human samples when they demonstrate that we do not have the capacity to manage them.
We have a materials transfer agreement under the 2007 ‘National Guidelines for Research involving Humans as research participants’. Besides other things this binds the institution here in Uganda and the one that receives the human samples.
We demand to know that they tell us where, what and why they are going to use the samples for. We also emphasize that should benefits arise both institutions benefit and the samples are used responsibly.
Qn; How do you monitor that?
We may not be able to monitor them but we get updates and progress reports over a given period of time. We also forge a collaboration to continue in the follow up activities.
Through this we collaborate in studies, benefit from transfer of technology and exchange of information. This is what Africa should do.
Qn; Are there penalties for unethical behavior?
We can cancel your license but we prefer to avoid it altogether so we have strengthened our guidelines and we are educating the public and creating awareness.
This will change the behavior of the public and assure them that research is done in responsibly and ethically.
Qn; Why is bioethics increasingly becoming important?
It is important to avoid cases of injustice like the Guatemala case in 1946-1948. We recognize that these are injustices of the past that is why it is important to guard against them.
Also, the rapid advances in science especially in bio sciences, which has a lot of potential today greater than 50 years ago. This enables us manipulate organisms, work with living organisms and it raises a lot of ethical issues.
Bioethics helps us ensure that as science progresses and technology advances, we do not violate and compromise the rights of people who participate and those who consume the products.
Future economic growth of countries will depend on the level of science and technology applied. So it should be in the context of bioethics so that people’s rights and welfare are not violated.