Likely top stories this week: Six people die in “La Bestia” train accident in Mexico; Colombia-FARC peace talks resume in Havana; Venezuela and Palestine sign energy deal; Roberto Azevêdo will become the new WTO director; and public consultations on energy reform begin in Mexico.
Six Dead and 22 Injured in “La Bestia” Train Accident: On Sunday, at least six people were killed and 22 were injured in the derailment of the cargo train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) in southern Mexico, a train that is notorious for transporting Central American migrants through Mexico and to the U.S. border. According to official sources, at least 16 of the passengers injured in the accident were nationals of Honduras between 20 and 30 years old. Public Security Minister for Tabasco State Audomaro Martinez Zapata said that thieves had stolen the nails and metal plaques from the tracks, which led to the accident. Migrants’ rights activists demanded immediate measures to put an end to the risks that undocumented migrants face when traveling across the country, and criticized the Mexican government for not taking this issue seriously. On Sunday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto lamented the accident via Twitter and expressed his solidarity with the victims’ families.
Colombia-FARC Talks Resume after Crisis: On Saturday, lead Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle announced that the talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) would resume in Havana on Monday. This statement put an end to one of the biggest crises to afflict the peace process since it began in November 2012, which was prompted when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposal last week that any peace agreement must be put to a national referendum. On Friday, the FARC announced that it was putting the peace talks on hold to study the referendum proposal. In response, Santos stated that the FARC is not entitled to “dictate pauses and impose conditions” on the negotiations, and ordered his team of negotiators to return to Bogotá to evaluate the implications of a hiatus in the peace process. So far, the talks are advancing at a slow pace and negotiators have only been able to reach a partial deal on one of five points in the agenda. Still, both sides have remained at the negotiation table, raising hopes for an end to the five-decade-long armed conflict.
Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority Sign Energy Deal: On Saturday, Venezuela and the Palestinian Authority signed an energy agreement that will allow Venezuela to sell oil at a “fair price” with “flexible repayment terms” to Palestinians, as well as provide expert advice and training for the fuel management and handling. The deal was signed during a meeting between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua and his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, while al-Maliki is on a tour of Latin America. During his trip to the region, al-Maliki also met Ecuadorian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility Ricardo Patiño and Guyana’s president, Donald Ramotar. Venezuela, Ecuador and Guyana are among several countries from Latin America and the Caribbean that recognize Palestine as an independent state.
Roberto Azevêdo to Become New WTO Director: Next Sunday, Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevêdo will become the new director general of the World Trade Organization. Azevêdo has served as Brazil’s ambassador to the WTO since 2008 and was selected in May to become the first Latin American to lead the WTO. In August, Azevêdo announced the appointment of four deputies, who will assume their posts in October: Yi Xiaozhun of China, Karl-Ernst Brauner of Germany, Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria and David Shark of the United States. One of Azevêdo’s main objectives in his new position is to revive the stalled Doha Round trade talks. In a recent statement, Azevêdo said that regional and bilateral trade accords obstructed efforts to revive global trade talks and “steal the attention a little from the multilateral system.”
Public Consultations on Energy Reform began in Mexico: On Sunday, Mexico’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática—PRD) began the first phase of a citizen consultation on the country’s fiscal and energy reforms. The set of energy reforms presented by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on August 13 would open Mexico's energy sector to foreign investors. The fiscal reform seeks to increase Mexico’s tax take by about 4 percentage points of GDP as a means to channel more resources towards education, health and infrastructure projects at the federal, state and municipal levels. Jesús Zambrano, the president of the PRD, called citizens from all parties to participate in the consultation. Members of the PRD have different positions from President Peña Nieto on both the fiscal and energy reforms and hope the result of the consultations will be taken into account by the central government. The first phase of the consultation took place in almost 3,000 centers installed in parks, plazas and metro stations in Mexico City and in the states of Coahuila, Campeche, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Colima, Nuevo León, Sonora, Nayarit, and Tabasco. A second phase of consultations will begin next Sunday.
Roberto Azevêdo, Brazil’s current ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), will succeed Pascal Lamy as the director-general of the organization on September 1, 2013, becoming the first Latin American to head the WTO since its creation in 1995. A formal announcement is expected today.
Azevêdo claimed the spot over Herminio Blanco, Mexico’s former Trade Minister and chief negotiator for the North America Free-Trade Agreement, in the final round of the six-month selection process which began in December. While Blanco had the support of the influential members such as the European Union, a majority of the WTO’s 159 member-states voted in favor of the Brazilian. Some analysts believe that Brazil’s active role in protecting the interests of developing countries during global trade negotiations contributed to Azevêdo’s popularity.
Azevêdo, who first joined the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the WTO in 1997, will face several challenges as director-general. He will be responsible for reviving the Doha round of talks, which were officially launched in 2001, and maintaining the organization’s relevance as regional and bilateral trade agreements grow in scope. Azevêdo will head his first biennial meeting in Bali, Indonesia this December.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim on Saturday in Geneva announced that Argentina is on track in 2010 to become Brazil’s largest trade partner behind China, replacing the United States in second position. The announcement was shared at the eighth annual International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting.
Bilateral trade between the two Mercosur-member countries is projected to reach up to $34 billion by the end of this year. This comes despite trade relations between Argentina and Brazil being strained at times. Brazil has periodically been accused of using unfair non-tariff policies to favor its import-competing industries. Addressing the need for improved bilateral trade relations with Argentina, Amorim recently called for “a leap forward in [liberating] the services and investment sectors.”
Amorim will continue trade discussions during his European tour and will meet with Pascal Lamy, director general for the World Trade Organization.
Mexican milk producers will go to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to demand that the U.S. raises the price of milk it exports to Mexico. Alvaro González Muñoz, the head of the Frente Nacional de Productores y Consumidores de Leche—a national organization of dairy industry stakeholders—said that thousands of Mexican milk producers have gone out of business in recent years because of the low prices of American milk, a result of U.S. government subsidies.
In Mexico, milk producers cannot afford to sell their product for less than five pesos ($0.38) per liter, but the price of U.S. milk imports range from 2.80 to 3.20 pesos ($0.21 to $0.24) per liter. For González Muñoz, bad economic times means that the minimum price of milk should not be lower than 5.50 pesos ($0.41) per liter for the milk industry to survive. The head of the Mexican milk industry admits that bringing the case before the WTO is going to be a long and complicated process, but sees it as necessary since other industries are being affected as well.