Letters: Trade and Africa

Historic opportunity to boost trade and the fortunes of Africa
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The Independent Online

Sir: We represent a coalition of 70 businesses and business organisations from Africa and across the world, committed to supporting growth and poverty reduction in Africa. We believe that the Hong Kong meeting of the World Trade Organisation is a historic opportunity. Trade has the potential to be a powerful engine for Africa's development but only, in our view, if action is taken on three areas - an end to agricultural subsidies, increased access to developed country markets and support for improving Africa's capacity to trade.

Developed countries must make it easier for developing countries to export to their markets by improving market access through reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and providing duty-free and quota-free access for all products exported from least developed countries. Emerging economies must also play their part in opening their markets, in an appropriate manner, to least developed countries.

Agriculture plays a crucial role in sub-Saharan Africa and accelerating growth in agriculture is critical to sustainable development and poverty reduction. In comparison, agriculture plays a minor role in the economies of developed countries - yet northern governments spend billions on unsustainable agricultural subsidies every year. Developed countries must end agricultural export subsidies by 2010 and substantially reduce tariffs against developing country agricultural exports.

But the benefits of a balanced trade regime will not be realised if Africa's capacity to trade is not vastly improved. The developed world must support, through additional donor funding and technical support, African-owned strategies to build Africa's capacity to trade. These strategies focus on a mix of better infrastructure, a vibrant private sector, reducing internal barriers to improve South-South and intra-African trade and more diversified economies.

Political leaders in the developed countries need to make the case that substantial reform of agricultural subsidies, away from intensive, large-scale production, would be good for their citizens, good for small farmers in their own countries, good for taxpayers, good for the environment, good for developing countries and good for business.

Developed countries have to eliminate policies that undermine growth in developing countries. Such policies are both anti-poor and anti-business. We all stand to prosper from a more stable global trading system. It is in the self-interest of developed countries, as well as developing countries, to make the rules-based system work. Failure would be unforgivable

EDWARD BICKHAM, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, ANGLO AMERICAN PLC; PETER BREW, DIRECTOR, CORPORATE POLICY AND PRACTICES, PRINCE OF WALES INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS LEADERS FORUM; SIMON GILBERT, MANAGER, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, THE DE BEERS GROUP; GEOFFREY BUSH, DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP, DIAGEO; SUE CLARK, CORPORATE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, SABMILLER PLC; KOOSUM KALYAN, SENIOR BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT ADVISOR, SHELL UK; RICHARD MORGAN, CORPORATE RELATIONS ADVISER, UNILEVER; BUSINESS ACTION FOR AFRICA, LONDON NW1

Innocent prisoners in Britain's jails

Sir: I concur entirely with Johann Hari's article about the plight of remand prisoners (17 November), and I am only surprised that it has taken so long for The Independent to draw this matter to the attention of its readers.

As a prison visitor I have frequently visited remand inmates, many of them European nationals (my qualification as a linguist being invaluable in communicating with these lonely men), listening for weeks and months to their outraged assurances that they were not involved in the people-trafficking or drug smuggling they were accused of, only to see their cases thrown out of court after eight or nine months.

I do not have to describe my embarrassment, when asked about compensation for unjust imprisonment: many of these men had lost their jobs, some had become estranged from their families and they were going home to an uncertain future. All I could offer was shamefaced confirmation: no, they would not receive any compensation and there was no channel through which to apply for it. The case is the same for UK nationals, so the system is at least even-handed on that score.

I feel very strongly that 90 days is 80 days too long to keep anyone locked up unless we have proof of a serious crime involving a threat to national security. The way the British justice system deals with far lesser crimes is a breach of human rights. Thank goodness there are organisations such as the Howard League who are aware of this and do all they can to change the situation.

JANET BERRIDGE

CANTERBURY

Sir: Johann Hari's attack on Britain's bail system missed the point. That homeless people are automatically regarded as a "flight risk" is quite understandable in the context of the Bail Act 1976, where it is clearly stated that one of the main points for magistrates to consider in deciding whether to grant bail is the existence of community ties. These ties undoubtedly must include a fixed address.

If a homeless person is given bail which is later skipped, you not only have a police search with no apparent place to start, but also the fundamental mockery of the justice system.

DAVID MACLEAN

SOUTH SHIELDS, TYNE AND WEAR

You can cut your carbon footprint

Sir: On the subject of the PM, climate change, and targets (leading article, 15 November), fifteen years ago, while responsible for the government energy efficiency campaign in public-sector buildings, my household carbon footprint (for home energy and travel) was around 18 tonnes. Today, better off, happier, and living in a bigger house with four children, my footprint is nine tonnes. My target for 2010 is six tonnes. Roughly speaking, these reductions are 5 per cent, year on year.

Against that background, everyone can afford to feel confident in backing "the Big Ask" launched by Friends of the Earth. They propose a 3-per-cent, year-on-year target, for UK-wide CO 2 reduction; it is vital that we all do this.

DAVE HAMPTON

MARLOW, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

Sir: I was amazed to read that I was among 150 experts from the Geological Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics, and various engineering institutes who had written a report concluding that nuclear is essential if we are to avoid an energy shortfall (10 November).

The report concluded that "renewable sources of energy would be unable to generate enough electricity to meet the expected shortfall resulting from the closure of existing nuclear power plants". So it may have done, but somebody is playing games here. I convened and chaired the renewables section of the discussions by the 150. I do not agree that we need nuclear, nor do I believe energy efficiency and renewables will be unable to close the gap created by phasing nuclear out. From the discussions, it was clear others held this view too.

JEREMY LEGGETT

CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SOLARCENTURY LONDON SE1

Fallujah: the forgotten victims

Sir: The debate about white phosphorus in Fallujah is taking place in a false context. It is conventional wisdom that the citizens of Fallujah were given the opportunity to leave before the bombardment began, but this is false.

The US Army, with British help, threw up a cordon around the city and refused to let any male aged 15-55 out. Those who tried to leave were forced to return at gunpoint. Those who tried to swim the Euphrates were killed by machine-gun nests installed along the west bank. The refusal to let males leave Fallujah was well documented at the time, even by Fox News. It is forgotten today, and replaced by this evacuation myth, in an act of collective amnesia.

Refusing to let refugees leave a war zone and singling people out on the basis of gender are both war crimes, irrespective of the weapons used.

OWEN DYER

LONDON NW1

Clean up our messy country

Sir: If Robin Kevan can do for litter what Jamie Oliver has done for school dinners, he will have drawn attention to a problem most British people seem to ignore ("Ben Nevis cleaned up by Wales's 'Rob the Rubbish' ", 15 November) . Having travelled worldwide recently I realise what a wonderful country we have, but I am ashamed to say that I think we are one of the messiest countries in the world.

The reasons are complex. Crisps and snacks and water bottles do not come in biodegradable packaging; they do not even come with a message to dispose of them in a litter bin or at home. There is a similar problem with supermarket plastic bags. There are not enough litter bins, they are not big enough and they are not emptied often enough. Westminster in London is exemplary because there is an army of cleaners looking after it.

Children are environmentally aware but do not seem to be conscious of dropping litter.

A crusade to clean up Britain is needed now.

ROSANNE BOSTOCK RICHARDSON

OXFORD

Abuse of Sunni detainees in Iraq

Sir: In your leading article of 17 November you stated that I had been aware of Sunni complaints of abuse in Iraq. You asked "why had she not spoken up and lobbied for an investigation before?"

I have repeatedly raised allegations of abuse of detainees, with particular regard to members of the Sunni Arab community, with President Talabani, Prime Minister Ja'afari and in my one meeting with the current Minister of Interior, Mr Jabr. In June of this year, I submitted a list of names of detainees, whose treatment had been drawn to my attention, and asked for an investigation. Also during the course of many visits to Baghdad, I always make a point of questioning Iraq officials I meet about the treatment of detainees, and on a number of occasions have visited Iraqi-run prisons, and spoken with prisoners.

These latest allegations appal me, as they appal everyone else. I hope that the committee of investigation that I asked for many months previously, which is being set up to investigate the situation of detainees in Iraqi prisons, produces a frank and honest report. I hope those who have committed abuses will be prosecuted.

I have been working with the UK government and the Iraqi transitional government to develop human rights awareness within both Iraqi security forces and Iraqi society more generally. I have made repeated representations to the Iraqi transitional government over the need to appoint a minister for human rights. I regret that your leader writer did not contact me for any information on my activities, prior to accusing me of doing nothing.

ANN CLWYD MP

SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE PRIME MINISTER ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAQ, HOUSE OF COMMONS

War, not Allah, motivates bombers

Sir: Paul Vallely is right to question the religious motivation of suicide bombers (Opinion, 18 November). But Mr Vallely, like most commentators, is completely missing the point.

There are wars being fought as we sit comfortably reading our Independent - Israel is at war with the Palestinians, Russia with the Chechens, Britain and America with the Iraqis. In war terrible things happen - witness the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah. Men like Sid Khan see themselves as fighters in these wars, working to bring the humiliation and terror inflicted on their Muslim brothers home to us here in the West.

That, more than Allah, is what motivates them and the sooner we stop pointing the finger at the mosque and start bringing these disastrous wars to an end the sooner we will all be able to live without the fear of terrorism.

GRAHAM SIMMONDS

LONDON SW4

Believing without seeing

Sir: John 20.29 says: "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (This was after the resurrection.) I think this makes the point about religious belief not being evidence-based (Letters, 18 November). Of course, I have no independent verifiable evidence that Jesus actually said this.

DAVID RIDGE

LONDON N19

Sir: Steve Hynes (letter, 10 October), like Richard Dawkins, concentrates solely on the negative impact of religion, ignoring what a power for good it can also be. As an agnostic I have no axe to grind, but perhaps Mr Hynes, like Dawkins, could occasionally refer to the fact that science, like religion, can be misused; take for example the millions who have been starved, sterilised and gassed in the name of Social Darwinism.

DR MILTON WAINWRIGHT

UNIVERSITY OF SHEFFIELD

Gender confusion

Sir: It was generous of the reviewer of the book Meetings with Remarkable Muslims (16 November) to single me out in his kind and insightful piece. I hope neither you nor he will think me a nitpicker for gently insisting that I am not in fact a woman. I suffer from mild dyslexia, so might well have read my name "Horatia" as your reviewer did, and had I done so, would have certainly gone on to refer to myself as "she". But dyslexia is not a sex-changing condition (fingers crossed), so I remain

HORATIO CLARE

PALERMO, SICILY

Virgin Trains marvellous

Sir: Howard Jacobson, in his article of 12 November, wrote scathingly of Virgin Trains. Recently we travelled from Warrington to Carlisle to Workington and not only did Virgin Trains wait a few minutes for our connection at Carlisle on our return journey, but even brought the train in on an adjacent platform to save us crossing the bridge. I call this service. The sandwiches were delicious too.

JOYCE JOHNSON

FRODSHAM, CHESHIRE

A willing guinea pig

Sir: Recent research used volunteer subjects sitting with their feet in buckets of freezing water to show that there is some truth in the old belief that getting very cold may lead to the development of a cold. Susanne Stedman (letter, 17 November) suggests that drinking hot rum and lemon, sweetened with honey, is a time-honoured cold cure. Should anyone wish to test this via a research programme I hereby volunteer to be used as a subject.

DR RON DAWSON

WINTERBORNE STICKLAND, DORSET

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