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Head of Security Council reform process replaced ahead of renewed negotiations

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United Nations: As the General Assembly prepares for intensified talks on Security Council reforms next month, the Jamaican diplomat who brokered a major breakthrough in the stalled process has been replaced as head of the politically complex negotiations.

General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft announced the appointment of Luxembourg’s Permanent Representative Sylvie Lucas to replace Jamaica’s Permanent Representative Courtenay Rattray in a letter to permanent representatives Friday. His letter endorsed the general direction of the negotiating process and encouraged members to continue with it and “build on the momentum and progress” made in the last General Assembly session.

Lykketoft’s letter made no mention of Rattray, who took over as head of the reform process known as the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) last year and broke decades of stalemate to produce a document with which the negotiations could go forward.

Sources at the UN who follow the reform process said that the Jamaican government had asked Rattray to step down asserting that he was overextending the nation’s limited diplomatic resources.

However, according to sources from the region with knowledge of the inner workings of Jamaican politics, China had pressured Jamaica into pulling him out of the IGN because of his efficiency in moving the reform process forward. China used some infrastructure projects as a lever, according to the sources.

Beijing strongly opposes Security Council reforms that could potentially bring in India and Japan as permanent members.

China, however, may not have gained by displacing Rattray because it does not have much leverage with Luxembourg, which supports the expansion of the Security Council.

Lucas has long experience in the UN system and a knowledge of its working. She has been the permanent representative since 2008 and did a five-year stint as the deputy permanent representative in the 1990s.

She has held one of the rotating presidencies of the Security Council when Luxembourg was an elected member in 2013 and 2014 and served as a president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). A diplomat who has dealt with her at the UN described her a “tough” negotiator and a tireless advocate for issues of women and security.

When the negotiating text for reforms came up before the General Assembly on Sept. 14, China folded when it saw that the overwhelming majority of UN members were for it and allowed its adoption unanimously. This was first major breakthrough in moving the reform process forward

The current round of reform negotiations was mandated by the General Assembly in 2008 but it was caught in a Catch-22 trap as discussions could not take place meaningfully without a text for the framework of discussions leading to a consensus or a decision, while those opposed to reforms blocked it saying there couldn’t be such a document unless there was a consensus first.

The opponents of the negotiating text included a caucus of 13 countries that called themselves Uniting for Change (UfC). Italy led the group, which included Pakistan.

Rattray, who was appointed the chair of the IGN by the president of the last session of the General Assembly Sam Kutesa, polled the members of the UN on their views of Security Council reform. And against stiff opposition from some he produced the negotiating text that was adopted, effectively ending the stalemate and setting the stage for negotiations to resume next month.

Ahead of next month’s renewed IGN talks, Lykketoft has called for a General Assembly plenary debate Friday on equitable representation on the Security Council and increasing its membership.

Lykketoft wrote to member delegations, “I am confident that the forthcoming negotiations will build on the momentum and the progress made during the 69th session.”

He added, “I encourage Member States to continue moving this process forward pursuant to decision” by the General Assembly adopting the negotiating text, and the positions of and proposals made by members that was circulated by Kutesa.

(Arul Louis,IANS)

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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

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Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

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First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

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An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)