World notes: Feb. 23, 2008

South Korea: Opposition delays trade pact

Eight South Korean opposition legislators occupied a key parliamentary office Feb. 11, delaying preparations for full parliamentary consideration of a free trade agreement signed last June with the United States after a year of contentious negotiations. Members of a key committee did approve the pact two days later, but several further steps are needed before ratification. Leaders of the majority United New Democratic Party have opposed a National Assembly vote on the pact prior to action by the U.S. Congress.

Labor and civic groups organized a massive protest rally in downtown Seoul on Feb. 14, according to the Seoul newspaper, The Hankyoreh. At the same time Lee Suk-haeng, leader of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, was abroad, conferring with U.S. labor leaders on cooperation in defeating the trade pact.





Global warming: Fuel crops questioned

Canadian journalist Stephen Leahy, reporting for Inter Press Service, has summarized recent reports indicating that cutting forests to grow crops for fuels releases more greenhouse gas emissions than does burning gasoline.

If one hectare (2.47 acres) of rainforest is stripped to grow oil palm trees for fuel oil, it will take 423 years to compensate for carbon dioxide released through tree removal, researchers found. For each ton of palm oil produced, 70 tons of CO2 are released over 25 years because of forest destruction, decomposition of peat, and fires used to clear land.

Additionally, food shortages caused by biofuel production lead to deforestation for the sake of food production.





Mexico: Strike closes Wal-Mart stores

Wal-Mart operations in Los Cabos came to a halt for half a day Feb. 6, as 300 workers in the resort area went out on strike. Employing over 150,000 people, Walmex, as Wal-Mart is known in Mexico, is the country’s largest private sector employer. Walmex workers are not unionized.

The labor organization Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants backed the strike that Reuters said stemmed from Walmex’s refusal to grant overtime pay and benefit packages available to Walmex employees elsewhere in Mexico. Workers also complained of abuse from managers. The company granted some of the strikers’ demands and signed a new labor contract.





Norway: Minister rejects U.S. anti-missile plan

Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strom-Erichsen, returning Feb. 9 from a NATO conference held in Lithuania, announced Norway’s opposition to the U.S. deployment of anti-missile defense systems in Poland, approved by Polish officials the week before. Norway’s contention, she explained, is that European nations should take responsibility for their own defense. She was quoted by the Aftenposten newspaper as saying, “a missile shield is not necessarily the answer to the challenges we face,” and that Norway fears a new arms race. Norway, alone among NATO nations, has joined Russia in opposing the U.S. plans.

Iraq: Departures continue

Iraqis are again leaving their country for Syria in greater numbers than those returning, according to a Feb. 6 report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Syrian officials say that in January an average of 1,200 Iraqis entered Syria every day while 700 returned to Iraq. Returning Iraqis are motivated more by new Syrian visa restrictions and lack of money, says an Agence France Press writer, than by confidence in improved security in Iraq.

An Iraqi migration official disputed the UN report.

The United Nations estimates that some 1.5 million Iraqis live in Syria under conditions of extreme hardship. Only 153,516 are formally registered as refugees.





Southern Africa: Food shortages predicted

A Stanford University study predicts a 30 percent fall in maize production in southern Africa by 2030. The conclusions, reached through study of harvest patterns and climate variability in 94 regions, square with other scientific warnings, cited by UN news agency IRIN report, that Africa will lose almost 20 percent of its cropland by the century’s end.

Lead researcher David Lobell urged that new crop varieties be developed and irrigation capabilities expanded. Massive investments by farmers, governments, scientists and development organizations will be crucial as Africans deal with the effects of rising temperatures and drought.

World Notes are compiled byW.T. Whitney (atwhit@roadrunner.com)