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Daily Category  (International Relations)

Emigration Bill 2021

CONTEXT:

  • In early June 2021, the Ministry of External Affairs invited public inputs to the Emigration Bill 2021.

  • The Bill could be introduced in Parliament soon and presents a long overdue opportunity to reform the recruitment process for nationals seeking employment abroad.

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WHY NEED OF NEW EMIGRATION BILL ARISES?

  • For years, independent investigations into migrant worker conditions have underlined serious exploitative practices which include

    • Large recruitment charges

    • Contract substitution

    • Deception

    • Retention of passports

    • Non-payment or under

    • Payment of wages

    • Poor living conditions

    • Discrimination

    • Forms of ill-treatment

  • The majority of migrant worker deaths in the Arab Gulf States/West Asia are attributed to heart attacks and respiratory failures, whose causes are unexplained and poorly understood.

EMIGRATION ACT, 1983:

  • Labour migration is governed by the Emigration Act, 1983 which sets up a mechanism for hiring through government-certified recruiting agents — individuals or public or private agencies.

  • It outlines:

    • Obligations for agents to conduct due diligence of prospective employers,

    • Sets up a cap on service fees, and

    • Establishes a government review of worker travel and employment documents (known as emigration clearances) to 18 countries mainly in West Asian states and South-East Asian countries

IMPROVEMENTS IN NEW BILL:

  • The Emigration Bill 2021 is an improvement over the 1983 Act.

    • It launches a new emigration policy division

    • Establishes help desks and welfare committees

    • Requires manpower agencies to conduct pre-departure briefings for migrant

    • Increases accountability of brokers and other intermediaries who are also involved in labour hiring

DRAWBACKS IN BILL AND ISSUES WITH EMIGRANT LABOURS:

  • The 2021 Bill’s purpose “to consolidate and amend the law relating to emigration of citizens of India”, lacks a human rights framework aimed at securing the rights of migrants and their families.

    • Progressive labour regimes do so. For example, in a country such as the Philippines, it explicitly recognises the contributions of Filipino workers and “the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens”

  • Bill permits manpower agencies to charge workers’ service fees, and even allows agents to set their own limits.

    • International labour standards such as International Labour Organization (ILO) Private Employment Agencies Convention No. 181 and the ILO general principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment recognises that it is employers, not workers who should bear recruitment payments including the costs of

      • Their visas

      • Air travel

      • Medical exams

      • Service charges to recruiters

  • Large-scale surveys by the ILO and the World Bank show that Indian workers pay exorbitant charges for their jobs and that poorer workers pay progressively larger fees — Indians in Saudi Arabia paid on average $1,507 in recruitment charges; their counterparts in Qatar paid $1,156

  • Recruitment charges might appear like a justified service fee, but the tens of thousands of rupees that workers pay far exceed the real cost of recruitment.

  • When low wage migrants pick up the tab it makes them vulnerable to indebtedness and exploitation.

  • Worker-paid recruitment fees eat into their savings, force them to take high-interest loans, live on shoe-string budgets, and in the worst cases of abuse, leave workers in situations of debt bondage — a form of forced labour

  • It permits government authorities to punish workers by cancelling or suspending their passports and imposing fines up to ?50,000 for violating any of the Bill’s provisions.

    • When enforced, it can be used as a tool to crackdown on workers who migrate through unregistered brokers or via irregular arrangements such as on tourist visas.

    • Criminalising the choices migrant workers make either because they are unaware of the law, under the influence of their recruiters, or simply desperate to find a decent job is deplorable, runs contradictory to the purpose of protecting migrants and their families, and violates international human rights standards.

    • Recruiters and public officials could misuse the law to instil fear among workers and report or threaten to report them.

    • Migrants, in an irregular situation who fear that they could be fined or have their passports revoked, are also less likely to make complaints or pursue remedies for abuses faced.

  • This Bill does not also adequately reflect the gender dimensions of labour migration where women have limited agency in recruitment compared to their counterparts and are more likely to be employed in marginalised and informal sectors and/or isolated occupations in which labour, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are common.

  • The Bill also provides limited space for worker representation or civil society engagement in the policy and welfare bodies that it sets up.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?

  • Human rights should be the first priority which bill should consider as in other countries laws are different.

  • There should be insurance policy for each emigrant labour so that in case of his/her death, the family will get some money.

  • Medical facilities at the site should be provided the host country with collaboration from that country from where labour comes.

  • Minimum wages negotiations between immigrant and emigrant nation should be conducted.

SOURCE: The Hindu

India’s Engagement with Taliban-Much Needed

CONTEXT:

  • With the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in process, New Delhi has decided to ramp down its civilian presence in the war-torn country, bracing for a full-blown civil war.

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KEY DETAILS:

  • India has ‘temporarily’ closed its consulate in Kandahar and evacuated its diplomats and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel stationed there.

  • This follows the decision to suspend operations in the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat. As a result, India today is left with its Embassy in Kabul and the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif.

  • These developments indicate two things:

    • New Delhi’s decision to partially “withdraw” from Afghanistan shows that betting only on the government in Kabul was a big mistake.

    • New Delhi realises the threat Taliban poses to Indian assets.

TALIBAN AND INDIA:

  • Taliban is only one of the parties in Afghanistan — it is neither the Afghan government, nor a part of it, not yet.

  • But with over a third of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts under Taliban control, the talk-to-the-Taliban-option is indeed the best of the many less than perfect options available to India.

  • New Delhi has been steadily abandoning its puritanical policy towards the Taliban over the past few years.

    • In late 2018, when Moscow organised a conference which had the Taliban, members of the Afghan High Peace Council, and other countries from the region in attendance, India sent a ‘non-official delegation’ of two retired diplomats to Moscow.

    • In September last year, India’s External Affairs Minister joined the inaugural session of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha.

  • Last month, reports indicated that India has started reaching out to the Taliban which was indirectly confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs when it said

    • “We are in touch with various stakeholders in pursuance of our long-term commitment towards development and reconstruction in Afghanistan”.

INDIA AND AFGHANISTAN:

  1. Key regional backer: India has been the key regional backer of the Ghani government, supporting an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” peace process.

  2. That is why India’s EAM S. Jaishankar, has underlined the need for “a genuine double peace” (within and around Afghanistan).

  3. As opportunism and strategic boldness seem to have become the main structuring poles of Afghan conflict resolution diplomacy, India’s policy preference for courting Kabul’s traditional political elite has faced a distinctive drawback; it has no leverage with the Taliban.

  4. Hence, there is nothing unethical in exploring the possibility of developing links with the amenable section of the Afghan Taliban.

LOGIC FOR INDIRECT TALKS

  • If New Delhi chooses to engage the Taliban directly, it could make Afghanistan President, thus far India’s trusted partner, uneasy.

    • This could potentially nudge him to look towards China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for national security and personal political survival.

    • So, in New Delhi’s calculation, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

  • Decision makers in New Delhi are also faced with the dilemma of who to talk to within the Taliban given that it is hardly a monolith.

    • New Delhi may have little access to the members of the Quetta Shura or the fighters on the ground in Afghanistan.

    • So, the only option might be the Doha-based Taliban negotiators or leaders such as Abdul Salam Zaeef whose beef with Pakistan is well known.

  • Given the global opprobrium that Taliban faced in its earlier avatar and the lack of evidence about whether the outfit is a changed lot today, New Delhi might not want to court the Taliban so soon.

    •  More so, there is little clarity about what the Taliban’s real intentions are going forward and what they would do after ascending to power in Kabul.

  • It would not be totally unreasonable to consider the possibility of Pakistan acting out against India in Kashmir if India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban.

REASONS FOR INDIA TO ENGAGE WITH TALIBAN

  • The Taliban, one way or another, is going to be part of the political scheme of things in Afghanistan, and unlike in 1996, a large number of players in the international community are going to recognise/ negotiate/do business with the Taliban.

    • So, basic statecraft requires that we follow that route as well.

    • Making peace with the fait accompli is not always a bad thing especially in the absence of better alternatives.

  • The Taliban today is looking for regional and global partners for recognition and legitimacy especially in the neighbourhood.

    • So the less proactive the Indian engagement with the Taliban, the stronger Pakistan-Taliban relations would become.

    • Put differently, and bluntly, letting the Pakistani deep state exclusively deal with the Taliban is an inherently bad idea.

  • Even though the Taliban is widely considered to be propped up by Pakistan, it would be a mistake to think that the Taliban will continue to be Pakistan’s servile followers upon gaining power in Kabul.

    • A worldly-wise and internationally-exposed Taliban 2.0 would develop its own agency and sovereign claims including perhaps calling into question the legitimacy of the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, something Pakistan was always concerned about.

    • A Taliban-dominated Afghanistan, next door to its Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-infested tribal areas, may not really end up becoming a happy space for Pakistan.

    • In other words, the Taliban would want to hedge their bets on how far to listen to Pakistan.

    • That is precisely when New Delhi should engage the Taliban

  • India needs to court all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, if it wants to ensure its security of its civilian assets there.

    • It makes neither strategic nor economic sense to withdraw from Afghanistan after spending over $3 billion, something the Government seems to be prepared to do.

    • Withdrawing from Afghanistan now because the Taliban is on the rise (and we do not want to have relations with them) will go on to highlight how weak our strategic resolve is.

  • If India is not proactive in Afghanistan at least now, late as it is, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China will emerge as the shapers of Afghanistan’s political and geopolitical destiny, which for sure will be detrimental to Indian interests there.

WAY FORWARD

  • Opening up the congested north-western frontier is key to bringing India’s continental grand strategy on an even keel, a process New Delhi has already started.

  • Backchannel talks with Pakistan and a consequent ceasefire on the Line of Control, political dialogue with the mainstream Kashmiri leadership, secret parleys with Taliban all indicate that New Delhi is opening up its congested north-western frontier.

  • Proactive engagement of the Taliban will provide this effort with more strategic heft.

SOURCE: The Hindu

OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries)

CONTEXT:

  • OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and its allies led by Russia have agreed to gradually withdraw Covid-related production cuts by September 2022, leading to crude oil prices falling to about $72 per barrel on Monday.

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KEY DETAILS:

  • OPEC+ has decided to increase overall production by 4,00,000 barrels per day every month till the remaining portion of the group’s 10 million barrel per day production cut, announced in April 2020, is completely phased out.

  • The decision also ends a standoff between the UAE and other OPEC+ countries on tying an extension of the supply agreement to increases in production.

BACKGROUND:

  • The OPEC+ group of countries had in April 2020, entered into a two-year agreement which

    • Entailed steep cuts in crude oil production to deal with a sharp fall in the price of crude oil as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    • The price of Brent crude hit an 18-year low of under $20 per barrel in April 2020 as economic activity around the world crashed as countries dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Crude oil prices have, however, since recovered to well above the pre-Covid-19 levels leading to India and other developing countries calling for a withdrawal of production cuts.

  • The current price of Brent crude is about 39 percent higher than the price of crude at the beginning of the year.

STAND-OFF BETWEEN OPEC+ AND UAE

  • The initial proposal by OPEC+ countries had tied the gradual increase in production to a six-month extension of the production agreement which was set to expire in April 2022.

  • The UAE did not agree to the proposal stating that the reference production levels used to calculate supply quotas for OPEC+ countries did not represent the actual supply capacity of the UAE and

    • That an increase in supply should not be tied to the proposed extension without a revision in reference production levels.

IMPACT ON INDIA:

  • India has already seen a 21.7 percent increase in the price of petrol and diesel since the beginning of the year.

    • Petrol is currently retailing at Rs 101.8 per litre in the national capital

    • Diesel is retailing at Rs 89.87 per litre

  • Rise in fuel prices directly impacts costs incurred towards essential goods that have to be transported over long distances.

Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)

  • It is an intergovernmental organization or cartel of 13 countries.

  • Founded on 14 September 1960 in Baghdad by the first five members (Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela),

  • It has since 1965 been headquartered in Vienna, Austria, although Austria is not an OPEC member state.

  • As of September 2018, the 13 member countries accounted for an estimated 44 percent of global oil production and 81.5 percent of the world's "proven" oil reserves, giving OPEC a major influence on global oil prices that were previously determined by the so-called "Seven Sisters" grouping of multinational oil companies.

  • Members-Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia ,Venezuela, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Congo

  • OPEC+ Countries-Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan and Sudan

SOURCE: Indian Express

G-7 Build Back Better World v. BRI of China

CONTEXT:

  • G-7 leaders finally came around with the proposed Build Back Better World (B3W) to counter China’s rising influence across 100-plus countries through Belt Road Initiative (BRI) projects. 

KEY DETAILS:

  • The proposal, though at a nascent stage, aims to address the infrastructure investment deficit in developing and lower income countries — the space which has been increasingly captured by China through 2,600 BRI projects with trillions of dollars of investment.

  • BRI projects are perceived as corrosive tactics or debt traps laid by China for its strategic dominance in trade, foreign policy and geopolitics in the world. So B3W is a welcome step but late.

WHAT IS BUILD BACK BETTER WORLD (B3W)?

  • B3W focuses on “softer” outcomes, namely improvements in climate, health and health security, modernized digital technology, and gender equity and equality.

  • The B3W plans to mobilize bilateral and multilateral tools and private-sector capital to catalyze hundreds of billions of dollars of investment.

  • These goals echo U.S. President Joe Biden’s domestic push to bolster social infrastructure such as strengthening care for children and seniors and creating jobs that pay decent wages.

NEED OF B3W v. BRI:

  • The counter-strategy is necessary to bring down Chinese leverage. A macro view of BRI projects across geography — quantum and pattern of investment — clearly reflects motive of China-centric

    • International economic integration,

    • Production networks,

    • Hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and, eventually, the global economy.

  • Since the inception of the BRI in 2013, outward investment by Beijing has been aggressive as China’s FDI outflow to inflow ratio increased to 1 from around 0.34 during 2001-10.

    • In volume terms, the FDI outflow increased to an average of $140 billion in 2016-19 from an annual average $25 billion during 2001-10.

    • China’s share of FDI outflows increased from 2.3 per cent during 2001-10 to 10.7 per cent during 2016-2019.

  • China had an overall exposure of around $750 billion — $293 billion investment and $461 billion construction contracts —between 2013 to mid-2020. 

    • After BRI, there is a sudden increase in investment — around $40 billion annually during 2013-19 — in BRI countries, though investment has slowed down due to the pandemic.

  • Since the onset of BRI, China has signed diverse projects worth $548.4 billion, including four-fifths in the BRI participating countries ($461 billion). 

    •  Post 2013, there was a sudden rise in infrastructure investment in BRI projects compared to investment in non-BRI projects.

CHINA’S BRI PROJECTS ACROSS CONTINENTS:

  • Since 2013 to mid-2020, China has an exposure of vast contracts worth around $123 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly with Nigeria, Zambia, Ethiopia, Angola, Tanzania and Kenya, mostly focusing on hydro and oil energy, shipping and rail transport.

    • China has strategically made Kenya the African hub and plans to connect it with other land-locked countries in the region, including Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, etc.

  • Central, South and West Asia is China’s second preferred region under the BRI as construction contracts worth $110 billion are under way, and 80 per cent contracts are concentrated in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan.

  • The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Bangladesh-China, India, the Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) and the Colombo Port City Project in Sri Lanka, amongst others, are important BRI projects.

  • China has a plan to complete 4,000 km of railways and 10,000 km of highways within the Central Asian region as part of BRI, with an estimated cost of $16 billion.

  • Some of the major projects include freight trains between China, Turkey and Kazakhstan, and gas pipelines (Siberia and Altai) for production and transportation of oil and natural gas.

  • China has signed construction contracts worth around $96 billion under BRI, largely focusing on Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, with 70 per cent allocation of total regional contract agreements. 

  • Since the launch of BRI, China has signed various contacts worth $90 billion with the East Asian region. 

    • The biggest contracts have been with Indonesia, Malaysia and Laos worth $18.5 billion, $17.1 billion and $11.2 billion respectively, mostly focusing on transportation, railways, roadways and waterways, for better integration between China and ASEAN countries.

  • Since the onset of the BRI, the total exposure of China with Europe stood at around $23 billion by mid-2020.

    • Major projects include a freight train project from Ukraine to Kazakhstan through Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and, eventually, China, covering a distance of 5,475 km.

    • The Greek port Pireaus, the China-Belarus Industrial Park, and the Green Ecological Silk Road Investment Fund are other major projects.

BRI PROJECTS OBJECTIVE:

  • The BRI projects broadly aim to facilitate cross-border transportation of goods, access to energy, creating demand for existing excess capacity in Chinese industries.

  • Though the objectives of the projects undertaken in different countries vary, the overall focus is on developing transportation, logistics and communications.

  • It would reduce trade and transaction cost for China’s trade, give more market access to Chinese markets and ensure stable supply of energy and other resources.

  • Many countries, including India, would see an adverse trade impact on their products’ competitiveness, market access, resource extraction etc. due to Chinese competition.

SOLUTIONS:

  • B3W should embrace those principles by ensuring that environmental and labour protections and transparency are built into the partnership’s processes as safeguards against corruption and poor governance.

  • Pushing for a common set of standards across the major multilateral institutions and development banks would go a long way in ensuring infrastructure projects adhere to recognized safety and environmental standards, and that there is pressure on China to change its practices as well.

  • There is a need to consider opportunities to strengthen and expand technical assistance where needed to support developing countries in implementing transparency and good governance mechanisms around infrastructure projects and trade.

  •  The international community must assist developing countries with knowledge and technology transfers to build out diversified and reliable critical infrastructure and human capacity in these sectors.

G-7 as renewed political evolution of the West.

  1. West is in terminal decline has been the conventional wisdom since the global financial crisis of 2008.

  2. Decline of West: It has since gained much traction thanks to: Rapid rise of China, Deepening divisions within the West during the Trump years, and the Chaotic response in North America and Europe to the Covid-19 pandemic.

  3. America is back: In his first tour abroad as the US president, Joe Biden wants to reverse the global perception of a failing West.

  4. President Biden, who declared that “America is back”, wants to demonstrate that the collective West is an enduring force to reckon with under renewed American leadership.

  5. Biden will travel from the UK to Brussels to confer with the leaders of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and join a summit of the US and European Union.

  6. If President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies weakened the West, Biden is determined to strengthen US alliances and draw India into a new global architecture

WAY FORWARD

  • The counter proposal of B3W is certainly a welcome step to contain the adverse implications of a Chinese mega plan.

  • B3W must not invest simply to compete with China but because a high-standard, transparent, and environmentally and financially sustainable approach will benefit countless nations around the world, bolstering governance and global economic stability. 

G7:

  • G7 is an intergovernmental organization that was formed in 1975 as an informal forum to discuss pressing world issues.

  • Initially, it focussed on economic issues but later it focussed on several challenges such as the oil crashes of the 1970s,terrorism, arms control, and drug trafficking, etc.

  • Members: The G7 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

  • The G7 members meet at annual summits that are presided over by leaders of member countries on a rotational basis.

  • The group does not have a formal constitution or a fixed headquarters. The decisions taken by leaders during annual summits are non-binding.

Why was G7 created?

  • The G7 was created as an annual gathering of world leaders to discuss and exchange ideas on issues including the global economy, security, and energy.

  • France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and West Germany formed the Group of Six in 1975 so that the non-communist powers could come together to discuss economic concerns.

  • Canada joined the following year.

  • Russia eventually joined in 1998. Russia's inclusion was meant as a signal of cooperation between East and West after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

SOURCE: Indian Express

India’s Afghan Investment

CONTEXT:

  • As the Taliban push ahead with military offensives across Afghanistan, preparing to take over after the exit of US and NATO forces, India faces a situation in which it may have no role to play in that country, and in the worst case scenario, not even a diplomatic presence.

INDIA’S ASSISTANCE IN AFGHANISTAN:

  • After a break between 1996 and 2001, when India joined the world in shunning the previous Taliban regime (only Pakistan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia kept ties), one way New Delhi re-established ties with the country in the two decades after the 9/11 attacks was to pour in development assistance, under the protective umbrella of the US presence.

    • This was timely help. After five years of near-mediaeval rule by the Taliban from 1996, preceded by a half a dozen years of fighting among mujahideen warlords following the Red Army’s withdrawal in 1989 — the decade before that too was of fighting as the US-backed, Pakistan-trained mujahideen took on the Soviet military — Afghanistan was in ruins.

  • The 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement recommitted Indian assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s:

    • Infrastructure and institutions.

    • Education and technical assistance for capacity-building in many areas.

    • Provide duty-free access to the Indian market.

PROJECTS BY INDIA IN AFGHANISTAN:

  • SALMA DAM:

    • It is a 42 Megawatt dam in Herat province.

    • The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam.

  • ZARANJ-DELARAM HIGHWAY:

    • The 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation.

    • The $150-million highway goes along the Khash Rud River to Delaram to the northeast of Zaranj, where it connects to a ring road that links Kandahar in the south, Ghazni and Kabul in the east, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Herat in the west.

    • With Pakistan denying India overland access for trade with Afghanistan, the highway is of strategic importance to New Delhi, as it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.

    • Over 300 Indian engineers and workers toiled alongside Afghans to build the road.

    • According to a Ministry of External Affairs publication, 11 Indians and 129 Afghans lost their lives during the construction. Six of the Indians were killed in terrorist attacks; five in accidents. India has also built several smaller roads.