China To Argentina, Betting On Agrobusiness' Green Future

An Argentinean cattle farmer
An Argentinean cattle farmer


BUENOS AIRES — Everything suggests that in the future, the world may want practically anything Argentina can produce. The question is whether the response to this demand should be simply augmenting current productivity, or seeking wholly new approaches.

Recently, we noted that China, the chief trading partner with which Argentina has just clinched a meat exportation deal, is about to adopt policies that could eventually cut its meat consumption in half. Beijing appears motivated by environmental concerns, in light of meat production's elevated carbon footprint. This is an interesting question from various viewpoints but the most important is perhaps that this is the first such policy on this scale concerning the environment and climate change. It comes from a party that has so far avoided involvement in environmental debates.

Is this the start of a trend? And if so, will other markets and countries take the same direction?

Farmer in Northern China Photo: Markus Raab

Environmental footprints, or lack thereof, may be bound to turn into future growth patterns and access to markets. The scale of negative data reaching us from those who are gauging the state of the world's environment should lead us to think that this is indeed the emerging trend, regardless of what is being said right now. One may assume there will be more restrictive scenarios in the future, not just for meat but in other food and energy sectors.

Our livestock farming has a far more limited environmental impact.

In the long run, this should be seen as a great opportunity for Argentina, and we should start to pursue it now, so the future does not take us by surprise. There are indicators today showing that our livestock farming has a far more limited environmental impact than standard practices elsewhere, and the consensus is that our productive systems have fundamental sustainable bases. The Argentine approach to agriculture — tilted toward a bio-friendly output — provides a competitive edge over most other countries.

This comparative advantage should extend beyond just business. Rather we should make it a means of exploiting coming market trends and of generating internal transformations needed to reindustrialize the country and beat poverty.

The bio-economy entails exploitation of renewable natural resources, in farming especially but also in "upstream" chains like agro-industrial production (processed foods, biofuels and medicinal products), or "downstream" through the manufacturing processes utilized in the farming. Downstream products fed into the bioeconomy include chemical fertilizers, capital goods (like farming machinery) or a range of services required to add value and make the sector more sustainable (including "bio-inputs," like organic fertilizers).

Much of all this is already in place, and the question now is to adopt an integrated, wholistic approach. This would articulate the primary, secondary and tertiary activities of the bio-economy within the context of productive and trading policies serving an overall objective. Synergies among the parts should be exploited and competitive edges in respective markets maximized.

It is no longer about doing more of the same, but laying the foundations for a sector built for the coming world.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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