Prague, 13 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A number of Western commentators turn to economic topics ranging from Caspian Sea oil to endemic corruption worldwide.
THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Oil industry focuses on the Caspian Sea
The president and a director of an oil research firm writes in a commentary that formally appeared in The New York Times that the Caspian Sea has become "the hottest spot" in the international oil industry.
Daniel Yergin and Thane Gustafson of Cambridge Energy Research Associates note that $50 billion are likely to be spent in the region over the next ten years, aiming to exploit oil resources worth 100 times that amount.
They write: "The Caspian (race) is a feverish amalgam of competition, collaboration and political and economic wrangling." They say: "Azerbaiijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan look like the big winners -- Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan with (most of) the oil, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan with well over half the gas. Russia and Iran appear to have only minor reserves in their corners of the Caspian."
Yergin and Gustafson say: "As recently as the early 1990s, many Western companies feared that investment in the Caspian region was too risky. The new independent countries of the former Soviet Union were shaky at best, and were ruled by former communists. There were numerous ethnic conflicts." They say: "The region is hardly stable now, but the situation has improved enough to encourage investment (and) Caspian development is off to a much more promising start than might have been expected even two or three years ago."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Corruption effects entire international economic system
In another commentary international lawyer Antonio Garrigues Walker writes that corruption has emerged as one of humankind's most ubiquitous and vexing problems -- not just moral, but also practical, because it disrupts worldwide economic efficiency.
Walker says: "It is a problem seriously affecting the credibility of the entire (international economic) system."
He writes: "A procedure for ethical regeneration must be launched. Blind worship of economics, consumerism, the decline of spiritual values, fierce competition, a feeling of permanent insecurity, and fear of ever more accelerated changes have made pragmatism the basic philosophy at the cost of honesty and solidarity. This favors decisions that encourage aggressive or even violent behavior to achieve one's own ends or defends one's interests.
"Ethics is not a question of morals or religion only It also is a required condition for efficiency of political democracy and the correct operation of the market economy."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Covert tax shelters develop in European Union
Andreas Oldag comments today that among the unintended consequences of the European Union is the development of a number of covert tax shelters that, in particular, siphon off revenues from Germany. He writes: "Free passage of people and goods has become a reality in Europe and a common European currency is waiting in the wings. But Europe's tax policies have remained locked in the 19th century. EU member-states jealously guard their national tax-collection systems. That could even be an overall advantage if it were linked with more equitable regulations governing business competition. But there is hardly any likelihood of that happening. On the contrary, tax policies are being used by more countries to secure themselves advantages at the cost of others."
Oldag says: "The European Commission has now submitted a proposal for a code of conduct (intended) to dam the outflow of funds. Amazingly enough, it was the German government which expressed reservations. It was afraid that too many areas of authority would be surrendered to Brussels. But other countries also slam on the brakes when it comes to putting uniformity into taxation policies. If the EU really wants to get to grips with tax dumping, it could turn to Article 101 of the Treaty on European Union. According to it the EU is obliged to remove legal and administrative regulations which distort internal-market competition."
FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON: Estonia gets points for economic reforms
Commentator Edward Mortimer, writing today sees nothing incongruous in the European Union's recognizing Estonia's leap into post-communist market reform while delaying consideration for EU membership of the other two Baltic states, Lithuania and Latvia.
Mortimer says: "None of the three Baltic states likes being lumped together. But so far it is Estonia, the smallest and northernmost of the three that has done best by demanding to be judged on its own merits.."
He says: "Estonia struck out fastest on the road of economic reform, abolishing all import duties and pegging the kroon to the DMark under an independent currency board. Last month, it got its reward, being the only one of the three included in the group of countries with which the European Union's Commission recommended membership talks to start next year."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: United States should review visa policy for Eastern European visitors
Dean E. Murphy took aim yesterday at a target which is drawing charges of human rights insensitivity and unfairness. That is the U.S. policies that deter the awarding of visas to tourists and other travelers from Eastern and Central Europe.
In a news analysis, Murphy wrote: "Spurred by unusually cheap air fares, newfound prosperity and a fascination with things American, a record number of Central Europeans want to vacation in the United States this summer. But because of a highly restrictive U.S. policy on tourist visas, untold numbers are not making it beyond the consular offices of American embassies. Tough visa requirements are not new for Central Europeans. They have a well-documented habit of overstaying visits, U.S. officials say."
He said: "People around the world complain about U.S. visa policies, the indignity of waiting in long lines and the seeming arbitrariness of consular officials. But upcoming NATO membership has transformed the ever-sensitive debate into a simple issue of fairness for many Central Europeans. If we are good enough to risk our lives with you on the battlefield, they say, we should be good enough to share your campgrounds and theme parks."
Murphy said: " 'The relative economic parity between the United States and countries like Germany makes it clear the average German isn't going to drive a taxi in New York City,' said a U.S. Embassy official. 'That changes dramatically when the taxi driver earns more than a doctor or lawyer back home. If you are only making $3,000 a year and you say you are going to the United States for vacation, we have to ask, 'How are you going to pay for Disneyland?'"