Staff Writer

Brexit deal on verge of being finalised as deadline nears

Brexit deal on verge of being finalised as deadline nears

Brexit deal: EU and UK negotiators have finalised a possible Brexit deal with talks on key issues still underway

EU and UK negotiators have indicated that a trade and security agreement is close to being finalised after marathon talks over a Brexit deal. As per media reports, both sides have managed to reach a breakthrough by finalising as much as 95 percent of the EU-UK free trade deal. After the Coronavirus pandemic 

However, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is still looming upon the two sides as negotiations on some key issues are not showing necessary progress. Amid the prevailing Coronavirus scare, much of the negotiations are being conducted virtually.

Reportedly, Ilze Juhansone, senior-most official of the European Commission, has told Brussels representatives that talks on the majority of the 11 key negotiation issues are progressing with few points remaining for discussion.

Addressing a news briefing on Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the progress made during this week’s talks even after the Coronavirus pandemic halted the process. She further added that there are still some metres to the finish line since a lot of work is still left to do in the deal. 

“Within the frame of the level playing field, progress, for example, has been made on the question of state aid, but there are still quite some metres to the finish line so there’s still a lot of work to do,” she said. 

As per a Daily Express report, some progress has also been made on the contentious issue of EU’s access to UK fishing waters and a mechanism to prevent distortion of trading through undercutting standards. However, Downing Street is standing its ground, insisting Brussels to change its stance in the debate over fishing rights and state aid in a bid to deal the deal. At the same time, Brussels has also informed that the progress is going slowly to reach a deal before the year end when the transition period will come to an end. It will also slow down the ratification process of a potential agreement and can lead to extending the negotiations to December. 

It is also likely that all member states not be able scrutinise the 600-page document or even translate the treaty into all 24 official languages of the bloc. France has called for a discussion on legal aspects of the deal to approve the document.

Due to these concerns, EU officials are reportedly working on emergency steps to approve a Brexit trade deal that will be acceptable to both sides. Meanwhile, chief negotiators Michel Barnier and Lord Frost are expected to carry on with the negotiations in the coming days in a bid to draw a conclusive agreement. 

British PM Johnson under fire over his devolution remarks

British PM Johnson under fire over his devolution remarks

British PM Boris Johnson is facing wrath for dismissing the devolution of powers to Scotland as a “disaster”. According to media reports, Boris Johnson made the remarks during a video call with over60 lawmakers from his Conservative Party where he described the devolution as “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”

However, political leaders across the spectrum have expressed discontent with Johnson’s remarks. The Welsh government slammed the Prime Minister for his “shocking” remarks, expressing concerns over the future of the United Kingdom with regards to the functioning of Boris Johnson’s administration.

While the British government argued that Johnson’s remarks were aimed at the mismanagement of the Scottish National Party (SNP), it has furthered the ongoing tensions between Cardiff and London. Reportedly, Wales and the United Kingdom have been facing strained relationships due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford also criticised the Prime Minister, saying: “Devolution comes under the sorts of pressures that it is now under when we have a Conservative government, and where you scratch the surface of the Conservative party and all its old hostility to devolution rises back to the surface.”

Like Wales, Scotland’s first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon also thrashed Johnson, stating that the Prime Minister’s remarks to the British lawmakers showed that the public stance of Conservatives in support of devolution is deceitful.

“Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers,” she wrote in her tweet. 

Douglas Ross, the Conservative leader in Scotland, contradicted Boris Johnson, maintaining that the devolution had not been a disaster. 

Meanwhile, the British PM’s spokesperson has said that Johnson has always supported devolution and the UK government continues to put the union at the heart of everything they do. Downing Street office also issued a statement, saying that the Prime Minister has always supported devolution but former UK PM Tony Blair failed to foresee the rise of separatists in Scotland.

“Devolution is great — but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK,” the statement added. 

What is devolution?

Devolution is the name given to the transfer of power held by the government in Westminster to elected groups in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Some of the devolved powers include health, fire services, housing and some areas of education and transportation services, the British government based in London has a number of powers including defence, foreign policy and a majority of tax forms. The public votes for devolution took place in 1998 in Scotland in Wales and in 1998 in both sides of Ireland as part of the Good Friday Agreement, resulting in the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, and the National Assembly for Wales.

No-Brexit deal concerns rise as transition period nears end

No-Brexit deal concerns rise as transition period nears end

No Brexit deal: Concerns over a no-Brexit deal increase as talks between EU and UK officials are dragging on 

Officials from both the European Union and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns over finalising a Brexit divorce deal, noting that the coming week is particularly crucial with less than 50 days left for the transition period to end. 

In the coming days, chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier will try to bridge their differences as pressure over a Brexit agreement looms on. As talks with the European Union are dragging on, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing increased pressure as he faces a tricky time for his leadership. Amid this crucial week, Johnson is self-isolating at his official residency after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 

Negotiators from the UK and the EU are gathering in Brussels this week for more talks to find a solution to differences over fishing rights, governance and competition rules in their future deal. A number of informal deadlines for a trade agreement have already passed. Experts suggest that if these differences are not bridged by the end of this year, no trade agreement will be formalised which will eventually result in higher costs for exporters on both sides.

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost on Sunday took to Twitter, saying that some progress has been made in a positive direction in recent days.

While Brussels officials are asserting that the UK Prime Minister must take the first step in reaching an agreement, their British counterparts are dismissing the stance. According to a report by The Guardian, senior officials have stated that Prime Minister Johnson is determined not to compromise over Britain’s terms for exiting the European Union.

The UK government is also fearing a power struggle after one of Boris Johnson’s closest aides, Lee Cain, announced his resignation as the Director of Communications last week. Dominic Cummings, another high-profile aide of the British PM, also left Downing Street on Saturday amid the power struggle. Both Mr Cummings and Mr Cain have been instrumental to the Brexit outcome as they worked with Johnson in the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 European Union (EU) referendum.

It has been almost five years since the Brexit referendum campaign began and Britain and the EU negotiators have yet not worked out a deal to operate the nearly $1 billion in trade per year. Meanwhile, Ireland has said that there are around 7-10 days to figure out a way to unlock a trade agreement even as a senior EU official asserted that it may be too late to put a deal into force.

Washington denounces China’s new law and the expelling of opposition lawmakers
Asia Pacific Focus

Washington denounces China’s new law and the expelling of opposition lawmakers

Washington denounces China’s new law: Hong Kong has dived further into tensions after a new law was passed by Beijing under which they had disqualified few opposition members by calling them unpatriotic and claimed that they incited the whole pro-democracy protest.

Robert O’Brien, the US national security advisor, blamed China for having “outrageously abused” its global commitments and warned to impose further fresh sanctions on those answerable for quenching Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy. 

Chinese and Hong Kong authorities could confront new sanctions from the United States over their imposing of the new law that disbarred four pro-democracy lawmakers and provoked a statement of a mass resignation by the supportive of the pro-democracy council. 

Within minutes after the disqualifying legislation was declared by Chinese state media, the Hong Kong government delivered an official statement in which they prohibited four lawmakers.

The mass resignation would likewise leave Hong Kong’s governing body with just pro-Beijing legislators, who as of now make a majority, however, would have the option to pass bills in parliament supported by Beijing with the absence of much opposition.

On Wednesday, China’s highest administrative body passed a measure to banish anybody from Hong Kong’s legislative council who wish to supports autonomy, and reject to recognize Beijing’s government over Hong Kong. However, seeking help from foreign nations or forces to meddle in the internal issues of the region or to employ different acts that jeopardize country’s national security, they could face similar consequences. 

Under the new law, the legislators who are deemed to advance or support Hong Kong’s autonomy, or who won’t recognize Beijing’s government, will “quickly lose their qualification,” the new law stated. 

On Monday, the city’s 15 pro-democracy legislators declared that they would also resign stating that the “One Country Two Systems” structure that had intended to provide Hong Kong with more prominent self-rule from the region has ended. 

The administration clampdown comes after the months-long pro-democracy protest, While some Hong Kong activists including former legislators and dissent pioneers have looked for political refuge in different nations, dreading their security under the new bill. 

However, in June, Beijing had announced a new national security law that some have called draconian after the anti-legislature protests shook the city for quite a long time, and it has utilized it to take action against opposition cries. 

Accordingly, the U.S. imposed sanctions on a few authorities, including Lam. A few Western nations have halted their extradition treaty with the region, and Australia and Britain have offered Hong Kongers simpler ways to settle in those nations. 

Beijing has lashed out at these offers and called it gross foreign interference in the Chinese government. Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Wang Wenbin stated on Wednesday that disqualifications were important to keep up rule of law and the constitution in Hong Kong. 

Beijing’s most recent crackdown in Hong Kong has become a source of stress on both sides. Under US President Trump, Washington had revoked the special relationship with Hong Kong, pronouncing it would be dealt with similar to China. The US is thinking of imposing more sanctions on Chinese officials for passing an unjust law and also following the resignation of opposition legislators.

EU Commission promotes Spain’s action plan against fake news

EU Commission promotes Spain’s action plan against fake news

EU Commission promotes Spain’s action plan: The Spanish government is chalking out an action plan to monitor the internet for fake news stories, under the “Procedure for Intervention against Disinformation” approved by the National Security Council of the country last month. As per recent reports, the European Commission has extended its support to the Spanish government’s plan to initiate administrative responses against disinformation campaigns and systematic and large-scale dissemination of false messages. Published in the Official Journal of the State (BOE) last week, the protocol aims at preventing, detecting and responding to disinformation on various platforms. 

However, the move invited strong criticism from opposition leaders, claiming that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is using this strategy to control the media. 

Meanwhile, the Spain government has denied these accusations, stressing that the main aim behind the project is not to censor or limit free and legitimate rights of the media. Instead, the plan will be led by the Secretary of State for Communication to conduct public communication campaigns to curb the spread of disinformation.

Leading members of the center-left coalition government defended the new protocol, stressing that the plan does not interfere with media freedom. Responding to opposition’s claims, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo maintained that the action plan has “nothing to do” with press freedom or freedom of expression.

“We are living in times when lies are becoming information in any part of the world, and democracies need to fight this, because it is part of our constitutional right,” the Deputy PM was quoted as saying. 

The new protocol is an updated version of the document already in place since March 2019 under the previous government led by Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy that carried out various initiatives to monitor disinformation campaigns.

These steps are being taken by the Spanish government in view of various incidents of disinformation campaigns in the past that not only interfered in public opinion, not also destabilised a country, particularly during election campaigns. Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential elections is one fine example of such a campaign. The Spanish document also acknowledges that news media, digital platforms, IT sector, academic world, and society in general play a crucial role in fighting disinformation by identifying it, preventing it from spreading, and raising awareness among other communities.

Spain’s efforts have come in line with the European Commission’s initiative to counter the threat of fake news. Among these initiatives include Action Plan Against Disinformation, Rapid Alert System and the Code of Practice on Disinformation aimed at investigating issues related to online disinformation and fake news stories. The European Union has also called on other member states to develop their capabilities for tackling the issue.

Taiwan not invited to WHO meet due to Chinese intervention
Asia Pacific Focus

Taiwan not invited to WHO meet due to Chinese intervention

Taiwan not invited to WHO meet: Taiwan has blamed China’s obstruction for not being invited to WHO’s annual assembly on COVID-19

Taiwan has yet not received an invite to a key meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week that focuses on the global implications of the Coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, the island’s foreign ministry released a statement alleging that Chinese “obstruction” prevented it from participating in the 73rd WHO annual assembly on November 9-14. 

This development came even as the United States Mission in Geneva had urged WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to invite Taiwan to the World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of WHO. 

“In view of Taiwan’s resounding success in responding to COVID-19, Director-General Tedros must allow Taiwan to share its best practices at the WHA,” the US Mission had said in its statement.

While the US has backed the participation of the island, the 83-page list of delegations for WHO’s assembly meeting does not include any members from Taiwan. The island is yet to be invited to join the virtual meeting of 194 member states, the foreign ministry said in its statement. Taiwan’s foreign ministry also expressed regret and dissatisfaction with WHO’s continuous neglect of the health and human rights of 23.5 million people of the island. 

Reportedly, Taiwan has been blocked out of a number of key international organisations including the WHO due to Beijing’s objections as it claims the island within its territory.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has asserted that the decision to invite Taiwan for the WHA meeting lies with the member states. 

As per a Reuters report, China’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva Chen Xu on Monday had told the WHO ministerial meeting that Taiwan’s inclusion in the meeting as an observer will be “illegal and invalid”. Earlier on Friday, China’s mission to the UN in Geneva had condemned US “distorted” remarks on Taiwan’s participation, adding that the island will be allowed to join the assembly session only after it admits to being a part of China. However, the Taipei government has always maintained that Taiwan is a separate nation whether or not independence is declared officially.

Last week, as many as 650 members of parliament from 25 European nations had also sent an open letter to WHO Director-General Tedros, demanding Taiwan to be invited as an observer to the WHA meeting. In addition, the World Medical Association had also written to the WHO chief, calling for inviting Taiwan in an observer capacity. 

While Taiwan joined the WHA as an observer between 2009 and 2016, China has intensified its efforts to exclude from participating in the WHO global actions. After Beijing took its seat in the WHO, Taiwan was forced out of the international organisation in 1972.

This has come at a time when the Taiwanese government has achieved astounding success in combating the COVID-19 pandemic on the island. It is been more than 200 days since the island reported any virus transmission.

UAE congratulates Biden and places hope in his counter terrorism policy towards Middle East

UAE congratulates Biden and places hope in his counter terrorism policy towards Middle East

UAE congratulates Biden and places hope in his counter terrorism policy towards Middle East: On Sunday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, congratulated the new US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their US election win.

Sheikh Mohammed wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to the President-Elect of the United States @JoeBiden and Vice President-Elect @KamalaHarris. We look forward to strengthening our five-decade enduring and strategic relations.”

Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, joined UAE ruler in congratulating the newly elected US Democrat leaders. Sheikh Mohamed took to Twitter and said, “Congratulations to @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris on winning the US elections. Our sincere wishes for further development and prosperity for the American people. The UAE and USA are friends and allies with a strong historic partnership that we look forward to strengthening together.”

On Saturday, Joe Biden was announced as 46th US President. He is the oldest elected US president, and his team mate Kamala Harris is the first female, first Black and first South Asian Vice President of the country. The news was made official after results of the states Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were revealed, which gave him enough votes to secure the presidency.

UAE was among the first few nations who were quick to acknowledge Biden’s Presidency despite controversial claims by his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump, who has challenged the legitimacy of the current presidential elections. Last week, Trump threatened to take the matter to US Supreme Court as he claimed victory in the elections even before vote count was over.

UAE has been one of the oldest allies of US which supports Washington in its endeavours to combat terrorism and promote peace all across the globe. Besides, UAE and Biden also share an old bond which goes back to the Obama administration days. During the Obama presidency, Joe Biden served as the country’s Vice President and the team of two was known their fervently anti-terrorism policies, which were more agile, more transparent, and more ethical than the ones adopted by the George W. Bush administration. UAE supported Obama’s new counter terrorist policy which was a break away from the overreliance characteristic of the Bush era, which led to US invasion of Iraq in 2003. That war, in turn, compromised US war against al Qaeda. UAE extended all the support to Obama administration in terms of resources, finances, and intelligence to fight ISIS, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the region.

Biden welcomed, the historic UAE-Israel peace agreement. In his statement over the deal, US President-elect said, “The coming together of Israel and Arab states builds on the efforts of multiple administrations to foster a broader Arab-Israeli opening, including the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to build on the Arab Peace Initiative. I personally spent time with leaders of both Israel and the UAE during our administration building the case for cooperation and broader engagement and the benefits it could deliver to both nations, and I am gratified by today’s announcement.” 

He also applauded the role American diplomacy in ending the decades old animosity between the two sides, as he added that both Emirates and Israel has shown keen interest in “preserving the prospects for peace in the region”. But he strongly opposed the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s annexation plan and said that it “would be a body blow to the cause of peace, which is why I oppose it now and would oppose it as president”.  UAE and Biden shared a common ground against Netanyahu’s annexation plan as UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, wrote a detailed article in Israeli newspaper, explaining how the annexation would cause serious setback to the bettering of relations between Israel and the Arab world.

Biden and UAE both took stand favouring two-state solution for Palestinian crisis. Besdies, UAE also took a leap of faith, giving peace a chance to resolve the issues with Israel. Biden in his statement said, “A Biden-Harris Administration will seek to build on this progress, and will challenge all the nations of the region to keep pace.”

During his recent election campaign, Biden emphasised that with regard to his foreign policy he would focus on re-building US ties with its allies in order to prevent any rampant friction and would always prefer to explore the power of diplomacy over other tactics. 

MENA region to attract increasing foreign capital inflows
Middle East & Africa

MENA region to attract increasing foreign capital inflows

IIF projects GCC nations to drive external capital inflows in MENA region amid demand for hard bonds

COVID-19 has presented multiple shocks for emerging markets with collapsing capital inflows and domestic and external demand. Amid ongoing efforts to recover from pandemic repercussions, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) has stated that capital inflows in the Middle East region are anticipated to remain high. Speaking to Gulf News, IIF Chief Economist for MENA region Garbis Iradian said that the institution is expecting non-resident capital inflows to the MENA countries to increase up to $177 billion in 2021, which is significantly equivalent to 6.6 percent of the GDP of the region. 

As per the report, hard currency bond issuance of GCC countries is playing a significant role in increasing the capital inflows, adding that countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabi, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar have issued hard currency bond worth $91 billion so far in 2020, as compared to a total of $99 billion in 2019. 

At the same time, GCC’s funding needs are also projected to increase in 2021 even as fiscal deficits have narrowed. Gulf countries are driving the requirements for high-quality assets which will result in the growth of gross public external financing of the region to approximately $100 billion by next year.

Meanwhile, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) continues to remain low in MENA countries in the backdrop of economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is prominently concentrated in the oil and gas sectors in the region, with the UAE and Egypt standing high as the highest FDI recipient in the MENA region.

As per an IMF report in January 2020, the Middle East and North Africa region has been witnessing high and stable gross capital inflows in the last years compared to other emerging markets, providing a boost to investment and job creation in the countries. 

After MENA countries integrated into the global capital markets, their capital inflows surged to over $155 during 2016-2018.

However, the UN organization has also raised concerns about the increasing global economic risks that would put MENA countries in a vulnerable position due to shifts in fiscal deficits, debt burdens and financial buffers. The IMF had recommended MENA countries to improve their policy framework in a bid to strengthen their resilience to volatile capital flows and mitigate the risk of outflows. 

Australia steps up vaccine diplomacy to counter Beijing
Asia Pacific Focus

Australia steps up vaccine diplomacy to counter Beijing

As efforts are underway to develop a potential vaccine against COVID-19 in several parts of the world, Australia has pledged $500 million dollars (351 million US dollars) to help Pacific and South-East Asian countries to secure the vaccines. The Morrison government is implementing the initiative in a bid to support the recovery process of its neighbours and ensure that the entire population of the region is protected against the disease over the next three years.  Through this initiative, Australia also aims to ensure uniform distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines across all remote parts of the region.

In a statement released on Saturday, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne stated that the Indo-Pacific region is the engine of the new global economy and ensuring its quick recovery will contribute to stimulating economic activity and restoring at home and abroad.

“The funding will further help ensure that the countries of the Pacific and East Timor are able to achieve full immunization coverage, and will make a significant contribution toward meeting the needs of Southeast Asia,” the government said.

This is on top of the $80 million funding provided to the COVAX Facility Advance Market Commitment aimed at improving vaccine access for Pacific and Southeast Asian countries.

According to reports, the Australian government is seeking to carry out the initiative by purchasing the vaccine from a range of manufacturers under the global COVAX Facility plan.

This development has emerged amid China’s efforts to gain influence in the Southeast Asian region through its vaccine diplomacy. Earlier this month, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that at least five Southeast Asian nations including Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Malaysia will be given priority over other countries in the region in its vaccination program.

At the same time, China has also reportedly set aside batches of 15-20 million vaccination doses for Indonesia in 2021. Beijing has been desperately taking steps to improve its relations with world governments after global scrutiny over the emergence of the COVID-19 outbreak in China’s Wuhan city.

With several initiatives to assist in the post-pandemic economic recovery of the region, the Morrison government is seeking to take Australia’s Coronavirus response to a global dimension. Recently, Australia partnered with Japan and the USA to finance a US$30 million undersea fibre-optic cable project in Palau. Under its Pacific Step-Up plan, Australia is set to invest in an infrastructural development program in Solomon Island.

India’s outreach in the Horn of Africa aims to be multi-faceted

India’s outreach in the Horn of Africa aims to be multi-faceted

Even notwithstanding China’s established military and strategic presence in the region, India must grow its influence in the countries in the Horn of Africa to ensure a safer greater Indian Ocean.

The region between the Suez Canal and Seychelles has been growing in strategic and economic importance over the years. The strait of Bab el-Mandeb, which is the heart of the Horn of Africa, is an important vein of global maritime trade – every year 25,000 ships and $700 billion worth of goods pass through it on its way to and from the Suez Canal. So it has attracted the attention of global and regional powers who have been developing their economic and military interests there. Something that India must also start to do.

US, France, Japan and China have military bases in Djibouti while UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are in the process acquiring their own bases in the region. Russia has expressed interest in setting up a military outpost while countries like Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy have been conducting anti-piracy and anti-terror operations in the region. The civil war in Yemen is attracting even more players.

It is important that India capitalises on this fluid geopolitical situation in the region to secure its interests and ensure its influence over the greater Indian Ocean. This is especially pivotal considering China’s own growing presence here. The People’s Liberation Army Navy has been conducting anti-piracy activities here from its base in Djibouti while also sending in its nuclear submarines for war games with Russia and Iran. China has a long head start with its large investments in the oil industry and infrastructure. It is expanding its economic influence deeper in countries like Sudan and newer frontiers like Egypt.

But India is making incremental progress and the recent dispatch of food aid to Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea including rice, sugar and wheat flour is a demonstration of its capacity to support regional countries at the time of a crisis. The Indian Navy ships that are carrying the aid will also be calling at the different ports in the Horn of Africa to engage in naval diplomacy.

It has shown its seriousness in engaging deeply with the region with the opening of embassies in Djibouti and Eritrea and with the state visit of President Ram Nath Govind in 2017. India is also in talks with Japan for access to its military base in Djibouti even as it plans for one of its own Seychelles.

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