All posts by MPolitics

Brexit Bites for British Businesses as Border Delays Slow Trade

Despite making up just 0.1% of Britain’s economy, fishing played an outsized role in the brinkmanship leading up to December’s Brexit agreement between London and Brussels.  
 
Many Brexit supporters saw regaining control of the country’s sovereign waters as totemic. A month since the agreement was signed, many fishermen say they feel betrayed.   
 
Under the deal, a quarter of European boats’ fishing rights in British waters will be transferred to British boats over the next five years.
 
That is not good enough, said Phil Mitchell, skipper of the 23-meter-long trawler Govenek of Ladram, which operates from Newlyn Harbor in Cornwall, England. He believes many fishermen feel they were exploited by the “Leave” campaign.
 
“They were happy to use us for their campaign, and when push comes to shove, we’ve had the shove, and we’ve been dumped on from a great height,” Mitchell said.
 
Mitchell said Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised Britain would regain full control of its waters.
 
“The fact now is that we’re worse off than before Brexit because it’s all written in that we won’t be able to get (control of fishing rights) back. And it’s just a travesty. Boris, the betrayer, has completely sold us down the river,” he added.
 
Nearly half of the fish caught by British boats is exported to the European Union, a trade worth over $1.8 billion in 2019. Brexit has brought new border checks, paperwork and costs.FILE – Fishing boats are moored at the South Pier of Bridlington Harbor fishing port in Bridlington, Dec. 11, 2020.Allan Miller runs AM Shellfish from Aberdeen, Scotland, another hub of Britain’s fish industry. He said delivery times of live brown crab, lobster and prawns to Europe had doubled, meaning lower prices, while some of the product does not survive the increased journey time.  
 
Miller was one of several seafood exporters to stage a protest outside Parliament in London this month, using articulated trucks to block traffic around Westminster.
 
“Live shellfish, it’s got a sell-by date. It’s alive or dead,” Miller said. “Unless the government does something, a lot of these businesses will be out of here. They’ll be finished.”  
 
Johnson insists the problems will be ironed out.
 
“Insofar as there are problems at the moment caused by teething problems, people not filling in the right forms or misunderstandings. And when it’s not people’s fault, of course, we’re going to compensate and to help out. And funds have been put in place to do that,” Johnson told reporters January 18. “But be in no doubt that there are great opportunities for fishermen across the whole of the U.K. to take advantage of the spectacular marine wealth of the United Kingdom. … There is scope for fishermen, fishing communities, fishers across the U.K. to take advantage of the increase in quota,” Johnson added.
 
It is not just fish that are floundering. Other sectors are warning of significant disruption. New tax rules have prompted some European retailers to stop selling to British customers, while some shipping firms have paused their cross-Channel operations.
Edward Velasco, British import manager at the pan-European fruit and vegetable supplier Rodanto, said problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic have been compounded.
 
“We’ve had the added challenge of Brexit and the added documentation that requires hauliers have an extra cost in coming here. They don’t know if the drivers are going to get back within a certain amount of time. If they’re not, if the wheels are not moving, they’re losing money. And ultimately, so are we,” Velasco told Reuters news agency.FILE – Trucks bound for Britain wait on the access ramp to the Channel Tunnel in Calais, northern France, before leaving for England, Dec. 17, 2020.Supermarkets in Northern Ireland have faced shortages owing to extra checks on goods shipped from mainland Britain. So, is it teething troubles, or an inevitable consequence of Britain’s decision to quit the European Union?
“It depends which sector you’re talking about, whether these are teething problems or they are structural and endemic to the consequences of having signed the EU-U.K. Free Trade Agreement,” said analyst Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands.  
 
“Where I think there are teething problems is in the issue, let’s say, of small-order transports. So, this question of ‘groupage’ that hauliers are now facing, where they have to sign forms for every single shoebox or crate that is in their container, I think those things can be simplified,” Korteweg told VOA.
 
He added, “Where I don’t think we’re currently facing teething problems — and things are much more structural — is, for instance, in the health and sanitary, and phytosanitary and food safety checks, for instance, with fish exports. Because that is the consequence of leaving the Single Market, that there is now a regulatory border.”  
 
Britain insists Brexit will offer economic opportunities outside the EU. Its strategy was given a boost this week as Japanese carmaker Nissan pledged to keep building cars in Britain and invest millions of dollars building a new factory to make batteries for electric vehicles.  
 
From 2027, all British and European carmakers will have to source batteries from either Britain or the EU or face tariffs on their exports.
 
“Brexit gives us the competitive advantage not only within the United Kingdom but outside the United Kingdom, also,” Nissan’s Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta said Thursday following the announcement.
 
The government hopes other companies will soon follow Nissan’s lead and invest in its vision of a “Global Britain.” But a month on from the signing of the EU-U.K. Free Trade Agreement, many businesses say Brexit has so far brought extra costs and little benefit.
 

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Kerry Says US ‘Proud to Be Back’ in Paris Climate Agreement

World leaders gathered virtually Monday for the Climate Adaption Summit, an online meeting hosted by the Netherlands with hopes of developing practical solutions and funding for dealing with climate change between now and 2030.The online program featured leaders from around the world, including China’s Deputy Prime Minister Han Zheng, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders. Representing the United States was former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been appointed by President Joe Biden to be Washington’s new special climate envoy. Kerry told the group the Biden administration has made fighting climate change a top priority and said the U.S. is proud to be back as a leader on the issue.“We have a president now, thank God, who leads, tells the truth and is seized by this issue,” Kerry said. “And President Biden knows that we have to mobilize in unprecedented ways to meet a challenge that is fast accelerating. And he knows we have limited time to get it under control.”Kerry said that is the reason Biden immediately rejoined the Paris climate agreement that former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from formally last November. Trump originally announced the U.S. was pulling out of the agreement in 2017, but United Nations regulations prevented it from being official until November. Biden rejoined the agreement on his first day in office. As secretary of state under former President Barack Obama in 2015, Kerry helped negotiate the original agreement, bringing China to the table at the U.N. climate conference in Paris.

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Turkey: No Word from Pirates Who Seized Sailors off Nigeria

Pirates who seized 15 sailors when they stormed a Turkish-crewed container ship in the Gulf of Guinea two days ago have not yet made contact with authorities, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Monday.An Azeri sailor was killed when armed attackers boarded the vessel, which was headed to Cape Town from Lagos, and abducted 15 Turkish sailors.”We have not yet received word from the pirates,” foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.Turkey was in contact with officials in Gabon, where he said the Liberian-flagged container ship Mozart had docked with its remaining crew, and with authorities in neighboring countries.Echoing comments by President Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s transport minister said the government was working to ensure the swift release of the sailors.”We will rescue our citizens from the hands of these bandits and reunite them with their families as soon as possible,” Adil Karaismailoglu said.The ship was attacked 160 km (100 miles) off Sao Tome island on Saturday, maritime reports showed.Pirates in the Gulf, which borders more than a dozen countries, kidnapped 130 sailors in 22 incidents last year, accounting for all but five of those seized worldwide, according to an International Maritime Bureau report.The attack on the Mozart could raise international pressure on Nigeria to do more to protect shippers, who have called for tougher action in recent weeks, analysts said.

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Greece, Turkey Resume Talks on Maritime Disputes in Mediterranean Under Pressure from EU and NATO

Greece and Turkey opened their first direct talks in nearly five years in Istanbul Monday to discuss long-standing maritime disputes in the eastern Mediterranean.Relations between Athens and Ankara were exacerbated in August of last year when Turkey deployed a survey vessel in contested Mediterranean waters and gunboats from the two countries collided.Disputes over energy sources and borders also have threatened to spiral out of control.Greece and Turkey, both members of the NATO military alliance, made insignificant progress in several dozen rounds of talks between 2002 and 2016.The European Union and NATO had pressed hard on Ankara and Athens to sit down at the negotiating table. They agreed early this month to resume talks in Istanbul, with Turkey hoping to improve its relations with the 27-member block.On Saturday, however, Athens expressed willingness to only discuss issues of mutual economic interests and the continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean, but not issues of “national sovereignty.”  Last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country would approach the talks with optimism but “zero naivety.”  On his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped returning to negotiation table would “herald a new era.”The EU has supported Greece, a member of the group, in its disputes with neighboring Turkey, and threatened sanctions on Turkey, but has postponed imposing them until March of this year.

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Dutch Police Clash With Anti-Lockdown Protesters in 2 Cities

Rioters set fires in the center of the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven and pelted police with rocks Sunday at a banned demonstration against coronavirus lockdown measures, while officers responded with tear gas and water cannons, arresting at least 55 people.Police in the capital of Amsterdam 125 kilometers (78 miles) away also used a water cannon to disperse an outlawed anti-lockdown demonstration on a major square ringed by museums. Video showed police spraying people grouped against a wall of the Van Gogh Museum.It was the worst violence to hit the Netherlands since the pandemic began and the second straight Sunday that police clashed with protesters in Amsterdam. The country has been in a tough lockdown since mid-December that is set to continue at least until Feb. 9. The government beefed up the lockdown with a 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew that went into force Saturday.Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus condemned the violence.”This has nothing to do with demonstrating against corona measures,” Grapperhaus said in a statement. “This is simply criminal behavior; people who deliberately target police, riot police, journalists and other aid workers.”In Eindhoven, south of Amsterdam, a central square near the main railway station was littered with rocks, bicycles and shattered glass. The crowd of hundreds of demonstrators also was believed to include supporters of the anti-immigrant group PEGIDA, which had sought to demonstrate in the city.Eindhoven police said they made at least 55 arrests and warned people to stay away from the city center amid the clashes. Trains to and from the station were halted and local media reported plundering at the station.A woman not involved in the protests was hospitalized after being injured by a police horse, police said.Police said more than 100 people were arrested in Amsterdam.  Dutch media reported unrest in other Dutch towns Sunday night with people protesting the curfew.The violence came a day after anti-curfew rioters torched a coronavirus testing facility in the Dutch fishing village of Urk.Video from Urk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, showed youths breaking into the coronavirus testing facility near the village’s harbor before it was set ablaze Saturday night.The lockdown was imposed by the Dutch government to rein in the spread of the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus.Police said they fined more than 3,600 people nationwide for breaching the curfew that ran from 9 p.m. Saturday until 4:30 a.m. Sunday and arrested 25 people for breaching the curfew or for violence.The police and municipal officials issued a statement Sunday expressing their anger at rioting, “from throwing fireworks and stones to destroying police cars and with the torching of the test location as a deep point.””This is not only unacceptable, but also a slap in the face, especially for the local health authority staff who do all they can at the test center to help people from Urk,” the local authorities said, adding that the curfew would be strictly enforced for the rest of the week.On Sunday, all that remained of the portable testing building was a burned-out shell.
 

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Estonia to Have First Female PM as Government Deal Clinched

Estonia’s two biggest political parties clinched a deal Sunday to form a new government to be led by a female prime minister for the first time in the Baltic country’s history, replacing the previous Cabinet that collapsed in a corruption scandal earlier this month.  The party councils of the opposition, center-right Reform Party and the ruling, left-leaning Center Party, voted in favor of joining a Cabinet headed by Reform’s prime minister-designate and chairwoman, Kaja Kallas.Both parties are set to have seven ministerial portfolios in addition to Kallas’ prime minister post in the 15-member government, which would muster a majority in the 101-seat Riigikogu Parliament.A joint statement said the Reform Party and the Center Party “will form a government that will continue to effectively resolve the COVID-19 crisis, keep Estonia forward-looking and develop all areas and regions of our country.”Earlier this month, President Kersti Kaljulaid, who is expected to appoint Kallas’ Cabinet in the next few days, said tackling Estonia’s worsening coronavirus situation and the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic should be an immediate priority for the new government.  Kaljulaid tasked Kallas to form the government as her pro-business and pro-entrepreneurship Reform Party emerged as the winner of Estonia’s March 2019 general election.  Pending approval from lawmakers, Kallas, 43, will become the first female head of government in the history of the small Baltic nation of 1.3 million, which regained its independence amid the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  A lawyer and former European Parliament lawmaker, Kallas is the daughter of Siim Kallas, one of the Reform Party’s creators, a former prime minister and a former European Union commissioner.  Kaja Kallas took the reins at the Reform Party in 2018 as its first female chair. Her first Cabinet will see women in other key positions too as Reform’s Keit Pentus-Rosimannus takes over the finance minister post and diplomat Eva-Maria Liimets becomes the foreign minister.  The government formation marks the second such attempt for Kallas in less than two years as she failed to bring about a Reform Party-led government after the 2019 election. That paved the way for the archrival Center Party and its leader, Juri Ratas, to form a three-party coalition without the Reform Party.Ratas and his Cabinet resigned on Jan. 13 over a scandal involving a key official at his Center Party suspected of accepting a private donation for the party in exchange for a political favor on a real estate development at the harbor district of the capital, Tallinn.  Ratas’ government, which took office in April 2019, was shaky from the start as the coalition included the populist EKRE, the nation’s third-largest party, which runs on a nationalist, anti-immigration and anti-EU agenda.  The strong rhetoric of the EKRE leaders, Mart Helme and his son Martin Helme, created several embarrassing situations for Ratas’ government with public statements that were seen as insulting to Estonia’s international allies and tarnishing the country’s image, and which brought the government to the brink of collapse at least twice.Kallas rejected including EKRE members in her Cabinet, citing considerable differences in values. Reform Party defines itself on its website as “the leader of the liberal worldview in Estonia.”Kallas acknowledged earlier to Estonian media that her Cabinet would embark on a diplomatic mission to regain trust among the country’s allies and assure them of Estonia’s new political course.Estonia has been a member of the European Union and NATO since 2004.
 

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In Russia, Hundreds Behind Bars Following Pro-Navalny Protests

Hundreds of people remained behind bars in Russia Sunday, a day after they were arrested for joining nationwide street protests demanding the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny. Navalny was detained a week ago upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he spent the last several months recovering from a nearly fatal poisoning attack he blames on the Russian government, which denies the charge. From Moscow, Charles Maynes reports.
 
Camera: Ricardo Marquina

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Dutch Police Arrest Alleged Asian Drug Syndicate Kingpin

Dutch police said Saturday they had arrested the alleged leader of an Asian drug syndicate who is listed as one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives and has been compared to Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.Tse Chi Lop, a Chinese-born Canadian national, was detained Friday at the request of Australian police, who led an investigation that found his organization dominates the $70 billion-a-year Asia-Pacific drug trade, Dutch police spokesman Thomas Aling said.Tse is expected to be extradited after appearing before a judge, Aling said, adding that his arrest by national police took place without incident at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.”He was already on the most-wanted list and he was detained based on intelligence we received,” Aling said.Dutch police were unable to provide details about the legal proceedings and it was not clear if Tse had a lawyer.Tse, an ex-convict who formerly lived in Toronto, has moved between Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years, according to counternarcotics officers from four countries and documents previously reviewed by Reuters.”Tse Chi Lop is in the league of ‘El Chapo’ or maybe Pablo Escobar,” Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told Reuters in 2019, referring to Latin America’s most notorious drug lords.The syndicate he is suspected of running is known to its members as “The Company.” Law enforcers also refer to it as “Sam Gor” — or Brother Number Three in Cantonese — after one of Tse’s nicknames, Reuters reported at the time.It was unable to contact Tse for comment on the report.The Australian Federal Police (AFP), which has taken the lead in a sprawling investigation into the criminal organization, identified Tse as “the senior leader of the Sam Gor syndicate.”The group has “been connected with or directly involved in at least 13 cases” of drug trafficking since January 2015, the documents showed.

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Portugal Chooses President Amid Severe Pandemic Surge

Portugal held a presidential election Sunday, with the moderate incumbent candidate strongly favored to earn a second five-year term as a devastating COVID-19 surge grips the European Union nation. The head of state in Portugal has no legislative powers, which lie with parliament and the government, but is an influential voice in the running of the country. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, 72, is regarded as the clear front-runner among seven candidates. He is an affable law professor and former television personality who as president has consistently had an approval rating of 60% or more. To win, a candidate must capture more than 50% of the vote. But a severe surge in coronavirus infections in recent days could keep the turnout low and perhaps lead to a Feb. 14 runoff between the two top candidates. Portugal has the world’s highest rates of new daily infections and deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, and the public health system is under huge strain. Authorities have increased the number of polling stations and allowed for early voting to reduce crowding on election day. In other precautions, voters were asked to bring their own pens and disinfectant to polling stations. Everyone voting wore a mask and kept a safe distance from each other. Prime Minister António Costa, in a tweet, urged people to turn out for the ballot, saying that “unprecedented planning” had gone into ensuring that the vote can take place safely. With the country in lockdown, the election campaign featured none of the usual flag-waving rallies but restrictions on movement were lifted for polling day. Among the incumbent’s six challengers, right-wing populist André Ventura has attracted curiosity as the first extremist to break into Portuguese mainstream politics. Ventura, 37, could conceivably place second, likely far behind Rebelo de Sousa but drawing a level of support that until recently was unthinkable. That development has unsettled national politics. Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the center-right Social Democratic Party, has worked closely with the center-left minority Socialist government, supporting its pandemic efforts. He also has endeared himself to the Portuguese with his easygoing style. Photographs taken by passers-by of him in public places, such as one last year of him standing in line at a supermarket wearing sneakers and shorts, routinely go viral. Portugal has 10.8 million registered voters, some 1.5 million of them living abroad. Exit polls were to be published Sunday night, with most results expected by midnight. Every Portuguese president since 1976, when universal suffrage was introduced following the departure of a dictatorship, has been returned for a second term. No woman or member of an ethnic minority has ever held the post. 

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