“We must focus on global integration projects that would create Eurasian brands and help promoting our goods at the third countries’ markets”. This was stated by the Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) Tigran Sargsyan speaking in Moscow at the plenary session of the XIII International Conference “Eurasian Economic Integration”.
The participants of the annual event arranged by the Eurasian Development Bank discussed the challenges and prospects for Eurasian integration.
Tigran Sargsyan noted that over the years of its existence the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has proved its solidity and efficiency notwithstanding its young age. Next year, the EAEU countries will celebrate the fifth anniversary of signing the Treaty on the Union.
The EEC observes the increase in mutual trade, improvement of its structure, and strengthening of cooperation ties. “This shows that implementing main principles enshrined in the Union’s treaty has positive results for the Union’s economic growth. The Commission assesses the potential of this effect as about 1% of Gross National Product’s annual growth”, – highlighted the Chairman of the EEC Board.
A solid achievement of the EAEU is the third countries’ increasing interest in developing and deepening trade and economic cooperation with the Union. “This proves that the EAEU has established itself as a genuine integration association”, – believes Tigran Sargsyan.
Recently, the EEC has entered into a number of memoranda in Singapore: a memorandum of understanding with the ASEAN and a memorandum of cooperation with the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand. The Commission expects to sign a similar document with MERCOSUR. In May 2018, trade and economic agreements with China and Iran were concluded. The work is ongoing on international tracks approved by the Heads of the EAEU States in order to create free trade areas with Egypt, India, Israel, Singapore, and Serbia. Five rounds of negotiations with Singapore were held. Tigran Sargsyan expressed his hope that in 2019 it would be possible to enter the home stretch on the issue of creating an FTA with the Republic.
“Concluding FTA agreements with these countries is a serious potential for inducing economic growth in our States, and ramping up exports to these countries’ markets. It also means the possibility of additional investment attraction”, – reported the Chairman of the EEC Board.
Tigran Sargsyan also named the problems to be solved with a view to promote Eurasian integration. In his opinion, they are related to “under-integration” within the Union’s space. There are obstacles inhibiting the implementation of the “Four Freedoms” principle, and these must be removed. This is exactly the task the Heads of the Member States set for the EEC.
“Obstacles result from uncoordinated actions. Therefore, the States must pursue agreed policies. Such trends in global economy as protectionism, protection of domestic manufacturers, trade wars are unacceptable in our Union”, – stressed Tigran Sargsyan.
These agreed policies are underlain by harmonization of national legislations, in particular, in financial sphere. Upon instruction of the Presidents, national and central banks of the participating countries are developing the Concept of the EAEU common financial market.
The Chairman of the EEC Board also mentioned the necessity to form Eurasian brands similar to “Airbus” project in the European Union. “We need to launch such large-scale cooperation projects with the participation of all the partners within the Union, which would enable us to hold ourselves out as a united entity in relation to third countries”, – he stated.
The Commission is actively working over creation of a Eurasian brand in jewelry branch, as the Union countries have relative advantages in this field. The work is under way on forming a Eurasian brand in lighting engineering. The EAEU Digital Agenda is being implemented, which encompasses all the areas of activity of the participating countries. About 30 initiatives – major digital projects – are now being examined by the EEC Digital Office, some of them to win funding in 2019.
The Chairman of the EEC Board mentioned that the Commission was interested in cooperation under such projects with the EADB. “The key role in financing such global integration projects may belong to the Eurasian Development Bank”, – reckons Tigran Sargsyan.
Due to increasing demand in the EAEU countries for settlements in national currencies, the Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Development Bank Andrey Belyaninov proposed to develop the Eurasian system of financial messaging. “For further promotion of settlements in national currencies within the Eurasian space we need to create a Eurasian financial messaging system using our “regulatory sandboxes” capabilities, – he said.
The Chairman of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation Alexey Kudrin considers the EAEU’s task on deepening relations between the participating countries, eliminating barriers, forming common standards and new regulation models, in particular, within the financial market, to be an element of integration.
Whereas the Eurasian integration heavily relies upon its largest economy – the Russian economy, the Russian Federation shall, as a country creating the market for all countries, drive up rates of economic growth, remove barriers and enable the participants from the Union countries to access public procurement. “At this point, Russia shall sometimes make a compromise, then it will provide the impetus for the Union’s development”, – Alexey Kudrin believes.
The plenary session was also attended by the Deputy Minister of Finance of the Russian Federation Sergey Storchak, the Deputy Chairman of Vnesheconombank – Member of the Board Andrey Klepach, the Deputy Chairman of the Board of JSC “Development Bank of Kazakhstan” Dmitry Babichev, and the Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics Sergey Karaganov.
EU boosts humanitarian aid budget for 2021 as needs rise
As global humanitarian needs worsen further due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the effects of climate change, the European Commission has adopted its initial annual humanitarian budget of €1.4 billion for 2021. This represents an increase of more than 60% compared with the initial humanitarian budget of €900 million adopted last year.
Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management said: “Humanitarian needs are growing globally and we need a budget to match. Our increased budget will allow the EU to continue to play a leading global role in responding to emerging and existing crises. Ultimately, humanitarian aid is about saving lives. Yet the gap between the financial resources provided by donors and the rapidly increasing humanitarian needs in 2021 is growing. To leave no one behind we therefore need more international partners to step up to fill this gap. We should not forget that only a global response will solve global issues, such as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, which affects everyone.”
EU humanitarian in 2021 will be allocated as follows:
- €505 million will be allocated to Africa to support people affected by the long-term Lake Chad Basin crisis, impacting Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad; those suffering from food and nutrition crisis, worsened by security incidents and community conflicts, in the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger); and those displaced by armed conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic and Horn Of Africa (Somalia and Ethiopia).
- €385 million of EU humanitarian funding will be allocated to the needs in the Middle East and Turkey to help those affected by the Syria regional crisis, as well as the extremely severe situation in Yemen.
- €180 million in humanitarian assistance will continue to help the most vulnerable populations in Asia and Latin America. In Latin America, this includes those affected by the crises in Venezuela and Colombia. The European Union will also continue to provide help in Asian countries such as Afghanistan, where the conflict has been qualified as one of the deadliest conflicts worldwide, and Bangladesh, which is currently hosting almost one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The EU will also allocate €28 million to fund projects addressing crises in Ukraine, Western Balkans and the Caucasus.
- The rest of the funding, €302 million, will be used for EU humanitarian air services and for unforeseen humanitarian crises or sudden peaks in existing crises.
Since climate change is increasing communities’ vulnerability to humanitarian crises, the funding will also help vulnerable populations in disaster-prone countries to prepare better for various natural hazards, such as floods, forest fires, earthquakes, and cyclones.
The European Union has been providing humanitarian aid since 1992 in over 110 countries, reaching millions of people across the globe each year. EU assistance is delivered through humanitarian partner organisations, including UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, and the Red Cross family, who have signed partnership agreements with the European Union. The EU closely tracks the use of EU funds via its global network of humanitarian experts and has firm rules in place to ensure funding is well spent.
In order to address these complex challenges, the Commission intends to publish in the first quarter of the year a renewed strategic document on EU humanitarian action, proposing ways how the EU, together with its partners and other donors, can step up and show leadership in times when the need for humanitarian aid is greater than ever.
EU boosts sustainable cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon
The European Union will contribute €25 million to enhance the economic, social and environmental sustainability of cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon who are, respectively, the first, second and fifth biggest cocoa producers, generating almost 70% of the world production. This funding strengthens the partnership between Team Europe (composed of the EU, its Member States, and European financial institutions) and the three cocoa producing countries and aims at ensuring a decent living income for farmers, halting deforestation and eliminating child labour.
Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, said: “The EU trade agenda is underpinned by EU values. By investing in programmes to promote fair trade and sustainability in the cocoa sectors of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon, we are strengthening our trade and investment relationships for our mutual benefit. Building the social and environmental aspects of the cocoa supply chain will deliver further economic benefits for local farmers and cooperatives.”
Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships, said: “European consumers are demanding fair and environmentally sustainable products and producing countries committed to address sustainability issues in their cocoa value chains. It is time to make a real change and the EU is committed to play its part as an honest broker between economic operators, development partners, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon.”
Following the launch event of the EU inclusive dialogue on sustainable cocoa, the “Cocoa Talks”, on 22 September 2020, today takes place the Cocoa Talks inaugural round-table webinar with the participation of EU public and private stakeholders and selected representatives of the two main producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The objective of this dialogue is to enhance cooperation and coordination to support sustainable cocoa production in the framework of the Living Income Differential (LID) initiative, launched by the two producer countries to ensure decent revenue to local farmers.
The EU dialogue will be mirrored by similar dialogues at country level. Concretely, the €25 million will fund parallel multi-stakeholder dialogue events at national and regional level in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon, involving government, private sector companies and civil society. It will improve the ability of farmers’ cooperatives and other bodies to represent local communities. It will train farmers on sustainability, tree replacement, reforestation, and ensure their awareness of child labour regulations.
Cocoa is a major contributor to export earnings, as well as the main source of livelihoods for almost seven million farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Indirectly, cocoa contributes to the livelihoods of further 50 million people. At the same time, cocoa production entails particular risks relating to child labour, low revenues for local farmers, deforestation and forest degradation.
The European Union is the world’s largest importer of cocoa, accounting for 60% of world imports. Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon are major suppliers of cocoa into the EU market, to which the first two have duty-free and quota-free access under their respective Economic Partnership Agreements.
In June 2019, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana took an initiative on cocoa prices that led to an agreement with the cocoa and chocolate industry to create a Living Income Differential (LID) to ensure decent revenue to local farmers. At this stage, it is a US$400/ton premium paid beyond the price of the cocoa futures markets. Cameroon has expressed interest to join the initiative.
Building on this initiative and in line with its political priorities under the EU Green Deal and the Commission’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to child labour, the EU engaged in a partnership with Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to link this price increase to further action with respect to deforestation and child labour related to cocoa production.
It translated into an EU-based multi-stakeholder dialogue launched on 22 September 2020 with representatives from the EU institutions and Member States, civil society, private sector and Ivoirian and Ghanaian representatives to:
- Advance responsible practices of EU businesses involved in cocoa supply chains;
- Feed into other relevant horizontal Commission initiatives (e.g. on due diligence, deforestation);
- Feed into the policy dialogue between the EU and the producer countries; and
- Identify support projects on sustainable cocoa production.
Sri Lanka: ‘Forced’ cremation of COVID victims’ bodies must stop
The Sri Lankan Government should end its policy of compulsorily cremating victims of COVID-19, independent UN human rights experts said on Monday.
In a joint appeal, Special Rapporteurs Ahmed Shaheed, Fernand de Varennes, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule and Tlaleng Mofokeng, said that the practice ran contrary to the beliefs of Muslims and other minorities.
It ran the risk of increasing prejudice, intolerance and violence, they said in a statement, insisting that no medical or scientific evidence indicated that burying the deceased increased the risk of spreading communicable diseases such as COVID-19.
To date, more than 270 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in Sri Lanka; a significant number have come from the minority Muslim community.
All of the deceased were cremated in line with amended health guidelines for COVID-19 patients, which were issued on last March.
“We deplore the implementation of such public health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country” the experts said.
“Such hostility against the minorities exacerbates existing prejudices, intercommunal tensions, and religious intolerance, sowing fear and distrust while inciting further hatred and violence”, they added.
“We are equally concerned that such a policy deters the poor and the most vulnerable from accessing public healthcare over fears of discrimination”, they said, noting that it would further negatively impact the public health measures to contain the pandemic.
Information received by the experts indicates that cremation often takes place immediately after test results are provided, without granting family members reasonable time or the opportunity to cross check or receive the final test results.
There have been several cases of cremations based on erroneous information about COVID-19 test results, the experts said.
They noted that the President and Prime Minister had instructed the health authorities to explore options for burials in Sri Lanka.
“However, we are concerned to learn that the recommendation to include both cremation and burial options for the disposal of bodies of COVID-19 victims by a panel of experts appointed by the State Minister for Primary Health Services, Pandemics and COVID Prevention, was reportedly disregarded by the Government”, they said.
“We strongly urge the Government of Sri Lanka to stop the forced cremation of COVID-19 bodies, to take all necessary measures to combat disinformation, hate speech and stigmatization” of Muslims and other minorities, “as a vector of the pandemic, and to provide remedy and ensure accountability for cremations that were carried out by error.”
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