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EU-U.S. trade talks – one year on, Commission presents progress report

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Today marks the first anniversary of the Joint Statement by President Juncker and President Trump, which launched the new phase in the relationship between the United States and the European Union.

As a first step, the Presidents set up an Executive Working Group, co-chaired by Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and her counterpart US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, to work on the different tracks for cooperation identified in the Joint Statement.

One year on, a series of concrete actions have been achieved, taking the trillion-dollar transatlantic trade relationship to the next level.A report on the implementation of the EU-U.S. Joint Statement of 25 July 2018 was published today, providing an overview of the progress made and illustrating the depth of the engagement between EU and U.S. over the past year, both at political and technical level.

On this occasion, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The European Union is delivering on what President Trump and I agreed on this day last year. We want a win-win situation on trade, which is beneficial for both the European Union and the United States. Having one of the most important economic relationships in the world, we want to continue strengthening trade between us based on the positive spirit of last July.”

Since July 2018, the EU has significantly increased its imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. by over 367%. So far, in 2019, one third of all U.S. LNG exports have gone to the EU. The U.S. is the EU’s third largest supplier of LNG, while the EU has emerged as the primary destination of U.S. LNG exports.

EU imports of U.S. soya beans increased by almost 100% from July 2018 to June 2019, compared to the same period the previous year. The United States is now Europe’s number one soya beans supplier and has been able to expand its market further, following the decision by the European Commission on 29 January 2019, to authorise the use of U.S. soya beans for biofuels.

Following the Council’s mandate of 15 April 2019 to open talks with the U.S. for a horizontal agreement on conformity assessment, there have already been three rounds of constructive discussions on regulatory cooperation. An EU-U.S. agreement would allow exporters from a wide range of sectors to get certification of their products in their own country (as opposed to, for example, sending samples to the export destination).

The Council gave the Commission the authorisation to open talks with the U.S. on eliminating tariffs on industrial goods. While it was not yet possible to launch negotiations in this area due to diverging objectives on the two sides, the EU remains ready to engage with the U.S. along the lines agreed between the two Presidents in July 2018.

Regarding cooperation on standards, the EU presented its ideas on a deeper cooperation in strategic sectors, in particular those related to emerging technologies, such as 3D printing, robotics and connected vehicles. Important progress has been made in the areas of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cybersecurity. On pharmaceuticals, the EU and U.S. reached a milestone on 11 July 2019, as all EU Member State authorities were recognised under the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) on good manufacturing practices for human medicines. This has already resulted in cutting of costs for businesses and freeing up administrative resources, by avoiding the duplication of inspections.

The EU and U.S. have engaged to identify and address distortions caused by unfair market-distorting trade practices. Together with Japan, both partners have submitted a joint proposal in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to enhance Members’ compliance with transparency requirements. The trilateral EU-U.S.-Japan process is also expected to lead to proposals for new rules on industrial subsidies and State Owned Enterprises.

In addition, a recent example that illustrates the excellent cooperation fostered in the spirit of the July 2018 Joint Statement, is the agreement found on the share of a duty-free tariff rate quota for U.S.exports of hormone-free beef to the EU market.

The EU continues to make the case for ending U.S.tariffs on steel and aluminiumcomingfromthe EU, which would also benefit the U.S., since Americanproducers would be able to source these materials more cheaply from the EU. The EU could then also remove the rebalancing tariffsonU.S.exports.

Background

The United States and the European Union have a $1 trillion bilateral trade relationship with more than €3 billion in two-way trade every single day. Together both sides count more than 830 million citizens and close to 50% of global Gross Domestic Product. This is the largest economic relationship in the world.

With their Joint Statement of 25 July 2018, President Juncker and President Trump expressed their commitment to further strengthen this trade relationship to the benefit of all American and European citizens.

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‘We cannot rest’ until child labour is eliminated

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A woman watches children working at a stone quarry, Zambia. (file) IRIN/M. Deghati

Countries taking part in the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour this week in South Africa, are being urged to do more to end child labour by 2025.

The strong call for urgent action at the conference taking place in Durban, aims to combat an uptick in the numbers of children being forced into work.

Latest figures indicate that 160 million children  – almost one in ten worldwide – are still being affected. Furthermore, numbers are on the rise, with the pandemic threating to reverse years of progress, as child labour becomes a bigger scourge in particular among the vulnerable five to 11-year-old age group.

Make a difference

Speaking at the start of a week of hybrid format discussions, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called on delegates to commit to taking “far-reaching actions” to make a difference in the lives of children.

“We are here because we share a common conviction that child labour in all its facets is an enemy. Child labour is an enemy of our children’s development and an enemy of progress.

“No civilization, no country and no economy can consider itself to be at the forefront of progress if its success and riches have been built on the backs of children.”

Mr. Ramaphosa’s call was echoed by Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), who underlined that “child labour is a violation of a basic human right, and our goal must be that every child, everywhere is free from it. We cannot rest until that happens.”

According to the ILO, global progress against child labour has stalled for the first time in 2020, after two decades of moving in the right direction. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to have pushed millions more children into the workforce.

First in Africa

This is the first time the Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour is being held in Africa, a region where child labour numbers are highest, and progress has been slowest, ILO notes.

According to recent data, most child labour on the continent – some 70 per cent – is in the agricultural sector, often in settings where children are working alongside other family members.

The conference builds on four previous Global Conferences, held in Buenos Aires (2017), Brasilia (2013), The Hague (2010), and Oslo (1997), which raised awareness of the issue, assessed progress, mobilized resources, and established a strategic direction for the global movement against child labour.

Call for action

With the 2025 UN Sustainable Development Goals  deadline for the elimination of child labour looming, many speakers outlined the urgent need to recover the progress that had been made in many regions, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Conference is expected to conclude with a formal Call to Action that will outline concrete commitments to scale up action to eliminate child labour.

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Israel: UN rights chief calls for end to ‘culture of impunity’

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The funeral of Shirin Abu Akleh in Jerusalem. Photo: Maisa Abu Ghazaleh

Investigations must be held into the actions of the Israeli security forces, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Saturday, calling for accountability and an end to impunity.

Her appeal comes in the wake of the killing of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot on Wednesday while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin, West Bank.

The veteran Palestinian-American journalist was buried in East Jerusalem on Friday and huge crowds turned out for her funeral.

‘Shocking’ use of force

The High Commissioner issued a statement saying she was following “with deep distress” the events in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

“Footage of Israeli police attacking mourners at the funeral procession of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in East Jerusalem on Friday 13 May was shocking. Reports indicate that at least 33 people were injured,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet said the Israeli use of force, which was being filmed and broadcast live,  appeared to be unnecessary and must be promptly and transparently investigated.

“There must be accountability for the terrible killing not just of Shireen Abu Akleh but for all the killings and serious injuries in the occupied Palestinian territory,” she said.

Call for investigations

The UN rights chief reported that 48 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces so far this year.

The latest death occurred on Saturday when a young man called Walid al-Sharif, succumbed to injuries sustained during clashes last month at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

“As I have called for many times before, there must be appropriate investigations into the actions of Israeli security forces,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

“Anyone found responsible should be held to account with penal and disciplinary sanctions commensurate to the gravity of the violation. This culture of impunity must end now.”

Security Council condemnation

The killing of Ms. Abu Akleh has sent shockwaves across the globe, and UN officials have been among those calling for an investigation.

The journalist was shot even though she wore a vest that identified her as a member of the press corps. Her producer also was wounded.

The UN Security Council issued a statement on Friday strongly condemning her killing, reiterating that journalists should be protected as civilians.

The Council also called for an immediate, thorough, transparent, and fair and impartial investigation into her killing, and stressed the need to ensure accountability.  

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World Bank to support Education Recovery Strategy in Brazil

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The World Bank Board of Directors approved today the US$250 million Recovering Learning Losses From COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil project. The program will support the Brazilian strategy to promote learning recovery and address school dropout rates related to the health emergency crisis, by implementing innovative programs and systems to strengthen education management in primary and lower secondary schools in the North and Northeast region of the country.

“The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted unprecedent challenges to global education. A systematic recovery strategy will allow Brazil not only to revert learning losses related to the pandemic, but also to promote solid and sustained improvement in education,” says the Ministry of Education Victor Godoy Veiga.

Brazil had one of the longest school closures in the region due to the pandemic. According to Brazilian Ministry of Education, public schools remained closed for 287.4 days on average (or about 9.5 months) while private schools closed for 247.7 days (about 8 months), representing a 40-day public-private difference. The North and Northeast regions registered an even longer period of school closure, with the state of Bahia registering the longest school closure (366.4 days on average), followed by Roraima (349.4 days), Rio Grande do Norte (336.5 days), Acre (332.7 days) and Amapá (332.4 days).

Despite efforts to promote online classes, connectivity barriers both in schools and in students’ homes impaired learning, especially in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil. According to the 2020 School Census, only 60 percent of public schools in Brazil have internet. This situation is even more serious in North and Northeastern Brazil, where internet connectivity is only available in 48.5 percent of public schools (broadband in only 39 percent).

The proposed Operation aims to reduce regional gaps by supporting innovative online and face-to-face programs. Some key initiatives include: (i) the implementation of National and State Observatories of School Dropouts (OSD); (ii) an Early Warning System (SAP), to help identifying students at high risk of dropping out; Personalized Tutoring for Teachers and Socioemotional Initiative (SIS), to rebuild students’ socioemotional skills and to incentivize them to learn effectively.

Once back in school, the challenge is to make students (re)learn effectively. In this aspect, the program has two lines of action: face-to-face approaches by offering  Personalized Tutoring (APA) Program to small groups of students with similar learning gaps; and structured group discussions in SIS to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on student socioemotional skills. The second line of action focuses on hybrid strategies and education systems to recover learning losses, by providing internet connectivity to schools, access to internet for vulnerable students under the law 14,172 and to take to inner municipalities the Creativity and Innovation Labs, facilities in which teachers and principals will be trained to use technology in the classrooms and to master the foundational teaching skills needed to help students recover learning losses.

The project will also offer support to two innovative educational systems: The Education Solution Ecosystem, that aims to offer an array of education tools to public schools, including adaptive learning platforms; and  the Integrated Education Management Platform, that focuses on integrating the education management system from the Ministry of Education. By strengthening hybrid learning models, training teachers to use technology and consolidating education systems, the project expects to build resilience to future pandemics and natural disasters that may disrupt learning and teaching.

“The world is facing a silent crisis in education. Urgent action is necessary. By supporting this comprehensive and innovative learning recovery program, the World Bank strongly believe that Brazil will become a role model for countries in the region on how to fight against learning crisis”, says World Bank Director for Brazil, Paloma Anós Casero.

Outcomes supported by the program include:

  • Creation of National and State Observatories of School Dropouts (OSD).
  • Implementation of an Early Warning System (SAP).
  • Implementation of an Education and Family Program.
  • Implementation of a Personalized Tutoring (APA) Program.
  • Implementation of Socioemotional Initiative (SIS).

This loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to the Ministry of Education is guaranteed by the Federative Republic of Brazil and has a final maturity of 34.5  years, with a 5 years grace period.

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