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EU launches negotiations to deepen trade relations with Eastern and Southern Africa countries

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Today, in Mauritius, the EU started negotiations with five Eastern and Southern Africa partners (so-called ESA: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe) to deepen the existing Economic Partnership Agreement. Given the positive results generated by the current agreement, now in its 8th year of implementation, the five countries have declared their readiness to move beyond trade in goods, towards a more comprehensive agreement. The EU has welcomed this step, especially in the context of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.

Since the initial agreement started to apply in 2012, exports of goods from the five ESA countries to the EU have increased by almost a quarter, reaching nearly €2.8 billion in 2018. European businesses are also increasingly investing in the region. The new agreement should cover other important trade related areas and trade related rules, such as services, investment, technical barriers to trade, intellectual property rights as well as trade and sustainable development.

EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström said: “The ESA region is a pioneer for the whole of Africa as regards our trade partnership. The deepening of the current agreement will move our partnership to another level. It will boost bilateral trade and investment flows and will contribute to the creation of jobs and further economic growth in our respective regions while promoting sustainable development. The EU is fully behind this important endeavour”.

The EU is the number one trading partner for the five ESA countries. In addition to improving the business and investment environment, a comprehensive free trade agreement would stimulate the economies of the five ESA countries, for instance by diversifying their exports to the EU. The process would also support the implementation of the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs launched in September 2018. Moreover, it would promote both regional economic integration, for instance by developing regional value chains, and continental integration by furthering the ESA five countries’ preparedness for implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) under the African Union. Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) are one of the building blocks towards the future AfCFTA.

At the request of the five ESA countries, the European Union has agreed to provide financial assistance for the setting up of an EPA Coordination Mechanism. Its aim is to ensure appropriate coordination and technical support to the five ESA countries so they can engage effectively in the negotiation process. The Coordination Mechanism has already contributed on the ESA side to the preparation of the scoping phase for the upcoming negotiations.

Background

Economic and Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are trade and development cooperation agreements that provide duty-free quota-free access to the EU market based on favourable rules of origin for the partners countries. They support export diversification, competitiveness and promote creation of local value chains.

Since the current interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA) with the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) states started applying in 2012, the exports by Madagascar to the EU have more than doubled. Seychelles have seen their exports increase by more than one third in the period 2012-2018. Exports by Zimbabwe to the EU have increased by 12% over the same period, while the country’s exports to the rest of the world have decreased. For Mauritius, the European Union remains the main destination for its exports, with for instance fisheries products seeing export gains.

In 2017, the four ESA states (Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles and Zimbabwe) requested the EU to start discussing the possible extension of the iEPA beyond the currently covered market access for goods and development cooperation. The aim was to include new trade-related areas and rules as provided for in the rendezvous clause foreseen in Article 53 of the EPA (i.e. so-called “deepening” process). Both parties agreed on the scope and objectives of this deepening before launching negotiations. In February 2019, after ratifying the iEPA, Comoros started to apply it provisionally, also joining the other four ESA states in the deepening process.

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Commission revealed 12 winners of VET Excellence Awards

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The European Vocational Skills Week took place across Europe and beyond last week (from 16 to 20 May). Organised by the European Commission every year, it is an occasion to celebrate best practices in Vocational Education and Training (VET), bringing together everyone involved – from local, to national and regional authorities, students, teachers and education and training organisation stakeholders – to showcase the benefits VET offers to young people and adults alike. This year’s sixth edition focused on ‘VET and the Green Transition’, supporting people to acquire the necessary skills for the green transition, in line with the European Green Deal.  

At the VET Excellence Awards ceremony, the Commission announced the winners of this flagship prize in different categories. An accountancy apprentice from Greece, the Piedmont Region in Italy, and a Swedish tree care programme have received the European Vocational Skills Week Excellence Award 2022, along with 9 other award winners.

Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “It is great to see so many outstanding nominees and winners, celebrating the true benefits that vocational education and training can offer to everyone, young people and adults alike. They showcase the transformational impact that education and training can have on people’s careers and lives. I would also like to give a ‘special mention’ for our partners in Ukraine. We have been working closely together, also through the European Training Foundation, and will continue doing so, to support on topics such as qualifications, to help the Ukrainian people in these extremely difficult times.”

Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, said: “The green transition can become a real job engine if people receive the right support they need to thrive in their careers and the changing labour markets. The VET Excellence Awards help us identify the best approaches to become fit for the green economy, overcoming today’s labour shortages in key sectors such as construction, manufacturing and energy. I would like to congratulate all the nominees and VET learners, and to thank the thousands of providers of vocational education and training for their dedication.”

This year’s winners

The Commission awarded 12 prizes in four categories and one special mention to apprentices, projects, companies and regions, from the EU, neighbouring and neighbourhood countries, who have successfully used VET to build a greener, more digital and more inclusive society.

The award winners include:

  • Evangelos Pouftas, an apprentice with an accountancy firm in Greece, who demonstrated the key role of apprentices in accelerating the digital transition of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), by helping the company’s clients to digitalise their work, such as setting up online services to remain competitive, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased remote working.
  • The Piedmont Region of Italy,with the support of theEuropean Social Fund, promoted to young learners a culture of sustainability in food production and consumption along the agri-food chain.
  • The ‘Veteran Tree Management Skills Certification’ project of Stiftelsen Pro Natura. This Swedish programme, funded by Erasmus+,is designed to raise the standard of the caring for trees that have an exceptional value for nature conservation, landscape or culture, known as ‘veteran trees’.

Further award winners are:

  • AKMI S.A., Greece
  • Programme ‘Working inclusion and equal opportunities for the most disadvantaged’, ALMI BILBAO S.A.L., Spain
  • Cyclades –  5th Evening Vocational High School of Patra, Greece
  • Environmental and Agricultural Education in School, Georgia
  • Prof. Dr. Linda Clarke, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
  • ÖBB Infrastruktur AG, Austria
  • Otto Stöckl Elektroinstallationen GmbH, Austria
  • Riga State Technical School, Latvia
  • Virtual Dawn, Finland

In addition to the prizes in the different categories, a special mention went to Ukrainian partners who, along with the European Training Foundation, have been reforming their education and training systems, focusing on qualifications, the future of skills in key economic sectors, and governance arrangements to modernise the system and to bring it closer to the system in the EU.

EU actions to promote VET

The Commission is actively promoting vocational education and training as part of its work to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, and specifically the right to education, training and lifelong learning. This is also important to achieve the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan EU headline target that all partners committed to at the Porto Social Summit: at least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year.

On 1 July 2020, the Commission proposed a Council Recommendation on vocational education and training, to make VET more modern, attractive, flexible and fit for the digital age and the green transition. This proposal is embedded in other Commission initiatives, such as the European Skills Agenda and the Communication on Youth Employment Support – A Bridge to Jobs for the next generation.

In addition, the Commission put forward in December 2021 proposals for Individual Learning Accounts and Micro-credentials, to help open up more opportunities for people to find learning offers, and employment opportunities.

The European Commission also supports vocational education and training through significant funding, such as through the European Social Fund Plus (with total budget of almost €99.3 billion for 2021-2027), Erasmus+, and the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which has ‘reskilling and upskilling’ as one of its seven flagship areas for reforms and investments. 

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, Addresses World Economic Forum

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, in a live video address to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters, told participants how he wakes up every day to read the numbers of his people killed in the war in the last 24 hours.

“Today,” he said, “we lost 87 people and the future of Ukraine will be without these 87 people”.

His stark message was in response to the question, whatis your dream for Ukraine?

Zelenskyy was speaking at the opening session of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022. Nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and the media were welcomed by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, to the first in-person Annual Meeting for more than two years held under the theme, History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies.

Speaking through a translator, the Ukrainian president said: “This year the words ‘turning point’ appear to have become more than just a rhetorical figure of speech. This is really the moment when it is decided whether brute force will rule the world.”

He went on: “Brute force does not discuss – it kills, as Russia does in Ukraine as we speak today.”

“Instead of successful peaceful cities there’s only black ruins. Instead of normal trade there are seas full of mines and blocked ports. Instead of tourism there are closed skies and thousands of Russian bombs and cruise missiles.” He said: “This is what the world would look like if humanity misses this turning point.”

He called for “maximum” sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo and a complete withdrawal of foreign companies. “All trade with the aggressor should be stopped. All foreign business should leave Russia so that your brands are not associated with war crimes. So that your offices, bills and goods are not used by war criminals in their bloody interests. Values must matter.”

He continued: “This is what sanctions should be. They should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbour clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions.”

He compared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with events in Sarajevo in 1914 and Munich in 1938, two historic moments that preceded the two world wars.

Zelenskyy praised his people’s courage. The war and the Ukrainian people’s resistance have stirred the unity of the democratic world and showed “that freedom must be fought for”. The Ukrainian leader received a standing ovation.

“The war in Ukraine represents a turning point in history and the resulting tragedy will reshape our political and our economic landscape in the coming years,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive, Chairman, World Economic Forum.

Ignazio Cassis, President of Switzerland, said: “Switzerland has strongly opposed the war of aggression in Ukraine. There can be no neutral attitude in the face of a brutal attack on our shared values of freedom and democracy. We stand alongside other countries in condemning the war.”

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In Times of Division, Arts and Culture Bring Us Together: Meet the Davos Cultural Leaders

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Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist, USA, captured during the 'Presentation of the Crystal Award' at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2008. Copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) www.swiss-image.ch/Photo by Andy Mettler

The World Economic Forum announced today the participation of prominent cultural leaders in the Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters. These prominent figures will join their peers from business, government, the media and civil society to advance dialogue on how to reconnect in a post-pandemic era and unite to rebuild a world of inclusivity and sustainability under the meeting’s theme “History at a turning point: Government policies and business strategies”.

Cultural leaders will include former Crystal Award recipients world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and musician will.i.am; portrait and documentary photographer Platon; Verbier Festival and Academy founder and director Martin Engström; Grammy-winning classical pianist Emanuel Ax; singer/songwriter, actress and activist Inna Modja; and new media artist and director Harry Yeff.

“Never has there been a time more important, more pressing, then the present for arts and culture to unite us,” said Joseph Fowler, Head of Arts and Culture at the World Economic Forum. “When you experience culture, there is a sense of expansion when you cease to think about yourself and you feel part of something larger. The creative sectors are some of the most important when it comes to social impact and human connection and when they are coupled with the power of new technologies, arts and culture have an immense potential to nurture a culture of peace.”

Arts and culture will be integrated across throughout the Annual Meeting 2022:

Thepower and potential of the human voice is the focus of Voice Gems – Messages of Hope. Created by Harry Yeff and Trung Bao, the Voice Gems system sculpts over 200,000 particles with fingerprint-like voice data to create the colours and form of the each unique gem stone. The exhibition will feature a total of 17 messages of hope that have been recorded by a diverse selection of people including primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall; creative innovator, entertainer and tech investor will.i.am; poet and author Rupi Kaur; author and disability advocate Sinead Burke; and spiritual leader Sadhguru.

The Annual Meeting concert entitled “Our Shared Humanity” – to be performed byYo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax – is a celebration of humanity and shared hopes for a united and prosperous future. The accompanying immersive backdrop includes images provided by Atlas of Humanity as well as an exclusive filmed performance by dancer and choreographer Ahmad Joudeh. It is also a musical statement of support and solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

In collaboration with the Natural History Museum – London, a selection of photographs from the 2021 edition of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will be showcased, inviting viewers to gaze through the lens of some of the world’s best wildlife photographers and explore the natural world in all its fragility, diversity and wonder.

Exploring the endless scope of opportunity the Metaversepresents, the Forum has partnered with Microsoft and Accenture to create the Global Collaboration Village. This will be anopen, collaborative platformbuilt together with international organizations, governments, civil society organizations and arts organizations. The overall concept and architecture will be showcased at Davos as well as a prototype of the experience and its functionality. An immersive experience will tell the story of the Sahel and Africa’s Great Green Wall Initiative supported by 1T.org.

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