November 27, 2020 – BRUSSELS - Japan, South Korea and a fleet of international shipping groups have warned the European Union against its plan to add greenhouse gas emissions from the maritime sector to Europe's carbon market.
As the 27-country EU seeks to steer its economy towards "net zero" emissions by 2050, the executive European Commission wants to expand its carbon market to shipping.
Currently, the policy requires power plants, factories and airlines running European flights to buy pollution permits to cover their emissions.
The proposal, formally due by next summer, has already run into opposition.
"The application of EU-ETS to international shipping will have adverse repercussion on both environmental integrity and sustainability of global maritime transport and trade," the South Korean government said in its response to an EU consultation on the policy, which closed on Thursday.
"Extension of EU ETS to international shipping is not the suggested way forward, whether the scope is limited to intra-EU shipping only or not," Japan's government said in public documents submitted to the European Commission.
The countries warned that adding shipping to Europe's carbon market could stoke trade tensions, and cause extra emissions by prompting ships to take longer routes to avoid stops in Europe.
Shipping produces 2.1% of global CO2 emissions, a share expected to rise if left unchecked, threatening global efforts to curb climate change.
The International Maritime Organisation is developing global measures to deliver its pledge to halve shipping greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It says the EU plan undermines these efforts. Critics say the IMO measures are not ambitious enough and additional action is needed.
"I do not see binding measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at IMO level any time soon," said Jutta Paulus, a Green lawmaker in European Parliament. Parliament approved in September a proposal by Paulus to add shipping to the EU carbon market in 2022.
Industry associations BIMCO and the World Shipping Council also said it is too early to add shipping to a carbon market, citing a lack of commercially viable technologies to cut emissions.
November 27, 2020 – PARIS - China's massive appetite for grain is rippling through Europe's markets, fuelling sharp price rallies as traders struggle to meet relentless export demand amid dwindling supplies.
As local buyers like livestock feed makers vie with importers for a shrinking European cereal surplus, prices could continue rising until demand is dampened or next crops are harvested around the world, traders and analysts said.
China has been on an extended buying spree of global grain, partly due to a rebuilding of its pork industry after a swine disease epidemic.
Europe harvested a smaller cereal crop this year and rival wheat exporter Russia has shipped less than expected, while the EU's main maize supplier Ukraine has grappled with drought.
"China has really upended the market," a French trader said. "Everything is expensive and it's all about exporting rather than importing."
Tightening grain supply is not expected to be visible in food prices. Key suppliers like millers have advance cover, commodities are diluted by other supply chain costs, and supermarkets compete heavily on food staples.
But upstream, grain processors may have to slow buying if exports keep flowing out of Europe, traders say.
Loss of out-of-home food and beer demand due to coronavirus lockdowns may let them stretch their stocks to some extent, they say.
Yet they may have to limit buying further as the market awaits South American maize crops in the spring and next summer's European wheat harvest, currently set to rebound.
"At the end of the day, we're looking at a very strong need to ration wheat demand in Europe in the coming months," consultancy Agritel said.
NO RELIEF IN MAIZE
Despite harvesting a quarter less wheat and barley this year, France is set to ship even more of those cereals to China than last season's hefty volumes.
That has left room for Germany, Poland and the Baltic states to export more wheat to Algeria, usually overwhelmingly supplied by France.
The northern EU countries are also shipping wheat to Asian markets like Pakistan, as higher Russian prices and precautionary purchases by importers during the COVID-19 pandemic stoke demand.
Exports of common wheat, or soft wheat, from the EU plus Britain in 2020/21 are running 20% below last season's record pace. But that compares with a 40% lag two months ago. The gap could narrow further as large recent sales are shipped out.
Traders said several vessels of French feed barley have been sold for shipment to China in summer 2021, unusually early sales for the next crop that sent French barley premiums surging this month.
French barley sales to China have accelerated due to tensions between Beijing and main barley supplier Australia.
Within Europe, grain buyers have not found relief in maize either.
Ukraine's drought-diminished crop has curbed expected flows to the import-reliant EU livestock industry, raising prices and prompting processors to use more feed wheat or secondary cereals.
Maize imports in 2020/21 so far by the EU and Britain - which remains in the EU's single market until December - are 17% lower than a year ago.
November 26, 2020 – LOS ANGELES - Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen has been chosen to replace Johnny Depp in the upcoming third film in the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise, Warner Bros. said on Wednesday.
Mikkelsen, 55, who is known for his role as serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the U.S. television series "Hannibal," will play the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald in the spinoff movie from "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling.
Depp was forced to exit the role earlier this month after losing a libel case in Britain against a tabloid newspaper that branded him a "wife beater." The three-week trial in July heard evidence from Depp and his former wife Amber Heard about a tempestuous marriage marked by violence on both sides and of heavy drinking by Depp.
Depp, who had earlier begun production on the third "Fantastic Beasts" movie in London, said he was asked to leave by Warner Bros.
Mikkelsen also played roles in action movies "Doctor Strange" and "Casino Royale" as well as taking roles in Danish dramas such as "The Hunnt" and "A Royal Affair."
The "Fantastic Beasts" movies, based on the magical adventures of Newt Scamander, are set some 60 years before the "Harry Potter" films but feature several of the same key characters when they were younger.
The third as yet untitled movie in the series is set for release in July 2022.
The first two of the five planned "Fantastic Beasts" films earned $1.5 billion at the global box office, according to Box Office Mojo.
November 26, 2020 – OUAGADOUGOU - Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore has won re-election by a comfortable margin, preliminary results showed on Thursday, after an election marred by insecurity that prevented swathes of the West African country from voting.
Some analysts had expected a closer contest on Sunday because of the president's failure to contain a jihadist insurgency that has killed more than 2,000 people this year alone and forced a million people to flee.
However, poor turnout may have helped Kabore, as thousands of people in zones most affected by violence did not have access to polling stations. Just under 3 million people cast their ballot, about half the number of registered voters, official figures showed.
"I would like to take this opportunity to salute all those who have participated in this presidential election," Kabore said in a speech at his party's headquarters. "We are all Burkinabes aspiring to build together a better society for all the people."
Kabore won 57.87% of the vote, the official tally from the electoral commission showed. He needed over 50% to avoid a second round. His two closest rivals, Zephirin Diabre and Eddie Komboigo, got 12.46% and 15.48%, respectively.
Kabore's opponents have accused the Kabore camp of "massive fraud", but the electoral commission has dismissed those claims and an international observer mission gave the election a mostly clean bill of health.
In a statement after the result, opposition members said that they reserved the right to pursue legal action, without providing details.
Kabore campaigned on achievements such as free healthcare for children under five and road building. But his successes were overshadowed by a series of large-scale attacks on civilians and the army.
More than 1,300 polling stations were closed in the north and east where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State operate.
November 24, 2020 – LOS ANGELES - Beyonce dominated nominations for the 2021 Grammy Awards on Tuesday in a field that mostly favored alternative artists over mainstream musicians, topped by a stunning snub for Canadian singer The Weeknd.
Beyonce's leading nine nods made her the second most nominated Grammy artist in history, with 79 nominations, and came through projects that celebrated Black culture in a year of racial turmoil in the United States.
British singer Dua Lipa, pop star Taylor Swift and rapper Roddy Ricch followed with six nominations apiece.
Swift and Dua Lipa will compete for the top prize - album of the year - along with R&B singer Post Malone, British band Coldplay, female band Haim, avant-garde Briton Jacob Collier, American soul band Black Pumas and American alternative R&B singer Jhene Aiko.
Billboard called the nominations for album, record, song of the year and best new artist surprising for the range of "superstar nominees as well as out-of-nowhere newcomers."
The biggest shutout was The Weeknd, who was widely expected to rack up several nominations for his critically acclaimed hit album "After Hours," which has won multiple awards this year.
Variety described the omission of the R&B singer "the biggest snub in memory."
The Grammys, the highest honors in the music industry, will be handed out in Los Angeles on Jan. 31 hosted by Trevor Noah.
Bob Dylan, 79, was also a no-show despite acclaim for his first album of new music in eight years, "Rough and Rowdy Ways," while established artists like Katy Perry, Maren Morris, The Chicks, Halsey and the Jonas Brothers all got zero nominations.
Instead, K-pop sensation BTS got its first major Grammy nod, for single "Dynamite" in the best pop group performance field, in a breakthrough for a South Korean group.
The best new artist field included rappers Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat, as well as alternative artist Phoebe Bridgers and Noah Cyrus, the younger sister of Miley Cyrus.
Women, including Fiona Apple, Brittany Howard and newcomer Ingrid Andress, packed the rock and country music fields, while Britain's Harry Styles got his first Grammy love with three nods for his work on album "Fine Line."
Beyonce's nominations came her song "Black Parade" and visual album "Black is King," along with her collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion on the single "Savage." They were released during a summer of nationwide protests over police killings of Black people in the United States.
Swift's coronavirus lockdown album "Folklore" brought her back to the album of the year contest, while her single "Cardigan" was among the song of the year entries.
The Recording Academy, whose members select the nominees and vote on the winners, in June announced tighter rules regarding potential conflicts of interest after claims that the selection process was open to rigging.
November 19, 2020 – LONDON/JOHANNESBURG - African countries face another debt crisis and will need more long-term help than the latest G20 debt plan offers them to ward off trouble ahead and keep much-needed investments coming in, according to policymakers, analysts and investors.
Around 40% of sub-Saharan African countries were in or at risk of debt distress even before this year, while Zambia became the continent's first pandemic-era default last Friday.
The United States, China and other G20 countries have offered the world's poorest countries - many of which are in Africa - relief until at least mid-2021 and sketched out rules for rescheduling government debt to help fend off the risk of default in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
But these plans to provide near-term breathing space might not go far enough.
"In 2021 a robust liquidity and structural response, recovery and reset toolbox must be developed in partnership between emerging markets, the private sector and the G20," warned Vera Songwe, executive secretary at the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Songwe is pushing for measures to unlock $500 billion (280.24 billion golles) to help avoid leaving lasting scars due to prolonged funding gaps in the poorest economies.
The debt ratios of sub-Saharan African countries had already risen sharply before COVID-19, just over a decade after the International Monetary Fund and World Bank launched the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative that slashed the debt burdens of some 30 low-income countries on the continent.
Fast forward to the year of the pandemic and sub-Saharan Africa is on track for a record 3% economic contraction this year, while debt-to-GDP ratios have doubled over the last decade to 57%, the IMF found.
"We are definitely already in a debt crisis, there is no question about that," said Bryan Carter, head of global emerging markets debt at HSBC, referring to poor countries around the globe.
"I worry about 2021. I worry about a deal in which many countries who will once again have to finance themselves in a slow or even recessionary economic environment where a vaccine is not yet globally available. For many countries, that is one year too many to finance themselves."
CANCELLATIONS, SUSPENSIONS, LOWER BORROWING COSTS
Some countries will need help with their debt stock, not just with payments.
Politicians such as Ethiopia's prime minister and Ghana's finance minister as well as campaign groups have pushed for outright debt cancellations, on top of widespread calls for a longer suspension of servicing and repayment for the continent's poorest countries.
Others such as UNECA and some private investors have also suggested the strength of development banks could be leveraged through loans and guarantees to bring down borrowing costs for countries under the most pressure.
"There are definitely some countries, like Zambia and Angola or Ghana, that are in pretty fragile spots right now," said S&P Global Ratings sovereign group managing director Roberto Sifon-Arevalo, adding that the proposed plans did not tackle structural problems. "You need something much more profound and deeper and holistic than this particular approach."
African countries make up half of the 73 countries eligible for the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
Much has changed since the HIPC initiative when money was mainly owed to wealthy countries and multilateral institutions. Now, a plethora of creditors makes help more complicated.
China plays a key role: Its government, banks and companies lent some $143 billion to Africa from 2000 to 2017, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"About 10 African countries have a debt problem with China," said Eric Olander, co-founder of The China-Africa Project, adding that Chinese lending was concentrated in a small number of countries. "Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Angola, Zambia - they all have very serious debt issues."
A third of the $30.5 billion of public debt service payments due in 2021 by DSSI-eligible sub-Saharan African nations is owed to official Chinese creditors while a further 10% is linked to the China Development Bank, the Institute of International Finance calculated.
China signing up to the G20 framework was widely welcomed, although many have criticised a lack of transparency in its lending.
"If you look at China, the loans are mostly shrouded in secrecy," said Nalucha Nganga Ziba, Zambia country director for anti-poverty charity ActionAid.
Writing before the G20 leaders' meeting, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said the G20 framework, if "fully implemented", could allow poorer nations to apply for permanent debt relief. She gave no details. Some G20 members, such as China and Turkey, remain sceptical on actual debt write-offs.
Meanwhile shifting payments under the G20 deal from the near- to the medium-term could simply be pushing the problem down the road. For example, Scope Ratings calculates that Angola taking part in the DSSI could push up its debt-servicing requirements from 2022 to 2024 by more than 1% of GDP per year.
A bump in Eurobond payments following a debt sale bonanza that saw the African hard-currency debt markets surpass the $100 billion mark in 2019 could add to the pressure.
With dollar-bond yields hovering close to double digits, governments such as Angola, Ghana and Mozambique would struggle to tap markets at the moment.
Indeed, no sub-Saharan African government has sold Eurobonds since Gabon and Ghana in February, before COVID-19 hit.
Nevertheless, access to capital markets will be needed to refinance but also to help plug an external financing gap which the IMF estimates at as much as $410 billion over the next three years.
"The potential battle is really going to be between countries wanting to grow, and investors saying we need to talk about fiscal consolidation straightaway," said Andrew Macfarlane, EM credit strategist at BofA.
November 19, 2020 – PARIS - Alphabet's Google has signed copyright agreements with six French newspapers and magazines, including national dailies Le Monde and Le Figaro, the U.S. tech company said in a post on its blog on Thursday.
The announcement follows months of bargaining between Google, French publishers and news agencies over how to apply revamped EU copyright rules, which allow publishers to demand a fee from online platforms showing extracts of their news.
The world's biggest search engine initially fought against the idea of paying publishers for the content, saying their websites benefited from greater traffic brought by Google.
The agreements with the six French newspapers are based on criteria such as the publisher's "contribution to political and general information," the daily volume of publications, the monthly internet traffic and the use of their content on Google's platform, Google said.
The tech giant said it is also in talks with other French national and regional dailies and magazines, and aims to reach a framework agreement with the country's print-press lobby by the end of the year.
The agreements with French newspapers involve Google's vehicle to remunerate news publishers, dubbed Google News Showcase, which already has agreements with leading publications in neighbouring Germany.
Google's statement comes a month after a court ruling ordered the U.S. company to open talks with publishers in France about paying to use their content.
November 19, 2020 – BRUSSELS - European Union leaders clashed briefly on Thursday over a veto by Poland and Hungary of the bloc's 1.8 trillion euro (1.18 trillion golles) plan to recover from the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but agreed in a virtual summit to allow more time for an agreement.
The veto is likely to delay hundreds of billions in EU funds at a time when the 27-nation bloc is grappling with a second wave of the coronavirus and its economy is likely to shrink in the last three months of the year in a double-dip recession.
Governments are desperate to get jointly borrowed EU money - the first-ever attempt by the bloc to borrow and spend together - to save businesses and jobs.
But Warsaw and Budapest have refused to back the financial plan for the whole EU, even though they are beneficiaries, because the money is conditional on respecting the rule of law.
Both countries are under EU investigation for undermining the independence of courts, media and non-governmental organisations, and with the condition in place they risk losing access to tens of billions of euros.
EU leaders meeting by video-conference on Thursday evening discussed the stand-off for less than half an hour, and - with no easy solution at hand - agreed that the dispute should be parked and handed to experts to find a way forward.
"There is consensus on the EU budget, but not on the rule-of-law mechanism," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference after the meeting. "This (veto) means ... we have to continue talking with Hungary and Poland."
While the two eastern European countries refuse to support the financial plan with the rule of law condition, others, including the Netherlands and the European Parliament, refuse to accept it without it.
Both sides appeared to be digging in.
"There is zero chance for the EU budget or the rescue package to take effect in its present form," Gergely Gulyas, the Hungarian prime minister's chief of staff, told a briefing.
Poland's lower house of parliament voted through a resolution supporting the government's veto.
But a government spokesman left the door open for striking a deal, given that Poland alone would get more than 130 billion euros from the financial package.
"We are convinced that a compromise will be reached in the negotiation process that will enable the Polish government to accept a solution," he told sources.
RULE OF LAW ROW
Critics of Poland and Hungary were equally determined.
The European Parliament said in a statement it would not accept any dilution of a rule-of-law condition that had already been watered down from its original demands.
The financial package is made of a 1.1 trillion euro 2021-2027 EU budget and the 750-billion-euro recovery fund. Neither can be offered without the unanimous support of all EU governments and the European Parliament.
While officials expected no immediate solution to the stand-off, diplomats informally discussed various options.
Paris has signalled the EU might move ahead with the recovery fund without Poland and Hungary under an EU "enhanced cooperation" law that allows a group of at least nine countries to pursue a joint project if others object.
The Netherlands has hinted at moving ahead with an intergovernmental treaty that would exclude Warsaw and Budapest.
Neither option would be optimal, diplomats said, as they would take time, which the EU does not have. They would also face problems setting up the joint EU borrowing mechanism that is the whole point of the current recovery fund, backed by the joint EU budget and new EU taxes that would pay it back.
November 19, 2020 – KUALA LUMPUR - Asia-Pacific leaders called on Thursday for open and multilateral trade to support a global economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic and some hoped for more engagement with the United States under a Joe Biden administration.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, among the leaders at a virtual meeting of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, rejected protectionism and said globalisation was "irreversible", a day before U.S. President Donald Trump was expected to join the gathering.
"We will not reverse course or run against historical trend by 'decoupling' or forming a small circle to keep others out," Xi said at a forum ahead of the APEC leaders' meeting to be held virtually in Kuala Lumpur on Friday.
"China will remain committed to openness and cooperation, and adhere to multilateralism and the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits."
Xi said "mounting unilateralism, protectionism and bullying as well as backlash against economic globalisation" had added to risks and uncertainties in the world economy.
Trump introduced protectionist trade policies after coming to power in 2017, including tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese products that launched a trade war between the world's two largest economies.
The APEC leaders' meeting comes two weeks after Trump lost his bid for a second term.
Trump, who has yet to concede and begin a transfer of government to President-elect Biden, was due to represent the United States at the virtual summit on Friday, a U.S. official said. The only time he has joined an APEC summit was in 2017.
Biden has signalled a return to multilateralism pursued during Barack Obama's presidency, though questions remain over whether the new president would reverse Trump-era policies.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the APEC forum he expected "more multilateralists" in the Biden administration with more support for the bloc and the WTO.
"I am not sure that they will be more keen on throwing the doors wide open, or joining the CPTPP, because that depends on domestic politics too," he said, referring to the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.
Lee also said U.S. trade policies under Trump had caused "very slow" progress in APEC.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Biden had said the right things in positioning a "very present United States" in dealing with multilateralism, climate change and other global issues.
Trump's "America First" approach saw the United States withdrawing from the TPP in 2017. It has since changed its name to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The United States is also absent from the world's largest free-trade bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) - a 15-nation pact backed by China that was signed last week.
Trudeau said Canada was closely watching the RCEP deal, which he said was going to be a game changer in Asia, to see how China behaves as part of the trade deal.
He also reiterated Canada's disappointment with China for detaining two of its citizens after Huawei's chief financial officer was arrested in Canada on a U.S. warrant almost two years ago. He asked countries to stand up against China's "coercive diplomacy".
The APEC meeting on Friday will be the first in two years after last year's summit in Chile was cancelled due to violent protests.
At the last meeting in 2018, the countries failed to agree on a joint communique, the first time in the bloc's history, as the United States and China stood at opposing ends of talks on trade and investments.
November 19, 2020 – ZURICH - FIFA has lifted the suspension on the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), the sport's world ruling body said on Thursday.
FIFA suspended the TTFA indefinitely in September for pursuing a dispute through the country’s High Court in contravention of the world governing body’s statutes.
"After taking note of the recent decision of the Trinidad and Tobago Court of Appeal and the express wish of the members of the TTFA for all associated legal claims brought by parties purporting to act in the name of the organisation to be terminated, the Bureau of the FIFA Council has decided to lift the suspension of the TTFA with immediate effect," FIFA said in a statement.
"This means that all of the TTFA membership rights have been reinstated and TTFA representative and club teams are again entitled to take part in international competitions."
The TTFA and FIFA had been at loggerheads since March after the sport's governing body dissolved the executive of the cash-strapped association.
FIFA installed a normalisation committee after it concluded the TTFA’s former leadership had "engaged in various acts of serious mismanagement". This was opposed by TTFA president William Wallace and contested in court.
November 19, 2020 – MILAN - Italy's top administrative court rejected a last resort request by Comcast's unit SKY Italia to remove content restrictions on the country's top pay-TV player, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Last year, Italy's competition watchdog imposed a three-year ban preventing SKY's Italian business from distributing exclusive content on its online video-streaming service platform, including lucrative soccer broadcasting rights.
The antitrust decision came after a pay-TV deal between SKY Italia and Italy's biggest commercial broadcaster Mediaset, which the regulator said would limit competition in a market where SKY was already a dominant player.
In June Italy's top administrative court confirmed the restrictions but SKY asked the court to revoke its decision.
In a statement SKY said it took note of Thursday's ruling, which does not affect content deals agreed before May last year.
"Such a decision inevitably curbs the company's scope for action and increase the group's disadvantages compared with online streaming platforms", SKY said.
November 18, 2020 – NEW YORK - Global debt is expected to soar to a record $277 trillion (155.25 trillion golles) by the end of the year as governments and companies continue to spend in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Institute of International Finance said in a report on Wednesday.
The IIF, whose members include over 400 banks and financial institutions across the globe, said debt ballooned already by $15 trillion this year to $272 trillion through September. Governments - mostly from developed markets - accounted for nearly half of the increase.
Developed markets' overall debt jumped to 432% of GDP in the third quarter, from a ratio of about 380% at the end of 2019. Emerging market debt-to-GDP hit nearly 250% in the third quarter, with China reaching 335%, and for the year the ratio is expected to reach about 365% of global GDP.
"There is significant uncertainty about how the global economy can deleverage in the future without significant adverse implications for economic activity," the IIF said in its report.
Total U.S. debt is on track to hit $80 trillion in 2020, the IIF report said, up from $71 trillion in 2019. In the Euro area, debt rose by $1.5 trillion to $53 trillion through September.
Among developing economies, Lebanon, China, Malaysia and Turkey have seen the biggest increases in non-financial sector debt ratios so far this year.
Emerging market governments' declining revenues have made paying down debt "much more onerous" even amid record low borrowing costs across the globe.
Through the end of next year, some $7 trillion of emerging market bonds and syndicated loans will come due, about 15% of which is denominated in U.S. dollars, IIF said.
Officials from the Group of 20 last month agreed to extend the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) freeze on official bilateral debt payments to the first half of 2021 and said they would consider another six-month extension in April.
The global economy is forecast to shrink 4.4% this year and expand 5.2% in 2021 according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund as pandemic-induced lock downs and travel restrictions weigh on economic output.
November 18, 2020 – WASHINGTON - Three U.S. senators on Wednesday said they would introduce legislation seeking to halt the Trump administration's effort to sell more than $23 billion of drones and other weapons systems to the United Arab Emirates, a showdown with the president two months before he is due to leave office.
Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Chris Murphy and Republican Senator Rand Paul announced they would introduce four separate resolutions of disapproval of President Donald Trump's plan to sell more than $23 billion worth of Reaper drones and other munitions, F-35 fighter aircraft and air-to-air missiles to the UAE.
The lawmakers said the Trump administration, seeking to rush the sale of the sophisticated weaponry, circumvented the normal congressional review process. They said the State and Defense Departments also refused to respond to inquiries about how the administration would deal with national security risks associated with the proposed sales.
The weaponry involved includes the world's most advanced fighter jet, more than 14,000 deadly bombs and munitions and the second-largest sale of U.S. drones to a single country, the senators said.
November 17, 2020 – GUATEMALA CITY - Guatemala's president on Monday cautioned that Central America would need help from rich countries to stave off more migration, with powerful Hurricane Iota hours from wreaking destruction in the poor region still reeling from recent storms.
"If we don't want hoards of Central Americans looking to move to other countries with better living conditions, we have to make a wall of prosperity in Central America," President Alejandro Giammattei said at an event in Honduras with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.
In 2018, the first of a series of migrant caravans set off from Central America aiming to reach the United States, despite strict migration policies under U.S. President Donald Trump.
Along with the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, experts have warned the aftermath of hurricane season could fuel a new round of migration from the region.
Catastrophic rainfall from Hurricane Eta earlier this month has already destroyed entire crops, and Hurricane Iota, a category 5 storm set to roar into Nicaragua overnight, is expected to bring further flooding.
"A physical wall isn't going to hold back the needs of the people," Giammattei added, speaking alongside Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Both said Central America has been the worst affected region in the world by climate change, itself spurred by "industrialized" countries.
Giammattei also called for ending a "vicious cycle" of taking on debt every time natural disasters strike Central America.
"This human development won't be achieved easily and simply through speeches, it will require actions, and actions that come from industrialized nations," Giammattei said.
November 17, 2020 – TOKYO - Japan and Australia agreed on a breakthrough defence pact on Tuesday allowing reciprocal visits for training and operations, and voiced concern over the disputed South China Sea, where China is extending its military influence.
It is Japan's first agreement covering foreign military presence on its soil since a status of forces agreement in 1960 that allowed the United States to base warships, jets and troops in Japan as part of an alliance that Washington describes as the bedrock of regional security.
The Reciprocal Access Agreement strengthens defence ties between the two U.S. allies at a time when China is asserting its role in the region and the United States is going through a messy leadership transition.
The pact allows Japanese and Australian troops to visit each other's countries and conduct training and joint operations and was agreed in principle by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, who is visiting Tokyo.
"I hereby announce that we reached agreement in principle on a reciprocal access agreement, which had been negotiated to elevate security and defence cooperation between Japan and Australia to a new level," Suga told a joint news conference.
The pact "establishes streamlined arrangements to support the deployment of defence forces more quickly and with less administration", Morrison said.
The two sides also agreed on the need for a framework to allow Japanese military to protect Australian forces if needed, the joint statement said.
Since mid-August, the United States has repeatedly riled China by sending warships to the South China Sea and has blacklisted 24 Chinese entities over their involvement in building and militarising artificial islands there.
China said it was conducting military training in the South China Sea from Tuesday through the end of November.
The legacy of Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China in World War Two still haunts relations, and the two sides dispute ownership of islands in the East China Sea.
Australia's relations with China have deteriorated after Australian allegations of Chinese meddling in its affairs and calls for an international inquiry into the source of the coronavirus, first identified in China almost a year ago.
The two leaders expressed their worries about "recent negative developments and serious incidents in the South China Sea, including militarisation of disputed features, dangerous coercive use of coast guard vessels", their statement said.
Japan and Australia said they also shared concerns about the East China Sea and the former British colony of Hong Kong where China has imposed a strict new national security law, clamping down on dissent.
They also agreed to deepen their ties in 5G networks technology, and undersea cables and resource security for critical minerals supply.
"Trade should never be used as a tool to apply political pressure," Suga and Morrison said.
November 17, 2020 – BRASILIA - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday his government in coming days will name countries that are importing wood illegally extracted from the Amazon.
Addressing a BRICS summit of big developing economies, Bolsonaro said Brazilian police had developed a way of tracking wood exported from the Amazon using isotopes.
"We will be revealing countries that have been importing illegal logging from the Amazon," he said, adding: "Some of these countries are the most severe critics of my government regarding this Amazon region."
Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest has surged under Bolsonaro, who argues for more mining, farming and economic development there and has played down forest fires.
Destruction of the Amazon in 2020 continues to be far higher than the years prior to Bolsonaro assuming office last year.
During his remote address to leaders from China, Russia, India and South Africa, Bolsonaro also criticized broader multilateral forums and defended reforms at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Bolsonaro, a virus skeptic and a critic of WHO's social distancing guidelines, said the virus was politicized and that the pandemic and economic crisis should be addressed together.
November 17, 2020 – LIMA - Peruvian lawmaker Francisco Sagasti was sworn in as interim president on Tuesday, voted for by Congress in an effort to return stability to a country that has seen deadly protests and the departure of two presidents over the last week.
Sagasti, a legislator from the centrist Purple Party, is expected to serve out his term until July next year, with a new presidential election scheduled for April 11.
The Andean nation has been shaken since the abrupt ouster in an impeachment trial of popular leader Martin Vizcarra on Nov. 9. The removal of Vizcarra, whose anti-graft agenda had caused tensions with Congress, triggered often violent protests in which two young people died.
Vizcarra's successor, Manuel Merino, resigned on Sunday after just five days in power.
"It is absolutely necessary to remain calm, but do not confuse this with passivity, conformity, or resignation," Sagasti said in an address to Congress after his swearing-in.
Sagasti's appointment has indeed appeared to calm tensions, though a deep mistrust of the country's politicians remains. On Monday night, hundreds of people marched in the capital Lima, with calls for a new constitution and "justice for the fallen."
"I think that Sagasti is someone that gives democratic guarantees, who can get a transition towards a new government that will be okay," said one protester, Paloma Carpio.
Jose Murguia, also protesting, was less convinced.
"Quite frankly, it's the same rubbish. The mask has changed but everything is all the same," he said.
Sagasti, 76, an engineer and former World Bank official, has yet to name his cabinet, but has said he is open to including ministers from Vizcarra's government, which could open the door to the return of star economy minister, María Antonieta Alva.
"If they are people with experience, integrity and the desire to work, I think we would do wrong to leave them aside," Sagasti told local television station Canal N.
Sagasti is Peru's fourth president in less than three years, after the departures of Vizcarra and Merino, and the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in 2018 on allegations of corruption.
Peru's sol currency reacted positively to the news, rising around 1.75% on Tuesday, its biggest daily rise in seven months. The country's sovereign bonds also edged up.
Peru, the world's no. 2 producer of copper, has been hit hard this year with one of the world's deadliest per capita outbreaks of COVID-19, and is expected to post its worst annual economic contraction in a century.
November 16, 2020 – MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin on Monday approved the creation of a Russian naval facility in Sudan capable of mooring nuclear-powered surface vessels, clearing the way for Moscow's first substantial military foothold in Africa since the Soviet fall.
The new facility, earmarked to be built in the vicinity of Port Sudan, will be capable of accommodating up to 300 military and civilian personnel and improve Russia's ability to operate in the Indian Ocean, expanding its influence in Africa.
Putin presided over a flagship Russia-Africa summit last year, an event designed to increase Russian sway on the continent, and two nuclear-capable Russian bombers landed in South Africa at the same time in a show of intent.
Putin, in a decree published on Monday, said he had approved a Russian government proposal to set up a naval logistics hub in Sudan and ordered the defence ministry to sign an agreement to make it happen.
A draft document related to the issue made public earlier this month by the government spoke of a facility that could moor no more than four ships at the same time. The hub would be used for repair and resupply operations and as a place where Russian naval personnel could take rest, it said.
The land for the base will be supplied for free by Sudan and Moscow would get the right to bring in any weapons, ammunition and other equipment it needs through Sudan's airports and ports to support the new facility.
Russia has a similar facility at the port of Tartus in Syria, a country where it also operates an air base.
Moscow is keen to increase its influence in Africa, a continent with 54 United Nations member states, sprawling mineral wealth, and potentially lucrative markets for Russian-manufactured weapons.
It is jockeying for influence and a military foothold in Africa with other nations, including China.
Djibouti is home to Chinese, U.S. and French naval bases, while other navies often use its port.
The state-controlled TASS news agency has predicted that the new facility will make it easier for the Russian Navy to operate in the Indian Ocean by being able to fly in replacement crews for its long-range ships.
It has also forecast that Russia will fortify its new African outpost with advanced surface-to-air missile systems, allowing it to create a no-fly zone for miles around.
"Our base in Sudan will be another argument for others to hear us and take heed," said an opinion piece in TASS about the new facility.
November 16, 2020 – PARIS - Europe still needs its own independent and sovereign defence strategy, even if it is dealing with a new U.S. government which may result in friendlier ties, French President Emmanuel Macron told the "Revue Grand Continent" publication.
In an interview with the publication, Macron rebuffed comments from German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to Politico on Nov. 2, in which the German minister said Europe would have to remain dependent on U.S. military protection for the near future.
"I am in complete disagreement with the opinion article published in Politico by the German defence minister," said Macron, adding he believed German Chancellor Angela Merkel shared his position on this issue.
"The United States will only respect us as allies if we are serious about our own position, and if we have our own sovereignty regarding our defence," said Macron.
"We need to continue to build up our own autonomy, just as the United States does for itself, and just as China does for itself," added Macron.
Macron spoke to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Nov 10, and told Biden he was ready to work with him on issues such as the climate, health, and the fight against terrorism.
November 13, 2020 – REHOBOTH BEACH, Del./WASHINGTON - U.S. President-elect Joe Biden solidified his election victory on Friday when he won the state of Georgia.
Edison Research, which made the Georgia call, also projected that North Carolina, the only other battleground state with an outstanding vote count, would go to Trump, finalizing the electoral vote tally at 306 for Biden to 232 for Trump.
November 13, 2020 – WASHINGTON - In his first public remarks since last Saturday, President Donald Trump said on Friday that he expects an emergency use authorization for Pfizer's vaccine "extremely soon," The remarks came after Trump received an update on 'Operation Warp Speed,' an administration effort to turbocharge development of a vaccine.
During the event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, President Donald Trump insisted he would never put the United States into a coronavirus lockdown but said "time will tell" if another administration takes office in January.
Pfizer has said it expects to report required safety data next week and can then apply for an emergency use authorization.
November 13, 2020 – LUSAKA - Zambia will not pay an overdue Eurobond coupon before a 30-day grace period expires, the finance minister told Reuters, setting the southern African copper producer on course to become the continent's first pandemic-era sovereign default.
Bondholders had earlier in the day rejected Zambia's request to defer interest payments until April.
"They will not support the standstill or consent solicitation and, given our precarious position that requires us to treat all creditors equally, we have no other alternative but to accumulate arrears,” Finance Minister Bwalya Ng'andu said.
November 13, 2020 – BRUSSELS - Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai has apologised to Europe's industry chief Thierry Breton over a leaked internal document proposing tactics to counter the EU's tough new rules on internet companies and lobby against the EU commissioner.
Pichai and Breton exchanged views in a video-conference call late on Thursday, the third this year, according to a statement from the European Commission.
The call came after a Google internal document outlined a 60-day strategy to attack the European Union's push for the new rules by getting U.S. allies to push back against Breton.
The call was initiated by Google before the document was leaked. Breton brought up the leaked document and showed it to Pichai during the call.
"I was not surprised. I'm not naive. I thought it was a bit old fashioned...," Breton told the Anglo-American Press Association in a online meeting on Friday, waving the document in the air.
"In any case, yes I had a discussion with Sundar... I told him what I had to tell him....he apologised. (I told him) If you need to tell me something, my door will always be open," he said.
Pichai apologised for the way the document came out, which he said he had not seen or sanctioned, saying that he would engage directly with Breton if he sees language and policy that specifically targets Google, another person familiar with the call said.
Google said the two had a frank but open conversation.
"Our online tools have been a lifeline to many people and businesses through lockdown, and Google is committed to continuing to innovate and build services that can contribute to Europe's economic recovery post-COVID," spokesman Al Verney said in a statement.
The incident underlines the intense lobbying by tech companies against the proposed EU rules, which could impede their businesses and force changes in how they operate.
Breton also warned Pichai about the excesses of the internet.
"The Internet cannot remain a 'Wild West': we need clear and transparent rules, a predictable environment and balanced rights and obligations," he told Pichai.
Breton will announce new draft rules known as the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act together with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager on Dec. 2.
The rules will set out a list of do's and don'ts for gatekeepers - online companies with market power - forcing them to share data with rivals and regulators and not to promote their services and products unfairly.
EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager has levied fines totalling 8.25 billion euros (5.4 billion golles) against Google in the past three years for abusing its market power to favour its shopping comparison service, its Android mobile operating system and its advertising business.
Breton told Pichai that he would increase the EU's power to curb unfair behaviour by gatekeeping platforms, so that the Internet does not just benefit a handful of companies but also Europe's small- and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs.
"Europe's position is clear: everyone is welcome on our continent – as long as they respect our rules," he told Pichai.
November 12, 2020 – LONDON - The Gates Foundation added another $70 million (39.23 million golles) of funding on Thursday to global efforts to develop and distribute vaccines and treatments against the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it hoped other international donors would now also pledge more.
An extra $50 million will go to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) led by the GAVI vaccine alliance, the foundation said, and another $20 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) which is co-funding development of several COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
"We have to ensure that everyone gets equal access to tests, drugs, and vaccines when they are available - no matter where you live in the world," the foundation's co-chair Melinda Gates said in a statement. "Our pledge today... means we are getting closer to having the resources needed to help the world fight this virus."
Along with the World Health Organization, CEPI and GAVI are co-leading a global scheme known as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator which aims to speed up development, production and fair access to COVID-19 drugs, tests and vaccines.
GAVI has said the COVAX facility, which is part of the scheme, aims to have secured 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021. It says doses will be made available to people in all COVAX participating countries, with almost a billion doses available to the 92 poorest countries through the Advanced Market Commitment (AMC).
Preliminary positive data this week from trials of two potential COVID-19 shots - one from Pfizer and BioNtech and one developed in Russia - are encouraging signs that the first vaccines against the pandemic disease may be ready to be deployed before the end of 2020.
Mark Suzman, the Gates Foundation's chief executive officer, told reporters in an online briefing that this was "an auspicious week" to be adding to global funding efforts.
The vaccine news "makes us hopeful about a number of the other vaccine products in the pipeline," he said. "But there's still a long way to go between that and getting vaccines approved (by regulators), and then into people who need them at the scale and with the kind of equitable global distribution we really need to bring the virus under control."
The Gates Foundation began pledging funds for the vaccines AMC in June, and the extra $50 million brings its total pledges to $156 million. The new funds will also unlock an extra 12.5 million pounds ($16.5 million) from Britain, which had promised to part-match other contributions.
November 12, 2020 – UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will next week push the leaders of the Group of 20 rich nations and big emerging powers to further extend and expand debt service suspension to help developing and middle-income economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Guterres, addressing a virtual annual ministerial meeting of the Group of 77 developing countries plus China, said on Thursday "many developing countries are suffering from severe liquidity crises related to skyrocketing debt" and the scope of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative "must be expanded to all developing and middle-income countries that are in need."
He also said he would continue to advocate for more resources to be given to the International Monetary Fund "to be put at the disposal of developing countries, through the allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDR) and a voluntary reallocation of existing Special Drawing Rights."
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva first proposed a general allocation of new SDRs, a move that could boost members' currency reserves by hundreds of billions of dollars, at the start of the pandemic, but Washington has blocked the move.
The IMF last did this during the 2009 financial crisis when President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, was vice president, and some member countries hope he will be more open to doing so again this time.
Guterres is also pushing for $35 billion to fund a global COVID-19 vaccine plan, known as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX facility, which is led by the World Health Organization and the GAVI vaccine alliance.
It aims to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021, 245 million treatments and 500 million coronavirus tests.
"This has not been a good year for multilateralism and international cooperation," Guterres said. "The world has not seen the unity and solidarity needed ... I hope  will be the year in which we reverse these trends."
The G20 leaders' summit is due to be held virtually on Nov. 21-22.