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China calls for opening free trade talks with the EU

On an official visit to Brussels on Monday (16 December) and Tuesday (17 December), Chinese foreign affairs minister Wang Yi said that both partners should launch the feasibility study for a free trade agreement, which could take “one or two years” to prepare.

“We should seize the opportunity”, he said in an event hosted by the European Policy Centre. “I want to make the plea here.”

“Why aren’t you talking to your largest trading partner? I cannot understand,” Wang said. “Isn’t that a good thing for the European people? Why don’t you do it?”

The EU is China’s largest trading partner and China the EU’s second-largest market after the US.

A Commission official said that the EU’s focus was to deliver on the priorities already agreed in the last EU-China summit. These include strengthening international rules, notably on industrial subsidies; concluding the negotiations on the investment agreement, and addressing market access barriers.


Boris Johnson launches Brexit-focused plan for government

Brexit took a central role as Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the U.K. parliament after the general election and announced the government’s program for the year ahead.

“My government’s priority is to deliver the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on January 31,” the queen said in her statement prepared by Downing Street.

“Thereafter, my ministers will seek a future relationship with the European Union based on a free-trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom,” the queen added. “They will also begin trade negotiations with other leading global economies.”

The Trade Bill will establish the tools required for the U.K. to strike its own trade deals outside of the EU after Brexit. The government has promised to drive positive global change through trade. It will also allow Britain to roll over the existing trade deals it has with third nations through its EU membership. The bill will establish a new independent body to protect U.K. businesses against unfair trade practices and unexpected surges in imports.


Cliff-edge Brexit will hurt UK more than EU, says Von der Leyen

The European commission president acknowledged the danger of time running out during the negotiations, a risk many fear has been amplified by Boris Johnson’s symbolic decision to legislate to block an extension of the transition period.

Should the UK leave the EU on 31 January, as is now assumed in Brussels, the country will remain in the customs union and single market until 31 December 2020 at which point any newly negotiated arrangements on issues such as trade, security and fisheries will come into force.

Von der Leyen said: “In case we cannot conclude an agreement by the end of 2020 we will face again a cliff-edge situation and this would clearly harm our interests but it will impact the UK more than us as the EU will continue benefiting from its single market its customs union and the 70 international agreements we signed with our partners – but it’s clearly not in our interest.

“We will organize these negotiations to make the most out of the short period. On 1 February we will be ready to propose a mandate for the negotiations.

[The Guardian]


Middle East

Saudi Arabia ranked as world’s top ease of doing business improver: World Bank report

Saudi Arabia has been ranked as the world’s top ease of doing business improver by the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 report.

The report indicates Saudi Arabia to have jumped 72 global positions in “Trading Across Borders”, an indicator which compares the time and cost of exporting and importing goods.

These improvements follow a raft of legislative reforms implemented by Saudi Logistics Hub — a government initiative established to drive growth in Saudi Arabia’s logistics sector.

Reforms include the reduction of Customs clearance from seven to ten days to 24 hours, the reduction of the manual inspection rate at Customs from 89 percent to 48 percent, and the reduction of the number of documents required to import from 12 to 2 and to export from 8 to 2.

Earlier this year, the Saudi Logistics Hub announced a $35 billion capital expenditure plan to transform Saudi Arabia into a global logistics center.

Over the last 10 years, the country has invested more than $100 billion into transport and logistics infrastructure, creating a comprehensive nationwide network. With 12 percent of global maritime trade passing through the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia aims to leverage its strategic location at the crossroads of three continents to increase export and re-export capacity, driving private sector participation in the industry.

[Saudi Gazette]

The Jordan Customs Department to launch electronic platform for international trade

The Jordan Customs Department (JCD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Maersk GTD to launch an experimental electronic information platform known as the “TradeLens” system to facilitate international trade.

It is based on “Blockchain” technology, which simplifies information exchange between partners, freight forwarding and unloading of goods at ports, according to a JCD statement.

The agreement was signed by JCD Director General  Maj. Gen. AbdulMajeed Rahmaneh and Maersk GTD CEO Mike White. Rahmaneh said that the memorandum of understanding promotes economic and commercial exchanges and strengthens cooperation and communication, enabling companies to safely transport goods across international borders.

White said in the statement that the agreement with the JCD unlocks the benefits of digital supply chain documentation and data integration with government agencies, logistic services providers, shippers, port operators and transportation companies for a more connected global supply chain.

[The Jordan Times]

Oman bans export of raw marble

The Public Authority for Mining has prohibited the export of raw marble until further notice.

A statement issued online by the Authority said, “It is prohibited to export raw marble, in the form of blocks, cubes, or slabs with thickness exceeding three centimeters, a decision is issued in this regard.”

“As an exception to this ban, with the written consent of the CEO of the Public Mining Authority, it is permitted to allow the export of a number of cubes of marble ore, or slabs of more than three centimeters, if it is proven to the Authority that the request to export them is for the purpose of providing for construction projects of a special nature that require different measurements of the marble ore and can not be processed in the local factories within the Sultanate.”




Egypt‘s wheat inspectors to resume cargo checks at origin ports

Egypt, the world’s largest wheat buyer, will allow traveling delegations of its agricultural inspectors to resume checks of wheat cargoes purchased during state tenders at the port of origin, traders said.

Government quarantine inspectors had in the past traveled the world on fully-funded trips, at the expense of supply companies aiming to secure smooth passage for their wheat.

But the arrangement started to unravel in late 2015, when a French wheat cargo was rejected in Egypt for containing traces of the common grain fungus ergot, despite being approved by government inspectors abroad.

A group of traders persuaded the government in 2016 to ban traveling delegations, handing inspections instead to private companies abroad.

Some quarantine inspectors challenged the new system in court and argued it had allowed contaminants hazardous to plants and animals into the country. Traders said at the time that after the trips were cancelled, some agricultural inspectors began rejecting cargoes at Egyptian ports on arbitrary and unpredictable grounds.

The head of agricultural quarantine told Reuters that the return of the inspectors will happen at the request of the companies.