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‘Fantastic moment’: Boris Johnson signs Brexit withdrawal deal

Boris Johnson has formally signed the EU withdrawal agreement, smiling as he described it as a “fantastic moment” for the country.

His enthusiasm came in sharp contrast to the sombre tone of EU officials, who earlier added their signatures to the document before it crossed the Channel.

With a week before the deadline of 31 January, the agreement is now concluded and talks are due to begin over the future relationship between the UK and Brussels.

The European parliament’s constitutional affairs committee backed the agreement on Thursday (23 January) by 23 votes to three, setting up the final act next week when a plenary session of the EU parliament will vote to ratify the deal.

Under the agreement, the UK will leave the EU at midnight central European time on 31 January. The UK will remain in the EU’s single market and customs union, but none of the decision-making bodies, until the end of 2020.

Johnson has said he will not take the option available to him in the withdrawal agreement of extending this transition period. The prime minister has said the 11-month period available without further extension is “ample” time to reach agreement on a comprehensive deal.

[The Guardian]

Even ‘bare bones’ EU-UK deal will be complex, tough to clinch – diplomats

Wrapping up even a “bare bones” deal on the future relationship between the European Union and Britain will be fraught with complexity and, with so little time to get it done, a painful “hard” Brexit on December 31 cannot be ruled out, diplomats said.

A basic agreement would have to include a free trade pact, a deal on preserving a “level playing field” of rules and standards to guarantee fair competition, and a governance structure to expand the relationship later.

An agreement would have to be struck by the middle of October to leave time needed to translate the treaty into the EU’s 23 official languages and the possible need for ratification in the bloc’s parliaments before year-end.

A senior diplomat said he expects little progress in negotiations between the European Commission and Britain in the months ahead, and there will be just a few weeks left after the Brussels summer break to get a deal across the line.

“The idea is to have one treaty by end-2020, which would also have a governance structure and an openness to add supplementary treaties,” an EU diplomat involved in the talks said.

The EU is worried that once out of the bloc, Britain may try to undercut EU firms by lowering labor or environmental standards or by subsidizing certain industries. To prevent that, the EU wants a non-regression clause in the new relationship treaty and a joint committee with London that would consider realignments of British rules if EU standards change. “The more aligned Britain’s rules are with the EU’s, the better access it will have to the EU’s single market,” an EU official said.


Trump revives trade battle with Europe with threat to cars

US President Donald Trump, fresh from calling a trade truce with China, threatened on Wednesday (22 January) to impose crippling tariffs on European autos unless the EU budges on a transatlantic deal.

Trump, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos as his Senate impeachment trial unfolds back home, revived a long-running offensive against the EU. “The European Union is tougher to deal with than anybody. They’ve taken advantage of our country for many years,” Trump told Fox Business Network.

“Ultimately, it will be very easy because if we can’t make a deal, we’ll have to put 25 percent tariffs on their cars,” he added.

There was no immediate response from Germany, Europe’s biggest auto exporter. The price of high-end brands such as BMW and Audi risks spiraling beyond consideration for many American drivers if Trump goes through with the threat.

But European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen emerged from a “very good conversation with” the president in Davos sounding upbeat about the prospects of a deal covering trade, technology and energy. “We are expecting in a few weeks to have an agreement that we can sign together,” she said.

[Agence France-Presse]

Middle East

Food products can be transported only in refrigerated trucks from February 1 in Oman

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will implement a decision aimed at regulating the transportation of agricultural and food products through land borders from February 1. “The import and export of all agricultural products through the border posts must be in refrigerated trucks from February 1”, according to a decision 174/2019 issued by Dr Hamad bin Said bin Sulaiman al Aufi, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Initially announced to be from June 1, 2019, the implementation was deferred to February 1. According to the decision, violators will face a fine of RO 1,000.

The decision by the agriculture and fisheries minister issued in August 2018 prohibits the entry of agricultural products through land ports if trucks are not refrigerated.

“The vehicles, to be exclusively used for transporting food and agricultural products, must be equipped with devices capable of maintaining an appropriate temperature for the product and automatic cooling control mechanisms as per the load of the vehicle”, said a circular based on the decision.

[Oman Daily Observer]

Dubai in Davos: All you need to know about World Logistics Passport

Dubai has announced a global logistics platform at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to boost South-South trade.

The World Logistics Passport links Customs World, DP World and Emirates Group to enhance connectivity through Dubai and, through expertise sharing and process development, directly between partner countries. The effort is aimed at improving quality of service and attracting a higher share of international trade at a time when Dubai is preparing to host Expo 2020.

According to a statement from DP World, World Logistics Passport is designed as a points loyalty scheme.

It will incentivize companies and traders to use Dubai’s world-leading logistics facilities in return for cost and time savings and enhanced customs clearances.

Not only will this increase the ease of moving goods in Dubai, it will also foster more optimal direct trade routes between Latin America, Africa and Asia, the statement said.

Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO, DP World, and Chairman of Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation (PCFC) in Dubai said: “DP World has built a network of ports, economics zones, and logistics operations across six continents to enable smarter trade by offering cargo owners and consolidators of demand end-to-end, digitized supply chains.”




Rhetoric without detail marks the UK’s scramble for Africa

The long-awaited UK-Africa investment summit, staged just days before London formally leaves the EU on 31 January, left little to be remembered by.

The Johnson government announced a total of £1.5 billion (€1.9 billion) worth of initiatives, as well as “infrastructure partnerships” with Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, alongside the African Development Bank (AfDB). Five oil and gas deals worth £2.1bn (€2.5 billion) were announced after the summit.

With the immediate threat of a ‘no deal’ Brexit now off the table – which would have hurt many African economies – the continent’s leaders see the UK’s withdrawal as an opportunity to extract better and more favorable trade terms.

Talks on new UK-Africa trade pacts could start on 1 February but the UK’s Department for International Trade is over-stretched and is more likely to prioritize bigger markets. Johnson is also expected to reshuffle ministers and re-organize departments in the coming weeks.

African officials are urging Whitehall to outflank the EU’s regional Economic Partnership Agreements, most of which have never been fully ratified, by offering a generous pan-African deal on goods and services.

An all-Africa deal offered by the UK would recognize the plans for a single market on the continent, the African Continental Free Trade Area, due to be launched in July.