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Talking about life after the divorce: EU and Britain set for new talks

Britain and the European Union kick off talks on Monday (2 March) on how their relationship will shape up after Brexit, with half a trillion euros worth of annual trade and close security ties at stake in what are bound to be tense talks.

Both sides say they want to reach a deal by the end of the year so that new cooperation on everything from aviation to fisheries to student exchanges can kick in from 2021.

The current status-quo transition period that followed Britain’s exit from the bloc on Jan. 31 expires at the end of year.

The EU wants give Britain beneficial access to its single market of 450 million people in exchange for solid guarantees that London would prevent dumping.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants to move away from the EU and refuses to be bound by its rules or the jurisdiction of its top court — all necessary, in the bloc’s view, to ensure fair competition.

He has upset the bloc by backpedalling on a possible more ambitious and broader future relationship the sides had agreed in their divorce package last year.


UK firms search for new Irish trade routes to avoid Brexit customs woes

Major U.K. companies, including big supermarkets, are eyeing up alternative trade routes across the Northern Irish border in the hope of getting around costly post-Brexit customs checks.

Officials who work closely with industry told POLITICO that firms had last year put plans in place to take advantage of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and are looking at doing the same ahead of the transition period ending in December.

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement says there will be checks on goods moving across the frontier between Ireland in the EU and Northern Ireland in the U.K. but that they will be done remotely to ensure a hard border is not created. It also says there will be checks on goods moving across the Irish Sea in both directions between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

But the nature of those checks and how the systems will work remains unclear. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists Britain will not actually impose vetting in either direction across the Irish Sea. The EU’s Michel Barnier said Thursday (5 March) that British negotiator David Frost had reassured him the U.K. will “respect its legal obligations” when it comes to the agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

All borders between the EU and the U.K., aside from the one on the island of Ireland, will face customs checks, the government has confirmed, raising the specter of big administrative costs for business and major delays at border pinch points.


Von der Leyen sees ‘momentum’ for improving EU-US relations

Speaking at the Business Europe summit, von der Leyen recalled that she had a good meeting with Trump during the Davos forum in January.

After that meeting, she said an agreement could be reached “in a few weeks’ time” to improve the bilateral relationship, while the threat of new US tariffs on European exporters is still hanging.

“There might be momentum toward improving our relations on a positive footing,” von der Leyen said on Thursday (5 March).

The offer would improve the bilateral cooperation on trade, energy and technology. But the details of the package and when she intends to travel to Washington to discuss it with Trump remain unclear.

“I am absolutely aware that any deal that we work out must be balanced, compatible with the World Trade Organization, and compatible with the EU mandate,” von der Leyen said.

As a result, the package is expected to propose scrapping tariffs for industrial goods and ease some regulatory burdens, including the conformity assessment procedure that some goods have to pass.

One of the most controversial issues continues to be the inclusion of agriculture in the trade negotiations.

Washington wants to reduce its €12 billion deficit in agricultural trade exchange, but European partners excluded this chapter from the mandate last year.


Commission notice concerning the application of the Regional Convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin or the protocols on rules of origin providing for diagonal cumulation between the Contracting Parties to this Convention (2020/C 67/02)

The European Commission notice concerning the application of the Regional Convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin or the protocols on rules of origin providing for diagonal cumulation has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union on Monday (2 March).

The tables attached to the notice specify: 1) a simplified overview of cumulation possibilities on 1 December 2019 (table 1); 2) the date from which diagonal cumulation becomes applicable (tables 2 and 3).


Middle East

First Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) Membership Certificate Issued at Al Mazunah Free Zone’s one-stop-station

Said bin Abdullah Al Balushi, Acting Director General of Al Mazunah Free Zone said that all the services of Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) are currently being offered at the one-stop-station at Al Mazunah Free Zone.

“With the first OCCI membership certificate been recently issued at the free zone’s one-stop-station, all the services that are required by the investors are now available at the one-stop-station. These services include obtaining and approving certificates of origin, and applying and renewing membership certificates,” Al Balushi pointed out.

He added that this achievement comes in line with the efforts undertaken by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates – Madayn at Al Mazunah Free Zone. “These efforts aim at saving time and effort and facilitating the services offered to the investors and business owners. Through the one-stop-station, business owners and investors have access to a variety of services related to investment activities which are set to be completed within a period not exceeding three hours,” Al Balushi furthered.

The one-stop-station at the free zone comprises several public and private bodies including the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Ministry of Manpower, Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and insurance companies.

[Oman News Agency]

New $150mln fund set to promote export of UAE-produced goods

The Abu Dhabi Exports Office (ADEX) has allocated $150 million (550 million UAE dirhams) for promoting UAE’s products in overseas markets.

ADEX is established by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) and will target beefing up exports and support ongoing efforts to diversify the UAE economy.

Mohammed Saif Al Suwaidi, director-general of ADFD, said the allocation will help “facilitate direct loans to foreign buyers as well as lines of credit for international financial institutions exclusively available to importers of goods and services from UAE companies.”

Foreign buyers refer to companies purchasing UAE-based export goods and services, according to a spokesperson.

“Allocating these funds in support of our national export companies represents a major step advancing the ADEX mandate to increase the volume and value of UAE exports and drive sustainable national economic expansion,” Al Suwaidi said in a statement.

ADEX is a government body established in 2019 to support the growth of the UAE’s exports industry. It extends direct loans to foreign firms that are looking to buy goods and services from the Gulf state.




Post-Cotonou delays complicate EU’s new African vision

The European Commission will this week publish its EU-Africa ‘strategy’, which the bloc hopes will form the basis of a new ‘partnership’ with the African continent. EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell will launch the blueprint on Monday (9 March), kick-starting seven months of negotiation between ministers and leaders from the two continents.

EU officials are anxious that their new Africa strategy, based around partnerships on trade, migration, environmental policy, digital and mobility does not get derailed by the delayed talks on the post-Cotonou trade and political accord which covers 48 of the 54 Africa countries.

Negotiators from the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific community (ACP) agreed on 17 February to extend until December the Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2000, which covers trade and political relations between the EU and the ACP.

Talks on a post-Cotonou pact, which was due to expire in March, have been slow from the start. In 2018, African states failed to agree to replace the ACP structure with the African Union leading talks, much to the chagrin of the likes of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

After initially agreeing to negotiate a continent-to-continent deal brokered by the African Union, some Africa states had a last-minute change of heart, opting to continue the EU-ACP process instead, but with continent-to-continent protocols.