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Vietnam ratifies major trade deal with the EU

Vietnam ratified a landmark free trade agreement with the European Union on Monday (8 June), in a move that is set to boost the country’s economy as it looks to maneuver through the coronavirus crisis.

Lawmakers in Vietnam’s National Assembly overwhelmingly voted to pass the deal. In a rare move and display of transparency, the vote was broadcast live on Vietnamese television.

The implementation of the deal “can’t come at a better time for Vietnam when it’s on the path of economic recovery after several months of closure due to COVID-19,” economist Pham Chi Lan, a former adviser to several of Vietnam’s prime ministers, told the Associated Press.

The deal, known as the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), has been in the works since 2012 but was held up for several years due to a series of legal hurdles. Officials signed off on the deal in Hanoi last June and it was ratified by the European Parliament in February this year.

The deal, described by Brussels as its most ambitious deal with a developing country, is expected to take effect in July or August this year.

After the deal goes into effect, the EU will lift 85% of its tariffs on Vietnamese goods and gradually cut the rest of its tariffs over the next seven years.

Vietnam will lift 49% of its import duties on EU exports, phasing out the rest over the next 10 years.

It will also increase export turnover to the EU by around 20% this year and 44% by 2030.

[Deutsche Welle]

Commission reports on latest negotiating round with Australia

As part of its transparency commitment, the European Commission on Tuesday (2 June) published the report summarizing progress made during the latest negotiation round for the EU-Australia trade agreement.

The seventh round of negotiations for an EU-Australia trade agreement was held virtually from 4 to 15 May 2020. By holding this round, the EU and Australia demonstrated a commitment to progress in the negotiations, despite the current difficult context. The discussions confirmed a shared commitment to rules-based trade as well as to helping both economies recover from the global pandemic.

The constructive discussions allowed progress in a number of areas such as dispute settlement, customs and trade facilitation, competition, services and investment.

[European Commission]

Brexit deadlock: What happens next?

Almost halfway through the Brexit transition period, both sides agree no real progress has been made.

It’s now time, negotiators say, for political leaders to get talks going again.

While top level officials on both sides of the Channel were focused on the coronavirus pandemic the last couple of months, they will now need to make a little space for Brexit once again after the fourth round of talks on the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU ended in deadlock on Friday (5 June). Major stumbling blocks remain — the level playing field of rules and standards, governance, and fisheries.

“I don’t think we can go on like this forever,” the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said, while his U.K. counterpart David Frost added: “We are now at an important moment for these talks.”

Both sides will now look to the second half of the year for a deal under the auspices of the German presidency of the Council of the EU.

U.K. business lobby the Confederation of British Industry urged political leaders to intervene in order to prevent a “deeply damaging no deal.”

Deputy Director General Josh Hardie said: “An ambitious deal with the EU will be a cornerstone of the U.K.’s recovery from the pandemic. The stark reality is that most businesses are understandably unprepared for a dramatic change in trading relations with our biggest partner in just six months’ time.”


Middle East

Saudi Arabia increases customs duties, effective June 10, 2020

In May, the Saudi Government announced an increase in the customs duty rates for a wide range of commodities and goods, including foodstuffs, mineral and chemical products, plastic, rubber, leather goods, textile and footwear, base metals, cement, ceramic, machinery, equipment and electrical equipment, toys, furniture, vehicles and various other manufactured goods. The customs duties are to increase at rates ranging from 0.5% to 20% for various products, beginning from June 10, 2020. A total of 57 Chapters and more than 2,000 Tariff Lines of the Saudi Arabian Integrated Customs Tariff are expected to be affected. For a full list of products impacted by the tariff increase, please visit Saudi Customs website, here.

[U.S.-Saudi Business Council]

Turkey to open Iran, Iraq border gates to boost trade

Turkey opens its Gurbulak border gate with Iran and the Habur border gate with Iraq in order to help boost trade as coronavirus containment measures are eased, Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said on Wednesday (3 June).

In an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber, Pekcan added a Customs Union agreement with the European Union must also be updated soon in order to help improve trade between the two sides.




Finance Ministry of Egypt approves new customs facilities to stimulate investment

Minister of Finance Mohamed Maait has issued a decision that includes new customs facilities to stimulate investments and reduce production costs.

The facilities include simplified procedures, reduced release times, rationalized customs clearance costs, and reduced commodity prices in local markets. The decision also aims to enhance competitiveness in foreign markets, particularly with the global trend towards coexistence with the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

A Ministry of Finance statement said the decision looks to develop the certified economic operator program under ‘The White List’, in coordination with the National Food Safety Authority and the General Organization for Export and Import Control (GOEIC).

This will occur in a way that contributes to expanding the base of beneficiaries to include medium- and small-sized projects as an engine of economic growth.

The statement stressed that the Customs Authority will grant the label of a “certified economic operator” to those it deals with. This will include companies or individuals working on industrial, commercial or service activities, irrespective of business size, provided that the appropriate financial solvency is available.

[Daily News Egypt]

Africa hits back against EU’s name and shame game

The question of tax avoidance and financial information exchange remains a sore point for EU-African relations, and the European Commission’s annual lists of ‘non-cooperative’ countries on tax and money laundering laws have done little to improve the situation.

Botswana, Ghana and Zimbabwe joined Mauritius in being publicly named and shamed by the European Commission in May on its EU list of high-risk third countries with deficiencies in their fight against money launderers and terrorism financing.

The Commission insists that the listing is for countries that “pose significant threats to the financial system of the Union” because of failings in tackling money laundering and terrorism financing.

Inclusion on the EU list means that banks and other financial institutions will need to conduct enhanced due diligence (EDD) measures in any transaction or business relationship with a person established in a high-risk third country. Meanwhile, companies located there are prohibited from receiving EU funds.

While Mauritius was warned at the start of the year that it faced being penalized because of its banks’ failure to tackle terrorist financing, several of the other countries were surprised by their listing.

The Ghanaian government complained that the listing “does not reflect Ghana’s anti-money laundering regime.”