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EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement will enter into force on 1 August 2020

Vietnam’s Council of Ministers has approved the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements. The agreement is set to bring unprecedented benefits for European and Vietnamese companies, consumers and workers, while promoting respect for labor rights, environmental protection and the fight against climate change under the Paris Agreement.

The trade agreement will eliminate nearly all customs duties on goods traded between the two sides in a progressive way that fully respects Vietnam’s development needs. The agreement also contains specific provisions to remove technical obstacles, such as those in the car sector, and will ensure that 169 traditional European food and drink products recognized as Geographical Indications are protected in Vietnam. Thanks to the agreement, EU companies will also be able to participate in bids for procurement tenders in Vietnam on an equal footing with domestic companies.

Following the endorsement by the Council, the agreements will be signed by the EU and Vietnam and presented to the European Parliament for consent. Once the European Parliament has given its consent, the trade agreement can be officially concluded by the Council and enter into force, while the investment protection agreement will first need to be ratified by Member States according to their respective internal procedures.

The Free Trade Agreement between signed in Hanoi on 30 June 2019, will enter into force on 1 August 2020.


EU-Mercosur agreement to be signed by end of year, Mercosur presidency hopes

The so-called “Southern Common Market” or Mercosur hopes to finally sign by the end of this year the association agreement with the European Union reached in June 2019 after two decades of negotiations, Paraguay’s Foreign Minister Antonio Rivas declared on Tuesday (30 June).

Rivas told journalists that during the six months of Paraguay’s temporary presidency of Mercosur, the chapter on politics and cooperation has been closed.

Besides, other aspects still need to be revised and the agreement, which has more than 7,000 pages, still needs to be translated into all EU languages so that it can be subsequently approved by national parliaments, Rivas said.

“We hope that [the agreement] will be signed at the end of the year, under the temporary presidency of Uruguay and the German EU Presidency,” Rivas told the media.

Raúl Cano, the foreign ministry’s director-general for economic policy, admitted at Tuesday’s press conference that “small details of the institutional chapter and some technical details of the economic trade chapter are still missing”.


The European Commission maintains safeguards in place to defend European steel industry in times of crisis

The European Commission published the result of its second investigation reviewing the safeguard measures put in place by the European Union on imports of steel products. The thorough package – that takes effect as of 1 July – applies all available legal means to defend the European steel industry in the current difficult market situation.

The changes published by the Commission on 30 June (in an Implementing Regulation) fully take account of the special circumstances prevailing in the market due to the coronavirus crisis as well as expected developments. They will ensure that the gradual resumption of activity and return to normality takes place in an orderly manner. The adjustments made in managing the quotas will be effective in deterring potentially harmful stockpiling behavior by any foreign exporters that may try to sell very high amounts of steel in the EU market in an opportunistic manner to the detriment of the EU steel industry.

More specifically, the main changes are the following:

·       Country-specific quotas will be made available in quarterly and not annual allotments. This will help ensure a more stable flow of imports at this stage and will minimize the risk of short-term import surges.

·       A new country-specific quota will be introduced for hot-rolled flat (category 1) steel.

·       Access to the residual quota for countries that have previously exhausted their country-specific quota will be only permitted to the extent necessary to respond to demand. This will help ensure equitable access to the EU market for smaller exporting countries.

·       The list of developing countries excluded from the measures is now updated on the basis of the most recent stable statistical data (2019).

[European Commission]

Angela Merkel says EU ‘must prepare’ for no-deal Brexit

The European Union must prepare for the possibility that negotiations with the United Kingdom won’t secure a deal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday (1 July).

“To put it mildly, progress in the negotiations has been very limited,” Merkel told the German Bundestag, adding: “I will continue to press for a good solution. But we in the EU and also in Germany must and should prepare for the event that an agreement is not reached after all.”

Germany on Wednesday (1 July) took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, meaning that it will play an important role in coordinating the position of the EU27 countries and maintaining their unity during the final stage of negotiations with the U.K.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to extend the current Brexit transition period, meaning both sides will have to find an agreement to govern their future relations on trade, security and political cooperation before the end of December, or prepare for a no-deal scenario.

German officials have, however, repeatedly emphasized that they believe the last realistic moment for both sides to reach an agreement would be late October, because any deal would still have to be legally revised and ratified by EU governments, the British parliament and the European Parliament before the transition period ends.

Merkel, in her comments to the Bundestag, welcomed an agreement by leaders on both sides during their high-level meeting in June to intensify negotiations in July with the aim of reaching an agreement this fall.



Middle East

UAE – Mideast’s $1.13t export potential makes logistics sector attractive to global investors

Led by the UAE, the Middle East region, with its fast-growing status as a hub for exports, has the potential to attract an influx of global investors into its booming trade and logistics industry.

The region, accounting for global exports valued at $1.13 trillion, continues to move up the ”Logistics Performance Index” with the UAE taking the regional lead and ranking 11th globally, followed by Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, according to a study by Savills, a leading global real estate advisor.

Ihsan Kharouf, head of Savills Oman, who has moderated a webinar panel discussion on ”Transportation and Innovation,” said the improvement in the index ranking proves that the region is growing in popularity and superiority when it comes to trade and logistics.

“Trade statistics reveal exports from the Middle East have grown by 21 per cent in 2018, totaling $1.13 trillion. The size and capacity of deep-sea container ships on the Asia-Middle East route has also doubled from 9,000 containers in 2010 to 18,000 containers in 2020, indicating a significant improvement in capacity,” said Kharouf.

“This only proves that the region is growing in popularity and superiority when it comes to trade and logistics,” he added.

He said countries in the region are investing significantly to modernize their existing infrastructure and building futuristic projects to deliver best-in-class efficiency and sustainability to enable more seamless interaction with the global and regional economies. Countries in the region continue to progress up the rankings in the Logistics Performance Index (LPI), the interactive benchmarking tool created by the World Bank.


Free zones leading investments in Oman

The Middle East’s comprehensive logistics provider, ASYAD, has announced that the number of investment projects at Sohar Freezone and Salalah Free Zone last year reached 120 with an estimated value of RO3.7bn in various industrial and logistic activities.

In line with the Sultanate’s Logistics Strategy (SOLS2040) and Oman 2040 Vision to attract local and foreign investments and to develop an integrated logistics system allowing local products to reach international markets, ASYAD Group is working in cooperation with the relevant government entities towards improving the competitive advantage of the sultanate’s free zones.

With world class and advanced infrastructure, the sultanate’s free zones offer investment incentives, tax exemptions and simplified procedures for licenses and permits supporting the free zones’ competitive business environment.

Omar Mahmood al Mahrizi, CEO, Sohar Freezone, said, “Today, Sohar Freezone is home to 44 industrial projects in various sectors such as metals, petrochemicals, food industries, etc. and witnesses an increase in the number of companies occupying the warehouses and offices that is part of the package of innovative solutions offered to the investors.”

“The occupancy of the total leasable area of the three development phases has reached 301.4 hectares by the end of 2019, with 63% occupancy of the area in the first phase,” Mahrizi added.

The CEO also stated that the focus of Sohar Freezone is on integrated downstream projects that offer business opportunities and grow ICV, such as attracting industries that depend on the polyethylene product which will be produced in the Liwa Plastics Industries Complex (LPIC).

He stressed that Sohar Freezone encourages investors to benefit from the integrated logistic system of the port and the free zone. “We also target the manufacturers who consider their proximity as a key value proposition to reach their consumer markets regionally.”

Highlighting on the One-Stop-Shop (OSS) of Sohar Port and Freezone, Mahrizi explained that the OSS is a single window for investors to obtain all necessary requirements to set up and operate their businesses efficiently and effectively. The OSS provides multiple key services under a single window that has enhanced resources to deliver high quality services.

[Muscat Daily]



Banks in Egypt switch to IBAN standard to ease cross-border transactions

Banks operating in the Egyptian market started using the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) standard, to facilitate the communication and processing of cross-border transactions.

An IBAN is an internationally agreed upon system of identifying bank accounts across national borders, which also ensures a reduced risk of transcription errors.

The IBAN consists of up to 34 alphanumeric characters comprising a country code; two check digits; and a number that includes the domestic bank account number, branch identifier, and potential routing information. The check digits enable a check of the bank account number to confirm its integrity before submitting a transaction.

For Egypt, the IBAN consists of 29 alphanumeric characters, including two digits for the country code, two check digits, and the domestic bank account code.

Banks operating in the Egyptian market started to send messages to their customers with information on the IBAN code. Customers can also communicate with customer service of their banks or use Internet banking to obtain their IBAN code.

In May 2020, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) announced it has registered with the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) for the implementation of the IBAN. This comes in accordance with the approval of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), making Egypt the 77th country to adopt this numbering system.