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Brexit: UK signs ‘historic’ trade agreement with Japan

Britain and Japan signed a free trade agreement (FTA) on Friday which the UK hailed as its first major deal as an independent trading nation.

“The UK has officially signed an economic partnership agreement with Japan marking an historic moment, as the UK’s first deal as an independent trading nation and offering a glimpse of Global Britain’s potential,” the UK government said in a statement.

It added that the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Agreement “goes beyond the existing EU agreement”.

Japan is the UK’s 11th largest export market with the value of trade between the two countries reaching £29 billion (€32 billion) in 2018. The UK estimates the FTA will increase that amount by £15.2 billion (€16.8 billion).

Financial services make up Britain’s biggest export to Japan, now at 28 per cent. English sparkling wine, made-in-Britain coats and shoes, Stilton cheese, as well as pork and biscuits from Britain, will become cheaper in Japan.

It will also make it easier for British companies to operate in Japan. The trade deal now needs parliamentary approval in both countries.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters that it will be presented to lawmakers very quickly in order to come into force on January 1, 2021.

The Brexit transition period will have expired by then which means Britain will be excluded from the EU-Japan agreement it is currently under.

Motegi said the new deal ensures continuity from the preceding European agreement while adding new areas for cooperation such as e-commerce and financial services.

Japan already exports about 1.5 trillion yen (€12 billion) of goods to Britain, mostly autos, auto parts and other machinery, while importing nearly 1 trillion yen (€8.1 billion) of goods from Britain, including pharmaceuticals, medical products and cars, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

Tariffs on Japanese autos are removed gradually and won’t become zero until 2026, the same as the terms of the deal Japan has with the EU.

Japan has repeatedly expressed concern about Japanese businesses in Britain, which include Hitachi, with plants making railway cars for East Coast t in itself “is mostly an extension of what is already there.”

Iana Dreyer, funder of European trade policy analysis website Borderlex, had concurred, saying: “Fundamentally, this is an exercise in keeping the status quo and in damage limitation.”



Brexit talks no closer to a deal, say insiders

Britain and the European Union are still a long way from a post-Brexit trade deal, several European sources told AFP Sunday (25 October), as both sides prepared to resume talks this week.

“The negotiations are progressing, but we are still a long way off,” said one senior European official.

Talks are to continue in London until Wednesday, then in Brussels from Thursday, said another source.

But time is fast running out.

France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said last week that the EU wanted to wrap up the discussions by October 31 to leave enough time for parliamentary ratification across the bloc’s 27 member states.

“We’ll give it a few days more (into November) to give a chance for the negotiations, but we need to know fairly quickly,” he told the BFM Business network on Thursday.

Talks resumed last week after Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson walked back from the mid-October deadline he tried to impose to get the deal done.

But neither side has budged on the issues that still divide them, such as “level playing field” provisions to ensure Britain does not try to retreat from the EU’s environmental or labour standards, state subsidies and how to arbitrate future differences.

They also need to resolve the question of access to British fishing waters by EU vessels.

Brussels is prepared to offer London a zero-tariffs, zero-quotas deal for access to the EU market, better than the deal offered Canada – but only if Britain is prepared to accept EU standards and regulations.

British minister Brandon Lewis remained upbeat in comments to Sky News on Sunday.

“I hope and I think there are good chances we can get a deal,” he said.

“But the EU needs to understand it’s them to move as well so that we get a deal that works for the UK, a proper FTA that recognizes us the UK a sovereign nation.” Meanwhile, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said on Sunday he believes that Britain and the European Union are likely to secure a free-trade deal in the coming weeks.

“It’s by no means guaranteed but I think on the balance of probabilities it will be possible to agree a free-trade agreement with the UK which means there will be no quotas and no tariffs,” Varadkar told RTE radio.



Middle East

UAE cabinet approves Israel normalization deal

The Emirati cabinet has approved an agreement to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, confirming the normalisation deal signed in Washington last month.

The move comes ahead of a visit by a delegation from the United Arab Emirates to Israel, scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

In statement on Monday, the cabinet statement said the so-called Abraham Accords would be “an avenue of peace and stability to support the ambitions of the region’s people, and enhance efforts for prosperity and advancement, especially as it paves the way for deepening economic, culture and knowledge ties.”

The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign agreements to establish formal ties with Israel, forming a new axis in the Middle East against Iran.

Israel ratified the deal in a cabinet vote and a parliamentary vote last week.

The UAE delegates to Israel are set to be accompanied by US officials who arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday from Bahrain, where they had joined an Israeli delegation on a trip to Manama to sign a communique formalising nascent ties.

Israel and the UAE have already signed several memoranda of understanding.

They will ink a deal on Tuesday to allow 28 weekly commercial flights between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Israel’s transportation ministry has said.

The deal between the two countries has been controversial internationally, with Palestinians in particular denouncing the move as a betrayal of their cause.

The first ever passenger flight from the UAE to Israel landed near Tel Aviv on Monday.

The first ever passenger flight from the UAE to Israel landed near Tel Aviv on Monday.

Etihad Airways flight EY 9607 from Abu Dhabi landed at Ben Gurion airport early in the morning with only crew on board, a spokeswoman for the Israel Airports Authority told AFP.

The plane picked up Israeli tourism professionals, who would be flying to the UAE for a two-day visit organised by Israeli company Maman Group, the spokeswoman said.

The UAE carrier said it had made “history”.

“Etihad has become the first Gulf airline to operate a passenger flight to Israel. And this is only the beginning,” the airline said on Twitter.



Saudi foreign minister hints at resolving Qatar blockade

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has signalled progress may be under way towards resolving the three-year-old rift with its Gulf neighbour Qatar, following a meeting in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia along with United Arab Emirates (UAE) Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Doha and imposed a sea, land and air blockade on the gas-rich nation.

“We are committed to finding a solution,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan said in a virtual discussion hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank, on Thursday.

“We continue to be willing to engage with our Qatari brothers, and we hope that they are as committed to that engagement.

“But we do need to address the legitimate security concerns of the quartet and I think there is a path toward that” with a solution “in the relatively near future,” said Prince Faisal.

“If we are able to find a path forward to address the legitimate security concerns … that drove us to take the decisions we took, that will be good news for the region,” he added.

The four blockading nations accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism” and meddling in their internal affairs for years. Doha was also accused of being too close to regional rival Iran.



Trump signals Sudan removal from terror list

President Donald Trump signalled Sudan would be removed from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism if it pays compensation of $335 million to American terror victims and their families.

The move would open the door for Sudan to receive much needed international loans and aid to revive its battered economy.

Sudan has been listed since 1993 when al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden lived in the country as a guest of the government.

The compensation relates to the victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, attacks conducted by Bin Laden’s al-Qaida network while he was living in Sudan which killed more than 200 people.

The move could also help Sudan’s transition to democracy. Last year a popular uprising led to the military overthrow of autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.

A military-civilian government now rules the country with elections possible in late 2022.

The announcement, just two weeks ahead of the U.S. presidential election, also comes as the Trump administration works to get other Arab countries, such as Sudan, to join the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain’s recent recognition of Israel.