Weekly Global Newscast |21 October – 27 October, 2019

Asia

Kashmir Issue Sparks Palm Oil Row with Malaysia

Malaysia’s mammoth palm oil sector faces a new threat after Indian traders were asked to halt purchases amid a diplomatic row over Kashmir, piling further pressure on the industry as Europe also plans cutbacks. The Southeast Asian nation is the second-biggest producer after Indonesia of the oil, used in everything from food to cosmetics, in a sector long vilified by environmentalists who blame it for fuelling deforestation.

Analysis

With Western companies reducing use of the commodity as green groups ratchet up pressure, the top two growers have increasingly come to rely on demand from India, the world’s biggest buyer of edible oils, and China. But a speech by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at the United Nations General Assembly, in which he said New Delhi had “invaded and occupied” Kashmir, has sparked a backlash in India that could badly hit the sector’ said Gulf News.

‘There has been sympathy in Malaysia for Kashmiris after the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi revoked the Muslim-majority region’s autonomy in August 5, 2019 and imposed a lockdown to quell unrest. Mahathir’s comments prompted calls for Indians to shun Malaysian products — with social media users posting angry messages alongside the hashtag #BoycottMalaysia — while rumors swirled New Delhi may hike tariffs on Malaysian palm oil’ said by Daily Times.

Serbia Signs Trade Agreement with Russia-Led Eurasian Economic Union

Serbia has signed a free-trade agreement with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EES), following veiled warnings from the European Union. The accord, to be inked during a visit by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to Moscow, would replace the existing free-trade deals between Belgrade and Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Serbia does not have any such accords with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, the two other EES members.

Analysis

The deal provides for “instant savings in customs payments” in trade between Serbia and the bloc’s member states, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s office said in a statement carried by state media. Serbia’s Trade Ministry has said that the free-trade agreement with the EES will allow about 95.5 percent of Serbian products to be exported to the regional grouping free of customs duties’ said Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty.

‘However, Serbia’s relationship with Russia is also an issue for the European Union, as the EU imposed sanctions on Russia on 2014, which Serbia, despite being a candidate country, did not follow. Serbia and Russia are also strengthening military cooperation. EU officials pointed out last month that while Serbia can have free trade agreements like the one with the EAEU, they must be cancelled once Serbia becomes an EU member’ said Balkan Insight.

Middle East & North Africa

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: IS leader ‘Dead after US Raid’ in Syria

The fugitive leader of the Islamic State (IS) group killed himself during a US military operation in north-west Syria. Speaking from the White House, Mr Trump said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest after fleeing into a tunnel, chased by US military dogs. Baghdadi came to prominence in 2014, when he announced the creation of a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria.

Analysis

The jihadist group imposed a brutal rule in the areas under its control and was behind many attacks around the world. Although the US declared the “caliphate” defeated earlier this year, IS militants remain active in the region and elsewhere. Baghdadi’s death is a major victory for Mr. Trump as he faces heavy criticism for his decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria and fights an impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats’ said BBC.

‘The raid comes as the United States scrambles to adjust its posture in Syria in the wake of Trump’s declaration earlier this month that he would pull out nearly all of the approximately 1,000 troops in Syria amid a Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish troops who have been the Pentagon’s main battlefield partner there. But evolving plans now call for a larger residual force that could mean a substantial ongoing campaign’ said Washington Post.

Sub Saharan Africa

Africans face most Expensive Internet Charges in the World

Consumers in African countries are paying some of the highest rates in the world for internet access as a proportion of income. The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) assessed 136 low and middle-income countries for their annual Affordability Report. Middle-income examples from the report include Malaysia, Colombia, India, Jamaica, South Africa, and Ghana, while low income examples were Nepal, Mali, Haiti, Liberia, Yemen, and Mozambique. The A4AI is an initiative of The Web Foundation, founded by inventor of the Web Tim Berners-Lee, with partner organizations that include Google and Facebook.

Analysis

The A4AI defines affordability as 1GB of mobile broadband data costing no more than 2% of average monthly income. But the average across the African continent is 7.12%, and in some cases 1GB costs more than a fifth of average earnings’ said CNN.

‘In contrast, essentially the most reasonably priced charges within the continent are in Egypt at 0.5% and Mauritius at 0.59%. However, the prices are falling quicker in low-income nations than middle-income counterparts. A4AI’s major suggestion is for better liberalization of markets and measures to extend competitiveness’ said NB News.

Europe

Number of Britons Leaving for Europe Hits a 10-year High

The number of British citizens leaving for European Union countries is at a 10-year high, with the rate of departure accelerating since the referendum, new research has revealed. Initial findings are that migration of UK citizens, 84,000 people are expected to leave Britain for another EU nation in 2019, compared with 59,000 in 2008. It found that about 11,500 people moved from the UK to Germany in 2018, compared with more than 8,500 in 2008.

Analysis

The analysis – carried out by the Oxford in Berlin group and the WZB, the Berlin Social Science Centre – also found that the number of British people signing up for German citizenship had risen significantly. While 622 Britons received German citizenship in 2015, 7,493 were naturalized in 2017, a figure that is expected to rise this year. For the EU as a whole, naturalizations rose from 2,106 in 2015 to 14,678 in 2017’ figures quoted by The Guardian.

‘Daniel Tetlow, co-author of the study, which also looked at the changing nature of being British abroad, said that behind the figures lay the emergence of “a new social phenomenon in British identity”’ quotes MSN.

Oceania

Australian Newspapers Redact Front Pages to Expose Government

Newspapers across Australia ran heavily redacted front pages on Monday in protest against government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom, a rare show of unity in a fractious media landscape. National and regional mastheads including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review hit newsstands Monday with most of their front-page news stories blacked out.

Analysis

Advertisements have also been rolled out across the country’s television networks, asking viewers to consider the question: “When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?” The campaign by the Right to Know coalition was sparked by federal police raids on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp journalist’s home earlier 2019 over two stories that had proved embarrassing for the government’ said The Asian Age.

‘Australian media organizations argue that press freedoms have been eroded by more than 70 counterterrorism and security laws that have been passed by Parliament since the al-Qaida attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The government responded by asking a parliamentary committee to hold an inquiry into the impact of Australian law enforcement and intelligence powers on press freedom’ said News 18.

Americas

Microsoft Beats Amazon to $10bn Pentagon Cloud Computing Contract after Trump Intervention

Microsoft has beaten Amazon to a $10bn (£7.8bn) cloud computer contract after an intensely scrutinized bidding process which drew criticism from Donald Trump. The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud (Jedi) contract is aimed at modernizing the Pentagon and making it more technologically agile. Jedi aims specifically to give the military better access to data and the cloud from battlefields and other remote locations.

Analysis

The contracting process had been complicated by conflict of interest allegations, especially after Mr. Trump, who has been openly hostile towards Amazon, said his administration was reviewing the company’s bid following complaints from other companies. A spokesperson for Amazon Web Services (AWS), which was seen as the favorite for the contract, said the company was “surprised about this conclusion”’ quoted by The Independent.

‘Mr. Trump has regularly clashed with Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and chief executive, and his intervention was seen by some as politically motivated. Amazon is the only technology company that is currently able to provide secure enough encryption to meet the US government’s “top secret” requirements’ said Financial Times.

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