$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!
European Union - POLSKA УКРАЇНА

Gloomy Davos: Plenty of Crises, Few World Leaders

An array of crises will keep several world leaders away from the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos next week, which takes place against a backdrop of deepening gloom over the global economic and political outlook.

Anxieties over trade disputes, fractious international relations, Brexit and a growth slowdown that some fear could tip the world economy into recession are set to dominate the Jan. 22-25 Alpine meeting.

The WEF’s own Global Risks Report set the tone this week with a stark warning of looming economic headwinds, in part because of geopolitical tensions among major powers.

​No Trump, Macron or May

Some 3,000 business, government and civil society figures are scheduled to gather in the snow-blanketed ski resort, but among them are only three leaders of the Group of Seven most industrialized countries: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte.

Donald Trump, who stole the Davos limelight last year with a rare appearance by a sitting U.S. president, pulled out of this year’s event as he grapples with a partial U.S. government shutdown.

On Thursday, the White House said Trump had also canceled his delegation’s trip to Davos because of the shutdown, now in its 27th day. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been expected to lead the U.S. team, according to two senior administration officials.

French President Emmanuel Macron is also skipping the meeting as he seeks to respond to the “yellow vest” protests, while British Prime Minister Theresa May battles to find a consensus on Brexit.

​No Xi, either

Outside the G7, the leaders of Russia and India are shunning Davos, while China —whose president, Xi Jinping, was the first Chinese leader to attend the elite gathering in 2017 to offer a vigorous defense of free trade — is sending Xi’s deputy instead.

That will leave the likes of British Finance Minister Philip Hammond, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and a host of central bankers with the task of trying to reassure business chiefs.

“Davos will be dominated by a high level of anxiety about stock markets, a slowdown in growth and international politics,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit. “The leadership presence is lower than last year but those who are going … will be seeking to impart a sense of confidence and calm business and investors’ nerves.”

​Forum still has its glitz

Before the U.S. cancellation, a Trump administration official had said the U.S. delegation would also discuss the importance of reforming institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Trump has harshly criticized globalization and questioned U.S. participation in multilateral institutions such as the WTO, calling for a revamp of international trade rules.

Davos watchers said the absence of so many top leaders this year did not mean the glitzy forum had lost its status as a global stage for top politicians to present their agendas.

“Abe is going to Davos not just as Japanese prime minister but also as chair of the G20. It will be a perfect opportunity to lay the groundwork of upcoming G20 meetings,” said a Japanese government source familiar with international affairs.

“Of course there may be inconveniences such as missing opportunities to hold bilateral meetings, but that won’t undermine the importance of Davos,” he said.

A Chinese official who has attended Davos regularly but will not go this year said China had never expected to make progress at the meeting on the trade dispute with the United States. 

“It’s just an occasion for making a policy statement,” he said.

​Networking opportunities

The low turnout among major Western leaders may also give more prominence to political personalities who may otherwise be upstaged. Davos will be the first major international outing for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, elected on a wave of anti-establishment and conservative nationalism also seen elsewhere.

He said on Twitter he would present “a different Brazil, free of ideological ties and widespread corruption.”

For business chiefs, the value of Davos lies not so much in the public sessions but in the networking and deal-making opportunities on the sidelines of the main conference.

“It’s the best place to pitch for ideas, build connections and get your brand known,” said Chen Linchevski, chief executive of Precognize, an Israel-based start-up developing software that prevents technical or quality failures at manufacturing plants.

“It’s the kind of place where in a few days you meet people you wouldn’t easily meet otherwise,” said Linchevski, who is paying 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,495) to attend the event.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Norway PM Solberg to Form Majority Government

Norway’s minority centre-right government has struck a deal with the small Christian Democratic Party to form a four-party majority coalition, it said on Thursday, confirming earlier  reports.

The agreement fulfils a long-standing goal of Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg, in power since 2013, who hopes ruling in a majority will provide stability and help ease her path to re-election in 2021.

“We had tough negotiations,” Solberg said, celebrating the pact alongside leaders of her existing partners the Progress Party and the Liberal Party as well as the Christian Democrats.

She said the government would focus on a “sustainable welfare society”, help combat climate change, reduce taxes for small and medium businesses, strengthen family and children’s rights, and ensure stronger security for all.

The three parties also agreed to slight changes in abortion laws at the demand of the Christian Democrats.

Recent opinion polls have shown a majority of voters backing the Labour-led center-left opposition.

 

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Report: Morocco Foils 89,000 Illegal Migration Attempts in 2018

Morocco stopped 89,000 people from illegally migrating in 2018, up 37 percent compared to a year earlier, the interior ministry said Thursday, as the country became the main launchpad in the Mediterranean for Europe-bound migrants.

Morocco, which other Africans can visit without visas, has become a major gateway for migrants into Europe since Italy’s tougher line and EU aid to the Libyan coast guard curbed the number of people coming from Libya.

In 2018, Moroccan authorities dismantled 229 migrant trafficking networks, the interior ministry’s figure showed.

Some 80 percent of illegal migrants intercepted in 2018 were foreigners, 29,715 migrants were saved at sea while 5,608 opted for a voluntary return to their home countries, the ministry said.

While some migrants try to reach Ceuta and another Spanish enclave in Africa, Melilla, others pay smugglers to put them on boats, as Spain is just 14 km across the western end of the Mediterranean.

The EU has already transferred 30 million euros out of 140 million promised last October to help Morocco curb illegal migration, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Thursday at a news conference in Rabat.

About half of the 111,558 migrants and refugees who entered Europe by the Mediterranean Sea in 2018 made it through the Western route separating the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Some 2,217 died while crossing the Mediterranean, including 744 on the western route, the IOM said.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

British PM May Survives Confidence Vote But Faces Immediate Brexit Crisis

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May scraped through a vote of no confidence Wednesday that would have brought down her government. But she is faced with an immediate crisis over her country’s exit from the European Union. The deal she struck with Brussels was defeated by a record margin this week, and it’s far from clear how Britain will avoid leaving the EU with no deal in just over 70 days with potentially catastrophic consequences for the economy. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Analysis: US, Britain Mired In Political Crises With No End in Sight

The United States and Britain are mired in political crises with no end in sight. U.S. freshmen representatives urged the Senate on Wednesday to schedule a vote on the longest ever U.S. government shutdown and British Prime Minister Theresa May barely survived a second no-confidence vote in just over a month, after her Brexit deal suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke looks into the government gridlocks plaguing two allied nations across the Atlantic.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

ICC Orders Ex-Ivory Coast President to Remain in Custody

The International Criminal Court has ordered former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and his top aide to remain in custody, even after judges acquitted them of crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors immediately appealed Tuesday’s verdict and argued the pair may refuse to return to The Hague for trial if the not-guilty verdict is overturned.

The three-judge panel called the prosecution’s case “exceptionally weak.”

Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude had been on trial for alleged crimes against humanity stemming from the violence in Ivory Coast after the 2010 election.

Gbagbo lost to his bitter rival, current President Alassane Outtara, but refused to concede. The standoff led to violence that killed 3,000 people and sent thousands more fleeing the country for their lives.

Opponents and prosecutors blame Gbagbo and Ble Goude for the deadly unrest. But the three-judge panel ruled Tuesday there was not enough evidence of responsibility to convict the pair.

Gbagbo’s daughter told reporters her father plans to return to Ivory Coast when he is released.

But if he goes back, he faces 20 years in prison on charges of misusing funds from a West African central bank.

An Ivorian court convicted him in absentia last year, but the government has not said whether it will enforce the sentence.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

UK Businesses Brace for No-Deal Brexit

Brexit has British business owners on edge — and that is great news for Lovespace, a storage and warehousing company outside London.

Lovespace, which collects boxes from customers, stores them and then returns the goods when needed, says revenue from businesses doubled over the past year and inquiries quadrupled as enterprises large and small began stockpiling inventory because of concerns they will be cut off from suppliers if Britain leaves the European Union without an agreement on future trading relations.

“People are working out how to store stuff — how to get things to their own customers as the year progresses,” CEO Steve Folwell said as workers moved boxes around the company’s 20,000 square-foot (1,860 square-meter) warehouse in Dunstable, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of London. “There’s uncertainty because of Brexit and there’s a lack of trust in the political process at the moment.”

The risk of a no-deal Brexit is increasing amid widespread opposition to the divorce agreement Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the EU. While May says her deal is the only way to ensure that trade continues to flow smoothly after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, U.K. lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected the agreement late Tuesday because opponents fear it will leave the country tied to the EU for years to come.

Without an agreement on future relations, 40 years of free trade between Britain and the EU would be replaced by tariffs, border inspections and other non-tariff barriers, with potentially devastating impacts on the British economy. The government’s own contingency plans raise the specter of lengthy border delays that could cause shortages of food and medicine, and the Bank of England predicts gross domestic product could shrink by as much as 8 percent this year.

“Businesses would face new costs and tariffs,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industries, which represents 190,000 businesses. “Our ports would be disrupted, separating firms from the parts they need to supply their customers.”

Among those taking precautions is Richard Ellison, the founder of Wanderlust Wine, who imports wines from small producers off the beaten track. Worried that supplies to his customers could be interrupted, he’s stocked up in advance to brace for disruption at the border and the potential for an increase in paperwork.

“Everything will have to be checked at the border,” he said, explaining his precautions. “We bought quite a lot in advance — an extra pallet or two to tide us over.”

Companies ranging from supermarket giant Tesco, which imports food from continental suppliers, to carmakers like Ford, who rely on European parts to feed British production lines, have been lobbying politicians for clarity about future trading relations ever since U.K. voters backed leaving the EU in a June 2016 referendum. Now they are taking action to ensure they can continue to operate in the event no deal is reached.

A survey of U.K. manufacturers found that stockpiles of both finished goods and raw materials rose at near-record rates in December as businesses prepared for a possible disruption in supplies, according to the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply.

More than 60 percent of U.K. manufacturers are preparing to stockpile goods and 29 percent have already begun to do so, according to a November survey of 242 companies by EEF, the manufacturers’ organization. Some are even erecting new buildings to increase storage capacity.

“They are looking for places to store stuff,” said Francesco Arcangeli, the EEF’s economist. “They are looking for space. They are creating new space. That never happened before.”

Charlie Pool, CEO of Stowga, which loosely describes itself as the Airbnb of British warehousing, said customers looking for storage space searched the company’s site 10,000 times in December, up from an average of 3,000 a month. Businesses are sometimes even paying deposits to secure their bookings, which isn’t standard practice, Pool said, comparing it to paying for a hotel before arrival.

“The data we have is proving that stockpiling for Brexit is definitely a thing,” he said. “It’s happening now.”

That is driving up the cost of storage space. The average price to store a pallet of goods jumped to 2.10 pounds ($2.71) a week last month from 1.85 pounds in September. Pool said he wouldn’t be surprised if exceeded 3 pounds should a no-deal Brexit become a reality. That would still be relatively cheap compared with the cost of not getting products to the end consumers, he said.

The dangers of Brexit to business are evident even for storage companies like Lovespace. Despite the boom in revenue, a potential investor pulled back last year because of the uncertainty caused by Britain’s exit from the EU.

The investor said “it seems awfully complex to me,” Folwell said. “People are looking at the U.K. as a bit of a basket case at the moment.”

 

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Pregnant Meghan Laughs Off ‘Fat Lady’ Comment on Charity Visit

 A stranger’s comment on one’s growing stomach may not always be welcome but a pregnant Meghan, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, took it all in her stride on Wednesday when a pensioner called her “a fat lady.”

Prince Harry’s wife, who told well-wishers this week she is six months pregnant, laughed off the remark, meant as a compliment about her growing baby bump.

On a visit to animal welfare charity Mayhew, of which she is patron, Meghan was being introduced to pensioners who have benefited from the organization’s animal therapy program when an elderly woman named Peggy took a more casual approach to speaking to a member of the royal family.

“Lovely lady, you are, may the good Lord always bless you,” Peggy told the duchess. “And you’re a fat lady,” she added, smiling and looking at Meghan’s tummy.

“I’ll take it,” Meghan replied, laughing along with others.

Meghan said last week she would become patron of Mayhew and three organizations dedicated to causes close to her. On her first visit to the charity as patron, she met beneficiaries, staff and several dogs, some of which she held in her arms.

The 37-year-old also planned to attend the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem” show on Wednesday evening, an event aimed at raising awareness and funds for Harry’s Sentebale charity.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.