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Political News

Trump risks return to ‘law of the jungle’ for international trade, officials warn

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Trump risks return to 'law of the jungle' for international trade, officials warn 3

The US has spent two years chipping away at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), criticising it as unfair, starving it of personnel and disregarding its authority, as Donald Trump seeks to upend the global trade system.

This week, the Trump administration is expected to go one step further and effectively destroy the organisation’s system for enforcing its rules — even as Mr Trump’s widening trade war has thrown global commerce into disarray and another tariff increase on Chinese goods set for next weekend could send markets reeling.

Over the past two years, Washington has blocked the WTO from appointing new members to a crucial panel that hears appeals in trade disputes. Only three members are left on the seven-member body, the minimum needed to hear a case, and two members’ terms expire Tuesday. With the administration blocking any new replacements, there will be no official resolution for many international trade disputes.

The loss of the world’s primary trade referee could turn the typically deliberate process of resolving international disputes into a free-for-all, paving the way for an outbreak of tit-for-tat tariff wars.

It could also signal the end of the 24-year-old World Trade Organisation itself, since the system for settling disputes has long been its most effective part.

“The WTO is facing its deepest crisis since its creation,” Phil Hogan, the European trade commissioner, told members of the European Parliament this year. If the rules governing international trade can no longer be enforced, “we’d have the law of the jungle.”

Mr Trump has already embraced that scenario, wielding America’s economic power to press for better trade terms. He has sidestepped WTO rules by imposing metal tariffs on allies like Canada, Europe and Japan and by adding punishing levies to Chinese goods, prompting appeals to the global body for relief.

The president and his top advisers have long viewed the WTO as an impediment to Mr Trump’s promise to put “America First.” They say the organisation, which insists that all of its members receive equal treatment, has prevented the US from protecting its workers and exerting its influence as the world’s most powerful economy. They have also criticised the WTO for emboldening China — whose economy boomed after it became a member in 2001 — while doing little to curb Beijing’s unfair trade practices.

His advisers point to the WTO’s inability to confront China as a reason for Mr Trump’s trade war with Beijing.

“It’s absolutely critical that the United States has the ability to make its own trade policy,” said Stephen Vaughn, a partner at King & Spalding, who left a high-level post at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in May. “This ability becomes even more important given the challenges that we now face from China.”

The World Trade Organisation was founded by US and European officials more than two decades ago as a way to open global markets, regulate commerce and promote peace and stability. One of its chief responsibilities was to write trade agreements among its members and provide an orderly way to settle disputes.

But the WTO almost immediately fell short when it came to writing trade pacts, as it found it nearly impossible to achieve consensus between disparate members like the US, China, Afghanistan and India.

China’s entry into the organisation — 18 years ago this week, on 11 December, 2001 — put further stress on the system. The addition of China’s more than 1 billion people to the global marketplace created a huge opportunity for companies and a shock for workers in the United States and elsewhere who were forced to compete.

(The WTO’s rules were not written with an economy like China’s in mind, and critics say the organisation has failed to adequately police Beijing for using a mix of private enterprise and state support to dominate global industries.

The Trump administration has criticised the body’s decision to allow China to claim a special status for developing countries given that it is now the world’s second largest economy. And it has condemned the WTO for doing little to stop China from subsidising its products — instead cracking down on US measures that are meant to block those cheap goods at the border.

While the WTO’s ability to facilitate trade negotiations was largely paralysed, its other arm, which settles trade disputes, has been much more active, reviewing dozens of cases a year.

Unlike other international organisations, whose rules have no way of being enforced, the WTO may dole out punishments along with its verdicts. When one country is found to have suffered from another’s trade practices, the WTO may allow the aggrieved country to recoup losses through retaliatory tariffs.

The US has long won the majority of cases it brings to the WTO, though Mr Trump incorrectly argues to the contrary. In October, the WTO gave the US permission to add tariffs on up to $7.5bn (£5.7bn) of European products annually, after deciding that Europe had illegally subsidised its largest plane maker, Airbus.

“We never won with the WTO, or essentially never won,” Mr Trump said 16 October as he met with the Italian president. “And now we’re winning a lot. We’re winning a lot because they know if we’re not treated fairly, we’re leaving.”

But the US has also lost cases and the Trump administration is facing numerous challenges to the president’s aggressive use of tariffs to punish trading partners. Japan, Canada, China, the European Union and other governments are relying on the system to determine whether Mr Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium violated global trade rules. However, many of those governments — including the European Union, Mexico and Canada — have not waited for a ruling before imposing retaliatory tariffs on US goods.

Supporters have credited the dispute settlement system with bringing the rule of law to an international trading system that formerly allowed strong countries to dominate weak ones.

But critics say the system exerts too much control, especially at the final stage when the seven-member appellate body makes a binding determination. US officials, including in the Obama administration, have accused the appellate body of judicial activism, saying it is overstepping its authority in creating new rules.

Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, has argued that the body’s decisions constrain America’s ability to protect its workers and has insisted it be overhauled. In March, he told lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee that the WTO had migrated “from a negotiation forum to a litigation forum,” a transformation that had stifled new trade agreements and undermined some countries’ commitment to the organisation.

Over the past two years, Mr Lighthizer has overseen a targeted offensive against the appellate body, in what he says is a push for change. The US has blocked the appointment of new appellate body members, which requires the consensus of all governments.

Officials in other countries share some of America’s concerns, particularly related to China, but they disagree with the Trump administration’s methods. They argue the US and other countries should fix the problems and strengthen the global trading system, not abandon it.

The prospective weakening of global trade rules has worried smaller and poorer nations, who may find themselves at the mercy of the US It has also rankled the European Union, a strong believer in the multilateral system whose economy is heavily dependent on trade.

“They are not perfect, because they were born in a certain context, but they’ve served us well,” Cecilia Malmstrom, the former European Union trade commissioner, said of the global trading rules in an interview in September. “And if they’re not perfect, let’s work to improve them. Let’s not just abolish them.”

Trump administration officials say proposals to overhaul the WTO have fallen short of what is needed. Dennis Shea, the US representative to the WTO, said last week that the US had engaged constructively, but had “have yet to see the same level of engagement” from other countries.

WTO members have been discussing ways to deal with the appellate body’s disappearance, like setting up their own informal appeal process, regardless of the verdict. Many are hopeful that the body can be restored once the Trump administration leaves office, whether that is in 2021 or 2025.

Roberto Azevedo, the WTO director-general, said last week that the suspension of appeals was a serious challenge but that it did “not mean the end of the multilateral trading system.”

But Ujal Singh Bhatia, one of the appellate body members whose term ends Tuesday, said that by making the dispute settlement system potentially non-functional, the United States’ moves had cast doubts on the effectiveness of the organisation overall.

“Why would people come to the WTO to negotiate rules if they are not sure the rules can be enforced?” Mr Bhatia asked.

The New York Times



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Political News

How Oman is trying to become the Middle East mediator again

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How Oman is trying to become the Middle East mediator again 6

Oman seems to be trying, once again, to play the role of mediator in the Middle East and reduce regional tensions.

The Persian Gulf country has successfully mediated among various rivals in the past and has tried to maintain a neutral stance on regional issues.

The Omani foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi, travelled to Iran this week and held meetings with senior Iranian officials.

He said all parties agreed it was time to resolve the conflict in Yemen and that there are “promising signs” and a “real opportunity” to bring the parties together and end the war. 

While hosting his Omani counterpart in Tehran, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for reducing tensions in the Persian Gulf and suggested that Iran was serious about a plan.


Nowhere to go – Displaced in Yemen fear new war on the horizon 

The trip to Tehran comes a week after Oman’s top diplomat had a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington.

Mr Pompeo emphasised that the US will continue to work with Oman to support a political solution in Yemen.

“For Muscat, this ongoing war constitutes the gravest threat to Oman’s security, thus resolution of the conflict has always been a high priority for the Sultanate’s leadership,” Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics in Washington, told The Independent

“From Muscat’s perspective, the Saudi-led coalition’s war against the Houthi rebels was misguided as no military solution exists in Yemen.” 

As the war in Yemen has a key role in tensions between Riyadh, Washington and Tehran, forging a diplomatic solution for that conflict could also open the door for more engagements among the arch-enemies

By maintaining neutrality in most regional conflicts, Oman has been uniquely positioned to serve as a diplomatic facilitator in the region. The Sultanate helped kick-start the historic nuclear negotiations by facilitating secret meetings between senior Iranian and American officials that led to multilateral negotiations.  

Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at the International Crisis Group, said the likeliest issues pursued by Oman are the war in Yemen and a regional security dialogue, as other mediators seem focused on other subjects.

“France is still trying to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the US to preserve the nuclear deal, while Switzerland appears focused on the prisoners’ fate in both countries and Kuwait is the main interlocutor on Iran-Saudi relations,” Mr Vaez told The Independent

“Under the current circumstances any constructive diplomacy is better than none. Having come to the brink of a catastrophic clash twice in the past six months, there is new impetus for finding ways of lowering the temperate.”


Investigation finds evidence of Saudi double-tap strikes in Yemen

Since Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last year, tensions between Tehran and Washington have grown rapidly, bringing the two long-time foes to the brink of a military confrontation over the summer. 

This was the second time the Omani foreign minister has visited Iran in recent months. The top diplomat was also sent to Tehran back in July. 



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Political News

Global protests demand end to violence against women

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Global protests demand end to violence against women 9

Women around the world have taken to the streets to call for an end to violence against them and commemorate the lives of those murdered by men.

Demonstrators gathered over the weekend to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which falls on 25 November every year. 

The day, which has been observed for 40 years and part of the UN calendar for 20, aims to shine a spotlight on the prevalence of rape and domestic abuse and other forms of violence which women endure.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in her lifetime, mostly by an intimate partner.

Demonstrations were held in dozens of cities across France and the hashtag #NousToutes (which translates as All of Us) gained increasing traction. 

Outrage has been mounting in recent months over femicide, which is defined as the gender-motivated killing of women, in the country.

France has one of the highest rates of murders connected to domestic abuse in Western Europe  – with at least 115 women killed by their partners or former partners this year alone. Campaigners are calling for the government to do more to tackle the problem.

The protests came ahead of French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe revealing a series of measures to tackle domestic abuse against women on Monday.

More than 10,000 people marched in Rome on Saturday to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The demonstration comes after statistics released last week revealed 142 women were murdered in Italy in 2018 – a rise from 123 in the previous year. 

Some 119 were killed by their husband, boyfriend or ex-partner. The murderers described themselves as being jealous and possessive in around a third of cases. 

Campaigners say women’s rights are being radically rolled back in the country and retrograde, traditional stereotypes about the role of women are getting worse. Italy’s penal code called for short jail sentences for men who killed women due to jealousy just a generation ago.

Around 10,000 people took part in a protest in Brussels on Sunday demanding an end to violence against women – with demonstrators putting pairs of red shoes as an emblem of femicide victims outside the Palace of Justice and holding placards saying “That’s enough” and “Not one more life”.

Reclaim the Night marches were held around the UK on Saturday evening and protesters also called for an end to violence suffered by women. Reclaim the Night started in Leeds in 1977 as a reaction to women in West Yorkshire being instructed to stay inside because of murders perpetrated by the Yorkshire Ripper.

Marble Arch in central London will be illuminated in bright orange on Monday to mark the day – with the bright spectacle replicated across the world and buildings across Europe and in the US and Australia also transformed by orange hues.

Four women walked barefoot on Saturday in Mexico where they held a ceremony in commemoration of Briseida Carreno, a young woman who was killed a year ago in Ecatepec, a suburb northeast of Mexico City where there have been a high number of femicides.

Ten women are murdered each day in Mexico on average – with campaigners planning a number of protests to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Monday marks the beginning of 16 days of events campaigning to end gender-based violence and hundreds of events are planned across the world.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said: “Rape isn’t an isolated brief act. It can have life-changing, unchosen effects – a pregnancy or a sexually-transmitted disease, immense trauma and an unwarranted sense of shame. In both conflict and in peacetime it often shapes women’s decisions to move from their communities through fear of attack or the stigmatization of survivors. If I could have one wish granted, it might well be a total end to rape.”

Marches, cycling rallies, marathons and art competitions are planned around the world as part of the 16 days of activism. Murals of positive gender relations will be painted on the streets of Malawi, classes on personal safety using Aikido martial art will take place at universities and secondary schools in Albania.

While an exhibition of films made by Latin American women accompanied by debates will happen in Honduras and hundreds of trees will be planted in Cambodia.

UN Women notes the precise figures of rape and sexual assault are very tricky to predict due to survivors being apprehensive about reporting incidents of violence.

But the organisation estimates approximately 15 million adolescent girls – aged 15 to 19 – across the world have endured forced sex at some point in their life. Three billion women and girls live in countries where rape in the context of marriage is not explicitly criminalised. 

“Despite worldwide mobilisations led by survivors and activists in recent years through movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Niunamenos, #NotOneMore, #BalanceTonPorc, and others, sexual violence continues to be normalised and embedded in our social environments,” UN Women says. 

“Violence against women and girls continues in every country. From the trivialising of rape, victim-blaming, the objectification of women’s bodies in movies or TV, the glamorisation of violence in ads, or the constant use of misogynistic language, we are all daily witnesses to this rape culture, sometimes even silent bystanders, and have a responsibility to stop it.” 



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