India in talks with EU for trade deal, open to pact with UK By Reuters


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© Reuters. 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos

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By Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India has started trade talks with the European Union (EU) and is open to dialogue with the United Kingdom for a free trade agreement, the trade minister said on Saturday, as Asia’s third largest economy looks for new markets for its products.

Piyush Goyal said that India is open to engage with the UK for a preferential trade agreement with the ultimate goal of a free trade agreement.

He is also in dialogue with the European Union’s trade commissioner for a deal that could start with a preferential trade agreement. He added that the ultimate goal here too would be to have a free trade agreement.

“We’re talking to the EU and I am in dialogue with the EU trade commissioner. I am looking for an early harvest deal. Open to discussions on a variety of subjects. It’s up to the UK and EU whoever picks up the gauntlet first,” Goyal said.

Negotiations for a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and India were suspended in 2013 after six years of talks.

India pulled out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership last year due to fears over China’s access to its markets and is looking for new ways to boost its exports.

The country has also been raising trade barriers to block cheap imports from China and replace them with locally made goods for domestic consumption and exports.

“Apart from pharmaceuticals, we have textiles, handicrafts, leather, furniture, industrial machinery, toys are areas where India can engage with UK & EU at competitive prices,” Goyal said.

India’s economic growth has largely been driven by local consumption and successive governments have struggled to expand exports.

In the last six years Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been trying to push exports through various programmes like “Make in India” but with limited success.

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EU will reach compromise on budget, recovery fund By Reuters



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Session at the lower house of German parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz on Friday voiced optimism that EU member states will reach a compromise on the bloc’s long-term budget and economic recovery fund after European Council president sought to bridge differences.

“From my point of view it is important that everyone moves forward and shows willingness to compromise. The contribution (Charles Michel) made to that is important but hugely differing positions, which are all known, remain,” Scholz told a news conference after talks with European Union finance ministers.

Scholz said member states were being constructive and were prepared to compromise, adding: “I think it will succeed and so I’m optimistic.”

European Council President Michel on Friday proposed a smaller 2021-27 budget in a bid to make a mass economic stimulus more palatable to thrifty northern countries.

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EU must emerge stronger, more united from corona-crisis, Merkel says By Reuters



© Reuters. German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Preserving basic rights, fostering solidarity, protecting the climate, digitalisation, and Europe’s role in the world are Germany’s top priorities during its six-month presidency of the European Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.

“We want Europe to come out of the (coronavirus crisis) more united and stronger,” Merkel said in speech to European Parliament lawmakers in Brussels.

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Banks urge Britain and EU to sort out financial market access By Reuters



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: British PM May meets German Chancellor Merkel to discuss Brexit in Berlin

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain and the European Union need to make progress on EU financial market access given that the coronavirus crisis will make it even harder to cope with potential disruption if there is no agreement, banking lobby AFME said on Monday.

Britain left the EU in January but has full access to the bloc under a transition period that runs until the end of December.

London and Brussels blamed each other last week for missing a June 30 deadline for assessments on financial market access from January.

Future direct EU access will depend on whether Brussels deems UK regulation to be “equivalent” to standards in the bloc.

Although it is far more limited than current access, without equivalence EU investors would not be able to use financial services in London.

“COVID-19 has the potential to disrupt Brexit planning including impacting client readiness, as well as potentially affecting the ability of firms to relocate staff to other jurisdictions,” AFME said in a statement.

AFME said ensuring that EU investors can continue using clearing houses in London needed addressing before the end of September to avoid customers having to move derivatives positions elsewhere.

Two-way access in stock and derivatives trading was also needed to avoid disruption, AFME said.

AFME called for a formal framework for UK and EU regulators to iron out differences that could jeopardise access.

“This is particularly important in the context of the fast-evolving legislative agenda in the EU and the UK with a number of significant financial services files being proposed, due to be implemented, or under review in the second half of this year and the first half of 2021,” AFME said.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said last week that financial firms must get ready for big changes in January.

“We will only grant equivalences in those areas where it is clearly in the interest of the EU, of our financial stability, our investors and our consumers,” Barnier said.

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EU grants conditional clearance to COVID-19 antiviral remdesivir By Reuters



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Gilead Sciences Inc pharmaceutical company is seen during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in California

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Friday it had given conditional approval for the use of COVID-19 antiviral remdesivir following an accelerated review process.

The EU executive said the drug, produced by Gilead Sciences Inc (O:), was the first medicine authorised in the European Union for treating COVID-19 following a “rolling review” begun by the European Medicines Agency at the end of April.

The agency reviews data as they become available on a rolling basis, while development is still ongoing.

The Commission said on Wednesday it was in negotiations with Gilead to obtain doses of remdesivir for the 27 European Union countries.

However, that may prove difficult after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it had secured all of Gilead’s projected production for July and 90% of that for August and September.

Remdesivir is in high demand after the intravenously-administered medicine helped to shorten hospital recovery times in a clinical trial. It is believed to be most effective in treating COVID-19 patients earlier in the course of disease than other therapies like the steroid dexamethasone.

Still, because remdesivir is given intravenously over at least a five-day period it is generally being used on patients sick enough to require hospitalisation.

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Most EU countries not doing enough to tackle air pollution, Commission says By Reuters



© Reuters. European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Most European Union countries are at risk of missing their targets for reducing health-damaging air pollution for both 2020 and 2030, the European Commission said on Friday.

In its first report on countries’ progress towards EU air pollution goals, the Commission said member states needed to step up efforts to tackle the estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year caused in the EU by exposure to polluted air.

Based on current policies, 10 of the EU’s 27 member states will meet their 2020 targets to reduce air pollution, while only four – Croatia, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Finland – would meet their 2030 goals, the Commission said.

The report is based on countries’ emissions projections submitted to the Commission last year.

Europe’s air pollution crisis has been thrown into harsher light by the new coronavirus pandemic, with researchers noting that prolonged exposure to dirty air can cause diabetes, lung disease and cancer – all conditions that increase the risk of death for COVID-19 patients.

Air pollution levels plummeted across Europe in March, when coronavirus lockdowns curbed road transport and slowed output at gas-emitting factories.

But research this week from the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air showed levels of nitrogen dioxide are rebounding strongly in cities including Paris, Oslo and Budapest, as economies reopen and concerns over the virus prompt people to use cars rather than public transport.

The EU sets national emission reduction goals covering five air pollutants responsible for damage to human health and the environment – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, nonmethane volatile organic compounds, ammonia and fine particulate matter.

The worst pollutant for non-compliance was ammonia, most of which is emitted by the agriculture sector through manure spreading and fertiliser use.

Plans proposed by the Commission last month to cut EU fertiliser use by 20% by 2030 could help steer countries towards cutting ammonia emissions – but tougher national measures are also needed, it said.

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Huge EU transport projects too slow, costs skyrocketing, auditors say By Reuters



© Reuters.

By Marine Strauss

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Some of the huge EU road and rail projects worth more than 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion) each are not moving fast enough to ensure they are running at full capacity by 2030 as planned and may not be economically viable, auditors said on Tuesday.

The European Court of Auditors looked into eight cross-border projects, part of a planned trans-European network, including the Lyon-Turin railway between France and Italy, the A1 motorway in Romania and the Seine-Scheldt waterway between France and Belgium.

It found that some projects “may not be economically viable” and traffic forecasts may be over-optimistic.

The average construction time of large-scale transport infrastructure is 15 years, but the average delay for entering into operation has been 11 years, the court said. The Seine-Scheldt link has been delayed the most by 18 years and the Lyon-Turin by 15 years so far.

The cost of the eight megaprojects had increased by more than 17 billion euros, a 47% raise on initial estimates, due to changes in project scope, design or inefficient implementation, auditors found.

The largest cost increase was the Canal Seine Nord on the Seine-Scheldt link where costs are estimated to have risen 199%, or 3.3 billion euros. The Lyon-Turin rail connection is now estimated to cost 9.6 billion euros, an 85% increase from an initial estimate of 5.2 billion euros.

The European Commission is responsible for making sure that EU member states complete the core transport network by 2030. Its supervision had been “distant and needs to be strengthened”, auditors said.

 

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EU sees path to Brexit compromise if UK more realistic, adviser says By Reuters




DUBLIN (Reuters) – The European Union sees a path towards a compromise on a trade deal with Britain but London must first be more realistic in what it expects to achieve, an adviser to the EU’s chief trade negotiator said on Thursday.

Britain left the world’s largest trading bloc on Jan. 31 and has made very little progress in talks about a Brexit free trade agreement, negotiators from both sides concluded after the latest round of talks on Friday.

Stefaan de Rynck told a virtual Irish conference that Britain had shown a lack of serious engagement on a number of issues and the talks needed to be unblocked.

The areas where the EU was seeing this were in regard to standards for open and fair competition, fisheries, an overarching governance structure, and on judicial and law enforcement co-operation, De Rynck said.

“This may be a tough message but at the same time, we can see the trajectory of compromise,” he said. “We have, like in some fairytale, put out some stones that show you the path to a compromise),” he said.

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Wednesday that Britain was seeking a trading relationship with the EU that was too close to that of a member state, urging London to adjust its demands in the four months left to reach a deal.

“If we get to the point where the UK changes its approach and becomes more realistic in what it can achieve, then I think we can quickly go on a trajectory for a compromise. We are certainly willing on the EU side to walk that trajectory,”

De Rynck said.

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EU finance ministers examine recovery plan amid deep divisions By Reuters



© Reuters. European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

By Jan Strupczewski

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union finance ministers reviewed the EU’s 750 billion euro plan for post-pandemic recovery on Tuesday ahead of what will be fractious negotiations over who should get the cash and even over the legality of borrowing to offer grants.

The European Commission’s recovery plan aims to help economically weaker countries hit worst by the coronavirus to recover at a more equal pace with the stronger ones, to preserve the unity of the EU’s single market of 450 million people.

“The aim (on Tuesday) is really to have a first exchange of views, it is too early for any big fight,” one EU official said.

A second official added: “It’s the first round, everyone talks but there is no negotiation. It is good to feel the atmosphere, but nobody will move. It is too soon.”

The stimulus plan, backed by France and Germany, is to be deployed over the next four years and help the EU shift to being climate neutral by 2050 and better adapted to the digital age.

But, controversially, it entails the Commission borrowing on the market against the security of the EU budget and then giving, rather than lending, some of the money to needy states.

This, according to Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, could violate the principle that the EU cannot incur debt and that its EU budget cannot run a deficit.

Some also argue that, since all countries can borrow cheaply on the market, there is no need for EU grants at all. Cheap loans would be enough, they say.

Yet the Commission proposed 500 billion euros in grants and 250 billion euros in loans, so that highly indebted countries such as Italy and Greece would not have to borrow even more.

It also proposed the money be allocated based on population size, GDP per capita and past average unemployment levels.

Such criteria put Italy and Spain at the top of the list.

But they also benefit Greece, which survived the pandemic with far fewer infections and deaths than, say, Belgium, but would receive almost six times more money.

Poland would be the third biggest beneficiary after Italy and Spain, yet it too suffered relatively little from the pandemic and is forecast by the Commission to have the smallest recession of all EU countries this year.

The Netherlands says the distribution of cash must reflect the actual impact of the coronavirus.

The plan has to win the approval of all EU governments and parliaments and officials expect negotiations to drag into July and possibly later.

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EU banks shouldn’t pay dividends this year, watchdog says By Reuters




FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Banks in the European Union shouldn’t be allowed to pay dividends, bonuses, or buy back shares at least until the end of this year, the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) said on Monday.

The ESRB’s recommendation, if followed, would extend a euro zone ban on such payouts by three months, or potentially longer, to help banks build up a buffer and withstand the worst economic slump in living memory.

“Over the past two months, the depth and length of the crisis have become clear,” the ESRB, which is hosted by the European Central Bank and chaired by ECB chief Christine Lagarde, said.

“This further highlights the need for banks to refrain from paying dividends, buying back shares and paying variable compensation until at least 1 January 2021 – and possibly even longer if additional data indicate a slower release from containment policies and potentially a deeper economic slump.”

The ECB told euro zone banks on its in March not to pay any dividend or buy back shares until Oct. 1.

Set up after the financial crisis, the ESRB acts as a pan-European financial stability watchdog but its recommendations are not binding for supervisors.

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