The Taliban on Friday said that China has pledged to keep its embassy in Afghanistan open and “beef up” relations in the war-torn country, which this week saw US troops depart after a nearly 20-year military presence, according to a Guardian report.
Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Islamist militia, said that a senior member of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar was informed by Chinese deputy foreign minister Wu Jianghao that Beijing sought to increase humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.
“The Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister said that they would maintain their embassy in Kabul, adding our relations would beef up as compared to the past,” Shaheen said. “Afghanistan can play an important role in security and development of the region.”
He added: “China will also continue and increase its humanitarian assistance especially for treatment of COVID-19.”
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on Thursday spoke of potential Chinese investment in Afghanistan.
“China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us, because it is ready to invest [in] and rebuild our country,” according to the South China Morning Post.
After the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, the Islamist militia is now tasked with shifting from an insurgency to a governing power.
China last month criticized the “hurried withdrawal” of the US from Afghanistan but said that the country would be open to communicating with the leaders in Washington to help fend off a humanitarian crisis.
According to China’s state broadcaster CCTV, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that “using force and military means to resolve problems will just increase them.”
He added: “The lessons of this deserve serious reflection. … The United States cannot on one hand actively seek to contain and suppress China and harm China’s legitimate rights and interests, and on the other hand hope for China’s cooperation.”
The Chinese embassy in Kabul remains open, but the country evacuated Chinese citizens from Afghanistan as conditions in the country changed several months ago.
The Department of Defense (DoD) will remove China’s Xiaomi Corp from a government trade-ban list, a court filing on Tuesday showed, allowing Americans to invest in the smartphone maker in the future.
The filing stated that the two parties had reached an agreement to resolve their ongoing litigation after Xiaomi sued the US government earlier this year.
A Xiaomi spokeswoman said the company was watching the latest developments closely, but did not elaborate. Shares in the company rocketed over 6% in Hong Kong as news of the decision spread.
DoD officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment after US business hours on Tuesday.
In January, the DoD, under the Trump administration, accused the Beijing-based firm of having ties to China’s military and placed it on a trade ban list, meaning Americans couldn’t invest in it. The government labeled Xiaomi a “communist Chinese military company.”
The same restrictions were placed on seven other Chinese companies, including state-owned Chinese plane maker Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China and the airline Grand China Air.
Xiaomi filed a lawsuit against the US government, calling its placement “unlawful and unconstitutional” and denying any connections to Chinese military.
Under the new Biden administration in March, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the trade ban, citing the government’s “deeply flawed” process for including it in the ban.
Reuters reported that other Chinese firms placed on the same blacklist were considering similar lawsuits.
Xiaomi was one of the more high-profile Chinese tech companies that former President Donald Trump targeted for alleged ties to China’s military.
A massive container ship stuck in the Suez Canal has been “partially refloated,” Bloomberg News reported, citing shipping services provider Inchcape. Inchcape said in a tweet the boat is now being “secured.”
The Ever Given had been stuck sideways across Egypt’s canal since Tuesday, clogging a vital artery for the global economy and forcing multiple ships to turn around and reroute through Africa.
Reuters reported that following news the ship was refloated, crude oil prices fell by $1 per barrel to $63.67.
The 1,300 foot-long cargo ship, one of the world’s largest, became wedged in the Suez Canal early Tuesday morning. Egyptian officials initially blamed the weather, including strong winds and a dust storm. But on Saturday, officials said the logjam could be the result of “technical or human errors.”
Oil rose as much as 4% on Wednesday after a huge container ship ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal, a key shipping route for crude and refined products. The blockage raised some concern about fuel supply.
Overall, the price of oil is set to fall for the third consecutive week this week. Another round of lockdowns in Europe could threaten the recovery in demand growth and have undermined some of the recent strength in the oil market.
One of the biggest container ships in the canal ran aground early on Tuesday and is stuck at a right-angle to the passage. Hundreds of cargo ships are now unable to pass through the canal, forcing them to divert their routes. It is unclear when the issue will be resolved. “This could have an impact on movement of oil and consumer goods.” Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid said in a daily report.
Throughout the pandemic and subsequent cycles of lockdowns and travel bans, oil prices have been highly volatile. Over the last 12 months, Brent crude oil prices have fluctuated from as little as $16 a barrel to as much as $71. As demand for oil, and therefore its price, is inherently linked to sectors that are impacted heavily by lockdown measures, such as travel, they have been sensitive to the developments of the pandemic. Over the last two weeks, prices have fallen by around 12% and are still on course for a third weekly fall, in spite of Wednesday’s rally.
The price response to the hold-up at the Suez Canal may not reflect expectations for a prolonged improvement in demand, analysts said. The futures market has eliminated a bullish structure known as “backwardation” – where prompt contracts trade at a premium to further-out futures contracts, which reflects bullishness among traders and investors about the demand outlook.
“The reprieve seems temporary, though, as the spot price fall overnight has completely removed the backwardation in the oil futures market for prompt deliveries. With speculative markets still long, it seems, oil is likely to be a sell on rallies until Covid-19 and economic recovery sentiment swings back into the black.” Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts stressed the need for a wealth tax to counter wealth inequality in the country during an interview on CNBC on Thursday.
Brought on to discuss the GameStop trade that shook the stock market in the last two weeks, Warren told CNBC’s Wilfred Frost and Sara Eisen that the Securities and Exchange Commission needs stricter and clearer rules on market manipulation. Without them, she said the stock market is like a “casino” and is not reflective of the state of the economy. Warren also cited the importance of new stimulus checks.
“But the stock market, which has become the giant casino and playground for the billionaires, just keep spinning upward,” Warren said. “That means that our real economy has …really become detached from where the stock market is and the real economy right now is suffering. Stimulus checks are a way to deal with that.”
With so many Americans filing unemployment claims during the pandemic, Warren said, and with a 20% unemployment rate for Americans making less than $40,000 a year, a two-cent wealth tax on the top tenth of one percent of families would counter wealth inequality and distribute some of the benefits of a soaring stock market.
Warren has long advocated for a wealth tax as a way to increase economic equality. According to the Institute for Policy Studies – a progressive think tank – the 400 richest families in America own more wealth than all Black households and a quarter of Latino households combined. When speaking of the consolidated wealth in the country, the Senator said that “a lot of the wealth is quite visible and easy to see, it’s right there in the stock market.”
She said: “A two-cent wealth tax changes this country fundamentally because it means we say as a nation, we are going to invest in the next generation. We’re going to invest in creating opportunity not just for a handful at the top, we’re going to create opportunity for all of our kids. That’s how we build a strong future in this country.”
Congress plans to hold hearings on the stock market following the effects of the GameStop trade.
As more COVID-19 vaccines are approved by regulatory bodies, attention will undoubtedly turn to the rollout. Vaccine nationalism – which occurs when national governments sign bilateral agreements with pharmaceutical manufacturers to supply their own populations with vaccines first – seems inevitable. While this approach is, to an extent, rational and will undoubtedly have domestic political advantages, there could be not only human consequences, but also economic ones as well.
International institutions such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations and GAVI – the vaccine alliance – among others, are trying to support the multilateral option to globally coordinate the COVID-19 vaccine effort. But this approach is not supported so far by some of the world’s leading economies, such as the US, who have been reluctant to commit and instead pursued direct bilateral deals with vaccine manufacturers.
While true that a vaccine nationalism approach would help improve the economic situation of those countries that can inoculate their populations, their economies would still depend on the concurrent recovery in other regions that have not been able to sufficiently immunize their populations against the virus. For example, more than 4% of US exports go to low or lower-middle income countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam or El Salvador.
There are key sectors that will not be able to bounce back until the global population is vaccinated. Travel, tourism and transportation are just three examples of these sectors that rely on a globally connected world to be fully functional. Only vaccinating the populations of individual countries will not be enough to see them return to full financial health, thereby prolonging the economic cost of COVID-19 for the world.
A RAND Europe report analyzing the costs of vaccine nationalism has the numbers to back this up. The research shows that given the enormous costs of the current disruption to the global economy, the introduction of a vaccine, and shared global access to vaccines, would have substantial economic benefits. These benefits would be significantly reduced by vaccine nationalism.
For example, if the vaccine-producing countries, such as the US, EU-27, UK, China, India and Russia, can inoculate a sufficiently large share of their populations, the estimated loss for the world economy in GDP would reduce from 3.7% to 1.3%. However, the lack of access to vaccines for the rest of the world would still result in a GDP loss of up to $1.2 trillion per year, or about $103 billion a month.
The large number of bilateral deals between national governments and producers of current vaccine candidates has resulted in a patchwork of agreements which could affect the pricing of vaccines as wealthier countries bid for limited vaccine supplies. Eventually this could lead to the pricing out or denying, at least initially, of governments of less wealthy countries’ access to some vaccines.
In fact, there is a strong argument that the major economies have more to gain by helping to make an effective vaccine widely available globally.
Based on estimates by Oxfam International in 2020, it would cost $25 billion to supply lower-income countries with vaccines. The US, the UK, the EU and other high-income countries combined could lose about $119 billion a year if the poorest countries are denied a supply. But if these high-income countries would provide the finance for the supply of vaccines, there could be a benefit-to-cost ratio of 4.8 to 1. This means that for every $1 spent, high-income countries would get back about $4.80. This demonstrates the economic incentives to global coordination in vaccine production and distribution.
The costs of global vaccine development and distribution pale in comparison to the enormous cost of economic disruption globally, with governments spending trillions to support workers and sectors severely impacted by the pandemic. This speaks to renewed and substantially larger investment in supporting global vaccine distribution. Ultimately, it could be in the national economic interest to cooperate globally.
Marco Hafner is a senior economist and research leader at RAND Europe.
Once again on Sunday, EU-UK trade negotiators will try to reach an agreement over “significant” differences in Brussels, with the prime minister, Boris Johnson, pushing for a Brexit deal before Britain’s 11-month transition period out of the union comes to a close.
Johnson and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke on the phone on Saturday, agreeing “progress has been achieved in many areas,” the two said in a joint statement.
But the two sides remained far apart on three “significant” issues: fishing boundaries off the UK coast, putting in place governance, and creating a “level playing field.”
“Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved,” Johnson and von der Leyen said.
They added: “Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved.”
Sunday’s negotiations are the latest in an ongoing effort to put a deal for Britain’s full EU exit in place. The UK left the EU officially on January 31, but has been in a transition period that ends December 31.
Without a deal in place, the UK at the end of the year would complete its transition out of the EU’s trade rules without protections in place for businesses. But talks on Friday had broken down over the the three issues, and both sides decided to “pause” negotiations, said Michael Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, on Twitter.
A senior official close to Johnson said odds of a Brexit deal before the transition period comes to a close are now “no better than 50-50,” according to a report on from The Sunday Times. Thirteen cabinet members reportedly told Johnson that they’d support a no-deal Brexit if the talks didn’t reach a resolution.
Late Saturday, Barnier said: “We will see if there is a way forward. Work continues tomorrow.”
Johnson and von der Leyen said they plan to speak again Monday evening.
Brexit talks weren’t expected to have an impact on the UK’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of whether a deal is struck, according to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Even without a deal, “we are ready,” June Raine, MHRA’s head, told the BBC on Sunday, according to Reuters.
“We’ve practised, we are ready, we are fully prepared for any possible outcome,” she reportedly said.