The UK and the EU have been staking out their positions on the future security partnership over the past week. This pillar of the Brexit negotiation matters in its own right; but it also has the potential to set precedents that could be important for the future economic partnership.
Last week, UK prime minister, Theresa May, met with the CEO of Hitachi, Hiroaki Nakanishi, to discuss how to finance the new Horizon nuclear plant at Wylfa in Anglesey. The meeting went under the radar at the time, but what has become clear is that Hitachi and Japan are confronting the UK with a political and policy dilemma.
Time is running out for the Iran nuclear deal. Trump’s self-imposed 12 May deadline, by which he wants to decide whether to continue waving sanctions lifted under the nuclear agreement, is just a week away. It appears increasingly unlikely that European proposals will prevent Trump from re-imposing sanctions. But this won’t be the end of negotiations about Iran. Transatlantic diplomacy about Iran policy, the nuclear deal and perhaps a ‘supplemental agreement’, will be complemented by parallel negotiations about what constitutes legitimate business with Tehran. The US administration will likely reintroduce sanctions as waivers expire, thus gradually increasing pressure on European governments to find a political agreement, but also to protect their economic interests.
Iceland, a UK supermarket chain, has announced that it intends to ban palm oil from all of its own brand products by the end of 2018. Such a move on palm oil is not a new idea: the EU has been toying with its own potential ban over the last year.
I call it the Neil Sedaka question. Whenever I am in California, the conversation soon turns to whether, for the FANGs, in Sedaka’s words, “breaking up is hard to do”? This issue has US tech entrepreneurs, corporates and investors in a state of high anxiety. This is no surprise. The legacy of Europe’s Microsoft investigation in the 2000s and the IBM remedies in the 1980s have left a deep impression on the US tech community.
The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook warns that waning support for global integration, geopolitical strains and political uncertainty have the potential to upset global growth prospects. It is not the first time the fund has drawn attention to political risks, which have become a recurring theme in recent years. Is there any reason why businesses and investors should be particularly concerned now?
As US-China trade hostilities slowly unfold, the EU is currently watching from the sidelines — mostly silently. But impacts in Europe are possible in the coming months, if only because US-China trade flows do not operate in isolation. Barriers between Washington and Beijing are a potential source of deflection towards other destinations and the EU is an obvious candidate for absorption. How material could this diversion be? How will EU businesses and policymakers respond?
I have been in China again, this time as president of the Great Britain-China Centre, flying the flag at the UK-China Leadership Forum. This is an annual event at which representatives of Britain’s political parties exchange views with China’s communist party. The delegation was led by Theresa May’s able number two, David Liddington, and I was the senior Labour man (hope this doesn’t upset its leader, Jeremy Corbyn). A recurrent question of the week was how ‘global Britain’ will come to terms with a world in which China is becoming preeminent.
The Trump administration’s threat of 25% tariffs on $50bn of Chinese imports to the United States has inevitably dominated coverage of the President’s decision to escalate a long-standing irritation with Chinese approaches to US inward investment into a full-blown trade dispute. But there are three legs to the US review of Chinese practice under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, and tariffs are only one.
Was it a rehash of old announcements or concessions that could prevent a trade war? These starkly different verdicts have been offered on President Xi’s plans to liberalise the Chinese economy, set out at the Boao forum this week. In practice, it was neither. What Xi provided is a basis for negotiation, which means the hard work still needs to be done if trade tensions between the US and China are to be deescalated.