The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Don’t miss the boat on trade facilitation

Trade ministers open their meeting in Bali Tuesday with the aim of creating a new multilateral trade reform package worth more than $100 billion to the global economy. The deal -- focusing on measures to cut red tape at borders -- would be a welcome shot in the arm for both global trade and for the World Trade Organization itself.

This may come as a surprise to some. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations had quietly died after a 10-year struggle. But in fact, work has continued in the World Trade Organization -- and in capitals around the world -- to capture some of the gains from what was once billed as the most ambitious trade round ever. The first multilateral trade agreement in almost 20 years now stands tantalizingly within reach.

The package on the table in Bali includes important provisions on agriculture and development, which would give greater transparency and additional safeguards for international trade. Top billing should go to “trade facilitation” reforms that would streamline border and customs procedures the world over.

That might sound strange. After all, customs regulation is hardly a topic to get pulses racing. But the importance of this agenda is apparent when you realise that around 7 percent of the value of global trade is eaten up by unnecessary bureaucracy at borders.

Sterling destined for safe haven status (at least in the short term)

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–Torben Kaaber is CEO of Saxo Capital Markets UK. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Sterling may not be a currency that investors immediately associate with safe haven status. Typically, safe havens in the currency world have been the triad of the U.S. dollar, the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen.

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A shifting global economy brings Australia to a crossroads

Australia is no longer immune to the stagnation in the West. Despite a resilient housing market, Australia’s economy is slowing. With a worsening labor market, consumption is eroding, along with business confidence.

In the past two years, the benchmark interest rate has been almost halved to 2.5 percent. Still, Australia’s real GDP growth is likely to decrease to 2.4 percent during the ongoing year and will remain barely 2 percent until the mid-2010s.

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Iran’s future is now

Whether by design or accident, the nuclear deal struck in Geneva this past weekend is about far more than centrifuges, enrichment and breakout times.

Ultimately, the success of the nuclear negotiations will help determine who and what will define Iran for the next few decades.

Multinational repositories can address nuclear waste stockpile

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–Behnam Taebi is assistant professor of philosophy, focusing on issues of ethics and nuclear power, at Delft University of Technology.–

Across much of the world, nuclear power continues to spawn controversy.  For instance, concern over the Fukushima site continues, and a risky, unprecedented operation has just begun to remove thousands of fuel rods.

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Antitrust enforcement goes global

As one of the world’s top cops on the antitrust beat, the U.S. has long led the fight to curtail price-fixing, collusion, and other anticompetitive behavior in global commerce. And the Justice Department’s antitrust division has wielded an especially big club of late.

In each of the past two years, criminal penalties in antitrust cases have exceeded more than $1 billion, thanks to groundbreaking settlements with DOJ following investigations into collusion in interbank lending rates among banks as well as price-fixing in the global auto parts industry. The $1.4 billion in fines collected in fiscal year 2012 was the largest recovery ever for the antitrust enforcement division in a 12-month span. Fiscal 2013 wasn’t far behind, hitting $1.02 billion.

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Can Obama ever close Guantanamo?

Twelve years ago this month, President George W. Bush issued an order authorizing the U.S. military to detain non-U.S. citizen “international terrorists” indefinitely, and try some of them in military commissions. Within two months, those seized in the “war on terror” following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan were being sent to Guantanamo Bay.

A dozen years later, the United States is preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, ending “the longest war in American history,” as President Barack Obama observed on Veteran’s Day. Yet the Guantanamo prison -- now notorious as the site of torture and other abuses -- remains open.

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Kennedy’s assassination, from the eyes of a British newspaperman

I heard the first uncertain fragment on BBC Radio. I was wearing a dinner jacket, driving in the dark to a press ball in Teesside in the industrial northeast of England. This dinner dance was quite an occasion for me. I was the new boy, early thirties, putting in a first appearance as an editor at a big social event where all the rival purveyors of news hobnobbed with mayors, MPs, police chiefs, bosses of the coal mines, steel mills and shipbuilding yards: in short, all the news sources of the entire northeast we covered.

I guess it was near 7 p.m. UK time when I heard the flash. President John F. Kennedy had been shot at 12:30 p.m. Texas time. I was 20 miles from the offices in Darlington where I'd just been entrusted with the editorship of the Northern Echo (circ. 100,000). It was, and is, a regional morning daily with a glorious heritage going back to the sensational editorship of W.T. Stead in the 1870's (he died on the Titanic), but with its circulation of 100,000 ebbing before the challenge of nine national dailies, two rival regional dailies, three city papers and TV and radio.

Egypt’s treatment of women is a social nuclear weapon

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There was widespread dismay at a recent survey that ranked Egypt as the worst Arab country to be a woman. The poll, conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, found that an astonishingly high 99% of women and girls experience sexual harassment, and worst of all the perpetrators of this abuse often go unpunished. Egypt scored poorly in every category of the poll including violence against women, reproductive rights and their inclusion in politics and the economy.

The poll surveyed 366 respondents – aid and healthcare workers, policy makers, journalists, academics and lawyers – and asked their opinion on women across Arab League countries. Although this is a perception poll, it is useful to get an idea of how the outside world view women’s role in society, politics and the economy. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that three out of five Arab Spring countries were ranked at the bottom of the pile. Discouragingly, it looks like revolution has not brought women the freedom they campaigned for in Tahrir Square in 2011.

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Too many cooks in the Iran nuclear kitchen

Last weekend, after years of failed negotiations, the “P5+1” nations -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany -- finally appeared to be on the verge of a deal with Iran regarding curbs on its nuclear program.

All except France were ready to sign a stopgap agreement that would offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return for a freeze in its nuclear program. But Paris torpedoed the arrangement at the last moment -- denigrating it as “a sucker’s deal.”

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