The World Today for March 21, 2017


The Beginning of the End

After nine months of speculation following last year’s Brexit referendum, the UK has announced it will trigger Article 50 on March 29, officially beginning negotiations for its exit from the European Union.

It could take as long as two years for the UK to officially sever ties with the EU, especially considering the 43 years of treaties and agreements binding both parties that need unpacking before the divorce is finalized, the BBC reported.

Prime Minister Theresa May assured citizens after the announcement on Monday that she would broker the “best possible deal for the United Kingdom.” She also promised to follow through on her objective to ensure a free-trade deal with the soon-to-be 27-member bloc while preserving domestic security.

But while May climbs a mountain of policy paperwork abroad, her Brexit could have splintering consequences at home.

Ties between London and its periphery states are souring. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon announced plans earlier this month to seek approval from Westminster for a second referendum on Scottish independence to be held between autumn 2018 and spring 2019 – right in the throes of the UK’s Brexit negotiations.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, Northern Ireland fears a hard Brexit could mean a hard international border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, stoking economic and political tensions in an already contentious region.

European immigrants to the UK are also feeling the jitters. European expats living in Britain could soon be filling out a lot of immigration forms. May ruled out guaranteed residence for 3 million EU citizens in Britain without European governments doing the same, Reuters reported.

“I’m very disappointed that we are being used as bargaining chips,” said Monica Obiols, a Spanish national who’s lived in Britain since 1989.

But while the political ground surrounding Brexit remains a bit unstable, predictions of economic disaster may be dramatic, Lionel Laurent opined in Bloomberg Gadfly.

Europe is unlikely to tank its own market to save its financial hub in London. Firms won’t race for the continent without gaming out what financial regulation will look like in a post-Brexit Britain.

The UK could turn toward building new trade relationships with emerging markets in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, acting as an intermediary between its Commonwealth, Europe and the world’s most booming economies, too.

“If Britain were to do that, then maybe we would be on the first step to being the Commonwealth’s front door to Europe, to being Europe’s front door to the world,” wrote Andrew MacLeod in an op-ed for the Independent.

As the Roman philosopher Seneca said, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.


From Blue House to Boys in Blue

Just days after her eviction from the Blue House, former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye reported to prosecutors for questioning in the corruption scandal that resulted in her impeachment and removal from office.

Facing allegations that she colluded with adviser Choi Soon-sil to extort money from some of the country’s largest companies, Park apologized to the public and said, “I will undergo the investigation sincerely,” Deutsche Welle reported.

The local Yonhap news agency reported that the questioning could last until midnight local time.

As president, Park enjoyed immunity from prosecution and could not be compelled to appear for questioning. But her ouster means she could face criminal charges connected to bribery, extortion and abuse of power – possibly resulting in a sentence of more than 10 years in jail.

The related bribery trial of Jay Y. Lee, the head of the Samsung group, the country’s largest conglomerate, began earlier this month.

Stemming the Rot

Brazil’s battle against corruption now threatens to derail virtually the only industry that has thrived during the country’s two-year recession: The meatpacking business.

China and the European Union suspended imports of meat from Brazil on Monday, after an anti-corruption probe accused inspectors of taking bribes to allow the world’s largest exporter of beef and poultry to sell rotten and salmonella-tainted meat, Reuters reported.

Brazil’s government suspended exports from 21 meat-processing units. But the agriculture minister also criticized the findings of the country’s Federal Police as “alarmist,” and President Michel Temer noted that the probe involved only 21 out of some 4,800 factories.

Police earlier accused BRF SA and JBS SA – the world’s largest poultry exporter and largest meat producer, respectively – of bribing inspectors to allow them to process rotten meat, export meat with traces of salmonella and forego inspections of plants.

The companies have denied any wrongdoing. But China suspended all meat imports from Brazil and the EU suspended imports from four Brazilian meat-processing facilities nonetheless.


The frontrunners in France’s closely fought presidential race pulled no punches in the first televised debate of the campaign on Monday – with a snap poll afterward showing the independent Emmanuel Macron scored the most points.

Far right rival Marine Le Pen characterized Macron’s foreign policy as “empty, completely empty.” When she accused him of supporting special swimwear for Muslim women – a flashpoint in the debate over assimilation – Macron snapped, “I don’t need a ventriloquist. When I have something to say, I say it clearly,” USA Today reported.

Macron also described Le Pen’s plans to ban the wearing of all religious symbols in public as “provocations” that would “divide society.”

Recent opinion polls have shown Le Pen and Macron, an independent centrist who used to be Socialist President Francois Hollande’s economy minister, pulling away from the pack – as the campaign of conservative Francois Fillon has imploded due to corruption allegations. But nearly 40 percent of voters remain undecided.


Freshly Canned

China is notorious for its crippling inner-city smog. Smog alerts especially plague China’s north and, during particularly rough periods, the standard pollution masks quickly sell out.

While officials think up political solutions for controlling air pollution in the future, Chinese innovators in the meantime are slinging products to consumers offering quick fixes to the problem.

One firm, for example, is selling cans of fresh air from a forest in western China for $6.95 apiece, Reuters reported. Each bottle lasts about two minutes.

“We set up a factory in Ningdong Forest Park in Shaanxi province and compress air directly into the bottle,” said Zhai Wenjun, a sales manager at Sanqin Forest Industry.

“Consumers will feel like they are breathing in the forest,” he added.

Though prices are steep – and online criticism rife – Chinese media reports said that the first batch of the freshly canned air has sold out.

Other products currently on the market include stockings and cosmetics that claim to protect the skin from smog and a hat complete with its own air filter.

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