The World Today for August 28, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

NORTH AMERICA

Costly Posturing

A funny thing happened on the way to negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

During an Aug. 22 rally in Phoenix, President Donald Trump was pessimistic. “I don’t think we can make a deal,” he said, according to CNN. “We’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point.”

Such comments on the campaign trail last year were red meat to Americans sick and tired of employers uprooting jobs at home while opening factories abroad. They also sent chills up the spines of Canadian and Mexican leaders happy with the status quo.

American business is vital to Canada. Including services – think high finance, legal consulting and technology solutions – the US ran a trade surplus with its northern neighbor last year, according to the US Trade Representative. Canadian officials like bringing up the issue.

Mexico’s economy, meanwhile, has transformed under NAFTA as Mexican companies have exported north and American companies have relocated and taken advantage of cheap labor in the south. The Council on Foreign Relations explained how that shift turned a $1.7 billion US trade surplus with Mexico in 1993 into a $54 billion deficit by 2014.

Yet Canadians and Mexicans appear calm and collected while American farmers are worried that relationships they’ve developed since the 1990s are in jeopardy as NAFTA negotiations resume this week, Agweek reported.

CNBC also argued that Trump risks a “backlash” among farmers who live in the Republican-dominated red states that put him in the White House because Canada and Mexico import one-third of American agricultural products. “Scrapping NAFTA would have a huge impact on US agriculture,” International Food Policy Research Institute researcher Joseph Glauber told the financial news network. “I would hope this is just a trade ploy.”

Mexican officials, meanwhile, are shrugging off Trump’s rhetoric, the Washington Post wrote. They’re eager to renegotiate a deal that might help them boost their underdeveloped tech sector. NAFTA was finalized in 1994, before the Internet revolutionized the world economy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau similarly yawned after the president’s bluster, reported the Toronto Star. The agreement has been updated almost a dozen times already, Trudeau said. Too many interconnected jobs exist throughout the continent – especially in the auto industry – for NAFTA to go poof overnight, he suggested.

Is Trump just playing tough? Is Mexico serious? Does Trudeau’s poker face conceal anxiety and doubt? We probably won’t know anytime soon.

The three governments have signed a confidentiality agreement to prevent their positions from becoming public until they reach a proposed deal, warts and all.

Until then, expect the bluster will go on.

[siteshare]Costly Posturing[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

MYANMAR

Escalation and Evacuation

The worst fighting to hit Myanmar in five years has driven thousands of Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists to flee the northern part of the country’s Rakhine state, following a coordinated offensive by Rohingya insurgents on Friday.

More than 100 people have been killed and the United Nations and other international aid groups have been forced to evacuate personnel from the area, Reuters reported.

On Friday, insurgents armed with knives and homemade bombs attacked 30 police posts and an army base, sparking retaliatory violence that dwarfs any since last October – when a similar Rohingya attack prompted a brutal military crackdown.

The escalation closely follows a move by Bangladesh to arrest and forcibly return some 90 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, as well as an Indian decision to deport as many as 40,000. Meanwhile, on Sunday Pope Francis made a fresh appeal to the Myanmar government to end the violence and grant the Rohingya equal rights.

[siteshare]Escalation and Evacuation[/siteshare]

SOUTH KOREA

Too Big to Jail

The shocking five-year prison sentence handed down in Seoul to Samsung group head Lee Jae-yong after he was convicted of bribery, embezzlement and other charges was meant to signal an end to collusion between the government and the country’s massive family-run companies.

But Lee – who has appealed his conviction – could well prove too big to jail, the New York Times reported.

Korea’s biggest brand and its largest exporter, Samsung has massive cultural and economic importance for the country, so any dip in its fortunes is likely to result in mass agitations calling for Lee’s release. Moreover, if Lee were actually to serve out his entire sentence, that would be the real milestone.

Lee’s father was twice convicted of crimes while he was at the helm of Samsung, but both times he was pardoned by the country’s president. Other business leaders, too, have avoided serving hard time – even though leaders of six out of 10 of the country’s largest family-run empires have been convicted of white-collar crimes.

[siteshare]Too Big to Jail[/siteshare]

INDONESIA

Beyond the Veil

An Indonesian court sentenced a woman to seven and a half years in prison for plotting to blow herself up outside Jakarta’s presidential palace.

The case marks Indonesia’s first conviction of a woman in such a case, Reuters reported.

Dian Yulia Novi, 28, was arrested along with her husband, Muhamad Nur Solikin, late last year. The prosecution had sought a sentence of 10 years, but the court reduced her jail term because she admitted her role in the plot, the agency said.

Novi is pregnant and due to give birth in early September. Meanwhile, her husband’s trial in the same case is still underway.

The authorities believe that Novi was radicalized through social media, amid an escalation in homegrown militancy since the rise of the Islamic State.

Last week, Indonesian police raided homes and arrested five suspects in Bandung, West Java, foiling an alleged plot to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb, Reuters reported separately. Though experts questioned their ability to carry out the plan, police said the suspects hoped to transform low-grade radioactive Thorium 232 (Th-232) into deadly Uranium 233 (U-233).

[siteshare] Beyond the Veil [/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Green Gold

Folks make guacamole and other tasty foods with avocado flesh. With avocado seeds, they make oils useful for cooking, body lotions and creams.

Now it turns out they might be able to make drugs and industrial chemicals out of the hard husks surrounding the seed, according to researchers at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Seeker.com reported that the avocado seed husk contains more than 130 chemicals that protect against viruses, tumors and atherosclerosis as well as compounds that help make plastic soft.

Speaking at a recent conference of the American Chemical Society, the researchers noted that British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline currently sells one of those drugs – docosanol – under the brand name Abreva, earning millions.

The Texas scientists investigated the husks after conversations about how much food waste is tossed in the garbage rather than used.

They hoped their findings would spur others to look into peach husks, banana peels and rinds that people throwaway in order to turn trash into cash.

That gives recycling a whole new dimension.

[siteshare]Green Gold[/siteshare]

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