This week the Americans elected a new president who is portrayed by some as an agent of change for US-Russian relations and a potential advocate of large US businesses operating in Russia. Donald Trump was quickly congratulated by President Putin, who publicly sought to restore severed links with Washington. What happened within the next 36 hours to two large US tech companies working in Russia could be a pure coincidence however, it sends a clear warning signal to American businesses.
Discussing Italy’s constitutional referendum with people in Milan this week, I was struck by the parallels with the UK, and the ways Matteo Renzi risks falling into the same traps as former UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Though a victory for the ‘Yes’ side led by Matteo Renzi cannot be ruled out given the large number of undecided and abstaining voters, Renzi now seems to be heading for a narrow referendum defeat. The latest poll shows his side being defeated by a 52-48 margin. This seems ironic given that the reforms, which seek to streamline the Italian political and legislative process, are broadly popular. Individually, the measures enjoy support from between 82% to 50% of Italians; they seek to reduce the size and power of the Senate, and clarifying the division of responsibilities between the regions and the centre.
UK commentators have spent recent weeks debating the opportunities offered by the EU’s ‘equivalence’ regime for companies outside the single market. The concept was significantly expanded by Michel Barnier to encourage global adoption of EU rules and simply commits the EU to go beyond its formal WTO commitments for countries that meet its regulatory standards. In the London-centric Brexit debate, it has become a point of contention about the consequences of ‘hard Brexit’ for the City of London. Advocates of a clean break argue equivalence is a ready-made substitute for single market passports; those aiming for an ambitious UK-EU deal argue it is incomparable to legally-enforceable rights to national treatment, and only offers conditional tolerance for UK-based firms to provide services to institutional investors through a branch in the EU27.
Ed Vaizey made a splash at Global Counsel’s breakfast “Digital Tech: Bridge or Barrier to Social Mobility?” when he suggested that self-employed platform workers should receive the minimum wage. The former Minister of Culture and the Digital Economy was responding to a succession of controversies over working conditions in the so-called “gig economy”: Deliveroo riders have protested changes in their remuneration structure; the courier service Hermes is potentially facing an investigation from HMRC; and an employment tribunal ruling against Uber could fundamentally transform their self-employed business model.
Germany’s EU Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, is no diplomat. He has been accused of racism, homophobia and sexism following a speech he gave last week in which described Chinese diplomats as “slitty-eyed rascals”, joked that gay marriage might soon be made compulsory in Germany, and implied women only get jobs through quotas. It is not the first time he has been accused of causing offence, which is why patience with his careless use of “slang” (as Oettinger subsequently described it) appears to be wearing thin in Brussels, particularly among MEPs. There have been calls for him to apologise (no sign of that yet) and quite a few who say it is time for the serial offender to step down.
A British think tank rather definitively announced last week that it had added up the potential tariff bill for EU-UK trade in a ‘hard Brexit’ scenario – and declared the EU the bigger loser by some margin. Applying the EU’s existing tariffs by tariff line to existing trade flows gave them a ‘bill’ for EU exports of around £13bn. The implied tax on UK exports to the EU was less than half this. Inevitably this has got quite some media coverage, although it largely reflects the volume of flows in both directions – i.e. the UK’s deficit in goods trade with the EU. However, to see this differential purely as UK leverage in a future negotiation with the EU requires you to ignore two basic things about trade.
In the months since Brexit there have been murmurings about whether, post-Brexit, Britain could adopt a ‘Singapore model’. A number of Brexiteers in the financial sector have suggested that Britain could become a “super-duper Singapore” through deregulation and focusing on new markets in Asia.
After a rough week in Namur, Wallonia’s capital, EU member states and EU trade policymakers will be reflecting on what CETA's near death brush with elected politicians means for future trade deals. So what are they likely to conclude?