EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 24/03/2020

Financial Times – Michael Peel and Valerie Hopkins / North Macedonia and Albania set to begin EU accession talks

  • The EU is set to agree for North Macedonia and Albania to begin their long-awaited accession talks, as the bloc seeks to strengthen ties with the western Balkans. Member state foreign and Europe ministers will meet by video on Tuesday to sign off on a compromise deal that has overcome French-led resistance to starting talks.
  • The provisional accord, the first step towards enlarging the 27-member EU since the UK quit the bloc in January, comes as Russia and China deepen their footprints in the region. The launch of accession talks is no guarantee of EU membership.
  • The proposed revised agreement meets the demands of the enlargement sceptics by imposing extensive conditions on Albania. These include electoral and judicial reform, action against corruption, amending its media law and tougher action against irregular migration.
  • The final breakthrough was confirmed on Monday, when Athens signalled it was happy with assurances on its fears that Albania’s census and property registration rules would discriminate against the country’s Greek minority. The provisional accord would mean four of the six western Balkans countries are in enlargement talks with the EU, after Montenegro started in 2012 and Serbia in 2014.
  • Politico – Jacopo Barigazzi / EU moves closer to opening talks with North Macedonia and Albania

Foreign Policy – Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch / U.S. appeals to aid recipients for help in fighting coronavirus

  • The U.S. State Department is instructing its top diplomats to press governments and businesses in Eastern Europe and Eurasia to ramp up exports and production of life-saving medical equipment and protective gear for the United States, part of a desperate diplomatic campaign to fill major shortcomings in the U.S. medical system amid a rising death toll from the new coronavirus.
  • It represents a stark turnaround for the United States, which has traditionally taken the lead in trying to help other less-developed countries contend with major humanitarian disasters and epidemics. The request could also undercut claims by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that the United States can handle demands for tests and medical equipment on its own.
  • China, meanwhile, is pushing to refurbish its image by sending its doctors and tens of thousands of medical kits abroad to the countries hit the hardest by the coronavirus, after botching the initial response to the virus, helping lead to its spread across the globe. Trump’s third-ranking diplomat, David Hale, has asked all bureaus to report on what foreign countries would be able to sell “critical medical supplies and equipment” to the United States.
  • “Depending on critical needs, the United States could seek to purchase many of these items in the hundreds of millions with purchases of higher end equipment such as ventilators in the hundreds of thousands,” the email reads. The email stresses that the request applies to host countries “minus Moscow,” indicating the United States will not call on Russia for support.
  • Foreign Affairs – Daron Acemoglu / The coronavirus exposed America’s authoritarian turn

Bloomberg – Thomas Buckley / Distilleries and breweries are retooling to make hand sanitizer

  • After a weekend barrage of social media posts documenting sanitizer shortages and soap aisle raids across America’s supermarkets, Melissa Hanesworth and Tara Engel felt they had to act. By March 20, Pernod Ricard’s facility in Fort Smith, Ark., where it makes Malibu coconut rum and Seagram’s gin, had produced 1,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.
  • The distiller’s effort comes as businesses the world over rethink their day-to-day operations so they can help governments fight the coronavirus. Major corporations are heeding the call to address civic need at the fastest pace since World War II.
  • In the U.S., 3M Co. is doubling its production of N95 respirator masks to an annual rate of 2 billion and Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk is holding conversations with Medtronic Inc. about “state-of-the-art ventilators.” H&M, the mass-market clothier, is adapting its production lines to supply more surgical garments.
  • In the U.K., Smiths Group Plc has ramped up the manufacture of its own medical ventilators, which are in short supply, and has made the intellectual property to produce them available to other companies; the government has asked engine maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and McLaren Automotive to help build them.
  • Financial Times – Gill Plimmer and Sarah Neville / Private sector resources bring welcome relief for NHS

Politico – Simon Marks / Coronavirus hits Africa’s mega trade deal plans

  • Wamkele Mene’s first days at work were a huge anticlimax. Last week, as he was sworn in as Africa’s new trade czar, the continent was becoming engulfed in the global fight against the coronavirus. Trade talks aimed at launching the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on July 1 are now on hold.
  • “It would be unreasonable for any government to direct resources to meet the deadline when the public’s health is so gravely at stake,” Mene told POLITICO, adding that he expected heads of state to announce a delay in the coming weeks. “My view now is that the focus should be on saving lives.”
  • Coronavirus permitting, the intention is still for AfCFTA to launch this year, with officials looking to resume talks toward the end of May. Even without the interference of a pandemic, achieving a deal looked challenging — despite the progress so far. There is also a massive infrastructure deficit in Africa and a large amount of investment is still needed for roads, train linkages and air connections.
  • The current text proposes countries having five years to drop tariffs to zero on 90 percent of their goods. They then have seven years to drop tariffs on 7 percent of their tariff lines, while the remaining 3 percent can be protected. In reality, it could take much longer.
  • The Guardian – Jason Burke and Abdalle Ahmed Mumin / Mogadishu’s refugees ‘waiting for death’ as Covid-19 reaches Somalia

Today’s op-ed:

The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and EsadeGeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.

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