Trump's Racism: Introducing African Travel Bonds

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/23/2020 07:21:00 PM

In the final days of the horrid Trump administration, they are putting the final touches on his most blatantly isolationist and racist pipe dreams to put President-Elect Joe Biden in the worst position to possible to try and undo the damage. Just when you thought thing couldn't sink any lower in these categories, the State Department is mulling the requirement that travelers from--you guessed it--African countries put up bonds of up to $15,000 if they want to travel to the US that would be forfeited to Uncle Sam if they overstayed in America. From Reuters:

The outgoing administration of U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday issued a new temporary rule that could require tourist and business travelers from two dozen countries, most in Africa, to pay a bond of as much as $15,000 to visit the United States.

The U.S. State Department said the temporary final rule, which takes effect Dec. 24 and runs through June 24, targets countries whose nationals have higher rates of overstaying B-2 visas for tourists and B-1 visas for business travelers. The Trump administration said the six-month pilot program aims to test the feasibility of collecting such bonds and will serve as a diplomatic deterrence to overstaying the visas.

Depending on the average "overstay rate," consular officials could make them post bonds of up to $15,000--a huge sum for nationals of the countries being targeted:

The visa bond rule will allow U.S. consular officers to require tourist and business travelers from countries whose nationals had an “overstay rate” of 10% or higher in 2019 to pay a refundable bond of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000.

Twenty-four countries meet that criteria, including 15 African countries. While those nations had higher rates of overstays, they sent relatively few travelers to the United States...

Countries whose tourist and business travelers could be subject to the bond requirement include those from Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sudan, Chad, Angola, Burundi, Djibouti and Eritrea. Other countries include Afghanistan, Bhutan, Iran, Syria, Laos and Yemen.

The draft text of this abomination is available online. 

Although I am sure the Biden administration would roll back any such implementation of this hideous policy, Trump and his minions realize that doing so will take some time. Meanwhile, the white supremacist faction of today's Republican Party--unfortunately large as it is nowadays--will cheer this move. It's a racist populist ploy that further threatens to harm freedom of travel in the COVID-19 era. Just be glad Trump will soon be out of the White House. 

When leaders of other countries make harebrained policies, their citizens suffer. When the US president does so, the whole world suffers. Exhibit A is four years of Trump. Thankfully, all bad things must come to an end. 

Asia's Giant US-Free FTA, RCEP, is a Go

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/15/2020 06:14:00 PM

Spot the missing country during this mother of all virtual meetings (read more below).

This just in: After being on the drawing board for eight years, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been agreed to at the regional level.  Featuring 15 countries with a combined GDP of over $26 trillion and a third of humanity, its dimensions exceed all those that came before. Befitting the vast expanse of the "Asia-Pacific," its pan-regional free trade agreement was destined to be geographically expansive as well.

Fitting the times, the region's countries agreed to it during a meeting hosted by the Vietnamese in a virtual Hanoi. RCEP will include China, Japan and South Korea in East Asia; Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam in Southeast Asia; and Australia and New Zealand in Oceania. We are 15 all in all, a mix of developing and developed (Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand specifically) countries. With the US spinning its wheels in the trade negotiation realm--Trump is more interested in leaving than negotiating them--the spearhead for RCEP is, unsurprisingly, China:

Amid questions over Washington’s engagement in Asia, RCEP may cement China’s position more firmly as an economic partner with Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, putting the world’s second-biggest economy in a better position to shape the region’s trade rules. The United States is absent from both RCEP and the successor to the Obama-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), leaving the world’s biggest economy out of two trade groups that span the fastest-growing region on earth.

By contrast, RCEP could help Beijing cut its dependence on overseas markets and technology, a shift accelerated by a deepening rift with Washington, said Iris Pang, ING chief economist for Greater China. RCEP groups the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. It aims in coming years to progressively lower tariffs across many areas.

It bears repeating that while news reports emphasize the US falling even further back in the regional FTA sweepstakes having spurned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it was never a party to the RCEP negotiations. What's more, the current US "president" is too preoccupied with cooking up inane conspiracy theories about his recent election defeat that he's missed his third straight Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) shindig. And considering all Trump the Plump had to do was ask his toadies to set up a virtual attendance this time. Such an exemplary [non-]work ethic:

President Donald Trump skipped summits with his Asian counterparts for the third year in a row on Saturday, even as rival China is set to expand its influence with a massive free trade deal in the region. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Trump regretted he was unable to attend the online summit with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but stressed the importance of ties with the region.

Trump attended the ASEAN summit in 2017, but sent only representatives during the last two meetings. A special summit with ASEAN that he was supposed to host in Las Vegas in March was called off due to the pandemic.

Another notable non-RCEP participant (for now) was India. As I've noted elsewhere before, RCEP actually just consolidates free trade agreements ASEAN has with the three aforementioned East Asian nations as well as Australia/New Zealand (ANZ). In this sense, RCEP is actually missing a country, India, which ASEAN also has an FTA with. The Times of India identifies a number of sticking points for Indian negotiators that were not resolved to their linking, making it pull out of RCEP last year: unfavorable rules of origin, large and rising deficits with other negotiating parties, and inadequate protections for its service industries:

India pulled out of the China-backed trade agreement as negotiations failed to address its core concerns. These were threat of circumvention of rules of origin due to tariff differential, inclusion of fair agreement to address the issues of trade deficits and opening of services. 

The deal would have brought down import duties on 80% to 90% of the goods, along with easier service and investment rules. Some in Indian industry feared that reduced customs duty would result in a flood of imports, especially from China with which it has a massive trade deficit. India’s trade deficit with other RCEP countries were also rising.  

If I were uncharitable, I'd put it down to domestic protectionism. The current leadership's allusion to swadeshi (self-reliance) is unmistakable:

For India, it will be an opportunity to strengthen its domestic industries and move towards its dream of becoming self-reliant. A large number of sectors including dairy, agriculture, steel, plastics, copper, aluminium, machine tools, paper, automobiles, chemicals and others had expressed serious apprehensions on RCEP citing dominance of cheap foreign goods would dampen its businesses.

Oh well; India may still join at a later date if it believes it's losing out to the others due to trade diversion effects. Already, there's talk of the US rejoining the TPP's successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Maybe RCEP coming into effect will spur President-Elect Joe Biden--a joiner, not a leaver. 

India pulled out of the China-backed trade agreement as nego ..

COVID-19 Victim: Privatizing NZ All-Blacks

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/06/2020 12:20:00 PM

Sold?! The NZ national rugby squad may be on the auction block.

Imagine Brazil's national football team the Seleção privatized. Or Germany's Mannschaft and Italy's Azzurri for that matter. The uproar would be deafening since these storied squads are parts of their national identities instead of being mere corporate identities. There is a saying that everyone has their price, though, and something akin to that may be happening in the Southern hemisphere. Whereas Brazil [5x], Germany and Italy [4x each] represent the winningest nations in Football World Cup history, international sports aficionados should be well aware that the Rugby World Cup's winningest teams are South Africa's reigning champions the Springboks and New Zealand's All-Blacks at 3x apiece. The NZ squad is called such because they dress all in black, whereas their footballing compatriots are the All-Whites for obvious sartorial reasons. 

No matter: Just as the pandemic has laid waste to the financial well-being of one of the world's previously well-off petrostates in Kuwait, it is now besieging one of the most storied names in international sports--the NZ All-Blacks. Keeping some of the world's top rugby talent on one squad, training them and keeping them in peak condition is not exactly cheap. Simply put, there are not enough paid appearances nowadays during the pandemic to keep team operations afloat. Apparently, the operating costs are such that the Kiwis are thinking of a private equity buyout of the national rugby team:

The All Blacks rugby team is in talks with private equity investors as it struggles with the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. New Zealand's national treasure has seen its cash reserves slashed by almost half due to lockdowns. New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said it is now looking at alternative sources of funding, such as private equity.

The move raises the prospect that the famed All Blacks name could be sold to the highest bidder. On Thursday, New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson told the New Zealand Herald that it had burned through 47% of its NZ$86m ($56m; £44m) cash reserves during the pandemic.

A counterargument is raised though that the New Zealand squad is, if anything, under-commercialized and would benefit from being bought out by private equity to unleash the name's unrealized commercial potential:

The team has the most valuable brand in world rugby, according to British consultancy Brand Finance, which values it at £144m (NZ$278m). "The All Blacks have not been slow to embrace commercial opportunities," said Tom King at "Their deal with kit suppliers was hailed as ground-breaking as was the 2012 shirt sponsorship with AIG which ends next year.

COVID-19 has made profaned so many things previously thought sacrosanct, such as freedom of movement and what else have you. "NZ All-Blacks plc" may just be the next big thing to emerge. It makes you angry enough to do the Maori war dance Haka, but that too would be sold to the highest bidder in the purchase price.