EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends a joint news conference in Brussels, Belgium December 13, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 December 2019

EU warns of ‘challenging’ timeframe for UK trade deal

  • EU is concerned about the rapid speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe
  • Johnson has until July 1 to request for a trade talks extension

BRUSSELS: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday warned of the tight timing for securing a trade deal with Britain, hours after Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won a crushing election victory.
“The time frame ahead of us is very challenging,” von der Leyen said, following a discussion by EU leaders on the way forward after Brexit, now expected on January 31.
On the “first of February, we go to work,” she said.
EU Council President Charles Michel warned that the 27 member states would not accept a deal blindly, stressing that the bloc would insist that Britain respect European norms to win the deal.
“There is no question of concluding a deal at any price, said Michel, who coordinates EU summits, after the talks.
“Negotiations are over when the results are balanced and guarantee respect for the different concerns,” the former Belgian premier said.
“We have a way of doing things based on experience, transparency and maintaining unity” in the EU, he added.
EU is worried about the breakneck speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe and any British effort to undermine the unity among the remaining 27 members.
In a text released after the talks, the 27 EU leaders called for “as close as possible a future relationship with the UK” while warning that it “will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will direct trade negotiations, which the leaders will follow closely “and provide further guidance as necessary, fully consistent with the EU’s best interest,” conclusions added.
Johnson has until July 1 to ask for a trade talks extension.
If he refuses to extend the negotiation period, a no-deal Brexit will loom at the end of 2020, with Britain in danger of an abrupt cut in trade ties with Europe, endangering its economy.


US imposes visa rules for pregnant women on ‘birth tourism’

Updated 17 min 25 sec ago

US imposes visa rules for pregnant women on ‘birth tourism’

  • Applicants will be denied a tourist visa unless they can prove they must come to give birth for medical reasons and have money to pay for it
  • The practice of traveling to the US to give birth is fundamentally legal

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration on Thursday imposed new visa rules aimed at restricting “birth tourism,” in which women travel to the United States to give birth so their children can have US citizenship.
Applicants will be denied a tourist visa unless they can prove they must come to the US to give birth for medical reasons and they have money to pay for it — not just because they want their child to have a passport.
“Closing this glaring immigration loophole will combat these endemic abuses and ultimately protect the United States from the national security risks created by this practice,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism. The integrity of American citizenship must be protected.”
The practice of traveling to the US to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
The State Department “does not believe that visiting the United States for the primary purpose of obtaining US citizenship for a child, by giving birth in the United States — an activity commonly referred to as ‘birth tourism’ — is a legitimate activity for pleasure or of a recreational nature,” according to the new rules, which were published Thursday in the Federal Register and take effect Friday.
While the new rules deal specifically with birth tourism aimed at wealthy immigrants coming largely from China and Russia, the Trump administration also has turned away pregnant women coming over the US-Mexico border as part of a broader immigration crackdown. Those women were initially part of a “vulnerable” group that included others like small children who were allowed in, while tens of thousands of other asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait out their cases.
President Donald Trump’s administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but Trump has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship — anyone born in the US is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. The Republican president has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it’s not so easy to do.
Regulating tourist visas for pregnant women is one way to get at the issue, but it raises questions about how officers would determine whether a woman is pregnant to begin with and whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be just by looking at her.
And critics of the new policy say it could put pregnant women at risk.
Consular officers don’t have the right to ask during visa interviews whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. But they would still have to determine whether a visa applicant would be coming to the US primarily to give birth.
Birth tourism is a lucrative business in both the US and abroad. Companies take out advertisements and charge up to $80,000 to facilitate the practice, offering hotel rooms and medical care. Many of the women travel from Russia and China to give birth in the US
The US has been cracking down on the practice since before Trump took office.
“An entire ‘birth tourism’ industry has evolved to assist pregnant women from other countries to come to the United States to obtain US citizenship for their children by giving birth in the United States, and thereby entitle their children to the benefits of US citizenship,” according to the State Department rules.
There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the US specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012 about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the US and then left the country.
“This rule will help eliminate the criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” according to the rules. “The recent federal indictments describe birth tourism schemes in which foreign nationals applied for visitor visas to come to the United States and lied to consular officers about the duration of their trips, where they would stay, and their purpose of travel.”