Brexit talks resume in London as clock ticks down

Brexit talks resume in London as clock ticks down
European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wearing a protective face mask leaves after Brexit negotiations, in London, Britain November 28, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 November 2020

Brexit talks resume in London as clock ticks down

Brexit talks resume in London as clock ticks down
  • Both sides say a deal is still just possible but the same sticking points remain

LONDON: EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier resumed make-or-break Brexit talks with British counterpart David Frost in London on Saturday with the clock ticking for a deal on future trading arrangements.

It is the first time they have met face-to-face since Barnier went into self-isolation after a member of his team caught coronavirus.

A failure to reach an agreement would mean Britain and the EU trading on World Trade Organization terms, with tariffs immediately imposed on goods traveling to and from the continent.

Britain has been largely trading on the same terms with the EU since it officially left the bloc in January as part of a transition agreement that expires at the end of the year.

As it stands, it will leave Europe’s trade and customs area in five weeks with talks on a follow-on agreement stalled over fishing rights and fair trade rules. Both parties warned on Friday that success was not guaranteed, with Barnier tweeting that the “same significant divergences persist.”

“We are not far from the take it or leave it moment,” he later told ambassadors from member states, according to a European source familiar with the closed-door meeting.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lead negotiator Frost said that people were “asking me why we are still talking,” he tweeted.

“My answer is that it’s my job to do my utmost to see if the conditions for a deal exist. It is late but a deal is still possible, and I will continue to talk until it’s clear that it isn’t.”

A no-deal scenario is widely expected to cause economic chaos, with customs checks required at borders.

Concern is particularly acute on the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, where the sudden imposition of a hard border threatens the delicate peace secured by the 1999 Good Friday Agreement.

Johnson spoke to Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin late Friday and “underlined his commitment to reaching a deal that respects the sovereignty of the UK.”

But he also “reaffirmed the need to prioritize the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland,” according to a summary of the call released by London.

Johnson earlier told reporters the “likelihood of a deal is very much determined by our friends and partners in the EU,” adding there were “substantial and important differences to be bridged.”

A key sticking point is the EU’s demand for a post-Brexit “level playing field,” with punishing trade penalties if either side diverges from agreed standards or state aid regulations, but Britain does not want to be bound by rules made in Brussels.

Britain’s fishing waters are also a hot topic, with sources on Friday saying that Barnier told envoys that London was asking that European access to them be cut by 80 percent, while the EU was willing to accept 15 to 18 percent.

The talks have already pushed on much longer than expected and time is running out for ratification of any deal by the European Parliament by the end of the year.

Members of the European Parliament have expressed frustration with the delays and may have to ratify a deal between Christmas and the New Year.

In Brussels, one source close to the talks said “I will eat my hat” if there was a deal by Monday, echoing a chorus of complaints that Johnson was playing the clock.

Saudi imports from China up 17.8 percent in 2020 to $28.1bn

Saudi imports from China up 17.8 percent in 2020 to $28.1bn
Updated 21 sec ago

Saudi imports from China up 17.8 percent in 2020 to $28.1bn

Saudi imports from China up 17.8 percent in 2020 to $28.1bn
  • Bilateral trade between the two countries remains steady amid the ongoing global health crisis

RIYADH: Saudi imports from China rose 17.8 percent year-on-year in 2020 to $28.1 billion, according to a report from Mubasher, citing figures from China Customs.

Despite this increase, the Kingdom’s overall trade surplus with China was down 63.9 percent last year to $6.2 billion, thereport said.

Trading between the two nations has remained steady.

On Wednesday, Reuters news agency reported that Chinese government data showed the Kingdom was still the world’s biggest oil exporter, as well as beating Russia to keep its ranking as China’s top crude supplier in 2020.

Oil demand in China, the world’s top oil importer, remained strong last year despite the challenges brought on by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Chinese imports rose 7.3 percent to a record 542.4 million tons, or 10.85 million barrels per day (bpd).


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Saudi shipments to China in 2020 rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier to 84.92 million tons, or about 1.69 million bpd, data from the General Administration of Chinese Customs showed.

Political commentator Zaid M. Belbagi wrote in an Arab News opinion piece that, with the increased importance of land and sea routes connecting Asia with Europe and Africa, China increasingly saw relations with the Arab world as “central” to its geostrategic ambitions.

“There is, however, a disconnect between the expansion of Chinese involvement in the region across the political and economic realms and the cultural and diplomatic connectivity required to deepen ties that will not only ensure Chinese interests, but also encourage Arab states to partake in the new world China is building in its own image,” he said.

Saudi-China relations have strengthened over the years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ties were further strengthened with the two countries offering each other assistance and staunch support.

The past three years have marked a rapid increase in Saudi-China links. King Salman visited the country as part of a six-country Asian tour early in 2017, setting the seal on a “comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two countries when he met Chines President Xi Jinping.

A joint high-level committee was established to guide future economic development strategy.

That was followed by a later visit by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, adding greater depth to the relationship and further aligning the two countries’ main economic development plans — the Belt and Road Initiative by which China seeks to play a leading role in regional development, and the Vision 2030 strategy aimed at diversifying Saudi Arabia away from oil dependency.

China has also become the top export destination of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) petrochemicals and chemicals, accounting for about 25 percent of GCC exports.

At $180 billion, the GCC (GCC) trade with China accounts for over 11 percent of the bloc’s overall trade. In 2020, China became the GCC’s top trading partner, replacing the EU for the first time.