WHAT WE’RE READING: GLOBAL POLITICS SURF AND TURF

This Tuesday, it’s a meat and seafood lovers’ delight – we’ve found two stories that tell us about the state of global politics from the perspective of what’s on your plate.


First, to the northeastern American state of Maine, where Bloomberg’s Shawn Donnan delivers an extraordinary portrait of how the high politics of US-China trade tensions have hit the rough and tumble lobstermen of New England. In recent years, a burgeoning Chinese middle class has developed a taste for imported lobster, fueling a boom in Maine, the largest exporter of lobster in the US.

But amid this summer’s tit-for-tat tariff escalation between Washington and Beijing, China threw a 25 percent levy on live lobsters, imperiling a hundred-million-dollar annual export market. Now Maine lobstermen are scrambling to find new customers in Asia while also clashing with their Canadian rivals, who have better access not only to China, but also to Europe because of a recent EU-Canada trade pact. The story is a lesson in how pulling even the smallest strings in the tapestry of global trade can have far-reaching, and very local, effects. Consider the lobster!

The next course comes from Brazil, where right-wing president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has hit a snag in his plan to assert a more nationalistic foreign policy patterned after Trump’s America First model. Last week, the fiercely pro-Israel Bolsonaro pledged to relocate Brazil’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the US did earlier this year. Egypt, which has firm ties with Israel but still responds to popular support for the Palestinians, abruptly cancelled a scheduled visit from Brazilian diplomats and businesspeople. What’s more, the move provoked an outcry from Brazil’s powerful meat export industry.

What’s the beef? Brazil, as it happens, is the world’s leading exporter of halal meat  that complies with Muslim dietary restrictions, and the Arab world is a critical market for the Brazil’s cattle industry. Egypt alone accounts for some $2 billion in the Brazilian trade, nearly half of Brazil’s total meat exports to the region, and competition from other exporters is stiff.  Bolsonaro has now said that the decision is under review.

The lesson: It’s one thing to call for “[my country] first” when you are a global superpower like the US.  It’s trickier when you are a second-tier power with fewer levers of influence. Nationalists take note: if the world becomes dog eat dog, there could well be a dog bigger than you.

We're used to seeing electric, gas and wood-burning ovens, but can you imagine baking pizza in a solar-powered oven? That technology was invented in the latest episode of Funny Applications, where Eni's budding researchers imagine new uses for technology.

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It looks like China's leadership has finally had enough of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

In a speech on Thursday to the national people's congress, a symbolic confab of the country's ruling elite, Premier Li Keqiang announced a new national security law that would outlaw secessionist activity and criminalize foreign influence in Hong Kong. The measure, an explicit response to recent pro-democracy protests there, would also permit mainland China's security agencies to operate openly in the city.

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Indonesia becomes an epicenter: Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, is now considered an epicenter of the pandemic, after it suffered its biggest daily surge in cases Thursday with over 900 new infections. The country of 260 million has the largest outbreak in Southeast Asia, recording about 20,000 cases and 1,300 deaths, though a recent study suggested that as few as 2 percent of the country's coronavirus infections may have been reported. When pressed on why Indonesia is experiencing a surge in cases while the curve appears to be flattening in neighboring countries, Indonesian health authorities blamed the public's flouting of social distancing guidelines. But critics say the government has sent wishy-washy messages on how to stop the disease's spread, as demonstrated by the fact that only four of Indonesia's 34 provinces have applied widespread social-distancing restrictions. Meanwhile, as the country's 225 million Muslims prepare to celebrate the end of Ramadan this weekend, popular markets have been overwhelmed by shoppers buying food and clothing, with little guidance or enforcement of large-scale social distancing measures. Indonesia's public health system is grossly underfunded, and experts warn that given the shortage of hospital beds, medical equipment and staff, the situation could deteriorate fast in the coming weeks.

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This is not the 2020 that Vladimir Putin had in mind.

As the year started, Russia's president was crafting plans for changes to the constitution that would permit him to stay in power for (at least) another 16 years. A rubber stamp public referendum was to be held in April. Then, in May, he was to welcome foreign leaders to Moscow for a grand celebration (parades, concerts, fireworks, and a reviewing stand atop Lenin's Mausoleum) marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.

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Have you ever read a major op-ed and thought to yourself, "no! no! no! That's just not right!" Us too. This week, Ian Bremmer is joined by analysts Kelsey Broderick and Jeffrey Wright to take the Red Pen to former World Bank president Robert B. Zoellick's Wall Street Journal op-ed.

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