Then and Now: Congo's hope, Khashoggi's murder, and the biggest trade deal ever

Then and Now: Congo's hope, Khashoggi's murder, and the biggest trade deal ever

Three Months Ago – EU and South American nations strike major trade deal

Back in July, we wrote about a historic trade deal between the EU and Mercosur, a Latin American trade bloc that includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement, which took 20 years to hash out, removes most tariffs on EU exports and will open up Europe to more South American agricultural goods. Together, the EU and Mercosur countries are home to 720 million people and account for a quarter of global GDP. But the agreement, which still needs to be ratified by each country (that's 28 in Europe alone) was thrown into doubt after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's flippant response to massive Amazon fires, prompting France's President Emmanuel Macron to threaten to block the deal unless Brazil improves its environmental standards. German environmental and political groups have also opposed the deal. But the biggest roadblock yet could come from Argentina, where leftwing protectionist Alberto Fernandez, the favorite to become Argentina's new president in elections later this month, has said the deal would be "disadvantageous for Argentina." Realistically, a trade deal billed as the largest in history could come crashing down fast.


Nine Months Ago – Is it the end of an era in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Back in December, we discussed the rising expectations for a democratic transition in DRC as it headed to the ballot box for the first time since gaining independence in 1960. Felix Tshisekedi, the son of a long-time opposition leader, was declared the winner but speculation was rife that the elections were rigged, and that Tshisekedi had in fact reached a power-sharing agreement with outgoing president Joseph Kabila, who had ruled with an iron fist for two decades. At the time, we asked whether the DRC would get "the appearance of transformational change rather than the real thing." The answer so far is mixed. In a positive step, Tshisekedi pardoned 700 political prisoners – victims of Kabila's long standing crackdown on dissidents– and encouraged politicians in exile to return home. But the new president also nominated a Kabila loyalist to be his prime minister and stacked his cabinet with allies of the former strongman. Deep-seated government corruption, violence between warring militias, and an Ebola outbreak that the World Health Organization declared a "global health emergency" have taken a toll on the DRC, which has one of the world's lowest levels of GDP per capita. It's unreasonable to expect an overnight transition from decades of strongman rule to smoothly running democracy, but the jury's still out on whether Tshisekedi is really moving in the right direction.

Twelve Months Ago - Jamal Khashoggi murdered

The gruesome murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA and the UN believe involved Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, prompted a number of businesses and governments to reassess their relationships with the kingdom. Many large investors skipped Saudi Arabia's flagship investment conference several weeks later. Some European countries halted arms sales to the kingdom over the murder, as well as over Riyadh's grotesquely ineffective war in Yemen, which received fresh attention in the weeks after Khashoggi's killing. But in the US, congressional moves to cut military support for the kingdom have been vigorously rejected, and swiftly vetoed, by President Trump. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which at first denied knowing anything about the killing, has since held a secretive trial of those it accuses of carrying it out. Abroad, Riyadh is working hard to patch up its image with help from lobbyists and Instagram influencers, and is looking forward to a more robust attendance at this year's "Davos in the Desert" investment conference later this month. A relationship as long-standing and strategic as the US-Saudi one was never going to change drastically, even over the spectacularly gruesome murder of a journalist. But a year on, it's hard to avoid the sense that Khashoggi's death, whatever light it threw on the increasing danger to journalists worldwide, was mostly in vain.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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