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What We’re Watching: Brexit endgame, Ghana’s election, China-India water war

British PM Boris Johnson at an EU Summit in Brussels. Reuters

The final act of Brexit: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen agreed on Monday to meet in person in Brussels "in the coming days" in a last-ditch attempt to reach agreement on the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and the EU. One of the major outstanding issues is labor and environmental standards. Johnson's key supporters want as much autonomy as possible, while Brussels worries that if the UK adopts laxer protections (which cost less to obey), London could flood the EU with cheaper goods. Another (fish)bone of contention is the level of access that EU fishermen would have to British waters. If the two sides cannot get to yes this week, then we'd we well on our way to the feared "no deal" scenario in which the UK and EU, lacking a trade agreement, impose much higher tariffs on each other, potentially dealing a huge blow to economies on both sides of the English Channel.


Ghana's "battle of two giants": Ghanaians went to the polls Monday to elect a new parliament and president in a race dubbed the "battle of two giants," because it is the fourth electoral clash between President Nana Akufo-Addo and his opponent John Mahama, a former president himself. But while Akufo-Addo was elected four years ago promising to root out corruption, many say he has failed to tackle the problem, which is still endemic in Ghana's politics. Still, it's a stretch for Mahama to attack the current president over corruption, considering that Mahama himself left office amid accusations that he had accepted corporate kickbacks. Whoever prevails has his job cut out for him. Ghana has long been a beacon of democracy and peace in West Africa, but the nation is struggling to deal with its first economic contraction in four years, rising unemployment, and shortfalls in healthcare infrastructure and education.

India-China water war: Beijing and New Delhi have long been at loggerheads over a disputed border area in the Himalayan mountains, which led to massive skirmishes earlier this year. Now, the two Asian powers are battling it out over water. China says that it is building a hydroelectric project in one of the largest rivers in the world that it calls Yarlung Zangbo, but that the Indians call the Brahmaputra river. After Beijing announced the project, which could be Beijing's biggest hydropower project in history if it comes to pass, New Delhi said that Beijing's aggressive plans could have major implications for India's food and water security, and that it would give China too much power to use the crucial waterway as a "weapon." Indian officials also said they were considering a rival water project in the same waters, spanning from Arunachal Pradesh state to neighboring Bangladesh. Analysts say that things could quickly spiral out of control because the two powers have not honored a water-sharing agreement, which usually governs plans and discussions surrounding new water projects.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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