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What We're Watching: Mexico dismisses US report on drugs, UN warns Burundi, Biden's limits on US-UK trade

U.S. President Donald Trump and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's president, depart during a news conference in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.

Mexico rejects top drug hub claim: In response to a new US report on the countries that are major transit points and producers of illicit drugs, Mexico's populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, rejected the report's findings — which called out Mexico as one of the world's most prolific drug production hotspots — as merely a matter of "opinion." AMLO said that the accusation is an example of things that come up in its relations with the US that "we [Mexico] don't accept," but made clear that he would not seek confrontation with Washington over the disagreement. Indeed, AMLO's dismissal is remarkable considering he came to power in 2018 in part on his promise to root out crime linked to the country's powerful drug cartels. But to date, crime in Mexico has only exploded under AMLO's watch, while more recently, the country's powerful cartels have exploited the pandemic to expand their operations (evidence suggests that lockdowns have exacerbated the addictions of their US clientele, who account for over $20 billion of Mexican drug sales each year).


Grave concern about Burundi: A new UN report released Thursday said it is "extremely concerned" about the domestic situation under Burundi's new president, Evariste Ndayishimiye. The report called out Ndayishimiye's seeming disregard for human rights, particularly because he has appointed several senior officials to his cabinet who have been the subject of international sanctions over their role in the political chaos of 2015, when the government cracked down on Burundians protesting an election widely deemed to be fraudulent. Ndayishimiye came to power after longtime former President Pierre Nkurunziza — who oversaw a tumultuous tenure, including a failed coup attempt and ongoing civic unrest that forced thousands of Burundians to flee the country in recent years — died suddenly in June. The UN called on the government to release political prisoners and human rights activists, and implored Ndayishimiye to renew consultations with the World Health Organization, whose representatives were expelled from the country after raising concerns about the risks of large political rallies amid a pandemic.

Biden sets Brexit limits on US-UK trade: US presidential candidate Joe Biden has warned that if he wins the White House in November, a future US-UK trade deal is off the table if London returns to a "hard" Irish border after Brexit. Biden was referring to a new law recently proposed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that authorizes the UK to temporarily suspend parts of its withdrawal agreement with the EU, including rules about the border, if Brussels and London fail to sign a trade deal. Biden says he will not allow the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — which put an end to decades of political violence in Northern Ireland and virtually erased the border between Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which is part of Great Britain — to "become a casualty of Brexit." This forces British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make a tough choice: continue with his latest gamble on a no-deal Brexit to appease hardliners within his party, or back down to improve his odds of getting a trade deal with the US — which the UK desperately needs — if Biden becomes president. Or he can bet it all on the reelection of President Trump, who is both pro-Brexit and keen on a trade agreement with London.

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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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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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.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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