U.S., European allies won’t scuttle trade talks over surveillance scandal
Monday, July 8 -- Eager to get to work on a mutually beneficial trade deal, officials of the United States and the European Union have decided against letting the scandal over U.S. electronic snooping get in the way of the negotiations.
France last week had urged delay in the talks on a transatlantic free-trade agreement, blaming Washington for damaging trust and confidence between the world’s most powerful economic forces with its sweeping -- and secret -- surveillance of telephone, text and Internet communications. Classified programs operated by the U.S. National Security Agency have been among the controversial leaks made in recent weeks by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden.
U.S. and European trade is worth $1 trillion a year and accounts for half of the global market. The pact that both sides hope to have concluded by the end of 2014 is projected to bring in another $159 billion a year and 400,000 jobs for the 28-nation EU, and the U.S. economy is expected to get a $127-billion annual infusion, according to a study commissioned by the Europeans.
The dispute over U.S. data surveillance -- and reports in the French media that Paris too collects masses of personal communications -- will be addressed on the sidelines of the trade talks, the head of the EU Executive Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, announced Friday during a visit to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
U.S. negotiators agreed to discuss issues “relating to some intelligence activities,” Barroso told journalists of the concession that allowed the trade talks to get back on track.
The trade issues may be further distracted, though, by another unresolved peripheral dispute: France insisted on a “cultural exception” that would allow individual countries to continue protecting and promoting their films and other subsidized entertainments. Other EU states have also expressed similar attitudes toward their cultural wares, but they refrained from making the exclusion a condition for opening the negotiations out of fear that the United States would make a reciprocal demand for protection of other industries.
That standoff was resolved with a temporary exclusion of cultural goods -- the duration of which is likely to become a matter of dispute again as the give-and-take proceeds on access to each other’s markets.
Japan starts reversal of nuclear shutdown
Monday, July 8 -- Tough new reactor safety standards adopted in the wake of the March 2011 disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power complex take effect Monday and will be greeted by a gusher of petitions from utility companies to restart plants that have been idle for more than two years.
The inspection and certification procedures put in place by the newly created Nuclear Regulation Authority will mean another nine months before any plant gets the go-ahead to restart, Japanese media have reported.
The power companies requesting review of their compliance with the new standards will be inspected in the order in which they submitted their petition for restart approval. That has triggered announcements by the would-be operators of at least 13 reactors that they are putting in immediate requests.
Prior to establishment of the regulatory authority, Japanese nuclear plant operators were effectively without government oversight. Lax controls have been blamed for the extent of the damage at the Fukushima complex.
Only two of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are in operation: the No. 1 and No. 2 units at Ohi, which provide electricity for the populous and industry-intensive region around Kyodo and Osaka.
Among the companies that have announced their intent to put the restart process in motion is Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as Tepco. It owned and operated the crippled, four-reactor Fukushima complex that was damaged by a magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, 2011, then inundated by a tsunami, triggering meltdowns and massive radioactive contamination. Tepco plans to ask for safety assessment of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.
Kansai, Shikoku, Hokkaido and Kyushu electric power companies also alerted the regulatory body that they would be requesting inspections for a dozen other reactors.
Japanese power companies that produced nuclear energy -- which accounted for a third of the country’s electrical needs before the Fukushima disaster -- have reported collective losses of $6.8 billion in the last fiscal year because of the expense of importing energy, predominantly fossil fuels, to make up the nuclear shortfall.
A report by SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. projected that the companies could return to profitability within a year after the expected March 2014 restarts.
Leftist leaders milk the Snowden affair for its propaganda value
Friday, July 12 -- In high dudgeon over his presidential plane being diverted from some European countries’ airspace last week, Bolivian President Evo Morales has summoned the leaders of Latin America to the Uruguayan capital on Friday for another session at which they can denounce U.S. diplomacy in the region.
The meeting in Montevideo has been called on the pretext of Morales having been unjustly suspected of trying to smuggle fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden out of Moscow when he was returning July 2 to La Paz from a summit of gas exporters in Moscow. Claiming to have been informed that Snowden was on the Bolivian presidential plane, officials in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal reportedly failed to allow the plane to enter their airspace, forcing it to make a refueling stop in Austria. Bolivian officials denied Snowden was in their custody.
The presidents of Argentina, Ecuador, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela met Thursday in the Bolivian highlands town of Cochabamba to vent their anger over the incident.
Morales said at that gathering that his government was pondering whether to close the U.S. Embassy in La Paz. “We don’t need the pretext of cooperation and diplomatic relations so they can come and spy on us,” Morales stated.
The presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru skipped the Cochabamba gathering. Whether they will be any more motivated to jump into the diplomatic fallout of the Snowden affair by traveling to Montevideo remained to be seen.