Pandemic and Brexit discussed as all-Ireland council meets after long hiatus – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government hosted Northern Ireland’s regional administration on Friday in the first sitting in over three years of the island’s North South Ministerial Council. Discussions centred on the novel coronavirus pandemic and Britain’s departure from the European Union, leaders said. Speaking at a lunchtime press conference in Dublin Castle, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said a “critical phase” lies ahead in talks between Britain and the EU, with failure threatening to stymie movement across the border between Ireland, an EU member-state, and Northern Ireland, which is British-ruled. “We don’t want to see trade barriers, either north-south, or east-west,” said Arlene Foster, first minister of Northern Ireland’s Belfast-based regional administration. Foster pushed for further discussions on handling the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2,319 people and infected 32,000 across the island, according to official tallies.

Ryanair to close Frankfurt Hahn hub, considering shutting other German bases – dpa international

Bleak midwinter at Dublin Airport (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Budget airline Ryanair will shutter its base at Frankfurt Hahn Airport and is considering doing the same with Berlin Tegel and at Weeze Airport near the Dutch border, Ryanair division Malta Air said in an internal memo seen by dpa on Tuesday. The move comes after majority of German pilots voted against a proposed deal of savings including paycuts that Ryanair said were required because of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the memo, management has decided the airline “must move on to deliver savings in other ways and adjust our German operations to tackle the unsustainable cost base at our German airports.” German pilots union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) said late Tuesday that as many as 170 pilots could be affected by the decision, adding that negotiations with the airline had not been concluded.

German-registered fishing boat detained by Ireland’s navy – dpa international

The Atlantic Ocean seen from the coast of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A German-registered boat was detained overnight by Ireland’s navy for “alleged breaches of fishing regulations,” the Irish Naval Service and Irish Defence Forces said in a statement on Friday. The intercepted vessel is being escorted to port by an Irish navy ship named after poet William Butler Yeats, where it will be handed over to police, the navy said. The vessel was stopped in the Atlantic Ocean around 250 nautical miles (463 kilometres) north-west of Malin Head, the island of Ireland’s northernmost point. The waters where the vessel was detained are rich in cod, haddock, whiting and plaice, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations body.

Malaysians tagged as Asia’s worst plastic polluters – dpa international

Plastic packaging in a Kuala Lumpur mall (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A report published on Monday listed Malaysians as the biggest per capita users of plastic packaging in a region responsible for more than half the plastic litter in the world’s oceans. The report by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) covers China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, which together account for “around 60 per cent of plastic debris entering the ocean.” The average Malaysian uses 16.78 kilograms of plastic packaging each year, according to WWF estimates, with Thailand next at 15.52 kg per person per annum. “Rapid economic growth has led to an immense increase in the use of plastic, especially for packaging consumer goods,” the WWF stated, linking plastic use with rising affluence across the region.

In too deep? Cambodia caught up in China-US rivalry – Southeast Asia Globe

PHNOM PENH — Despite Kem Sokha being freed from house arrest a month ago, it was later announced that he will face trial on January 15, a decision that is unlikely to bolster Cambodia’s case for avoiding sanctions. To Kem Monovithya, a leading opposition politician and a daughter of Kem Sokha, the decision to try her father shows “there is no good will from the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] controlled court”. It is not just opposition leaders who have been targeted. Though most have since been freed, dozens of local opposition activists were rounded up in the weeks prior to Sokha’s release, as the government issued lurid jeremiads about a coup attempt allegedly being orchestrated by Sokha’s fellow opposition leader Sam Rainsy. “We are very concerned about the human rights situation there. The Cambodians now have one month to respond and we will make our final decision in Feb next year,” commented outgoing Commission trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom in a 12 November post on Twitter.

Stitched together – Southeast Asia Globe

PHNOM PENH — With no end in sight to the so-called trade war between the US and China, the European Union (EU) sees a chance to act as the guardian of free trade and hold its own against the two giants. But as the bloc gets increasingly bogged down in spats with individual Southeast Asian countries, prospects for a wider regional trade relationship look increasingly precarious. With Cambodia’s eligibility for preferential market access to the EU coming under question and with the likelihood growing that Myanmar could be put under similar scrutiny, the EU appears to be hedging against any consequent damage to its relations with Southeast Asia by seeking free trade agreements and closer defence ties with some of the region’s countries. While for now Cambodia can export duty-free to the 28-country, 513 million-population European Union market, this week saw the end of the “monitoring and engagement” phase of a review of that access, potentially putting $5 billion worth of Cambodian garment exports at risk. A European Commission spokesperson said in an August 12 email that “over the next six months, the Commission and the European External Action Service will analyse all the evidence collected”.

“Xiplomacy” wins in Europe despite US warnings – Asia Times

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DUBLIN — Business deals worth more than US$60 billion were arguably the least significant aspects of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy and France during the past five days. The key moment arrived in Paris on Tuesday when German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the European Union wants “to play an active part” in Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). “We, as Europeans, want to play an active part [in the project] and that must lead to a certain reciprocity and we are still wrangling over that a bit,” she said at a media briefing after talks with Xi, French President Emmanuel Macro and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Her comments came despite pressure from the United States to block BRI deals and a recent statement by the EU branding China a “systemic rival.”

Asia-Europe leaders meeting comes after inconclusive Brexit talks – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — A spokesperson for the EU stated that the bloc “wants to continue to negotiate ambitious and balanced trade agreements with key partners in the region — this is what we have been doing with Japan, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam.” A “no deal” Brexit could work in one of two ways. While it would risk sidetracking the EU from tricky trade talks with Asia, Brexit could also make the bloc “more interested” in international agreements,” according to Joergen Oerstroem Moeller, a senior visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a think tank at the National University of Singapore. The EU “will not want to appear paralyzed or inward-looking after Brexit,” Moeller said.

EU proposes Asia infrastructure links as challenge to China’s “Belt and Road” – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — While European Union leaders were in the middle of another round of Brexit talks in Salzburg this week, the European Commission was pitching a plan to boost Europe’s infrastructure links with Asia. The commission, a key EU decision-making body, estimates that Asia needs 1.3 trillion euros ($1.5 trillion) a year in infrastructure spending over the next few decades. European infrastructure upgrades will cost a projected 1.5 trillion euros between 2021 and 2030, it said. EU foreign ministers will vote on the plan ahead of a meeting of leaders of 51 countries across Asia and Europe in Brussels next month. Financing details are hazy, with the commission suggesting that it draws on existing EU funds, loans from development banks and public-private partnerships. Some analysts say the plan — titled “The European Way to Connectivity” — suggests that the EU is proposing an alternative to China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious collection of road, rail and port projects in 60 countries spanning Asia, Europe and Africa.

Palm oil producers in Asia want EU to step back from restrictions – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — Major palm oil producers in Asia are hoping European governments will not go ahead with proposals that could undermine their businesses and damage the Indonesian and Malaysian economies. Proponents say palm oil requires less land to grow than other vegetable oil crops. “Palm oil is the most productive oil that exists today,” said Colin Lee, director of corporate affairs at Cargill Tropical Palm, which has around 80,000 hectares of oil palm plantation in the region.  Indonesia and Malaysia provide around 85% of the world’s palm oil. Palm oil makes up between 10% and 12% of their total exports, according to global bank HSBC.