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Ireland Threatens to Block Free Trade Deal Between EU and Mercosur Unless Brazil Protects Amazon

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Ireland has threatened to block the Mercosur trade deal between the EU and South American countries if Brazil does not take steps toward protecting the burning Amazon rainforest.

“There is no way that Ireland will vote for the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement if Brazil does not honour its environmental commitments,” Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said in a statement on Thursday.

Mercosur is the trade bloc of four Latin American economies – Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay – which unites 250 million people and accounts for over 75 per cent of the cumulative GDP in South America.

The European Union, which is the biggest foreign investor in Mercosur, formulated a trade agreement with the bloc on 28 June following almost two decades of negotiations.

The deal is yet to be fully ratified by the EU legislatures and their Mercosur counterparts in a lenghty process that could take up to two years.

The Amazon – the largest rainforest on the planet – has been ravaged by wildfires burning at a record rate for several weeks. Brazil’s space research agency reported this week, citing satellite data, that the country has seen 73,000 fires so far this year, the highest since records began in 2013, and more than half of them were in the Amazon. It represented a 84-per cent increase from the same period in 2018.

President Bolsonaro, who sacked the head of the agency last month amid differences over its deforestation data, accused local environmental groups of setting fires in a bid to embarrass the government.

“On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil,” the president said at a steel industry meeting in Brasilia this week.

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China, U.S. Agree to Cancel Tariffs in Phases

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China and the United States have agreed to cancel in phases the tariffs imposed during their months-long trade war, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, without specifying a timetable, Reuters informs.

An interim U.S.-China trade deal is widely expected to include a U.S. pledge to scrap tariffs scheduled for Dec. 15 on about $156 billion worth of Chinese imports, including cell phones, laptop computers and toys, Reuters adds.

Tariff cancellation was an important condition for any agreement, ministry spokesman Gao Feng said, adding that both must simultaneously cancel some tariffs on each other’s goods to reach a “phase one” trade deal.

“The trade war started with tariffs, and should end with the cancellation of tariffs,” Gao told a regular news briefing.

The proportion of tariffs cancelled for both sides to reach a “phase one” deal must be the same, but the number to be cancelled can be negotiated, he added, without elaborating. “In the past two weeks, the lead negotiators from both sides have had serious and constructive discussions on resolving various core concerns appropriately,” Gao said.

“Both sides have agreed to cancel additional tariffs in different phases, as both sides make progress in their negotiations.”

A source previously told Reuters that Chinese negotiators wanted the United States to drop 15% tariffs on about $125 billion worth of Chinese goods that took effect on September 1.

They also sought relief from earlier 25% tariffs on about $250 billion of imports, ranging from machinery and semiconductors to furniture.

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Former Obama Officials Pledge Support to Biden as He Trails Top Rivals in Money Race

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In a flex of establishment muscle, a slew of former Obama administration officials came out on Wednesday to support Joe Biden’s Democratic U.S. presidential bid at a time when he is fighting to maintain his front-runner status, Reuters informs.

Biden, 76, who was vice president for eight years under Barack Obama, was the guest at a fundraiser that marked the latest effort by his allies to confront the mounting threat posed in polls and fundraising by his top Democratic rival, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Warren, a progressive who promotes sweeping institutional change, has vowed to change the way Washington does business. Biden has become increasingly reliant on the Democratic political establishment to repel her charge.

Last month, a cadre of Biden’s loyalists launched a Super PAC, something Biden previously resisted. The political action committee allows wealthy donors to give unlimited amounts to support his candidacy. Warren, by contrast, largely accepts only small, online donations, Reuters adds.

Biden and Warren sit atop most national opinion polls, with Warren holding an edge in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and Biden running strongly in other states.

Overall, 17 Democrats are seeking the party’s nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

Biden also has stepped up his attacks on Warren, particularly her embrace of single-payer, government-run healthcare. He has increasingly painted Warren, a Harvard University law professor and senator from Massachusetts, as a condescending “elitist” who would not be able to unite a country polarized by Trump’s presidency.

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White House New Hires to Boost Trump Impeachment Defense

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The White House is expected to recruit two advisers to take a more aggressive posture in defending President Donald Trump in the congressional impeachment inquiry over his dealings with Ukraine, a senior administration official said on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The first public hearings are set for next week in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives. The White House has been conducting an internal review to determine the events surrounding Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymr Zelenskiy, the official said.

A second senior administration official said the review of the events, which led to a whistleblower complaint followed by House committees hearing testimony in October, was not an investigation but rather a “fact-finding mission.”

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, has provided some of the most damaging testimony to date. He said that Trump made the release of nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations demanded by Trump against former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Reuters adds.

The two outside advisers are former Florida state attorney general Pam Bondi, a Trump ally, and former Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh, who had resigned earlier this year after joining the administration from its early days.

“Pam Bondi and Tony Sayegh are expected to join the White House communications team to work on proactive impeachment messaging and other special projects as they arise,” the first administration official said.

Trump had voiced opposition to bringing in aides, believing he did nothing wrong and that to bring in new advisers would make him look weak, a source familiar with the situation said.

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