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EU plans to shore up alternative routes for Ukrainian grain exports

However, hopes are currently pinned on the agreement with Russia enabling a resumption of regular Ukrainian agricultural exports via the Black Sea…reports Asian Lite News

Despite the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports under a UN and Turkish-brokered deal between Moscow and Kiev, the European Union (EU) intends to continue its efforts to create alternative freight routes for Ukrainian grain exports.

Despite the re-opening of maritime routes, an immediate return to pre-war levels of Ukrainian exports remains challenging and alternative export routes are still crucial, an EU Commission official said.

European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean stressed that there was “room for improvement”, in the alternative routes being worked on, citing a lack of freight wagons, barge operators and storage facilities for Ukrainian produce.

According to the European Commission, Ukraine was the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the third largest exporter of rapeseed and barley, the fourth largest exporter of maize, and the fifth largest exporter of wheat before the beginning of Ukraine’s invasion by Russia in February.

However, hopes are currently pinned on the agreement with Russia enabling a resumption of regular Ukrainian agricultural exports via the Black Sea.

According to EU figures, before the war, up to 5 million tonnes of grain passed through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports each month.

Reaching that level again in the near future is considered highly unlikely, however, with the first ship to leave the port of Odessa under the UN deal carrying just 26,000 tonnes of maize.

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‘No deal yet on Russia-US prisoner swap’  

The United States announced on Wednesday it had made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow to free two Americans held in Russia…reports Asian Lite News

Russia said on Thursday that talks were underway about a possible prisoner swap between Moscow and Washington but there was no agreement “yet.”

“A concrete result has not yet been achieved,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

Moscow hoped “the interests of both parties” would be taken into account, Zakharova said.

The United States announced on Wednesday it had made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow to free two Americans held in Russia — US basketball star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to confirm reports that Washington was offering to trade the Americans for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year sentence in the US.

Blinken said he would speak to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov “in the coming days” — their first phone conversation since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.

Bout, 55, is the highest-profile Russian prisoner serving time in the US. He inspired the 2005 arms smuggling movie “Lord of War” starring Nicholas Cage.

Bout’s wife Alla said on Wednesday the gun runner knew nothing about the possible exchange.

Washington and Moscow have already engaged in one prisoner swap since Russia launched its Ukraine offensive.

In April, Washington exchanged former US Marine Trevor Reed for convicted Russian drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko.

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EU proposes new draft text for Iran n-deal revival

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was reviewing the “draft understanding” Borrell shared with Iran and other parties to the 2015 deal and would respond directly to the EU…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has proposed a new draft text to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying there is no room left for further major compromises.

“I have now put on the table a text that addresses, in precise detail, the sanctions lifting as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore the JCPOA,” the European Union’s Josep Borrell wrote in an essay in the Financial Times.

“After 15 months of intense, constructive negotiations in Vienna and countless interactions with the JCPOA participants and the US, I have concluded that the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted,” he added.

Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, confirmed Borrell had put forth a new proposal, adding on Twitter, “We, too, have our own ideas, both in substance & form, to conclude the negotiations which would be shared.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was reviewing the “draft understanding” Borrell shared with Iran and other parties to the 2015 deal and would respond directly to the EU.

According to Reuters, Borrell did not provide details about his proposal, but he suggested – as many Western officials have before – that time was running out to restore the deal under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

“It is now time for swift political decisions to conclude the Vienna negotiations on the basis of my proposed text and to immediately return to a fully implemented JCPOA,” he wrote. “If the deal is rejected, we risk a dangerous nuclear crisis, set against the prospect of increased isolation for Iran and its people.”

ALSO READ-EU slams execution of Myanmar’s pro-democracy leaders

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EU slams execution of Myanmar’s pro-democracy leaders

They will only exacerbate the polarisation, violence, and dramatic humanitarian situation in Myanmar…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union has strongly condemned the execution of Myanmar’s former NLD Member of Parliament Phyo Zeya Thaw, prominent activist Kyaw MinYu, as well as Aung Thura Zaw, and Hla Myo Aung by the southeast Asian country’s military regime.

“These politically motivated executions represent yet another step towards the complete dismantling of the rule of law and a further blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar. The four men were the first prisoners to be executed in Myanmar in more than three decades, a move that is contrary to the overall worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty,” the office of the High Commissioner said in a statement, adding that the EU is fundamentally opposed to the death penalty “as an inhumane, cruel and irreversible punishment that violates the inalienable right to life”.

“The executions are reprehensible acts that show that the military authorities have no respect for the life or dignity of the very people they are supposed to protect. They will only exacerbate the polarisation, violence, and dramatic humanitarian situation in Myanmar.

“The EU stands unequivocally with the people of Myanmar and their aspirations for freedom, and urges the military regime to end all acts of violence without further delay and calls for the unconditional and immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained, as well as to return to a democratic path,” it said.

“We will continue to support all efforts by the United Nations and ASEAN to this end,” the statement said.

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EU condemns execution in Myanmar

“The four men were the first prisoners to be executed in Myanmar in more than three decades, a move that is contrary to the overall worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty,”the statement said…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union has strongly condemned the execution of Myanmar’s former NLD Member of Parliament Phyo Zeya Thaw, prominent activist Kyaw MinYu, as well as Aung Thura Zaw, and Hla Myo Aung by the southeast Asian country’s military regime.

“These politically motivated executions represent yet another step towards the complete dismantling of the rule of law and a further blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar. The four men were the first prisoners to be executed in Myanmar in more than three decades, a move that is contrary to the overall worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty,” the office of the High Commissioner said in a statement, adding that the EU is fundamentally opposed to the death penalty “as an inhumane, cruel and irreversible punishment that violates the inalienable right to life”.

“The executions are reprehensible acts that show that the military authorities have no respect for the life or dignity of the very people they are supposed to protect. They will only exacerbate the polarisation, violence, and dramatic humanitarian situation in Myanmar.

“The EU stands unequivocally with the people of Myanmar and their aspirations for freedom, and urges the military regime to end all acts of violence without further delay and calls for the unconditional and immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained, as well as to return to a democratic path,” it said.

“We will continue to support all efforts by the United Nations and ASEAN to this end,” the statement said.

ALSO READ: ‘EU not to take sides, but to stand between Russia and Ukraine

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‘EU not to take sides, but to stand between Russia and Ukraine

The task of the European Union is not to take sides, but to stand between Russia and Ukraine,” Orban said in the Romanian city of Baile Tusnad…reports Asian Lite News

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban said on Saturday that Europe needs a new strategy aimed at peace in the Ukrainian conflict.

“Hungary should not be under the illusion that we can influence the strategy of the West. Nevertheless, it is a matter of honour and morality for us to state our position that a new strategy is needed, the goal of which would be peace and the formulation of a good proposal for peace.

The task of the European Union is not to take sides, but to stand between Russia and Ukraine,” Orban said in the Romanian city of Baile Tusnad. (ANI/Sputnik)

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13 projects for Portugal’s recovery plan signed

According to Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Portugal will receive a total of 1.6 billion euros ($1.63 billion) from the EU for the program…reports Asian Lite News

The first batch of 13 projects for the Portuguese Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR) were signed in Lisbon to receive funds from the European Union (EU) to overcome the post-pandemic economic crisis.

The projects were selected through the program “Mobilizing Agendas for Business Innovation” in the sectors of agri-food, biotechnology, and electric mobility, reports Xinhua news agency.

According to Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Portugal will receive a total of 1.6 billion euros ($1.63 billion) from the EU for the program.

Still, there is a “possibility of adding another 2.3 billion euros” if Portugal uses loans from the EU, he said.

Costa said that the funds will be used to “structurally change the profile of the Portuguese economy”, and create “high-technology exporting sectors”.

In addition to the 13 projects financed, there are still another 38 ones that have already been selected to receive European funds in the coming months.

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EU to tighten sanctions on Russia

The EU is also introducing a number of clarifications to existing measures, for instance in the field of public procurement, aviation and justice…reports Asian Lite News

In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, the Council has adopted new measures intended to tighten existing economic sanctions targeting Russia, perfect their implementation and strengthen their effectiveness.

“Today, we are taking another important step to curtail Russia’s capacity to continue and finance its war of aggression against Ukraine. We are effectively banning Russia’s most significant export after energy – Russian gold. We are also extending the exemption of transactions for agricultural products and transfer of oil to third countries,” Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

“Because the EU is doing its part to ensure we can overcome the looming global food crisis. It is up to Russia, to stop bombing Ukraine’s fields and silos, and stop blocking Black Sea ports,” he added.

According to the council of EU, today’s “maintenance and alignment” package introduces a new prohibition to purchase, import, or transfer, directly or indirectly, gold, if it originates in Russia and it has been exported from Russia into the EU or to any third country after. This prohibition also covers jewellery.

The package also extends the list of controlled items, which may contribute to Russia’s military and technological enhancement or the development of its defence and security sector, thereby reinforcing export controls on dual-use and advanced technology.

Furthermore, the new measures extend the existing port access ban to locks to avoid the circumvention of sanctions and expand the scope of the prohibition on accepting deposits to include those from legal persons, entities or bodies established in third countries and majority-owned by Russian nationals or natural persons residing in Russia. The acceptance of deposits for non-prohibited cross-border trade will be subject to a prior authorisation by the national competent authorities.

The EU is also introducing a number of clarifications to existing measures, for instance in the field of public procurement, aviation and justice.

“With a view to avoid any potential negative consequences for food and energy security around the world, the EU decided to extend the exemption from the prohibition to engage in transactions with certain state-owned entities as regards transactions for agricultural products and the transport of oil to third countries,” the EU council statement said.

“More broadly, the EU is committed to avoiding all measures which might lead to food insecurity around the globe. None of the measures adopted today or earlier in view of Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine target in any way the trade in agricultural and food products, including wheat and fertilisers, between third countries and Russia,” it added.

Similarly, EU measures do not prevent third countries and their nationals operating outside of the EU from purchasing pharmaceutical or medical products from Russia.

In addition to economic sanctions, the Council decided to list additional individuals and entities and strengthen reporting requirements, putting the burden of declaring assets onto sanctioned people, in order to facilitate the freezing of their assets in the EU. (ANI)

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Spain rejects EU gas usage proposal

Ribera said consumption in Spain had been within reasonable limits. “We want to help, but we also want to be respected,” she said…reports Asian Lite News

The Spanish government rejects the plan announced by the European Commission to cut gas consumption by 15 per cent in the coming months in view of the possibility that Russia will cut gas supplies to Europe, Teresa Ribera, Minister for Ecological Transition, has said.

“Whatever happens, Spanish families will not suffer gas or electricity cuts in their homes and the government will defend the position of Spanish industry, which has paid a special price to guarantee the security of supply,” the minister was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

Ribera said consumption in Spain had been within reasonable limits. “We want to help, but we also want to be respected,” she said. She added that “a disproportionate sacrifice cannot be imposed on us,” especially when “we have not been asked for an opinion”.

The European Commission’s proposal aims at a voluntary 15 percent reduction in average consumption over the last five years. In the case of Spain, this would be 55 terawatt hours (TWh) out of an average of 367.28 TWh

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‘Russian gas shutdown would send some EU countries into recession’

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already led the fund to cut its growth forecast for the global economy to 3.6 per cent this year…reports Asian Lite News

A total shutdown of Russian gas supply would reduce GDP in the most vulnerable EU countries by as much as 6 per cent and send them plunging into recession, the International Monetary Fund has warned, media reports said.

Amid speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin will keep the Nord Stream 1 pipeline closed when routine annual maintenance ends later this week, the IMF said Europe lacked a comprehensive plan to cope with shortages, further increases in energy prices and the impact on growth, The Guardian reported.

The Washington-based fund identified Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic as the three EU countries likely to suffer most, but said that Italy, Germany and Austria would also suffer significant effects, the report said.

“The prospect of an unprecedented total shutoff is fuelling concern about gas shortages, still higher prices, and economic impacts. While policymakers are moving swiftly, they lack a blueprint to manage and minimise impact,” IMF officials said.

“Our work shows that in some of the most-affected countries in central and eastern Europe, there is a risk of shortages of as much as 40 per cent of gas consumption and of gross domestic product shrinking by up to 6 per cent.

“The impacts, however, could be mitigated by securing alternative supplies and energy sources, easing infrastructure bottlenecks, encouraging energy savings while protecting vulnerable households, and expanding solidarity agreements to share gas across countries.”

The IMF said Europe’s energy infrastructure and global supply had coped so far with a 60 per cent drop in Russian gas deliveries since June last year, but underlined the potential costs should the Kremlin respond to Western sanctions by “weaponising” energy supplies, The Guardian reported.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already led the fund to cut its growth forecast for the global economy to 3.6 per cent this year, and it will announce a further downgrade later this month.

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