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International Relations

CFR-FIU Election 2020 U.S. Foreign Policy Forum

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Presented by the Council on Foreign Relations and Florida International University

Will the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement benefit U.S. workers? What can be done to improve the situation in Venezuela? What are the economic, security, and humanitarian concerns that U.S. immigration policies should take into account?

Watch an in-depth, nonpartisan conversation on critical foreign policy challenges facing the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Former government officials from Republican and Democratic administrations will discuss issues central to our national interest and answer questions about U.S. policy and America’s role in the world.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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International Relations

Government hires PR firm to ‘clean Uganda’s image’

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By U R N

The Government has hired an international public relations firm, Mercury International UK Limited, a subsidiary of Mercury Public Affairs, to improve its image on the international scene.

Documents seen by this reporter show that when Uganda hired Mercury International UK Limited, it subcontracted its mother firm Mercury Public Affairs to do the job. This signals that the focus of lobbying will be in the US.
Mercury Public Affairs submitted its agreement with the subsidiary to the US Justice Department on April 26, 2021.    
In the USA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires lobbyists of foreign governments “who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”  

READ: US imposes visa restrictions on Ugandan officials

It’s the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) unit of the National Security Division (NSD) in the Department of Justice that oversee lobbyists of foreign governments.   
“Registrant is providing strategic consulting, government relations, lobbying, and media relations consulting and management services,” the contract says.

“The term of this Agreement shall begin on April 22, 2021, and will continue in effect until May 21, 2021. The term of this agreement shall automatically continue every month thereafter unless terminated in accordance herewith,” it further reads.   
The UK firm will be paying the US firm on monthly basis for services rendered, the agreement says. It doesn’t reveal the amount that Uganda will be paying.
The government through Mercury International Relations UK Ltd is listed as the foreign principal. The listed address of the foreign principal is 25497 Kampala Road, Kampala Uganda. This address belongs to State House.  

READPressure mounts on US to act on Uganda’s abuses

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The move was made a week after US Secretary of State, Mr Antony John Blinken slapped visa restrictions against unnamed Uganda officials over human rights violations orchestrated during and after the 2021 elections.
“The government of Uganda must significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for the flawed election conduct, violence and intimidation,” Mr Blinken said. He further warned; “the US government will continue to evaluate additional actions against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and human rights in Uganda as well as their immediate family members.” 
Though the government has been bullish in public, hastily hiring an international PR firm is indicative that privately, it’s upping its tactics of restoring its reputation that has been in free-fall during election season. 

After the visa restrictions were announced, Foreign Affairs State Minister Okello Oryem said “we will not lose sleep, be shaken or demoralised.” 
And when asked about hiring the PR firm for lobbying, Mr Oryem argued that it’s not strange.

READ: There have been no abductions by Ugandan security – Kutesa tells UN

“My brother, all countries across the world hire private companies and institutions to do work for them including what you’re saying (lobbying). There is nothing unusual,” he said.
Uganda’s government faced a barrage of criticisms from international human rights organizations and donor governments over the electoral process and abductions of opposition supporters. But also, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, who was the leading opposition presidential candidate got favourable coverage in the foreign press. 

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International Relations

Biden should abolish corporate tax for small business, and make Big Tech pay what they owe instead

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On April 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin held videoconference with leaders of several French companies-members of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France-Russia) to discuss some aspects of Russian-French trade, economic and investment cooperation, including the implementation of large joint projects as well as the prospects for collaborative work.

Putin noted that the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is still operational in spite of difficulties, and the late April meeting was the fourth time since 2016. From the historical records, France has been and remains a key economic partner for Russia, holding a high but not sufficiently high, 6th place among EU countries in the amount of accumulated investment in the Russian economy and 5th place in the volume of trade.

Despite a certain decline in mutual trade in 2020 (it went down by 14 percent compared to 2019) the ultimate figure is quite acceptable at $13 billion. French investment in Russia is hovering around $17 billion, while Russian investment in France is $3 billion.

Over 500 companies with French capital are operating in various sectors of the Russian economy. French business features especially prominently in the Russian fuel and energy complex, automobile manufacturing and, of course, the food industry. “It could have been more if the French regulatory and state authorities treated Russian businesses as Russia is treating French businesses. We appreciate that in a difficult economic environment, French companies operating in Russia have not reduced their activity,” Putin pointed out.

The Russian Government established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, which includes six French companies. Further, there is an opportunity to discuss specific issues related to the economic and investment climate in Russia, and that opportunity is traditionally provided at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held on June 2-5.

French companies are involved in the implementation of globally famous landmark projects, such as the construction of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 facilities and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. This, Putin regrettably said “We are aware of and regret the amount of political speculation concerning the latter. I would like to point out once again that it is a purely economic project, it has nothing to do with present-day political considerations.”

Russia intends to increase assistance to the development of science and technology. Funds will be directed primarily to innovation sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, nuclear and renewable energy, and the utilisation of carbon emissions.

“We are interested in involving foreign companies that would like to invest in Russia and in projects we consider high priority. In order to do this, we will continue to use preferential investment regimes and execute special investment contracts, as you know. A lot of French companies successfully use these tools on the Russian market. For example, more than one third of 45 special investment contracts have been signed with European, including French, partners,” he explained during the meeting.

He also mentioned continuous efforts to attract foreign companies to localise their production to state purchases and to implementing the National Development Projects, as well as existing opportunities for French businesses in special economic zones. Today there are 38 such zones created throughout the Russian Federation.

Russia pays particular attention to attracting high-quality foreign specialists. Their employment is being fast-tracked, and their families can now obtain indefinite residence permits. There is a plan to launch a special programme of ‘golden visas’ whereby to issue a residence permit in exchange for investment in the real economy, a practice is used in many other countries.

Taking his turn, Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Gennady Timchenko, noted that the pandemic has changed the world, people and business, and that French companies in Russia are responsible employers and socially responsible members of Russian society.

Despite the crisis and the geopolitical situation, a number of French companies have launched production in 2020–2021. Companies such as Saint-Gobain and Danone have renewed their investments. French companies have increased their export of products manufactured in Russia; they are investing in priority sectors of the Russian economy. For example, this year the French company Lidea is launching a plant called Tanais to produce seeds. Russia is dependent on the import of 30 to 60 percent of these seeds, according to various estimates.

Despite the current geopolitical conditions and information field, there are important signals for French business and the Russian side to strengthen economic cooperation, attract investment, and create partnerships on a new mutually beneficial basis.

Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Patrick Pouyanne, noted that the meeting has become an excellent tradition, the presence of 17 CEOs and deputy CEOs of French companies shows the importance of these joint meetings, and further reflect the deep interest of French business in Russia.

In addition, Patrick Pouyanne further offered some insights into Russia-French cooperation. By 2020, twenty members of the Economic Council invested a total of 1.65 trillion rubles, supporting 170,000 jobs. These companies have operated in Russia for decades and continue investing in the Russian economy despite the sanctions and the epidemic. These companies help France maintain its status as the second largest investor in Russia. In 2020, France invested over $1 billion in Russia despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Concluding his remarks, Patrick Pouyanne stressed that the economic operators believe everyone will benefit if Russia, France and all of Europe are not divided or isolated. This is the challenge today. Indeed, diplomacy has to continue playing an important role in settling differences, and businesses are convinced that meetings like this create bridges between Russia and France to strengthen investment and economic cooperation.

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International Relations

Chinese rocket debris set for re-entry by early Sunday: US R&D center

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) — Remnants of China’s largest rocket launched last week are expected to plunge back through the atmosphere late Saturday or early Sunday, a U.S. federally funded space-focused research and development center said.

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that most debris from the rocket will be burned up on re-entry and is highly unlikely to cause any harm, after the U.S. military said that what it called an uncontrolled re-entry was being tracked by U.S. Space Command.

In a tweet sent on Friday evening in the United States, the Aerospace Corporation said that the latest prediction for the re-entry of the Long March 5B rocket body by its Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) was for eight hours on either side of 0419 GMT on Sunday.

CORDS’ latest “informed prediction” of the rocket body’s re-entry location was given near the North Island of New Zealand, but it noted that re-entry was possible anywhere along paths covering large swathes of the globe.

The Long March 5B — comprising one core stage and four boosters — lifted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29 with the unmanned Tianhe module, which contains what will become living quarters on a permanent Chinese space station.

The Long March 5 family of rockets have been integral to China’s near-term space ambitions — from the delivery of modules and crew of its planned space station to launches of exploratory probes to the moon and even Mars.

The Long March launched last week was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May last year.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell previously told Reuters there is a chance that pieces of the rocket could come down over land, perhaps in a populated area, as in May 2020, when pieces from the first Long March 5B rained down on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings, though no injuries were reported.

Debris from Chinese rocket launches is not uncommon within China. In late April, authorities in the city of Shiyan, Hubei province, issued a notice to people in the surrounding county to prepare for evacuation as parts were expected to land in the area.

“The Long March 5B re-entry is unusual because during launch, the first stage of the rocket reached orbital velocity instead of falling downrange as is common practice,” the Aerospace Corporation said in a blog post.

“The empty rocket body is now in an elliptical orbit around Earth where it is being dragged toward an uncontrolled reentry.”

The empty core stage has been losing altitude since last week, but the speed of its orbital decay remains uncertain due to unpredictable atmospheric variables.

It is one of the largest space debris to re-enter Earth, at 18 tonnes.

The core stage of the first Long March 5B that returned to Earth last year weighed nearly 20 tonnes, surpassed only by debris from the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station in 1991, and NASA’s Skylab in 1979.

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