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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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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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China’s Sinopharm Vaccine Approved for Emergency Use By W.H.O.

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Developing countries racing for coronavirus vaccines now have another dependable option — and China’s reputation as a rising scientific superpower just got a big boost.

The World Health Organization on Friday declared a vaccine made by a Chinese company, Sinopharm, as a safe and reliable way to fight the virus. The declaration marks a significant step toward clearing up doubts about the vaccine, after little late-phase clinical trial data was disclosed by the Chinese government and the company.

The W.H.O. emergency use approval allows the Sinopharm vaccine to be included in Covax, a global initiative to provide free vaccines to poor countries. The possible inclusion in Covax raises hopes that more people — especially those in developing nations — will get access to shots at a crucial moment.

Rich countries are hoarding doses of vaccines. India, a major vaccine maker, has stopped exports to address its worsening coronavirus crisis. Safety concerns led health authorities in some countries to temporarily pause the use of vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

“The addition of this vaccine has the potential to rapidly accelerate Covid-19 vaccine access for countries seeking to protect health workers and populations at risk,” Dr. Mariângela Simão, W.H.O. assistant director general for access to health products, said in a statement.

Reliable vaccine access could improve even further next week when the W.H.O. considers another Chinese shot, made by a company called Sinovac. But the fanfare may be short-lived. While China has claimed it can make up to five billion doses by the end of this year, Chinese officials say the country is struggling to manufacture enough doses for its own population and are cautioning a pandemic-weary world to keep expectations in check.

“This should be the golden time for China to practice its vaccine diplomacy. The problem is, at the same time, China itself is facing a shortage,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. “So in terms of global access to vaccines, I don’t expect the situation to significantly improve in the coming two to three months.”

China’s vaccination campaign got off to a slow start, in part because the government prioritized exports and residents did not feel rushed to get vaccinated. The country is now speeding up its national vaccination campaign and aims to inoculate 40 percent of its 1.4 billion people by the end of June.

Sinopharm and Sinovac are producing about 12 million doses a day, just a little over the 10 million doses that China hopes to administer daily to meet the domestic target. The companies would have to produce roughly 500 million additional doses to meet the demands of other countries, according to a calculation of data provided by Bridge Consulting, a Beijing-based consultancy focused on China’s impact on global health.

The vaccine shortage in China underscores the complexity of rolling out a mass vaccination campaign for the world’s most populous nation while also trying to execute an ambitious export program. Companies involved in the vaccine supply chain, such as those making syringes, are working overtime.

“The whole world is short of this vaccine,” said a Sinovac spokesman, Pearson Liu. “The demand is just too great.”

To mitigate the shortfall, Chinese officials said those getting vaccinated in China could delay getting their second shot by as long as eight weeks, or they could combine the same type of vaccine from different companies. They have said the shortage should ease by June.

Andrea Taylor, who analyzes global data on vaccines at the Duke Global Health Institute, called the potential addition of two Chinese vaccines into the Covax program a “game changer.”

“The situation right now is just so desperate for low and lower middle income countries that any doses we can get out are worth mobilizing,” Ms. Taylor said. “Having potentially two options coming from China could really change the landscape of what’s possible over the next few months.”

China’s vaccines have been rolled out to more than 80 countries, but they have faced significant skepticism, in part because the companies have not released Phase 3 clinical trial data for scientists to independently assess the vaccines’ efficacy rates. An advisory group to the W.H.O. published the data this week.

The Sinopharm vaccine developed with the Beijing Institute of Biological Products has an efficacy rate of 78.1 percent, according to the W.H.O. advisory group. The Sinovac vaccine has varying efficacy rates of between 50 percent to 84 percent, depending on the country where Phase 3 trials were conducted. Both vaccines were made using a tried-and-tested technology that involves weakening or killing a virus with chemicals.

The advisory group’s data showed that it had a “high level of confidence” that the Sinopharm vaccine worked in preventing Covid-19 in adults, but a “low level” of confidence for people over 60. The group’s findings were similar for the Sinovac vaccine.

The W.H.O. said that because Sinopharm enrolled few adults above 60 years old in its trials, the health agency could not estimate the vaccine efficacy for this group. But the W.H.O. said it would not restrict the use of the vaccine in that age group because preliminary data suggests “the vaccine is likely to have a protective effect in older persons.”

There is limited data on how well the vaccine will work against the many coronavirus variants cropping up around the world. Chinese vaccines are overall less effective than the inoculations produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

But for China’s leaders, the W.H.O. approval can still be seen as a badge of honor. Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has pledged to make a Covid-19 vaccine a “global public good.”

After India announced export restrictions on vaccines last month, Indonesia and the Philippines said they would turn to China for help. Last week, China’s foreign minister offered to help South Asian nations get access to vaccines.

Indonesia said it would get additional doses from Sinovac after President Joko Widodo held talks with Mr. Xi. In a speech the same week, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said he owed “a debt of gratitude” to China for its vaccines.

It remains to be seen whether the W.H.O. approval will change Beijing’s approach to doling out vaccines. China has given only 10 million doses to Covax, though it has independently donated 16.5 million doses and sold 691 million doses to 84 countries, according to Bridge Consulting. Many of the donations were made to developing nations in Africa and Asia.

“They don’t like to subsume their generosity in their products under some U.N. brand,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the global health policy center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They are in a historic phase,” he said. “They want the recipients to know that this is China delivering.”

Jason Gutierrez contributed reporting. Elsie Chen contributed reporting and research.

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