Current Affairs - International

India and Japan Hold Bilateral Talks on Steel Sector Cooperation and Decarbonisation

On 20th July, 2023, India and Japan conducted bilateral talks to foster cooperation in the steel sector and address decarbonisation challenges.

Key Points:

  • Strengthening Collaboration: Both nations demonstrated their commitment to fostering collaboration between the public and private sectors of India and Japan. This synergy aims to leverage expertise and resources to enhance the steel sector's growth and sustainability.
  • Balancing Policy Approach: India and Japan emphasized the importance of adopting a policy approach that takes into account the unique circumstances of their respective steel industries.
  • Seeking Expertise: India sought Japanese expertise in safety training for Indian steel plants, recognizing the value of knowledge exchange to enhance safety standards and practices in the steel industry.
  • Cooperative Efforts: Japan sought India's cooperation in steel decarbonisation efforts, acknowledging the pivotal role of international cooperation in realizing sustainable practices and mitigating carbon emissions in the steel sector.
  • Towards Net-Zero Goals: Both sides recognized the significance of collaboration in achieving their respective net-zero emission goals.
  • They acknowledged the diverse pathways and approaches required to accomplish steel decarbonisation objectives while considering each nation's unique circumstances.
  • Future Cooperation: India and Japan have planned future discussions, including a 'Steel Dialogue,' and other cooperation programs.
  • These dialogues will specifically focus on exploring innovative technologies to enhance energy efficiency and advance the decarbonisation agenda in steel production.

Singapore Tops Henley Passport Index 2023

According to the latest Henley Passport Index released on 18th July, Singapore's passport has been ranked as the world's most powerful passport in 2023, granting visa-free access to an impressive 192 countries.

Key Points:

  • Japan Drops to Third Place: The previous title holder, the Japanese passport, has slipped to the third position, now sharing it with Austria, Finland, France, Luxembourg, South Korea, and Sweden.
  • India's Progress: India has made significant progress in the rankings, climbing to the 80th spot along with Senegal and Togo.
  • Indian passport holders now enjoy visa-free access to 57 destinations, showing an improvement from the 83rd position in 2022.
  • European Countries in Second Place: Among European countries, Germany, Italy, and Spain jointly hold the second rank, offering visa-free access to 190 destinations.
  • UK Passport's Resurgence: In a surprising turn, the UK passport has risen two places to claim the fourth position after a six-year decline.
  • United States' Decline: The United States, however, continues its downward trajectory, dropping two places to the eighth position, granting access to only 184 destinations without a visa.
  • Henley Passport Index Methodology: The Henley Passport Index compares visa-free access for 199 passports across 227 travel destinations. The index assigns a score based on whether a visa is unnecessary, obtainable upon arrival, or through an electronic travel authority.
  • Importance of Passport Ranking: The Henley Passport Index provides valuable insights into passport strength, reflecting each country's level of global mobility and travel freedom for its citizens. Higher rankings signify greater ease of travel and accessibility to various destinations worldwide.

India and the US: Boosting Bilateral Cooperation

Recently, India's Union Finance Minister announced that India and the US have agreed to work together on several critical issues, fostering bilateral cooperation.

Key Points:

  • Focus Areas: The collaboration aims to strengthen multilateral development banks (MDBs), promote climate action, and facilitate the energy transition, with both nations jointly contributing to addressing global challenges.
  • Consensus on Indebtedness of Low- and Middle-Income Countries: In addition to the key focus areas, India and the US will strive to facilitate a smoother consensus on the indebtedness of low- and middle-income countries, supporting financial stability and development.
  • Embracing Crypto Assets and Digital Public Infrastructure: Both countries recognize the opportunities presented by crypto assets and digital public infrastructure for advancing financial inclusion, and they intend to harness these opportunities for the benefit of their economies.
  • Global Tax Overhaul: India, the US, and around 140 other countries are currently engaged in negotiations to revamp global tax rules, ensuring multinational corporations (MNCs) pay taxes in the countries where they operate.
  • Economic Ties and Supply Chain De-risking: The US is India's largest export market, and the two nations are engaged in talks to de-risk their supply chains from China under the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF).
  • Settlement of WTO Disputes: Recently, India and the US successfully resolved six of their disputes at the World Trade Organization (WTO), further enhancing trade relations.

India-France Relations: New Developments

Recently, Indian PM wrapped up a fruitful two-day visit to France, culminating with his participation as the guest of honour during the Bastille Day celebrations.

During the festivities, the French President bestowed upon India’s Prime Minister the highest civilian and military honour of France, recognizing the significance of their bilateral relations.

The key points of the meeting are:

  • UNSC Reform: India and France agreed to collaborate to push for reforms in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), emphasizing the need for better representation and inclusivity.
  • India and France's Indo-Pacific Roadmap: In pursuit of shared goals, India and France established an Indo-Pacific Roadmap to promote stability, sustainable development, and ensure free access to global commons within the region.
  • Defence Cooperation: The two nations announced joint efforts in the development of a combat aircraft engine and the engine for the Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH), a project led by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, strengthening defence ties between India and France.

UAE Granted Observer Status in Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering

Recently, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first Arab country to obtain observer status in the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), a regional body akin to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The key points are:

  • Venue of Conference: The APG is currently conducting its plenary session in Vancouver, Canada, where the UAE is actively participating as an observer.
  • UAE’s Importance: Obtaining observer status is a testament to the UAE's dedication to international collaboration in combating money laundering and terrorist financing.
  • Anti-terrorism Commitment: The UAE delegation includes representatives from the UAE Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and other government officials, highlighting the country's commitment to actively engage in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing efforts within the region.

Russia Emerges as Dominant Wheat Exporter

In recent times, Russia has solidified its position as the leading wheat exporter globally, while Ukraine's exports are projected to decrease significantly, and production hits an 11-year low.

The key points are:

  • Rise in Exports: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates Russia's wheat exports at a record 45.5 million tonnes (mt) for the 2022-23 period, marking a significant increase from the previous three marketing years' figures: 33 mt, 39.1 mt, and 34.5 mt.
  • Decline in EU Exports: The European Union, which exported 39.8 mt of wheat in 2019-20, experienced a decline in exports over the following three years, reaching 29.7 mt, 32 mt, and 34 mt, respectively.
  • Markets for Wheat: The primary markets for Russian wheat are the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, with Egypt, Iran, and Algeria being the leading importers.
  • Ukraine's Market Focus: The focus has shifted from Asia and North Africa to Europe, primarily due to ease of shipment, as indicated by the USDA.
  • Decrease in Prices: Abundant supplies from Russia have contributed to a softening of global wheat prices, leading to a decrease in export prices over the last three months from $275 to around $235 per tonne.
  • Advantage to India: The relatively low international wheat prices can benefit countries like India, which may consider importing wheat if the kharif rice crop suffers from poor monsoon rainfall in major paddy-growing states.

Global Multidimensional Poverty Index

On July 11, 2023, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) at the University of Oxford released the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).

The key findings are:

  • India's Achievement: India witnessed a remarkable reduction in poverty, with 415 million people moving out of poverty within a span of just 15 years, from 2005/2006 to 2019/2021.
  • Rapid Progress: 25 countries, including India, successfully halved their global MPI values within 15 years, demonstrating that rapid progress in poverty reduction is achievable.
  • Other countries that achieved this milestone include Cambodia, China, Congo, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Serbia, and Vietnam.
  • Fastest Absolute Progress: The report highlights that the poorest states and groups, including children and people from disadvantaged caste groups, witnessed the fastest absolute progress.
  • Deprivations in nutrition, child mortality, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, and housing showed significant improvements.
  • Global Poverty Statistics: At approximately 1.1 billion people, just over 18% of the global population, live in acute multidimensional poverty across 110 countries.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are home to about five out of every six poor people.
  • Children and Rural Poverty: Children under the age of 18 account for half of the MPI-poor people, with a poverty rate of 27.7%. Poverty predominantly affects rural areas, with 84% of all poor people residing in rural regions.
  • Impact of COVID-19: The report acknowledges the challenges in assessing the immediate prospects and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the lack of comprehensive data during the pandemic period.
  • However, in some countries such as Mexico, Madagascar, Cambodia, Peru, and Nigeria, where data were available, there were indications of continued progress in poverty reduction, offering hope amid the pandemic.
  • Data Collection and Policy Efforts: As per the report there's need for intensified efforts in data collection and policy measures to comprehend the dimensions most negatively affected by the pandemic and to get poverty reduction back on track.
  • It also calls for improved data on multidimensional poverty, particularly concerning the impacts on children, to inform effective interventions.
  • Data Accessibility and Solvability: The report highlights the scarcity of data on multidimensional poverty for a significant portion of the global population and urges funders and data scientists to work towards making breakthroughs in poverty data collection.

Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation

Recently, India demonstrated its outstanding performance in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific's (UNESCAP) Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation.

Key Findings

  • Outstanding Performance: India achieved an impressive score of 93.55% in the 2023 survey, showcasing its commitment to digital and sustainable trade facilitation. This score represents a significant improvement from 90.32% in 2021.
  • Leading Global Trade Facilitation Efforts: India is at the forefront of global trade facilitation efforts, as recognized by the survey.
  • The country's exceptional progress across various sub-indicators highlights its relentless efforts to streamline trade processes, enhance transparency, and promote cooperation among stakeholders.
  • Perfect Scores in Key Areas: India attained perfect scores of 100% in four crucial areas: Transparency, Formalities, Institutional Arrangement and Cooperation, and Paperless Trade.
  • This achievement demonstrates India's effectiveness in implementing measures that enhance trade facilitation.
  • Women in Trade Facilitation: India showcased substantial improvement in the "Women in Trade Facilitation" component, increasing the score from 66.7% in 2021 to 77.8% in 2023.
  • This highlights India's commitment to gender inclusivity and empowering women in the trade sector.
  • Best Performing Country in South Asia: India emerged as the best-performing country in the South Asia region, surpassing many developed countries like Canada, France, the UK, and Germany in terms of overall score.
  • Continuous Improvement: India's overall score has been steadily improving year by year, indicating a strong commitment to further enhancing the ease of doing business and implementing next-generation trade facilitation measures.
  • Recognized Digital Initiatives: The survey recognized Indian Customs' digital initiatives, including Turant Customs, Single Window Interface for Facilitation of Trade (SWIFT), Pre-Arrival data processing, and e-Sanchit.
  • These initiatives aim to create a paperless, contactless, and faceless trade environment.
  • Fact-Based Evaluation: The UNESCAP survey is a fact-based evaluation that covers the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and approximately 60 trade facilitation measures categorized into eleven sub-groups.

23rd Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

On 5th July, 2023, during the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held under India's presidency, Iran officially became a full member of the grouping.

The key points of the summit are:

  • Iran's Membership: The SCO has decided to induct Iran as its ninth member, expanding the organization's membership.
  • New Delhi Declaration: The summit resulted in the New Delhi Declaration, which proposed five joint statements on various issues such as the fight against terrorism, de-radicalization, sustainable lifestyle to tackle climate change, production of millets, and digital transformation.
  • India's Stance on BRI: India once again refused to endorse China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to connect China with Asia, Europe, and beyond through large infrastructure projects. India remains the only SCO member not supporting the project.
  • Lack of Consensus: India also stayed out of a joint statement on SCO Economic Development Strategy 2030, indicating a lack of consensus within the organization on this matter.
  • Cross-Border Terrorism: Indian Prime Minister emphasized that some countries use cross-border terrorism as an instrument of their policies. He urged the SCO to criticize such nations and stressed the need for consistent action against terrorism.
  • Pakistan's Role: India has been raising concerns about Pakistan's support for terrorist groups and their use as instruments of state policy. China's stance on blocking the listing of Pakistan-based terrorists at the UN Security Council (UNSC) has been a point of contention.

India-Tanzania Joint Defence Cooperation Committee Meeting

On 28th and 29th June, 2023, the second edition of the Joint Defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC) meeting between India and Tanzania was held in Arusha.

This important meeting brought together high-level officials from both countries to discuss and strengthen their defence cooperation.

The key points are:

  • Participation: The meeting witnessed the participation of high-level officials from both India and Tanzania.
  • Collaboration Opportunities: The meeting provided a platform for discussions on a wide range of opportunities for collaboration between the two countries, particularly focused on enhancing security in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Both sides explored avenues for cooperation and emphasized the growing prowess of India's defence manufacturing sector, which can potentially export to friendly nations.
  • Five-Year Roadmap: A significant outcome of the meeting was the agreement on a comprehensive five-year roadmap for defence cooperation.
  • This roadmap encompasses initiatives such as customized training, capacity building, maritime cooperation, infrastructure development, and collaboration in defence equipment and technology.
  • The roadmap aims to strengthen defence capabilities and deepen the partnership between India and Tanzania.
  • Parallel Meetings: Alongside the JDCC meeting, representatives from Indian Defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) held extensive meetings with stakeholders from the Tanzanian Forces.
  • These parallel meetings allowed for focused discussions and explored avenues for cooperation and mutual benefit.
  • Warm Relations: The meeting highlighted the close, warm, and friendly relations between India and Tanzania.
  • It acknowledged the existing robust capacity building initiatives and development partnerships between the two countries, which contribute to strengthening bilateral ties.
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