The Week in Brief: 27 February–3 March 2017

4 March 2018

The Week in Brief: 27 February–3 March 2017

Story of the week

Trump imposes steep tariffs on steel, aluminium

Image credit: Gage Skidmore (Flickr) – CC BY-SA 2.0

US President Donald Trump made an unexpected announcement on Thursday, saying he would impose a tariff on steel and aluminum imports “for a long period of time”.

The move has sparked criticism from the US’ largest trade partners, China and the European Union.

China responded by urging the US to refrain from damaging the fragile recovery of the global economy. However, the EU took a stronger stance, threatening Harley Davidson, bourbon and Levi’s jeans imports.

“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levi’s,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, as cited by Reuters. “We cannot simply put our head in the sand.”

Trump announced that somewhere next week he will sign an order to impose a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum, according to Focus Washington.

“We’re going to build our steel industry back and we’re going to build our [aluminum] industry back,” Trump told reporters after a White House meeting with industry chief executives.

“We’ll be signing [an order imposing tariffs] next week. And you’ll have protection for a long time in a while. You’ll have to regrow your industries, that’s all I’m asking.”

He added, “What’s been allowed to go on for decades is disgraceful.”

Following his announcement, stocks crashed and GOP members registered frustration.

“We were told at the beginning of all this that Donald Trump was comfortable with chaos — that’s how he is accustomed to operate,” David Axelrod, a former Obama administration top strategist, said.

“That may be okay if you are running a small family branding business, but when you are in the most important office on the planet it can have grave consequences,” he said.

At the close of trading in New York, the S&P 500 had fallen 1.3% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 1.7%. However, US Steel gained 5.8% and AK Steel closed up 9.5%. Asian equities, led by steel and aluminum manufacturers, fell on Friday.

Although the tariffs are expected to apply to imports from all countries, there may be a process for countries and companies to apply for exclusions from them.

The announcement was welcomed by executives from the steel and aluminum industries, who say it creates “a level playing field.”


Government orders ‘largest ever’ vehicle recall

The Government has ordered the largest ever compulsory car recall in Australia for vehicles fitted with Takata airbags after the airbags were linked to deaths and injuries.

It is believed four million cars are fitted with the airbags which is approximately two-in-seven cars on the road.

High levels of moisture penetrating the airbags can trigger the propelling mechanism too quickly, resulting in metal fragments exploding outward.

There have been at least 23 deaths worldwide including one in Australia, and 230 serious injuries. It is strongly advised that people do not drive cars which are fitted with Takata alpha airbags.

Vehicle manufacturers are required to cover the total cost of the replacement.

We encourage our readers to check the list of cars being recalled.

Corbyn’s Brexit plans threatens Australia-UK free trade deal

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is threatening a future free trade agreement between Australia and the UK by saying he wants Britain to remain in the EU Customs Union.

Speaking on Monday, the Labor Party leader said if elected, he would negotiate a “new and comprehensive” UK-EU customs union to ensure tariff-free trade after Brexit.

Mr Corbyn’s position puts him at odds with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who instead wants the freedom to negotiate free trade deals with countries around the world, including Australia.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said during a visit to London in February that an Australia-UK free trade deal relied on Britain leaving the Customs Union.

Ms Bishop said: “Australia is very keen to pursue negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. I think that would be precluded if the United Kingdom were to join the [EU] customs union, so our national interest, our priority, would be served by negotiating a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.”

One charge against Pell dropped after accuser dies

Cardinal George Pell will be facing a hearing on Monday to determine whether he will stand trial for multiple historical sexual offence charges.

However, one charge has been withdrawn by the prosecution, after the accuser died.

Pell is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be faced with such charges, and he has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer in order to fight them. He continues to deny the charges.

Liberals win Tasmania state election

The Liberal Party have maintained their seat of power, despite Labor’s gambit with promising to get rid of pokie machines in pubs and clubs within five years time.

Not all the votes have been counted yet, and some seats are yet to be accounted for; however, with 84% of votes counted, the remaning votes are not enough for Labor to come back.

Rebecca White, Labor leader, talked about the party becoming stronger after running a campaign with integrity; Michelle O’Byrne, Deputy leader, had similar comments.

In a state that has a history of leaning Labor, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman is only the second Liberal premier to win a majority in consecutive elections.


Constitutional change means Xi Jinping could rule China indefinitely

Proposed changes to China’s Constitution would allow Xi Jinping to hold the office of President indefinitely, sparking concerns of a Mao-style leadership.

China’s ruling Communist Party wants to scrap 10-year presidential term limits and also insert Mr Xi’s ideology into the Constitution.

Considering that the Communist Party has banned opposition parties and suppresses dissenting political voices, the proposal will likely be passed by China’s rubber-stamp parliament in March.

UK makes progress towards opt-out organ donation

The British House of Commons voted to refer legislation relating to organ donation to a public bill committee for consideration on Friday.

The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill 2017–19 would establish a presumption that a person consents to donating their organs unless they have opted out, reversing the current opt-in system.

The committee will scrutinise the bill in detail and make recommendations for amendment if considered necessary, but the legislation has the support of the Conservative government and Labour opposition, as well as the British medical profession.

While the bill would only affect England, Wales introduced deemed consent in 2015, and the Scottish Parliament is also considering a switch to an opt-out system.

Le Pen faces prosecution over images of ISIS atrocities

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is under formal investigation (equivalent to having been charged for an offence) for distributing violent images, a crime in France.

In December 2015 Le Pen tweeted images of beheaded journalist James Foley, a man in a cage who had been set on fire, and a tank driving over another victim.

Le Pen captioned this with “This is Daesh” — the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — an apparent response to comparisons between National Front, the far-right party of which she is President, and the terrorist organisation.

Both the French National Assembly and the European Parliament have lifted Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution (she was a Member of the European Parliament at the time of the tweet), clearing the path for her prosecution.

If found guilty, she faces up to three years in prison and a fine of $177,000.

UN partners with cryptocurrency startup on Sustainable Development

The United Nations will partner with UK-based cryptocurrency wallet startup Blockchain to explore how blockchain technology can be applied in a range of areas related to sustainable development.

Blockchain technology, which underpins cryptocurrencies, has previously been explored as a means of digital identification of refugees, and in September 2017 the UN Blockchain Commission for Sustainable Development was established.

The startup has produced a white paper that examines potential applications of blockchain technology to the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda, which it believes “provides a first step in helping policy makers, regulators and UN Member States gain an understanding of blockchain technology.”

Putin displays military technology in address

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual State of the Nation address on Thursday, during which he showcased new hypersonic missiles and unmanned underwater devices.

The missiles, he says, have no distance limitations, fly at 20 times the speed of sound, and manoeuvre up and down.

The underwater devices are said to move faster than submarines or torpedoes, and can carry nuclear warheads.

The Pentagon has responded by saying the United States was fully prepared for anything that Russia had in store.

For the most part though, President Putin spoke about increasing social security spending, improving the education system, infrastructure and encouraging economic growth.

Toward the end of the address, Mr Putin suggested the US should rethink its stance toward Russia, retire warmongers and cease endangering the planet for the sake of its own ambition, adding that Russia is prepared to use all means necessary to protect itself if attacked.

He added that Moscow would be responsive if the US and Europe were to seek equal partnership with Russia.

The President closed by saying times now favor those who are prepared to change.

Alleged photo of Kim Jong-Un’s fake passport released

Reuters have published photocopies of fake passports allegedly used by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and his late father Kim Jong-Il to apply for visas to Western countries in the 1990s.

One of the five senior Western European security sources cited in the exclusive report said: “They used these Brazilian passports, which clearly show the photographs of Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il, to attempt to obtain visas from foreign embassies. This shows the desire for travel and points to the ruling family’s attempts to build a possible escape route.”

The other four senior security sources confirmed the passports were used to apply for visas to at least two Western countries.

It is unclear whether any visas were issued.

The security sources said facial recognition technology confirmed the photos on the passports were indeed Kim Jong-Un and his father.