Former US, Canadian, and Mexican officials make pitch to keep strategic trade deal

US President Donald Trump has called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “the worst trade deal,” but former US, Canadian, and Mexican officials, speaking at the Atlantic Council on February 22, warned against abandoning the strategic deal that binds their three nations while acknowledging that it is in need of an update.

“NAFTA should be updated… the world has changed, the market has changed in twenty-three years,” said Carlos Gutierrez, who served as US Commerce Secretary in the George W. Bush administration. “This is an area where the United States can have a significant advantage if we can negotiate a better agreement where it’s not a zero-sum game,” he added.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly were in Mexico on February 22 and 23. Paula Stern, who served as chairwoman of the US International Trade Commission in the Reagan administration, said the visit by the senior Trump administration officials provided an opportunity to lay the groundwork for updating NAFTA.

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With commitments to clean energy and combatting climate change wavering under the new US administration, leadership in renewable energy is quietly shifting away from the United States across the Pacific, where China is rapidly building its dominance.

US President Donald Trump has been clear about his support for fossil fuels. Though his stance on renewable energy remains ambiguous, his comments about withdrawing from international climate agreements and his championing of the coal and oil industries suggest that the Trump administration may not be especially supportive of domestic wind and solar industries. While Trump may find the domestic advance of renewables hard to stop, the United States risks ceding its international leadership role in clean energy to China.

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After fifteen rounds of negotiations with the United States on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) since 2013, European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that the free-trade deal is likely to be “in the freezer” until the new US administration has figured out its position on transatlantic trade.

US President Donald Trump’s administration is not bound by any progress made in the TTIP negotiations by the previous Obama administration. TTIP was removed from the official White House website after Trump took office on January 20.

However, while he was quick to take the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), another free-trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries, Trump has been largely silent on TTIP. Renegotiating NAFTA has, instead, been his stated priority.

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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America launch a Russian-language news network

The flurries of disinformation and fake news obfuscating the current state of affairs in Russia, and the Kremlin’s activity worldwide, have not created a post-truth world, but one in which some find truth increasingly difficult to promote.

“I think we’ve given up on truth way too easily,” said Amanda Bennett, director of Voice of America. Countering the notion that facts are no longer valuable, she said: “to assume the rest of the world doesn’t understand true things and can’t sort out truth and fact… I don’t think that makes it a post-truth world, I just think it makes it more difficult to get the truth out there.”

“In a global information warzone where fake news and false narratives are the weapon of choice… honest and accurate reporting [is] the best defense against falsehoods,” said John Lansing, director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

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Towards the end of their press conference on February 15, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald J. Trump hinted at their evolving strategy to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict and broader Arab-Israeli differences through a regional approach. 

Netanyahu: And I believe that the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach from involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace and peace with the Palestinians. And I greatly look forward to discussing this in detail with you, Mr. President, because I think that if we work together, we have a shot.

Trump:  And we have been discussing that, and it is something that is very different, hasn't been discussed before. And it's actually a much bigger deal, a much more important deal, in a sense. It would take in many, many countries and it would cover a very large territory. So, I didn't know you were going to be mentioning that, but that's—now that you did, I think it's a terrific thing and I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people that in the past would never, ever have even thought about doing this.  So we'll see how that works out.

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Moïse Katumbi, a prominent opposition leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), will return to the country to continue the fight for the first peaceful, democratic transition in its history.

“My heart is with the Congolese people,” Katumbi said on February 16 at a meeting hosted by the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. “I look forward to returning to my country and working toward our first democratic transition and the establishment of enduring democracy, prosperity, and peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

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While sub-Saharan Africa has enjoyed an average economic growth of over 5 percent since the turn of the century, a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimate has sparked worries of a continent-wide slowdown. The report estimated that Africa’s combined gross domestic product (GDP) has grown by a mere 1.5 percent rate in 2016, the continent’s worst performance in more than twenty years. Although this figure is still to be confirmed by the IMF, it comes as a blow to the widely-touted “Africa Rising” narrative that has often been employed by government and business leaders in Africa to incentivize foreign investment.

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It's not a secret that expatriate Americans, along with Europeans, tend to feel more closely aligned with the Democratic Party in the United States. Even when overseas liberals supposedly “fell out of love” with Barack Obama or didn’t, more recently, adore Hillary Clinton as much as they had her husband, there’s no contest between any Democratic candidate and a Republican when it comes to popularity in Europe.
Democrats Abroad boasts a healthy contingent of active members in major European capitals, staging events and teeing up national elections every four years.  In Brussels, Republicans Overseas, the GOP counterpart, has been represented by one man: Michael Kulbickas.

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It is the international community’s responsibility to maintain peace and security in the face of growing cyber threats to a society that is increasingly vulnerable because of its dependence on connected technology, Henne Schuwer, the Netherlands’ ambassador to the United States, said at the Atlantic Council on February 8.

“We have to all band together to make sure that this Internet, this cyberspace… will be a peaceful movement around the world from which we all benefit,” he said.

In light of the Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections, and concern looking ahead to upcoming elections in Europe in 2017—in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and possibly Italy—it has become necessary to establish a legal framework for the international community to understand a common set of rules of the road in cyberspace.

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US President Donald Trump has been outspoken in his opposition to multilateral trade agreements.  He will seek only to sign bilateral agreements in order to leverage the strength of the United States, the larger economy in any negotiation.  In such an environment, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union (EU), is unlikely to survive in its original form.

As indicated by Trump’s rhetoric, the new US administration seems ready to give up the principles of openness, not just in the sphere of economics, that have greatly benefited the entire world. Future generations of Europeans and Americans will pay for this mistake if leaders on both sides of the Atlantic do not pave the way for an alternative agreement, keeping the talks alive. The new reality calls for a rethinking of TTIP, not its abandonment.

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