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Biden focused G-7 Summit disappoints

By Asad Mirza

The 3Cs: Covid, China and Climate Change dominated the 47th annual G-7 Summit in Cornwall, UK. But overall the leaders were not able to present a united stand on any major issue.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted the summit to showcase his brand of ‘Global Britain’, after Brexit. But there were terse exchanges between the French, EU and British leaders and officials on the issue. In effect, the summit turned out to be more Biden focused and expectations were raised high on some real agreement taking place on the 3C’s before the summit, though that was not the result ultimately.

Broadly, Biden sought to set a new tone after the unrestrained Trump years. Most G-7 leaders seemed relieved to have a return to a more predictable and traditional US administration. France’s Emmanuel Macron welcomed Biden back to the “club.” But the final Communique showed that even Biden’s expectations to ensure a consensus on many of his promises fell short.

On the issue of Covid-19, the leaders of the seven most affluent western nations seemed united, but there was a difference of opinion on the way forward. Earlier, they had shown commitment to donate 1 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses over the next year to poorer countries. But in reality the bloc fell short of its own goal — 613 million new doses pledged, instead of a billion.

Even so, the vaccine effort gave Biden some help with his China push. Biden has criticised China for a transactional brand of vaccine diplomacy, where the shots are being doled out for geopolitical advantage. Biden called on democracies to counter China and Russia by donating vaccines equally and based on need, without seeking favours in return.

On the second day of the summit, US unveiled plans to counter China through infrastructure funding for poorer nations. Promising to “collectively catalyse” hundreds of billions of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries, the G7 leaders said they would offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership.

G-7s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project was aimed directly at competing with China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) initiative.

However, several leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pushed back over worries about turning the G-7 into an anti-China group, suggesting any infrastructure programme should be framed as a more positive, pro-environment effort.

French President Emmanuel Macron also pushed back publicly, saying that the “G-7 is not a group that is hostile to China.” Macron was one leader who sought the middle ground.

China hit back at these statements dismissively saying that the days when “global decisions” were dictated by a “small group of countries are long gone”.

The final version of the communique skirted B3W, instead creating a task force to study how to spur infrastructure development abroad. It made no mention of BRI, though Biden renewed his call at a press conference, and said that, “I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better.”

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced last month that due to surging Covid cases in India, he’d not travel to the UK, he addressed the summit virtually. He conveyed India’s commitment to “collective” solution to global health challenges, and called for “one earth, one health” approach, which aims for unity and solidarity among the states of the world to deal with the pandemic. He also emphasised the need to keep raw materials for vaccines easily accessible.

The summit’s Communique, which was issued several hours after the end of the summit, promises many things but falls short of what was expected to be achieved before the summit.

(The Op-Ed appeared in IANS)

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Latest News USA

US Senate confirms Indian-American Radhika Fox to lead EPA’s water office

The US Senate has confirmed Indian-American water issues expert Radhika Fox as head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water.

The Senate, bitterly divided on party lines, confirmed Fox’s nomination on Wednesday by 55 to 43 votes after seven Republican Senators supported her candidature. Two Democratic Senators did not cast their votes.

“Ms Fox brings with her an impressive professional record of service and accomplishment, spanning over two decades, working on water issues at the local, state and federal level,” Senator Tom Carper, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), said.

“We have the opportunity today to confirm a truly gifted leader and put her to work serving our country right away,” he added.

On April 14, President Joe Biden nominated Fox for the post of Assistant Administrator for Water, Environmental Protection Agency.

Fox currently serves as the Acting Assistant Administer for Water. The EPA’s Office of Water works to ensure that drinking water is safe, waste water is safely returned to the environment, and surface waters are properly managed and protected.

Prior to joining EPA, Fox served as the Chief Executive Officer for the US Water Alliance, where she established herself as a widely recognized national thought leader on complex water issues, from equitable water management to investing in the nation’s water infrastructure.

Fox holds a Bachelors of Arts degree from Columbia University and a Masters in City and Regional Planning from the University of California at Berkeley where she was a HUD Community Development Fellow.

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Latest News New York

June 19 now a federal holiday

Washington, DC: The House passed legislation Wednesday that would establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, sending the bill to President Biden who is expected to sign it after returning from his Europe tour.

The bill passed the House 415-14 after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation Tuesday. The no votes were all Republicans.  

The legislation was previously blocked by conservative Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin in 2020 but he dropped his objection this week despite his concerns, allowing the bill to advance out of the chamber.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer thanked the bill’s bipartisan sponsors, which included Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), Sen. John Cornyn (R) and Sen. Ed Markey (D).

On June 19, 1865, Maj Gen Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas, the end of slavery in accordance with President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. In 1980, Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday. In the decades since, every state but South Dakota came to officially commemorate Juneteenth, but only a handful of states observe it as a paid holiday.

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Latest News USA

Deputy NSA on supporting the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Community

My story is the story of so many other Indian Americans. In search of a better life for their kids – and maybe a bit of adventure for themselves – my parents left India for America in the 1970s. I was born in Maryland, spent a few years in Chicago, and settled in North Carolina when I was about seven years old.

I’ve always described my childhood as a happy one. Surrounded by a loving family, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself, and that my life meant something to those around me. I also felt enormous pride and gratitude in being an American – having the freedom to find and become my authentic self, and the opportunity to dream big, even if in my case these were mostly athletic delusions.

At a young age, I also knew that we were different. I remember on the first day we arrived in Raleigh, our apartment was filled with unopened boxes. But instead of unpacking, my parents grabbed the phone book, found three Indian-sounding last names, and invited them over for dinner. All of them arrived within hours and, from that point on, we probably shared at least one weekend meal within the Indian community until I went away for college.

As I got older, I began to understand how much these gatherings meant. Like anyone else, my parents wanted a space where their traditions and beliefs were accepted, and that hadn’t always been their experience. When he first moved to the U.S., my dad – a turbaned Sikh – was told by his boss: if he wanted to keep his job, he’d need to fit in better. So that’s what my dad did – he sacrificed part of his identity to provide for his family. Meanwhile, my mom worked for the Raleigh city government, and I’ll never forget her coming home in tears after her boss openly bragged that he was a member of the KKK. He made sure to remind her of that throughout her years of dedicated but painful service in Raleigh city government.

Fast forwarding to the past few years, the rise in hateful attacks against Asian Americans and other communities of color made me realize that I was still carrying a lot of memories – painful ones – that felt heavier over the years. 

Much of the reason I’d been able to let these memories go was my deeply held belief that things were getting better when it came to race; that my kids would grow up in a different way. So I’ll admit, the slow progress and setbacks left me angry at times. I suspect many in the Indian American community feel the same way: we’re tired of watching the past repeat itself, and we’re exhausted from being quiet.

But to make change, we first have to recognize that we can all do better, myself included. That means being real about my own privilege as an Indian American from a middle-class household. I’m not at risk of being stopped and frisked. My wife and I don’t have to teach our kids how to survive if they get pulled over by the police. For those of us who’ve faced prejudice, we also need to check own our bias, and see our own privileges, if we’re going to do better.

It also means we need to speak out and do our part if we’re going to be seen as 100%, full-fledged, just-like-you citizens. As an Asian American, I’m deeply humbled and honored to have the privilege of serving in President Biden’s administration at a defining moment in our country’s history, while being a part of the most diverse administration ever assembled. My experience serving our country bears no resemblance to my mom’s days in Raleigh city government, but her experience back then, and recent violence toward Asian Americans, are a constant reminder to me about the responsibility I have of representing and standing up for the AAPI community every day in this job.

My role at the White House is to help create a self-reinforcing dynamic between domestic renewal, American leadership abroad, and national security. Part of domestic renewal has to do with economics: creating sustained and inclusive growth in jobs and wages, boosting the resilience of our critical supply chains, and strengthening our innovative edge. Another part of domestic renewal involves healing the wounds of racial injustice and coming together as a society to deliver on American’s unmatched promise. I don’t have direct policy responsibility in this area, but it’s central to what President Biden is trying to deliver, and a big reason why I’m here.

As a final thought, I want to use this platform to send love and support to my sisters and brothers in the Sikh community who have been a particular target of harassment, racism, and violence in recent years. I stand with them today and always.

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International Latest News

Boeing-Airbus trade dispute ends

Washington: The US and the European Union agreed to end their 17-year dispute over aircraft subsidies to Airbus SE and Boeing Co that saw the allies impose tariffs on $11.5 billion of each other’s exports, EU officials said.

The European Commission discussed the accord with member states to get the deal over the line before an EU-US summit in Brussels with President Joe Biden, according to officials familiar with the deliberations, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.

The landmark accord turns the page on a key conflict in former President Donald Trump’s trade war and sets the stage for a new era of transatlantic cooperation over state aid at a time when China is vying to displace the Boeing-Airbus civil aircraft duopoly.

The agreement was driven, in part, by a growing awareness among policy makers in Brussels and Washington that China’s state-sponsored aerospace manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, or Comac, is on track to become a legitimate rival in global plane making by the end of the decade.

In 2019, the World Trade Organization authorized the US to level tariffs against $7.5 billion of EU exports annually over government support for Airbus, while the EU won permission to hit back with levies on $4 billion of US goods.

The levies were suspended by both sides in March as negotiators worked toward an agreement. They cover items ranging from airplanes and parts to tractors, wine and cheese. The UK unilaterally suspended its tariffs with the US in December as it broke from the EU.

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International Latest News

China accuses G7 of political manipulation

Beijing: China accused the G7 nations of “political manipulation” after the foreign leaders criticized the dragon over its human rights record in Xinjiang and noted the alleged abuses against Uyghur Muslims, minorities in the region.

China said the foreign leaders are interfering in the country’s internal affairs, based on “lies, rumors and baseless accusations”.

The G7 nations had also called out the repression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, with US president Joe Biden asking Beijing to “start acting more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights”.

The Chinese embassy in London put out an official statement saying, “The Group of Seven (G7) takes advantage of Xinjiang-related issues to engage in political manipulation and interfere in China’s internal affairs, which we firmly oppose.”

The leaders of Group of Seven richest democracies also demanded a second transparent science-based study into the origins of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), according to a draft communiqué.

In recent times, Beijing has drawn the ire of the West over its alleged human rights violations and forced labor practices in the Xinjiang region, largely inhabited by Uyghur Muslims, an ethnic minority group in China.

Several global human rights groups have accused China of hounding an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps in the Xinjiang region.

Beijing says the move will eradicate Islamic extremism, but Western nations have expressed apprehension over what they call a gross violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

China a global security challenge: NATO leaders

Brussels: NATO leaders declared that China poses a constant security challenge and is working to undermine global order.

The leaders said they’re worried about how fast the Chinese are developing nuclear missiles.

In a summit statement, the leaders said that China’s goals and “assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security.”

While the 30 heads of State and the government avoided calling China a rival, they expressed concern about what they said were its “coercive policies,” the opaque ways it is modernizing its armed forces and its use of disinformation.

They called on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system.

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Business Latest News

Biden reinvigorates tariff war against India

New York: The US tariff war against India has been reinvigorated by President Joe Biden threatening to increase import duties on a range of imports, from prawns and Basmati rice to furniture and jewelry, in retaliation against New Delhi imposing Digital Services Tax (DS) on tech giants.

The US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced on June 2 the plan for the 25 per cent increase in the tariffs on 26 items from India, but said that the hikes will be on hold till December.

India imposed a two per cent tax starting in April last year on earnings in the country by foreign technology and e-commerce companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google. It was opposed by the administration of former President Donald Trump, and Biden has picked up the baton.

The Trade Representative’s Office said: “India’s DST is unreasonable or discriminatory and burdens or restricts US commerce.”

The Office estimated the increased taxes on the selected imports from India will equal the taxes India assesses on the US companies under the DST.

“Estimates indicate that the value of the DST payable by US-based company groups to India will be up to approximately $55 million per year. The level of trade covered by the action takes into five account estimates of the amount of tariffs to be collected on goods of India and the estimates of the amount of taxes assessed by India.”

The other items threatened with increased duties include bamboo, window shutters, cigarette papers, pearl, copper foil and bedroom furniture.

Inaugurating the new phase of trade wars, the Biden administration also threatened to increase tariffs on imports from five other countries — the UK, Austria, Italy, Spain and Turkey over their DST.

Explaining the reason for holding the increases in abeyance for the six countries, Tai said it was to help the international negotiations on taxation.

“The US remains committed to reaching a consensus on international tax issues through the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and G20 processes. Today’s actions provide time for those negotiations to continue to make progress while maintaining the option of imposing tariffs.”

The latest Biden salvo opens a new front in the trade war between the two countries that started in 2018 when Trump imposed 25 per cent duties on steel and aluminium imports from India.

In 2019, Trump withdrew the special treatment for some Indian exports, mostly low-tech items and handicrafts, under the General System of Preferences (GSP) that exempted them from import duties.

New Delhi retaliated with higher tariffs on 28 US products that included walnuts and almonds.

Biden has not so far taken steps to reinstate the GSP facility for India.

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coronavirus Latest News

How Indian-Americans shaped US response to India’s 2nd wave

By Frank F Islam

The United States has provided aid worth at least half-a-billion dollars since the devastating second wave of Covid-19 struck India. US tech and financial companies such as Google, Microsoft, MasterCard and others have donated money, medicine and medical devices to India to combat the virus.

A lot of the credit for this must go to the Indian-American community, whose response has been extraordinary. Apart from raising money, Indian-Americans also put pressure on the political establishment right from the Oval Office down to statehouses to urge them to send aid to India.

As a result of these efforts, the Joe Biden administration backed New Delhi’s call for temporarily waiving the intellectual property rights of Covid vaccines, which, partially, opens the door to allow India to produce them locally.

The Indian-American community’s response has been two-layered: One within the community and the other focused on mainstream America.

At the grassroots level, various community organisations representing the large Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali and Malayali communities primarily raised funds for the various regions to which they belong. At the national level, organisations such as the American India Foundation, Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, Indiaspora and Sewa International have led the mobilisation efforts.

Those speaking on behalf of India have included Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, both of whom announced multi-million-dollar packages on behalf of their respective organisations. Indian-American lawmakers such as Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi called for help not just on humanitarian grounds, but also to ensure US national security. Indian-American public health experts such as Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, chipped in with explaining the dangers of the new variants, what India needed, and what the US could do.

In my five decades in the US, I have never seen the community step up in such large numbers. In the past, they have indeed helped in the aftermath of natural disasters in India. They have also helped out when India’s national interests were at stake, lobbying to mobilise support for the country. This included efforts following the US sanctions against India after the 1998 nuclear tests, and prior to the signing of the historic US-India Civil Nuclear Deal in 2008.

There are two reasons why the Covid-19 relief efforts have been more successful and are being sustained now. Unlike relief efforts in the past, this time around, India was dealing with a pandemic of which the US is intimately aware. It did not require any hard-selling. The second major difference is the growing size and prominence of the Indian-American community.

In 2001, when the Gujarat earthquake struck, the Indian-American population stood at 1.7 million and there were very few Indian-Americans in leadership positions. This is no longer the case. Members of the Indian-American population, almost four million now, are leaders in business, politics, academia and health care, among other fields.

With its leadership in mobilising America’s efforts to help combat the pandemic in India, the Indian-American community has demonstrated what it can accomplish when it comes together for a common purpose. It has also demonstrated that although the community has made great progress, this is just a fraction of what it can achieve. There are many stories waiting for the Indian American community to script, as it continues to help India in its hour of dire need.

(The article appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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Latest News USA

Top lawmakers welcome US global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

US lawmakers on Thursday welcomed the decision of the Biden Administration to ship 25 million Covid-19 vaccines abroad, including India.

“I welcome the news that the Biden Administration will be sending 25 million vaccine doses to our partners abroad to help them combat their COVID-19 outbreaks, but this is an unfortunately small step forward when drastic, rapid action is needed,” Indian-American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi said.

Krishnamoorthi, 47, said US can put more effort in the direction.

“As coronavirus outbreaks continue to rage across the world, we’ve passed the time to talk about millions of doses —- we need to be talking about billions, and how we can distribute and administer them as soon as possible to save lives both abroad and in the United States,” he said.

“That means dramatically expanding our vaccine production capacity into the billions, our rate of vaccine procurement, and the scale of our international partnerships to ensure that vaccines reach those who need them, and that we effectively protect ourselves in the process,” he added.

Krishnamoorthi said that he will be introducing legislation next week to address these challenges and to end the pandemic across the world to prevent new variants from sparking another Covid-19 outbreak in America.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, the founding Co-chair of the Caribbean American Caucus and a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, praised Biden and his administration for his announcement in this regard.

“Let me be very clear: As long as this pandemic is raging anywhere in the world, we are all still vulnerable. I am proud the United States is committed to bringing the same urgency to international vaccination efforts that we have demonstrated right here at home,” she said.

This is a good first step. I continue to urge the administration to ramp up its global vaccine distribution with a plan that considers urgent need and regional priorities and I look forward to the next batch being allocated quickly, Senator Mitt Romney said Thursday.

Countries like Taiwan and India are in desperate need of COVID-19 vaccines, so I’m pleased that the administration is moving into the implementation stage of its global vaccine distribution plan. US vaccines are far safer and more effective than those coming out of China or Russia, Romney said.

Congresswoman Grace Meng commended the Biden Administration for unveiling the United States’ plan to share COVID-19 vaccines with other nations, including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other countries in Asia.

If we are going to defeat COVID-19 and move past this pandemic, we must fight this virus not just here at home but across the globe and I applaud President Biden and his administration for proceeding with his commitment to do so, said Meng.

These donations of vaccines are urgently needed. They will save lives and help with the world’s recovery and I thank the President and his administration for hearing the pleas that I and others made for sharing vaccines with these other countries. I look forward to seeing the help that these vaccine distributions will provide and I’ll be monitoring the situation closely, the Congresswoman said.

The US Chamber of Commerce in a statement welcomed the efforts to boost global vaccine manufacturing and expand vaccine access, including the decision to distribute nearly 19 million doses through the COVAX coalition and provide millions of additional doses directly to countries in need.

“As countries around the globe struggle to manage the health crisis, we know that more can and must be done. As production exceeds demand in the United States, the administration should release additional doses into the global supply, said Myron Brilliant, executive vice-president and head of international affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce.

“The good news: For months, vaccine producers have been scaling up production exponentially and sharing intellectual property with manufacturers via licenses to boost global capacity. These collaborations rather than the risky move to circumvent them via IP waivers will be key to vaccinating billions worldwide, he said.

Congresswoman Young Kim said that the US has provided PPE, medical equipment, therapeutics and raw vaccine materials to India over the past month.

However, with new infections daily and an overwhelmed health infrastructure, India needs help to ramp up its vaccine production capabilities and we can and should help, she said.

Diaspora advocacy group, IMPACT welcomed the decision.

We are thankful the administration has responded to the pleas of the Indian American community. But with over one billion people in India still waiting to get access to vaccines, we must do much, much more. The US will have a surplus of nearly 300M vaccines by July and President Biden should act swiftly to send those doses to countries in dire need such as India, said Neil Makhija, executive director at IMPACT.

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