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July 2021, Volume 27, Number 3

Europe, Asia

The European Union on July 1, 2021 launched a digital health certificate that permits people who have been vaccinated to travel freely within the bloc without the need to quarantine or test negative for Covid-19 upon arrival at their destination. Some 200 million of the 450 million residents of the EU-27 countries have scannable QR code certificates.

The EU (including the UK) produced 43 million tons of fruit and 51 million tons of vegetables in 2020. Spain was the leading producer, with 13 million tons of fruit and 10 million tons of vegetables, followed by Italy with 10 million tons of fruit and seven million tons of vegetables. Poland produced four million tons of fruit and France six million tons of vegetables.

The leading commodities by tonnage were tomatoes, 16 million tons; apples, 11 million tons; onions and oranges, six million tons each; and carrots, five million tons. The EU is a net importer of fresh fruits and vegetables, with imports led by six million tons of bananas and a million tons each of oranges and pineapples.

Britain. EU citizens could apply for permanent residence status before July 1, 2021. Some 5.6 million did, demonstrating that there were more EU citizens in the UK than the 3.7 million estimate. There were a million Polish applicants, 900,000 Romanian applicants, 500,000 Italian applicants, 400,000 Portuguese, and 300,000 Spanish applicants.

Many Eastern Europeans who worked in British agriculture left during the Covid lockdown, and some are traveling to Germany and Spain to do farm work rather than the UK. In response to farmer complaints of labor shortages, the government allowed up to 30,000 foreign workers to work in UK agriculture in 2021.

The government’s proposed a Nationality and Borders Bill in July 2021 that would allow asylum seekers to be held and processed offshore, and subject foreigners who arrive in the UK without proper documents to be charged with illegal entry. Australia and Denmark already allow offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Critics say criminalizing illegal entry and offshore processing violate the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which obliges governments not to refoul or return asylum seekers to face persecution. Some analysts say the Conservative government is proposing the bill to win working-class Labor voters worried about the upsurge in arrivals across the English Channel.

Covid closed many hotels and restaurants, prompting Eastern European service workers to go home. As Britain reopened in summer 2021, restaurants complained of labor shortages after Poles and others could not return unless they received job offers and sufficient points under the British point system that prioritizes work visas for higher wage jobs.

Some restaurant owners are trying to improve the image of cooks and others who work in hospitality, while others want hospitality to be added to the list of labor-short occupations to make it easier to hire foreign workers.

The UK is the largest country that contributes 0.7 percent of its GDP in foreign aid. Plans to reduce the foreign aid budget to 0.5 percent of GDP due to Covid drew protests from activists and the programs that would have their funding cut.

The US and UK are negotiating a free-trade agreement. Two-way trade between the US and UK totals $230 billion a year. Some British people fear that the US has the upper hand in negotiations and will impose its food safety and other standards in the UK. Many activists believe that the US food processing industry prioritizes low costs, and takes steps such as chlorinating chickens to deal with any remaining pathogens. They want the US industry to change procedures so that there is no need to chlorinate chickens. The US chicken industry counters that it has switched from chlorine to peracetic acid to wash chickens.

London-based law firm Hogan Lovells and private investigative firm Diligence often use civil suits in British courts to target opponents of kleptocrats in Russia and the ex-USSR. After disputes between insiders in Kremlin-linked firms cause the losing side to flee, British courts are often ask to freeze the global assets of the losing side, and they do.

Denmark. The government aims to prevent ghettos by limiting the share of non-western residents (mostly from outside the EU) in public housing to less than 30 percent. Since 2010, Denmark defined ghettos as places that met at least two of five criteria, including high crime or high unemployment rates, low levels of education or, since 2018, more than 50 percent non-western residents.

After four years being classified as a ghetto, the area becomes a “hard ghetto” that the government attempts to restructure by selling the public housing, which forces non-western residents to move. Most Danes support tough policies to limit immigration and promote integration, while human rights activists say that these government policies violate migrant rights.

France. French President Emmanuel Macron, in a bid to head off a challenge from the right in 2022 elections, reaffirmed secularism or the separation of church and state as a keystone of French identity in April 2021. Macron reasserted the principle of equality and liberty to justify prohibiting the collection of data by race and ethnicity and promised to do more to reduce crime, which the French often call insecurity.

After losing the presidency to Macron in 2017, Marine Le Pen of the National Rally is expected to challenge Macron in 2022. Le Pen opposes more immigration, saying “We can’t solve the problem of insecurity if we don’t acknowledge the idea that immigration is anarchic, and is the engine of insecurity in our country.” When the National Rally appears on the verge of taking power, as in regional elections in June 2021, the other parties form “front républicain” coalitions that unite around one candidate to ensure that the National Rally does not come to power.

France is the world’s most visited country, and its hotels and restaurants in summer 2021 scrambled for workers as they reopened. The French government provided furloughed workers with 85 percent of their take-home pay for much of the pandemic, so that many of those who were employed in hospitality took time to re-evaluate their options and sometimes change industries and occupations.

France debated some of the toughest regulations to reduce climate change in May 2021, including a ban on short flights and on outdoor gas heaters. The employers’ association Medef objected to the creation of the crime of ecocide, defined as deliberate and lasting pollution, while farmers objected to new restrictions on pesticides and fertilizers.

Germany. Germans go to the polls in September 2021 to elect a new coalition to replace the current CDU-CSU-SPD coalition led by Angela Merkel for the past 16 years. The three leading parties are the CDU led by Armin Laschet, the Greens led by Annalena Baerbock, and the SPD led by Olaf Scholz.

Greece. Migrants continued to arrive on Greek islands off Turkey’s western coast in summer 2021, prompting Greek authorities to charge some with human smuggling and sentence them to long prison terms. The migrants say that smugglers abandon the boats when they see the Greek Coast Guard, forcing migrants to take control of the boat and setting migrants up to be charged with human smuggling.

Greek officials often charge the migrant in charge of the boat. Advocates acknowledge that some smugglers train migrants to steer boats.

Turkey in 2021 stopped preventing migrants from leaving for nearby Greek islands, reneging on a 2016 agreement with the EU. Greece has designated Turkey as a safe-third country for asylum seekers, meaning that migrants arriving from Greece can be returned if Turkey accepts them back. With Turkey reluctant to accept returns, Greece prosecutes boat operators to deter smuggling.

Greece offered quarantine-free entry to vaccinated foreign tourists in May 2021 in a bid to support a sector that employs a quarter of Greek workers and accounts for 20 percent of GDP.

Italy. A 27-year old Malian migrant died in June 2021 after picking tomatoes in Puglia in southern Italy on a day with temperatures over 100F. In response, Puglia’s governor banned farm work between 12:30 and 4pm on hot days.

In Italy and Spain, about 15 percent of youth do not complete high school. Covid aggravated the drop-out problem, especially in the south where high schools were closed for in-person learning. Italians are required to be in school until age 16, but some dropped out at younger ages in 2020.

Italy has a problem with ghost employees, public sector employees who are paid but do not work. In April 2021, a hospital safety employee at the Pugliese Ciaccio Hospital in Calabria was found to have been paid for 15 years while doing no work. The ghost employee threatened one person who confronted him about his absence; others ignored him. Another 57 employees of the hospital are accused of being “timecard weasels” who had others swipe their timecards as if they were at work.

Spain. Spain has two outposts on the Moroccan coasts, Ceuta and Melilla, that are ringed by high fences and protected by both Moroccan and Spanish police. In mid-May 2021, Moroccan police allowed 12,000 migrants to enter Ceuta over two days. The influx stopped after Spain granted E30 million ($37 million) to Morocco for border enforcement.

An estimated 40,000 African migrants are in Morocco and seeking to enter Spain. The Moroccan government appears to be following Turkey and “weaponizing” migration, that is, threatening or allowing migrants to enter an EU country in order to receive financial aid or to achieve other goals. Morocco received E13 billion in EU development aid between 2007 and 2020.

The southwestern Spanish province of Huelva has a peak spring workforce of 90,000 farm workers, including half who are Spanish and half who are migrants, mostly from Eastern Europe but also 13,000 Moroccans. The southeastern province of Almeria has a sea of plastic, hoop-covered structures that produce E2.2 billion worth of vegetables for export with the help of African migrants. There were 32,320 hectares of vegetables in 2021, including 12,400 acres of peppers and 8,500 hectares of tomatoes.

Turkey. Turkey’s economy stumbled in 2021, and the value of the lira fell amidst a slowdown in foreign investment in the country. As Turkey’s economic woes mounted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan replaced the head of the Central Bank and attacked the Montreux Convention of 1936, which made the Bosporus waterway connecting the Black and Marmara Seas open to all civilian and trade vessels while limiting the passage of war ships.

Erdogan’s AKA party has been slipping in opinion polls ahead of 2023 elections that mark 100 years of the Turkish Republic. Erdogan hopes that the international reactions to his efforts to end the Montreux Convention will bolster nationalism among Turks.

President Joe Biden on April 24, 2021 fulfilled a campaign promise and declared the killing of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923 a genocide. Turkey argues that Armenians collaborated with invading Russian forces against the Ottoman Empire, leading to their expulsion to Syria and other areas during which many died and were killed. Some 500,000 Armenians survived the expulsion.

Turkey builds affordable drones armed with missiles that can destroy tanks and other weapons and were used to turn the tide of some battles in Azerbaijan and Syria. China, Iran, Israel and other countries also produce cheap drones that can stay aloft for 24 hours and provide targeting information for planes or carry out attacks themselves. The US is developing low-cost drones known as Skyborg and Valkyrie that could flood areas around enemy forces and wait for openings to attack.

Bangladesh. The collapse of the Rana Plaza building housing sewing factories killed 1,100 people in 2013 and led to agreements to improve safety for the 4.5 million workers employed in 4,500 garment factories; clothing buyers agreed to pay for independent and unannounced inspections. Apparel employs 4.5 million workers and accounts for 80 percent of the value of Bangladeshi exports. The agreements signed in 2013 are being re-negotiated in 2021 between labor rights groups, buyers and factory owners.

Dhaka locked down in July 2021 to prevent the spread of the covid delta variant, sending millions of residents to their home villages in an internal migration that may spread covid. Garment factories were allowed to remain open, but government offices and other businesses were closed.

China. China released the results of its 2020 census in May 2021, reporting 1.4 billion residents, up 72 million since 2010. Births fell to 12 million in 2020, the fourth consecutive year of falling fertility, and the total fertility rate fell to 1.3 children per woman. The government plans to raise the age for full pension benefits, now 55 for most women and 60 for most men. Some 300 million people, 20 percent of Chinese residents, are projected to be over 60 by 2025.

China adopted policies to reduce fertility in 1980, limiting most couples to one child. The result was an estimated 400 million fewer births, fewer girls than boys, and changed attitudes that favor small families. In 2010, there were 118 male babies born for each 100 females; by 2020, the ratio was 111 to 100.

The government relaxed but did not end fertility restrictions. Beginning in May 2021, all couples may have three children, up from the current limit of two children per couple adopted in 2015. Many demographers want to eliminate limits on fertility, but the government appears reluctant to eliminate its family-planning bureaucracy that once had eight million employees.

China has the world’s largest fishing fleet. The Chinese government says there are 2,700 Chinese vessels that operate outside of Chinese territorial waters, but some NGOs say that China has 17,000 deep-sea vessels, far more than South Korea and Taiwan, which have 2,500 deep-sea vessels combined. Each Chinese ship can catch 700 tons of fish a day.

China has bases for its fishing fleet in Mauritania and Pakistan, and sends two-thirds of the pelagic (open ocean) fish caught by its ships to China. Many Chinese fishing vessels belong to state-owned companies. Some 300 Chinese fishing vessels fished near Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands in August 2019.

China’s nine-dash line claims most of the South China Sea for China, a claim that is disputed by nations from the Philippines to Vietnam. The Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected the nine-dash line in July 2016 and ruled that the Scarborough Shoal was in Filipino waters. However, China rejected the Court’s ruling and continues to keep Filipino fishing boats away, which reduces the incomes of Filipino fishermen from nearby Luzon island. The Filipino government regularly protests Chinese fishing in its coastal waters, but to no avail.

China celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party with speeches that asserted that the country was rising and that foreign efforts to intervene would be met by a “Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” The celebration highlighted the unity between the Chinese people and the 95-million member Communist Party, asserting that their interests were identical. President and Party leader Xi Jinping is expected to seek a third five-year term in 2022.

India. India had relatively few Covid cases in 2020, but cases topped 400,000 a day in April 2021, surpassing the US peak of 301,000 covid cases a day in January 2021. Indian experts emphasized the relative youth of the population, low levels of obesity, and more time outdoors as reasons for low covid infection rates in 2020. Covid cases surged in spring 2021 after restrictions on gatherings were relaxed, and doctors found that those who had mild cases of Covid in 2020 were vulnerable to the new Covid delta variants in 2021.

The Indian government guarantees a floor price of wheat and rice for farmers in Punjab in northern India, where water is scarce. India has 20 percent of the world’s people and four percent of the world’s water, and depends on both surface and groundwater for irrigation. The wheat and rice price guarantees encourage the planting of water-intensive crops, which further depletes ground water. Farmers oppose government plans to replace government price guarantees with competition between private buyers, fearing that they will be at the mercy of large buyers.

Japan. A 33-year old Sri Lankan who had overstayed her visa and twice applied for asylum died in prison in March 2021, sparking criticism of officials who did not provide her with medical treatment because they thought she was faking illness to avoid deportation. Japan recognizes fewer than one percent of asylum applicants as refugees, 47 in 2020, one of the lowest acceptance rates globally.

Japan has over 50,000 convenience stores, including 40 percent that are 7-Eleven outlets that the franchisor requires to be open 24 hours a day. After an Osaka franchisee refused to keep some of his stores open around the clock, his store was shuttered, leading to a lawsuit to determine the power of franchisors over franchisees.

Taiwan. Migrant workers in some electronics factories were ordered not to leave their dorms except to work in June 2021 to halt the spread of Covid. Some charged discrimination, since Taiwanese workers at the same factories were not confined to their homes when they were not at work. There are over 700,000 foreign workers in Taiwan. Singapore similarly confined migrant workers to their dorms when they were not working to limit the spread of covid.

Australia. PM Scott Morrison announced that the country’s borders will likely remain closed until mid-2022, well after national elections that must be held before May 2022. Most Australians support keeping the borders closed, which they credit for low rates of Covid and the absence of masks.

Australian farmers are scrambling for seasonal workers. The number of working holiday makers in the country dropped from over 140,000 early in 2020 to less than 40,000 in summer 2021, plus 9,000 workers admitted under the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme.

A sixth of the six million people born in New Zealand live abroad, drawn by higher wages and more opportunities in more populous countries. The New Zealand government in May 2021 announced that it may restrict temporary work visas.

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