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October 2021, Volume 27, Number 4

Europe, Asia

Most EU member countries and the UK reopened to vaccinated US citizens in summer 2021, but the US did not reciprocate and allow vaccinated Europeans to travel to the US until November 2021.

As the US and its allies left Afghanistan August 30, 2021, the EU launched an aid and enforcement plan to prevent a repeat of the migrant surge in 2015, saying: “We should avoid creating pull factors and do our utmost to ensure that migrants receive protection primarily in the region itself.” The EU is providing funds to Pakistan and other neighboring countries to care for Afghan refugees, mirroring the EU’s strategy in Turkey, which receives EU funds to care for Syrian refugees.

Afghanistan has about 33 million people, and between 500,000 and a million are expected to try to flee from the Taliban government. Most are likely to move south and east to neighboring Pakistan.

The US failure in Afghanistan may have repercussions. After WWII and again after 9/11, US opinion leaders argued that the US should intervene abroad to protect its own interests and to support people who are seeking freedom and democracy. The neoconservative push for an aggressive and interventionist US foreign policy peaked in 2004 with the Iraq war. EU nations favor aid and trade rather than military intervention to achieve foreign policy goals.

The EU’s General Court in September 2021 annulled the 2019 EU agriculture and fishing agreements with Morocco because the Saharawi people in Western Sahara were not consulted. Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975, and there has not been the promised referendum on independence because of disputes over who would be allowed to vote. Morocco exports fish, tomatoes and melons from Western Sahara to Europe.

Britain. The government in July 2021 provided L54 ($73) million to France to step up patrols along the French coast and discourage migrants from setting out for the UK in small boats. Over 8,400 migrants arrived in in the UK in boats from France in 2020, and more than 16,300 arrived in the first nine months of 2021. A proposed British law would allow foreigners who arrive illegally by boat to be jailed up to four years.

Channel Rescue and other groups monitor the channel from land to aid migrants to reach England.

The UK has both more job vacancies and more unemployed residents than it had in January 2020, when the UK left the EU. There are many reasons for the mis-match between jobs and workers, including the exit of at least 200,000 EU workers when the pandemic began and their inability to easily return to non-EU Britain. The hospitality sector complained British workers shun night and weekend work.

In September 2021, the government made 5,000 three-month guest worker visas available to non-EU truck drivers and provided another 5,500 visas for poultry processing workers, and later extended some of these visas to six months. Some 16,000 guest workers from 37 countries were in the UK to harvest crops in 2021, up from 5,000 from 14 countries in 2020. The leading countries of origin for farm guest workers in 2021 were Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Moldova.

PM Boris Johnson in October 2021 said that the Conservative government would transform the British economy: “We are not going back to the same old broken model: low wages, low growth, low skills, and low productivity — all of it enabled, as a system, by uncontrolled immigration.” Johnson hopes to reduce disparities between the poorer northern regions of England and richer London and the south by restricting immigration and encouraging British employers to raise wages and train British workers.

Denmark. With three-fourths of Danish residents fully vaccinated, Denmark became the first EU country to fully lift Covid restrictions in September 2021.

France. France aims to ignore religion, race and other differences between people to promote individual rights and social unity. The government does not collect data on religion, race, and ethnicity, saying that these attributes should not matter in a society shaped by universalist values. However, minorities who are stopped frequently by police who check their identities say that the lack of data allows the government to hide racism.

French republicanism is being challenged because, in the name of unity, it often calls for more uniformity.

Germany. Germans went to the polls September 26, 2021 and elected a new coalition government likely led by Olaf Scholtz, whose SPD party received 26 percent of the vote. Scholtz promised to raise the minimum wage from the current E9.60 to E12 an hour, to build more homes, and to end the use of coal before the scheduled end date of 2038. The CDU-CSU parties won 24 percent, the Greens 15 percent and the FDP 12 percent.

In the 21st century, Germany became the country with the second most immigrants, after the US. A quarter of all residents have at least one parent born outside Germany.

German unions say that 24,000 German employers hire 300,000 seasonal foreign workers each year, and that many of the migrants are exploited by intermediaries and employers. The European Labor Authority was created in 2020 to ensure "fair mobility” for seasonal workers and to encourage the inspection of employers who hire migrant workers.

Reformers want the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has a budget of E56 billion a year and accounts for 38 percent of EU spending, to make farm worker welfare a condition for receiving CAP payments.

Germany has the world’s fourth largest economy, after the US, China, and Japan, and is famous for exporting cars and industrial machinery. In the 21st century, the German economy has become more dependent on China as a market for its exports, making Germany vulnerable if China-US trade disputes disrupt trade or if China becomes a competitor to Germany in cars and industrial machinery.

Tesla’s $7 billion factory near Berlin, expected to produce 500,000 cars a year, has been delayed by local opposition and environmental concerns, highlighting the clash between the American go-fast and the German go-slower approaches to development. Local leaders support Tesla’s factory, which is expected to create 10,000 jobs, while opponents in Grünheide hope to delay the project.

Greece. Greece suffered from heat waves and wildfires in August 2021, even as the government was accused of pushing back boats of migrants who arrived on Greek islands off of Turkey’s western coast. Athens was smothered by smoke from nearby fires, and most residents of Evia, Greece’s second largest island, were evacuated. Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games on the Peloponnese peninsula, was under threat, as over 200,000 acres around the country burned. Turkey also suffered from major wildfires along its southern coast.

Iceland. A record nine parties received at least five percent of the vote in Iceland’s parliament, the Althing, in September 2021 elections. Iceland has 350,000 people on a glacier-studded volcanic island nation just south of the Arctic Circle.

Italy. Prime Minister Mario Draghi aims to streamline Italy’s justice system by limiting the power of magistrates to undertake investigations that can keep suspects in prison for years before trial. The justice reforms are controversial because the Clean Hands investigation of 1992 exposed systemic corruption that financed the country’s political parties and turned investigating magistrates into heroes. Since then, magistrates have become tools of politicians and businesses who use them to investigate rivals.

The Sicilian town of Florida near Syracuse reached 51C or 124F in August 2021, the hottest temperature recorded in Europe in modern times. Farmers complained that the heat, combined with mis-management of irrigation water, resulted in the loss of citrus groves and vineyards.

Spain. Spanish farmers rely primarily on migrant workers from Eastern Europe to harvest fruits and vegetables in Andalusia, but they also recruit non-EU Moroccans, primarily to harvest strawberries in Huelva. In 2022, there will be 250 strawberry harvesters from Ecuador and 250 from Honduras under a pilot program to expand the sources of non-EU seasonal workers.

The 36,000 hectares of greenhouses in Almería and Granada offer 78,000 jobs to farm workers, two-thirds of whom are employed year round and two-thirds of whom are immigrants. There are over 14,000 families involved in producing greenhouse produce; they are often organized into cooperatives.

Afghanistan. The US and NATO withdrew troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, and the Taliban quickly took control of the country, so that the Taliban were back in control of Afghanistan on the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. As a senator, now-President Biden approved the US invasion of Afghanistan, but also argued that the US could not remake Afghanistan into a democracy.

US intelligence suggested the Taliban would need at least a year to defeat the Afghan army. Many Afghans fled to neighboring Iran and Pakistan as the US and other NATO countries scrambled to airlift their citizens, and the Afghans whom they employed, out of the country.

Bangladesh. The government wants to move 100,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh hosts 900,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar, and the government wants to avoid integrating them into the local economy. By moving the Rohingya to Bhasan Char, the government hopes to prevent integration.

China. The government stepped up attacks on private businesses in Fall 2021, requiring some of the most successful to pledge billions to “common prosperity” to reduce inequality. Business leaders who have left China say that the Communist Party aims to maintain control over all aspects of life in China, making political power far more important than economic wealth and reducing incentives to make long-term investments.

Chinese tech workers often talk about their 996-work week, from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

China reversed previous efforts to reduce reliance on coal to prevent power shutoffs in October 2021; China burns more coal that the rest of the world combined. China is the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, and government controls on the price of electricity slowed improvements in steel, cement and chemical factories to reduce emissions; Chinese factories consume twice as much electricity as the rest of the Chinese economy.

India. The UN expects India to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2027, with 1.4 billion people. Several Indian states including 220 million Uttar Pradesh are considering bills that would block parents with more than two children from holding public sector jobs. India’s fertility rate is 2.2, but higher for lower income Indians.

Proponents say that government efforts to reduce fertility are needed for sustainable development, while critics say that the Hindu BJP Party wants to reduce fertility among Muslims, whose share of India’s population is 20 percent and rising. Muslims are poorer than other Indians and, along with Dalits or untouchables, tend to have larger families.

Japan. Japan hosted the Olympics a year late and without spectators in August 2021. The government relaxed immigration restrictions to get facilities built for the scheduled 2020 games, spending at least $27 billion on new and renovated facilities and infrastructure that was matched by private investment in bars, restaurants and other facilities.

Almost 22,600 skilled foreigners were in Japan in March 2021, including 80 percent who completed three years as technical interns and were able to pass an exam that demonstrates competency in Japanese and a particular skill. Those who pass the test receive five-year visas that permit employment in 14 sectors, including agriculture, construction and nursing care. The quota on foreign skilled workers is 345,000.

Tokyo 2020 was seen as opportunity to show that Japan had shaken off decades of economic stagnation and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led the Fukushima nuclear disaster, However, the games wound up widening the gulf between the Japanese government and people. With 60 percent of the population fully vaccinated, Japan began to lift restrictions that requested bars and restaurants to close at 6pm.

In September 2021, the Liberal Democratic Party selected Fumio Kishida, who promised a “new capitalism,” to replace Yoshihide Suga as PM and lead the LDP in Fall 2021 elections. Kishida is from Hiroshima, spent part of his childhood in the US, and was Japan’s longest-serving foreign minister since WWII.

The US occupation of Japan ended in 1952, and the US helped to form the LDP in 1955 as a mega party that would prevent the rise of communism. The LDP has governed Japan for all but four years since 1955.

Egypt. The mega-ship Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal for six days in March 2021, slowing trade between Asia and Europe. Investigations found that errors made by and disputes between the two Egyptian pilots on board, and the failure of the two escort tug boats to be alongside the ship, contributed to the Ever Given blocking the canal. The Egyptian government plans to widen the canal at the point where the ship got stuck to preserve its $5 billion a year in toll income.

Container ships have expanded from 900 feet long and with a capacity of 10,000 containers in the early 2000s to today’s 100 mega-ships that are 1,300 feet long and can carry 20,000 containers.

Tunisia. The Arab spring began in Tunisia in 2011 when a produce vendor set himself on fire after his produce was confiscated by police, setting off demonstrations that toppled authoritarian leaders in the Arab world. Tunisia, like many other Arab countries with large external debts inherited from autocratic leaders, encouraged exports to earn foreign currency to service its’ debt, leaving residents with static living standards rather than the economic boom they expected.

On July 25, 2021, Tunisia’s elected president dismissed the Parliament to rule by decree, a move generally welcomed by people dissatisfied with government corruption and incompetence. Democratic governments in the Arab world have not ended corruption, trade deficits or changed higher education systems that produce many college graduates unable to get jobs.

South Africa. There was widespread looting in Durban and Johannesburg in July 2021 after ex-President Jacob Zuma (2009-18) was sent to prison for refusing to participate in a corruption inquiry. Inequality and unemployment are pervasive in South Africa, and successive ANC-led governments since 1994 have been unable to rekindle economic growth and a sense of hope for a better future.

Fiji. The US banned the sale or distribution of fish caught by Hangton No. 112, a long-liner owned by Suva, Fiji-based Hangton Pacific, because of forced labor on the ship. The CBP said that “fishing vessels like the Hangton No. 112 continue to lure vulnerable migrant workers into forced labor situations so that they can sell seafood below market value.” CBP has banned fish from five vessels since March 2020.

Singapore. Despite over 83 percent of residents being fully vaccinated in October 2021, the government instituted new restrictions as Covid infections climbed. Countries such as Singapore that had almost zero Covid are learning to live with some Covid, including waves of infections. However, reinstating restrictions despite a high vaccination rate drew criticism from some doctors, who also criticized extensive testing in a highly vaccinated population.

ANZ. Australia and New Zealand closed their borders in March 2020 in an effort to maintain a zero Covid case strategy; governments in both countries locked down residents for weeks after outbreaks. New Zealand had more success with the zero-Covid strategy than Australia, which had an outbreak of the Delta variant in August 2021 that led to half of Australian residents being largely confined to their homes.

In October 2021, New Zealand announced that it was ending its strategy of aiming for zero Covid, saying the Delta variant made zero-Covid impossible. The Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne as well as Singapore are also abandoning a zero-Covid strategy, leaving China as one of the only countries still trying for zero Covid.

ANZ have programs to admit guest workers from Pacific Islands to fill farm and nonfarm jobs in nursing homes and meatpacking plants. Australia in September 2021 announced the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility program that includes two programs, the DESE-run Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and the DFAT-administered Pacific Labor Scheme (PLS). Almost all SWP guest workers are employed in agriculture, and three-fourths of the PLS workers are employed in meatpacking.

AUSVEG says that Australia vegetable farmers need more Pacific Island workers. Over 10,000 Pacific Islanders arrived under the Seasonal Worker Program between July 2020 and July 2021, and another 10,000 are expected before the peak harvest in March 2022.

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