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February, 2016


Foreign Ministers Of Estonia And Finland To Visit Australia And New Zealand

World Trade

Open Eyes Opinion









The Foreign Ministers of Estonia and Finland are visiting Australia and New Zealand along with entrepreneurs

From February 29 to 4 March, Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand will be visiting Australia and New Zealand along with Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini. The foreign ministers will meet with the leaders of both countries, Estonia will open an embassy in Canberra and joint business seminars will be held in Canberra, Sydney and Auckland.

According to Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand, Australia and New Zealand are similar to Estonia and Finland in terms of foreign policy and there is interest in intensifying political cooperation and economic relations with them. “We will discuss bilateral relations, as well as Australia’s and New Zealand’s relations with the European Union.

Both countries are also important partners for NATO and contribute to the fight against international terrorism. We have a similar understanding of both global and regional security issues, including for example the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” the Foreign Minister said, noting that at the meetings with counterparts from both countries they plan to further discuss cooperation regarding solving security issues.

Kaljurand believes the visit will help to strengthen the image of both Estonia and Finland as innovative Baltic Sea-side European Union countries with open economies and support the promotion of business cooperation. “Our business connections with both countries have increased, our communities have grown. We are all connected by openness to innovative solutions, and we want to share and exchange these experiences and support business opportunities for entrepreneurs,” Foreign Minister Kaljurand said.

From February 29 to March 2, the Estonian and Finnish Foreign Ministers will be on a joint visit to Canberra and Sydney, Australia.

On February 29, Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand will meet with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and open the Estonian Embassy in Canberra.

The Foreign Ministers of Estonia and Finland will open a joint innovation forum with Australian Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy, meet with Australian Minister for Trade Steven Ciobo and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Tanya Pliebersek.

Foreign Minister Kaljurand also has a meeting scheduled with Australia’s Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor and will visit the Australian Cyber Security Centre in Canberra. Kaljurand will also meet with the Chairman of the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade, Teresa Gambaro and ambassadors of Pacific Ocean island states.

On March 1 and 2, the Estonian and Finnish Foreign Ministers will be in Sydney. The foreign ministers will jointly open the Estonia, Finland and New South Wales business forum and meet the Governor of New South Wales David Hurley and State Minister for Innovation Victor Dominello.

In Sydney, Kaljurand will also meet with representatives of the European Australian Business Council and will visit the Sydney Estonian House to meet with local Estonians.

From Sydney, the Estonian and Finnish Foreign Ministers will travel on to New Zealand, where they will be in Auckland on March 3 and 4. The foreign ministers will meet with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, Trade Minister Todd McClay and Minister for Economic Development Steven Joyce. The foreign ministers will open a joint innovation forum in Auckland.

Kaljurand will also speak at the University of Auckland, focusing on the role of national cybersecurity in foreign and defense policy.

The Foreign Ministers of Estonia and Finland are being accompanied by member of the Estonian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and the Estonia-Australia and New Zealand parliamentary group Keit Pentus-Rosimannus and a 25-member Estonian and Finnish business delegation.

The Estonian business delegation includes representatives of Albit Partners Ltd, Erply Australia, GuardTime AS, North Sea Lubricants Australia Ltd., Tavex Group, TiptTipTap Ltd, Enterprise Estonia and the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Please read for more information about Estonia:

{Source: Republic of Estonia – Department of Communication, Ministry of Foreign Affairs}

[photo credits-featured image: By Dr.eliecerhernandezmina (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ee (], via Wikimedia Commons -This is a photo of cultural heritage monument of Estonia]


The European Union And Canada Rework Their Trade Agreements

World Trade

Open Eyes Opinion

European Union/Canada








CETA: EU and Canada agree on new approach on investment in trade agreement

Brussels, 29 February 2016

This agreement is a clear break from the current ISDS system and shows the commitment to work together to establish a multilateral investment tribunal.

The European Commission and the Canadian Government have agreed to include a new approach on investment protection and investment dispute settlement in the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The negotiations on a free trade deal between the European Union and Canada were concluded in 2014 with a reformed investment dispute settlement system, notably with full transparency of proceedings and clear and unambiguous investment protection standards.

Following the legal revision of the text, the agreement now reached goes even further. All the main elements of the EU’s new approach on investment, as outlined in the EU’s TTIP proposal of November 2015 and contained in the recently concluded EU-Vietnam free trade agreement, have been included in the finalised CETA text.

This represents a clear break from the old Investor to State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) approach and demonstrates the shared determination of the EU and Canada to replace the current ISDS system with a new dispute settlement mechanism and move towards establishing a permanent multilateral investment court. This revised CETA text is also a clear signal of the EU’s intent to include this new proposal on investment in its negotiations with all partners.

I am very glad that we have been able to reach this agreement with our Canadian partners,” First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said. “With the changes we have agreed we bring CETA fully in line with our new approach on investment protection in trade agreements. In particular, we demonstrate our determination to protect governments’ right to regulate, and to ensure that investment disputes will be adjudicated in full accordance with the rule of law.”

I’m delighted with this result,’ said EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. ‘CETA takes on board our new approach on investment and its dispute settlement. By making the system work like an international court, these changes will ensure that citizens can trust it to deliver fair and objective judgements. We can confidently say that we’ve met the expectations of both the Member States and the European Parliament.”

The inclusion in CETA of the EU’s new approach to investment protection and investment dispute settlement was agreed in the context of the legal review of the text of the trade deal.

Besides the improved conditions on investment protection, CETA will offer EU firms better business opportunities in Canada and support jobs, by making business between the EU and Canada easier. The deal will remove 99% of customs duties, leading to tariff savings for EU exporters of around 470 million euro a year for industrial goods. It will end limitations in access to public procurement, making it possible for EU firms to bid for public contracts – at the federal level as well as in Canada’s provinces, regions and cities. CETA will open up the services market, making it easier for EU professionals to work in Canada. Canada also recognises the special status of the EU’s Geographical Indications, agreeing to protect a list of 145 European goods in Canada, such as Prosciutto di Parma and Schwarzwälder Schinken. A range of goods will have fewer administrative hurdles to jump, avoiding double-testing on both sides of the Atlantic, benefitting smaller companies in particular.

As part of its ongoing commitment to transparency, the European Commission has today published the legally scrubbed text of the agreement, including the agreed text on investment protection and investment dispute settlement. Once it has been translated into all EU official languages, it will be sent to the Council and the European Parliament for both institutions to debate its content and to decide on its approval.

As regards investment, the agreement includes:

  • Stronger language on the right to regulate for all levels of government regarding investment protection.
  • A clear break from the current ad hoc arbitration system to a permanent and institutionalised dispute settlement tribunal. The members of the tribunal will no longer be appointed by the investor and the state involved in a dispute but instead appointed in advance by the Parties to the agreement.
  • More detailed commitments on ethics to avoid any conflicts of interest. Members of the tribunal and the appeal tribunal will, for instance, be barred from working as lawyers or experts in any other investment dispute.
  • An appeal system comparable to that found in domestic legal systems, meaning that decisions will be checked for legal correctness and reversed where an error arises.
  • The EU and Canada commit to join efforts with other trading partners to set up a permanent multilateral investment court with a standing appellate mechanism.



The most important elements of the revised CETA investment chapter are the following:

Investment protection

The revised CETA text includes a new article which ensures that the right to regulate for public policies is fully preserved. The article also ensures that investment protection provisions shall not be interpreted as a commitment from governments that legal frameworks will remain unchanged. This clarifies that a measure that may negatively affect an investment or affect an investor’s expectations of profits is not inconsistent with the agreement for that reason alone.

A further provision clarifies that CETA will not prevent the EU from enforcing its laws on state aid.

Establishment of the tribunal

CETA establishes a permanent Tribunal of fifteen Members which will be competent to hear claims for violation of the investment protection standards established in the agreement. The Members of the Tribunal competent to hear investment disputes will be appointed by the EU and Canada and will be highly qualified and beyond reproach in terms of ethics. Divisions of the Tribunal consisting of three Members will hear each particular case. The CETA text now follows the EU’s new approach as set out in the recently concluded EU-Vietnam FTA and the EU’s TTIP proposal.

Appellate Tribunal

While the original CETA text foresaw the possibility to establish an appeal mechanism in the future, the updated CETA text establishes at the entry into force of the Agreement an Appellate Tribunal. It also addresses the relationship between the decisions of the Appellate Tribunal and the Tribunal. The EU and Canada will promptly adopt a decision of the CETA Joint Committee which will include further technical elements necessary to make the Appellate Tribunal operational.

The multilateral investment Court

The EU and Canada both share the objective of establishing a permanent multilateral investment court. The text of CETA recognises that such a multilateral mechanism will come to replace the bilateral mechanism established in CETA.

CETA and domestic law

The revised CETA text confirms that the Tribunal shall only apply the agreement, in accordance with the principles of international law, when adjudicating upon claims submitted by investors. It cannot decide on matters of EU or Member State law. It can only look at EU or Member State law as a matter of fact, for example to make sure that the property rights in question are in fact held by the investor. It will therefore not interpret EU or Member States law in a manner binding on EU courts or EU governments. It also puts in black and white that determining whether a measure of a Party is legal under domestic law remains the monopoly of the Party’s competent authorities.

The original CETA text and the need for improvement

The original CETA text, published in August 2014 was already the most progressive system for the protection of investment and the settlement of investment disputes. The text included clearly defined standards of protection, full transparency of proceedings, a ban on forum shopping, governmental control of interpretation of the agreement, a strict code of conduct, early dismissal of unfounded claims and the loser pays principle to avoid vexatious claims.

The EU approach towards investment dispute settlement has further evolved since then and the CETA text now includes all its new main features.

Further information

Joint statement by EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland

CETA summary

Factsheet: Main elements of CETA

{Source: European Commission}

[photo credits-featured image: By Tony Webster from San Francisco, California (Canadian Flag) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]


U.S. Navy Seal Receives Medal of Honor From President Obama

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion

“Corpsman Up”












U.S. Navy Seal Receives Medal of Honor

President Barack Obama is scheduled to present the Medal of Honor to Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr. during a White House ceremony 29February2016.

Summary of Action

Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers Jr.: For actions during Operation Enduring Freedom on Dec. 8, 2012

Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers Jr., United States Navy, distinguished himself by heroic gallantry as an Assault Team Member attached to a Joint Task Force in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM on 8 December 2012.

Specific accomplishment:

Dr. Dilip Joseph is an American citizen, who was abducted with his driver and Afghan interpreter on 5 December 2012. Intelligence reports indicated that Dr. Joseph might be transported to another location as early as 9 December 2012. Dr. Joseph was being held in a small, single-room building.

The target compound was located in a remote area beside a mountain in the Qarghah’i District of Laghman Province, Afghanistan. Chief Byers was part of the rescue team that planned to make entry into the room of guards where the hostage was believed to be located. Success of the rescue operation relied upon surprise, speed, and aggressive action. Trading personal security for speed of action was inherent to the success of this rescue mission. Each assaulter in the rescue force volunteered for this operation with full appreciation for the risks they were to undertake.

With the approval of the Commander of all International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan, the rescue force launched from its forward operating base. The infiltration was an exhaustive patrol across unimproved trails and mountainous terrain. After nearly four hours of patrolling, the rescue force was positioned to make its assault on the target compound.

As the patrol closed to within 25 meters of the target building, a guard became aware of the rescue force. The forward-most assaulter shot at the guard and ran towards the door to make entry as the guard disappeared inside. Chief Byers was the second assaulter in a sprint towards the door. Six layers of blankets securely fastened to the ceiling and walls served as the Afghan door.

While Chief Byers tried to rip down the blankets, the first assaulter pushed his way through the doorway and was immediately shot by enemy AK-47 fire. Chief Byers, fully aware of the hostile threat inside the room, boldly entered and immediately engaged a guard pointing an AK-47 towards him.

As he was engaging that guard, another adult male darted towards the corner of the room. Chief Byers could not distinguish if the person may have been the hostage scrambling away or a guard attempting to arm himself with an AK-47 that lay in the corner.

Chief Byers tackled the unknown male and seized control of him. While in hand-to-hand combat, Chief Byers maintained control of the unknown male with one hand, while adjusting the focus of his night vision goggles (NVGs) with his other. Once his NVGs were focused, he recognized that the male was not the hostage and engaged the struggling armed guard.

By now other team members had entered the room and were calling to Dr. Joseph to identify himself. Chief Byers heard an unknown voice speak English from his right side. He immediately leaped across the room and selflessly flung his body on top of the American hostage, shielding him from the continued rounds being fired across the room.

Almost simultaneously, Chief Byers identified an additional enemy fighter directly behind Dr. Joseph. While covering the hostage with his body, Chief Byers was able to pin the enemy combatant to the wall with his hand around the enemy’s throat. Unable to fire any effective rounds into the enemy, Chief Byers was able to restrain the combatant enough to enable his teammate to fire precision shots, eliminating the final threat within the room.

Chief Byers quickly talked to Dr. Joseph, confirming that he was able to move. He and his Team Leader stood Dr. Joseph up, calmed him, and let him know he was safe with American Forces. Once Dr. Joseph was moved to the helicopter-landing zone, Chief Byers, a certified paramedic and 18D medic, assisted with the rendering of medical aid to the urgent surgical assaulter. Chief Byers and others performed CPR during the 40-minute flight to Bagram Airfield where his teammate was declared deceased.

Chief Petty Officer Byers displayed superior gallantry, extraordinary heroism at grave personal risk, dedication to his teammates, and calm tactical leadership while liberating Dr. Dilip Joseph from captivity. He is unquestionably deserving of the Medal of Honor.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter meets with Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr., selected to receive the Medal of Honor, and his family at the Pentagon, Feb. 26, 2016. President Barack Obama is scheduled to present the medal to Byers during a ceremony at the White House Monday. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee

Honor Handshake
Defense Secretary Ash Carter meets with Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr., selected to receive the Medal of Honor, and his family at the Pentagon, Feb. 26, 2016. President Barack Obama is scheduled to present the medal to Byers during a ceremony at the White House Monday. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee

Official Citation



Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers Jr.

Senior Chief Edward C. Byers Jr. was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1979. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Ohio. In 1997, he graduated from Otsego High School where he played varsity soccer. Byers joined the Navy in September 1998, and subsequently attended Recruit Training and Corpsman “A” School in Great Lakes, Illinois.

Byers started his naval career as a Hospital Corpsman.

In 1998, he was assigned to Great Lakes Naval Hospital. In 1999, he served with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard USS AUSTIN (LPD 4). During deployment he earned his Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) badge and Fleet Marine Force (FMF) warfare device.

In 2002, Byers attended Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUD/S) training and graduated with Class 242. After graduation, he attended the Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) course. SOCS Byers has been assigned to East Coast SEAL Teams. He was promoted to the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer in January of 2016.

Byers has deployed overseas 11 times with nine combat tours. His personal decorations include the Bronze Star with Valor (five awards), the Purple Heart (two awards), the Joint Service Commendation Medal with Valor, the Navy Commendation Medal (three awards, one with Valor), the Combat Action ribbon (two awards), and the Good Conduct Medal (five awards).

Byers holds a National Paramedics License, and has studied Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis at Norwich University. Byers is married and has a daughter.


Navy Medal of Honor Facts

Senior Chief Byers is the 6th Navy SEAL in history to receive the Medal of Honor.

Senior Chief Byers is one of only eight living Navy Medal of Honor recipients. There are 78 living recipients total.

There have been 745 Medals of Honor awarded to Navy personnel. (308 of those were for actions during the Civil War)

Only two Navy service members have received the Medal of Honor for actions subsequent to the Vietnam War, and both of those awards were posthumous. (Lieutenant Michael Murphy and Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, both SEALs)

The most recent Navy recipient of the Medal of Honor was Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush on Apr. 8, 2008.

The most recent living Navy recipient of the Medal of Honor was Robert Ingram, who left the Navy in 1968, and was later awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton on Jul. 10, 1998 for actions during the Vietnam War.

Senior Chief Byers is the first living active duty member of the U.S. Navy to receive the Medal of Honor since Apr. 6, 1976, the late Rear Admiral James Stockdale and Lieutenant Thomas Norris (also a SEAL) each received the decoration from President Gerald Ford.

Senior Chief Byers is the first living active duty enlisted member of the U.S. Navy to receive the Medal of Honor since Petty Officer Michael Thornton (also a SEAL) was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon on Oct., 15 1973.

This is the 14th Medal of Honor awarded for actions in Afghanistan. Including Senior Chief Byers, 11 of those 14 awards were to living recipients. Four Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously for actions in Iraq.

The other living Navy recipients of the Medal of Honor are:


Monday’s Quote – 29 February 2016

Monday’s Quote

Start the week thinking









Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.

– Mario Andretti




[photo credits-featured image: By Dijk, Hans van / Anefo / neg. stroken, 1945-1989,, item number 931-6510 [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (], via Wikimedia Commons-The American racing driver Mario Andretti in action in his Alfa Romeo 179D Grand Prix Formula 1 car during the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Zandvoort in the Netherlands.]

[intext photo credits: By Stuart Seeger ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons-Mario Andretti at the 1991 Monterrey Grand Prix, CART]



Serbian-Hungary Border Experiencing Surge Increase In Illegal Migrants

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion

Hungary – Number of illegal migrants on Serbian-Hungarian border on the rise







February 28, 2016

The number of migrants who seek to cross the Serbian-Hungarian border illegally is on the rise: some 500 attempted to cross the border illegally in January, 650 up to 15 February, and in the last ten days 110 migrants have sought to enter Hungary illegally per day on average, György Bakondi said at his press conference held on Saturday in Budapest.

The Prime Minister’s chief advisor for internal security believes that the Government is prepared for the eventuality that asylum-seekers will attempt to enter Europe via new routes. Should this be the case, the Government would within a short time adopt the security measures which were implemented earlier at the Serbian-Hungarian and Croatian-Hungarian borders, he said.

Mr Bakondi added: the necessary technical equipment is available, and the Government would be able to seal the Romanian-Hungarian green border as well within a short time.

He further mentioned that migrant groups in different numbers have emerged in recent weeks at the Serbian-Hungarian-Romanian triple border, but Romanian border guards fulfil their duties with adequate technical equipment and in sufficient numbers, and they also inform their Hungarian counterparts of any apprehensions made.

Regarding the so-called Balkan route, Mr Bakondi pointed out: refugees are primarily arriving at the Greek islands situated close to Turkey, and from these they move on to Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and finally to Austria.

The chief advisor for internal security told the press that 1,500 to 2,000 people are arriving in Greece daily on average, and at present there are some 30,000 migrants in the country.

86,500 refugees have arrived in Macedonia in the first two months of the year, while according to reports 16,000 migrants entered Serbia weekly in January, and in February 7,000 have crossed the border weekly to date.

Based on the data of the International Organization for Migration, 110,000 migrants arrived in Europe by 22 February, the vast majority of them through Greece.

This means that in less than two months this year as many people have entered Europe as did last year in six months, he added.

{Source: Government of Hungary – Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister}

[photo credits-featured image: By SV [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons ]

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China Signs First Law On ‘Deep Seafloor Resource Exploration’ To Protect Maritime Environment

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion


China adopts first law on deep seafloor exploration

BEIJING, 27th February, 2016 — China’s top legislature on Friday passed the country’s first law on deep seafloor resource exploration to protect the maritime environment and ensure sustainable exploitation.


The legislation was adopted after a second reading at the bimonthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), and signed by President Xi Jinping, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The government encourages and supports international cooperation on the exploration, exploitation and surveys of deep seafloor resources, in addition to boosting joint efforts on environmental protection, scientific research and educational training, according to the legislation.

Exploration and development should be peaceful and cooperative, in addition to protecting the maritime environment and safeguarding the common interests of mankind, it stipulates.

Potential deep seabed prospectors must submit their plans to the Chinese maritime watchdog, including environmental impact assessments. Only after the regulator approves the plan can application be made to the International Seabed Authority.

The legislation, which will come into force on May 1, also mandates the government to formulate plans and promote the research and surveys of resources.

China is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states that international seabeds and their resources are the common property of mankind.

{Source: Emirates News Agency-WAM/tfaham}

[photo credits-featured image: A deep-sea Chimaera-By NOAA Ocean Explorer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

[intext photos: inserted by (credits embedded)]


South East Asia’s Middle Class Is Growing Richer By The Day

World Trade

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Southeast Asia’s middle class is diverse, confident, and growing richer by the day





by Quartz Creative

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): pitted together, the 10-nation group makes up one of the world’s largest and most promising economies of recent years. ASEAN comprises 625 million inhabitants spanning nations as diverse as Laos, the Philippines, and Singapore, and its ten member GDP now totals more than $2.5 trillion, surpassing even India in economic clout.

On December 31, 2015, ASEAN took another step toward integration and came together as a formalized economic community: the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Though logistics, migration, and trade already link member economies, the AEC will attempt to deepen those linkages and further reduce barriers to moving goods, workers, and capital across member borders.

The AEC’s ultimate goal is to spur growth by streamlining supply-chains, encouraging economies of scale, attracting investment, and slotting the right workers into the right jobs. For firms, the promise of the economic union means greater access to an expanding economic pie, a pie that is made up of a prospering, youthful middle class with more disposable income and burgeoning consumer savvy.

Firms expect ASEAN growth as China and India’s economies slow

Strong economic growth over the last several years has driven that prosperity and helped to spread wealth throughout the region. In 2012 there were an estimated 190 million people in Southeast Asia who could be defined as middle class—people with disposable income of $16-$100 a day. But according to Nielsen, that number will more than double by 2020, to 400 million people.

More money means more houses, cars, technology, education, and a greater need for financial services. It also means that this new consumer class is migrating towards more developed and opportunity-rich urban areas, a trend concurrent with rising GDP in Asia over the last 30 years. Effectively, that means an additional 5.5 million new ASEAN city dwellers a year. And as the population becomes more urban, increased demand for luxury consumer goods is anticipated.

ASEAN middle class aspirations have become increasingly urban

Across the globe, economic activity has become increasingly intra-regional, and the AEC hopes to continue that trend by positioning ASEAN as a single market. So far, it’s worked: Foreign investment is flowing into the region, looking to capitalize on increasing affluence, consumer sophistication, and demand. Some research suggests that the formalization of the AEC will help ease concerns from foreign investors that have been hesitant about investing in ASEAN thus far. And projected consumption in burgeoning economies like Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines should help to amplify future ASEAN integration efforts.

But what does investment in the ASEAN middle class look like? For one, in Vietnam, the prospective purchasing clout of the fastest urbanizing middle class in Asia is driving rapid investment in modern retail outlets. Two hundred and fifty to 300 new supermarkets and 1,500 convenience stores are planned to open over the next three years. There’s room to grow: the sector attracts about 20-25% of Vietnamese consumer spending, far below China (64%), Malaysia (53%), and Thailand (46%), where, for comparison, about 20 times as many convenience stores serve a population that is three fourths the size of Vietnam’s. Numbers like these highlight investor excitement about the middle class. Indeed, dynamism and diversity define the region.

ASEAN is attracting more foreign investment than China

Still, as is expected for such a diverse community, middle class sentiment varies. Notably, most individuals self-identify as middle class by looking at their national peer group, not against comparable income levels in other markets. That makes for a big disparity across countries: The self-identifying middle class in Singapore has an average income of over 17 times more than those identifying as middle class in Indonesia, ASEAN’s biggest economy.

Nonetheless, that difference bears little weight on Indonesian optimism. Surveys reveal that an incredible 92% of Indonesians are satisfied with their lives, and 91% expect the middle class in Indonesia to grow. Those responses are the most confident in the region, but on the whole, the middle class is resoundingly optimistic: 73% of ASEAN respondents to an AIA Group survey believe they’ll fulfill their biggest dream in their lifetimes.

Companies are keen to tap into that confidence, as increased optimism generally inspires higher consumer spending. With AEC integration underway, both multinationals and local enterprises are recognizing the opportunity to more easily reach a broad population that’s ready to spend, and are developing strategies to target a regional consumer class they project will become more alike in its purchasing behavior.

Research found that 62% of company execs say that their products and services are becoming more similar across ASEAN, with only 18% claiming the opposite. The more homogenous the urban ASEAN consumer becomes, the more streamlined marketing can be within the region. This means companies can increasingly focus on consumer type or industry, rather than country.

Marketing to the consumer class is becoming a top factor in ASEAN

On the other hand, ASEAN’s diversity can be advantageous for companies looking to establish operations in the region. For industries like manufacturing, the AEC can help to streamline consolidation—the ability to create an economy of scale by centering production in one place and serving the region. Alternatively, the AEC makes it easier for companies to fragment their supply chains across member states. For example, labor-intensive work might be sourced to cheaper locations within the region, while sophisticated industrial work might be sourced to another, complementary location.

Companies think ASEAN’s skill and cost diversity is a good thing

Yes, ASEAN spans a multitude of diverse cultures, polities, and markets. But one thing is clear: the consumer class across the region is growing richer, more confident, and more urban by the day. Global and regional enterprise should take heed. The ASEAN middle class means business.

This article was produced on behalf of the Singapore Economic Development Board by the Quartz marketing team and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

Edited by Goh Wei Ting

{Source: Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB)}

[photo credits-featured image: Merlion Singapore – By ペウゲオト. (Own work.) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]


UN FAO Regional Conference On ‘Fight Against Hunger’ Meets In Mexico City

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion

World Hunger

Governments from Latin America and the Caribbean to strengthen their fight against hunger at the FAO Regional Conference





Countries to meet in Mexico City to set FAO regional priorities and move towards the full eradication of hunger.

Mexico City, – Government representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean will meet in Mexico City from the 29th of February to the 3rd of March at the Regional Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, to deepen their joint efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition.

Photo: ©FAO/...

The Regional Conference meets every two years and is FAO’s mayor governing body in the region. Therein, the governments of the region analyze the main challenges to food security and establish FAO’s priorities for the next two years.

According to FAO, over the last two decades Latin America and the Caribbean has made extraordinary progress in reducing hunger, becoming the region that has made the most progress worldwide.

Over 31.7 million people have overcome hunger in the region since 1990-92, with an average reduction of 1.3 million people per year. The greatest part of this progress occurred between 2000 and 2008, when close to 19 million people overcame hunger.

“This shows that we can make great progress in little time if governments give political priority to this issue,” said FAO’s Regional Representative, Raúl Benitez, noting that the agreements to be reached at the FAO Regional Conference will foster progress towards the goal of ending hunger and malnutrition.

Pending challenges on the path towards zero hunger

Despite its great advances, the region still faces major challenges: 34 million people still suffer hunger while obesity affects 22% of the population, and close to four million children are overweight.

“We have to fight both faces of malnutrition, moving towards sustainable production and healthy consumption habits, preserving regional food products and diets”, said Benitez.

In order to address these challenges, FAO will present to the Conference a regional initiative which will support hunger and malnutrition eradication policies, plans and strategies.

FAO will work hand in hand with all major food security agreements in the region, including the Hunger Free Latin America and the Caribbean 2025 Initiative, the CELAC Plan for Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication, the ALBA-Petrocaribe Hunger Eradication Plan, the Mesoamerica without Hunger South-South cooperation agreement, and the Parliamentary Fronts against Hunger, among others.

Climate change: a regional urgency

Another key matter to be discussed by countries during the Conference will be the need to increase regional efforts to tackle climate change and stop the degradation of natural resources.

“Climate change affects us all, but for the Caribbean and the Small Island Developing States, this is not just a matter of policy; its a matter of life or death,” said Benitez.

FAO will propose to the Conference a regional initiative focused on the sustainable use of natural resources, climate change adaptation and disaster-risk management.

Fighting poverty hotspots 

Poverty affects almost half of the rural population of the region. Consequently, the third initiative proposed by FAO to the countries during the Conference will be focused on strengthening family farming and creating inclusive food systems for sustainable rural development.

Family farming is undoubtedly the basis of the regional food system, as it produces most of the food and generates most of rural jobs and employment.

“By strengthening family farming we can fight malnutrition with fresh and healthy food, improving the diversity of diets and reducing countries’ dependence on food imports and vulnerability to economic and natural shocks,” said Benítez.


What is FAO’s Regional Conference?

The Regional Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, is a forum that gathers the Ministers of Agriculture and senior officials of the 33 Member States of FAO in Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss the main regional challenges related with agriculture, food and nutrition in order to promote joint solutions to fully eradicate hunger and malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Conference is also a meeting place for civil society, rural and indigenous communities, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations, regional integration entities and other United Nations agencies.

Where and when?

The 34th Session of FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean will be held in Mexico City, from the 29th of February to the 3rd of March 2016 at the Hotel Krystal Grand Reforma, located in Paseo de la Reforma N°1, Colon Tabacalera, mexico D.F.

The Conference will begin with a senior officers’ meeting on Monday 29 February, which will end on Tuesday 1st of March. The inaugural ceremony of the Ministerial Session will be held on March1st at 14:00 hours in the José María Morelos y Pavón room at the Foreign Affairs Secretariat, located in Plaza Juarez N°20, Colonia Centro, Mexico D.F. This session will be extended until the 3rd of March.

{Source: FAO}

[photo credits-featured image:  Basilica de Guadalupe, tambien llama La Villa – By Rafael Aparicio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons ]


United Nations Study Leads Way To ‘Sustainable’ Inland Transport

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion


New UN study points to ways to create sustainable inland transport







Europe has managed to decouple the increase in motorization and death on roads in the last several decades, due to the strong embrace of road safety measures and their enforcement, coupled with uniform high safety regulations for cars and systematic education of drivers, according to a new study from the United Nations.

File:THSR 700T Modern High Speed Train.jpg

The study “Transport for Sustainable Development – The case of Inland Transport”  was developed by the five Regional Commission of the UN in cooperation with key inland transport stakeholders and spearheaded by UNECE.  The study examines issues, progress and challenges in global efforts to achieve the transition to sustainable inland mobility for both people and freight and is the first of this kind to take on a global perspective, examining best practices and challenges form every corner of the globe.

Among other findings, the study shows that some regions such as Latin America and Western Asia have managed to slow the rate of increase of road fatalities in spite of an increase in the level of motorisation. However, most other regions of the world have experienced a simultaneous increase in both indicators.

Global transport-related per capita CO2 emissions increased by 6% between 2001 and 2011. During the same period, the UNECE region reduced per capita CO2 emissions, with significant reductions for Western European countries, while all other regions registered increases of 15% to over 35%.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there has been renewed impetus to shift the transport sector towards a more sustainable model. This study identifies where the various regions of the world are at the beginning of the march towards the Sustainable Development Goals for transport.

Transport is indispensable for any society to grow economically and socially as well as to connect it with markets and the rest of the world.  In order to achieve any sustainable development, transport sector must be economically efficient, safe, secure and environmentally friendly.

However, its obvious negative impacts such as road crashes, air and noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, could be mitigated, as the study show-cases through a wealth of good and best practices. Furthermore, the study also identifies the main challenges and opportunities to accelerate the transition to sustainability.

The study highlights the five defining dimensions of sustainable transport – accessibility, affordability, safety, security and environmental performance.

For example, accessibility and affordability of public transport allows people in rural and urban environments to access employment, education and medical services, thereby contributing to the stability of the economic and social environment and allowing for growth.  A lack of access for passenger or freight transport isolates individual sections of society creating and perpetuating stagnation and desolation.

The study looks at theoretical insights and best practices from all regions of the world mapping similarities and differences among countries of different income groupings and geographical regions in their efforts to create a more sustainable transport sector. 

A common element globally is that transport is central in shifting to sustainable low carbon societies but a high level of political will is needed to decouple its growth from impacts like air pollution, traffic accidents and climate change.

Background Notes:

The study was presented at the 78th Annual Session of the Inland Transport Committee (ITC).

It is the result of the cooperation among the five Regional Commissions of the United Nations and key global stakeholders, particularly, the International Road Transport Union (IRU) and the International Union of Railways (UIC).

{Source: UNECE}

[photo credits-featured image: By Rsa (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

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United Nations World Tourism Organization Is Optimistic About Egypt’s Tourism Recovery

World Travel

Open Eyes Opinion


UNWTO confident in Egypt’s tourism recovery 






UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, has expressed the Organizations’ full confidence in the recovery of tourism in Egypt during a recent visit to the country. On the occasion, Mr. Rifai met with Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,in the presence of the Egyptian Minister of Tourism, Hisham Zaazou. The President reiterated his full support to the tourism sector and its utmost determination in ensuring that Egypt is a safe, attractive and leading tourism destination saying “if tourism recovers, Egypt will recover”.

Meeting with Prime Minister Sherif Ismail Mohamed, Secretary-General discussed measures to accelerate the recovery of tourism to Egypt and praised the support being given to the sector. Both representatives welcomed the actions undertaken by Egypt to promote the highest political support for the sector, regain the confidence of source markets, enhance tourism safety and security and successfully integrate the sector into risk and emergency management structures, both at national and local levels.

Egypt has undertaken strong initiatives in terms of communications with the competent authorities and public opinion in source markets on safety and security issues, unlocking the support of airlines and tour operators, incentivising demand and engaging key players in Egypt in these concerted efforts. I trust these actions will herald results in restoring confidence and accelerating the recovery of tourism to Egypt”, said Mr. Rifai.

Mr Rifai also met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Hassan Shoukry, to discuss the cooperation between the Ministries of Tourism and Foreign Affairs and UNWTO, including Egypt’s chairmanship of the UNWTO Executive Council and the forthcoming UNWTO City Tourism Summit taking place in Egypt later this year.

The future of tourism in Egypt

Opening Egypt´s Tourism 2016 Conference ‘Planning for Growth’, Mr Rifai recalled that there is a strong pent up demand for tourism to Egypt, from source markets, both within and outside the region.

We should never forget that Egypt is one of the world’s most remarkable tourism success stories. Over the last decade, the number of visitors to Egypt practically tripled and so did the exports generated by international tourism. Egypt is, and will continue to be, despite all challenges, a leading tourism destination.” 

Tourism is a critical contributor to Egypt’s GDP, employment, foreign currency earnings and investment. Mr. Rifai called upon the international community to support Egypt’s tourism saying that “supporting the recovery of tourism to Egypt is supporting the future of Egypt and that of its people; supporting tourism to Egypt is promoting peace and stability”.

Useful links: Photos of the event

{Source: UNWTO}

[photo credits-featured image: By Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons – Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt): panorama of Naama Bay]

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Sweden’s Tove Lo Was Awarded The Nineteenth Music Export Prize

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion


2015 Music Export Prize








The Government’s award for extraordinary services to Swedish music exports in 2015 goes to artist, songwriter and lyricist Tove Lo. The Government’s 2015 Special Prize for long-standing contributions to Swedish music exports goes to composer Anders Hillborg. The 2015 Commendation for achievements of particular importance to the internationalisation of Swedish music goes to conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The winners will accept their awards on 29 February 2016 at the International Press Centre.

Sweden’s music exports are an essential part of the modern image of Sweden abroad and therefore not only constitute an important industry but, from my perspective, a very important component of the broad and successful efforts to promote Sweden,” says Minister for Enterprise and Innovation Mikael Damberg.

Tove Lo was awarded the nineteenth Music Export Prize with the following explanatory statement:

For many years now, songwriters and producers have been responsible for the success of Swedish music exports. As one of the greatest in Sweden in 2015, this year’s winner is not just sought-after as a composer and lyricist for international artists; she has also made her breakthrough as an international artist in her own right, in particular with her unique, historic top-of the-charts achievements in the United States.

Tove Lo, as she calls herself, takes the hits factory that emerged from the legendary Swedish Cheiron Studios one step further. She herself is part of the Cheiron tradition through her work with the studio’s more recent group of stars – the young songwriter collective Wolf Cousins – that is already responsible for numerous international hits. Tove Lo belongs to a generation of musicians that views co-creation and collaboration in the studio as self-evident. She is a great role model for songwriters and artists and puts Sweden on the map with her creativity and natural stage presence – a deserving winner of the Government’s 2015 Music Export Prize.

The other nominees for the Music Export Prize were Ghost, Max Martin, Shellback and Nina Stemme.

The Special Prize goes to a figure in the music industry who has made a long-standing contribution to Swedish music exports or has spread Swedish music abroad, thus helping promote a positive image of Sweden.

The explanatory statement reads:

In 1995, Anders Hillborg was awarded Composer of the Year at the Swedish Grammy Awards (Grammisgalan) for his musical compositions on Eva Dahlgren’s album Jag vill se min älskade komma från det vilda (I want to see my beloved coming from the wild). But already twelve years earlier, he had composed Mouyayoum – the unique pioneering choral work that is now by far his most performed piece internationally.

Before its planned premiere performance in 1985, the work was at first considered to be “both impossible and unsingable”, but thirty years later Mouyayoum is a cherished work performed frequently as a matter of course by choirs around the world. There are around ten different recordings available and, with its tones, moods and compelling power, it is an excellent example of the composer’s ability to captivate and take the audience on a journey into the future. Anders Hillborg is not only one of Sweden’s most prominent composers, he is also among the foremost and most distinguished names in international art music.

His broad palette spans orchestral, choral and chamber music as well as film and popular music. He works on a global basis and music capitals such as Los Angeles, Berlin and Stockholm are currently only three of the hubs around which Anders Hillborg’s musical universe revolves.

This year, the commendation for achievements of particular importance to the internationalisation of Swedish music is awarded to Esa-Pekka Salonen. The prize is intended for people who have made an important contribution to the international success of Swedish music. This prize will only be awarded when there are special grounds to do so.

The explanatory statement reads:

Like no one else, he has made newly written music a matter of interest for others than just those who are already believers. He stands up unremittingly for contemporary music. Playing Beethoven, Bruckner and Brahms is not enough for Esa-Pekka Salonen, who, besides writing and performing his own music, also stands up for the music of his composer colleagues, not least his Nordic and Swedish colleagues.

Esa-Pekka Salonen has performed music by Anders Hillborg, ranging from his collaboration with Eva Dahlgren on her album Jag vill se min älskade komma från det vilda to the premiere performances in Los Angeles and Berlin of Eleven Gates, Cold Heat and Sirens. As a conductor at the highest international level, Esa-Pekka Salonen has functioned as one of the foremost enablers of newly composed – not least Swedish – music reaching a larger audience.

{Source: Government of Sweden}

[photo credits-featured image: from wikimedia commons – Image from Magyar Wikipedia page – The island Djurgården in central Stockholm]

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European Parliament – EURES Network Revamps EU-Wide Data Base For Job Seekers

World Affairs

Open Eyes Opinion

European Union

Matching job seekers and vacancies across Europe



A law to revamp the European Employment Services (EURES) network with an EU-wide database of job seekers and vacancies was approved by Parliament on Thursday. The aim is to help fight unemployment by better matching labour market supply and demand. Updated rules, already agreed with the Council, will also pay more attention to cross-border regions and young people.

The smarter new EURES portal should automatically match CVs with suitable job offers. Also, all vacancies published by public job offices in member states will be available EU-wide on the web portal.

MEPs approved a compromise reached with member states’ representatives in talks late last year by 576 votes to 56, with 21 abstentions. Heinz K. Becker (EPP, AT) who steered the draft legislation through Parliament, said during the debate: “We see high levels of unemployment in some EU countries, yet at the same time there are two million unfilled jobs elsewhere due to a lack of skilled labour.

The EURES platform, in the first stage of expansion, should facilitate access to hundreds of vacant jobs. (…) Never before have we seen such a user-friendly way to provide so much support, especially for young job seekers, who now have at their fingertips the possibility to make their CVs available to any employer around Europe.”

Automated matching of vacancies and applications will be free of charge for workers; there should be no discrimination based on nationality as regards employment, pay and other working conditions and access for persons with disabilities will be ensured.

Parliament’s negotiators managed to broaden the network by also offering member status to private organisations if they provide support services to both workers and employers and inserted amendments to boost cross-border labour markets.

MEPs also inserted amendments to allow publicly-funded traineeships and apprenticeships to be exempted from cross-border publication obligations due to differences in education systems and member states’ active labour market policies.

Next steps

The regulation, as voted by Parliament, still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers. It will enter into legal force after its publication in the EU Official Journal and member states will have two years to put it into effect.

Background Notes: 

The EURES EU-wide job database was set up in 1993 as a co-operation network between the European Commission and the public employment services of the EU member states (plus Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), and partners: private job agencies, trade unions, employers’ associations. 

Shortcomings that have since emerged include an incomplete pool of job vacancies and CVs; limited automated matching potential and insufficient cross-border information on labour. The number of employees working in other member states – not including frontier cross-border workers – is still only 7.5 million people or 3.1% of the active population.

Besides the internet portal, EURES also has a network of around 1,000 advisers across Europe.

{Source: European Parliament}

[photo credits-featured image: By JLogan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons – Panorama of the Place du Luxembourg, European Quarter of Brussels (Belgium). View of the European Parliament (western side)]