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India’s Modi backs down on farm reforms in surprise victory for protesters

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November 19, 2021

By Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav

GHAZIABAD, India (Reuters) -In a surprise announcement on Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would repeal agriculture laws that farmers have been protesting against for more than a year, sparking celebrations for what farmers called a hard-fought victory.

Modi’s decision is a significant climb-down for the combative leader and comes as state elections in politically important grain-belt states loom.

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The legislation – three laws introduced in September last year – was aimed at deregulating the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets where growers are assured of a minimum price.

Farmers, fearing the reform would cut the prices they get for their crops, staged nationwide protests that drew in activists and celebrities from India and beyond, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna.

“Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws,” Modi said in an address to the nation.

“I urge farmers to return to their homes, their farms and their families, and I also request them to start afresh.”

The government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament, starting this month, he said.

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The concession on laws the government had said were essential to tackle chronic wastage and inefficiencies comes ahead of elections early next year in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous state and long a key political battleground, and two other northern states with large rural populations.

Modi’s capitulation leaves unresolved a complex system of farm subsidies and price supports that critics say the government cannot afford.

It could also raise questions for investors about how economic reforms risk being undermined by political pressures.

Protesting farmers, who have been camped out in their thousands by main roads around the capital, New Delhi, celebrated Modi’s back-track.

“Despite a lot of difficulties, we have been here for nearly a year and today our sacrifice finally paid off,” said Ranjit Kumar, a 36-year-old farmer at Ghazipur, a major protest site in Uttar Pradesh.

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Jubilant farmers handed out sweets in celebration and chanted “hail the farmer” and “long live farmers’ movement”.

Rakesh Tikait, a farmers’ group leader, said the protests would only be called off when parliament repealed the laws.

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Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government said last year there was no question of repealing the laws. It attempted to break the impasse by offering to water down the legislation but protracted negotiations failed.

The protests took a violent turn on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, when farmers overwhelmed police and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks.

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One protester was killed and scores of farmers and policemen were injured.

Farmers say the changes would make them vulnerable to competition from big business and they could eventually lose price support for staples such as wheat and rice.

The government says reform of the sector, which accounts for about 15% of the $2.7 trillion economy, would have meant new opportunities and better prices for farmers.

Modi announced the scrapping of the laws in a speech marking the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Many of the protesting farmers are Sikh.

He acknowledged that the government had failed to win the argument.

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The farmers are also calling for minimum support prices for all of their crops, not just rice and wheat, a new demand that has gained traction among farmers across the country.

Some agriculture experts said Modi’s reversal was unfortunate because the reforms would have brought new technology and investment.

“It’s a blow to India’s agriculture,” said Sandip Das, a New Delhi-based researcher and agricultural policy analyst.

“The laws would have helped attract a lot of investment in agricultural and food processing – two sectors that need a lot of money for modernisation.”

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a group that represents top corporations, had pinned hopes on the laws to pave the way for modernising India’s decrepit post-harvest infrastructure.

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Also, the $34 billion domestic food processing sector would have grown exponentially, thanks to the laws, according to CII.

Another industry body, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, late last year said the laws should spur startups, and technological interventions would help cut wastage and bring efficiency in the agriculture sector.

Seizing on opportunities, global and Indian venture capitals have already started funding agritech startups that aim to run the entire food supply chain, currently prone to massive wastage, often as high as four to five times that of most large economies, experts say.

Anil Ghanwat, head of a farmers’ union and a member of Supreme Court appointed farm panel, said the laws promised farmers freedom from middlemen and their repeal would leave them open to old exploitation.

The opposition has been keen to take advantage of the acrimony between farming communities and Modi’s party and Rahul Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party, said the “arrogant” government had been forced to concede.

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“Just the beginning of many more victories for people’s voices,” Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress Party and one of Modi’s staunchest critics, said on Twitter.

State elections are also due soon in Punjab and Uttarakhand in the north.

Modi’s party looks well placed to fend off challenges in the next general election, due by 2024, but in a worrying sign for him, a regional party swept to power in West Bengal state in May.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj, Rajendra Jadhav and Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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China top representative in Macau to advise govt on national security-state media

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December 3, 2021

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

The move highlights increased scrutiny from Beijing over Macau affairs after the central government declared outflows of Chinese gambling-related funds into Macau and other gaming hubs a national security risk.

Last week Macau authorities arrested Alvin Chau https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gambling-group-suncitys-shares-set-rise-61-after-arrested-chairman-resigns-2021-12-02, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator, which brings in high rollers to play at casinos, along with 10 others, for allegedly using Macau as a base for an illegal “live web betting platform.”

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A warrant for Chau’s arrest has also been issued by the mainland Chinese city of Wenzhou, accusing him of forming an extensive junket agent network that helps citizens engage in gambling activities and of setting up a company that helps gamblers make cross-border fund transfers.

The move was seen as a warning that Macau and mainland Chinese authorities were adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the promotion of gambling in mainland China where it is illegal.

Xinhua said Macau asked Beijing to appoint a national security affairs adviser in the city and that Beijing tasked the head of its Liaison Office Fu Ziying to “supervise, guide, coordinate, and support” the government on the matter.

Beijing will also appoint three national security technical advisers from within the Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s main representative institution in Macau.

(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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S.Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many more venues as Omicron fears rise

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December 3, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

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Desperate to fend off the Omicron variant, authorities halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.

From next Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccines passes, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting, setting out the plan to reduce the risk of community spread. The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.

While people have been required to show their vaccine pass at high-risk venues such as gyms, saunas and bars, it is the first time that the requirement has been extended to restaurants and cafes.

From February, anyone aged 12 years or older will have to show a vaccination pass. The government decided to lower the exemption age, currently set at 17 years, to encourage teenagers to get vaccinated as the under-18 age group accounts for 20% of all infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing.

The limit on private gatherings was cut to six people in the greater Seoul area, and eight outside, from the current limit of 10 in Seoul and 12 outside, Kwon said.

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South Korea has so far confirmed a total of five Omicron cases after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria. The patients are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as headache, low-grade fever, dizziness and sore throat, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

KDCA reported 4,944 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, a slight decline from record high 5,266 cases on Wednesday. It has reported a total of 462,555, with 3,739 deaths overall.

South Korea has fully vaccinated 91.6% of its adult population aged 18 and over, yet the booster dose uptake remains at 8.1%.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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U.S. House to consider bill to clamp down on products from China’s Xinjiang

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December 3, 2021

By Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill as soon as next week that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, Representative Jim McGovern, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters on Thursday.

“Next week is an important week for human rights,” McGovern said. “… We think it’s important to move some China legislation, hopefully much of it focused on human rights. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act we want to see that get over the finish line in some form.”

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President Joe Biden is hosting a summit of democracies next week, seen as an effort to push back against China’s growing influence.

Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over the Uyghur legislation for months. Most recently, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, delaying the Senate’s consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.

Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether House passage of McGovern’s bill would change his stance on the defense bill.

If the Uyghur measure becomes law, it would create a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, were made with forced labor.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

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Republicans have accused Biden’s Democrats of slow-walking the legislation because it would complicate the president’s renewable energy agenda. Democrats deny that.

“I just want to see a strong, a much stronger, approach when it comes to forced labor in Xinjiang,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee told Reuters in a telephone interview, arguing that domestic production of solar panels could be ramped up.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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