Month: May 2021

EU’s preparation for pandemic ranked average

Earlier this month, the Consumer Choice Center released its Pandemic Resilience Index to identify global health system preparedness for the COVID-19 crisis.

The Index looks at 40 countries through the prism of the following factors: vaccination approval, its drive, and time lags that have put brakes on it, critical care bed capacity, and mass testing. Most EU countries ranked average, which provides a valuable insight into what can be done moving forward to 

At a time of fast globalisation, there is every reason to expect more pandemics in the future, and preparation is key. According to the findings, most European countries demonstrated an average level of resilience except Slovakia, Luxembourg, Austria, Cyprus, Malta, Denmark, and Germany, whose preparation was above average. 

Some EU countries stood out on indicators such as testing or hospital capacity. One such example is Slovakia. In November 2020, the country tested two-thirds of its population, and its average daily tests score is highest among all 40 countries, with Cyprus going second. Germany, on the other hand, has the highest number of ICU beds per 100k people, with Austria and Luxembourg being not far behind, compared to other EU member states.

Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands were remarkably behind on testing than the rest of the European Union. In terms of vaccination drive, Hungary and Malta are explicit outliers. As of March 31st, 32.3 per cent of Malta’s population received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, in Hungary it’s 21.4 per cent.

There is a noticeable variation in terms of the number of critical care beds in the EU. While France and Lithuania have 16.3 and 15.6 per 100 thousand people, Ireland has only 5 and Portugal – 4. The test capacity is more or less the same, with Slovakia, Luxembourg, Cyprus, and Denmark being clear outliers. 

With a lag of 37 days behind the UK and over 10 days behind the rest of the EU in terms of vaccine rollout, the Netherlands had the lowest resilience in the bloc.

Although the number of ventilators per 100 thousand wasn’t included in the final ranking due to the conflicting data, the Index features it as an appendix. According to the data that we have, Italy, Belgium, and France – all severely hit by COVID – had a much lower number of those (between 7 and 8 per 100 thousand people) compared to Germany, Bulgaria, and Lithuania. However, health system resilience is only one of the factors that contributed to high mortality, and Spain, on the contrary, had 29 ventilators per 100k people. 

The vaccination rate is where the EU truly lacks behind Israel, UAE, and the UK. Only 16 per cent of the EU population have received a dose of a vaccine, which is only a third of Israel’s rate. The EU’s procurement bureaucracy slowed down the vaccine rollout. Failure to plan forward and negotiate fast and effectively with vaccine producers resulted in supply and distribution problems. 

The EU definitely could have done better in terms of preparedness for the pandemic. However, now that the weakness of health systems have been blatantly exposed, the Union can make the necessary adjustments and look up to countries such as Israel and UAE to avoid past mistakes. 

Farm-to-Fork plan suggests Europe wants sustainable farming. So why do EU politicians ignore the ‘green’ benefits of GM crops?

There is ongoing disagreement between the popularly elected European Parliament and the executives in the European Commission over approvals of “genetically modified” (GM) crops, which are made with modern molecular genetic engineering techniques. In December, members of the European Parliament objected to authorizations of no fewer than five new GM crops — one soybean and four corn (maize) varieties — developed for food and animal feedstock. These objections follow dozens of others that have been made over the previous five years. (These are the same varieties that are ubiquitous in many other countries, including the United States.) A European Commission spokesperson has suggested that a new approach will be necessary to authorize such “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, in order to align with the new Farm to Fork Strategy, an agricultural strategy recently embraced by Europe:

We look forward to constructive cooperation with the co-legislators on all these measures, which we believe will enable the achievement of a sustainable food system, including GMOs on which the EU feed sector is presently highly dependent.

The latter part of this quote is, in fact, incomplete: There is extensive reliance of the EU on imports of both food and feed, of which a significant portion is genetically engineered. In 2018, for example, the EU imported about 45 million tons a year of GM crops for food and livestock feed. More specifically, the livestock sector in the EU depends heavily on imports of soy. According to Commission figures, in 2019-2020 the EU imported 16.87 million tonnes of soymeal and 14.17 million tonnes of soybeans, most of which came from countries where GM crops are widely cultivated. For example, 90% originates from four countries in which around 90% of cultivated soybeans are GM.

For a GM crop to enter the EU marketplace (whether for cultivation or to be used in food or feed, or for other purposes), an authorization is required. Applications for authorization are first submitted to a Member State, which forwards them to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In cooperation with Member States’ scientific bodies, EFSA assesses possible risks of the variety to human and animal health and the environment. Parliament itself plays no part in the authorization process, but it can oppose or demand rejection of a new GM crop based on any whim, prejudice, or the bleating of NGOs in their constituencies. They have chosen to ignore the sagacious observation of the 18th century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke that, in republics,

Your Representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

GM crops have been shown repeatedly to pose no unique or systematic risks to human health or the environment. The policies articulated in Farm to Fork suggest a renewed interest by the EU in environmental sustainability but conveniently ignore that that is the essence of what GM crops can bring to the table. Numerous analyses, in particular those of economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, have demonstrated that the introduction of GM crops lessens the amount of chemical inputs, improves farm yields and farmer incomes, and reduces the need for tillage, thus reducing carbon emissions.  The indirect benefits from GM crops include empowering women farmers by removing the drudgery of weeding, and lowering the risk of cancer by lessening crop damage from insect pests whose predation can increase aflatoxin levels. Reducing crop damage in turn reduces food waste. GM crops can also improve farmers’ health by lessening the likelihood of pesticide poisoning, and GM biofortified crops can also provide nutritional benefits that are not found in conventional crops, a life-saving innovation for the rural poor in low- to middle-income countries.

The rift between the views of the European Parliament and EU scientific agencies such as the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) shows no signs of healing. Bill Wirtz of the Consumer Choice Center predicts that trying to achieve the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy will have “dire impacts.” To address a legacy of environmental degradation, the EU proposes by 2030 to increase organic farming by 25% and reduce pesticide application on farmland by 50%. These plans fail to consider that pesticide use has sharply decreased over the past 50 years and that organic agriculture does not necessarily imply lower carbon emissions; often, the opposite is true.

Wirtz goes on to describe how slack compliance laws across the EU have made food fraud a viable business model. A significant proportion of this fraudulent organic food stems from international imports from countries, such as China, with a history of inferior quality and violation of food standards. However, he observes, increasing the surveillance and enforcement of food imports standards and rejecting those that are fraudulent could jeopardize current food security efforts, as well as the economy of the EU as a whole, given the EU’s substantial dependency on food imports.

The Farm to Fork initiative gets support from occasional specious articles in the “scientific” literature. An example is a paper published last December in Nature Communications, “Calculation of external climate costs for food highlights /inadequate pricing of animal products” by German researchers Pieper et al. The paper, which illustrates the hazards of meta-analyses on poorly selected articles, describes the use of life-cycle assessment and meta-analytical tools to determine the external climate-warming costs of animal meat, dairy and plant-based food products, made with conventional versus organic practices. The authors calculate that external greenhouse gas costs are highest for animal-based products, followed by conventional dairy products, and lowest for plant-based products, and they recommend that policy changes be made in order to make currently “distorted” food prices better reflect these environmental “costs.” They also claim that organic farming practices have a lower environmental impact than conventional, and for that matter, GM crops. They failed, however, to reference the immense body of work of Matin Qaim, Brookes and Barfoot, and many others, documenting the role that GM crops have played in furthering environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions and pesticide use, while increasing yield and farmers’ incomes. The omission of any reference to, or rebuttal of, that exemplary body of work is a flagrant flaw.

The paucity of GM versus organic crop data discussed in the paper is also deceptive. Anyone unfamiliar with the role of GM crops in agriculture would be left with the impression that organic crops are superior in terms of land use, deforestation, pesticide use and other environmental concerns. Yet many difficulties exist, especially, for pest management of organic crops, often resulting in lower yields and reduced product quality.

There is extensive and robust data suggesting that organic farming is not a viable strategy to reduce global GHG emissions. When the effects of land-use change are factored in, organic farming can result in higher global GHG emissions than conventional alternatives — which is even more pronounced if one includes the development and use of new breeding technologies, which are banned in organic farming.

Pieper et al claim — rather grandiosely, it seems to us — that their method of calculating the “true costs of food…could lead to an increase in the welfare of society as a whole by reducing current market imperfections and their resulting negative ecological and social impacts.” But that only works if we omit all the data on imported food and feed, turn a blind eye to the welfare of the poor, and disregard the impact of crop pests for which there is no good organic solution.

It is true that animal-based products have costs in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that are not reflected in the price, that plant-based products have varying external climate costs (as have all non-food products that we consume), and that adopting policies that internalizing those costs as much as possible would be the best practice. Conventional farming often has significantly higher yields, especially for food crops (as opposed to hay and silage), than farming with organic practices. The adoption of agroecological practices mandated by Farm-to-Fork policies would greatly reduce agricultural productivity in the EU, and could have devastating consequences for food-insecure Africa. Europe is the major trading partner for many African countries, and European NGOs and government aid organizations exert profound influence over Africa, often actively discouraging the use of superior modern farming approaches and technologies, claiming that adoption of these tools conflicts with the EU’s “Green Deal” initiative. Thus, there is a negative ripple effect on developing countries of anti-innovation, anti-technology policies by influential industrialized countries.

Moreover, the EU even now imports much of its food, which as described above, has significant implications for its trading partners and Europe’s future food security. The EU seems to have failed to consider that continuing on the Farm to Fork trajectory will require endlessly increasing food imports, increasing food prices and jeopardizing quality. Or maybe they have just chosen to embrace the fad of the moment and kick the can down la rueAprès moi, le déluge.

Originally published here.

Israel comes first in global Pandemic Resilience Index

Israel’s quick vaccination rollout landed it the top spot in the global survey, followed by its new ally, the United Arab Emirates.

Israel’s health system was named the most resilient to Covid-19 in the world in a recently released Pandemic Resilience Index. The index, published by global consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, surveyed 40 countries about their health systems’ preparedness and resilience to the pandemic.

The index examined five factors: vaccination approval, vaccination drive, time lags that put breaks on giving vaccines, critical care bed capacity and mass testing. While Israel did not have the highest number of ICU beds per capita or a high average of daily Covid-19 tests, it “is a clear winner when it comes to the speed of vaccinations” – which led to its top spot on the global list.

Second place went to Israel’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates, which also had a high vaccination rate. The United States, the United Kingdom and Bahrain round off the top five places, while the bottom three went to Australia, New Zealand and Ukraine.

“The pandemic has put health systems globally to an emergency test and exposed both their strong and weak sides,” says Fred Roeder, CCC’s Managing Director and the index’s co-author. “In particular, that concerns hospital capacity, planning abilities, and the existence of a regulatory system that is able to act fast and efficiently when it comes to testing and vaccination, among other things.”

“Moving forward, we hope our Index will help policymakers identify weak spots in our health systems so we can be better prepared for future crises,” he added.

Originally published here.


Daugiau jaunų specialistų ir pradedančiųjų renkasi Dubajų savo namais – tarp pagrindinių vairuotojų taikant naujai sušvelnintas vizų taisykles ir greito skiepijimo programą.

Nacionalinis Kalbėkitės su Vokietijos buitinės technikos prekės ženklo įkūrėju, Didžiosios Britanijos programinės įrangos kompanija ir Lietuvos kelionių agentūra, kartu su kitais skaitmeninius nuotolinius darbuotojus, kurie žengė šį žingsnį.

Daugelis jų apsilankė per žiemos uždarymo įkarštį Europoje ir dabar nusprendė grįžti.

„Buvo daug žmonių, kurie čia atvyko praėjusį rudenį ir keletą mėnesių išbuvo dėl apribojimų savo šalyse“, – sakė Fredas Roederis, Londone įsikūrusio „Consumer Choice Center“ direktorius.

“Šiuo metu Dubajuje vyksta kardinalios pertvarkos, nes vis daugiau aukštos kvalifikacijos specialistų pradeda tai vadinti savo namais” Fredas Roederis, Vartotojų pasirinkimo centras.

– Nebuvo jokios kitos vietos, kur galėčiau eiti, kuri Covido laikais siūlė tas pačias laisves.

Daugelis šių lankytojų dabar visam laikui žengia šį žingsnį.

„Šiuo metu Dubajuje vyksta drastiški pokyčiai, nes vis daugiau aukštos kvalifikacijos specialistų pradeda tai vadinti savo namais“, – sakė jis.

Gerbiamas sveikatos ekonomistas Roederis reguliariai skelbia pasaulinį atsparumo reitingą, kuris parodo, kaip šalys sėkmingai susidorojo su pandemija, kuri praėjusią savaitę JAE užėmė antrąją vietą pasaulyje. 

Ji taip pat gyrė JAE už geresnį vakcinavimo kampanijos rezultatą, palyginti su Europos Sąjungos šalimis.

Kampanija, kurioje vienu metu siūlomi kadrai visų amžiaus grupių žmonėms, reiškia, kad atvykėliai gali gauti kadrus, kai tik bus paruošti jų gyvenamosios vietos dokumentai, o tai paprastai trunka tris ar keturias savaites.

„Nors laisvė yra labai didelė, vis tiek matai žmones, besilaikančius taisyklių, nematai, kad daugybė kitų šalių žmonių laikytų kaukes“, – sakė dabar Dubajuje gyvenantis vokietis ponas Roederis.

Vyriausybės sprendimas suteikti gyvenamosios vietos vizas nuotoliniam darbui daro ją labiau pageidaujamą vietą, ypač jauniems žmonėms.

Naujausi turimi duomenys iš Dubajaus turizmo kovo pabaigoje rodo, kad 1700 žmonių kreipėsi dėl nuotolinio darbo vizos. Programos nuoroda čia – Su priimtiniausiu. Pirmą kartą žmonėms leidžiama gyventi JAE ir dirbti užsienyje esančioje įmonėje, kuri čia neturi bazės.

Be to, 16 000 užsienio keliautojų nusprendė pasinaudoti nemokamu miesto vizų galiojimo pratęsimu sausio mėnesį, CNN Travel sakė Dubajaus turizmo vadovas Issamas Kazimas. Tradiciniai vizų metodai, kurie tinka vietos verslui, laisvai samdomiems darbuotojams ir pradedantiesiems, yra vis dar populiarūs.

Originally published here.


L’Union européenne élabore ses plans pour taxer les services numériques : vraie avancée pour le consommateur et l’équité commerciale… ou moyen de renflouer les caisses après une année de Covid-19 très coûteuse pour les autorités ?

A l’heure actuelle, la Commission européenne envisage trois options pour taxer les services numériques.

La première consisterait en un supplément d’impôt sur les sociétés pour les entreprises ayant des activités numériques dans l’Union européenne (UE), une autre est une taxe sur les revenus de certaines activités numériques dans l’UE. La troisième option, qui est la plus discutée actuellement, est l’idée d’introduire une taxe sur les transactions numériques entre entreprises dans l’UE.

Le raisonnement en faveur d’une DST (digital services tax) est double : d’une part, et découlant de la pression politique française, la DST est considérée comme « socialement juste ».

Les entreprises numériques préfèrent les sièges sociaux dans un pays à basse fiscalité, ce qui signifie que les pays où l’impôt sur les sociétés est le plus élevé perdent des recettes provenant du secteur numérique. Cette situation serait modifiée par une taxe qui ne tiendrait pas compte du lieu d’implantation de l’entreprise, mais du lieu de la transaction.

D’autre part, l’UE vient de créer le plus gros budget de l’histoire de l’Union et a contracté un emprunt de 750 Mds€. La manière dont cet argent sera remboursé jusqu’en 2058 n’est pas tout à fait claire, mais une taxe numérique semble faire partie des propositions existantes.

Cette taxe DST est à rejeter pour de nombreuses raisons. Nous ne savons pas à ce stade quel impact celle-ci aura sur les acteurs du marché, mais il faut être conscient qu’elle ne sera pas sans effet.

Les répercussions d’une loi

Lorsque la réglementation sur la confidentialité des données (RGPD) a été introduite, nous avons vu un certain nombre d’opérateurs de médias interrompre leurs activités dans l’UE, car ils ne savaient pas comment faire face à ces nouvelles règles de confidentialité.

Les répercussions d’une loi vont au-delà de la simple application de celle-ci et affectent également les bilans des entreprises.

En outre, les seuils à partir desquels les entreprises numériques sont affectées sont très importants. Des seuils d’imposition bas affecteraient les petites start-ups européennes, qui pourraient ne plus proposer leurs services dans l’Union européenne.

Les innovateurs devraient pouvoir choisir entre des sites fortement taxés et des sites faiblement taxés, et non être confrontés à une taxe uniforme inévitable. La concurrence fiscale permet d’équilibrer les pouvoirs et de pousser les Etats à ne pas tomber dans des extrémités.

Cependant, selon les fonctionnaires, toujours plus avides de contrôle, les problèmes complexes que traversent les Etats, tels que le retard numérique de l’UE, nécessitent des solutions complexes. Pourtant ce que l’on constate, c’est que moins d’intervention de la part des gouvernements amène bien souvent plus d’innovation.

Les poursuites antitrust – une direction que l’UE a été plus encline à prendre ces dernières années – sont un excellent outil pour collecter les taxes, mais elles ne résolvent pas le problème de fond.

Nous avons besoin d’un marché numérique qui offre de nombreuses options différentes, ce qui rend moins probable l’obtention d’un monopole par une seule entreprise, car celle-ci sera plus préoccupée par la concurrence réelle et cherchera donc à proposer des solutions innovantes aux consommateurs.

Des impôts, oui… mais à verser à l’UE

La justification principale donnée par la Commission pour les deux propositions est que les activités numériques ne sont pas soumises à la fiscalité traditionnelle.

La propriété intellectuelle des entreprises concernées est souvent située en dehors de l’UE, où la majeure partie de la valeur ajoutée est créée. Les revenus de ces entreprises ne sont généralement pas imposés dans l’UE, mais cela ne signifie certainement pas que les entreprises ne sont pas imposées du tout, d’autant plus que les Etats-Unis ont adopté un impôt minimum global.

Il ne s’agit donc pas de l’idéal selon lequel « les entreprises doivent payer leurs impôts », mais plutôt du fait que ces entreprises doivent payer leurs impôts à l’UE. Par ailleurs, l’UE vient de perdre un membre contributeur important (le Royaume-Uni) – et il s’agit donc plus d’une question de revenus que d’un principe de justice sociale.

Cette tactique pourrait cependant faire grimper la facture du consommateur européen. Très souvent, l’augmentation des dépenses des entreprises en impôts indirects comme ce genre de taxe sont directement transférées dans une hausse des prix des biens et services. La réalité est que les consommateurs seront les véritables victimes de cette nouvelle taxe.

La TVA est depuis longtemps reconnue comme l’impôt qui frappe le plus durement les pauvres, et pourtant de nombreux pays de l’UE préfèrent aujourd’hui introduire des niveaux plus élevés d’impôts indirects.

A l’heure où les personnes à faible revenu peuvent accéder plus facilement à de nombreux produits grâce à l’internet, il semble cruel de restreindre leur pouvoir d’achat, en particulier au milieu d’une pandémie qui voit de nombreux citoyens européens contraints d’utiliser des solutions numériques.

Il semble cependant de plus en plus évident que les gouvernements se soucient plus de la facilité de faire entrer de l’argent dans les caisses de l’Etat que du réel bien-être de leur population.

Si nous nous soucions des personnes à bas salaire, nous avons besoin d’un marché plus compétitif où les entreprises délivrent les meilleurs services au meilleur prix et non une course à l’augmentation des charges fiscales.

L’avenir de l’économie de marché européenne réside indéniablement dans le secteur numérique. Cependant, l’idée de taxer massivement les entreprises en ligne est contraire à cet objectif et n’apportera de bénéfices ni pour les Etats ni pour leurs consommateurs.

Dubai jobs and visas: meet the remote workers who escaped a world in lockdown

More young professionals and start-ups are choosing Dubai as their home – with newly relaxed visa rules and a fast vaccine programme among the key drivers.

The National spoke to the founder of a German homeware brand, a British software company, and a Lithuanian travel agency, along with other digital remote workers who made the move.

Several visited during the height of Europe’s winter lockdowns and have now decided to return.

“There were a lot of people who came here last autumn and stayed for several months because of the restrictions in their own countries,” said Fred Roeder, managing director of London-based Consumer Choice Centre.

“There was nowhere else to go that offered the same freedoms in Covid times.”

Now many of those visitors are making the move permanent.

“Dubai is experiencing a tectonic shift at the minute, with more and more highly skilled professionals starting to call it home,” he said.

Mr Roeder, a respected health economist, produces a regular global resilience ranking of how well countries fared in the pandemic, which last week ranked the UAE second in the world

It also recognised the Emirates for performing significantly better with its vaccination campaign than European Union countries.

The campaign, which delivers doses to people of all ages at the same time, means new arrivals can get the shots as soon as their visa residency documents are ready, which typically takes three or four weeks.

“Even though there is a lot of freedom you still see people sticking to the rules, you don’t see as many people in other countries keeping their masks on,” said Mr Roeder, a German who now too is based in Dubai.

The government’s decision to grant resident visas for working remotely make it an even more desirable location, especially for younger people.

The most recent figures available, from Dubai Tourism in late March, show 1,700 people had applied for its remote working visa – the application link is here – with most accepted. For the first time, it allows people to live in the Emirates and work for a company abroad that has no base here.

In addition, 16,000 foreign travellers opted to take advantage of the city’s free visa extension in January, Dubai Tourism’s chief executive Issam Kazim told CNN Travel. Traditional visa routes working for domestic companies, self-employment and founding a start-up business are still popular.

Originally published here.

Tantangan Membela Hak Pengguna Vape

Isu mengenai rokok elektronik, atau yang dikenal juga dengan vape, merupakan salah satu isu yang cukup kontroversial di berbagai negara di dunia, termasuk juga di Indonesia. Berbagai pihak memiliki pandangan yang sangat kontras dan jauh berbeda antara satu dengan yang lainnya.

Bagi sebagian pihak, vape atau rokok elektronik adalah hal yang sangat berbahaya, dan maka dari itu harus dilarang demi melindungi kesehatan publik. Di Indonesia misalnya, salah satu pihak yang mendukung adanya larangan tersebut adalah Ikatan Dokter Indonesia, atau IDI. IDI mengungkapkan, vape justru mengandung zat-zat berbahaya bagi kesehatan (mediaindonesia.com, 25/9/2019).

Kesehatan publik tidak bisa dipungkiri memang merupakan masalah besar di berbagai negara di dunia. Bila suatu negara memiliki jumlah populasi masyarakat yang sakit dengan angka yang tinggi, hal ini juga akan semakin meningkatkan beban negara untuk membiayai program kesehatan tersebut. Belum lagi, orang-orang yang dapat menggunakan tenaga dan pikiran yang mereka miliki untuk kegiatan-kegiatan yang produktif akan semakin berkurang.

Namun, melindungi kesehatan publik tidak semudah membalikkan telapak tangan, salah satunya dengan hanya melarang produk-produk tertentu yang dianggap berbahaya. Ada unintended consequences yang harus kita pikirkan masak-masak bila kita ingin mengambil kebijakan tersebut.

Hanya karena kita melarang suatu produk yang dianggap bisa membahayakan kesehatan, bukan berarti lantas kita dapat menghalangi seseorang untuk mendapatkan produk tersebut. Selain itu, hal lain yang tidak kalah pentingnya adalah, bila ada produk serupa yang jauh lebih berbahaya beredar di pasar daripada produk yang ingin dilarang, maka larangan tersebut berpotensi tidak memiliki dampak apapun, dan justru dapat menjadi kebijakan yang kontra produktif.

Berdasarkan laporan lembaga kesehatan publik Inggris, Public Health England (PHE) misalnya, rokok elektronik atau vape memiliki dampak 95% jauh lebih tidak berbahaya dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar. Secara ekspilist, bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional, maka resiko dari menggunakan rokok elektronik sangat kecil (theguardian.com, 28/12/2018).

Sangat penting ditekankan dalam hal ini bahwa, laporan PHE tersebut bukan berarti menyatakan bahwa vape atau rokok elektronik adalah produk yang sepenuhnya aman. 95% jauh lebih tidak berbahaya dan sama sekali tidak berbahaya adalah dua hal yang sangat berbeda.

Tetapi, berdasarkan laporan dari PHE, bila dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional yang dibakar, vape atau rokok elektronik jauh lebih aman. Dengan demikian, bila produk rokok elektronik dilarang, sementara rokok konvensional tetap dibolehkan, maka tentu aturan tersebut adalah sesuatu yang mengada-ada dan tidak akan memiliki dampak yang signifikan.

Tidak hanya itu, bila ada kebijakan pelarangan vape atau rokok elektronik, maka hal tersebut adalah bentuk pelanggaran hak terhadap seseorang untuk mendapatkan alternatif produk yang jauh lebih aman. Besar kemungkinan, mereka yang sebelumnya ingin mengkonsumsi produk vape, karena tidak bisa mendapatkan produk tersebut di pasar, bukannya justru mengurungkan keinginannya, tetapi justru beralih ke produk rokok konvensional yang jauh lebih berbahaya.

Inilah salah satu tantangan besar terkait dengan membela hak para pengguna vape di berbagai negara di dunia, salah satunya tentunya di Indonesia. Banyaknya kesalahpahaman terkait dengan vape atau legalisasi produk tersebut, merupakan salah satu penyebab dari potensi lahirnya berbagai aturan yang justru tidak produktif.

Hal ini diungkapkan juga oleh oleh Presiden World Vaper’s Alliance(WVA), Michael Landl. WVA sendiri merupakan organisasi internasional yang membela hak-hak para pengguna vape di seluruh dunia.

Dalam wawancara yang saya lakukan dengan Landl bulan Maret 2021 lalu, ia mengungkapkan bahwa banyaknya misinformasi dan “ideologi” anti vape yang berkembang di berbagai tempat merupakan tantangan terbesar dalam membela hak-hak pengguna vape di seluruh dunia, untuk mendapatkan produk yang relatif lebih aman. Hal ini merupakan hal yang tidak mudah, meskipun berdasarkan penelitian ilmiah vape merupakan produk yang jauh lebih aman dibandingkan dengan rokok konvensional (Landl, 2021).

Sebagai penutup, pentingnya legalisasi produk rokok elektronik bukan berarti mendukung bahwa seluruh anggota masyarakat untuk menggunakan rokok elektronik setiap hari. Hal ini adalah sesuatu yang penting, khususnya karena para perokok dapat menjadi terbantu untuk menghentikan kebiasaan mereka yang sangat berbahaya, dan beralih ke produk lain yang terbukti jauh lebih aman.

Efektifitas vape sebagai produk yang dapat membantu para perokok untuk menghentikan kebiasaan merokok mereka yang sangat berbahaya bagi kesehatan merupakan hal yang sudah terbukti di berbagai penelitian. National Health Service (NHS) Inggris misalnya, telah menyatakan bahwa menggunakan produk rokok elektronik dapat membantu para perokok untuk mengelola kecanduan mereka terhadap nikotin (nhs.uk, 29/3/2019).

Karena hak untuk mendapatkan kesempatan untuk menikmati kehidupan yang lebih sehat merupakan hak yang wajib dinikmati oleh setiap individu, dan harus dilindungi oleh pemerintah. Jangan sampai, karena ketidaktahuan, misinformasi, hingga idelogi yang kita miliki, kita merampas hak tersebut dari saudara-saudara kita.

Originally published here.

Who will really pay the “own revenues”?

Spoiler alert: consumers will.

Ever since the recovery package of the European Union was sent on its way through the institutions in Brussels, everyone knew that the joint debt obligations that the EU took up until 2058 need to be paid back somehow. This is particularly true because now that we’ve opened the slippery slope of taking up EU debt, you can rest assured that it won’t be the last time we will do it. The 750 billion Euros are said to be paid by own EU resources, meaning taxes.

On January 1st this year, the EU’s plastic tax has come into effect. The tax charges EU member states for their plastic packaging consumption and demands that a pro-rata amount be sent to Brussels for the EU budget. Also being discussed are a carbon border adjustment (fancy words to describe a CO2 tax), a digital tax, and a financial transaction tax. For many in the EU, this will allow the Union to become more independent from the interests of the European Council, to which the Commission all too often feels, and is, beholden when most of its more integrationist support lies in the European Parliament.

But who will actually pay these taxes? Is it that a digital tax on Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, or Facebook, will be paid by these big corporations from accross the pond and flow into the pockets of Berlaymont? Hardly so. The EU suggests taxing digital services where their transaction occurs, as opposed to taxing in the company’s country of residence. In the case of Apple, European sales are organised through the company’s HQ in Dublin, Ireland, to benefit from Ireland’s more advantageous tax system. In a similar way, Amazon benefits from rules in Luxembourg. Google and Microsoft sell more digital services, in the case of Google advertising services. Here, the cost of a tax would, much like VAT, put on the end consumers. This comes down to much of the free trade argument: the resident consumers pay protectionist tariffs in the country that imposes the tariff, not by the exporting party.

A carbon tax on imports does exactly that. Some goods coming from countries that do not share the EU’s ambitious climate regulations are competitive in price due to the low production costs in those countries. Attempting to push these goods off the market with a carbon tax means that EU consumers will pay more.

A financial transaction tax is an even more egregious example of misguided fiscal thinking. In the eyes of its advocates, it will hit the big players on the international financial markets, when instead it will be paid by low-level investors, low-level shareholders, consumers playing around with investment services that have popped up, particularly during the pandemic. 

It narrows down to the economic reality that companies do not pay taxes; people do. The building of a company cannot pay taxes; but is being paid because either the company reduces its share dividends of its shareholders, pays its workers less, or increases prices for consumers. All too often, the latter is the preferred solution.

The discussed EU taxes are supposed to create independence for the Union and tax big players to reduce inequities. It is more likely to do the former than the latter.

Originally published here.

Time for a rethink on the UAE’s red listing? An open letter to Grant Shapps, the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport

As the UAE’s coronavirus cases continue to decline, and the nation is named as one of the most covid-resilient in the world, Arabian Business is urging a rethink on the emirates’ Red List status.

Dear Mr Shapps,

It is perhaps fitting that I write to you as the Arabian Travel Market takes place in Dubai, a safe live event of global significance that I know many tourism representatives from the UK wanted to attend, but cannot.

You are of course aware of this because your Green List of safe travel destinations came into effect this week, a list that not only omits the UAE but keeps the country on your Red List.

While you will keep your counsel on this matter, the safety of the UK being your prime concern, I would urge you to reconsider this decision at the earliest opportunity (you were to review this every three weeks), and I ask this based on the following:

As the Arabian Travel Market took place in Dubai with attendees from 90 countries, on May 17 the number of new cases of coronavirus in the country fell to just 1,229, while the number of vaccine doses administered rose to 11,489,475, with a rate of 116.17 doses per 100 people.

The UAE has been consistently one of the world’s leading vaccinators and yet travel between it and the UK has been prohibited, which is to the detriment of the travel and hospitality sectors in both nations.

However, this isn’t the only reason I urge you to rethink.

On Friday, May 14, Arabian Business reported how a new report suggested the UAE is the second-most pandemic resilient country in the world. The Pandemic Resilience Index ranked 40 countries on factors including vaccination approval dates, vaccination drives, critical care bed capacity and mass testing.

The study – conducted by advocacy group Consumer Choice Centre (CCC) – aimed to provide an overview of global health system preparedness for the Covid crisis.

Israel topped the list, followed by the UAE, the US, UK and Bahrain respectively. Ukraine was last on the list of those countries, at number 41.

It is worth noting that Ukraine on May 17 had 2,136 new daily cases, nearly double the cases of the UAE, and its death toll stands at 48,184 compared to the UAE’s 1,633 (nearly 30 times fewer).

I only highlight its figures to point out that it is on the UK’s Amber List, as indeed is the USA.

Statistically, I would urge that numbers alone justify a rethink on the Red List status of the UAE.

Indeed, Fred Roeder managing director, of CCC, who led the Pandemic Resilience Index, said: “The UAE is a country that managed to quickly kick off its vaccination campaign, vaccinated over 50 percent of its population [by March 31] and has carried out extensive testing – which is why it performed so well in the index.”

Roeder continued to describe how the UAE stands out on testing and is markedly ahead of countries such as Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Lithuania and Italy.

The UAE is a country whose residents and businesses have a strong sense of respect for the coronavirus precautions put in place by the government. Our initial lock-down in 2020 was comprehensive and rigorous, with curfews in place, and permissions to be sought for leaving the home, even for grocery shopping. The UAE was among the first countries in the world to close schools, in early March of 2020.

Our vaccination take-up has been world-leading, and quite simply we do, in large part, follow the rules. There is no argument over mask wearing, here that is respected, and there are fines and measures large enough to deter non-compliance. Almost 90 percent of people surveyed saw Dubai as the safest place in the world after it re-opened, according to independent research conducted by GRS Explori, a world-leading research company for exhibitions, visitor attractions and large events and research partners of UFI, The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry.

Likewise our hospitality industry has responded in an almost heroic fashion, here hotels and restaurants are run with a world-class degree of professionalism, with operators committed to keeping customers and staff safe. They have learned lessons at every juncture of this pandemic.

And regular inspections by the authorities ensure that rules are followed at all venues, it’s that simple.

These same world-class precautions are clearly visible at our airports, with contactless check-in among the many safety features, and on board our flights, with every passenger arriving requiring a negative PCR test. Each visitor is also required to download a highly successful track and trace app.

The UAE is welcoming and deserves your attention again.

On June 7, on behalf of Arabian Business at the very least (and anyone else who chooses to add their voice to this letter) I ask you to think again and remove the UAE from the UK’s Red List.

Originally published here.

Biden’s $100 Billion Push for Broadband Equity Is No Panacea

In our pandemic age, high-speed internet has become a necessity. Whether paying utility bills, logging in for school, or sending job applications, the transition from paper and pen to browsers and email has been swift.

It makes sense that President Joe Biden and the Democratic majority in Congress want major investments in internet development.

“A chicken in every pot, a broadband connection in every home,” to use an FDR-ism.

As part of the American Jobs Plan, the Biden administration wants $100 billion to bring “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American.” A similar bill introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) seeks $109 billion for more rural connections, municipal internet service providers, and technology training for seniors.

It is true that a “digital divide” exists in our country; many populated areas of the country have a rich competition of internet providers and higher speeds while rural and tribal lands are lacking in options.

And while there is a noble push for broadband “equity”, the reality is billions in spending and centralization of policy don’t address the real problems and won’t deliver as promised.

There are thousands of different rules between municipalities and states overseeing internet infrastructure that serve as a barrier to getting more Americans connected.

A 2018 study by the Federal Communications Commission on state and local regulatory burdens found over 700 individual examples of laws and statutes that hamstring internet providers before they even connect one home.

These include ambiguity on application processes, high permit fees for networks, slow approval, burdensome rules, and more.

With a complex regulatory environment and uncertainty on whether projects will even be approved, it is easy to see why hurdles exist.

In a congressional subcommittee hearing in Washington earlier this month, witnesses argued federal funds to deploy broadband, or even empowering municipalities to start their own internet companies, would be most impactful.

But that stands against the evidence on municipal networks and changing trends in the telecom space.

A 2017 study from the University of Pennsylvania found local government internet utilities are entirely too expensive to maintain and that some will take decades to recover their initial costs. In many cases, municipal fiber projects led to municipal defaults and the need to raise taxes and bonds to offset costs.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance maintains an active list of every failed municipal broadband network in the country, and it grows by the month.

The main assumption of these billion-dollar broadband plans is that we should use our resources to focus exclusively on broadband fiber connections while avoiding investment in mobile and satellite networks that are vastly cheaper, more efficient, and provide fast speeds.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX recently launched an additional 60 satellites for his Starlink project, which aims to provide low-cost satellite broadband internet across the world. By the end of 2021, there will be 1,000 satellites providing internet to over 10,000 customers worldwide, accessing download speeds of up to 300 megabits per second, above and beyond the FCC minimum of 25 megabits per second.

Rather than put all our resources in wired broadband connections, the government should practice technology neutrality – not favoring one technology over any other. That is the smartest way to provide coverage to every American.

For instance, 15 percent of Americans rely on smartphones for their internet and do not have broadband at home, according to Pew Research. That is equally split between urban and rural regions of the country. Whether that is because no broadband options exist, or because consumers prefer mobile internet, however, is not clear.

But what is clear is that as mobile networks expand and speeds improve, as they have done for the last decade, and we continue to expand fiber and satellite options, more Americans will be connected to faster and better internet. However, in order to do that, we need the power of private investment, clear regulatory rules, and the removal of red tape.

If our goal is broadband equity, we need every solution available, not just those cooked up in Washington.

Originally published here.

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