The UK and its allies have accused Russian state intelligence of hacking international research centres that are in a race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. The UK, US and Canada on Thursday, said that Russian intelligence is attempting to steal information on those vaccines through irresponsible cyberattacks.
It is, however, unclear if the research facilities have been damaged or if the vaccine programmes have been set back as a result of the hacks but the officials warned that the cyber-attacks are ongoing.
UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), said that vaccine and therapeutic sectors in multiple countries have been targeted by a group known as APT29, which it said is almost certainly part of Russian state intelligence. Security agencies in the U.S. and Canada later issued their own statements backing up the findings. Russia denied involvement.
The British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said, ‘’It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic. While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the U.K. and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.”
The Russians have however denied the allegations by the UK and its allies.
In an explanation to Bloomberg, the Russian spokesman said, ‘’We don’t know who may have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research centers. We can only say Russia has nothing to do with these attempts. We don’t accept such accusations.’’
The NCSC said APT29, which is also known as Cozy Bear or The Dukes, has targeted U.K., U.S. and Canadian vaccine research and development organizations. They said the campaign of malicious activity is ongoing, predominantly against government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets to steal valuable intellectual property.
A cybersecurity firm, Carbon Black, in a published analysis in March, said researchers have long linked APT29 to Russian intelligence agencies as for more than a decade, the group has carried out hacking campaigns that have targeted dozens of governments, research institutes, and corporations around the world.
The British claims were supported by partners at the Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the US Department for Homeland Security (DHS), Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
The NSA said organizations in the U.S. involved in vaccine development were also targeted by the hackers with the objective of the hacking and stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of Covid-19 vaccines.
The Canadian government said they are working with Westminster and Washington to stop these cyber-attacks.
Reasons why a record number of people are giving up their US citizenship
These citizens complain of the current political climate while others attributed their decision to taxes.
A new report that was published on Sunday, August 10, 2020, has shown that a record number of people are giving up their United States citizenship. The report suggests that Americans are continuing to renounce their citizenship at the highest levels on record.
This information is contained in a research report that was conducted by Bambridge Accountants, a New York-based firm that specializes in US expatriate tax, UK expats, actors, and other creatives in the US and the UK.
According to the report, more than 5,800 American citizens gave up their citizenship in the first six months of 2020, compared to the 2,072 Americans who renounced their citizenship throughout 2019. The report also noted that the Coronavirus pandemic had motivated US expats to cut ties and avoid the current political climate and onerous tax reporting.
A partner at Bambridge Accountants, Alistair Bambridge, in his conversation with CNN, said, “These are mainly people who already left the US and just decided they’ve had enough of everything. What we’ve seen is people are over everything happening with President Donald Trump, how the coronavirus pandemic is being handled, and the political policies in the US at the moment.”
Bambridge, in its report, also stated that while many people who renounced their citizenship complain of being unhappy with today’s current political climate in the US, others attributed their decision to taxes.
He disclosed that US citizens living abroad are still required to file tax returns every year, report their foreign bank accounts, investments, and pensions. Although these citizens benefited from the $1,200 stimulus checks and $500 for each child, many of them felt that the annual US tax reporting is just too much.
The report also stated that Americans who want to relinquish their citizenship are required to pay $2,350 and appear in person at the US embassy in their resident country if they are not in America.
There are currently about 9 million US expats across the world, even as trends have shown a sharp decline over the last few years of US citizens expatriating.
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Despite the risks that come with giving up US citizenship, Bambridge predicts that the trend will only continue going up.
He said, “A lot of people are waiting for the November election to see what’s going to happen. If President Trump is reelected, we believe there will be another wave of people who will decide to renounce their citizenship.”
IMF assessing additional tools to provide aid to pandemic-hit countries
The IMF had earlier noted that the Nigerian economy would witness a deeper contraction of 5.4%.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that it is reviewing additional tools to help provide financing to poorest countries of the world as well as others that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. This was noted by the Fund’s Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva.
The IMF had reduced its projections for the world economy, projecting a GDP growth of 5.4% in 2021 compared to 5.8% in its earlier forecasts as a result of the expected challenges to global value chains due to the coronavirus pandemic which has affected the global demand for goods and services. It had also reviewed its projection for Nigeria, noting that the Nigerian economy would witness a deeper contraction of 5.4% and not the 3.4% that it has projected in April 2020.
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Georgieva explained to finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 major economies in the world that they should consider extending a freeze in the official bilateral debt service payments that have been offered to the poorest countries beyond the end of 2020, and seek out better ways to promote private-sector participation.
She also noted that there is ardent need to think about “more comprehensive debt relief for many countries,” as a result of the severity of the crisis as well as the already high debt load that many of the respective countries already had to deal with.
Okonjo-Iweala shares her vision with WTO members, as she pitches for DG post
Okonjo-Iweala said she has all it takes to become the first African DG of the global trade force.
Nigeria’s former Coordinating Minister for the Economy under President Goodluck Jonathan, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is optimistic about being appointed as the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Her optimism is not limited to the endorsements she got from President Muhammadu Buhari , National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) and Economic Community for the West African States but the confidence that she has what it takes to become the first African and female WTO DG since the global trade force was established in 1995.
While pitching for the post in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, two-time Nigeria’s Finance Minister shared her vision with the WTO’s 164 member states. Along with Okonjo-Iweala, seven other candidates also pitched for the job. as they presented themselves to the members of the global trade body. The other candidates are Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), Amina Mohamed (Kenya), Jesús Kuri (Mexico), Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), Yoo Myung-hee (Korea), Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia), and Liam Fox (UK).
Speaking at the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, the former World Bank director said she has all it takes to become the first African and first female DG of the global trade force established in 1995.
‘I am a bundle of talents’
Contrary to the allegation that she is more of a public sector, she said, “WTO needs leadership and it needs someone able to bring a bundle of qualities – political ability and ability to reach decision-makers. International contacts, I have that. Managerial capability from my long years in a multilateral organisation like the World Bank. The ability to forge consensus, to negotiate, a reformer. I have an established reputation as a strong reformer both at the World Bank and also in my country. I’ve even written a book about it.
“So, I think together I bring a bundle of qualities – public sector, private sector – because you need to know how do businesses see the WTO and what needs to be done. What about micro-medium and small enterprises? Just to find out what it means to be a small-medium enterprise owner, I started one myself in Nigeria to see what are the obstacles in the way that you need to clear out.
“So, I’m a doer. I’m solution-oriented and pragmatic. I bring together the bundle of qualities and the leadership acumen that you need to lead this. So, I would hope that if selected from the African continent, it should be me.”
To critics that alleged that Okonjo-Iweala is more of a financial sector expert and inexperienced in Trade, she described such as a ‘wrong notion.’ She said:
“I am a strong believer in the role of trade and of the MTS to lift millions out of poverty and bring shared prosperity. Throughout my career as a development economist at the World Bank, I worked on tough economic policy reforms including trade policy in middle and low-income countries. As a two time and longest-serving Finance Minister in my country, I had the Customs Service reporting to me, so issues of trade facilitation and trade policy were squarely part of my remit. Together with the Trade Minister, I also worked on regional trade issues including the ECOWAS Common External Tariffs.
“I can bring a fresh pair of eyes to the WTO’s challenges. Enhancing and renewing the organization will require recalling the core objectives and principles on which the MTS was built – the value of open trade, competition and non-discrimination, security and predictability of market access, fair trade and transparency. These principles contribute to economic growth and development. I have seen how essential and powerful trade can be in promoting not only economic growth and development but also, with the right incentives and policies, fostering inclusiveness of women and youth involved in entrepreneurial activities through micro, small and middle-sized enterprises.”
On how she intends to address challenges that have eaten deep into the fabrics of the global trade body, she explained that the first hurdle to tackle would be to build trust among the membership. She said,
“Current problems are not solely of a technical nature, some require political solutions. Throughout my career, I have been involved in difficult negotiations with high political stakes including debt relief negotiations with both the Paris and London clubs. I have brokered numerous agreements that have produced win-win outcomes.
“A good example is during the 2008–2009 food crisis when large wheat exporting countries imposed export restrictions- driving up the price of bread and other wheat-based products in a large number of developing countries. As Managing Director of the World Bank, I flew to one leading exporter, met with the leadership and over several meetings and negotiations, I persuaded them to remove the export restrictions. The affected developing countries benefited by having access to wheat and wheat products thereby ensuring their food security, while the country imposing the restrictions also benefited from increased export prices.”
Her vision for WTO
With the support from Aid for Trade initiative, her vision is to negotiate outcomes that would help developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, to increase their participation in the trading system, improve their policy environments, and ensure that trade makes a strong contribution to their sustainable development and inclusion in the MTS.
“I want to conclude by reiterating the importance of the WTO at this critical, uncertain and challenging time in the world. The WTO is needed to ensure trade and global markets remain open. Its convening power and ability to provide a unique forum where countries can come together around shared interests is still vital,” she added.
DG’s Selection process
General Council Chair, David Walker of New Zealand had informed WTO members of nominations as soon as they were received. After 8 July, Walker issued to members a consolidated list of all candidates, which led to the on-going pitch process with the members at a special General Council meeting.
In all, only time will tell if history will be made after the selection process. History can be made if Okonjo-Iweala is selected as the first female or African DG or if any of the other three African candidates are selcted.