We’ve summarised the top stories of the last week into an easily digestible briefing, so that you can stay up to date on what’s happening around the world. You can subscribe to receive the briefing in your inbox each week.
Business & Economics
- The UK has offered Australia a tariff-free trade deal, despite warnings that it could seriously damage British agriculture. The deal would remove tariffs after 15 years, giving farmers time to prepare to face new competition. However, Australia is pushing for a transition period of 10 years instead. Proponents argue that the deal will provide greater opportunity for economic collaboration with Australia, while opponents focus on the harms to the farming industry.
- Signs that China was preparing to crack down on cryptocurrencies led to a momentary 30% drop in the price of Bitcoin. The Chinese vice-premier Liu He has stated that Beijing was committed to curbing the mining and trading of digital currencies. In response to the sell-off, the S&P futures index also saw a dip, implying that these cryptocurrency fluctuations have affected traditional markets.
- GlaxoSmithKline is in talks with the British government about building vaccine development and production facilities in the UK. Although it is one of the largest vaccine companies in the world, GSK has not yet developed an approved Covid-19 vaccine. If successful, a deal with the UK may allow it to take on a bigger role in any future pandemic.
- The annual UK inflation rate more than doubled in April from 0.7% to 1.5%, compared to this time last year. This means that consumer prices are rising at their fastest rate since the start of the pandemic. The rise in prices was driven mostly by higher energy and clothing costs, due to increased demand from the easing of lockdowns and higher oil prices.
- Earlier this week, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde downplayed the possibility of a shift away from the ECB’s current expansionary policy settings. At a news conference, Lagarde said that “it’s far too early and unnecessary to debate longer-term issues” and that “our commitment to the euro area is to maintain favourable financing conditions throughout the whole pandemic period.” The ECB’s Governing Council will meet on June 10.
- A housing boom in North America has fuelled an increase in demand for building materials. Over the past year, new house-building has almost reached a 15-year high, but supplies of lumber started to dwindle as producers curbed production during the lockdowns. This has pushed up lumber futures from around $500 per 1,000 square feet to $1,500 per 1,000 square feet.
- President of the Swiss National Bank Thomas Jordan has said that it can expand its balance sheet further if needed. Although the SNB’s holdings of foreign exchange have increased to more than $1.1 trillion, Thomas claims that “a big balance sheet is no problem” and that “it would be completely premature to begin shrinking the balance sheet and tightening monetary conditions”.
- A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into effect on Friday, following more than 200 deaths. Both sides claim victory as the fragile truce holds; the UN has urged calm after Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque after Friday prayers, the third-holiest site in Islam.
- There has been major pushback against the International Energy Agency’s report on reaching net zero emissions by 2050. Both Japan and Australia have declared that they will continue fossil fuel investment, ignoring the agency’s advice. The announcement highlights the controversy surrounding the IEA’s recommendations, pointing towards the difficulties behind agreeing and committing to climate objectives.
- UK ministers are confident that the planned easing of all lockdown restrictions in England will go ahead on 21 June. This follows preliminary data which suggests that current vaccines (AstraZeneca and Pfizer) work well against the B.1.617.2 variant found in India.
- Yang Jiechi, China’s leading diplomat, will meet with Russian officials on Monday for security talks. The meeting represents a significant strengthening of relationships between Beijing and Moscow, presenting an opportunity in the face of fading US influence.
- Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo has erupted for the first time twenty years, causing the displacement of thousands of people from the nearby city of Goma. Authorities there report that around 3,000 people had crossed over the border into Rwanda.
- The results of the April 2021 Samoan general election have been upheld by the Supreme Court. The opposition FAST party now has a slim majority, enabling them to appoint Naomi Mataʻafa as Samoa’s first female prime minister.
- An independent inquiry has revealed that BBC journalist Martin Bashir commissioned falsified documents to obtain an interview with Princess Diana. Last Saturday, Lord Hall – former director-general of the BBC – resigned as Chair of the National Gallery following the revelations.
- Italy has won the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. The UK finished last, with a score of zero.
Written by Chenyang Li and John Chang