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ASEAN bloc agrees to work on digital trade pact that might get real by 2025 • The Register

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The ASEAN economic and free trade bloc has agreed to develop a digital trade pact, and South Korea wants to play.

ASEAN has ten members that collectively have about the same economic heft as the UK or France, and negotiate as one on trade matters with other blocs like the European Union. Bloc members Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines are seen as likely to grow very quickly in coming years, making ASEAN of considerable importance to global trade and diplomacy.

The bloc’s ministers with economic responsibilities have met over the last week, and one item they’ve agreed on is the “ASEAN Digital Transformation Agenda to Accelerate ASEAN’s Economic Recovery and Digital Economy Integration” – a document that describes a plan “to deepen ASEAN’s digital integration and connectivity from 2021 to 2025 against the backdrop of COVID-19”.

The Transformation Agenda describes a wider agreement called the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) that the ministers have agreed to define by 2023 and start negotiating by 2025.

The aim of the agreement is seamless and secure flows of data among members, in the service of faster flows of physical goods. Harmonisation of rules is required to make that all work, hence the rather long horizons on getting the Framework Agreement written.

South Korea is not an ASEAN member, but fresh from its Monday decision to sign up to the Digital Economic Partnership Agreement (DEPA) – a trade pact that has very similar aims to ASEAN’s DEFA – suggested DEPA might be a very fine model for a pact between South Korea and ASEAN, or perhaps for ASEAN itself.

Again, smoother trade is the aim. So is providing a counterweight to China’s ambitions, as the Middle Kingdom’s Belt and Road initiative includes both physical infrastructure to move goods and digital initiatives to ease the unavoidable administrivia that accompanies cross-border trade. ®

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Best podcasts of the week: the life and death of Diego Maradona | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

The Last Days of Maradona
“Everyone – fans and non-fans alike – must have asked themselves: how did Maradona’s life end the way it did?” Thierry Henry narrates this podcast about the football legend’s death at the age of 60 in 2020 – part forensic investigation, part homage to his greatness. In a novel twist – and perhaps a sign of things to come for podcasting – the series is also available in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, via a series of hosts. Hannah J Davies

I’m Not a Monster
Listeners were captivated by the case of Indiana mother Sam Sally and how she ended up at the heart of the Islamic State caliphate. Now, host Josh Baker is back for two new follow-up episodes. He answers listeners’ questions – and heads back to Iraq. Hannah Verdier

Twenty Thousand Hertz
More offbeat sonic discoveries in a miniseries from the long-running audio show. It’s Not TV, it’s HBO, tells the story of the network’s bombastic 80s theme song as well as its iconic – if more understated – “static angel” sound, as heard before everything from The Sopranos to Sex and the City. HJD

Behind the Wand
More than 20 years after Harry Potter’s first film adaptation, Potterheads are still looking to learn something new about the wizarding world. Here, Emma
Watson’s body double Flick Miles takes us behind the scenes with crew members. It’s not as exciting as, say, the upcoming TV reunion, but fans might enjoy the nitty gritty details about how the story came to life on the big screen. Hollie Richardson

Even the Rich: Murder in the House of Gucci
With Lady Gaga and Adam Driver ’s new film throwing the spotlight on to the Gucci dynasty, this podcast tells the story of the family’s humble beginnings. Brooke Siffrinn and Aricia Skidmore-Williams bring their gloriously salacious tone to the tale, from observing Guccio Gucci’s knowledge of luggage to analysing Patrizia Reggiani’s controversial white fur school coat. HV

Sunny delight ... Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito and Charlie Day on the set of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Sunny delight … Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Danny DeVito and Charlie Day on the set of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Photograph: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Chosen by Danielle Stephens

There is always a risk in learning how something you adore is made. That’s why I was slightly apprehensive to listen to The Always Sunny podcast, which launched earlier this month. The premise is simple: each week, the geniuses behind the hit show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia sit down to bring us insider knowledge on how every episode came to be, starting all the way back in 2005.

The worry is that your favourite (terrible) characters are somehow played by an unfunny trio, but Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton allay any fears early on, making one another laugh as much as you might imagine. The scoring is the same as the show, and sound design is nonexistent, so the content needs to carry – which it does. For true fans, it’s a must listen, as we hear how they developed ideas; the stumbling blocks they encountered; and, most interestingly, some of the things they regret with hindsight.

Talking points

  • As podcasts evolve, expect to see even more boundary-blurring with other creative mediums. A case in point: US culture show How Long Gone will release a double-CD album via Jagjaguwar on 17 December, featuring about releases from the record label’s other acts, including Moses Sumney, Dinosaur Jr and Angel Olsen.

  • Why not try: Close to Death | Is This Working? | Sh***hole Country

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India, US, agree to transitional digital tax scheme • The Register

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India has agreed to wind back the two per cent Equalisation Levy it charges foreign e-commerce companies, and the USA has withdrawn sanctions it imposed to protest the levy.

The levy was introduced in 2016 as a means of ensuring India could collect more tax. The nation’s government introduced it because big e-commerce players had employed legal-but-cynical tax minimisation schemes that saw them conduct purchases made in India with offshore entities – even though goods were sold in India, to residents of India.

The measure was aimed squarely at US-based companies such as Amazon.com, but also at India-based companies like FlipKart (which is owned by US-based Walmart).

The USA opposed India’s levy and similar taxes imposed by Vietnam, The Philippines, and Indonesia, arguing they discriminate against its businesses.

In July 2021, the Biden Administration fought back by imposing tariffs on nations that implement digital services taxes, but immediately suspended that sanction.

The timing of that US action was not random. October meetings of the G20 and OECD saw broad international agreement reached on new global tax rules that will see multinational corporations pay at least 15 per cent of their revenue as tax in each nation where they do business. In theory, that arrangement should mean the likes of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft must pay tax wherever they operate, instead of being able to shop around for jurisdictions with low tax rates.

Once those deals were inked, the USA dropped its tariff threat.

But India didn’t drop its levy, because the new global tax deal is yet to be implemented.

While India and the USA wait for those formalities to be addressed, they’ll count the Equalisation Levy as a credit against future taxes, once the new global arrangements kick in. Those credits will accrue from April 1, 2022, until either March 31, 2024, or whenever the tax deals are sorted.

The US Department of Treasury hailed the deal with India as “a pragmatic solution that helps ensure that countries can focus their collective efforts on the successful implementation of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework’s historic agreement on a new multilateral tax regime”. America has also dispensed with its suspended tariffs on India.

India’s government noted the agreement but expressed no opinion about its merits.

Austria, France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Turkey have already reached similar agreements with the USA.

Tax-avoiding tech giants have been mostly silent on the new arrangements – perhaps because most announced their quarterly results mere days or weeks after the new rules were agreed. The Register expects that investors will soon press for information on how the new tax regime will impact the bottom line. ®

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Electric cars aren’t enough to hit climate goals – public transport is also key

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UCC’s Vera O’Riordan explains why focusing on replacing conventional cars with EVs is a ‘missed opportunity’ for countries to also develop alternative means of transport and help meet global climate targets.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

Transport is responsible for 24pc of energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. Half of those emissions are from carrying goods and services, and the other half are from carrying people from A to B – also known as passenger transport.

Passenger transport has a huge impact on our surroundings, and it’s one of the biggest factors in determining where we live and work. It can be bumper-to-bumper LA traffic, bike-filled Danish cities, Japanese bullet trains, buzzing Vietnamese mopeds, taxi ranks lined with India’s famous three-wheeled rickshaws, or bustling London subways.

Introducing electric vehicles (EVs) on a massive scale has often been framed as the solution to reducing passenger transport emissions – witness the UK’s plans for all new homes and upgraded buildings to have EV charging points from 2022.

However, recent research from the US has shown that the electrification of cars alone will not be enough for the transport sector to reach ambitious global climate action targets aiming to prevent more than two degrees Celsius of global warming.

In addition, a population that continues to depend on cars poses significant problems for growing cities. With urbanisation on the rise and space at a premium, we must reduce car ownership in cities if we are to keep them as affordable and accessible as possible. Huge amounts of land which could otherwise be used to house people or be dedicated to nature are still reserved for roads and car parks.

Although EVs certainly help address increasing transport emissions, simply focusing on replacing conventional cars with EVs is a missed opportunity for countries to develop alternative means of transport beyond car dependency.

Climate action funds – including the Adaptation Fund, a UN-backed international fund helping developing countries to adapt to the climate crisis – are projected to reach $100bn of funding by 2023. Much of this money is channelled towards sustainable infrastructure projects, which could help developing countries to build efficient and sustainable mass-transit systems.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advocates for an approach to passenger transport planning called ‘Avoid, Shift, Improve’, which is adapted from a framework first developed in Germany in the early 1990s.

Avoid

‘Avoid’ refers to reducing the need for transport in the first place. This involves planning new urban areas and redeveloping old ones to be as well organised as possible, so people will not have to travel far for their working, shopping, education and recreational needs. While years of investment into roads have made it very difficult for some cities to move away from car use, the future is still unwritten for many of our growing cities.

This approach also involves connecting homes and rural towns to the internet so that people can easily and cheaply work from home, leaving road space free for people – like doctors or teachers – who cannot.

Shift

‘Shift’ means switching necessary travel to more sustainable, active and higher-occupancy modes of transport. Instead of single-occupancy cars, for example, we can use buses, trains, bikes, scooters, skateboards or walking paths. Across the world, we can see exciting examples of how countries have managed to make this shift away from carbon-intensive car dependency.

The TransMilenio bus system, operating in the cities of Bogotá and Soacha in Colombia, is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Transporting between 1m and 2m people daily, its broad range of stops, dedicated bus lanes and affordable ticketing stations create an easily accessible service.

Increasing the uptake of active modes of travel is another way to encourage this shift. E-bikes are among the fastest-growing types of transport in China. The motor-assisted travel encourages cycling longer journeys in hilly areas, warmer areas and among people who are less fit. Studies from Sweden and Norway show that cyclists who switch from conventional bikes to e-bikes increase their number of journeys and the distances they travel on average for each journey.

Recently, residents of Berlin voted to expand car restrictions in the German city to cover 88 sq km of the city – a proposal which would create the world’s largest car-free urban zone. Actions like these can address the safety concerns of pedestrians and cyclists, who fear navigating alongside fast-moving, heavy vehicles, by providing segregated active travel routes.

Importantly, researchers have noted that without measures to restrict car use, other measures to encourage the uptake of public transport, walking and cycling have little impact.

Once unnecessary travel has been cut from things like poor urban planning and employer policies requiring workers’ presence in offices, and once safe public transport systems or active travel options have been provided, we can focus on making the vehicles we currently have more sustainable.

Improve

Although fuel efficiency has slightly reduced the fuel consumption per kilometre of car transport, passenger transport demand continues to grow – meaning that overall, increased emissions from passenger transport outstrip efficiency reductions. As a result, the ‘improve’ part of the UN’s framework involves switching bus, rail and car transport from fossil fuels to electric.

The key to reducing passenger transport emissions is enabling access to and use of electric cars only where there are no other reasonable travel options. If we do this, we have a chance to end car dependency while still helping as many people as possible to travel.

The Conversation

By Vera O’Riordan

Vera O’Riordan is a PhD researcher at Science Foundation Ireland’s Marine and Renewable Energy Institute (MaREI) based at University College Cork. She works with the Energy Policy and Modelling Group to model past, present and future emissions from transport, with funding from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

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