Lebanese party cautious over new gov’t talks EU weighs US trade sweetener
BEIRUT — The leader of one of Lebanon’s main Christian parties said yesterday he didn’t want to create “artificial optimism” about a breakthrough in talks over a new government, a day after Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri said one would be formed soon.
Five months since a parliamentary election, Lebanese politicians remain unable to agree on how to share out ministerial portfolios in the new unity government that Hariri is trying to form.
Hariri said on Thursday the new government, expected to comprise 30 ministers, would be formed within a week to 10 days because the economy could not tolerate further delay. He called on all sides to make concessions.
But Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil, in a televised news conference yesterday, stuck by his demand that the FPM bloc get six portfolios in the new government. The FPM is the biggest Christian party in parliament.
Bassil, currently foreign minister in the caretaker government and a political ally of the Iranbacked Shi’ite group Hezbollah, also gave no ground in demanding a separate share of five cabinet seats for President Michel Aoun, the FPM’s founder and Bassil’s father-in-law.
His comments signalled no compromise with the Lebanese Forces party, Lebanon’s second largest Christian party and a staunch opponent of Hezbollah. Bassil said the LF should get three cabinet posts, based on the legislative election result.
The LF, which nearly doubled its MPs in the election, says it is entitled to a third of the Christian representation in government. The competing demands of the LF and FPM are seen as the biggest obstacle to an agreement.
Lebanese officials are warning the heavily indebted state faces economic crisis. The IMF wants to see immediate and substantial fiscal adjustment to improve the sustainability of Lebanon’s public debt, which stood at over 150 per cent of gross domestic product at the end of 2017. — REUTERS BRUSSELS — European Union ministers debated yesterday what to offer the United States to ease trade tensions and avoid a return to a tit-for-tat tariff conflict that could hit EU cars.
US President Donald Trump agreed in July to hold back on a threatened 25-per cent import tariff on EU cars while the United States and Europe discussed removing trade barriers, including duties on industrial goods.
Austria, which holds the sixmonth rotating presidency of the European Union, put forward a paper ahead of yesterday’s meeting suggesting EU countries could agree the focus of transatlantic talks could be regulatory cooperation.
This could include agreements that each side recognise as sufficient the other’s safety standards in cars, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. For example, a seat belt meeting EU standards could be sold in the United States, and vice versa.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the meeting in Innsbruck, Austria, was taking place against a “very, very difficult” international environment”.
He told reporters that the European Union needed to push ahead with talks to find an agreement with the United States.
“Time is getting tight. We must hurry up,” he said. “We are working for an agreement that covers as many industrial goods as possible. That is our clear position.”
French minister of state JeanBaptiste Lemoyne suggested any transatlantic agreement would be limited, emphasising that agricultural products, among the United States’ major exports, would not be included.
Lemoyne said the European Union could conclude comprehensive trade agreements only with parties that have signed up to the Paris climate accord, which Trump has abandoned. — REUTERS
Five months since the election, Lebanese politicians remain unable to agree on how to share out ministerial portfolios.