Category Archives: Brexit

PM May calls snap election: Pros and Cons

Alicia Nicholls

United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, Theresa May, has today ‘reluctantly’ announced that Britons could be going to the polls in a general election on June 8, 2017, three years shy of the due date of May 2020.

The UK has a parliamentary system of government. Since 2011, parliamentary elections are fixed for every five years pursuant to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. However, early general parliamentary elections may be called before the five year period, inter alia, where two-thirds of the House of Commons (including vacant seats) vote in favour of same. In the UK parliamentary system (also known as the ‘Westminster System’) and in most British-inherited parliamentary systems like those in the Caribbean, the Prime Minister is not directly elected. In practice, though, it is the person who leads the party which wins the majority of seats in the House of Commons who becomes the Prime Minister.

The announcement of an early poll is surprising for two main reasons (1) it comes after months of denials by Mrs. May that she would be calling an early election, and (2) it also comes less than a month after the May Government made the UK’s notification under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty) of its intention to withdraw from the EU.

Pros

So what are the upsides? Firstly, it is likely that in light of the disarray of the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party, the Prime Minister is anticipating a stronger Conservative working majority in Parliament, reducing the likelihood of the final Brexit deal being voted against.

The Tories currently have a 17-seat working government majority in the House of Commons following the 2015 poll, which is a slim majority when one considers that there is a total of 650 seats in the House of Commons. After all, what Prime Minister would not want a more comfortable majority at home when facing difficult negotiations with the EU for the next (at least) two years? Prime Minister May said as much in her statement when she noted that “Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country”, and warned that “If we do not hold a general election now, [Opposition Party] political game-playing will continue.”

Polls already show a Tory sweep, but let us also remember polls had predicted a “No” win in the Brexit referendum.

Secondly, it should be recalled that Mrs. May became Prime Minister in July 2016 not through leading the party in a general election, but after then Prime Minister David Cameron resigned following his Brexit defeat.  If Mrs May leads the Conservative Party to victory in the June 8, 2017 poll, she would have:

(i) won a ‘direct mandate’ from the British people to pursue her own domestic agenda, which frees her from pursuing some of the policies promised by the then Cameron-led government.

(ii) This mandate, she would hope, would help quell the dissenting factions in her own party who disagree with her handling of Brexit thus far.

(ii) She would not be legally required to call another general election until June 2022, by which time the messiness of Brexit would be largely past (hopefully). Recall that Brexit negotiations could be extended up to 4 years, at which time the May Government would not wish to negotiating a final deal with the EU-27 while having to worry about an election at home which could be lost due to an unpopular final deal.

A third pro is likely economic. Although predictions of a British recession following the Brexit vote have not come to past, there is no telling what would happen to the British economy once the Brexit negotiations are underway. It makes more sense for Mrs. May to seek an election now than wait until things take a turn for the negative.

Cons

Firstly, on the flipside, calling a snap election after having made the Brexit notification and ahead of the negotiations with the Europeans risks adding even more uncertainty to an already uncertain political climate.

Secondly, although polls favour a Tory win, what happens if the polls are wrong and the Tories lose to an anti-Brexit Labour?  Or what if Labour and the Liberal Democrats expand their number of seats, further reducing the already slim Tory majority?

Thirdly, she risks dealing with ‘voter fatigue’.

Calling the election at this time is a risky move but one, which like all high risks, could have big rewards if the May-led Tories win and expand their mandate. In anticipation of a Tory win, markets took the news of the snap election quite enthusiastically. Sterling appreciated  against the US dollar to 1.26. However, it is also potentially a big gamble and the decision to hold the poll after triggering Article 50 is curious. It will be up to British voters to decide whether to reward or reject the gamble.

What is next?

When the House of Commons meets, they will need to deliberate and vote (as required under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act) on whether they are in favour of an early election. A two-thirds majority will be needed. For his part, Labour leader Mr. Corbyn has supported the decision to go to the polls in his statement released on his official Facebook page following the Prime Minister’s announcement.

For Prime Minister May’s full statement, please see here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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Post-Brexit UK-Caribbean Trading Relations: What are the options?

Alicia Nicholls

With the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May due to formally begin the Brexit process by making the Article 50 notification this Wednesday (March 29), it is worth considering what are the possible options for future Caribbean trading relations with post-Brexit “Global Britain”. Moreover, should one of the options be participation in a Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement (FTA)?

UK-CARICOM Trading Relations

The UK and the Commonwealth Caribbean have a shared and close relationship which goes beyond historical, cultural and diplomatic ties. While Commonwealth Caribbean countries’ trade with the United States dwarfs trade with the UK, the latter remains the region’s largest trading partner within Europe. Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Member States, as part of the CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic), enjoy preferential access to the UK market under the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed in October 2008.

As the EU agreements to which the UK is currently part will cease to apply to the UK once it has completely withdrawn from the EU, here is what CARICOM/CARIFORUM will losing preferential access to (a) the world’s fifth largest economy (or sixth largest according to some reports), (b) a market of over 64 million people which includes a Caribbean diaspora population whose potential demand for Caribbean goods and services and as a source of diaspora investment still remains largely under-exploited, and (c) a trading partner with a shared language, shared culture and shared values and a common law legal system which brings a level of assurance and certainty for cross-border commerce.

Merchandise trade aside, the UK is an important source of tourist arrivals for many Caribbean countries, while in Barbados, for example, British high net worth individuals (HNWIs) are the largest buyers of luxury real estate on the island, making the UK the largest source of real estate foreign direct investment (FDI) into the island.

Whilst the UK cannot formally commence negotiations with third States until it has left the EU, the May Government has reportedly already begun preliminary informal trade talks with some States. Indeed, several countries around the world, including Commonwealth states like Australia, Canada and India have lined up in hopes of being among the first negotiate post-Brexit trade agreements with the UK. Here in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic has also signalled its interest in a post-Brexit UK-DR FTA as the UK is apparently the Dominican Republic’s fastest growing market for Dominican exports according to the statement made by the DR’s Ambassador to the UK.

To this point, it is heartening to note that Prime Minister May has bucked the protectionist trend and intends to expand the UK’s trading relations around the world under her “Global Britain” banner. Indeed, Mrs. May argued that one of the compelling reasons for Brexit was so Britain would be free to expand its trade with the rest of the world on its own terms. The door is clearly open to the region for dialogue.

Possible Options for post-Brexit UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM Relations

As I see it, the possible options for post-Brexit UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM trading relations are as follows:

  1. Interim Arrangement which preserves EPA-level concessions before an FTA can be negotiated
  2. Negotiation of a UK-CARICOM or UK-CARIFORUM FTA
  3. Commonwealth FTA
  4. Most Favoured Nation (trading under WTO rules)

The Commonwealth Advantage?

This discussion is even more interesting in light of what is clearly a Commonwealth pivot by the UK government as it seeks to map its future trade policy and relations. Most CARICOM countries are member states of the 52-member Commonwealth of Nations, an intergovernmental organisation which consists primarily of former British colonies and current dependencies spanning Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific.

The Commonwealth is not a trade bloc. However, despite the absence of a Commonwealth FTA, intra-Commonwealth trade and investment flows are substantial and growing. According to a 2015 report released by the Commonwealth, not only is “trade between Commonwealth members on average 20 per cent higher and trade costs are 19 per cent lower compared with in trading between other partners”, but intra-Commonwealth trade is expected to reach 1 trillion by 2020. The Secretariat’s International Trade Policy section also publishes very timely  and insightful research on trade matters. A good example is this brief which was part of the Meeting documents.

However, despite this, Commonwealth Trade Ministers have not met frequently. This is why the Inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting two weeks ago was such a momentous event.  From all reports the meeting was not only well-attended but the ministers discussed prospects for deepening intra-Commonwealth trade and investment ties using the “Commonwealth Advantage”. Inter alia, Ministers directed the Secretariat to “develop pragmatic and practical options to increase Commonwealth trade and investment”, to regularise and institutionalise Trade Minister meetings, and to cooperate on the implementation of the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

The prospect of a Commonwealth-wide FTA has been floated informally, although it does not yet appear to be a firm policy proposal. The arguments for a Commonwealth FTA include a ready market of over 2.4 billion people yoked by a shared language and history, common principles and values, respect for the rule of law, the common law legal system, all of which form part of the “Commonwealth Advantage”. Additionally, it is argued by proponents of a pan-Commonwealth FTA that the potential for even greater intra-Commonwealth trade and investment should be harnessed as a buttress against rising protectionism and slowing global trade which are potentially harmful for Commonwealth developing States.

To be sure, the Commonwealth brings important value for the Caribbean. It has, for example, developed a strong small states agenda, which is not surprising given that thirty-one of its member States are small States. As an illustration, the Commonwealth launched the Commonwealth Small States Trade Finance Facility in 2015. Moreover, the fact that the current Secretary-General, Dame Patricia Scotland QC, is a daughter of the soil is also an advantage for the region.

There is also, of course, merit to fomenting closer commercial and political ties with fellow Commonwealth countries as some of the more developed Commonwealth countries are part of influential fora like the Group of 20 (G20), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) where Commonwealth Caribbean countries are not represented.  This is doubly important in light of the on-going slowdown in global trade flows, an apparent retreat from multilateralism and rising protectionism. Moreover, Commonwealth Caribbean countries have been seeking to diversify their trading partners, including source markets for tourism, foreign investment and international business and deepening ties with the rest of the Commonwealth could be useful.

Nonetheless, while I have not done any econometric analysis on what would be the possible economic and welfare benefits of any Commonwealth FTA for CARICOM/CARIFORUM, given the length of time it may take to negotiate a Commonwealth FTA, the varying levels of development, the differences in economic profile, and the diverse offensive and defensive interests of the various Commonwealth Member States which will need to be managed, the negotiation of a Commonwealth-wide FTA will not be an easy task. Therefore, I submit that the Caribbean region’s interests will, at least in the short to medium term, be better served by either negotiating an interim arrangement  with the UK which preserves EPA-level concessions until an FTA can be negotiated or negotiating an FTA with the UK straight off the bat.

So what should a possible UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM take into account?

CARICOM countries have limited experience in negotiating FTAs with developed countries. So far the EPA is the region’s only completed FTA with a developed partner, as the Canada-CARICOM negotiations are currently in abeyance. Perhaps, fortuitously, the UK has even less experience with negotiating trade agreements, as trade negotiations have hitherto been handled exclusively by the European Commission, pursuant to the EU’s common commercial policy. So both parties, despite the power asymmetry, will be on a learning curve.

Commitments made under any prospective UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM free trade agreement should take into account the sustainable development and economic growth needs and interests of both parties in a mutually beneficial way, while also taking into account differential levels of development among CARICOM/CARIFORUM countries.

CARICOM/CARIFORUM countries will also want at least the same level of concessions for their service suppliers, particularly in Mode 4 (Presence of Natural Persons) which has been the mode of supply which is the least liberalised. Additionally, as capital-importing States, CARICOM/CARIFORUM countries will likely wish to negotiate an investment chapter which protects, promotes and liberalises investment between CARICOM/CARIFORUM and the UK for the mutual development of both parties.

Of course, stakeholder consultations with not just the private sector but also civil society and citizens at large should continue to inform the region’s negotiating positions, including whether there is actually the need for an UK-CARICOM FTA and what are the region’s offensive and defensive interests.

FTA negotiations can take several years. The EPA negotiations, for instance, had been launched in April 2004 and the Agreement was not signed until October 2008. Therefore, unless a WTO-compatible interim arrangement could be negotiated whereby the UK agrees to continue EPA-type concessions to the region until a UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM FTA is negotiated, it is possible that UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM trade relations may revert to MFN conditions. Even so, while the UK is also a WTO member in its own right, its schedules are part of the EU’s which means the country will have to work out its own tariff schedules under the WTO post-Brexit. Additionally, WTO MFN conditions will not afford CARIFORUM countries the level of market access, especially for their service suppliers in the UK market, that they currently enjoy under the EPA.

Although the argument is often rightly made that the Caribbean region will be at the low rung of the negotiation priority ladder, I believe that the region cannot sit idly by as the clock begins ticking come Wednesday. While other major countries have begun to erect barriers, the May Government’s “Global Britain” outlook is a welcomed open door for the region. We should at least signal to the May government our interest in beginning talks on cementing a mutually beneficial UK-CARICOM/CARIFORUM trading arrangement post-Brexit, and take steps to do the ground work for such an eventuality.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Brexit White Paper Released by UK Government

Alicia Nicholls

The Theresa May Government has today released its Brexit White Paper . The official policy document, which is entitled “The United Kingdom’s Exit from and new partnership with the European Union“, was introduced into Parliament today by Brexit Secretary, David Davis.

The House of Commons yesterday voted overwhelmingly for the Brexit Bill to proceed to the second parliamentary stage – the Committee Stage where it will be subjected to increased scrutiny by Members of Parliament next week. Already, a number of amendments have been tabled for discussion. However, once the bill becomes law, the Government will have the legal authority to make the UK’s notification of withdrawal from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty).

Setting out the Government’s strategy for its expected upcoming exit negotiations with the EU, the White Paper mostly elaborates on the 12 priorities which had been outlined by Mrs. May in her major Brexit address delivered at Lancaster House last month. The paper reiterated that the objective was not only to build a new partnership with Europe, but to build a “stronger, fairer, more Global Britain”.

Among the priorities identified in the Brexit Strategy are taking control of its own laws, controlling immigration, pursuing a free trade and new customs union agreement with the EU, securing rights of EU nationals in the UK and for UK nationals in the EU, securing new trade agreements with other countries, inter alia. The Plan has received mixed reviews from parliamentarians.

The full White Paper may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

UK-US Trade Inquiry launched by UK Parliament’s International Trade Committee

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The House of Commons’ International Trade Committee is accepting submissions from interested organisations and individuals pursuant to an inquiry it has launched into UK-US trade relations. According to the official press release on the Committee’s website, the inquiry will:

  • examine the potential for a UK-US trade agreement
  • the opportunities and challenges any agreement might present
  • the implications for the production and sale of goods and services on both sides of the Atlantic
  • make recommendations to the Government on how it should approach trade relations with the US.

The Committee is inviting interested organisations or individuals to submit written evidence to the Committee via the inquiry page in accordance with the guidelines provided. The deadline for written submissions is Monday 27 February 2017.

For further information, please see the official page of the Committee.

 

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

 

Brexit Bill Clears First Parliamentary Hurdle

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Alicia Nicholls

The Theresa May government may have lost its Supreme Court Appeal last month but today the Government’s Brexit bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle. After fourteen hours of debate spread over two days, the House of Commons voted 498 to 114 in favour of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, a bill to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty).

Article 50(1) of the Treaty on European Union provides for any member state to decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with that state’s own constitutional requirements. Last month, the UK Supreme Court, in dismissing an appeal by the UK government, held that a parliamentary vote was required in order for the Brexit process to begin. It should be noted that many of the parliamentarians who voted in favour of the Bill’s advancement had originally supported staying in the EU. However, many felt compelled to put aside personal views in order to give effect to the will of the 52% of British voters who had voted for Brexit. Mrs. May has reportedly indicated that she will publish a White Paper outlining the Government’s Brexit plans.

So what’s next?

Today’s House of Commons vote (the second reading) means that the Brexit bill is one step closer to becoming law, and will go to the next stage in the parliamentary process – the Committee Stage. During the committee stage, the Bill will be subjected to more enhanced scrutiny and it is here that any amendments may be made.

Upon leaving the Committee stage, the bill (whether or not amended) will again be debated and subjected to a final vote in the House of Commons. If the ayes have it, then it will pass to the House of Lords where the process will be repeated. The bill will be referred back to the House of Commons if the Peers make amendments to the bill.

However, once everything goes smoothly (i.e. there are no further amendments and the peers vote in favour of the bill), the Brexit bill will be sent to the Queen for the royal assent and thereupon will become law. This confers on the May Government the legal authority to make the Article 50 notification which commences the formal withdrawal negotiations with the EU. Mrs. May has indicated the end of March 2017 as her timeline for the notification. She has also promised that she will put the final withdrawal deal to a parliamentary vote.

The full text of the Brexit bill and further reporting on the UK House of Commons’ vote may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

5 Main Points from PM May’s Davos Speech

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Alicia Nicholls

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2017 currently underway in Davos, Switzerland this week, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, presented what may be considered a follow-up to the major Brexit speech she had given in London earlier this week in which she had outlined her 12-point Brexit plan.

It was the Prime Minister’s first appearance at Davos in her capacity as Prime Minister of the UK and she reiterated many of the main points she had made in her speech earlier this week, focusing most of her attention on Brexit and outlining her plans for building a “truly Global Britain”.

Below are some of the main points from her Davos Speech:

(1) Brexit is not a rejection of Europe

Mrs. May reiterated that the Brexit vote was not a repudiation by Britain of the EU but “simply a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy and national self-determination”. She further explained Britain’s desire to pursue a “bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the European Union” while also being free to negotiate new trade deals with both longstanding and new allies around the world.

(2) UK to be leader of free markets and free trade

To this extent, she expressed the intention for the UK to “step up to a new leadership role as the strongest and most forceful advocate for business, free markets and free trade anywhere in the world”. Mrs. May noted that discussions on future trade ties have already begun with a number of countries, while others have already signalled their interest.

(3) She will build a “Global Britain”

Aiming to dispel the notion that the UK was turning “inward”,  Mrs. May emphasised her desire to build a “Global Britain” which would be in control of its own destiny once again and would help to underpin and strengthen the multilateral rules-based system. She reiterated that she believes strongly in a rules based global order and that “we must continue to promote international cooperation wherever we can”.

Although Mrs. May has  previously highlighted the need to take control of the UK’s immigration policy, she did mention in this speech that the UK derives “much of our strength from our diversity”, emphasing that “we are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy, and we’re proud of it”.

It is here that her rhetorical tone is strikingly different from that of her counterpart across the pond, incoming US President Donald Trump who has not only expressed his disdain for both the United Nations but called the World Trade Organisation a disaster. Moreover, Mr. Trump has been consistently anti-immigrant, seeing immigration as a threat rather than a strength.

(4) Britain has embarked on “an ambitious programme of economic and social reform”

Mrs. May noted that the UK has embarked on what she termed “an ambitious programme of economic and social reform”. The issues of growing income equality and popular discontent with trade and globalisation have been a consistent theme in the Davos discussions, which is not surprising given the political ramifications which these issues have already delivered.

In tackling these issues Mrs. May outlined what she believed should be the roles of both governments and businesses and that the status quo could not remain. She noted the need for leaders to work together to shape new policies and approaches in order to deliver for all people in their respective countries.

Interestingly, she noted that the role of governments was not to just “get out of the way” as has been the mantra of neoliberal economic theory, but to “step up to a new, active role that backs businesses and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success”. Turning to businesses, she noted that “it means doing even more to spread those benefits to more people”, including paying their far share of tax and recognising their obligations to their employees, inter alia.

(5) Support for the Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership

To this effect, she expressed her support for the World Economic Forum’s new “Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership” initiative proposed for signature to all participants of the Annual Meeting 2017. This initiative aims to “create a corporate governance framework with a focus on the long-term sustainability of corporations and the long-term goals of society”.

The full text of her speech may be read here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

UK Supreme Court to deliver ruling in Article 50 Brexit Appeal next Tuesday

Alicia Nicholls

Mark the date Tuesday, January 24th at 9:30 am on your calendars! That is the date on which the United Kingdom’s highest court will deliver its highly anticipated judgment in the appellate case of R (on the application of Miller and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Appellant), known more familiarly as the Article 50 Brexit Appeal. The Supreme Court made this announcement via its official Twitter account today, a day after UK Prime Minister Theresa May laid out her 12-point Brexit strategy.

This case is one of the most consequential constitutional cases in recent UK history. The legal question before the Supreme Court is whether the Government has the power to give notice pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty) of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU, without an authorising Act of Parliament. Or put more simply, is it the executive or the legislature which has the power to decide whether Article 50 is to be triggered. While some Brexiteers have seen the case as an attempt to delay or derail the “inevitable” (i.e. the UK’s leaving of the EU), the Court is not being asked to consider the more political question of whether the UK should leave the EU.

The genesis of this case was a legal challenge brought by investment fund manager Gina Miller and hairdresser, Deir Dos Santos in the High Court against Prime Minister May’s assertion that the Government could use its prerogative powers to make the Article 50 notification without first seeking parliamentary approval. Ms Miller argued that due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, a crux of UK constitutional law, only the parliament could make such a determination. Relying primarily on the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, the High Court in its October ruling in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union held that the Government did not have the power under the Royal Prerogative to make the Article 50 notification. The Government swiftly appealed.

In a rare sitting of all eleven justices on the bench, the UK Supreme Court held a four-day (December 4-8) hearing to consider the Government’s appeal against the High Court ruling. The Court’s ruling will be final.

In her major speech on Tuesday before the announcement was made, Mrs. May stuck to her end of March deadline for making the Article 50 notification. However, the feasibility of that deadline will depend on whether the Supreme Court upholds or overturns the High Court’s ruling. If the Supreme Court dismisses the Government’s appeal, a bill would have to be laid and debated in Parliament. Depending on the length and robustness of debate, it may delay the March 2017 deadline Mrs May has insisted upon. The Government is likely to draft a bill which is as simple as possible to reduce the length of time for debate or for amendments.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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