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The UK and Singapore have signed a free trade agreement, delivering a bit of positive news for Boris Johnson’s government as it remains locked in negotiations with the EU over its future relationship with the bloc.

The new deal covers more than £17bn of trade in goods and services and largely replicates the existing EU-Singapore FTA, the governments said in a joint statement. Under the current arrangement, 84 per cent of tariffs that apply to Singapore exports to the UK are exempted, with the balance set to be struck off by November 2024.

Boris Johnson has warned Britain to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, ahead of a Sunday deadline for a “firm decision” on the fate of the EU-UK relationship after three hours of “frank” talks in Brussels ended in deadlock and gloom. The pound dropped on Thursday, extending a volatile run for the currency.

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What world is Brexit about to be sprung into, with or without a deal, asks Simon Kuper. The EU has found in Brexit almost the only thing that unites its members, he writes.

© Harry Haysom

Coronavirus digest

In the news

Airbnb soars on debut in latest IPO bounce Wall Street’s bust-and-boom pandemic year will be capped by one of the biggest tech IPO bubbles in years, as shares in holiday rentals company Airbnb more than doubled on their first day of trading on Thursday. But Airbnb’s red-hot IPO will bring problems too, writes Elaine Moore. (FT)

China requires visas for US diplomats to HK Beijing has halted visa-free tourist travel for US diplomats to Hong Kong in retaliation for sanctions from Washington, which accuses the country of violating democratic processes in the territory. Separately, S&P Global Dow Jones Indices has banned 21 Chinese companies following Donald Trump’s executive order regarding US investment in Chinese companies. (FT, Business Insider)

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Hua Chunying said action would be taken against those who ‘displayed malicious behaviour and bear major responsibility on the Hong Kong question’ © REUTERS

US to sanction Turkey The Trump administration is planning to sanction the country over its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defence system, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move is expected to be announced Friday, one of them said. (FT) 

South Korea threatens to jail short sellers Seoul plans to jail and levy hefty fines on traders that illegally bet against the country’s stocks as part of a broader campaign against short selling that has annoyed hedge funds. (FT)

Church of England joins Exxon activist campaign The Church of England has joined a growing investor campaign demanding sweeping changes at ExxonMobil, saying it was backing calls for the appointment of new directors and for the oil supermajor to develop a pragmatic strategy for the transition to cleaner fuels. (FT)

Sony’s latest entertainment deal The Japanese group has agreed to buy AT&T’s anime streaming service Crunchyroll for $1.2bn in its latest drive to expand its entertainment portfolio of video games, films and animation. (FT)

The addition of Crunchyroll gives the Japanese entertainment group a service with more than 3m subscribers globally. The platform boasts popular anime franchises such as Naruto. © LightRocket via Getty Images

Asian-American woman tipped for top trade envoy Joe Biden is expected to nominate Katherine Tai, a senior Democratic trade adviser, as his top trade envoy, according to people familiar with the plans. Ms Tai’s confirmation could complicate China’s task. Mr Biden on Thursday named Susan Rice to lead the White House domestic policy council. (FT, SCMP)

BlackRock’s pledge to back climate, social votes The world’s largest asset manager has vowed to back more shareholder resolutions on climate and social issues at annual meetings, as it faces growing pressure to use its clout to change companies’ behaviour. Meanwhile, climate leaders are protesting against a lack of women steering next year’s COP26. (FT)

Paris agreement co-author Laurence Tubiana led the heavyweight signatories to a call for greater gender representation in climate change talks
Paris agreement co-author Laurence Tubiana led the heavyweight signatories to a call for greater gender representation in climate change talks © Benoit Tessier/Reuters

EU to tell Big Tech to police internet The EU will require “very large” tech companies such as Facebook and Amazon to take greater responsibility for policing the internet or face fines of up to 6 per cent of their turnover, under a draft regulation to be published next week. (FT)

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The day ahead

Britain and Vietnam trade talks The two nations will wrap up their negotiations on a trade pact on Friday, Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade said. The conclusion of discussions should pave the way for the signing of a free trade agreement. (Reuters)

Hong Kong Autonomy Act deadline The US legislation passed earlier this year designates this Sunday as the deadline for Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, to report non-US financial institutions that have knowingly done business with sanctioned individuals. (Politico)

Fifth anniversary of the Paris agreement Saturday marks five years since the historic climate change agreement was adopted. Energy Source’s Derek Brower spoke to Adair Turner, head of the Energy Transitions Commission, on where the energy world goes from here. (FT)

What else we’re reading

What’s going on at Saudi Aramco? For decades, the energy group has attracted expatriates prepared to accept the restrictions of life in Saudi Arabia with promises of safe compounds for families, high salaries and bonuses. But whistleblowers have come forward with allegations involving missiles, bullying and a tragic death. (FT)

© Brian Stauffer

Foreign students thinking twice about Australia The country’s university sector faces backlash after the government failed to extend its Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme to foreign students. The decision has caused a crisis for some of the 500,000 student visa holders who contribute A$9bn (US$6.7bn) a year in fees to Australian universities. (FT)

China’s grocery delivery gold rush The pressure at the country’s tech companies to dominate the burgeoning online grocery business is so intense that employees are sleeping in their office, working 84-hour weeks to crush the competition. When Didi Chuxing launched its delivery service, workers went as far as to shave their heads to show commitment. (The Information)

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A ‘learning crisis’ in parallel to health emergency The pandemic forcing schools closed for in-person learning has created disastrous long-term effects for poorer countries’ citizens and future, writes Andrew Jack. In addition to students struggling to keep up, it has led to rising poverty, conflict and domestic violence. (FT)

© Xinhua/Shutterstock

The next tech crash Our ubiquitous use of technology has outstripped our ability to manage it safely, writes John Thornhill. Unless we upgrade our security, governance and regulatory regimes, we will remain worryingly vulnerable to the crippling of critical infrastructure, either by malicious design or by default. (FT)

What will happen to our cities? It’s possible that even widely distributed Covid-19 vaccinations will not provide global cities the shot in the arm they need to fully recovery from the pandemic. From public transit to outdoor dining and housing markets, here is a look at what cities may look like in 2021. (Atlantic)

Reading as resistance Political bookshops from Hong Kong to Johannesburg offer a lifeline to readers, even under lockdown. FT writers take a closer look, in the third part of a series on pandemic-defying global booksellers. (FT)

Inside Hong Kong’s Bleak House Books 

Video of the day

Spac mania: the blank-cheque blitz of 2020 Special purpose acquisition companies have taken Wall Street by storm. These shell companies raise money by listing on the stock exchange but have no business plan other than to acquire a company that will eventually go public. Spacs have raised more than $55bn this year but as Ortenca Aliaj explains, may not be the best return on investment.

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