Must-Reads from Around the World

The E.U. and Singapore agree on a free-trade deal, Wal-Mart allegedly used bribes to expand in Mexico and Queen Elizabeth II attends a cabinet meeting for the first time

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Nicky Loh / Getty Images

A view of the residential skyline in Singapore, February 17, 2012.

E.U.-Singapore Free Trade — The European Union and Singapore have agreed on a free-trade deal, which is the second such agreement between the 27-nation bloc and a major Asian economy, reports the BBC. According to the British broadcaster, the agreement is expected to facilitate “E.U. companies’ access to Singapore’s banking and financial services and to its public procurement markets.” The European Commission has announced the FTA will be ratified next Spring. The E.U. is Singapore’s second largest trading partner and Singapore is the number two Asian investor in the E.U.

Dirty Money — A new report reveals that dirty money has cost the developing world almost $6 trillion over the past ten years, notes Reuters. Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based watchdog group, said that in 2010, China accounted for nearly half of the corrupt money worth $858.8 billion that flowed from developing nations into tax havens and Western banks. GFI also claims that the total illegal outflows of money increased by 11% from 2009 to 2010. According to Reuters, all the top 10 countries with the largest amounts of illegal funds on the list, including China, Malaysia, Mexico, India, Nigeria and the Philippines, face significant problems with internal security, crime, corruption and tax evasion, and have vast gaps between the rich and poor.
Wal-Mart Expansion — A New York Times investigation shows that Wal-Mart’s affiliate in Mexico routinely bribed local officials to open stores in favorable locations. In April, the Times initially reported that Wal-Mart blocked an internal bribery investigation at its affiliate Walmex. In its latest article, the NYT identifies 19 store sites across Mexico where the retail giant allegedly offered payoffs to officials to skirt zoning laws and environmental permits that would have blocked the opening of new stores. Wal-Mart de Mexico, according to the Times, “used bribes to subvert democratic governance — public votes, open debates, transparent procedures — [and] to circumvent regulatory safeguards that protect Mexican citizens from unsafe construction.”

Special Guest — For the first time in her 60-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has attended the cabinet meeting of British government ministers at Downing Street, reports the Guardian. While the monarch plays somewhat of an oversight role over government — the Queen has seen 12 Prime Ministers during her reign — it is extremely rare for them to attend the meeting of cabinet ministers. The last visit is believed to have been by Queen Victoria, though some historians dispute that, writes the Guardian, who mentions that King George III was the last to have attended. The meeting is part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, though observers believe the Queen has been invited “as a way of the government expressing its gratitude to her.” Speaking of gratitude, she was presented with a set of 60 place mats, to mark her Diamond Jubilee.

Facebook vs. Germany — The German state privacy protection authority has handed Facebook an ultimatum this week, writes Der Spiegel. The authority has warned the company that it will face fines of up to $26,000 if it forces users to use their real names, and must change its real-name policy within two weeks. The state privacy protection authoritysaid that Facebook’s real-name policy is in “diametric opposition” to German data protection laws. Facebook have responded by calling the decree “a waste of German taxpayer money.”