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Japan’s Abe will visit US from April 17 to 20 for talks with Trump

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks to US President Donald Trump during the opening ceremony of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on November 13, 2017.

Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks to US President Donald Trump during the opening ceremony of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on November 13, 2017.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to visit the United States April 17-20 for talks with President Donald Trump, he said on Monday.

Abe said he would ask Trump to bring up the issue of past North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens, during the U.S. president’s expected summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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UK to accept UAE-vaccinated travelers after months on red list

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Businessman walk past an Emirates Airbus A380 during the Dubai Airshow on November 18, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Christopher Furlong | Getty Images

The U.K. will accept travelers vaccinated in the United Arab Emirates beginning Oct. 4, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Wednesday, reopening a popular travel route after months of deterring people coming from the UAE with costly and strict hotel quarantine requirements.   

“We will be accepting UAE vaccination certificates from 4th Oct following updates to their vaccination app,” Shapps said in a Twitter post. “As a major transport hub which is home to many British expats, this is great news for reopening international travel, boosting business & reuniting families.” 

The news comes as a relief to many in the expatriate-majority desert sheikhdom of 10 million, of which at least 150,000 are British citizens who were unable to visit their families since the U.K. put the UAE on a red list for travel last January. 

“I’m well chuffed about the idea of visiting my family and poorly grandad hassle free,” Amy Saraireh, a British national living in Dubai, told CNBC in response to the news.

The red list designation meant that travelers from the UAE — including British citizens and those who had been vaccinated in the UAE — had to quarantine for 10 days in a U.K.-government-designated hotel at a personal cost of nearly £2,000 if they wanted to enter the country.  

By spring, tens of thousands of people living in the UAE had signed a petition demanding the U.K. government change the travel designation, citing high Covid vaccination rates in the country. But the U.K. government resisted making changes, citing the UAE’s status as a popular travel hub as a risk, despite cases of the delta variant sweeping the U.K. at the time.

Dubai International Airport was ranked as the busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic in 2019, and the Dubai-London route was one of the most popular for Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates Airline. 

The UAE has one of the world’s highest rates of vaccination against the coronavirus. The country’s vaccine drive has relied heavily on the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, amid questions about the effectiveness of the shot compared to those made elsewhere. At the same time, breakthrough cases have surged among people vaccinated by American and European-made shots as well. 

It is unclear whether Sinpoharm-vaccinated travelers will fall into the same category as those vaccinated with U.K.-approved shots like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-Astrazeneca.  

The change to the travel rules will come just after the start of Dubai’s flagship Expo 2020 event, which begins Oct. 1 and was postponed for a year due to the pandemic. It will carry on for six months, and the emirate hopes to attract 25 million visitors to the event, a year-and-a-half after Covid brought global mobility to a standstill. 

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NFT startups Dapper Labs and Sorare raise over $900 million

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LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Phoenix Suns during the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 3, 2021.

Adam Pantozzi | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Two start-ups in the red-hot NFT market raised a combined $930 million this week, highlighting continued appetite from investors for cryptocurrency companies as the industry experiences massive growth.

Dapper Labs, which makes virtual basketball trading cards, said Wednesday it has raised $250 million in a funding round led by Coatue. Bond, the investment firm run by former Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker, and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC also backed the round.

The new round values the Vancouver, Canada-based firm at $7.6 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter who preferred to remain anonymous as the information is not public.

Sorare, a French fantasy soccer game that incorporates NFTs, also announced Tuesday that it bagged $680 million in a bumper cash injection led by SoftBank. Venture capital companies Atomico, Bessemer Ventures and IVP also invested, along with investment firms D1 Capital and Eurazeo.

French soccer star Antoine Griezmann and former English player Rio Ferdinand are also investors in Sorare.

The investment gives Sorare a valuation of $4.3 billion, the company said, making it by far the most valuable private tech firm in France and one of the largest start-ups in Europe.

What are NFTs?

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a new but fast-growing phenomenon in the crypto industry. They are digital tokens that represent ownership of a virtual item, such as a work of art. Ownership is tracked on the blockchain, a digital ledger of transactions.

Unlike bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, NFTs aren’t fungible. This means they cannot be exchanged with one another like dollars or gold. Each NFT is unique and acts as a collector’s item that can’t be duplicated — however, the underlying media can still be viewed by someone else on the internet.

“When we think about the collectibles in the physical world, most of them have no utility value,” Nicolas Julia, CEO and cop-founder of Sorare, explained. “You put them in an album and that’s nice but it’s kind of limiting.”

“When you translate it to NFTs in the digital world, there’s many more things which you can do, like using them in a game for instance. But you also have provable scarcity, which is very appealing to collectors.”

Prices of NFTs spiked earlier this year, with sales reaching a record $2.5 billion in the first half of 2021. High-profile transactions include a record $69 million artwork sold by digital artist Beeple at a Christie’s auction and the $2.9 million sale of the first-ever tweet by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

The huge sums of money flowing into firms like Dapper Labs and Sorare highlights how investors are chasing the next big thing in crypto.

Crypto and blockchain start-ups have received about $19 billion in venture funding so far this year, almost triple the $6.4 billion raised by the sector in 2020, according to figures shared with CNBC by data firm Pitchbook.

However, like other assets in the fledgling crypto industry, NFTs have proven vulnerable to abuse by bad actors. Last week, digital collectibles marketplace OpenSea disclosed that insider trading had occurred on its platform.

NFTs enter the world of sport

Several sports organizations are turning to NFTs and other crypto assets as a way of making additional revenue.

English Premier League club Manchester City, for example, has launched two collections of NFTs. Meanwhile, a number of soccer clubs have launched “fan tokens” that allow holders to vote on mostly minor club decisions and receive certain perks.

Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot platform lets users trade and collect basketball match highlights in the form of NFTs. The highlights, or “moments,” are licensed by the NBA, which receives royalties on each transaction.

Dapper Labs also developed its own blockchain designed for NFTs, called Flow. It had previously used Ethereum but shifted away from that network after its popular digital pet game CryptoKitties in 2017 led to slower transaction processing. It’s currently in the process of migrating CryptoKitties to Flow.

In addition to announcing its latest funding Wednesday, Dapper Labs unveiled a partnership with LaLiga, Spain’s top soccer league, to introduce a similar experience to NBA Top Shot for soccer fans. Dapper Labs says it plans to invest part of the fresh cash into new experiences, like paid trips to big games.

“Part of this funding will go toward expanding functionality on NBA Top shot, developing a mobile product, and connecting the digital collecting experience with the experience of a fan showing up to a live game, or even supporting their team on social media,” Roham Gharegozlou, Dapper Labs’ CEO, told CNBC.

It comes a week after LaLiga announced a separate partnership with Sorare to add digital player cards from the league. 

Sorare is also upping its rivalry with Dapper Labs, planning to expand into the U.S. with a new office on the ground. Sorare has been approached by a number of U.S. sports organizations, its CEO told CNBC.

Sorare also plans to launch a mobile app and have all of the top 20 soccer leagues signed up by the end of 2022. Both Dapper Labs and Sorare indicated they hope to take advantage of sports stars’ huge social media followings to get the word out about their platforms.

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Questions remain over whether ‘America First’ policy has ended: Expert

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A U.S. flag flutters in the wind.

Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

People around the world still feel that the U.S. is taking an “America First” approach despite President Joe Biden’s pledges to rebuild alliances, according to a director at a Berlin-based think tank.

Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute said Biden’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday presented the narrative that the U.S. has turned a page on endless wars and the era of “Trumpism and ‘America First.'”

“All in all, it was an effective speech, I thought,” he told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday. “But allies and people around the world alike ask themselves — will Biden be able to deliver, and … do U.S. actions match the rhetoric.”

Biden’s speech is something that will go down well if it’s combined with concrete action, Benner said.

However, he questioned whether the U.S. can deliver on climate change commitments. Earlier this year, climate change measures were omitted from an infrastructure bill, which Republicans said should only address traditional transportation issues.

In the same way, U.S. actions to address the Covid pandemic also did not match the rhetoric, said Benner, noting that the U.S. had barriers to exporting vaccines despite being a major producer.

“That’s changing now, but people around the world still have the feeling that there’s quite a bit of ‘America First’ left,” he said.

Dispute with France

The dispute with France, which emerged after a new U.S.-Australia-U.K. security partnership was formed, also threatens to undermine “the overall rebuilding of alliances and U.S. credibility” if Washington doesn’t make amends with Paris, Benner said.

“The U.S. had good reasons to enter this deal with Australia and the U.K., but didn’t fully take into account the fallout,” he said, adding that Biden should show he is serious about including France in cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

European allies have doubts about the U.S. following the “botched Afghanistan exit which left a sour taste” in their mouths, and Poland is not happy that it was bypassed by the U.S. in the Nord Stream 2 deal with Germany.

There are some question marks on whether this rebuilding of alliances has really ended ‘America First.’

Thorsten Benner

Director, Global Public Policy Institute

“There are some question marks on whether this rebuilding of alliances has really ended ‘America First,'” he said.

But the U.S. decision to ease travel restrictions for vaccinated foreign visitors, including those from the U.K. and EU, is a good sign, said Benner.

The restriction was a “major irritant” to Europeans, he said. “Hopefully that will signal a new outreach and a new tone on the part of the U.S. administration.”

— CNBC’s Amanda Macias, Emma Newburger, Silvia Amaro, Leslie Josephs and Robert Towey contributed to this report.

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