The week ahead: John Kerry, BP, Ofgem

New US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in the UK on Monday for his first taste of the very real special relationship. Kerry’s stop in the UK, during which he meets with ‘senior officials’, is part of a nine-nation ‘listening tour’ of Europe and the Middle East which is likely to see significant focus on Syria.

Horse meat’s back on the menu for Owen Paterson on Monday as he attends a meeting of the EU Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Council in Brussels. The Environment Secretary’s had a lot on his plate lately and last week’s revelation that Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, had found traces of horse meat in its products, coupled with the expansion of the FSA’s investigation into possible contamination, suggests he’ll be talking horse for some time to come. Paterson also addresses farmers’ union the NFU on Wednesday, while a Europe-wide three month programme of random DNA testing of beef products gets underway on Friday.

BP’s acknowledgement last week that it had failed to agree to settlement demands relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill signalled that the company is ready to fight its corner as the bench trial opens in New Orleans on Monday. The proceedings are intended to determine BP’s civil liability for the spill and could see the energy giant forced to add to its $4bn criminal settlement bill.

Ofgem chief executive Alistair Buchanan last week claimed that a looming energy gap will lead to rising bills for UK consumers, prompting the Department for Energy and Climate Change to concede that the country’s energy system ‘faces significant challenges’. Buchanan and Energy Secretary Ed Davey get the opportunity to publicly address these challenges on Tuesday with the former facing questions from MPs on the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the latter taking part in an energy policy discussion hosted by the Reform think tank.

Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, the man found to have supplied a gun to Mark Duggan on the day of his shooting by police in August 2011, is due to be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Tuesday. Hutchinson-Foster’s two trials heard that Duggan took the gun because he feared for his safety following a nightclub stabbing in April 2011 in which a close friend Kevin Easton was killed.

Tuesday also marks the 20th anniversary of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in which six people died and more than a thousand were injured. Ramzi Yousef, the convicted ringleader of the group responsible for the bombing, this month sued the American government in a bid to be released from solitary confinement after 15 years.

The Office for National Statistics is on Wednesday set to publish revised Q4 GDP figures. Those figures, released back in January, found the economy shrinking by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2012, so Chancellor George Osborne, reeling from the lower-than-expected 4G auction windfall, will certainly be hoping for better news.

Two significant Middle Eastern stories to flag up for Wednesday: rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas are reportedly set to hold a further round of reconciliation talks in Cairo, resuming negotiations on a stalled 2011 unity agreement. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi faces the expiration of the state of emergency he imposed on Port Said, Suez and Ismailia in the wake of deadly riots. The state of emergency has drawn fire from opposition groups who see such measures as a continuation of Mubarak-era repression.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, members of the European Parliament resume negotiations on implementing the Basel III accord, the latest international agreement on banking supervision which, among other things, sets the all-important guidelines for capital and liquidity requirements. The previous accords are perceived as having contributed to the financial crisis by allowing banks to borrow massively against limited assets and to accumulate risk at an unprecedented rate.

Speaking of which, RBS, recently hit with a £500m fine over the Libor rate-fixing scandal, announces its results on Thursday. The bank is expected to announce bonuses alongside the results, with recent reports suggesting an eye-watering (but comparatively frugal) £250m has been set aside as ample reward for hazard-free nationalised money-moving.

UK politicos will be working themselves into a lather on Thursday as the by-election triggered by the resignation of shamed Chris Huhne takes place. Although only a fool would describe any of the candidates as a shoo-in, bookies reckon the Lib Dems will hold it.

After giving a final address to the faithful at the Vatican on Wednesday, Pope Benedict tenders his resignation as head of the Catholic Church on Thursday. He steps down at 8pm local time, ending an eight year spell in which the pontiff has attracted both adoration and stinging criticism.

With $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts due to take effect in the United States on Friday, the typically bipartisan approach adopted by US lawmakers in their efforts to prevent the budget sequester from taking effect is heartening. Blame games and finger pointing? Not for Barack Obama and John Boehner.

Conservationists will be closely watching the latest meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES to you and me), in Bangkok on Saturday. There’s expectation that the international watchdog will, in the wake of increased poaching of rhinoceros and elephants, move to close a trading loophole which allows for domestic trading of ivory.

AIPAC, the most influential Jewish-American lobby group, opens its blue ribbon policy conference in Washington DC on Sunday, just days before US President Barack Obama is due to travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. With Iran featuring heavily in discussions last year, Obama’s novel proposition was to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of the dangers of nuclear ducks.

And never mind John Kay – Sunday could see finance-friendly Switzerland leading the way on executive paycheques. Voters are due to take part in a referendum on measures to strengthen shareholder influence on director remuneration and management, in a bid to clamp down on excessive pay.

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