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ADB Ramps Up Pacific Presence as Aid Donors Jostle for Influence

The Asian Development Bank said on Tuesday it is expanding its presence in the Pacific islands, at a time of competition for influence there, opening seven new country offices and expecting its loans and grants in the region to top $4 billion by 2020.

The pledge from the Japan-led bank comes amidst a vigorous new campaign by the United States and its allies to check China’s rising sway in the region, where it has sought deeper diplomatic ties and emerged as the second-largest donor.

The battle for influence in the sparsely populated Pacific matters because each of the tiny island states has a vote at international forums like the United Nations, and they also control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.

The ADB said it will open offices in the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu, as well as expand missions in Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

“The new country offices will allow ADB to have more regular contact and substantive communication with government and development partners,” the bank said in a statement.

Its overall assistance to the Pacific, which stands at $2.9 billion, is expected to surpass $4 billion by 2020, it added, with the money destined for economic and social development projects and disaster resilience.

China has likewise pledged to keep lending to a region where it says its aid is supporting sustainable development.

However, it has spent $1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts since 2011, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

Australia in particular, which has long viewed the Pacific as its backyard, has been critical of some Chinese aid projects, and a former foreign minister has warned that the lending could undermine the long-term sovereignty of recipients.

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Report: Machines to Handle Over Half Workplace Tasks by 2025

More than half of all workplace tasks will be carried out by machines by 2025, organizers of the Davos economic forum said in a report released Monday that highlights the speed with which the labor market will change in coming years.

The World Economic Forum estimates that machines will be responsible for 52 percent of the division of labor as share of hours within seven years, up from just 29 percent today. By 2022, the report says, roughly 75 million jobs worldwide will be lost, but that could be more than offset by the creation of 133 million new jobs.

A major challenge, however, will be training and re-training employees for that new world of work.

“By 2025, the majority of workplace tasks in existence today will be performed by machines or algorithms. At the same time a greater number of new jobs will be created,” said Saadia Zahidi, a WEF board member. “Our research suggests that neither businesses nor governments have fully grasped the size of this key challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The “Future of Jobs 2018” report, the second of its kind, is based on a survey of executives representing 15 million employees in 20 economies. Its authors say the outlook for job creation has become more positive since the last report in 2016 because businesses have a better sense of the opportunities made possible by technology.

The WEF said challenges for employers include enabling remote work, building safety nets to protect workers, and providing reskilling for employees. However, the report found that only one in three respondents planned to reskill at-risk workers.

Despite net positive job growth, the WEF anticipates a “significant shift in the quality, location, format and permanency of new roles. Businesses are to expand use of contractors for task-specialized work, engage workers in more flexible arrangements, utilize remote staffing, and change up locations to get access to the right talent.

The report said nearly half of all companies expect their full-time workforces to shrink by 2022, while nearly two in five expect to extend their workforce generally, and over one-quarter expect automation to create new roles in their enterprises.

Germany’s powerful DGB trade union association warned against too rapid change in the world of work.

“People, whether they’re workers or consumers, will only accept and tolerate the consequences if technology serves them — and not they it,” Reiner Hoffmann told daily Welt in reaction to the WEF report.

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Saudi Sovereign Fund Invests $1 Billion in US Electric Car Firm

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund invested $1 billion Monday in an American electric car manufacturer just weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk earlier claimed the kingdom would help his own firm go private.

Tesla stock dropped Monday on reaction to the news, the same day that the Saudi fund announced it had taken its first loan, an $11 billion borrowing from global banks as it tries to expand its investments.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund said it would invest the $1 billion in Newark, California-based Lucid Motors.

The investment “will provide the necessary funding to commercially launch Lucid’s first electric vehicle, the Lucid Air, in 2020,” the sovereign wealth fund said in a statement. “The company plans to use the funding to complete engineering development and testing of the Lucid Air, construct its factory in Arizona, enter production for the Lucid Air to begin the global rollout of the company’s retail strategy starting in North America.”

Lucid issued a statement quoting Peter Rawlinson, its chief technology officer, welcoming the investment.

“At Lucid, we will demonstrate the full potential of the electric-connected vehicle in order to push the industry forward,” he said.

The decision comes after Musk on Aug. 7 tweeted that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private. Investors pushed Tesla’s shares up 11 percent in a day, boosting its valuation by $6 billion.

There are multiple reports that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the disclosure, including asking board members what they knew about Musk’s plans. Experts say regulators likely are investigating if Musk was truthful in the tweet about having the financing set for the deal. Musk later said the Saudi Public Investment Fund would be investing in the firm, something Saudi officials never comment on.

Meanwhile Monday, the sovereign wealth fund known by the acronym PIF said it had taken its first loan, an $11 billion borrowing. It did not say how it would use the money, only describing it as going toward “general corporate purposes.”

The Las Vegas-based Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute estimates the Saudi fund has holdings of $250 billion. Those include a $3.5 billion stake in the ride-sharing app Uber.

Saudi Arabia’s 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has talked about using the PIF to help diversify the economy of the kingdom, which relies almost entirely on money made from its oil sales.

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Report: UN Poverty Targets Remain Off Course

Aid money urgently needs to be redirected to the poorest countries in order to reach the United Nations’ goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, according to a report.

The London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says middle-income countries receive more aid than the 30 poorest nations. It also warns that at least 400 million people will still be living on less than $1.90 a day, despite government pledges to eliminate all extreme poverty.

In northern Ethiopia, teams of workers dig irrigation channels through orchards and grain fields. Such projects have turned arid plains into fertile farmland, which has quadrupled agricultural production.

The report from the ODI credits Ethiopia’s “Productive Safety Net Program,” launched in 2005, with lifting 1.4 million people out of extreme poverty. It also enabled Ethiopia to avoid another famine during severe droughts in 2010 and 2015.

In contrast, neighboring Uganda has seen extreme poverty levels rise recently, after a rapid reduction in previous years.

“One of the reasons is because climate change is starting to have an impact in that country,” said Marcus Manuel, author of the ODI report. “Now in Ethiopia, they’ve managed, with a lot of support partly from the U.S., to have programs that support farmers when a sudden climate or weather event happens. In Uganda, they didn’t. So when they had a drought, that led to a real increase in poverty. So it’s a matter of having the right systems in place.”

Ethiopia’s program, the largest of any low-income country, pays beneficiaries to work on public works projects such as irrigation, roads, schools and health clinics, which helps to create long-term poverty relief.

Such programs are vital in ending extreme poverty, according to the ODI report. The report says there is an annual funding shortfall of $125 billion in the three core sectors of education, health and what it terms social protection transfers, or welfare.

“You need to do economic growth to do part of things, and you also need investment in the social sectors,” Manuel said. “You need to have both sides of the coin to make this work. Donors are investing both in growth and in social sectors, but they’re not investing it in the right countries to nearly the extent that’s needed. And, in particular, in this report we’ve identified 29 countries which can’t afford the investment needed in the social sectors and donors are not giving enough money to that group of countries.”

The statistics show middle-income countries receive more aid than poorer countries, whose share of global aid has fallen over the past six years from 30 percent to 24 percent.

In addition to better aid allocation, the report says more donor nations need to reach the U.N. goal of allocating at least 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to aid budgets. Without urgent action, the authors warn the goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030 will remain out of reach.

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Trump Tells Aides to Proceed With More Tariffs on Chinese Goods

U.S. media reports said Friday that President Donald Trump has instructed aides to proceed with tariffs on $200 billion more in Chinese products.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg and Reuters said the president wanted to move forward with the additional duties even though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is trying to restart trade talks with Beijing.

The reports sent stocks falling Friday and led to a drop in the Chinese yuan.

The White House did not immediately comment on the reports.

Bloomberg reported that Trump met Thursday with his top trade advisers to discuss the tariffs, including Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The meeting was not on Trump’s public schedule.

Before Thursday’s meeting, Trump said on Twitter that he felt “no pressure” to make a deal with Beijing, saying “they are under pressure to make a deal with us.” He also raised questions about whether new talks between the United States and China would happen, saying the U.S. “will soon be taking in Billions in Tariffs & making products at home. If we meet, we meet?”

A public comment period for the proposed new tariffs ended last week. The U.S. trade representative’s office received nearly 6,000 comments on the proposal.

Even more tariffs

Last week, Trump threatened even more tariffs on Chinese items — duties on another $267 worth of goods, which when combined with the others would cover virtually all the products that China sends to the United States.

“That changes the equation,” he told reporters.

The Untied States has already imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, leading China to retaliate on an equal amount of U.S. goods. 

The Trump administration has argued that tariffs on Chinese goods would force China to trade on more favorable terms with the United States.

It has demanded that China better protect American intellectual property, including ending cybertheft. The Trump administration has also called on China to allow U.S. companies greater access to Chinese markets and to cut its U.S. trade surplus.

China has threatened to retaliate against any potential new tariffs. However, China’s imports from the United States are worth $200 billion a year less than American imports from China, so it would run out of room to match U.S. sanctions.

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Bloomberg: Trump Wants Tariffs on About $200 Billion in Chinese Goods

U.S. President Donald Trump has instructed aides to proceed with tariffs on about $200 billion more in Chinese products, despite Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s attempts to restart talks with China about resolving the trade war, Bloomberg reported on Friday.

Reuters could not immediately verify the report, which had an immediate effect on financial markets. It led U.S. stocks to trade lower, fueled drops in the Chinese yuan in offshore trading and gains in the dollar index, and sent the S&P 500 index negative.

The step comes exactly one week since Trump raised the possibility of duties on the $200 billion of imports and also threatened tariffs on $267 billion worth of goods. Trump has already levied duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods.

The United States only imported $505 billion in goods imported from China last year. But 2018 imports from China through July were up nearly 9 percent over the same period of 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

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Turkey’s Central Bank Defies Erdogan, Hikes Rates

The Turkish central bank caught international markets by surprise Thursday as it aggressively hiked interest rates in an effort to strengthen consumer confidence, stem inflation and rein in the currency crisis. 

Interest rates were increased to 24 percent from 17.75 percent, which is more than double the median of investor predictions of a 3 percent hike. The Turkish lira surged above 5 percent in response, although the gains subsequently were pared back.

International investors broadly welcomed the move. “TCMB [Turkish Republic Central Bank] did show resolve in hiking the one-week repo rate substantially and going back to orthodoxy,” chief economist Inan Demir of Nomura International said.

The central bank had drawn sharp criticism for failing to substantially raise interest rates to rein in double-digit inflation and an ailing currency. The lira had fallen by more than 40 percent this year.

The rate hike is an apparent rebuke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been opposed to such a move.

Only hours before the central bank decision, Erdogan again voiced his opposition to increasing interest rates. The Turkish president reiterated his stance of challenging orthodox economic thinking, arguing that inflation is caused by high rates, although that runs contrary to conventional economic theory. Erdogan also issued a presidential decree banning all businesses and leasing and rental agreements from using foreign currency denominations.

The central bank indicated further rate hikes could be in the offing. “Tight stance monetary policy will be maintained decisively until inflation outlook displays a significant improvement,” the central bank statement reads.

The strong commitment to challenge inflation was welcomed by investors. “Most importantly, the CBT seemed to be vocal about price stability risks,” wrote chief economist Muhammet Mercan of Ing bank.

‘Crazy’ spending

Fueled by August’s sharp fall in the lira, which drove up import costs, inflation is on a rapid upward trajectory. Some predictions warn inflation could approach 30 percent in the coming months.

While international markets are broadly welcoming the central bank’s interest rate hike, economist Demir warns more action is needed.

“This rate hike does not undo the damage inflicted on corporate balance sheet, and market concerns about geopolitics will remain in place. So this is not the hike to end all problems,” said Demir.

The World Bank and IMF repeatedly have called on Ankara to rein in spending, which they say is fueling inflation. Perhaps in response, Erdogan has announced a freeze on new state construction projects.

In the past few years, he has embarked on an unprecedented construction boom, including building one of the world’s largest airports and a multibillion-dollar canal project in Istanbul, which the president himself described as “crazy.”

Trade tariffs

Investors also remain concerned about ongoing diplomatic tensions between Ankara and Washington. The two NATO allies remain at loggerheads over the detention on terrorism charges of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

Brunson’s detention saw U.S. President Donald Trump impose trade tariffs on Turkey, which triggered August’s collapse in the lira. Trump has warned of further sanctions.

“If we somehow sort out our problems with the United States and adopt an orthodox austerity program, we may find a way out of this mess,” said political analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.  “Turkey is a country that has a net foreign debt of over $400 billion, and where 40 percent of [Turkish] deposits are in foreign currency, so the game could be over in a day.”

Turkey has a long tradition of carrying out business in foreign currencies to mitigate the threat of inflation and a falling lira. The growing danger of the so-called “dollarization” of the economy and the public abandonment of the lira are significant risks to the currency.

Turkish companies are paying the cost for the depreciation of the lira. Analysts estimate about $100 billion in foreign currency loans have to be repaid by the private sector in the coming year. Companies and individuals borrowing in local currency, however, will be facing higher repayments. And most analysts predict the Turkish economy is heading into a recession.

Economist Demir says, though, that the situation could have been far worse.

“In the absence of an [interest rate] hike, the rollover pressures on banks would get even worse, damage on corporate balance sheets would intensify, and local deposit holders’ confidence would have weakened further. So this hike, although it doesn’t eliminate other risks, eliminates some of the worst outcomes for the Turkish economy,” he said.

Thursday’s rate hike appears to have bought time for the Turkish economy and the nation’s besieged currency. Analysts say investors are watching to see if Turkey’s decision-makers use that time wisely.

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In Cuba, Street Vendors Sing to Sell, From Salsa to Reggaeton

Cuba’s street vendors are bringing back the pregon, the art of singing humorous, rhyming ditties with double entendres about the goods they are selling, with some modernizing the tradition by setting their tunes to reggaeton.

The pregon is a centuries-old tradition that has inspired famous songs like “El Manisero” (the peanut vendor), composed in the late 1920s by Cuban musician Moises Simons on son music, the backbone of salsa.

It faded out in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution did away with most free enterprise. With the tentative liberalization of the centralized economy over the last few decades, however, it has made a comeback.

Cubans can now get a permit to make and sell their own goods on the street, from coconut ice cream to juices. Vendors often opting for that option, rather than opening a shop, which remains an onerous venture given ongoing restrictions on private business.

Others just illegally sell wares from stores at a mark-up, hoping to avoid authorities and a fine.

Not all street vendors bother with the pregon. Some just shout out what they are selling and their prices in a blunt manner on a loop, often using loudspeakers that they strap to rickety carts or bicycles, adding to the urban cacophony.

Cuba’s pregoneros however, like Lyssett Perez, who hawks paper cones of roasted peanuts to tourists in Old Havana, believe their ditties help them stand out.

“Firstly, it’s so people listen to me. Secondly, so they love me,” said Perez. “For me the pregon means joy.”

Perez has opted for more traditional pregons. She dresses up in colonial-style dresses with voluminous skirts and white aprons in order to catch the eye of potential clients.

“If you want to have fun by the mouth, buy yourself a peanut cornet,” she sings in a deep, melodious voice as she meanders up and down Old Havana’s pebbled and picturesque streets.

Other pregoneros are updating the genre. Gilberto Gonzalez raps about his wares to the beat of reggeaton that blends reggae, Latin and electronic rhythms.

“Toilet paper, so the chorus goes, buy me my people, to clean your bottom, hands in the air!” he raps in a video captured by a passer-by that subsequently drew tens of thousands of views on YouTube.

The video appeared just months after shortages of toilet paper in Havana, adding to its humorous appeal. Cubans are notorious for dealing with constant shortages of basic goods by making fun of them.

Such was its success that one of Cuba’s top DJs, DJ Unic, did a remix that further spread Gonzalez’s peculiar renown. Sporting a cap that reads “Money on my Mind,” Gonzalez said he was just trying to “make ends meet.”

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Survey: US Tariffs Hurting American Businesses in China

Even before U.S.-China trade tensions began escalating dramatically, foreign businesses who operate in China were warning about the impact tariffs could have. And now, according to a newly released joint survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in China and AmCham Shanghai, many are already feeling the pinch.

More than 60 percent say the initial $50 billion in tariffs rolled out by the United States and China are having a negative impact on business, increasing the demand of manufacturing and slowing demand for products.

That number is expected to rise to nearly 75 percent if a second round of tariffs, an additional $200 billion in tariffs from Washington and another $60 billion from Beijing, goes ahead.

The administration of President Donald Trump has threatened it could go ahead with $200 billion in tariffs and, if needed, $267 billion more after that.

Unexpected consequences

William Zarit, chairman of AmCham China said while there are expectations in Washington that an additional onslaught of tariffs could force Beijing to wave the white flag, it risks underestimating China’s capability to continue to meet fire with fire, he said.

“It seems that American companies will be more harmed by the American tariffs than they will by the Chinese tariffs. I don’t think that this necessarily is a result that was expected,” Zarit said.

President Trump argues that China is stealing jobs from the United States and not doing enough to address the huge trade deficit between the two economies. The tariffs are seen by proponents as a way of pressuring China to move away from its state-led economy and policies that force technology transfers.

Zaritt said it remains to be seen whether some of the Trump administration’s tactics and tariffs will address big problems, such as Chinese protectionism, state capitalism and other things such as preferential loans and subsidies. He said one key approach that could go a long way to help ease tensions is for the focus to shift toward equal and reciprocal treatment.

“The Chinese have acknowledged that as their economy is evolving away from an export driven/investment driven to a more consumption/domestic demand driven economy, that they really need to open their market. And so, the big question is why would you not do that if it is in your interest?” Zarit said.

Private vs public economy

In Beijing, some have framed the trade tensions as an attempt by the United States to thwart China’s rise. Others, however, have suggested that instead of opening up markets and giving private enterprises more space, the opposite should happen. An article written by Wu Xiaoping, a veteran financier and columnist argues it is time for private enterprises to think about exiting the market.

In the article, he argued China should move toward a large scale centralized private-public mixed economy. He also said the private economy shouldn’t expand blindly.

“The private economy has accomplished its mission to help the public economy develop and it should gradually step aside,” he wrote in the article.

The article has sparked a backlash online and even state media reports have criticized Wu’s views. The fact that the idea was able to circulate so widely before being heavily censored on Thursday is a signal that the government might be sending out a trial balloon.

Others analysts argue the publication of the article could have been motivated by a fear for some that Beijing was preparing to make major concessions.

Zhang Yifan, an associate economics’ professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said despite the widespread criticism, the idea was worrisome.

“President Xi’s government, they believe [in a] strong government,” Zhang said. “So, there is a trend that they strengthen the power of the government and I am worried that market forces will play a smaller and smaller role.”

More trade talks

On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that both Washington and Beijing are preparing for another possible round of talks and trade negotiations.

A spokesman from the Foreign Ministry welcomed the invitation from Washington and the two were discussing details about the proposed talks. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin invited his counterparts in China along with Vice Premier Liu He to attend the talks, which could happen in the coming weeks.

The fact that higher ranking officials would attend the talks is being seen as a positive sign. The last round of talks were carried by lower-ranking officials.

Joyce Huang contributed to this report



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Anti-Corruption Watchdog: Most Countries Ignore Anti-Foreign Bribery Laws  

A new report by Transparency International suggests foreign bribery is alive and well. 

The report, by the Berlin-based, anti-corruption watchdog, suggests little has changed in recent years in the way governments enforce their anti-bribery laws. Today, only seven major exporting countries actively crack down on companies that offer bribes to foreign officials in exchange for favorable business deals.

The United States is one of the seven countries, which together account for 27 percent of world exports, Transparency International said. The others are Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 

2016 a record year

Between 2014 and 2017, the United States launched at least 32 investigations, opened 13 cases and concluded 98 cases involving foreign bribery, according to the report. Enforcement activity surged in 2016, resulting in a record $2.5 billion in penalties levied by U.S. authorities. 

Among several high-profile foreign graft cases adjudicated in the United States, the report cited a case in which British aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce payed law enforcement authorities in the United States, Britain and Brazil $800 million in 2017 to resolve allegations of bribing officials in at least a dozen countries over more than two decades

The report rated the performance of 44 major exporting countries, including 40 nations that have signed the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention. The 1997 compact requires signatories to make it a crime for companies and individuals in their countries to bribe foreign officials. 

Transparency International’s last report on the topic, released in 2015, listed just four countries with active anti-foreign bribery law enforcement: Germany, Switzerland, Britain and the U.S.

But the elevation of Israel, Italy and Norway to the ranks of countries with vigorous anti-foreign bribery enforcement was offset by declining levels of enforcement in four other countries: Austria, Canada, Finland and South Korea. 

“Disappointingly, there has been little change in the overall enforcement level (taking the share of world exports into account) since the last report,” the report said. 

‘Limited’ enforcement

Of the 44 countries examined by Transparency International, four — Australia, Brazil, Portugal and Sweden  had “moderate” anti-foreign bribery law enforcement; 11 had “limited” enforcement, while 22, including Russia and China, had “little to no” enforcement. Argentina, Brazil and Chile were among countries that improved their enforcement. 

For the first time, Transparency rated the performance of China, Hong Kong, India and Singapore — all non-OECD members that have not signed the organization’s anti-graft convention — and put them all in its lowest rung of enforcement. 

Concern about Chinese corporate bribery of foreign officials has heightened since Beijing rolled out its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. But Transparency said there were no known foreign bribery cases or investigations brought by the Chinese government between 2014 and 2017. 

The watchdog said that China has recently “signaled” that it may focus more on foreign bribery enforcement, noting that Beijing and the World Bank held a symposium last year that focused, in part, on corruption risks associated with Belt and Road projects. 

‘Naive’ suggestion

To close the enforcement gap, Transparency recommended that all four sign the OECD convention.

Stuart Gilman, a former head of the United Nations global program against corruption, called the recommendation “naive.”

For China and Russia, “corruption and whatever way they can influence other governments is, in effect, part of their foreign policy,” Gilman said. “I think in my discussions with Chinese officials — not officially but reading between the lines — they see it as one among many tools to extend the influence of China around the world, from the Silk Road to Africa to other areas of the world.”