INTERNATIONAL

 

Mar 29 - Apr 04 , 2004

 

1.INTERNATIONAL

2. PAKISTAN

3. GULF

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EU REVIVES CONSTITUTION AMBITION

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels recently have revived the drive to agree a landmark constitution. The leaders set themselves a mid-June deadline to broker a deal. Negotiations collapsed last year amid an acrimonious row over voting rights.
"We have a changed atmosphere tonight," declared Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, the current EU president. A range of security measures was also agreed, including the naming of an anti-terrorism co-ordinator.

 

 

 

 

Dutch politician Gijs de Vries, will pool the gathering of Europe-wide intelligence.

The draft constitution was designed to allow the EU to function smoothly once 10 new members are admitted in May. But talks broke down in December over the distribution of power between Germany and France on one hand, and Poland and Spain on the other.

Weeks of patient diplomacy by the Irish have now borne fruit, say correspondents.

"We all want to see a new constitution in place as soon as we can," Mr Ahern told a news conference after the meeting of leaders of the 25 current and future EU member states.

He said leaders had unanimously committed themselves to reaching a deal by their next summit on 17-18 June. "It will help the enlarged European Union to work better and to do more for its citizens in the end that is the most important thing," he said.

"The difficulty was that people were taking fixed positions and refusing to move. Everybody tonight indicated that they would move towards compromise."

ASIA TRADE BOOM BOOSTS JAPAN INC

Japan's exports soared in February, boosting Tokyo's stock market and underpinning hopes of a solid recovery. New figures showed the trade surplus up 50%, buoyed by the first surplus with China in a decade. The nation's traditional strength in electronic goods was the main engine for the overseas sales, despite the recent threat of a stronger yen.

The trade figures reinforce the optimism triggered by sharply improved economic growth at the end of 2003. Year on year, gross domestic product expanded 6.4% in the last three months of the year. Overall, the surplus rose 51.7% to 1.41 trillion yen ($13.3bn; 7.3bn), with exports up 10.3% on the previous February.

But sliding imports, down 1%, showed that the Japanese remain reluctant to spend.

Despite the fall in imports, investors showed their appreciation by backing Japanese domestic firms. Steelmakers and other domestic business-related stocks were among the beneficiaries of the mood, which was helped by bullish comments from the Bank of Japan.

In a speech to business leaders a member of its policy board said he saw a "sustainable recovery".

Despite the Bank of Japan's determination to keep the country's currency under control, the yen rose on the trade figures against the dollar. The Bank has alrady spent 10 trillion yen this year on currency market interventions, half the figure for the whole of 2003.

BROWN'S BUDGET BOOST TO WAR ON TERROR

Gordon Brown has made it clear that the government is determined fully to fund the fight against terrorism, as he came under fire from the Tories for having a secret agenda to raise taxes, following last week's Budget. Mr Brown told the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee that he was cracking down on terrorist finance, with the bank accounts of five Hamas members frozen, including those of its new leader in Gaza, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi.

The Treasury said the action was taken because they had reasonable grounds for suspecting that he and Musa Abu Marzouk, Imad Khalil Al-Alami, Usama Hamdan and Khaled Meshal "are, or may be, persons who facilitate or participate in the commission of acts of terrorism".

The chancellor also called for Europe to do more to act together against those who fund terrorists. Mr Brown said that he would spend "whatever is necessary" to fight terrorism, and that spending on the security services had been increased by 50%.

US PETROL PRICES AT ALL-TIME HIGH (BOX)

Americans are paying more at the pump for their petrol than ever thanks to the remorseless rise in oil prices, a study has found.

The AAA, a US motoring organisation, says prices now average almost $1.74 a gallon (or about 25 pence a litre). That, the AAA said, was the result of high crude oil soaring to nearly $40 a barrel and tightening stocks in the US.

Adjusted for inflation, the price is the highest since 1985, in the wake of the 1970s oil shocks. Twice during the 1970s, in 1973 and 1979, oil cartel Opec cut supplies, driving prices sky-high.

From 1974 to 1985, the US price of petrol in 2002 dollars never dropped below $1.80, and soared as high as $2.69 in 1981, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

 

 

S KOREA ECONOMY SLOWS TO A CRAWL

South Korea's economy grew by 3.1% in 2003, its slowest pace since the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the central bank has said.

Weak consumption and low corporate investment levels were blamed for the modest performance.

But there was rapid growth in the final quarter, signalling that recovery may be round the corner. In recent weeks, Korean markets have been hit by the crisis around the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun. The opposition-controlled parliament has accused Mr Roh who has served just one year of his five-year term for breaking election law.

The country's Constitutional Court is currently considering the impeachment. In 2003, private consumption contracted 1.4% while investment in plants dropped 1.5%, compared with a 7.5% rise in 2002.

BLAIR OUTLINES ECONOMY PRIORITIES

Britain's economic prosperity depends on training and educating the UK's workforce properly, says Tony Blair. The prime minister told a City audience the UK had to compete in a global marketplace with countries such as India and China.

He hailed Chancellor Gordon Brown's emphasis on education and training in last week's Budget. And he stressed that funding for education will have risen to 5.7% of Britain's GDP by the end of 2008.

Mr Blair said a combination of flexibility in the labour market and macroeconomic stability had helped close the productivity gap between Britain and countries such as France and Germany.

But the pressures of the world economy heightened the need to improve vocational training and education.

PROFITS SLIDE HITS CHINA UNICOM

China's number two mobile operator has seen its shares slump almost 10% as profits fell.

China Unicom's below-par performance is taken by some as a sign that China's booming mobile market could be slowing.

The figures follow subscriber figures for February released earlier this week, which showed that a January spike in signups had waned.

About 20% of China's 1.2 billion people have mobiles, but phones may still be too expensive for most of the rest.

BP FLIES UK FLAG IN GLOBAL SURVEY

Oil giant BP is the fifth best company in the world according to a survey published by business magazine Forbes Global. Compiling its first ever list of the top 2,000 firms in the world, BP is the highest placed of the 140 UK companies that made Forbes' grade. The others included banking group HSBC (7th) and Anglo-Dutch Shell (13th). Each company was judged on a number of criteria, ranging from minimum sales to assets, profits and market value.

UK FACTORY ORDERS AT THREE-YEAR HIGH

Britain's manufacturing sector is firmly on the road to recovery, with orders at their highest level for three years, according to business leaders.

In its latest trends survey, the CBI said export orders have grown to their best levels in over seven years, shrugging off the strength of sterling.

Demand is improving "domestically and globally", the business group said.

BURGER GIANT PLANS CLOTHING RANGE

US fast food giant McDonald's is to launch a range of children's clothing in North America and western Europe.

The McKids range will be designed, made and distributed by Chinese firm Shanghai Longhurst. The products will initially go on sale in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and South Korea, before reaching Europe, Japan and North America next year.

The McKids line of products will also include toys, videos, DVDs and books.

CHINA DEMAND BOOSTS STEEL PRICE

Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus has said it will raise its prices by 16% in the UK a much higher than expected increase.

The hike is due to rising demand in China which is threatening to create shortages in certain metals. Corus director Scott MacDonald said prices could rise by "up to 20% in the rest of the EU". The company which has recently seen a narrowing of its losses had previously indicated it would raise prices by 10%.

 

 

ANTIGUA BEATS US ON ONLINE GAMING

The Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda has beaten the US in a dispute over internet gambling.

The country relies on online gaming for much of its foreign currency earnings but was shut out of the US market by laws banning cross-border gambling. It took the US to the World Trade Organisation, claiming that the ban was designed solely to protect the huge US betting business and won.

DASANI UK DELAY CANS EUROPE SALES

Coca-Cola has put off plans to sell its Dasani water in Europe following a contamination scandal which forced it to pull 500,000 bottles off UK shelves. The company has also canned the idea of reintroducing the product to the UK. Dasani disappeared from the shops in mid-March after it was found to have illegal levels of bromate.

Coca-Cola said it has "full confidence" in Dasani despite the setback, which followed news that Dasani was no more than treated and purified tap water.

CHINA REFORMS

China's economic reforms have created new forms of poverty and are harming the environment, according to a wide-ranging United Nations report.

Its says workers laid off by the state, unemployed migrant workers, women, children, the elderly and the disabled are being adversely affected.

US FALLS BEHIND ON CREDIT CARDS

Record numbers of US credit card users were behind on their payments at the end of last year, a new survey shows. The American Bankers Association said a seasonally-adjusted 4.4% of credit card payments were more than a month late in the final three months of 2003. The surge was the result of high energy costs and slow job creation, leaving more Americans having trouble making ends meet, the ABA said.

BIG CHINA OILFIELD 'RUNNING LOW'

Managers at China's biggest oilfield have cut their output targets, in a sign that reserves are dwindling.

Production at Daqing oilfield in north-eastern China will fall by about 7% a year between now and 2010, state media reported. The output cuts reflect a steady decline in exploitable reserves at Daqing, which has been in production for more than 40 years. They could force China to import more oil to fuel its runaway economic boom.

IMPORTS 'COST DRUG FIRMS 770M'

Cheap pharmaceutical imports from Europe are costing UK drugs firms 770m a year, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has said.

But the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said its estimates put the figure at 1.4bn. UK manufacturers have voiced concern over parallel trade importing drugs from an EU country at cheap prices.

The ESRC also warned the trade could impact on research and development in the industry as profits suffer.

Dr Stefan Szymanski, of Imperial College London, who led the ESRC study, said: "The impact of parallel trade on pharmaceutical markets has been the source of great controversy."

On the one hand importers see themselves as "benign agents prompting competition", he said.

OIL BOOM SPARKS FUEL PRICE SURGE

UK petrol prices could soon rise to levels not seen since the autumn of 2000, when widespread protests caused fuel shortages.

Fuel prices have been pushed higher by rising crude prices, which last week hit their highest level in 13 years. And there could be worse to come, Ray Holloway, head of the Petrol Retailers Association, said.

EU EYES ENDING TOBACCO SUBSIDIES

European Union agriculture ministers are opening talks on plans to phase out subsidies to farmers growing tobacco.

More than 600m is paid each year to support the industry, but proposals to end the subsidy face strong opposition from Mediterranean countries. The talks in Brussels will consider replacing the subsidies with payments to encourage alternative crops.

Britain supports the change, but Mediterranean states say it will force many poor farmers to abandon the land. Around 80,000 farmers, mostly in poor regions of Greece and Italy, get about 5,000 per hectare from European taxpayers to grow tobacco 20 times the subsidy paid to grain farmers.