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
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
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
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
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
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
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'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
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)
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
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.