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Economic Digest

Economic Digest – August 2017

Vehicle sales in Canada surpassed the 200,000-level in June the second straight month above that mark. Auto-makers delivered 203,486 new vehicles, up six per cent from a year earlier which made it the best June on record and the second best month ever. Meanwhile, in the US, deliveries dropped last month for the sixth consecutive month. Canadian sales are on a record pace and could surpass the two-million level on an annual basis for the first time ever.

Leaders in the shipping and transportation industry are applauding the federal government’s C$2-billion commitment to building a national trade corridor. The Trade and Transportation Corridor Initiative (TTCI) is inviting infrastructure proposals to address delays and bottlenecks in Canada’s major ports of entry and anything else that will improve the flow of goods between Canada and international markets. The country’s ports handle about $203-billion in import and export cargo annually and are responsible, directly or indirectly, for nearly a quarter of a million jobs. The initiative is part of a $10-billion investment in trade and transportation projects over the next 11 years

The majority of Indians hold beef to be sacred but last year India earned around US$4-billion from the export of beef and was the world’s biggest exporter of the product. But nearly all of it comes from buffalo, not cow. The value of India’s beef exports have raised 14-fold within a decade and their worth is now equivalent to nearly a third of the country’s monthly trade deficit. This industry should be enjoying a banner year especially as Brazil, the second largest beef exporter has been hobbled by a meat-contamination scandal involving the world’s biggest meat packer. However, the future is bleak as the Indian environmental ministry has put a ban on cattle, including water buffalo, being sold in open markets for the purpose of slaughter.

Tens of millions of dollars worth of goods, from electronics to shingles to fruit, are stolen from trucks each year and are sold on the black market. But cargo theft is one of the least reported crimes; some estimates put the rate of reporting at just 20 per cent. Reputation is a key factor. No one wants to admit they have a load stolen and rucking companies fear a substantial increase in insurance rates if they report thefts. In the first quarter of 2017, 124 loads were reported stolen, 90 per cent in Ontario. 26 per cent were food and beverage shipments, 15 per cent electronics, 13 per cent household, 9 per cent apparel and accessories and 9 per cent medical. Friday is the most popular day for cargo thefts, followed by Saturday.

The 2016 Canadian Census of Agriculture marks the 22nd census since Confederation in 1867. Agriculture has used innovation to push the bounds of production, transforming farming from the small scale to a highly mechanized and advanced industry. The average farm size has risen considerably from 98 acres in 1871 to 820 acres in 2016. Canada reported 14 times as much wheat acreage in 2016 than was reported on the first census. And there were also 10 times as many pigs and 5 times as many head of cattle as reported in 1871. Total farm sales climbed to their highest level ever in 2015 reaching C$69-billion compared with $365-million in 1900.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, some 255-million people used drugs at least once in 2015. Of these, around 30-million or 0.6 per cent of the world’s adult population suffered from drug-use disorders such as drug dependency. Opioids are used less than some other drugs (cannabis is at the top of the list) but they are the most harmful, accounting for 70 per cent of global health problems attributed to drug-use disorders. In the US, more people die from misuse of opioids than from road-traffic accidents or violence. Cocaine use has increased in North America and Europe, as has the quantity seized. Globally, 864 tonnes were impounded in 2015, the largest amount on record.

It has been a staple of science fiction for decades and could be a godsend for tourists, an earpiece that lets its wearer understand other nationalities by instantly translating foreign languages. A US$200 device which can decode eight languages is due to go on sale this month. The device translates sentences in three to five seconds using IBM’s artificial intelligence software, Watson. It is the first earpiece of its kind to translate languages without needing a constant connection to a mobile phone or Wi-Fi signal, and can translate between English, French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, German and Chinese. The only catch is that the speaker and the listener will have to wear a device each for the translation software to work.

International visitor numbers to Africa have more than doubled from 1995-2014. Africans themselves are increasingly driving the demand for tourism in their continent with an average of four out of ten tourists being from other African countries, a figure that rises to two out of three in sub-Saharan Africa. Analysts say that liberalizing air transport and relaxing visa rules could boost tourism further. Tourism supports more than 21-million jobs, or 1 in 14 jobs, on the continent. Over the next decade continued growth is expected to add an extra 11-million jobs in Africa.

About 200 nuclear reactors around the world will be shut down over the next 25 years, mostly in Europe, according to the International Energy Agency. This means a lot of work for the handful of companies specializing in the complex and dangerous job of dismantling plants. The companies are increasingly turning away from humans to do the work and instead deploying robots and other new technologies. Dismantling a single plant can take decades and cost up to US$1.1-billion depending on its size and age.

Researchers have unlocked the chemistry of Roman concrete which has resisted the elements for thousands of years. Ancient sea walls built by the Romans use a concrete made from lime and volcanic ash to bind with rocks. Now scientists have discovered that elements within the volcanic material reacting with sea water actually strengthen the construction. They believe that the discovery could lead to more environmentally friendly building materials. Unlike modern concrete which erodes over time, the Roman substance has long puzzled researchers. Now they have discovered that it contains a rare mineral called aluminium tobermorite

A fifth of all male fish in England are becoming transgender from contraceptive pill chemicals being flushed down household drains. Male river fish are displaying feminised traits and even producing eggs. Some have reduced sperm quality and display less aggressive and competitive behaviour, which makes them less likely to breed successfully. The chemicals causing these effects include ingredients in the contraceptive pill, by-products of cleaning agents, plastics and cosmetics.

Hanoi, a city of five million motorbikes is planning on banning the popular two-wheeled transport by 2030. The city council voted for the ban, almost unanimously, hoping to unclog roads and reduce soaring levels of pollution. The council has also promised to increase public transport so that half the population will use it by 2030, instead of the current 12 per cent. Last year the city recorded 282 days of excessive levels of PM2.5, which is harmful to human health.

The cruise ship Norwegian Joy looks like any other Western liner moored in Shanghai, but it is the first one designed specifically for China’s expanding market. Over the past year the number of Chinese holidaying at sea has more than doubled to 2.1-million. The Norwegian Joy has a much bigger casino than usual to cater for the Chinese love of gambling and the shops are twice as large.

Norway has 30,000 wild reindeer but only about 70 wolves, though wolves are notoriously hard to track. But 70 is still too many for sheep farmers who fear for their livestock. The regional predator management boards have licensed hunters to cull the wolf population by 70 per cent or at least 47 wolves. After environmentalists said this would violate the Bern convention on the conservation of European wildlife, the kill limit was reduced to 15 wolves. Estimates suggest that wolves kill 1,500-2,000 head of livestock each year and farmers are compensated for their losses.

A new trade deal has been signed between the EU and Japan (JEEPA). Average tariffs between the two sides are already low, but there are still prizes to be grasped. Exporters from the EU pay US$1.1-billion in export duties to Japan each year and on agricultural products face average tariffs of 21 per cent. JEEPA will slash Japanese tariffs on beef, pork and wine, eliminating 85 per cent of the tariffs on agricultural food products going into Japan. Tariffs on European exports of textiles will also be cut. Tariffs on Japanese cars going in to the EU are currently 10 per cent but will be lowered over seven years.

Despite Brexit, London remains the number one hub for technology investment with record levels of capital flowing in to the city. In the first half of 2017, private equity investment in the capital’s tech sector totalled US$5.9-billion. At the same time, venture capital invested $1.43-billion in London’s tech firms. That total was more than in any six month period in the past decade. Berlin is the next most popular European city for tech investment. London has received $2.34-billion in tech investment since the Brexit vote.

Volvos self-driving cars are confused by kangaroos. The Swedish car-maker’s Large Animal Detection system which monitors the road for deer, elk and caribou is finding that the way kangaroos move is confusing. There are more than 16,000 kangaroo strikes in Australia each year creating millions of dollars of insurance claims.

170-million pieces of space junk currently orbit the earth. Some are as big as a truck, others smaller than a dime, but even the smallest piece of cosmic junk poses an enormous threat to other satellites and spacecraft. Much of it travels around the atmosphere at eight kilometres a second, 10 times faster than a bullet. Now, a Singapore-based satellite services company has recruited a team of specialists to develop key technologies to destroy space debris by forcing it down into the atmosphere where it will burn up upon re-entry. A satellite is being developed that will collect real-time data on debris smaller than a millimetre. The data will be used to develop an up-to-date orbital debris map.

Scientists are worried that the Amazon basin could suffer significant and irreversible damage if an extensive dam building program goes ahead. Currently, 428 hydroelectric dams are planned with 140 already built or under construction. Researchers warn that this could affect the dynamics of the complex river system and put thousands of unique species at risk. The Amazon basin covers more than 6.1-million square kilometres and has become a key area for hydroelectric dam construction.

Japanese shipping companies are working with shipbuilders to develop self-piloting cargo ships. The smart ships will use artificial intelligence (AI) to plot the safest, shortest, most fuel-efficient routes and could be in service by 2025. The AI will also be used to predict malfunctions and other problems which could help reduce the number of maritime incidents. It is expected that Japan will build 250 self-navigating ships.

A UN survey predicts that the world population will reach 8-billion by 2023. New findings show that there are more men than women and that there will be a billion over-60s next year for the first time. More than half of the global population growth by 2050 will come from sub-Saharan Africa where fertility rates will persist at levels far higher than in the rest of the world.

Italy’s highest court has ruled that lobsters must not be kept on ice in restaurants because it causes them unjustifiable suffering before heading for death by fine dining. Rather than keeping lobsters and other crustaceans refrigerated,they should be kept in oxygenated water tanks at room temperature.