Economic Digest – August 2018
The latest world economic news:
The European Union and Japan has signed the world’s largest bilateral trade pact. The Economic Partnership Agreement is the result of five years of negotiation. The Japanese will gradually lower their tariffs on European wine, meat and cheese, and the EU will drive down levies on imports of cars and vehicle parts from Japan.
The Netherlands is experiencing an underground bike-park boom. The one under Utrecht Central railway station is three storeys deep with electronic monitors indicating where spaces are available has room to park 7,500 bicycles. Later this year the Utrecht park will expand to 12,500 slots, surpassing the 9,400-space one in Tokyo to become the largest in the world. Spots underground in Utrecht are free for 24 hours to draw commuters in, but are US$2.00 a day after that to prevent them being used for storage.
Production of plant-bases illicit drugs has surged in recent years, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Global opium production rose by 65% in 2017 to 10,500 tonnes, the highest level since records began. Most of it was grown in Afghanistan, where political instability and rural poverty helps to explain why production reached 9,000 tonnes. Global cocaine manufacture reached record levels to 1,400 tonnes, rising by 25%. More than half of this came from Colombia. Unsurprisingly, global drug seizures are also on an upward trend,
Amid deteriorating trade relations, top customer for American grain is looking elsewhere. Mexican bread, pasta and flour-tortilla makers are seeking alternative suppliers of wheat to reduce their dependence on the US as trade relations between the two neighbours deteriorate. Mexico, the top importer of US wheat, is increasingly turning to cheaper supplies from Russia which surpassed the US as the top global wheat supplier in 2016. Mexico is also seeking other suppliers in Latin America and elsewhere. US wheat exports to Mexico dropped 38% in value to US$ 285-million in the first five months of 2018.
Official development assistance (ODA) to “fragile” countries increased by 26% between 2009 and 2016. The OECD, a think-tank, defines fragile states as those that fail to provide basic services to their poor. Most of the growth in ODA to these countries is accounted for by humanitarian assistance, which increased by 144% in 2009-16 reaching a record US$18.3-billion. Aid tends to be concentrated in a small number of countries. Between 2003 and 2012, Afghanistan and Iraq together accounted for 22% of all ODA to countries then defined as fragile. Syria was the largest recipient of aid in absolute terms in 2016: the Palestinian Territories received the most per person.
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has struck a financial agreement with two international oil companies to develop the province’s first deep-water production project and open a new frontier in the East Coast offshore industry. The agreement represents a shot in the arm for the province’s offshore industry which has had no committed projects under development since the last one was completed in 2017. Based on present forecasts, the province could receive US3.5-billion in royalties, taxes and profits over 14 years assuming production reaches 150,000 barrels per day after 2025.
A group of South American lizards that can grow up to four feet long has established a home in the Florida wild after being brought to the US as pets and the reptiles could begin a voracious march across the US South. Tugu lizards which currently live in two large colonies in Florida could expand into an area from the Carolinas to Central Texas and are described as a voracious omnivorous lizard that can live in a variety of habitats. The lizards in Florida devour the eggs of American alligators and ground-nesting birds; they also have a taste for insects, fruit and birds
Freight is being delivered despite shallow water on the Rhine and other rivers in Germany due to drought, although many vessels are being forced to carry lighter loads. The Rhine is by far Germany’s most important inland waterway and the river vessels, depending on an area, often only transport half of their normal loads. The Rhine is an important shipping route for commodities including grains, minerals, coal and oil products including heating oil.
Ireland’s parliament has passed a bill that would make it the first country in the world to divest all investment from fossil fuel. The country is taking the unique step to meet its 2015 Paris climate agreement targets. The bill directs the state-controlled Strategic Investment fund to sell
off all its investments in oil, coal and gas, totalling 318-million Euros or around US$484-million. According to Irish government data, the natural resource sector employs approximately 30,000 people and contributes three per cent of Ireland’s gross national product.
Something unusual is happening on farms in the small Central American nation of El Salvador. Many fields, mainly of sugar cane are now being tented by drones. Large unmanned hexacopters fitted with 20-litre tanks for carrying fertiliser or pesticides follow pre-mapped routes and spray crops accordingly. Fields in this country are often difficult for tractors, and even planes. This is not a case of new tech replacing old farm equipment, some of these fields are being sprayed for the very first time. In one morning, a single spray team can service 40 hectares.
Mobs of kangaroos have been raiding patches of grass in the Australian capital Canberra, driven to the city’s sports fields, back yards and roadsides by food scarcity. Australia has a human population of 24-million but there are more than 44-million kangaroos in the country. Driving in areas with large populations of kangaroos can be dangerous as they have dawn and dusk feeding times and can jump in front of moving vehicles without warning.
Scientists have long chased after the reason that the smell of rain is so appealing after long periods of dry weather. Bacteria, plants and even lightening can all play a role in the pleasant smell we experience after rain. There is even chemistry involved and is known as petrichor, a scent that has long been sought after by scientists, and even perfumers.
One of China’s biggest technology companies has announced it has begun mass production of a self-driving bus. Baidu said the vehicles would initially be put to commercial use within Chinese cities but was also going to target foreign markets. The company is one of several competing to sell level-4 autonomy buses. The classification, set by the transportation engineering body SAE International, refers to highly automated driving systems that can cope with most driving conditions, even if a human fails to respond appropriately to a request to intervene.
New York traffic is slowing down and jams are endemic in Manhattan, especially in its business district. Daytime traffic in the busiest areas now moves almost 20 per cent more slowly than it did five years ago. Over the four years of a recent study, the number of cars in Manhattan seeking ride-hailing fares has increased by 81 percent. There are now about 68,000 ride-sharing drivers across New York City that is about five times the number of distinctive yellow cabs licensed to operate there.
Researchers claim than billions of pounds worth of laptops, mobile phones and clothing have been made using slave labour and are being bought by UK consumers every year. The global slavery index which attempts to measure the scope and scale of slavery across the world claims that G20 countries annually import more than US$400-billion of products from places with a high prevalence of modern slavery. The UK imported $20-billion of at risk goods including electronics, garments, fish, chocolate and sugar. The US was found to have imported similar goods worth $144-billion
An attempt to deploy a new submarine for Spain’s navy has run aground again after it emerged it cannot fit in its dock. The S-80 boat was redesigned at great expense after an earlier mistake meant it had trouble floating and it was lengthened to correct the issue. The cost of each S-80 is now close to US$3-billion. The original problem dates back to 2013 when it was discovered to be 100 tons heavier than it needed to be causing a buoyancy problem ,meaning it could submerge but might not come back up again.
Cut-price Chinese home insulation is being blamed for a massive rise in emissions of gas, highly damaging to the Earth’s protective ozone layer. The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) found widespread use of CFC-11 in China, even though the chemical was fully banned in 2010. CFC-11 makes a very efficient blowing agent for polyurethane foam, helping it to expand into rigid thermal insulation that’s used in houses to cut energy bills and reduce carbon emissions.
The latest super-healthy food doing the rounds is the lupin, the legume seed of the popular colourful flower. Over the last two decades, scientists have been studying its properties including gluten-free, low carb, plant-based protein, essential amino acids and probiotics. The lupin beans are members of the legume family, closely related to chickpeas, lentils, peas, soybeans and peanuts. The beans have long been a popular snack in Mediterranean countries and in South America, where they are often soaked in salt and eaten raw, or roasted and snacked on like peanuts. Today, Australia produces over 85 per cent of the world’s lupins.
England will face significant water supply shortages by 2050 unless rapid action is taken to reduce water use and wastage, the Environmental Agency has warned. A new report says enough water to meet the needs of 20-million people is lost through leakage every day. In 2016, some, 9,500 billion litres of freshwater were used with 55 per cent of this used by public water companies and 27 per cent going to the electricity supply industry.
Agricultural exports shipped from Oakland have increased by over 42 per cent in volume since 2013, according to the Port of Oakland. Officials say that the vigorous growth reflects strong overseas demand for US farm goods. Recent data shows Oakland agricultural export volume totalled 375,727 20-foot containers in 2017, up from 263,218 just four years ago.
Carmaker Ford is in the process of giving mechanical exosuits to 75 workers at 15 of its factories globally, following successful trials of the technology. The devices, called exovests, wrap around the upper body and assist when lifting or reaching overhead. It is hoped the suits will lower injuries from repetitive motions
A quarter of retired Canadians are in debt according to a recent survey. About 20 per cent of retirees were found to be still paying for mortgages, while 66 per cent are carrying credit card debt, About 25 per cent of the 750 Canadians polled between the ages of 55 to 80 say they have debt ranging from mortgages to car payments. Retired Canadians on average had C$11,204 in non-mortgage debt. Seven per cent had unpaid health expenses, seven per cent owed money on holiday expenses, six per cent had not paid off home renovations while 26 per cent were still making car payments.
Hundreds of Idaho prison inmates have hacked jail software to boost the amount of money in their accounts removing more than US$225,000. Fifty prisoners credited their accounts with more than $1,000 each while one inmate transferred $9,990.