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Economic Digest – May 2017

SAND

India’s “sand mafia” is doing a roaring trade. The Times of India estimates that the illicit market for sand is worth US$2.3-billion a year: at one site in Tamil Nadu alone, 50,000 truckloads are mined every day and smuggled to nearby states. Gangs around the country frequently turn to violence as they vie to continue cashing in on a building boom. Much of the modern global economy depends on sand and gravel which are the most extracted materials in the world. It is estimated by the UN that they account for up to 85% by weight of everything mined globally each year.

FILM

The film, television and video production industry reported C$4.8-billion in total operating revenue in 2015, up 14.9% from 2013. The high quality of Canada’s production infrastructure, strong tax incentives and a lower Canadian dollar were some of the contributing factors for this growth, and helped make Canada an attractive location for foreign producers. This industry has grown significantly in the past few decades. In 1967, it was worth around $14.4-million.

TAXES

When Indonesia’s tax amnesty which began July 2016 and ended on March 31 of this year, more than 800,000 evaders declared US$350-billion in assets previously hidden from the authorities. This sum is equivalent to 40% of Indonesia’s GDP and 90% of the money supply and revealed the epic scale of tax-dodging. The willingness of tax cheats to come clean partly reflects the generous terms on offer. Assets declared were taxed at around 5% compared with the individual income-tax rate of up to 30%. The OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, has criticized the amnesty for rewarding tax cheats.

CLOTHING

Global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014 but the cost of looking good is environmental as well as financial. Making 1kg of fabric generates 23kg of greenhouse gases on average. As people keep clothes for only half as long as they did 15 years ago, that cost is higher than ever. Most apparel companies understand that sooner or later consumers’ awareness of this issue will rise.

WATER

Canada’s average annual water yield, an estimate of the country’s supply of renewable freshwater, is so large that there is enough water to approximate a one-minute flow over Niagara Falls for each and every Canadian. This huge volume of freshwater varies from year to year, by season and across different regions of the country. The annual average water yield corresponds to a depth of 349mm across the entire country.

AGRICULTURE

Farmers in the US agricultural heartland, that helped elect the new president are now pushing his administration to avoid a trade dispute with Mexico, fearing retaliatory tariffs could hit over US$3-billion in US exports. The National Pork Producers Council, for instance, has sent the administration letters, including one signed by 133 agricultural organizations, and is sending representatives to Washington to plead their case. If the tariffs are revived, they would apply to over US$800-million of annual pork exports. The lobbying effort by US businesses which rely on the Mexican market shows how Mexico can press its case in Washington despite having an economy 1/17 size of America’s and relying on the US market for nearly 80 per cent of its exports.

AIRPORTS

Toronto’s Pearson airport serves 44-million passengers each year and is Canada’s largest airport. If sold, it is potentially worth as much as C$6-billion. Vancouver International, the next busiest with 22-million passengers each year, has an estimated value of around $4-billion. Next is Montreal with 16.6-million passengers each year and valued at nearly $2-billion.

TUNNELS

Norway has unveiled plans to build the world’s first ship tunnel at a cost of US$315-million by smashing through a solid rock peninsula. The mile-long, 118-feet-wide tunnel will pass through the narrowest part of the Stad peninsula in western Norway, allowing freight and passenger ships to bypass the stormy, exposed Stadhavet Sea and avoid a highly treacherous part of the Scandinavian coastline. It is hoped the tunnel will improve safety and stop ships having to wait for bad weather to pass. It will take three to four years to build and it is estimated that five ships will be able to pass through the tunnel each hour.

PROPERTY

A growing number of rich foreigners see New Zealand as a safe haven. In 2016, overseas investors bought just 3% of all properties, but their purchases were concentrated at the expensive end of the market which is growing fast. Sales involving homes worth more than NZ$1-million (US$690,000) increased by 21%. New Zealand is one of several countries, including Australia and Canada, where the impact of foreign money on housing is under scrutiny. The National Association of Realtors estimates that Chinese investors bought 29,000 American homes last year for a total of US$27-billion

SPACE

Built by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle flew into the sky in February taking with it a record-breaking 104 satellites, 88 of which belong to a single company, Planet, a remote sensing business based in San Francisco. Planet now has 149 satellites in orbit, enough to provide its customers with new moderately detailed images of all the Earth’s land services every single day. The satellites, called “doves”, measure just 10cm by 10cm by 30cm and can each send back images of 2.5m square kilometres. The fleet of satellites send over three terabytes of data each day to more than 30 receiver stations spread around the Earth. The Indian rocket also carried eight ship-tracking satellites.

CRAYONS

Crayola has announced that it is removing the gold-tinged dandelion stick from its boxes to make way for a new one. It is only the third time in Crayola’s history that it has retired one or more of its colours, and the first time it is taking one out of its box of 24. Other colours consigned to history are maize, blizzard blue, mulberry and orange yellow.

FISHING
Canada’s cold water shrimp had an export value of C$345-million in 2013 making it Canada’s fourth-largest seafood export, behind lobster, Atlantic salmon and snow crab. Now, there is a huge biological change happening on the banks that extend off Newfoundland and Labrador’s north-eastern coast. After years of decline, the northern cod are coming back and they are now eating the shrimp that had taken over their home range off the Labrador coast and the northern Grand Banks.

CITIES

A hitherto anonymous region near China’s smog-choked capital has been overrun by house buyers after Beijing unveiled plans to build a new city there in a bid to slash pollution and congestion. The new area will eventually cover an area nearly three times that of New York, and will reduce the pressure on China’s car-clogged 22-million resident capital. Local media reports claimed that property prices nearly doubled in the hours after the surprise announcement.

TECHNOLOGY

A growing number of visitors to public toilets in China have raided the dispensers and taken the paper back home for daily use. So now, one of the busiest parks in central Beijing is moving to reduce the theft of toilet rolls by installing facial-recognition cameras. In a pilot project, people using the toilet will receive only a 60 centimetre serving of paper after they have conducted a facial scan. After dispensing the paper, the software will deny the same person paper within nine minutes of their first scan.

SEAWATER

A UK-based team of researchers has created a graphene-based sieve that is capable of removing salt from seawater. This sought after development could aid millions of people without ready access to clean drinking water. The promising graphene oxide sieve could be highly efficient at filtering salts and will now be tested against existing desalination membranes.
HEALTH
Researchers say that the healthiest hearts in the world have been found among the Tsimane people in the forests of Bolivia. Barely any of them have clogged arteries, even well into old age. There are around 16,000 Tsimane who hunt, fish and farm in the Amazon rainforest and whose way of life has similarities to human civilisation thousands of years ago.

READING

A recent survey in the UK found that eBook sales declined by 4% in 2016, the second consecutive year that digital has shrunk. More than 360-million books were sold in 2016, a 2% jump that saw UK consumers spend an extra 6%, or US$200-million on books in print and eBooks. While sales in shops increased 7% in 2016, eBook sales declined by 4%. The shift was attributed to the explosion in adult colouring books as well as a year of high-profile fiction releases. A survey of 16- to 24-year olds found that 62% preferred print books to eBooks and the most popular reason given was that they like to hold the product.

FIDDLEHEADS

They have been a delicacy In Maine since colonial times best served with vinegar or butter. Picking fiddleheads has been a rite of passage for generations of children in Maine. The humble fiddlehead is a small, fern-like plant harvested as a vegetable and selling for up to US$22 a pound. Now they are at the centre of a row between landowners and foragers. Maine legislators are considering a bill which would impose steep fines and even a prison sentence for people who pick fiddleheads without the landowner’s permission. A professional forager can make as much as $200 a day selling their haul to markets and restaurants.

BOLIVIA

The government of Bolivia recently declared a state of emergency in a vast agricultural area affected by a plague of locusts. Extra funds have been made available to provide for extra fumigation. The swarm spread quickly destroying pasture and fields of corn and sorghum and estimate that so far more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land have been devastated.

CONVENIENCE

A washing machine with a special curry button has been launched in India. It is designed specifically to remove stains like curry and oil. The machine took two years to develop the product following analysis to find the optimal time and temperature required to remove stains like curry. The product was added because of high demand from consumers having difficulty in removing the stains. Other cycles on the machine designed for the Asian market are specifically for saris and collars and cuffs.

PANAMA

The Panama Canal recently set a new monthly tonnage record of 36.1-million with the transit of 1,260 ships through both the Expanded and original locks. The previous record was established last year when 1,166 ships transited the waterway. Authorities state that the increase reiterates the importance of the Expanded Canal and it is further proof of the maritime industry’s continued confidence in the Canal and the impact it will have on the future of global trade.

WINE

A wine war has begun between the US and Canada. The US administration launched a trade enforcement action against Canada at the World Trade Organisation challenging British Columbia’s regulations that discriminate against the sale of US wine in grocery stores. In 2015, the province began to allow for the sale of wine in selected grocery stores, but only BC VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) wines. They do not stock their shelves with out-of-province wines. The Wine Institute, an advocacy group representing nearly 1,000 California wineries argue that the BC government can still promote local wines while providing out-of-province wines equal access to grocery store shelves.

TRENDS

The New Zealand Post Office has been suffering major revenue losses. In the last decade, the number of letters sent has halved. Now, in a pilot scheme in the port city of Tauranga, the postal service has begun home deliveries of Kentucky Fried Chicken.