Category: Business

The Fifth Column’s business section focuses on more than just Profit and Loss statements.

On the Japan-China “Rail Wars”

There were several important outcomes of the previous three-day visit made by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan (from November 10 to November 12, 2016), but it is the Cooperation Agreement on the development of high-speed railway transport that attracts particular attention.

It, alongside other facts that have emerged over the past few years, has led to Bloomberg publishing a thesis by American Orientalist Jeffrey Kingston on the expansion of the “rail wars” between Japan and China, which is taking on an almost global nature. This time it has manifested itself in the territory of India. The participants of the so-called “war” are resorting to methods that include both political influence on the leadership of the country that announces a tender for the construction of transport infrastructure, as well as the financial and technology attractiveness of the proposed projects.

China and Japan, the two global leaders in the construction of high-speed railways, have used these tools in full in the course of the first such tender announced by Indonesia last summer. A year ago, we briefly described the dramatic development of the Japan-China struggle to win the order to develop and implement the construction project of the 140-km long Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway on the island of Java worth more than 5 billion dollars. The government of Indonesia found itself in a situation that can only be described as “dramatic” as it had to choose the winner out of the two leading Asian powers.

Only One Step Away from a Global Trade War

China shipping

The financial crisis of 2007-2009 effectively terminated the process of globalization. In 2015 world trade suddenly dropped by more than 10% for the first time since 2009. Nothing like this has been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But some politicians, public figures, scholars, and journalists continue to talk about globalization as an «objective» and «progressive» process, even though it has already ended.

The world has embarked on a new era. One important hallmark of this era is the strengthening of protectionism in international trade and investment, the splintering of the global market into trade and economic zones, and even the move to regulating trade on a bilateral basis. According to the WTO, just in the period between October 2015 and May 2016 the G20 countries adopted 145 laws aimed at strengthening trade barriers, and over 1,500 such laws have been adopted since 2008. In total, according to estimates by the renowned British economist Simon Evenett, there are close to 4,000 protectionist laws and regulations on the books around the world. And the countries of the G20 – where over 90% of global trade originates – are responsible for 80 % of those trade barriers.

Long jail terms for mocking Zimbabwe’s new currency

Parliament rushes through law in anticipation of bond note introduction

Zimbabwe’s controversial “bond notes” currency, which will be introduced at the end of the month, will be protected by hefty prison sentences.

According to a new law: “Any person who engraves, soils or makes any words, figures, letters or marks, line or devices which resembles in whole or in any part the said bank note is liable to an imprisonment for a period not exceeding seven years,” reads a press release from Parliament.

There has been much vocal opposition and many protests against the introduction of the surrogate currency.

BP in Talks with Iran to Develop 4 Oilfields

Director of National Iranian South Oil Company Bijan Alipour said negotiations are underway with the British Petroleum (BP) on development of four oilfields in south of Iran.

The National Iranian South Oil Company has held talks with 22 domestic and foreign companies for contracts to develop Karanj, Parsi, Rag Sefid and Shadegan Oilfields, Alipour said Monday, speaking on the sidelines of an exhibition of oil industry equipment in Ahvaz, capital of southwestern province of Khuzestan.

Among them are Russian and Chinese firms as well as BP, he said, predicting that the negotiations will lead to signing of memorandums of understanding in a few months.

Northern Ireland govt refuses to suspend controversial Middle East security projects

Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister has rejected calls to suspend security and justice projects with Bahrain and Egypt.

International human rights group Reprieve wrote to Stormont’s Economy Minister, Simon Hamilton MLA, warning that a Northern Irish government-owned company, NI-CO, was involved in security and justice programmes that risked complicity in torture and death sentences in the Middle East. In his reply, the Minister refused to step in, claiming that responsibility lies with the UK Foreign Office and the European Union, who fund the multi-million pound projects.

However, NI-CO’s chief executive is ultimately responsible to the Economy’s Department permanent secretary, according to an official report. Last month, UK Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood failed to tell Parliament, when asked, whether he had warned the Northern Ireland Executive about the risks involved in NI-CO’s work.

AT&T, Time Warner To Merge: Here Are The Reasons You Should Care

Time Warner Cable Building [Image by Ildar Sagdejev, Wikimedia Commons]

AT&T and Time Warner are set to merge in an $86 billion deal that will almost certainly change the landscape of American media, and indeed, media in general.

The deal, months in the making, is the second massive merger this year with long term ramifications for consumers across the globe, the first being the recent Bayer-Monsanto merger that will unite two aggro-chemical giants, which will control a 25 percent share of the world’s agricultural business. The current AT&T Time Warner deal will similarly unite two giants of media and communication.

How Much Longer Will Investors Trust the Central Banks?

“There is no simple, painless solution. The world has to reduce debt, shrink the financial part of the economy, and change the destructive incentive structures in finance. Individuals in developed countries have to save more and spend less. Companies have to go back to real engineering. Governments have to balance their books better. Banking must become a mechanism for matching savers and borrowers, financing real things. Banks cannot be larger than nations, countries in themselves. Countries cannot rely on debt and speculation for prosperity. The world must live within its means.”

~ Satyajit Das, Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk

Bayer, Monsanto Merger Will Devastate World Agriculture

The Bayer – Monsanto merger, announced last week, will no doubt be good for shareholders in the short term, with the sale price of seed and GMO giant Monsanto ending up at $66 billion, or $128 cash for each share. But the result for farmers across the globe will likely be far less rosy.

The Bayer – Monsanto merger deal, which took months of negotiations to finalize, will create the largest agribusiness in the world. Bayer, mostly known for their aspirin and other pharmaceutical products (including, long ago, heroin) are actually an agriculture product giant in and of themselves,with a large chunk of their yearly profits being from the sale of agricultural chemicals.

The end of the grant era

Asking donors for money and then implementing programs is an old model from which civil society must break free. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on funding and human rights.

The changes in the funding landscape are fast and furious, especially for organizations that promote equality, human rights, and climate justice. We are increasingly witnessing efforts by governments and big corporations to silence dissent or clamp down on foreign funding.

Job automation threatens peoples’ livelihoods. Can universal basic income save the day?

In early 2013, a colleague and I attended the inaugural meeting of the UK Robot Ethics association. There, we suggested that developments in robotics and computing technology meant that we needed to re-evaluate some of our economic thinking. Machines were now increasingly capable of replacing human cognitive power as well as physical power, as had primarily been the case in the past. There is an orthodox idea in economics according to which increases in productivity driven by technology will not create long-term or ‘structural’ unemployment. Conventional thinking has it that as technology-driven productivity increases expand the economy, new jobs will be created. And indeed, this has been the case historically.

Machines are now increasingly capable of replacing human cognitive power as well as physical power

We pointed out that while in the past the automation of traditional physical-labour-intensive jobs had led to the expansion in the labour market of jobs requiring cognitive rather than physical force, this time around the automation of human cognitive power would leave us struggling to figure out what capacities we had left to exploit in the labour market. There are three obvious answers: really high cognitive function roles, such as computer programming; emotional work like therapy and some care roles; and jobs requiring a great deal of physical human-to-human contact like physical or massage therapy. But these are relatively niche parts of the labour market. When machines replaced horses as the main suppliers of power for the transport industry, horses did not vanish altogether from the economy, they simply became confined to very niche areas of it, namely recreation. Could something similar happen to human beings in the age of intelligent machines?

Kazakhstan: Making a Tentative Foray Into Digital Money

With confidence in Kazakhstan’s national currency at an all-time low, some see an opening for the ascent of digital currencies, of which Bitcoin is perhaps the best known.

Daniyar Akishev, the youthful head of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, appeared to row against the tide of official wariness on the issue earlier this year, when he revealed that a working group had been created to study what he described as surrogate currencies.

“This is a reality with which we will come up against in the very near future, and ignoring it is not possible,” he said in June.

EFF to FTC: Online Retailers Must Label Products Sold with Digital Locks

iphone

Consumers Need Warning If Movies, Music, Games Restrict When and How They Are Used

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of consumer groups, content creators, and publishers asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today to require online retailers to label the ebooks, songs, games, and apps that come with digital locks restricting how consumers can use them.

In a letter sent to the FTC today, the coalition said companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple have a duty to inform consumers if products for sale are locked with some kind of “digital rights management” or DRM. Companies use DRM to purportedly combat copyright infringement, but DRM locks can also block you from watching the movie you bought in New York when you go to Asia on vacation, or limit which devices can play the songs you purchased.