Gin Up, South Africa: Gin Craze Going Big

A recent proliferation of craft gins and new distilleries has taken over South Africa’s bar scene. But this is not your average gin, distillers say: South African gin is infused with unique local flavors — like fynbos, rooibos, marula, sceletium and other distinctive South African botanicals — that they feel will take the world’s taste buds by storm. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Gin Town, AKA Johannesburg.


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Ocean Shock: In Land of Sushi, Squid Moves Out of Reach

This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them.

Takashi Odajima picked up a cracked and faded photograph and dusted it off with his sleeve. He smiled a little sadly at the image from long ago, back when he was a baby boy.

In the photo, he sits on his uncle’s lap as his family poses at a nearby dock, squid heaped in the background. In another, his uncle dries rows of squid, carefully folded like shirts over a clothesline on the roof of their house.

Odajima’s family has lived for generations in Hakodate, on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. It’s a city steeped in squid, a place where restaurants outside the local fish market advertise the start of the squid-fishing season with colorful banners.

When Odajima’s father returned home from World War II, he supported his family by driving a truck for a local seafood company. He was paid in salt, a valuable commodity at the time.

Using the salt, his family began making and selling shio-kara, a fermented squid dish that derives its name from its taste: “salty-spicy.” Because it keeps for days without refrigeration, it was an important source of protein for Japan’s starving population after the war.

Seven decades later, most Japanese bars still serve it as an appetizer, and small bottles are sold in supermarkets as a condiment to be eaten with rice.

“Someone once asked me what squid means to people in Hakodate, and I told him that it was our soul. I was half-joking at the time,” Odajima, 66, said. “But squid was always the main dish, long before we started eating rice.”

Out of more than a dozen types of squid eaten here, the Japanese flying squid, or Todarodes pacificus, is so central to the national cuisine, it’s sometimes referred to as maika, or the true squid.

But now, fluctuations in ocean temperatures and years of overfishing and lax regulatory oversight have drastically depleted populations of the translucent squid in waters around Japan. As recently as 2011, fishermen in Japan were hauling in more than 200,000 tons of flying squid a year. That number had fallen by three-quarters to 53,000 tons last year, the lowest harvest since Japan’s national fisheries cooperative started keeping records more than 30 years ago. Japanese researchers say they expect catches of flying squid to be even smaller this year.

That such a ubiquitous creature could disappear has shaken a country whose identity is intertwined with fish and fishing, a nation where sushi chefs are treated like rock stars and fishermen are the heroes of countless TV shows. The shortage of flying squid, an icon of the working and middle classes, has dealt a hard blow to the livelihoods of not only fishermen, but everyone from suppliers to traders at Tokyo’s famous fish market.

The fate of the flying squid is a microcosm of a global phenomenon that has seen marine life fleeing waters that have undergone the fastest warming on record. Reuters has spent more than a year scouring decades of maritime temperature readings, fishery records and other little-used data to create a portrait of the planet’s hidden climate change — in the rarely explored depths of the seas that cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.

Fish have always followed changing conditions, sometimes with devastating effects for people, as the starvation in Norwegian fishing villages in past centuries when the herring failed to appear one season will attest. But what is happening today is different: The accelerating rise in sea temperatures, which scientists primarily attribute to the burning of fossil fuels, is causing a lasting shift in fisheries.

In Japan, average market prices of the once-humble squid have nearly doubled in the past two years, quickly putting the dish out of reach for many blue-collar and middle-class Japanese families that grew up eating it.

A Town’s Identity Threatened

Here in Hakodate, the squid shortage threatens the very culture and shared history of the town. One of the country’s first ports to open for trade with the outside world in the 19th century, it has the look of a Japanese San Francisco, with gingerbread Victorians and tram lines that slope down to the waterfront.

Odajima’s earliest memory is of his mother buying squid from a neighbor’s cart piled high with the morning’s catch. Now, fishermen barely have enough squid to sell to traders, much less to neighbors. A festival celebrating the start of the squid season in a nearby town has been canceled two years in a row.

Odajima still works in the family compound, a collection of deteriorating buildings near the Hakodate docks. Walking through a cluttered storage shed, he shows off the factory floor where he keeps his family treasure: dozens of 60-year-old barrels made of Japanese cedar. He’s one of the last local manufacturers still using wooden barrels to ferment and age his product.

Odajima also refuses to use cheaper imported squid, saying it would harm the brand’s locally sourced appeal.

But with costs skyrocketing, he isn’t sure about the future of his family business. His 30-year-old son quit his office job to help out after Odajima failed to find new workers. “I wanted to be able to hand it to him in better shape,” he said, “but now…”

One morning in June, Odajima joined a huddle of men at the docks for one of the first squid auctions for the season.

They looked over three neat piles of white Styrofoam boxes, comforting one another that it was still early in the squid season.

“Shit, they’re all tiny,” one buyer said. His friend walked away without waiting for the bidding to start.

At exactly 6.20 a.m., men in green jackets tipped their hats and began the auction. Once an event that used to attract dozens of buyers and take as long as an hour, this one took less than two minutes.

A gruff buyer supplying local restaurants that cater mostly to tourists strode to the front of the pack and bought all 11 boxes without looking. The rest of the group, including Odajima, hung back and shook their heads.

In the month of June, just 31 tons of fresh squid ended up at Hakodate’s main market, 70 percent less than the previous year. A typical squid caught in the Sea of Japan now weighs a third less than it did 10 years ago, according to surveys by Takafumi Shikata, a researcher at the Ishikawa Prefecture Fisheries Research Center.

An Early Warning on Squid

The squid shortage has become so dire, anxious bankers with outstanding loans to those in the industry have started showing up at the annual seminars held by Yasunori Sakurai, one of Japan’s foremost experts on cephalopods.

Sakurai, the chair of the Hakodate Cephalopod Research Center, began warning fishermen and other researchers about the effects of climate change on Japan’s squid population nearly two decades ago.

The flying squid gains its name from the way it can spread its mantle like a parachute to draw in and eject water, using propulsion to fly above the waves. The squid spend their short life — just over a year — migrating thousands of miles between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, mating, then returning to lay eggs in the same area where they were born.

Sakurai blames climate change for recent fluctuations in ocean temperatures — a cold snap in waters where the squid spawn and steadily warming waters in the Sea of Japan where they migrate. These changes mean that fewer eggs laid in the colder-than-average waters in the East China Sea survive, and those that do hatch are swimming northward to avoid unnaturally warm waters in the Sea of Japan.

The Sea of Japan has warmed 1.7 degrees Celsius (around 3 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past century, making it one of the fastest-warming areas in the seas surrounding the archipelago.

Based on predictions by Sakurai’s former students now at Japan’s Fisheries Research and Education Agency, surface temperatures in these waters may rise an additional 3.7 degrees Celsius over the next century.

These changes have taken a toll on squid.

“It’s something that’s always been eaten on the side, and now it’s just gone. Everyone is asking why,” Sakurai said.

Others, like retired regulator and researcher Masayuki Komatsu, argue that although Japanese officials and fishermen are loath to admit it, the country’s rampant overfishing and lax regulatory oversight are also to blame for the shortage.

“They all blame it on climate change, and that’s the end of the discussion for them,” said Komatsu, who served as a senior official in Japan’s fisheries agency until 2004.

Since Japan started setting catch limits for the flying squid 20 years ago, fishermen have never come close to hitting the limit of the quotas. This year, the fisheries agency said it will allow fishermen to catch 97,000 tons of squid, a third less than the government’s limit for last year, but nearly double what fishermen actually caught during the same period.

The ministry acknowledges that flying squid, particularly those born in winter months, are rapidly declining. But officials say the catch limits are appropriate given the scientific evidence available. They say it is especially hard to study the elusive creature, which travels long distances over a short lifespan and is more susceptible to environmental changes than many other marine species.

“It isn’t scientific to simply say that because squid isn’t being caught, we need to lower the catch limits, when we don’t have the scientific backing to justify that,” said Yujiro Akatsuka, assistant director of the agency’s resources management promotion office.

A Fishing Town on the Rocks

Ripped curtains and fraying bits of cardboard cover windows of the empty storefronts along the main shopping street in Sakata, a town on the northwestern coast of Japan that once thrived as a major trading hub for rice and later as a fishing port. Old signs for grocery stores, camera shops and beauty parlors are barely visible through a thicket of vines.

Wooden warehouses that once stored the region’s rice are one of the few reminders of the town’s prosperous past. They were turned into souvenir stores after the buildings were featured in a popular television drama series.

On an early summer day, the docks were deserted except for a group of young Indonesian men living in shared rooms next to the port. They’re Japan’s answer to an aging industry, part of an army of young foreign men brought into the country to take fishing jobs spurned by Japanese men.

Shigeru Saito was 15 when he boarded his first fishing boat.

By the time he was 27, he was at the helm of his own ship. He never questioned his path. Both his father and grandfather, born on a small island off Sakata’s coast, had been fishermen.

Now 60, Saito has steered dozens of ships all over Japan.

When Saito started fishing, Japan had a fleet of more than 400 ships harvesting squid. He now captains one of the 65 remaining ships specially kitted with powerful light bulbs that lure squid from dark waters.

Until recently, his crew could return to port in two weeks after the start of the squid-fishing season in early June with their ship’s hold full of flying squid. Now, it takes them almost 50 days to catch that much.

“We’re having to travel farther and farther north to chase squid, but there are limits,” he said, pausing his round of checks to sit in the captain’s room of his ship, the Hoseimaru No. 58, where he sleeps in a tiny cot under boxes of equipment.

As competition intensifies for an ever-dwindling catch, fishermen have begun blaming trawlers from China, South Korea and Taiwan for overfishing in nearby waters. In recent years, fishermen from North Korea have also joined the competition.

Japan says North Koreans are illegally poaching squid in the Yamato Shallows, a particularly abundant area in the Sea of Japan.

Saito’s fishing lines got tangled in a net set by a North Korean boat there last year. Cautious about any confrontation with North Koreans, he and other Japanese fishermen abandoned the area early in the squid season.

“We can’t fish in these conditions,” he said.

Young Japanese men like Saito’s son are reluctant to join the industry, with its long months away from home and physically grueling labor. His crew is already half Indonesian. Soon, he said, only the captain will need to be Japanese.

In the last decade, the number of fishermen in Japan has declined by more than a third to fewer than 160,000. Of those left, an average fisherman earns about $20,000, not even half of Japan’s national median income.

“My son is a salaryman in the city,” Saito said. “I couldn’t recommend this to him – how could I? We’re away a third of the year,” and, with North Korean poachers on the prowl, “the waters are more dangerous now.”

The next day, men set up folding chairs and tents on Sakata’s dock for a ceremony marking the start of the fishing season. Saito joined other captains in the front row, bowing his head with his baseball cap in his hands. Young Indonesian men fidgeted in the back of the crowd. Melodic chants of Buddhist monks filled the salty air.

“We know we are powerless before the might of nature,” one monk said as the captains fixed their eyes on the ground. “We cannot go against the power of the sea. But we pray for a bountiful harvest and safe passage over the seas.”

Anxiety in Tokyo

Several weeks had passed since Japan’s squid-fishing fleet left port. But in Tokyo, near the Tsukiji fish market, Atsushi Kobayashi was waiting anxiously. The specialist wholesaler still hadn’t received a single shipment of flying squid from northern Japan. His driver sat on the concrete curb next to Kobayashi’s truck smoking in the midday sun.

In the past, each week Kobayashi would unload three to four shipments of 1,200 squid, to be dispatched to high-end sushi restaurants around Tokyo.

“Last year, the fishing season ended in November because the squid disappeared” — two months earlier than usual. He unlocked his phone to message another customer that he had nothing to sell that day.

Elsewhere in Tsukiji, the largest wholesale seafood exchange in the world, hundreds of other family-run fish traders were also awaiting this season’s catch. But by the time cases of squid finally began to arrive later in the summer, many of the traders were preparing to close their stalls to abandon the 80-year-old market.

In October, hundreds of fishmongers moved to a gleaming new market on the waterfront that cost more than $5 billion. But others, their businesses already failing from a drop in consumer demand, higher operational costs and a lack of interest from the families’ younger generation, didn’t make the move.

Those who left felt a powerful sense of loss about a place that has been a colorful symbol of the country’s fishing industry.

Masako Arai was one of them. Her husband’s family started their wholesale fish trading business 95 years ago, first in Nihonbashi, where the previous market was destroyed in a massive earthquake and fire in 1923, and later in Tsukiji.

“Our families have lived here and protected this place for generations,” the 75-year-old grandmother said.

Near Arai’s store were empty spaces where families had tended shop for generations; more than a hundred businesses have closed in the past five years. Nearly a third of the remaining 500 fish traders at the market were losing money.

“It feels like we’re always on shifting sand, and we don’t know what the future holds,” Arai said.

Nor do the chefs who create Japan’s signature cuisine.

Kazuo Nagayama has visited Tsukiji most mornings for the past 50 years to buy fresh fish. Once back at his sushi bar in the Nihonbashi district, he changes into his white uniform to write out the day’s menu with an ink brush.

For the past few years, the 76-year-old chef has found it harder to list local fish he deems decent enough to serve to his customers. On this summer day, the first item on his handwritten menu was yellowfin tuna shipped from Boston.

“I’m worried that people won’t know what it’s like to taste truly delicious fish,” he said. “Fishermen feel they have no future, and fisherfolk are disappearing. Our culture surrounding fishing is disappearing, and our culinary culture is also fading.”

Nagayama doesn’t allow anyone else to handle fish behind the counter, where customers pay up to $300 each for the chef’s nightly omakase course. Although his tiny bar is usually fully booked, he doesn’t see a future for it — he has no children and no heir.

“We’ll have to close in the next four to five years,” he said. “I’ll be the last one here.”

‘Everyone’s Raising Prices’

At Nabaya, a dark bar across the street from his Tokyo office, Hiroshi Nonoyama sipped a beer after another long day at work.

“It’s all depressing news, not a great topic of conversation over drinks,” he said. Nonoyama manages a trade group overseeing 79 companies that manufacture everything from squid-flavored potato chips to squid jerky. They’ve been some of the hardest hit by the recent run of poor harvests, Nonoyama said.

“A lot of these guys are old school. They haven’t diversified beyond using flying squid, you see? And when that becomes too expensive? Boom!” he said, crashing his hand on the bar counter.

Already this year, two of his companies had gone out of business because of the rising cost of squid.

“I only heard about one of them because I got a call from the tax office about unpaid taxes,” he said, sighing. The owner, who had employed 70 workers for half a century, was now on the run from his creditors.

“Everyone’s raising prices, but how much are customers willing to pay?” Nonoyama asked.

It’s the same question that Odajima, the Hakodate squid merchant, asks himself every day. He has nearly doubled prices in the past two years to 700 yen per bottle.

“Buyers are telling me that if I raise prices again, they won’t be able to sell it as a side dish or condiment — consumers just won’t buy it,” he said.

His factory’s yearly output is almost half of what it was 10 years ago. Looking for ways to survive, Odajima is now courting boutique supermarkets and upscale restaurants.

Recently, Odajima flew to Tokyo to pitch his product. By the time he arrived at Ginza Six, a shimmering luxury mall in the city’s posh shopping district, he was already sweating in his oversized pinstripe suit. He adjusted his tie and patted down his freshly cut hair in front of Imadeya, a premium liquor store on the basement floor of the mall.

Two Chinese women sampled glasses of Japanese wine under a pair of Edison bulbs at the shop counter. Shohei Okawa, the store’s 36-year-old manager, waited patiently as Odajima pulled several jars of shio-kara out of a cooler he had carried on the plane from Hakodate. Folded copies of Tokyo’s subway map peeked out of his large duffel bag.

“As you know, prices are getting higher, particularly for squid,” he said, suddenly sounding formal and looking anxious.

“Which is part of the reason why we’d love to sell in a higher-end store like yours.”

“What other stores carry this in Tokyo?” Okawa asked. “And is this rare? Is it authentic?”

Odajima quickly added that his product was handmade with no artificial coloring.

Satisfied, Okawa said he would send in orders for a few cases.

Outside, leaning against the mall’s glass façade, Odajima was happy — for the moment, at least.

“I wonder what my father would think, selling it at a place like this,” he said. “It’s a little unbelievable. We had so much squid we didn’t know what to do with it. Now, it’s become a delicacy.”


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Study: Millions of Small Asian Farmers Miss Out on Seeds Resilient to Climate Change

Millions of smallholder farmers in South and Southeast Asia are missing out on new, resilient seeds that could improve their yields in the face of climate change, according to an index published Monday.

The 24 top seed companies fail to reach four-fifths of the region’s 170 million smallholder farmers for reasons such as poor infrastructure, high prices and lack of training, the Access to Seeds Index found.

Access to seeds bred to better withstand changing weather conditions such as higher temperatures is vital as farmers battle loss of productivity due to climate change, said Ido Verhagen, head of the Access to Seeds Foundation, which published the index.

“We see increasing demands for new varieties, because [farmers] are affected by climate change,” Verhagen told Reuters.

“If we want to feed a growing population, if we want to tackle climate change, if we want to go towards a more sustainable food system, we have to start with seeds,” he said.

Smallholder farmers managing between one to 10 hectares of land provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia, said the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

But traditional methods of preserving seeds from harvests are not always sufficient to cope with a changing climate.

About 340 million people were hungry in 2017 in South and Southeast Asia, a number that has barely changed since 2015, according to latest figures from the United Nations.

“The question is how to get markets to provide the varieties [of seeds] that farmers want, at prices that they’re able to pay,” said Shawn McGuire, agricultural officer at the FAO.

Some smaller companies are leading the way in helping smallholders access more resilient seeds, Verhagen said, such as Thailand-based East-West Seed which topped the index ahead of global giants Bayer and Syngenta, which ranked second and third.

East-West Seed has built a successful business focusing purely on smallholders, he said, while Indian companies Acsen HyVeg and Namdhari, ranked sixth and seventh respectively, have also reached small-scale farmers with seeds.

The index, funded by the Dutch government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ranks companies based on seven areas including strategies to help small farmers and supporting conservation.


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Tech Giants Slide, Pulling US Stock Market Sharply Lower

A broad sell-off in technology companies pulled U.S. stocks sharply lower Monday, knocking more than 600 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

 

The wave of selling snared big names, including Apple, Amazon and Goldman Sachs. Banks, consumer-focused companies, and media and communications stocks all took heavy losses. Crude oil prices fell, erasing early gains and extending a losing streak to 11 days.

 

The tech stock tumble came followed an analyst report that suggested Apple significantly cut back orders from one of its suppliers. That, in turn, weighed on chipmakers.

 

“With the news out of the Apple supplier this morning, you have the market overall questioning the growth trajectory as we look out to 2019,” said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA. “We continue to like tech going into next year, but we think it could be a little bit of a rocky period for the group as we continue through the last two months of the year.”

 

The market’s slide came after a two-week winning streak.

 

The S&P 500 index dropped 54.79 points, or 2 percent, to 2,726.22. The Dow fell 602.12 points, or 2.3 percent, to 25,387.18. It was down briefly by 648 points.

 

The Nasdaq composite slid 206.03 points, or 2.8 percent, to 7,200.87. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 30.70 points, or 2 percent, to 1,518.79.

Bond trading was closed for Veterans Day. Stocks in Europe also suffered losses.

 

Apple tumbled 5 percent to $194.17 after Wells Fargo analysts said the iPhone maker is the unnamed customer that optical communications company Lumentum Holdings said was significantly reducing orders. Shares in Lumentum plunged 33 percent to $37.50.

 

Several chipmakers also fell. Advanced Micro Devices gave up 9.5 percent to $19.03, while Nvidia lost 7.8 percent to $189.54. Micron Technology gave up 4.3 percent to $37.44.

 

Amazon slid 4.4 percent to $1,636.85.

 

Banks and other financial companies also took heavy losses Tuesday. Goldman Sachs slid 7.5 percent to $206.05.

“Expectations are really that the deregulation process that has benefited banks up to this point is going to be slowed down with the Democrats in charge,” Bell said.

 

Stocks appeared to have regained their footing after a skid in October snapped a six-month string of gains for the S&P 500. Stocks rallied last week after the U.S. midterm elections turned out largely as investors expected, with a divided Congress promising legislative gridlock in Washington the next couple of years.

 

While the market has typically thrived in periods of divided government, investors continue to grapple with uncertainty over the U.S.-China trade dispute and the potential impact of increased oversight of Corporate America by Democrats, who will be taking over leadership in the House of Representatives in January.

 

In addition, some companies have recently reported third-quarter earnings and outlooks that have stoked investors’ worries about the future growth of corporate profits.

 

While companies got a boost this year from the lower tax rates put in place by President Donald Trump and the GOP last December, several companies have recently warned about the impact of higher costs related to tariffs and rising interest rates.

 

“The bull market is not over, the economic expansion is not over, but things are starting to wind down,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading & derivatives at Charles Schwab. “We’re clearly getting into the late innings of the ball game.”

 

British American Tobacco, which makes Newport cigarettes, plunged 8.8 percent to $38.08 on reports that regulators were considering a ban on menthol cigarettes.

 

PG&E tumbled 17.4 percent to $32.98 after the electric utility told regulators that a high-voltage line experienced a problem near the origin of one of the major California wildfires before the blaze started.

 

Investors bid up shares in Athenahealth after the struggling medical billing software maker said it received a $5.7 billion cash buyout offer. The stock jumped 9.7 percent to $131.97.

 

About 90 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported third-quarter results so far, with some 51 percent of those posting earnings and revenue that topped Wall Street’s forecasts, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Several big retailers are due to deliver results this week, including Walmart, Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney.

 

“That could actually probably boost the market,” Bell said.”Retailers are going to have a better third quarter than most people expect. A lot of them ordered goods ahead of the tariffs going into place, so they’re not going to have to pass on higher prices on to the consumer this holiday season.”

 

Benchmark U.S. crude gave up an early gain, sliding 0.4 percent to settle at $59.93 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dipped 0.1 percent to close at $70.12 per barrel in London. Oil futures rose earlier on news that Saudi Arabia and other major producers planned to reduce output.

 

The dollar strengthened to 113.86 yen from 113.80 yen on Friday. The euro fell to $1.1240 from $1.1336. The British pound weakened to $1.2853 from $1.2975 amid concerns that Britain’s government is struggling to find unity on a Brexit deal.

 

Gold fell 0.4 percent to $1,203.50 an ounce. Silver lost 0.9 percent to $14.01 an ounce. Copper slid 0.3 percent to $2.68 a pound.

 

In other energy trading, heating oil fell 0.8 percent to $2.16 a gallon and wholesale gasoline gained 0.9 percent to $1.64 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1.9 percent to $3.79 per 1,000 cubic feet.

 

Major stock indexes in Europe also ended lower Monday. Germany’s DAX lost 1.8 percent and France’s CAC 40 fell 0.9 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 shed 0.7 percent.

 

In Asia, markets finished mixed. Japan’s Nikkei 225 added 0.1 percent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.1 percent. Australia’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent. The Kospi in South Korea dipped 0.3 percent.


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Bolsonaro: Brazil Pension Reform Legislation Unlikely in 2018

Brazil’s Congress is unlikely to pass pension reform legislation this year, far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday, a blow to investor hopes that caused the country’s currency to weaken in futures markets.

Investors snapped up Brazilian assets in the wake of Bolsonaro’s election victory last month, cheered by his party’s stronger-than-expected showing in congressional races, which raised hopes he could make quick advances on fiscal reforms.

Many economists say cuts to Brazil’s social security system are essential to controlling a huge federal deficit and regaining Brazil’s investment-grade rating.

Last week, Bolsonaro said he would like to see some form of pension reform passed this year to make it easier to deal with the deficit after he takes office on Jan. 1.

On Monday, however, he told reporters in Rio de Janeiro that after speaking with his chief economic advisor Paulo Guedes, passing a 2018 pension reform bill looked increasingly unlikely.

He added that the reform would not just be based on crunching the numbers, but would also have to take into account the social impact of the overhaul.

Brazil’s currency, the real, weakened against the U.S. dollar in futures markets after his comments.

Bolsonaro also said that no decision had yet been taken on the next head of state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, with more names for the chief executive position set to come out on Tuesday.

Separately, Guedes said on Monday that World Bank chief financial officer and former Brazilian finance minister Joaquim Levy had accepted Bolsonaro’s offer to lead state development bank BNDES.


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Amazon HQ Favorites: Similar Basics, Different Vibes

The communities said to be favored to become homes to a pair of big, new East Coast bases for Amazon are both riverfront stretches of major metropolitan areas with ample transportation and space for workers.

But there are plenty of differences between New York’s Long Island City and Crystal City in northern Virginia.

 

Set within eyeshot of the nation’s capital, Crystal City is a thicket of 1980s-era office towers trying to plug into new economic energy after thousands of federal jobs moved elsewhere.

 

Rapidly growing Long Island City is an old manufacturing area already being reinvented as a hub for 21st-century industry, creativity and urbane living.

 

Seattle-based Amazon, which set out last year to situate one additional headquarters but now may reportedly open two, has declined to comment on its plans. But people familiar with the talks said this week that Long Island City and Crystal City have emerged as front runners for the “HQ2” project and its total of 50,000 jobs.

 

A look at two communities said to be at the top of Amazon’s list.

 

Long Island City

 

It’s already the fastest-developing neighborhood in the nation’s most populous city, and Amazon could pump up the volume in this buzzy part of Queens.

 

If chosen, the neighborhood stands to burnish New York City’s reputation as a tech capital. Landing Amazon would also cement Long Island City’s transformation from a faded manufacturing zone to a vibrant, of-the-moment enclave of waterfront skyscrapers, modernized warehouses and artsy-tech ambience across the East River from midtown Manhattan.

 

“I joke that we’re experiencing explosive growth 30 years in the making,” says Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership, a neighborhood development group.

 

But Long Island City also has been straining to handle its growth.

 

Days before the potential Amazon news emerged, the city announced a $180 million plan to address Long Island City’s packed schools, street design and a sewage system that groans in heavy rain. But those projects will just catch up with current needs, says area City Councilman Jimmy van Bramer.

 

“I know that there are a lot of people cheerleading for this, but HQ2 has to work for Queens and the people of Queens. It can’t just be good for Amazon,” says van Bramer, a Democrat.

 

Once a bustling factory and freight-moving area, Long Island City saw many of its plants and warehouses closed as manufacturing shriveled in New York City.

 

The neighborhood’s rebirth began in the 1980s, when officials broached redeveloping a swath of the waterfront, while artists were drawn by warehouse spaces, affordable rents and a building that is now the MoMA PS1 museum. Silvercup Studios — where such TV shows as “Sex and the City,” “30 Rock” and “The Sopranos” have been filmed — opened in 1983.

 

Long Island City gained a new commercial stature, and the start of a high-rise skyline, when the banking giant now called Citi opened an office tower there in 1989. But the area’s growth lately has been driven by residential building.

 

Some 9,150 new apartments and homes have been built since 2010, more than in any other New York City neighborhood, according to the city Planning Department . Thousands more units are in the works.

 

New York has striven for nearly a decade to position itself as a tech hotspot.

 

Venture capitalists poured $5.8 billion into New York-area startups last quarter, more than any other region except the San Francisco area, according to the consulting and accounting firm PwC . Established tech giants, including Google and Facebook, have been expanding their New York footprints.

 

Still, landing HQ2 would represent “incredible validation of just how far New York has come,” says Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future think tank.

 

Waiting for a subway, Long Island City community board chairwoman Denise Keehan-Smith could envision Amazon benefiting the neighborhood.

 

“But I think we have to be careful about it,” she said.

 

Crystal City

 

If any place in America can absorb 25,000 Amazon jobs without disruption, it may well be Crystal City, Virginia, where nearly that many jobs have vanished over the last 15 years.

 

The neighborhood in Arlington County is bounded by the Potomac River and the nation’s capital on one side, by the Pentagon on another and Reagan National Airport on a third.

 

Despite its prime location and abundant transportation options, the neighborhood has been hit by a massive outflow of jobs. The Patent and Trademark Office began moving more than 7,000 jobs out of Crystal City in 2003. In 2005, the Defense Department announced plans to move roughly 17,000 jobs elsewhere as part of a base realignment.

 

Arlington County has worked hard to bring in new employers, and had some success. The Public Broadcasting Service moved its headquarters to Crystal City in 2006.

 

Still, large swaths of the neighborhood remain vacant. Among other challenges, the area has fought to overcome a reputation for outdated architecture.

 

Crystal City is populated by 70s and80s-era office buildings. The buildings are connected by a network of tunnels populated with food-court style dining options, hair salons and newsstands. The tunnels leave the ground-level outdoor streetscape sometimes looking empty.

 

Brookings Institution urban planner Jenny Schuetz suggested the buildings may require an upgrade, or even replacement. But she noted that while people often associate tech companies with converted lofts or state-of-the art workspaces, many big Silicon Valley tech companies actually work out of `80s-era office buildings.

 

For all the talk about antiquated architecture, people who’ve actually worked in Crystal City appreciate its convenience and its worker-friendly features, including the tunnels.

 

“I loved it here,” said Christine Gentry of Greenbelt, Maryland, as she ate breakfast in a largely empty food court. She works for the Patent and Trademark Office and preferred the days when her office was in Crystal City.

 

“Everything is accessible here,” she said. “When it was raining or snowing or sleeting, I never had to go out.”

 

Perhaps no place better illustrates the vibe of Crystal City than the region’s only revolving restaurant, the Skydome atop the Doubletree Crystal City. Diners enjoy a panoramic view of the D.C. skyline, completing a full rotation every 47 minutes.

 

Sam Getachew, the hotel’s food and beverage manager, said the restaurant fits the neighborhood’s retro atmosphere.

 

“It’s huge draw,” Getchew said. “People come for the curiosity of it.”

The only downside, he said, is that “when customers get up to go to the restroom, they don’t know where they are when they come back.”

 

 

 


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UK PM May Stares into Brexit Abyss as Domestic Opposition Mounts

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy came under attack from all sides on Monday, increasing the risk that her plan for leaving the EU will be voted down by parliament and thrust the United Kingdom towards a potentially chaotic “no-deal” Brexit.

Less than five months before Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29, negotiators are still haggling over a backup plan for the land border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, if they fail to clinch a deal.

May’s compromise Brexit plan, which seeks to leave the EU but keep closer trade ties, is facing opposition from Brexiteers, pro-Europeans, the Northern Irish party that props up her government, and even some of her own ministers.

Asked if there was any chance May’s plan could pass parliament, former education minister Justine Greening, who supported staying in the European Union, said “no.”

“I think it’s the worst of all worlds,” Greening she told BBC radio. “It leaves us with less influence, less controls over the rules we have to follow.”

Sterling plunged to a 1-1/2 week low of $1.2841 as the dollar strengthened broadly and doubts grew over May’s ability to clinch a Brexit deal and get it passed.

Traders cited a report by the Independent newspaper that May had been forced to cancel an emergency cabinet meeting to approve a draft deal. A government source later said no cabinet meeting had ever been scheduled for Monday.

The Brexit deal — or the lack of one — will shape Britain’s prosperity for generations to come.

Economists polled by Reuters last week said there remains a one-in-four chance that London and Brussels will fail to reach a deal on the terms of departure.

Brexit ever?

Both sides need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the fifth largest global economy. The other 27 members of the EU combined have about five times the economic might of Britain.

But May has struggled to untangle nearly 46 years of membership without damaging trade or upsetting the lawmakers who will ultimately decide the fate of any deal she can secure.

While May has for months faced fierce opposition from Brexit-supporting lawmakers, who say she has betrayed the referendum result by seeking such close ties with the EU, she is now facing increasing pressure from pro-Europeans too.

Jo Johnson, the younger brother of leading Brexiteer and former foreign minister Boris, resigned from May’s government last Friday, calling in a withering critique for another referendum to prevent her Brexit plans unleashing Britain’s biggest crisis since World War II.

If a deal is voted down by parliament, the United Kingdom will face an uncertain future: leaving abruptly without a deal, the collapse of May’s government, an election, or, as some opponents of Brexit hope, a new referendum.

Brexiteers say leaving without a deal might be damaging in the short term but that in the longer term it would be better than signing up to obey rules from the EU for decades to come.

It is unlikely that there will be a breakthrough in negotiations this month, with any deal probably pushed back into December, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Monday.

“We are waiting for new news from London… We have time, but not so much. For this month, it’s very difficult to make real progress, but before Christmas I’m hoping that it will be possible,” Reynders told reporters before a meeting of national ministers on Brexit in Brussels.

EU leaders had previously penciled in a summit for November to sign off on a deal with London as long as there was decisive progress. However, Brussels and London cannot agree how to guarantee there is no return of border controls on the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.


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Japan’s Abe Calls for Public Works Spending to Help Economy 

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Monday for a new public works spending program to stimulate the economy amid growing concerns about global risks. 

The spending, which is expected in the first half of next fiscal year starting in April, will focus on strengthening infrastructure to withstand earthquakes and frequent flooding, according to a presentation made at the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP). 

Some of Japan’s top government advisers also called for stimulus to offset a decline in consumption expected after an increase in the nationwide sales tax in October next year. 

The rush to approve public works spending and other measures to support consumption highlights growing concern among policymakers about the economy. 

“The prime minister asked me to take firm measures to ensure that our economic recovery continues,” Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at the end of the CEFP meeting. “He also said the public works spending program expected at the end of this year should be compiled with this point in mind.” 

Japan’s economy is forecast to contract in July-September, and a recent slump in machinery orders suggests any rebound in the following quarters is likely to be weak if exports and business investment lose momentum. 

Government ministers will compile a preliminary public works plan by the end of this month and then submit a final version of the plan by year’s end, according to documents used at the CEFP meeting. 

Urgent matter

Members of the CEFP did not say how large the spending program should be or how the government should fund the package. At the meeting, Abe said compiling the package has become an urgent matter, according to a government official. 

Japan’s government is considering a 10 trillion-yen ($87.77 billion) stimulus package to offset the impact of a sales tax hike next year, sources told Reuters last week, as concerns about consumer spending and the global economy grow. 

Increasing spending on public works started to gain support after a strong earthquake in September caused a blackout in the northern island of Hokkaido and a series of typhoons damaged transport infrastructure in western Japan. 

The advisers on the CEFP are academics and business leaders who are considered close to Abe, so their recommendations often influence policy decisions. 

The CEFP met earlier Monday to debate consumer prices and fiscal policy, which is where the advisers made their recommendations. 

The advisers did not lay out the specific steps the government should take to stimulate consumption, but government officials have previously said they are considering shopping vouchers for low-income earners and more spending on public works. 

The nationwide sales tax is scheduled to rise to 10 percent in October 2019 from 8 percent currently. The government already plans to exempt food and some daily goods from the tax hike to soften the blow, but there is still a lot of concern that the tax hike will wreck consumer spending and sentiment. The economy was tipped into a recession the last time the tax was raised in 2014. 

Advisers at the CEFP meeting also threw their support behind the government’s plan to encourage mobile phone carriers to lower smartphone fees, saying they hoped the move would increase households’ disposable incomes. 


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Oman Oil Minister: Majority of OPEC and its Allies Support Cut

A majority of OPEC and allied oil exporters support a cut in the global supply of crude, Oman Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhi said on Sunday.

“Many of us share this view,” the minister said when asked about the need for a cut. Asked if it could amount to 500,000 or one million barrels per day, he replied: “I think it is unfair for me to throw numbers now.”

He was speaking in Abu Dhabi where an oil market monitoring committee was held on Sunday, attended by top exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia.

“We need a consensus,” he said, indicating that non-OPEC Russia would need to approve any decision. Oman is also not a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Saudi Arabia is discussing a proposal to cut oil output by up to 1 million barrels per day by OPEC and its allies, two sources close to the discussions told Reuters on Sunday.


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SWIFT System to Disconnect Some Iranian Banks This Weekend

The Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service will be disconnecting some Iranian banks this weekend, said SWIFT chief executive Gottfried Leibbrandt at an event in Paris on Friday.

Earlier this week, SWIFT had already stated that it would be suspending some unspecified Iranian banks’ access to its messaging system in the interest of the stability and integrity of the global financial system.

In a brief statement issued earlier this week, SWIFT had made no mention of U.S. sanctions coming back into effect on some Iranian financial institutions on Monday, as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to force Iran to curtail its nuclear, missile and regional activities.

SWIFT’s statement on Nov. 5 said that suspending the Iranian banks access to the messaging system was a “regrettable” step but was “taken in the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system.”


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