Ivory Coast Chocolatier Strives to Sweeten Cocoa Processors’ Earnings

In Ivory Coast, an artisanal chocolatier blends good flavor and good intentions in his work. Axel-Emmanuel Gbaou trains women to get good taste and good profits from the cocoa beans they process, as Yassin Ciyow observes in this report narrated by Carol Guensburg.


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Pandemic Creates New Billionaires as Global Inequality Rises

The world’s billionaires have increased their wealth by trillions of dollars since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic – while the poorest countries are struggling with soaring commodity prices and rising debts. These are the findings of a newly released analysis by the charity Oxfam, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.


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Egyptian Wheat Farmers Cope with Compounding Disruptions

This year’s wheat harvest season in Egypt—the world’s biggest importer of the staple crop—comes at a time when the U.N. says the Ukraine war has sent international food prices soaring to “a new all-time high, hitting the poorest the hardest,” with the country’s annual inflation rate surging to a three-year high of 14.9 percent. Amid rising global wheat prices and food security concerns, Cairo photojournalist Hamada Elrasam shows the pressures facing Egyptian farmers.

Captions by Elle Kurancid.


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US Stocks Gain Ground Following 7 Straight Weeks of Losses

Stocks rallied in afternoon trading on Wall Street Monday, following seven weeks of declines that nearly ended the bull market that began in March 2020. 

The S&P 500 rose 1.8% as of 3:12 p.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 588 points, or 1.9%, to 31,850, and the Nasdaq rose 1.3%. 

Banks made strong gains along with rising bond yields, which they rely on to charge more lucrative interest on loans. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 2.86% from 2.77% late Friday. Bank of America rose 6.3%. 

Technology stocks also did some heavy lifting. Apple rose 3.4% and Microsoft rose 2.7%. The sector has been choppy over the last few weeks and has prompted many of the market’s recent big swings. 

VMware surged 20.8% following a report that chipmaker Broadcom is offering to buy the cloud-computing company. JPMorgan Chase jumped 6.9% after giving investors an encouraging update on its financial forecasts. 

Retailers and some other companies that rely on direct consumer spending lagged the rest of the market. Amazon fell 0.7%. A series of disappointing earnings reports from key retailers last week raised concerns that consumers are tempering spending on a wide range of goods as they get squeezed by rising inflation. 

Lingering concerns about inflation have been weighing on the market and have kept major indexes in a slump. The benchmark S&P 500 is so far experiencing its longest weekly losing streak since the dot-com bubble was deflating in 2001. It came close to falling 20% from its peak earlier this year, which would put the index at the heart of most workers’ 401(k) accounts into a bear market. 

Inflation’s impact on consumers and businesses has been the key worry for markets, along with the Federal Reserve’s attempt to temper that impact by aggressively raising interest rates. Inflation brought on by a big supply and demand disconnect has worsened because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on energy prices. 

Supply chains were further hurt by China’s recent series of lockdowns for several major cities facing rising COVID-19 cases. 

Investors are worried that the central bank could go too far in raising rates or move too quickly, which could stunt economic growth and potentially bring on a recession. On Wednesday, investors will get a more detailed glimpse into the Fed’s decision-making process with the release of minutes from the latest policy-setting meeting. 

Wall Street will also get a few economic updates this week from the Commerce Department. On Thursday, it will release a report on first-quarter gross domestic product, and on Friday, it will release data on personal income and spending for April. 

 


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Who is Buying Russia’s Oil?

So far, Russia’s oil exports have not slowed down a bit from the war in Ukraine and international sanctions. In fact, Russia exported more oil in April than it did before the war. And high oil prices mean Moscow is raking in money. That’s one reason Europe is considering a Russian oil ban: Current sanctions are not hurting Moscow enough. Europe gets more of its oil from Russia than anywhere else. It would have to make up for those banned barrels somewhere else, and that won’t be easy. And it’s likely to push oil prices everywhere up even further.


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Biden Highlights Hyundai Announcement of $10B US Investment

President Joe Biden tended to both business and security interests Sunday as he wraps up a three-day visit to South Korea, showcasing Hyundai’s pledge to invest at least $10 billion in electric vehicles and related technologies in the United States.

Before visiting U.S. and South Korean troops monitoring the rapidly evolving North Korean nuclear threat, Biden said the U.S. was ready for any provocation that Kim Jong Un might deliver.

Hyundai’s investment includes $5.5 billion for an electric vehicle and battery factory in Georgia.

Appearing with Biden, Hyundai CEO Euisun Chung said Sunday his company would spend another $5 billion on artificial intelligence for autonomous vehicles and other technologies.

“Electric vehicles are good for our climate goals, but they’re also good for jobs,” Biden said. “And they’re good for business.”

The major U.S. investment by a South Korean company is a reflection of how the U.S. and South Korea are leveraging their longstanding military ties into a broader economic partnership.

Biden said he was not concerned about any possible provocation by North Korea while he is touring the region.

“We are prepared for anything North Korea does,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question. “We’ve talked through how we’d respond to whatever they do so I am not concerned, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

The U.S. president has made greater economic cooperation with South Korea a priority, saying on Saturday that “it will bring our two countries even closer together, cooperating even more closely than we already do, and help strengthen our supply chains, secure them against shocks and give our economies a competitive edge.”

The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has forced a deeper rethinking of national security and economic alliances. Coronavirus outbreaks led to shortages of computer chips, autos and other goods that the Biden administration says can ultimately be fixed by having more manufacturing domestically and with trusted allies.

Biden’s meeting Sunday with Hyundai’s chief comes after the president made an earlier stop at a computer chip plant run by Samsung, the Korean electronics giant that plans to build a $17 billion production facility in Texas.

Hyundai’s Georgia factory is expected to employ 8,100 workers and produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually, with plans for construction to begin early next year and production to start in 2025 near the unincorporated town of Ellabell.

But the Hyundai plant shows that there are also tradeoffs as Biden pursues his economic agenda.

The president earlier in his term tried to link the production of electric vehicles to automakers with unionized workers. As part of a $1.85 trillion spending proposal last year that stalled in the Senate, Biden wanted extra tax credits to go to the buyers of EVs made by unionized factories. That would have provided a boost to the unionized auto plant owned by General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV at a vital moment when union membership nationwide has been steadily decreasing.

During the Samsung visit, Biden called on Korean companies building plants in the U.S. to hire union workers. In addition to its coming Texas plant, Samsung has a deal in place with Stellantis to build an electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in the U.S.

“I urge Samsung and Stellantis and any company investing in the United States to enter into partnerships with our most highly skilled and dedicated and engaged workers you can find anywhere in the world: American union members,” he said.

There so far has been no guarantee that the Hyundai Georgia plant’s workers will be unionized.

Katie Byrd, the press secretary for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, noted in an email that the state is “Right-to-Work,” which “means that workers may not be required to join a union or make payments to a union as a condition of employment.”

A Hyundai spokesperson did not respond to an email asking if the Georgia plant would be unionized. A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, said there was no contradiction between Biden encouraging investors to embrace union workforces while his administration does “whatever it can” to encourage investment and bring jobs to the U.S.

Before meeting Hyundai’s CEO, Biden attended Mass at his hotel in Seoul along with some White House staff. Biden will also meet with service members and military families at Osan Air Base and address U.S. and Korean troops. Biden and Korean President Yoon Sook Yeol on Saturday announced they will consider expanded joint military exercises to deter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

The push toward deterrence by Biden and Yoon, who is less than two weeks into his presidency, marks a shift by the leaders from their predecessors. President Donald Trump had considered scrapping the exercises and expressed affection for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. And the last South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim to the end of his term despite being repeatedly rebuffed by the North.

Biden decided to skip a visit to the demilitarized zone on the North and South’s border, a regular stop for U.S. presidents when visiting Seoul. Instead, Biden, who had visited the DMZ as vice president, was more interested in visiting Osan to see an installation “where the rubber hits the road” for U.S. and South Korean troops maintaining security on the Korean Peninsula, said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Yoon campaigned on a promise to strengthen the U.S.-South Korea relationship. He reiterated at a dinner on Saturday in Biden’s honor that it was his goal to move the relationship “beyond security” issues with North Korea, which have long dominated the relationship.

“I will try and design a new future vision of our alliances with you, Mr. President,” Yoon said.

Biden heads to Tokyo later Sunday. On Monday, he will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and lay out his vision for negotiating a new trade agreement called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

A central theme for the trip, Biden’s first to Asia as president, is to tighten U.S. alliances in the Pacific to counter China’s influence in the region.

But within the Biden administration, there’s an ongoing debate about whether to lift some of the $360 billion in Trump-era tariffs on China. Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said some of the tariffs are doing more harm to U.S. business and consumers than they are to China.

Sullivan said the president’s national security and economic teams were still reviewing “how to move beyond the trade approach of the previous administration.”

On Tuesday, Japan will host Biden at a summit for the Quad, a four-country strategic alliance that also includes Australia and India.


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Grain Prices Soar as Ukraine War Drags On

As U.S. farmers head to the fields to plant this year’s crops, prices for grains like corn and soybeans are near record highs. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, those high prices come with increased costs for both farmers and consumers.


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Stocks End Lower but Not Quite in Bear Market

Another volatile day on Wall Street ended with more losses for stocks Thursday, drawing the S&P 500 closer to its first bear market since the beginning of the pandemic. 

A bear market means that an individual stock or a stock index, like the S&P 500, has fallen at least 20% from a recent high point. 

The index, a benchmark for many funds, fell 0.6% Thursday after easing off a deeper stumble. The latest decline came a day after the S&P 500 had its biggest drop in nearly two years. It’s now down 18.7% from the record high it set early this year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.8% and the Nasdaq slipped 0.3%. 

The indexes remain in a deep slump as investors worry that the inflation that’s hurting people as they are shopping for groceries and filling their cars with fuel is also walloping profits at U.S. companies. 

“There’s just still a significant amount of uncertainty,” said Lindsey Bell, chief markets and money strategist at Ally Invest, “especially in regard to what the [Federal Reserve] is going to do, how that’s going to impact growth in the future, and additionally, where the heck is inflation going from here.”

The S&P 500 fell 22.89 points to 3,900.79. The Dow dropped 236.94 points to 31,253.13. The Nasdaq slid 29.66 points to 11,388.50. The three indexes are on pace to extend a string of at least six weekly losses. 

Gainers

Smaller-company stocks held up better than the broader market. The Russell 2000 rose 1.38 points, or 0.1%, to 1,776.22. 

Rising interest rates, high inflation, the war in Ukraine and a slowdown in China’s economy have caused investors to reconsider the prices they’re willing to pay for a wide range of stocks, from high-flying tech companies to traditional automakers.  

Wall Street is also worried about the Federal Reserve’s plan to fight the highest inflation in four decades. The Fed is raising interest rates aggressively, and investors are concerned that the central bank could cause a recession if it raises rates too high or too quickly. 

The 10-year Treasury pulled back to 2.85% from 2.88% late Wednesday, but it has been generally rising as investors prepare for a market with higher interest rates. That has also pushed up mortgage rates, which is contributing to a slowdown in home sales. 

The pile of concerns on Wall Street has made for very choppy trading and big swings between gains and losses within any given day. 

Technology stocks have been some of the most volatile holdings. The sector includes heavyweights like Apple that have lofty valuations, which tend to push the market more forcefully up or down. Technology stocks fell Thursday, accounting for a big share of the S&P 500’s drop. 

Household goods companies, grocery store operators and food producers fell broadly. General Mills fell 2.1% and Clorox fell 5.3%. 

Retailers and other companies that rely on direct consumer spending mostly rose. Amazon added 0.2% and Expedia climbed 5.3%.


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New Zealand Hands Out Extra Cash to Fight ‘Inflation Storm’

New Zealand’s government said Thursday it will hand out an extra few hundred dollars to more than 2 million lower-income adults to help them navigate what it describes as “the peak of the global inflation storm.” 

The payments are part of a package of new measures announced in the government’s annual budget. Other plans include increasing health spending by a record amount, putting more money into reducing greenhouse gas emissions and boosting defense spending. 

A report by Treasury painted a rosy picture of the nation’s economy through next year but warned growth would slow markedly from 2024 due to rising interest rates, a reduction in the government’s pandemic spending, and supply issues made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

A Treasury report forecast unemployment would hit a low of 3.1% this year before rising to 4.7% by 2026. It predicted inflation would fall from its current 30-year high of 6.9% to 2.2% over the next four years. 

The inflation payments of 350 New Zealand dollars ($220) over three months begin in August and are targeted at the half of all adults who earn less than 70,000 New Zealand dollars ($44,000) per year. The government also decided to extend other temporary measures aimed at combatting spiraling living costs, including a cut to gas taxes and half-price public transportation fares. 

“Our economy has come through the COVID-19 shock better than almost anywhere else in the world,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a statement. “But as the pandemic subsides, other challenges both long-term and more immediate have come to the fore.” 

Ardern has been isolating at her Wellington residence this week after catching the virus. Her office said she’d experienced moderate symptoms and was improving, and at this point still planned to travel to the U.S. next week for a trade trip and to give the commencement speech at Harvard University. 

The record 1.8 billion New Zealand dollars ($1.1 billion) boost to health spending next year comes as New Zealand overhauls its publicly funded system by getting rid of a patchwork of 20 district health authorities in favor of a single system. The extra money will help pay off the debts of the district authorities, rebuild three hospitals, and boost medicine spending. 

“This is going to make a massive difference to every New Zealander, in terms of the health care that they get,” said Finance Minister Grant Robertson. 

Treasury predicted the government’s books would return to the black by 2025 after it borrowed heavily during the pandemic. New Zealand’s net government debt is forecast to remain much lower than in most developed nations, peaking at 20% of GDP in 2024 before dropping to 15% two years later. 

Earlier this week, the government announced a new initiative to help pay for lower-income families to scrap their old gas guzzlers and replace them with cleaner hybrid or electric cars as part of a sweeping plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The budget plan also included a boost of 660 million New Zealand dollars to defense spending over four years to cover the cost of depreciating assets. 

Conservative opposition leader Christopher Luxon said the governing liberal Labour Party had an addiction to spending and the budget plans would put the economy into reverse, with New Zealanders experiencing the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation. 

The budget plan was expected to be quickly approved by lawmakers since the Labour Party holds a majority of seats in the Parliament. 


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US Stocks Fall Sharply on Renewed Inflation Fears

Stocks closed sharply lower Wednesday on Wall Street as dismal results from Target renewed fears that inflation is battering U.S. companies.

The S&P 500, the benchmark for many index funds, fell 4%.

Target lost a quarter of its value, dragging other retailers down with it, after saying its profit fell by half in the latest quarter as costs for freight and transportation spiked. That comes a day after Walmart cited inflation for its own weak results.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,164 points, or 3.6% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq pulled back 4.7%. Treasury yields fell as investors sought safer ground.

“A lot of people are trying to guess the bottom,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. “Bottoms occur when there’s nobody left to sell.”

Retailers were among the biggest decliners after Target plunged following a grim quarterly earnings report.

The weak reports stoked concerns that persistently rising inflation is putting a tighter squeeze on a wide range of businesses and could cut deeper into their profits.

Technology stocks, which led the market rally a day earlier, were the biggest drag on the S&P 500. Apple lost 5.9%.

All told, more than 95% of stocks in the S&P 500 were down. Utilities also weighed down the index, though not nearly as much as the other 10 sectors, as investors shifted money to investments that are considered less risky.

The disappointing report from Target comes a day after the market cheered an encouraging report from the Commerce Department that showed retail sales rose in April, driven by higher sales of cars, electronics and more spending at restaurants.

Stocks have been struggling to pull out of a slump over the last six weeks as concerns pile up for investors. Trading has been choppy on a daily basis and any data on retailers and consumers is being closely monitored by investors as they try to determine the impact from inflation and whether it will prompt a slowdown in spending. A bigger-than-expected hit to spending could signal more sluggish economic growth ahead.

The Federal Reserve is trying to temper the impact from the highest inflation in four decades by raising interest rates. On Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell told a Wall Street Journal conference that the U.S. central bank will “have to consider moving more aggressively” if inflation fails to ease after earlier rate hikes.

Investors are concerned that the central bank could cause a recession if it raises rates too high or too quickly. Worries persist about global growth as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine puts even more pressure on prices for oil and food while lockdowns in China to stem COVID-19 cases worsens supply chain problems.

The United Nations is significantly lowering its forecast for global economic growth this year from 4% to 3.1%. The downgrade is broad-based, which includes the world’s largest economies such as the U.S., China and the European Union.


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US Calls for More Economic Support for Ukraine

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is calling on allies to boost their economic support for Ukraine, saying the support pledged so far will not be enough to meet the country’s basic needs.

In comments prepared for the Brussels Economic Forum, Yellen says while Ukraine will eventually need “massive support,” for now it needs “budget funding to pay soldiers, employees and pensioners, as well as to operate an economy that meets its citizens’ basic needs.”

Yellen adds that Ukraine’s “financing needs are significant,” while crediting the bravery and ingenuity of the country’s officials to keep its economy going.

Help could come Wednesday with the European Union expected to propose a set of loans that would help Ukraine both with short-term financing and its rebuilding effort in the longterm.

Some information came from Reuters.


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Americans Return to the Office With Willingness and Trepidation 

As cases of coronavirus continue to decline in the United States, many businesses have told their employees it’s time to return to the office.  

Some people are already doing the daily grind, while others are splitting their time between home and the office as part of a hybrid plan.  

The office routine was normal for millions of Americans before the pandemic. Now, some two years later, it is regarded as a new normal, after those employees worked full-time from their residences. 

Morning Consult, a global business intelligence company, has been polling U.S. consumers about returning to the workplace.  

Charlotte Principato, a financial services analyst for the organization, said the latest poll showed 73% of remote workers felt comfortable returning to the office. The remaining 27% wanted to remain at home where, they said, they work more efficiently.  

“The return to the office is experienced differently depending on each person’s situation,” and introverts may have a harder time getting used to it than extroverts, said Debra Kaplan, a therapist in Tucson, Arizona.  

She told VOA many people will experience stress adjusting to an office environment after working from home. 

Mark Gerald, a psychoanalyst in New York, likens it to a child going to school for the first time.  

There’s almost childlike anxiety that’s related to change and fears of going into the world, he said. 

The fears include contracting the coronavirus, as well as being away from family during the workday. 

That’s true for Imani Harris, a federal government employee in Washington who has two young children. 

“I wear a mask at work because I don’t feel safe being at the office,” she said. “I’d rather be at home because I accomplish more, and get to spend quality time with the kids — plus it’s harder financially since I have to spend money on child care.” 

Another drawback is exhaustion.  

“At first, returning to the office can be really draining because you haven’t seen the people you work with in person for a long time,” said Karestan Koenen, a psychiatric epidemiology professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. 

“Psychologically and emotionally, the transition is not comfortable but should eventually become more comfortable as time goes on,” she added.  

Still, many workers favor a hybrid approach in which they work more at home than in the office.  

“We tend to see that younger folks are more likely to want a hybrid environment where they feel they’re more productive and have more flexibility and control,” Principato said.  

They also don’t think their jobs need to be done in the office and want to work in a way that feels better for them, Kaplan said.  

For Ethan Carson, who is in his 20s and works for a technology firm in Falls Church, Virginia, going to his office “is more of a bother” than working from home. “I don’t need to be in my building to do my job,” he said, “and the commute is difficult with the horrible traffic.” 

Other employees, however, think it’s easier for them to get their job done around their peers than at home, where there may be more distractions.  

For some, the office makes them feel they are part of a community again.  

“There is a hunger for human connection and sometimes the human touch,” Gerald said.  

“People have realized that socializing is helpful for their mental health,” Kaplan said. “They often feel positive about seeing their colleagues,” talking to them face-to-face, and not just on Zoom, she explained.  

Angela Morgensen, a communications consultant in Bethesda, Maryland, is relieved to be back at the office. 

“I’m enjoying talking to the people I work with and feel more like I’m part of the company again,” she said. “I used to hate meetings, but I’m finding it stimulating to share ideas.” 

Gerald points out that the pandemic has made people think more about a better work-life balance, including how many hours they want to spend in the office. 

“They are not returning as the same person they were before the pandemic happened. Some wonder, ‘Is this job fulfilling and the workplace a good environment for me?'”  

And that’s reflected in seeing hybrid work becoming more of the norm, he said. 


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EU Cuts Eurozone Growth Forecast As Ukraine War Bites

The European Commission on Monday sharply cut its eurozone growth forecast for 2022 to 2.7 percent, blaming skyrocketing energy prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war also spurred the EU’s executive to revisit its eurozone inflation prediction for 2022, with consumer prices forecast to jump by 6.1 percent year-on-year, much higher than the earlier forecast of 3.5 percent.

“There is no doubt that the EU economy is going through a challenging period due to Russia’s war against Ukraine, and we have downgraded our forecast accordingly,” EU executive vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said.

“The overwhelming negative factor is the surge in energy prices, driving inflation to record highs and putting a strain on European businesses and households,” he added.

The EU warned that the course of the war was highly uncertain and that the risk of stagflation -– punishing inflation with little or no growth — remained a real risk going forward.

If Russia, the EU’s main energy supplier, should cut off its oil and gas supply to Europe completely, the commission warned that the forecast would worsen considerably.

“Our forecast is subjected to very high uncertainty and risks,” EU commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters.

“Other scenarios are possible under which growth may be lower and inflation higher than we are projecting today. In any case, our economy is still far from a normal situation,” he said.

For the EU as a whole, including the eight countries that do not use the euro as their currency, the commission had also forecast growth of four percent in February, but has now cut this to 2.7 percent, the same level as for the eurozone.

The sharp reduction in expectations is in line with the forecast made in mid-April by the International Monetary Fund, which predicted 2.8 percent growth for the eurozone this year.

The EU’s warning for the months ahead lands as the European Central Bank is increasingly expected to increase interest rates in July to tackle soaring inflation.

Critics warn that this could put a brake on economic activity just when the economy faced the headwinds from the war in Ukraine.


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US, EU to boost coordination on semiconductor supply, Russia

The United States and the European Union plan to announce on Monday a joint effort aimed at identifying semiconductor supply disruptions as well as countering Russian disinformation, officials said.

The U.S. officials are visiting the French scientific hub of Saclay for a meet up of the Trade and Technology Council, created last year as China increasingly exerts its technology clout.

U.S. officials acknowledged that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has broadened the council’s scope, but said the Western bloc still has its eye on competition from China.

The two sides will announce an “early warning system” for semiconductors supply disruptions, hoping to avoid excessive competition between Western powers for the vital tech component.

The industry has suffered from a shortage of components for chipmaking, blamed on a boom in global demand for electronic products and pandemic snarled supply chains.

“We hope to agree on high levels of subsidies — that they will not be more than what is necessary and proportionate and appropriate,” Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, told reporters Sunday.

The aim is that “as both Washington and Brussels look to encourage semiconductor investment in our respective countries, we do so in a coordinated fashion and don’t simply encourage a subsidy race,” a U.S. official said separately, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States already put in place its own early warning system in 2021 that looked at supply chains in Southeast Asia and “has been very helpful in helping us get ahead of a couple of potential shutdowns earlier this year,” the US. .official said.

The official added that the two sides are looking ahead to supply disruptions caused by pandemic lockdowns in China — the only major economy still hewing to a zero-Covid strategy.

The European Union and United States will also announce joint measures on fighting disinformation and hacking, especially from Russia, including a guide on cybersecurity best practices for small- and medium-sized companies and a task force on trusted technology suppliers, the official said.

“It’s not a European matter but a global matter,” she said.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai are visiting for the talks.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken attended an opening dinner on Monday before cutting short his visit to head to Abu Dhabi for the funeral of late leader Sheikh Khalifa.


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African Union Chief Wants Pan-African Credit Ratings Agency

Senegal President Macky Sall called Sunday for the creation of a pan-African credit ratings agency, saying that the “very arbitrary” nature of the system of assessment by international organizations made it more expensive for African countries to borrow on global debt markets.

Sall, who is currently head of the African Union, told private radio RFM that there was a need — “given the injustices, the sometimes very arbitrary ratings” by international agencies — “to have a pan-African” body.  

His comments came on the eve of the Dakar Economic Conference 2022, organized by African economists. 

“In 2020, when all economies were suffering fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, 18 of the 32 African economies rated by at least one of the big agencies saw their ratings downgraded,” he said.

That meant that 56% of African countries saw their credit ratings downgraded, compared with 31% of countries globally over the same period, Sall argued.

“Studies show that at least 20% of the ratings criteria for African countries are based on more subjective factors, cultural or linguistic ones for example, which bear no relation to the parameters used for measuring economic stability,” he said. 

As a result, “the perception of investment risk in Africa is always much higher than the real risk. That means our insurance premiums are higher and that makes our credit more expensive.” 

African countries continued to pay much higher interest rates as a result of this unfair system, Sall said.


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Egypt to Privatize Key State Companies as Inflation Surges

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli announced Sunday a string of planned privatizations of state-owned companies, as Cairo grapples with an economic crisis and inflation at almost 15%.

Following years of accusations of state companies crowding out private investments, the government announced a roadmap to more than double the private sector’s share in the economy.

Madbouli laid out plans for 10 state-owned companies and two army-owned companies to be listed on the stock market later this year.

Two new holding companies, to incorporate “the seven largest ports” and “Egypt’s top hotels” will also be formed, percentages of which “will be listed on the stock exchange,” he told reporters.

By 2025, the government hopes to see “private sector contribution in investment grow to 65%,” up from 30% today.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi last month announced plans to “double its support to the private sector” in a program aimed to attract $10 billion annually over the next four years.

Earlier this month, American firm S&P Global released its latest Egypt Purchasing Manager’s Index, which showed the state’s non-oil private sector economy contracting for the 17th straight month.

Inflation hit a three-year high of 14.9% in April, a month after the Egyptian pound lost 17% of its value overnight.

The state’s grip on the Egypt’s economy has been criticized as creating unfair competition.

Business magnate Naguib Sawiris last year warned of the effects of an unfair playing field, arguing that “the state has to be a regulator, not an owner” of economic activity.

Madbouli on Sunday said there was “no alternative” to the state’s involvement in the economy, considering the “instability” of recent years, alluding to security concerns surrounding Sissi’s rise to power, and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since Sissi became president in 2014, the former army general has embarked on massive national infrastructure projects, where the key but opaque role the army has played in Egypt’s economy for decades took center stage.

Although no official figures are published about the army’s financial interests, the new push for privatization of military-owned companies could seek to correct a skewed investment environment.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February sent global commodity prices soaring, Egypt — the world’s largest importer of wheat — has been reeling from mounting economic pressures, pushing the country to apply for a new loan from the International Monetary Fund.


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