Economists: Political Uncertainties, Trade Tensions Affect Economic Growth

Economists warn that political uncertainties and trade tensions could undermine global economic growth. Rights groups warn of the dangers of growing economic inequality. About 3,000 political and economic leaders have gathered in the Swiss resort town of Davos to discuss global business and economic trends at an annual economic forum. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.


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UN Forecasts Global Economic Growth Around 3 Percent in 2019

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects.

The U.N.’s report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2019 also stresses that economic growth is uneven and often doesn’t reach countries that need it most.

Per capital income is expected to stagnate or see only marginal growth this year in parts of Africa, western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in the forward of the report launched Monday that while economic indicators remain “largely favorable,” the report “raises concerns over the sustainability of global economic growth in the face of rising financial, social and environmental challenges.”   


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France Fines Google $57M for Data Privacy Violation

France’s data watchdog fined Google nearly $57 million on Monday, saying the tech giant failed to provide users with transparent information on its data consumer policies and how their personal information was used to display advertising targeting them.

The French agency CNIL said U.S.-based Google made it too difficult for internet users to understand and manage their personal preferences online.

“The information provided is not sufficiently clear,” the regulatory agency said, “for the user to understand the legal basis for targeted advertising is consent, and not Google’s legitimate business interests.”

It was the first ruling using the European Union’s strict new General Data Protection Regulation since it was implemented last year, a sweeping set of rules that has set a global standard forcing large American technology firms to examine their practices or risk huge fines.

Google said it was studying the ruling to determine its next steps.

“People expect high standards of transparency and control from us,” Google said. “We’re deeply committed to meeting those expectations and the consent requirements” of the new regulations.

 


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UK Leader Unveils Brexit Plan B, Looks a Lot Like Plan A

British Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled her Brexit Plan B on Monday — and it looks a lot like Plan A.

May launched a mission to resuscitate her rejected European Union divorce deal, setting out plans to get it approved by Parliament after securing changes from the EU to a contentious Irish border measure.

May’s opponents expressed incredulity: British lawmakers last week dealt the deal a resounding defeat, and EU leaders insist they won’t renegotiate it.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party accused May of being in “deep denial” about her doomed deal.

“This really does feel a bit like Groundhog Day,” he said, referring to the 1993 film starring Bill Murray, in which a weatherman is fated to live out the same day over and over again.

Outlining what she plans to do after her EU divorce deal was rejected by Parliament last week, May said that she had heeded lawmakers’ concerns over an insurance policy known as the “backstop” that is intended to guarantee there are no customs checks along the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland after Brexit.

May told the House of Commons that she would be “talking further this week to colleagues … to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House.

“And I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU.”

The bloc insists that it won’t renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

“She is wasting time calling for a revision or clarification over the backstop,” said German politician Udo Bullmann, head of the socialist group in the European Parliament.

Amendments

While May stuck doggedly to her deal, she also acknowledged that control over Brexit wasn’t entirely in her hands. She noted that lawmakers will be able to amend her plan when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons on Jan. 29, exactly two months before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Groups of “soft Brexit”-backing lawmakers — who want to keep close economic ties to the bloc — are planning to use amendments to try to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit and make May ease her insistence that leaving the EU means quitting its single market and customs union.

Britain and the EU sealed a divorce deal in November after months of tense negotiations. But the agreement has been rejected by both sides of Britain’s divide over Europe. Brexit-backing lawmakers say it will leave the U.K. tethered to the bloc’s rules and unable to forge an independent trade policy. Pro-Europeans argue it is inferior to the frictionless economic relationship Britain currently enjoys as an EU member.

After her deal was thrown out last week by a crushing 432-202 vote in Parliament, May said she would consult with lawmakers from all parties to find a new way forward.

But Corbyn called the cross-party meetings a “stunt,” and other opposition leaders said the prime minister didn’t seem to be listening.

On Monday, May rejected calls from pro-EU lawmakers to delay Britain’s departure from the bloc or to hold a second referendum on whether to leave.

In a nod to opposition parties’ concerns, she promised to consult lawmakers, trade unionists, business groups and civil society organizations “to try to find the broadest possible consensus” on future ties between Britain and the EU, and said the government wouldn’t water down protections for the environment and workers’ rights after Brexit.

May also said the government had decided to waive a 65 pound ($84) fee for EU citizens in Britain who want to stay permanently after Brexit.

Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the EU Parliament Brexit steering group, welcomed news that the fee was being dropped for 3 million EU nationals, saying it had been a “key demand” for the EU legislature.

Irish border

May’s immediate goal is to win over pro-Brexit Conservatives and her party’s Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. Both groups say they won’t back the deal unless the border backstop is removed.

The backstop proposes to keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU in order to avoid checks on the Irish border. It is meant as a temporary measure that would last until a permanent solution is found. But pro-Brexit U.K. lawmakers fear Britain could become trapped in it, indefinitely bound by EU trade rules.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz broke ranks with EU colleagues Monday by suggesting the problem could be solved by setting a five-year time limit on the backstop.

The idea got a cool reception. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said that “putting a time-limit on an insurance mechanism, which is what the backstop is, effectively means that it’s not a backstop at all.”

Britain’s political impasse over Brexit is fueling concerns that the country may crash out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place to cushion the shock. That could see tariffs imposed on goods moving between Britain and the EU, sparking logjams at ports and shortages of essential supplies.

Threat of ‘no deal’

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said Monday was “another bleak day for business.”

“Parliament remains in deadlock while the slope to a cliff edge steepens,” she said.

Several groups of lawmakers are trying to use parliamentary rules and amendments to May’s plan to block the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

One of those legislators, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, said May was shirking her responsibility to the country by refusing to take “no deal” off the table.

“I think she knows that she should rule out ‘no deal’ in the national interest because it would be so damaging,” Cooper told the BBC. “She’s refusing to do so, and I think she’s hoping that Parliament will do this for her. That is not leadership.” 


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World Economy Forecast to Slow in 2019 Amid Trade Tensions

The International Monetary Fund has cut its forecast for world economic growth this year, citing heightened trade tensions and rising U.S. interest rates.

The IMF said Monday that it expects global growth this year of 3.5 percent, down from 3.7 percent in 2018 and from the 3.7 percent it had forecast for 2019 back in October.

 

“After two years of solid expansion, the world economy is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde as she presented the new forecasts at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

 

The fund left its prediction for U.S. growth this year unchanged at 2.5 percent — though a continuation of the partial 31-day shutdown of the federal government poses a risk. The IMF trimmed the outlook for the 19 countries that use the euro currency to 1.6 percent from 1.8 percent.

 

Growth in emerging-market countries is forecast to slow to 4.5 percent from 4.6 percent in 2018. The IMF expects the Chinese economy — the world’s second biggest — to grow 6.2 percent this year, down from 6.6 percent in 2018 and slowest since 1990.

 

The World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have also downgraded their world growth forecasts.

 

Britain’s messy divorce from the European Union and Italy’s ongoing financial struggles pose threats to growth in Europe.

 

And rising trade tensions pose a major risk to the wider world economy. Under President Donald Trump the United States has imposed import taxes on steel, aluminum and hundreds of Chinese products, drawing retaliation from China and other U.S. trading partners.

 

“Higher trade uncertainty will further dampen investment and disrupt global supply chains,” said IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath.

 

Rising interest rates in the U.S. and elsewhere are also pinching emerging-market governments and companies that borrowed heavily when rates were ultra-low in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

 

As the debts roll over, those borrowers have to refinance at higher rates. A rising dollar is also making things harder for emerging-market borrowers who took out loans denominated in the U.S. currency.

 

 


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Uganda Seeks to Regulate Fish Maw Trade

At the Gaba landing site in Kampala, fishermen dock their boats filled with both tilapia and Nile perch.

Waiting along the shores, donning white gum boots and white coats, fish traders wait to offload the Nile perch that has turned profitable for many traders.

The fish’s commodity, known as a swim bladder, is used as an aphrodisiac in China and is now being recognized by the Ugandan government as water gold, but fishermen at the forefront say they are being exploited.

A study by the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization has shown that a growing appetite in Asia has seen the former waste by-product becoming a multi-million-dollar export.

Idrisa Walusimbi began working as a fisherman 20 years ago. Now, he has his own boat and is chairman of the fish protection unit. He says in the early 1990s, Nile perch fish maw would be fried and eaten by locals. But lately, the Chinese market has made it more lucrative, especially for the exporter.

“You find that from the lowest fisherman, as you know, that he gains, but not so much. Then you find the middleman gains more, and the trader above gains even more, the levels keep increasing and the ones that profit the most are the final local buyer and exporter,” Walusimbi said.

Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania collectively earn $86 million from trading the commodity. Uganda alone earned $40 million in 2017 as the largest exporter of the Nile perch swim bladder to China.

Vincent Ssempijja, Uganda’s minister for agriculture, animal industry and fisheries, says fish maw is a new item that needs to be regulated.

“That’s why we want to regulate it, so that our fish farmers and of course the fish mongers and the fisheries sector really, benefit from this very lucrative business. Yes, it’s certainly a new type of gold, so we need to look at it more critically,” Ssempijja said.

International prices for dry maw range between $450 and $1,000 per kilogram, depending on the size, quality and market strength. Fish sold to locals have the swim bladders taken out and sold for between $107 to $214 per kilogram.

At the Gaba landing site, fish processing companies have trucks loaded with the Nile Perch fish maw left intact.

The Lake Victoria Fish Organization in its report advises that the fish maw be recognized as a separate commodity from fish. Walugembe George, a fisherman, says he wishes there was a standard price so they too could benefit.

“We have always known that it’s a saleable commodity, but we sell it at low prices. So, we have been exploited. Why do the prices hike and then slump?” he asked.

The Ugandan government is currently consulting and discussing a fisheries and aquaculture bill that calls for the fish maw to be one of the products that should be regulated.

 

 


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Russian Media Watchdog Moves Against Facebook, Twitter

Russia’s communication watchdog, Roskomnadzor, opened “administrative proceedings” Monday against Facebook and Twitter for non-compliance with country’s data laws, Interfax news agency reported.

Roskomnadzor head Alexander Zharov is quoted as saying that U.S. social media giants have a month to comply or face legal proceedings.

According to Roskomnadzor, Facebook and Twitter have not explained how and when they would comply with legislation that requires all servers used to store Russians’ personal data to be located in Russia.

Russia has introduced stricter internet laws in the past five years, among other things requiring search engines to share encryption keys with Russian security services.

In April last year, thousands rallied in Moscow in support of internet freedom after Russian authorities attempted to block access to the popular messaging app Telegram.

Telegram had refused to give state intelligence services access to private conversations which are usually encrypted.


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China’s 2018 Economic Growth Edges Down Amid Trade War

China’s 2018 economic growth decelerated to 6.6 percent after activity in the final quarter of the year declined amid a tariff battle with Washington.

Data announced Monday showed economic growth cooled to a post-global crisis quarterly low of 6.4 percent in the three months ending in December from the previous quarter’s 6.5 percent.

Chinese economic growth has been slowing since regulators tightened controls on bank lending in late 2017 to rein in a debt boom.

Growth held up through much of 2018 despite President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes on Chinese goods in a fight over Beijing’s technology ambitions. But exports contracted in December as the penalties began to dampen demand.

Growth in investment, retail sales and other indicators also slowed.


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Uganda Seeks to Regulate Lucrative Fish Maw Trade

The sale of Nile Perch fish maw in Uganda has become a lucrative business, especially for distributors. The fish maw – or dried swim bladder – is used as an aphrodisiac in China. But Ugandan fishermen bringing in the perch say they are being exploited while others are reaping the profits. Halima Athumani reports from Kampala.


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