Tag Archives: calls

NBN boss calls for study into broadband future

Updated February 23, 2013 12:53:09

The head of the National Broadband Network (NBN) wants an industry study to determine the best way to build the high-speed internet project.

Construction has been underway on the NBN for more than two years but there is still debate over which technology should be used.

The NBN Co is using a technology called ‘fibre to the premises’, which goes all the way to a home, to build most of the network.

But the Coalition wants to use ‘fibre to the node’. It says this method is faster and cheaper, but it will come with slower speeds.

NBN boss Mike Quigley is trying to bring an end to the debate in the lead up to the federal election.

He says he supports a proposed study by the Communications Alliance into the pros and cons of a range of technologies to see which is best.

“It gives them an opportunity to have a voice and give their opinion on what is the right way forward for the NBN,” he told PM.

“There is a lot of debate at the moment about what the right way forward is. Who’s better placed than the industry itself to have a view?”

But he says his support for the study does not mean he does not fully support the NBN.

“Having an open debate can only be a good thing for the country,” he said.

Opposition communication spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says the study should have been completed before the Government embarked on the NBN project.

“Mike Quigley’s statement today is a colossal admission of failure,” he told PM.

“It is admitting that the Government has made a hash of this … that there needs to be an examination of the different options and … that should have been done four years ago.”

“The question should have been asked: ‘we want everyone in Australia to have very fast broadband, what are the options to do so, let’s rank them in terms of time of deployment, cost of deployment, service delivery outcomes’.

“That’s what we’ve been begging the Government to do for four years, but they’ve embarked on this, they’ve arrogantly dismissed every request for this and now Mike Quigley himself is saying he’d like to see it done.”

Mr Turnbull says if the Coalition wins government, it will examine all aspects of the NBN and decide whether the rollout should continue.

“We will ensure there is produced a comprehensive analysis, totally transparent analysis, of what it will take in terms of dollars and time to complete the network on the plan of the current Government,” he said.

“We will then produce a similar analysis which shows the savings in dollars and time by burying it, by making changes, along the lines of the kind that we’ve proposed, using much more fibre to the node, which is consistent with the experience and practice in most other developed markets.

“We’ll also ensure there is done a cost benefit analysis by the Productivity Commission, and we will also conduct a very rigorous inquiry into the whole process relating to the NBN.

“I think Australians need to be told the truth about this project, they need to be told how it could possible have been embarked upon with so little analysis.”

The board of the Communications Alliance, which represents the telecommunications industry, has not yet decided whether it will go ahead with the study.

But its chief executive, John Stanton, says it is the right time to look at the technologies on offer.

“I guess the point is we’re not at a late stage of the rollout of the NBN, we’re in the very early stages of a nine year or more rollout,” he said.

“The nexus of the idea here is that technologies develop, things are learnt as you start to roll out a network like this, and it is logical and inevitable that over a multi-year rollout, there will be evolution and improvement of the way that the network is deployed.

“So it could make sense to have industry, which after all designed the original reference architecture for the NBN, continue to look at what could make sense.”

Mr Stanton says the debate over high-speed internet needs to be taken out of political hands.

“We need a rational, inclusive debate that sits above politics and simply looks at what might be sensible options in the national interest,” he said.

Major telco Optus does not agree that the study by the alliance would be effective.

It has issued a statement saying it would be better for individual companies to contribute to the debate on various broadband technologies rather than a Communications Alliance review.

The ABC asked Telstra for a response to Mr Quigley’s plan for a study, but it did not reply.

Topics: telecommunications, internet-technology, computers-and-technology, government-and-politics, federal-government, australia

First posted February 22, 2013 19:49:04

Labor calls on O’Farrell to scrap deputy pay rise

Updated February 23, 2013 10:10:24

The New South Wales Opposition has demanded the State Government reverse a pay rise given to Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner whenever he fills in for the Premier.

A regulation from Premier Barry O’Farrell granting the pay rise was published yesterday, but his office has referred questions about it to Mr Stoner.

A spokesman for Mr Stoner says the pay rise recognises the significant extra responsibility of acting as Premier.

Mr Stoner has declined to be interviewed.

Opposition spokesman Walt Secord says it is the first time a New South Wales Premier has granted such a perk.

“It’s extraordinary that on a Friday afternoon the Premier – with a stroke of the pen – creates a $1,000 a week pay rise for his Deputy Premier,” he said.

“It comes at a time when the O’Farrell Government has cut 15,000 Government employees, slashed $1.5 billion from education, $1.2 billion from health.

“We’re calling on him to immediately scrap this pay rise.”

Greens MP John Kaye says Mr Stoner’s base salary of nearly $290,000 is enough.

“Part of that salary ought to cover when he’s acting for the Premier, after all that is the only official function of the Deputy Premier,” he said.

Topics: industrial-relations, states-and-territories, state-parliament, sydney-2000

First posted February 23, 2013 09:33:27

Cameron calls for faster RBS reform

UK Prime Minister David Cameron with Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh UK Prime Minister David Cameron is on a trade visit to India The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has called on Royal Bank of Scotland to speed up the overhaul of its business.


Speaking on a trip to India, Mr Cameron said he wanted the largely state-owned bank to “accelerate the adjustments” it was making.


He added he was “keen to examine all possibilities” for putting RBS back into the private sector.


However, he played down reports that the government was preparing to sell its stake in the bank.


RBS is 82%-owned by the tax payer after the government injected £45bn to stop it from collapsing during the financial crisis.


The current chief executive, Stephen Hester, started the process of reforming the bank in 2009.


When asked to respond to comments that the government was preparing to sell its stake by 2014, Mr Cameron responded with: “These are all interesting questions for the future.”


“The first job is to turn around the performance of RBS and to strengthen its balance sheet, strengthen its business and that’s what (RBS chief executive) Stephen Hester and his team are doing.”

CCI calls for Government to rein in spending

Updated February 19, 2013 12:08:15

The WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry has described the latest report from the credit ratings agency Moody’s as a “wake up call.”

The agency has reaffirmed its negative ratings outlook for WA after warning in December that the state’s debt burden was putting its AAA credit rating at risk.

The CCI’s chief executive, James Pearson, says the report has highlighted the fact that state spending is “out of control.”

He says the government needs to show financial restraint, particularly with its big ticket election items.

“The fact is that there’s no magic pot of money here, money isn’t limitless, and we should be making decisions about investment and infrastructure based on what is best for the state,” he said.

Mr Pearson says the Government needs to show financial restraint.

“If we lose the AAA rating, it’ll cost taxpayers more money because it’ll cost the government more money to borrow money,” he said.

The WA Treasurer, Troy Buswell, says the government has reined in spending over the past four years to maintain the strength of the state’s finances.

“We have to strike a balance between investing to support a growing state economy, a growing state population, and protecting our AAA credit rating,” he said.

“That’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

In 2008, WA had a debt level of $3.6 billion, according to Treasury figures.

It then rose to just over $12 billion in the 2010/2011 financial year.

The debt will be $18 billion at the end of the 2012/13 financial year.

It is then projected to be $23 billion in the 2014/2015 forward estimates.

Mr Buswell says the economy is in good shape.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, government-and-politics, perth-6000

First posted February 19, 2013 10:24:21

Bank of Italy head calls for power to remove executives

Bank-of-Italy-007qBERGAMO: Bank of Italy Governor Vincenzo Visco called on Saturday for more powers for regulators to step in at troubled banks but defended his institution’s oversight of Monte dei Paschi di Siena and said the bank was not at risk of failing.


Responding to criticism about banking oversight in the case of the Tuscan lender, Visco repeated that central bank supervisors had acted appropriately but asked for more powers to remove bank executives in exceptional cases.


“The supervisor should have the power to intervene when based on solid evidence it believes it is necessary to oppose the appointment of (banks’) executives or to remove them” Visco, who also sits on the European Central Bank governing council, said in a speech to a finance conference.

Copyright Reuters, 2013

Miners reject calls to contribute to training levy


The Chamber of Minerals and Energy has hit out at a National party plan to impose a levy on the construction of resources projects, saying it would add to the sector’s rising challenges.


The Nationals want to end the exemption resources projects receive on a levy of 0.2 of a per cent on construction projects worth more than $20,000.


Money raised from the levy goes into the Construction Industry Training Fund.


The chamber’s director Nicole Roocke says it would endanger future resources projects.


“It will be one of many additional costs that are being incurred at the moment in Western Australia,” she said.


“That additional cost is impacting on the viability of Western Australia as an investment destination.


“For the larger projects what we’re talking about is tens of millions of dollars per project.


“The impact, when you look at the value of resources projects in Western Australia, will be significant and will be a significant impost in costs.


“What’s important that we need to do looking forward though, is understanding what level of training is needed so we do have a skilled workforce into the future.”


However, the Master Builders Association’s Kim Richardson says the plan would be a major boost to construction companies who have been disadvantaged by losing employees they have trained to mining projects.


“What we’re just saying is some equity and fairness into the equation where we are training the skilled workers for the resource sector, for the construction side of their resource projects, and the resource sector is not carrying its fair share of weight,” he said.


“We do actually see it having a fairly significant effect because the cost of appointing an apprentice these days, matched with also the lack of productivity an apprentice has to their employer in their first 18 months.


“What we’re saying is this will assist the Construction Training Fund, which is the State Government body, to continue to support the employers of building industry apprentices.”


But the Premier Colin Barnett has shot down the plan saying it will not happen under a government he leads.


“The mining industry does an enormous amount in terms of training and developing,” he said.


“The mining industry is the biggest developer of Aboriginal people in our state. So they do do a lot and we are not going to impose another tax.”


The State Opposition says such a move could harm the state’s economy.


Labor’s Fran Logan says with resources companies already facing high labour costs, as well as the mining and carbon taxes, the state cannot place another burden on them.


“If you’re building a $45 billion LNG project on Barrow Island, a 0.2 per cent levy is a significant amount of money,” he said.

Topics: mining-industry, state-parliament, perth-6000, wa, albany-6330, denmark-6333, katanning-6317, bunbury-6230, geraldton-6530, esperance-6450, kalgoorlie-6430, broome-6725, karratha-6714

First posted February 08, 2013 10:56:31

Dairy group backs calls for extended disaster aid


The Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation (QDO) has added its voice to calls for extra disaster recovery support to be extended to more council areas.


Bundaberg, Gympie, North Burnett, Lockyer Valley and Fraser Coast have already been declared Category C under Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, providing landholders with income relief subsidies and help to rebuild.


QDO’s Brian Tessmann says areas like South Burnett, Scenic Rim, Somerset, and parts of the Darling Downs should also be upgraded.


He says dairy farmers in those areas have already been through a lot.


“The dairy industry was hit severely in the floods after going through a long period of drought and then of course straight … after, the floods had barely drained away, the supermarket milk price war started, which has had a severe effect on the industry ever since,” he said.


“So now on top of that to get another impact here is really heartbreaking.


“We’re certainly working … the QDO and QFF [Queensland Farmers Federation] are working to lobby government, put the case up and show the damage.


“We’re really keen that the areas that have not as yet been declared get information to us so we can really put the case to government to see that those areas are also declared.”

Topics: food-and-beverage, floods, federal—state-issues, dairy-production, bundaberg-4670, toowoomba-4350, southport-4215, maroochydore-4558, rockhampton-4700

Telstra to probe slow response to calls about outage death


Telstra say it is unacceptable the company did not make earlier contact with the family of a woman who could not get medical help during service outages.


Anne-Marie Rankmore found her 75-year-old mother unconscious on the floor of her Proserpine home during the Australia Day long weekend, when the network suffered a massive failure and the triple-0 service did not work.


Ms Rankmore says in the week after her mother’s death she tried several times to contact Telstra about the incident.


A Telstra spokeswoman says Ms Rankmore’s call was not responded to in a timely fashion and it will investigate why that occurred.


She says after the investigation appropriate steps will be taken to help ensure similar calls are given the respect and priority they deserve.

Topics: company-news, telecommunications, aged-care, older-people, death, proserpine-4800, townsville-4810, mackay-4740

Cameron calls for action on tax

David Cameron: “This is an issue whose time has come”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that countries must work together to clamp down on tax avoidance.


“Individuals and businesses must pay their fair share,” he told leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos.


He said that “trade, tax and transparency” were the UK’s economic priorities.


It comes a day after he called for negotiations on the UK’s place in the European Union, followed by a referendum.


Those that avoid tax “need to wake up and smell the coffee” – an apparent reference to US coffee giant Starbucks, which was widely castigated for paying little tax in the UK but then pledged to pay millions of pounds in corporation tax after a backlash.

Europe debate

The prime minister also defended his choice to offer a referendum on EU membership after 2015, if the Conservatives win the next election, and said that the 27-member bloc needed to change.

Continue reading the main story
Clamp down in one country and the travelling caravan of lawyers, accountants and financial gurus just moves on elsewhere”

End Quote David Cameron UK Prime Minister “Europe is being out-competed, out-invested and out-innovated,” Mr Cameron said.


And Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny – speaking in Davos in another session after Mr Cameron – said that with “Britain a driving force for the European market, Europe would be stronger”, adding that he would like the UK to stay in the bloc.


On the issue of renegotiating terms with the rest of Europe, the prime minister said: “This is not about turning our backs on Europe – quite the opposite. It’s about how we make the case for a more competitive, open and flexible Europe – and secure the UK’s place within it.


“When you have a single currency you move inexorably towards a banking union and forms of fiscal union and that has huge implications for countries like the UK who are not in the euro and never will be.”


Mr Cameron is also meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos. Mrs Merkel said that Germany would be prepared to discuss new terms with the UK within a framework of “compromise”.

‘Travelling caravan’

Mr Cameron said that cutting down on tax avoidance was one of the UK’s main priorities for its presidency of the G8 group of richest nations this year.


“There are some forms of tax avoidance that have become so aggressive” that it is time for international co-operation to make sure that global companies pay their fair share of tax, he said.


“This is a problem for all countries, not just for Britain,” he said.


“Acting alone has its limits. Clamp down in one country and the travelling caravan of lawyers, accountants and financial gurus just moves on elsewhere. So we need to act together at the G8.”


Multinationals such as Amazon and Google have also come under fire for paying little UK tax.


Tax evasion is illegal, whereas tax avoidance is legal but has been put under the microscope by politicians and campaigners in recent months.


Much of the debate about what is fair to pay is over “transfer pricing”, which involves payments from companies to each other within the same corporate structure. For example, a French subsidiary offering services to a Luxembourg unit.


What often happens is that the taxable profit is shifted somewhere else – where taxes are usually much lower.


In the UK, the government announced in last year’s Autumn Statement that it was giving HM Revenue & Customs more funds to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, with the aim to get an additional £9bn in tax revenues per year.


And last month, the European Commission announced a series of proposals designed to tackle the “scandalous loss of much-needed revenue” by EU members because of tax evasion and tax avoidance.


Mr Cameron also said he planned to push hard to tackle “trade bureaucracy” at a World Trade Organization conference in Bali later this year, saying this would be worth an extra £70bn to world trade.


The UK heads the G8 for the whole of 2013.

Cameron calls for action on tax

David Cameron: “This is an issue whose time has come”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that countries must work together to clamp down on tax avoidance.


“Individuals and businesses must pay their fair share,” he told leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos.


He said that “trade, tax and transparency” were the UK’s economic priorities.


It comes a day after he called for negotiations on the UK’s place in the European Union, followed by a referendum.


Those that avoid tax “need to wake up and smell the coffee” – an apparent reference to US coffee giant Starbucks, which was widely castigated for paying little tax in the UK but then pledged to pay millions of pounds in corporation tax after a backlash.

Europe debate

The prime minister also defended his choice to offer a referendum on EU membership after 2015, if the Conservatives win the next election, and said that the 27-member bloc needed to change.

Continue reading the main story
Clamp down in one country and the travelling caravan of lawyers, accountants and financial gurus just moves on elsewhere”

End Quote David Cameron UK Prime Minister “Europe is being out-competed, out-invested and out-innovated,” Mr Cameron said.


And Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny – speaking in Davos in another session after Mr Cameron – said that with “Britain a driving force for the European market, Europe would be stronger”, adding that he would like the UK to stay in the bloc.


On the issue of renegotiating terms with the rest of Europe, the prime minister said: “This is not about turning our backs on Europe – quite the opposite. It’s about how we make the case for a more competitive, open and flexible Europe – and secure the UK’s place within it.


“When you have a single currency you move inexorably towards a banking union and forms of fiscal union and that has huge implications for countries like the UK who are not in the euro and never will be.”


Mr Cameron is also meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos. Mrs Merkel said that Germany would be prepared to discuss new terms with the UK within a framework of “compromise”.

‘Travelling caravan’

Mr Cameron said that cutting down on tax avoidance was one of the UK’s main priorities for its presidency of the G8 group of richest nations this year.


“There are some forms of tax avoidance that have become so aggressive” that it is time for international co-operation to make sure that global companies pay their fair share of tax, he said.


“This is a problem for all countries, not just for Britain,” he said.


“Acting alone has its limits. Clamp down in one country and the travelling caravan of lawyers, accountants and financial gurus just moves on elsewhere. So we need to act together at the G8.”


Multinationals such as Amazon and Google have also come under fire for paying little UK tax.


Tax evasion is illegal, whereas tax avoidance is legal but has been put under the microscope by politicians and campaigners in recent months.


Much of the debate about what is fair to pay is over “transfer pricing”, which involves payments from companies to each other within the same corporate structure. For example, a French subsidiary offering services to a Luxembourg unit.


What often happens is that the taxable profit is shifted somewhere else – where taxes are usually much lower.


In the UK, the government announced in last year’s Autumn Statement that it was giving HM Revenue & Customs more funds to tackle tax avoidance and evasion, with the aim to get an additional £9bn in tax revenues per year.


And last month, the European Commission announced a series of proposals designed to tackle the “scandalous loss of much-needed revenue” by EU members because of tax evasion and tax avoidance.


Mr Cameron also said he planned to push hard to tackle “trade bureaucracy” at a World Trade Organization conference in Bali later this year, saying this would be worth an extra £70bn to world trade.


The UK heads the G8 for the whole of 2013.

Should we be recording our phone calls?

Chimp on the phone Monkey business: Recording phone calls with tradesmen could protect you from broken promises New services that enable consumers and small businesses to record telephone calls, store them to “the cloud” and then read transcripts or carry out key-word searches of the audio database, are potentially revolutionising the way we treat the spoken word.

Skype – the internet voice, video and text messaging giant – offers its customers a number of call recording apps from companies such as Amolto, Callnote and PrettyMay.


Appetite for the service is clearly strong, as several such apps top the company’s download charts.


And Apple’s iTunes store features an app, CallRec.me by MotionApps, allowing iPhone and iPad users to record and transcribe their phone conversations.


But one award-winning UK startup, Calltrunk, is attracting particular attention for enabling its customers to record phone conversations made from any phone, anywhere, and make keyword searches of the audio database stored on its servers.


Calltrunk hopes its ARGOsearch software will do for voice calls what Google did for text and image search.

Searching high and low  Listening back to phone calls with family helped Cindy Provost deal with breast cancer, she says

The company has won three technology awards for the way its search engine indexes time-stamped keywords from audio files, then adds meta-data to create a richer search experience.


Cindy Provost, 46, from Leominster, Massachusetts, a US Air Force professor of aerospace studies and commander of reserve officer training at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, uses Calltrunk on her iPhone and computer to replay messages and conversations with her nephews.


“We move around a lot because we’re in the military, so I don’t get to see my family as often as I would like,” she says.


“Conversations with my nephews are really important to me. In fact, being able to listen to them again really helped me get through a recent bout of breast cancer treatment.”


Cindy also has two grandmothers, one aged 100 and the other turning 100 soon.


“I’ve already taken to recording their oral history when I see them in person,” she says, “but as they’re three hours’ drive away, I’m going to start recording their telephone conversations as well using the voice recording service.”

Calltrunk can be used on your PC or your mobile phone

Calltrunk can record and store conversations made via any phone – fixed line or mobile – and has currently amassed more than 20,000 customers worldwide after just over a year of operation.


Skype customers can record all their calls for $5 (£3.13) a month, otherwise calls routed via its service cost about 13 cents a minute.


The search engine software shows users how often chosen keywords appear in a conversation and where in the timeline.


Of course, there is nothing new about voice recording per se – call centres and helplines have been recording customer conversations for years “for training purposes”, and financial institutions now have to record mobile phone calls as well for compliance reasons.


The two biggest players in the US are Nice Systems and Verint Systems, both specialising in the collection and analysis of voice, video and text for surveillance purposes.


Most of their clients are big businesses, however, and as disruptive technologies like Calltrunk’s come along there is increasing pressure to reduce costs.


This could be one reason why the two companies are reportedly in merger talks – a deal that could have antitrust regulators crawling all over it.

Small packages

But while big business is well served, there has been little around for consumers and small businesses.


Richard Newton, Calltrunk’s marketing director, says: “Companies record us, so why shouldn’t we record them? If there’s a dispute, they hold all the cards. We wanted to put power back into the hands of the consumer”.


But he argues the appeal of the service is much broader than a mere rebalancing of power for the purposes of dispute resolution.

Livescribe pens let you create digital versions of your handwritten notes, as well as recording audio

These days, wearable sensors, such as Fitbit and Nike fuel bands, record our movements and sleep patterns; digital photos uploaded to social networking sites record key moments in our lives; Livescribe pens translate our handwriting into digital text; and closed-circuit television cameras monitor us on the streets.


“We see recording spoken conversations as just the next part of this journey,” Mr Newton says.


“ARGOsearch will help people turn hundreds of thousands of hours of unstructured conversational data into something useful and valuable.”

But James Barford, telecoms analyst at Enders Analysis, warns that consumers may need some convincing before voice recording goes mainstream.


“There are clear applications for this technology in certain industries, particularly financial services, but it stretches the imagination as to how useful this may be for consumers at large.


“Mobile phone call minutes actually dropped 2% in the final quarter of 2012, as people are communicating more by email, text, Twitter and Facebook these days.


“But I’m heartened that there is innovation going on in this sector given that voice technology has largely stood still over the last ten years.”


Erik Snider, director of corporate communications at NICE Systems, says the company is not currently considering extending their recording and analysis services to consumers.

Continue reading the main story Research shows that people lie less often when they know they are being recordedLawyers, doctors and other professionals often use jargon that is difficult to understand on first hearingContractors often promise to deliver projects by a certain date – you could replay the evidenceIt is a useful way of recording oral family history”We’re all in favour of empowering the consumer, but at the moment they can already demand to have any recorded phone call played back to them, so the question is what would be the business case of offering a consumer call-recording service?” he says.


“The regulations in the area of consumer protection are always changing and complex, so one of our focuses remains on providing solutions to enterprises which help them remain compliant with these regulations.”


Calltrunk certainly isn’t focusing on the consumer market alone, and has a few global investment banks among its clients as well.


One of the reasons it recently secured nearly £2m in investment funding was the potential to outsource the ARGOsearch programme to big corporates.

Is it legal?

Another potential issue is consumer concern or confusion over the legality of recording voice calls.


Calltrunk maintains that when recording conversations for private purposes – as long as that recording is not shared with a third party – only one person needs to be aware of, and consent to, the recording.


Anthony Lee, data protection and privacy expert at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, agrees, but only up to a point.


“This does not apply if you want to use a third party, such as a cloud service-provider, to store recordings, particularly if sensitive personal data is involved, or if the recording is to be stored on servers which are located outside of the European Economic Area,” he says.


“The informed consent and, sometimes, the explicit consent of the individual or individuals concerned, will typically be required. It will be interesting to see the practice which emerges here.”

Recording conversations you are involved in is one thing. Recording other people – which used to be done with machines like this one – without their consent is illegal in many countries without a court order

Calltrunk disagrees and believes the law is analogous to that covering email, which, technically speaking, requires the consent of the sender before you can forward it. Practically no-one does this.


What is certain is that the law differs considerably from country to country. In the UK, Canada, and some states in the US, this so-called ‘one party consent’ is adequate (but businesses in the UK must tell people that calls are being recorded).


In 15 states of the US, however, all parties involved need to have consented. This is also the case in Australia.


In other words, before recording anything it is important to check what the legal situation is where you live.


Voice recognition and phones have had a troubled relationship over the years.


The technology can struggle to cope with background noise and some regional accents, resulting in accuracy rates too low to make services acceptable to a mass audience.


Apple’s Siri voice recognition application, powered by Nuance, has certainly taken things to the next level, but there is still a long way to go. Calltrunk’s word indexation accuracy is around 80%.


So a personalised Google for voice calls may still be a little way off, but there is no doubt new technologies could make us think differently about our phone conversations.


Next stop a Wikipedia for the spoken word?

Calls for action on deadly methanol drinks

Updated January 07, 2013 11:15:25

Calls are growing for something to be done to protect tourists in Indonesia from deadly methanol drinks.

The chairman of the WA-based Indonesia Institute is meeting the country’s Consul General today to discuss the possibility of tougher penalties for bars selling drinks containing methanol.

The meeting has been prompted by the death of a Perth teenager who became sick after unwittingly drinking a cocktail containing methanol while on Lombok, near Bali.

Liam Davies, 19, was flown home to Perth last week, but doctors were unable to save him and he died in hospital on Sunday morning.

It is not the first case of its kind and this has prompted the Australian Medical Association to liken the sale of drinks containing methanol to manslaughter.

It wants bars selling unregulated alcoholic beverages to face prosecution.

The Indonesia Institute’s Ross Taylor says many of the bars are remote and difficult to regulate.

Despite that, he will meet the Indonesian Consul General today to discuss what can be done to protect tourists.

“And I’m sure the Indonesian authorities absolutely want Bali to be safe for tourists,” he said.

The Indonesia Institute is a non-government organisation set-up to promote relations between Australia and Indonesia.

Topics: health, tourism, death, wa, lombok

First posted January 07, 2013 11:06:27

Obama calls leaders for last-ditch fiscal cliff talks

By North America correspondent Kim Landers, wiresUpdated December 28, 2012 15:30:18

US president Barack Obama will host top congressional leaders, including his bitter Republican rivals, in a last-ditch bid to halt America’s slide over the fiscal cliff.

The White House said the president would meet House speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and Democratic allies Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

The meeting on Friday afternoon (local time) comes amid bitter partisan exchanges and mounting pessimism over whether a budget deal can be struck.

Before leaving his Hawaiian Christmas holiday, Mr Obama called congressional leaders to discuss the situation, which could push the US back into recession.

He returned to Washington overnight, but Senator Reid said a deal to avert the $US600 billion package of higher taxes and spending cuts, due to kick in with the New Year, looked unlikely.

“It looks like that is where we’re headed,” he said.

“I have to be honest … I don’t know time wise how [a resolution] can happen.

The House of Representatives will reconvene at an urgent session on Sunday (local time) in a bid to reach a bipartisan agreement to stave off the crisis.

Speaking in the Senate, Mr Reid criticised Mr Boehner for interfering with negotiations.

“It’s being operated with a dictatorship of the speaker, not allowing a vast majority of the House of Representatives to get what they want,” he said.

And he said Mr Boehner’s failed effort last week to push his own solution through the house was a “debacle”.

Mr Reid also accused Mr Boehner of delaying action until after he seeks re-election as speaker on January 3.

“John Boehner seems to care more about keeping his speakership than about keeping the nation on firm financial footing,” he said.

The pessimistic remarks sent US shares lower. US stocks were down for the fourth straight day, dropping more than 1 per cent at one stage, before bouncing back to finish just 0.1 per cent lower.

US consumer confidence has also been driven lower this month on fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts.

But the number of people seeking unemployment benefits in the past month has fallen to its lowest level in almost five years, while new home sales have jumped to their highest level in two-and-a-half years.

Although there’s no apparent sign of any headway being made to break the impasse, Republicans and Democrats could indicate they are willing to postpone the full impact of the $500 billion in tax increases and spending cuts while further discussions take place.

“There is a scenario where it’s a short term move off the cliff, perhaps for a few days, and market reaction is quite negative and politicians realise the urgency and they pass some sort of deal to at least buy time,” senior Bank of America-Merrill Lynch economist Michelle Meyer said.

“The worse case scenario however is if we fall off the cliff and stay off the cliff for a while, that really could have lasting implications for the US economy.”

Dr David Smith, an American politics lecturer at Sydney University, told Radio National the full effect of the changes would take a few weeks to kick in.

“They will have about a month or so to actually decide, should no deal get done, what they actually have to cut [within each government department],” he explained.

“This is why some US experts are saying that, well if they go over the fiscal cliff for maybe a couple of weeks or a month, then it won’t be so bad because you won’t actually have those cuts really taking effect yet.”

As if the fiscal cliff dilemma is not enough, US treasury secretary Tim Geithner says the nation will hit its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling on New Year’s Eve, and that Treasury is now beginning “extraordinary measures” to buy more time and avoid default.

ABC/Reuters

Topics: world-politics, business-economics-and-finance, markets, united-states

First posted December 28, 2012 07:31:02

Obama calls for stop-gap fiscal cliff solution

Updated December 24, 2012 09:06:44

US president Barack Obama has called for a stop-gap bill to avert the looming ‘fiscal cliff’ after talks between Republicans and the White House on a comprehensive package stalled this week.

If there is no agreement before the New Year, taxes will go up and hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic government spending cuts will kick in – actions that could plunge the US economy back into recession.

Mr Obama says he met Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid and spoke to Republican House speaker John Boehner to discuss a fall-back plan, though stressed he still believed a big compromise was possible.

“There is absolutely no reason, none, not to protect these Americans from a tax hike,” he said.

“At the very least, let’s agree right now on what we already agree on. Let’s get that done.”

Mr Obama called on Congress to next week produce a package that at a minimum prevents a tax hike on the middle class, would extend unemployment insurance and which lays the groundwork for further deficit reduction next year.

“Everybody can cool off, everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols,” he said.

“Call me a hopeless optimist, but I actually still think that we can get it done.”

The president will spend Christmas in Hawaii, but told reporters he will be back in Washington next week to work on a deal.

On Thursday, Republicans rejected a bid by Mr Boehner to pass a backup bill to solve the crisis, leaving Washington in turmoil and markets spooked.

A spokesman for the Republican House speaker accused the president of failing to offer any solution to the crisis so far.

“Speaker Boehner will return to Washington following the holiday, ready to find a solution that can pass both houses of Congress,” Brendan Buck said.

Mr Boehner earlier said he remained committed to a grand bargain with the White House that would reform the US tax code and slash spending, notably in entitlement programs like Medicare healthcare for the elderly.

“How we get there, God only knows,” he said.

Mr Obama’s suggestion would extend tax breaks to anyone earning below $US 250,000 per year – 98 per cent of Americans.

In talks with Mr Boehner on a larger compromise, the president had offered to raise that threshold to $400,000.

AFP

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, economic-trends, budget, united-states

First posted December 22, 2012 12:04:44

Calls for better access across Swan


The WA Transport Minister says the government will consider planning for new infrastructure to ease congestion in the city centre.


The RAC has called for a feasibility study to assess the need for a new bridge or tunnel to move traffic around the city, rather than through it.


But Troy Buswell has told ABC Local Radio if a bridge were to be built, he would look at other routes.


“I think the main drivers now in terms of population and freight are to the east of the city, not to the west of the city,” he said.


“So irrespective of whether people say “thank heavens you’ve finally done it” or “gee, you’re a visionary” I think the important thing is to get on and provide these bits of transport infrastructure.


“Ultimately we’ll work through the planning process.


“But as I look at Perth’s population growth areas, and you look at drivers of freight, I think we’ll be looking to the east of the city, not to the west of the city, to deal with those problems.”

Topics: road-transport, perth-6000

First posted January 14, 2013 12:35:18

Myer calls for flexibility amid online war

Updated December 07, 2012 15:21:40

The head of Myer has delivered a wide-ranging criticism of the costs and uncertainties of doing business in Australia.

In comments at the company’s annual general meeting in Melbourne today, chairman Paul McClintock said the Federal Government must improve productivity and flexibility to support Australia’s retail sector as it comes under threat from online competitors overseas.

Mr McClintock also blamed the cost of doing business in Australia for the department store’s poor performance.

“Additional taxes and charges such as the carbon tax and the flood levy on the consumer certainly impact the discretionary retail sector, and current industrial relations settings have significantly increased our costs,” he said.

Mr McClintock renewed the company’s attack on the $1,000 low-value threshold for charging customs duty fees and GST on goods purchased overseas.

Several retailers, including Gerry Harvey, the owner of Harvey Norman, have waged a high-profile campaign to have the threshold lowered.

And Mr McClintock says Myer is “still frustrated” by the lack of fees on overseas online sales, which is threatening the ability of Australian retailers to compete.

“If the Federal Government truly values the retail sector – and it is a huge employer of people – the impact of increasing labour costs and uncompetitive nature of online retailing must be balanced by measures to improve productivity or flexibility,” Mr McClintock said.

“We look forward to the outcomes of the GST review, as well as the low import threshold taskforce delivering reforms to ensure the retail industry can continue providing economic benefits to all Australians by remaining globally competitive.”

At 2.15pm (AEDT), Myer shares were down nearly 1 per cent at $2.15.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, company-news, economic-trends, retail, australia

First posted December 07, 2012 14:45:21

Calls for more marketing as tourist numbers drop

Updated December 05, 2012 15:13:32

Visits by international tourists to Western Australia have decreased over the last twelve months.

Tourism Council of WA’s chief executive Evan Hall says the decline of three per cent cost WA more than 18,000 visits by holiday makers.

The CEO of the council, which is a privately funded organisation, says that is in stark contrast to the national figure which shows international tourism visits to Australia are up three per cent.

“Unfortunately, Western Australia’s got the second lowest level of investment in tourism marketing and it’s really starting to show now,” he said.

“So, we’re struggling to compete with states like Victoria and Queensland that are investing a lot more in their marketing and they’re getting a lot more international visitors and a lot more interstate visitors as well.”

Mr Hall says it is proof the State Government needs to act.

“It’s up to the State Government as well to promote Western Australia as a place to come and have a holiday,” he said.

“So, for every dollar that the State Government puts in, we’ll put in a dollar as well and make sure we market our state well but we’ve got to get out there and we’ve got to say WA is a fabulous place to come for a holiday.”

Topics: tourism, perth-6000

First posted December 05, 2012 10:30:41

Hungary central bank chief calls for caution at Dec rate meeting

BUDAPEST: Hungarian central bank policy makers should take a “deeper breath” at the December rate meeting after lowering official rates by a combined 100 basis points over the past four months, Governor Andras Simor said on Thursday.


“The December meeting is going to be even more important as we will be reviewing the new inflation report that is being prepared by the staff,” Simor told a briefing with foreign journalists.


“So we need to probably take a deeper breath before making decisions because there will be a lot of information on our table.”

Copyright Reuters, 2012

Brazil central bank calls currency swap auction, currency gains

SAO PAULO: Brazil’s central bank offered to sell $2 billion in currency swaps on Monday, strengthening the country’s currency, the real, from around the weakest levels in over 3-1/2 years.


The auction will take place between 9:40 a.m. (1140 GMT) and 9:50 a.m. and its results will be announced at 10:00 a.m., the central bank said in a statement. All swap contracts offered expire on Jan. 2.


Brazil’s currency, the real, gained shortly after the announcement and was trading 0.72 percent stronger at 2.1147 reais per US dollar. It slumped on Friday after weaker-than-expected economic growth data suggested the government would let the currency depreciate to prop up the economy.

Copyright Reuters, 2012

Moody’s calls for faster China reforms

Image Credit: APChinese Communist Party delegates from the People’s Liberation Army enter the Great Hall of the People, where the closing ceremony for the 18th Communist Party Congress will be held, in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012. President Hu Jintao has stepped aside as Communist Party leader to clear the way for Vice President Xi Jinping to take the helm in China.

Beijing: China must accelerate the pace of financial reform in coming months to sustain economic growth, ratings agency Moody’s Investor Services said, forecasting the world’s second-largest economy will grow 7.5 per cent each year from 2012 to 2014.


Expectations of steady expansion means China is unlikely to suffer any economic “hard landing,” or abrupt slowdown, Moody’s said, but warned that the days of easy growth for the world’s fastest-growing major economy are over.


Difficult financial reforms that make space for a more market-driven system must be made to cut inefficiencies, it said. At the same time, China no longer enjoys the wide berth it had before to bolster growth in unforeseen downturns.


“Without more market-based price signals driving the efficient allocation of capital and improving the competitive delivery of services, China’s trend growth rate will likely slow more rapidly than otherwise,” Moody’s said in a report.

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Crucial areas of reform include increasing market-based competition, improving regulation to allow greater certainty and transparency on future rules and decisions, and making China’s hulking state firms more efficient, Moody’s said.


While these changes should uncover new engines of growth, the road will not be smooth sailing.


The 4 trillion yuan stimulus from Beijing four years ago that led to explosive growth in China’s local government debt and rapid expansion of its banks means the country can no longer indulge in a credit binge if the economy swoons, Moody’s said.


Banks were especially imperilled by China’s previous credit extravagance, it said, noting China’s total bank assets doubled in the past four years, leaving them exposed to industries now mired in excess production capacity.


Total assets in China’s banking system are now worth 240 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product at 113.3 trillion yuan ($18.2 trillion), substantially higher than any other major emerging economy, Moody’s said.


As a result, the agency judged Chinese bank asset quality to be “negative” for the next 12-18 months, even though it assessed the banking system to have a “stable” outlook in the period.


China’s stabilising economic growth has arrested the uptick in its banks’ bad loan ratio, Moody’s said, and there are no indications that asset quality will worsen materially in coming months.


China’s four biggest state-owned banks which control about half of the country’s total bank assets all have non-performing loan ratios of below 1.5 per cent, drawing criticisms from analysts who say the numbers are too low and not to be trusted.


Christine Kuo, vice-president of Moody’s Financial Institutions Group, said while the agency too has its concerns about China’s bad loan data, it cannot prove that the numbers are false.


“We have our concerns, but we have no evidence,” Kuo said.


For state-owned enterprises, the economic slowdown will impact different sectors differently, said Kai Hu, vice president for corporate finance at Moody’s.


Strategic sectors such as oil and natural gas production and the power grid will hang onto their monopolies, but consolidation measures recently announced by the government will be a blow to the dominance of state-owned enterprises (SOE) in other sectors.


Overcapacity remains a key obstacle, particularly in cyclical industries, Moody’s said in its report, pointing out that capacity utilisation in China had fallen to 60 per cent in 2011 from 90 per cent in 2000.


“We think the economic slowdown will be a challenge for SOE adaptability,” Hu said.


Growing per capita income will increase cost pressure on companies, he added. Recent market reforms in energy prices will be a boon to suppliers of energy but add cost pressure to consumers.

Inquiry calls for workplace bullying hotline

Updated November 26, 2012 21:26:42

A parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying has urged the Federal Government to set up a national service to provide practical advice on what constitutes bullying and how to deal with it.

The service would include a hotline where both employees and employers could receive help to prevent and resolve cases of bullying.

The inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment received more than 300 written submissions, mainly from workers who had experienced the problem first-hand.

Other recommendations of the committee’s report, titled “Workplace Bullying: We just want it to stop”, include providing online training packages for employers and on-site help for workplaces where bullying is known to be rife.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, who established the inquiry, says bullying is a serious workplace safety issue and he will consider the recommendations quickly.

“One thing I do know, is that workplace bullying is a real issue,” Mr Shorten said.

“Repeated unreasonable conduct which leaves people feeling disempowered and unhappy is absolutely not to be accepted.

“There needs to be zero tolerance for workplace bullying, so I think that this parliamentary committee is getting a positive issue up on the national stage.”

The committee’s chair, Amanda Rishworth, says bullying occurs “far too frequently” in Australian workplaces, and all industries are affected.

“We discovered throughout the inquiry that prevention and early intervention is critical,” Ms Rishworth said.

“A chief concern of witnesses was the lack of clarity about what to do and where to go for help.”

The parents of a young cafe worker who took her own life after enduring persistent workplace bullying, renewed their calls for uniform national laws making such bullying a criminal offence.

Damian Panlock, whose 19-year-old daughter Brodie committed suicide after being bullied at work, says Victorian laws making bullying a criminal offence should be expanded nation-wide.

“The borders have to stop,” he said.

“There’s no borders in Australia when it comes to bullying.”

Ms Panlock’s mother Rae says there are too many victims of workplace bullying.

“Brodie was relentlessly bullied day in, day out at work until she ultimately took her own life,” she said.

The Productivity Commission estimates that workplace bullying could cost Australia between $6 billion and $36 billion a year.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, industrial-relations, work, australia

First posted November 26, 2012 16:29:11

Coal resurgence calls undermine clean energy commitments

22 November 2012 Last updated at 00:01 GMT By Richard Anderson Business reporter, BBC News  Chinese coal production is rising despite a massive renewable energy drive Coal, the dirtiest and most polluting of all the major fossil fuels, is making a comeback.


Despite stringent carbon emissions targets in Europe designed to slow global warming and massive investment in renewable energy in China, demand for this most ancient source of energy is greater than ever.


In fact, coal was the fastest growing form of energy in the world outside renewables last year, with production up 6% on 2010, twice the rate of increase of gas and more than four times that of oil. Consumption data paints a similar picture, while figures for this year are set to tell the same story.


There are a number of drivers behind coal’s renaissance, many of which may be short lived. Others will push demand ever higher for decades to come.

Cheap alternative

Coal consumption in Europe, where governments have been at the forefront of the push to curb carbon dioxide emissions, has risen sharply in recent years.

Continue reading the main story Coal is responsible for about 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from fuelsCoal generates almost a half of the total amount of electricity produced in the USCoal emits almost a third more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than oil, and 80% more than natural gasCoal provides about a quarter of the world’s energy needs and it generates almost 40% of the world’s electricityAlmost 70% of total global steel production is also dependent on burning coal.Why? Because it’s cheap, and getting cheaper all the time. Due to the economic downturn, there has been what Paul McConnell, senior analyst at energy research group Wood Mackenzie, calls a “collapse in industrial demand for energy”. This has led to an oversupply of coal, pushing the price down.


It has also led to a massive surfeit of CO2 emissions permits, pushing the price of carbon, and therefore the cost of coal production, sharply lower.


Equally important, there has been a huge influx of cheap coal from the US, where the discovery of shale gas has provided an even cheaper alternative energy source. The coal has to go somewhere, so it’s exported to Europe.


Finally, higher non-shale, natural gas prices are making coal an attractive alternative.


As Laszlo Varro, head of gas, coal and power markets at the International Energy Agency (IEA), says: “All parameters favour coal.”


So much so that “coal is [now] being burned as the baseload fuel across most of Europe,” says Gareth Carpenter, associate editor at global energy information provider Platts.


Germany’s decision to scrap all nuclear power and build more coal-fired power stations can only boost production further.


Just how long coal’s resurgence lasts depends to some extent on the global economic recovery and the ability of governments to implement a system that finally delivers a meaningful carbon price.


But, in the meantime, legislation passed more than a decade ago will severely curb coal production over the coming years, according to Mr Varro.


The full impact of the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive, which is designed to reduce local air pollutants, but not in fact carbon dioxide, is about to be felt, meaning a number of inefficient coal plants will be decommissioned.


As a result, in five years, coal production capacity “will be considerably lower than today”, says Mr Varro. The directive will do nothing, of course, to restrict cheap US imports.

Demand explosion

But whatever happens to coal production and consumption in Europe, spiralling demand for energy in Asia, in particular China, will ensure that coal production continues to rise significantly over the coming decades.

Continue reading the main story

Source: BP. Reserves calculated at current price using current technologies

Population growth and the exploding middle classes will see to that – in China alone, demand for energy will triple by 2030, according to Wood Mackenzie.


China in particular is spending massive amounts of money on a renewable energy drive the likes of which the world has never seen – plans are in place to build almost 10 times the wind capacity of Germany, for example.


But even this will not be able to keep up with demand, meaning fossil fuels will continue to make up the majority of the overall energy mix for the foreseeable future.


And when it comes to fossil fuels, coal is the easy winner – it is generally easier and cheaper to mine, and easier to transport using existing infrastructure such as roads and rail, than oil or gas.


Its price is also relatively stable because, as Mr Carpenter points out: “Coal mines on the whole are located in relatively stable countries free from major geopolitical tensions.”


For all these reasons, Wood Mackenzie forecasts coal production in Indonesia, currently the world’s fourth-biggest coal producer, to rise by 60% by 2020, while China will import more than a billion tonnes by 2030, almost five times currents levels.


By this date, it expects global demand for imported coal to more than double, helping to push the fossil fuel’s proportion of the overall energy mix even higher than it is today.

Carbon capture

Cheap energy is, of course, a vital ingredient in the continued economic growth of developing countries, but the implications of rising coal production for CO2 emissions and global warming are profound.


While China is currently running half a dozen carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects – which aim to capture CO2 emissions from coal plants and bury it underground – the technology is nowhere near commercial viability.

Demand for energy in China will more than triple by 2030, analysts forecast

As Mr Carpenter says that despite all the hype “it looks extremely unlikely that CCS technology is going to be deployed widely in the next 10 years or so”.


The inevitable end result is rising CO2 emissions. According to the IEA, emissions from fossil fuels hit a record level last year, while total energy-related emissions and are due to rise by more than 20% by 2035.


“Why we aren’t developing CCS for all we’re worth is a mystery to me,” says Prof Myles Allen at the school of geography and the environment at the University of Oxford.


“It is viewed as just one of a basket of solutions, but it’s not – it’s pivotal. Without it, nothing else follows.”


And CCS lends itself perfectly to coal, precisely because it is such a cheap energy source.


Renewed urgency in developing CCS globally, alongside greater strides in increasing renewable energy capacity, is desperately needed, but Europe’s increasing reliance on coal without capturing emissions is undermining its status as a leader in clean energy, and therefore global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.

Monti calls for stronger UAE-Italy economic ties

Dubai: Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti considers the UAE as the top-most trading partner for his country in the Arab world, calling to boost the economic ties between the two countries.

“Italian exports to the UAE increased by 28 per cent in 2011 to a total of €4.7 billion (Dh22.04 billion) and we are expecting to do even better in 2012 as in the first six months the value of exports recorded by €3.2 billion (Dh15.01 billion).” He said during the UAE-Italy Business Forum organised by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry in association with the Italian Embassy in the UAE.

Moreover, Monti highlighted that Italy’s imports from the UAE remain limited but they nearly doubled in 2011. “This is clearly a win-win situation that we must set to expand in other fields,” he said.

“Emirati investors and consumers are familiar with the excellence of Italian companies and products, as I can see from the evidence of luxury cars and other goods as well as the restaurants serving our gourmet food.”

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“Rail transportation is being developed by Italian companies, Italian helicopters and planes criss-cross the Emirati skies. Our companies are active in water desalination and your main steel plant is being built by an Italian contractor. The beautiful mosque in Abu Dhabi is also testimony of the reputation of Italy’s architects and craftsmen,” he added.

While the UAE is very focused on diversifying its economy, Monti remarked that the Italian industrial districta are ideal models for cluster development which could serve the interest of the UAE.

“Investment in them would help the UAE economy become even more independent from oil and gas, and advance the government’s objective of achieving a greater focus on a knowledge-based economy,” he said

In his opening address, Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri, UAE Minister of Economy,pointed to the strong economic relations between the two countries.

“Over the past decade, non-oil trade between the UAE and Italy has increased by 295 per cent. It has risen from Dh5.5 billion in 2001 to just under Dh21.9 billion in 2011,” he added.

The UAE Minister of Economy said that trade between the two countries has continued to climb by 20 per centduring the first quarter of this year and is forecast to continue upwards in the short to medium term.

Al Mansouri also stressed on opportunities for further UAE-Italian partnerships in agriculture, construction, green economy, fashion, mechanics, and logistics and emphasised on stronger cooperation for economic development of both the countries.

On the other side, Abdul Rahman Saif Al Ghurair, Chairman, Dubai Chamber, called upon more Italian businesses to use Dubai’s excellent infrastructure and modern facilities and also to benefit from the emirate’s status as an ideal gateway for new business opportunities in the region and beyond.

Paracha calls for OGRA meeting

ISLAMABAD: All Pakistan CNG Association has demanded of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) to immediately convene a meeting of CNG associations to finalize CNG prices instead of November, 26.

Ghayas Ahmed Paracha, Chairman Supreme Council CNG Association, has said that giving November, 26 as date for talks by the OGRA was tantamount to delay the issue.

He expressed the hope that the OGRA would fix a price that would not become burden for the CNG station owners and the people. Paracha also called for reduction in CNG taxes and surcharges.

PSRMA calls for early restoration of power, gas to steel mills

LAHORE: Mian Murad Ashraf, vice chairman of Pakistan Steel Re-Rolling Mills Association (PSRMA), called for immediate restoration of electricity and gas supplies to steel mills, according to a statement.

“The suspension of gas and electricity supply to the industry has deprived workers of their jobs, besides causing huge financial losses to millers and the government as well” he said. ”The abrupt suspension in electricity supply has shocked the steel millers as they have already been without gas.” They have failed to understand the logic behind such decisions, he added.

“Most of the days the gas supply remains suspended and once it is restored, its low pressure does not permit the mills to start production,” he said.“The government should implement an innovative methodology to overcome the low pressure phenomenon.”

According to Ashraf, despite the closure of the industry due to electricity outages, it has managed to retain its workforce. “How will the industrialists continue to pay their workers when the industries remain closed?” he asked. He questioned the government as to why industries are being targeted when trade and industry is the backbone of the economy.

Ashraf urged the government to fulfill its promise regarding equitable electricity supply to all parts of the country as discrimination particularly in view of the industry in Lahore causes damage beyond repair to the steel industry.

“At a time when furnace and re-rolling mills have laid off workers and are operating with skeleton staff due to non-supply of gas, the sudden suspension of electricity has sent a shockwave to workers and owners,” he claimed. “It would have been wiser on the part of the government if it had devised a foolproof strategy to stop power and gas pilferages, which is one of the major causes of shortages,” he concluded.

View the original article here

BOJ holds fire, defies easing calls

TOKYO: The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy steady on Tuesday, standing its ground for now in the face of calls from the country’s likely next prime minister to pursue “unlimited” easing to revive an economy widely seen in recession.

The leader of the main opposition, Shinzo Abe, has put the central bank at the centre of economic debate ahead of a December 16 national election that surveys show his party would win, signalling his government would put the bank under much greater pressure to ease policy.

Abe has even suggested revising the Bank of Japan law, a step critics say is aimed at clipping the central bank’s independence and forcing it to print money to finance public debt that is already double the size of Japan’s economy.

At the end of a two-day meeting, the central bank left monetary policy unchanged, holding fire so it can size up the policies of a new government to be formed after the December vote for the powerful Lower House.

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It also wants more time to assess the impact of policy easing in September and October, which raised the size of its asset buying and lending programme to 91 trillion yen (Dh4.1 trillion) – roughly equal to Japan’s annual state spending.

Markets barely reacted to the announcement as many had priced in the BOJ decision. But some analysts see a good chance the central bank will boost stimulus at its next rate review on December 19-20, just days after the election.

“The pressure on the BOJ is so strong that I don’t think they can avoid easing next month after the results of the election,” said Yasuo Yamamoto, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute in Tokyo.

“Increasing asset purchases is the most obvious option.”

Markets will now look to see how BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa responds to the increased political heat and concerns over the central bank’s independence when he holds a media briefing later in the day.

Japan’s economy shrank 0.9 per cent in the September quarter and given headwinds to growth in the current quarter, is widely expected to have slipped into a recession.

The BOJ maintained its assessment that the economy is weakening somewhat but warned that the persistent overseas slowdown was weighing on exports, output and business spending.

It also offered a slightly bleaker view on the outlook, saying the economy will “remain weak for the time being” before resuming a moderate recovery. In October, it had said economic growth will remain flat for the time being.

Abe, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has called on the BOJ for bolder action, including “unlimited easing”, pushing rates to zero or below zero and directly underwriting bonds issued to fund public works spending. His comments have driven the yen to a near seven-month low against the dollar.

The BOJ is unlikely to give in to some of the extreme demands, such as underwriting debt, but is weighing options beyond its asset-buying programme, having cut policy rates effectively to zero, sources say.

The BOJ set a 1 per cent inflation target in February and has eased policy four times so far this year. Abe has talked of setting an inflation target of 2 per cent or 3 per cent.

Despite the political pressure, the BOJ is caught in a dilemma. Bank notes in circulation are rising and the balance of deposits that commercial banks park with the BOJ is at a record high of 44 trillion yen as a result of its ultra-loose policy.

But bank lending rose a meagre 0.9 per cent in the year to October, a sign the extra cash has not prompted companies and households to borrow more for new spending.

Under the current law, the BOJ is free to set monetary policy. But the government nominates the governor, deputy governors and board members, subject to parliament approval, giving it power to sway the direction of policy.

Shirakawa’s five-year term ends in April and both his deputies retire in March, giving the new government a chance to select who fills the top posts.

Government pressure has frequently driven the central bank into easing policy, particularly when a rise in the yen raised calls for measures to ease the impact of the stronger currency on the export-reliant economy.

While Abe’s remarks have helped lift Tokyo share prices on expectations of bolder monetary stimulus, some analysts say his demands are unrealistic and they doubt whether he will stick to them once in power.

Many economists also warn that threatening central bank independence or forcing it to underwrite public debt could trigger an unwelcome spike in bond yields by raising doubts in markets about Japan’s ability to keep its fiscal house in order.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was quoted by Japanese media as saying that he was opposed to forcing the BOJ to underwrite public debt or revising the central bank law, as doing so would go against Japan’s fiscal reform efforts.

Firms named over ‘nuisance calls’

By Kevin Core You and Yours, Radio 4  The Information Commissioner’s Office says it is monitoring three more companies The Information Commissioner’s Office has named firms it has concerns over regarding unsolicited marketing calls.


Companies revealed on the ICO website include British Gas, Scottish Power, Talk Talk, Weatherseal Home Improvements, The Claims Guys, We Fight Any Claim and Anglian Windows.


The ICO can issue fines of up to £500,000 for breaches of regulations on unwanted calls, texts and emails.


The companies named said they were working with the ICO.


The list was compiled from complaints to the authority and the Telephone Preference Service. The ICO said it expected to see improvements in their operations in the coming months.


Three more companies, which have not been named, are being investigated by the ICO.


Speaking to Radio 4′s You & Yours, Simon Entwistle, the director of operations at the ICO, said that while companies often maintained that they had permission to contact customers directly, separate consent must exist for marketing calls.


He added that there was no action they could take about calls which were made to chase a debt.

Continue reading the main story

The ICO studied complaints about live calls.


These are unsolicited direct marketing calls received by consumers from a real live person.

“We start off by working with the organisations because some of these big companies like British Gas and Talk Talk want to get this right but clearly there are problems,” he said.


“We talk to them about how they can get it right and where we see in their system that something is going wrong.


“There is another category of organisation that only pay lip service to the regulations, what they want to do is to make as many calls as possible and try and get away with it.


“With those we take a very different approach, we have not named those organisations because we are actively gathering evidence in order to fine them for flouting the regulations as opposed to working and helping people who actually want to get it right.”

Highest standards Continue reading the main story

The Telephone Preference Service runs a register that allows people to opt out of any unsolicited sales or marketing calls.


Individuals can register for free by visiting the website or calling 0845 070 0707. It takes 28 days for registration to become effective.


Mobile phone numbers can also be registered, although this will not prevent unsolicited text messages.


It is a legal requirement that all organisations – including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties – do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have the individual’s consent to do so.

A spokesman for British Gas said: “We uphold the highest standards when contacting people in their homes, and only use contact information if we have express permission to do so.”


Scottish Power said it was working with the ICO. Talk Talk said complaints had fallen, it was not facing enforcement action and was working with the ICO.


We Fight Any Claim said its data was provided by an external company and if numbers listed on the Telephone Preference Service slipped through they were immediately blocked.


Anglian Windows said it took complaints seriously.


Weatherseal Home Improvements confirmed it had been contacted by the ICO and was co-operating.


The BBC contacted The Claims Guys but has yet to receive a response.

Katter rejects calls for child blood lead level rethink

Posted November 06, 2012 12:06:23

Queensland’s Mount Isa MP Rob Katter says he does not think national standards for blood lead levels in children need to be lowered.

The present maximum level deemed to be safe is 10 micrograms of lead per decilitre.

However, the professor of toxicology at the Australian Catholic University, Chris Winder, says there is overwhelming evidence to support a reduced level.

Mr Katter says very few children have returned readings above the current national standard.

“I’d challenge you to start testing around metropolitan areas of Brisbane and particularly close to highways and see what the lead levels are there,” he said.

“One of these academics is advocating it should be down to one microgram per decilitre and I’d wager you would be looking at well above that for anyone living in a typical Brisbane suburb.”

Topics: activism-and-lobbying, lead, rural, regional, mount-isa-4825

Business conference calls for more govt support to investors


KARACHI: The business leaders conference on Saturday called for more government support, better monetary policies and better law and order situation to strengthen private sector and to attract local and foreign investment in various potential sectors of the economy, according to a statement.


The speakers emphasised to implement comprehensive long-term economic policies-based sector-wise targets to benefit from the country’s huge wealth of natural resources, it said.


The nature has blessed Pakistan with the economic edge over several other countries even in the region, said economic experts.


The one-day business leaders conference titled “Challenges and opportunities in fostering economic growth” was organised by the Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of Pakistan (ICMAP), according to the statement.


The conference was aimed at bringing the stakeholders together and gather feedback for the consumption of the policymakers, it said.


Former federal finance minister and senior banker Shaukat Tarin proposed merger of the ministry of water and power with the ministry of petroleum and natural resources to effectively cater to the present and future energy needs of the country.


He underlined the need for comprehensive long-term plans for electricity generation through hydel, coal and renewable energy sources, it said.


The maximum use of savers would help bridge power and demand gap of the country, he said, adding that the government should ensure power generation at very affordable price for the people.


Tarin said that the banking sector has failed to reach the people and the banks would have to revisit their business plans and bring new financing products desired by the people, according to the statement.


The corporate sector needs to be provided with more space at the stock exchanges, he said. More investment be made in agriculture and manufacturing sectors through global alliances, joint ventures and public-private partnership, he said.


Pakistan’s tax-to-GDP ratio is very low even in South Asian region and strong political initiatives are needed to increase it, he said.


“Significant increase in the tax ratio is vital for our economic growth,” he said.


Tarin said that after the 7th NFC Award, the federation is very much generous to the provinces and now they do get lots of funds.


However, he said, after the 18th Amendment, the provinces would have to increase generating their own revenue.


Amin Hashwani, president of the Pakistan India CEOs Forum, supported strengthening strong economic and political relations between Pakistan and India as the two economies can complement each other to the prosperity of the two nations.


Asif Jooma, president of Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and managing director of Abbott Laboratories (Pakistan) Limited, said Pakistan is the land of opportunities.


This must be realised and the potential must be materialised. Atif Bajwa, president of Bank Alfalah Limited, Sirajuddin Aziz, president of Habib Metropolitan Bank Limited, Hasan Aziz Bilgrami, president of BankIslami Pakistan Limited, Dr Amjad Waheed, CEO of NBP Fullerton Asset Management Limited and Irfan Siddiqui, president of Meezan Bank Limited, were of the view that the progress of the financial sector is remarkable.

PM calls for widening tax base

PM Ashraf says taxati­on struct­ure aimed at enhanc­ing revenu­es should be stream­lined to promot­e volunt­ary tax paymen­t.  PM Ashraf says taxation structure aimed at enhancing revenues should be streamlined to promote voluntary tax payment. PHOTO: AFP/ FILE


ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf called for widening the tax base and increasing the tax to GDP ratio by raising the level of collection terming it imperative for sustainable development in the country.      


Presiding over a meeting of Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) at the PM House on Monday, the prime minister said that the self-respect of tax-payers should be protected and a taxation structure, aimed at enhancing revenues, should be streamlined to promote a culture of voluntary tax payment.


Chairman FBR Ali Arshad Hakeem informed the meeting that tax collection has doubled since 2008 from Rs1 trillion to Rs2 trillion this year.


He added that there was a recorded increase of 22% in the tax revenues this year as compared to the last year.


The meeting was also informed that there were 805,000 registered tax payers of which 260,000 people paid taxes consecutively for three years.


The prime minister said that a large segment of Pakistan’s economy was informal, depriving the national exchequer of its due share and acting as a hindrance in the economic planning and development. The menace of capital flight to tax havens has deprived the country of its true potential for development and progress, he maintained.


PM Ashraf added that the demand for cars, luxury goods and housing reflected the availability of wealth in the country. Unfortunately, the tax base is not commensurate to this phenomenon, he regretted.


The prime minister urged the FBR to plug the leakage of taxes and bring the elite groups of the society into the tax net.


The meeting was attended by Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khursheed Ahmed, Law Minister Farooq H Naek, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haq and other senior officials.

Calls to cut red tape to boost productivity

Updated October 23, 2012 15:24:54

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry says State and Federal Governments must cut red tape and encourage innovation, if they want to tackle WA’s flagging productivity levels.

The chamber’s latest study shows 30 per-cent of WA businesses surveyed reported a fall in productivity over the past 12 months.

In a policy paper released today, the chamber says although the state is performing well when compared to the rest of Australia, activity is slowing down.

The CCI’s Chief economist John Nicolaou says making WA a more competitive place to do business will help to reverse the trend.

“There certainly is a fight for market share in key products and services and we’re no exception here in WA even with the natural advantages we have,” he said.

“So we have to have a real focus on regulation; if regulation can be minimised that will certainly help business to focus its attentions on what it does best.”

Mr Nicolaou says Governments have a key role to play.

“Issues such as regulation and red tape cuts across both levels of government, but other big areas of reform such as taxation, industrial relations and education do require a collaborative effort to ensure that a better system benefits business and ultimately leads to higher productivity,” he said.

The chamber is predicting the state’s economy will remain strong for at least another two years.

Mr Nicolaou says despite global uncertainty, rising unemployment and softness in the housing sector, the outlook remains bright.

He says a great pipeline of investment in the resources sector will ensure strong growth until 2014.

“Our latest forecast suggests that our economy will grow by around six and a half per cent this financial year and next, which really puts us in a league of our own compared to other advanced economies,” he said.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, perth-6000, albany-6330, bunbury-6230, esperance-6450, kalgoorlie-6430, geraldton-6530, broome-6725, karratha-6714

First posted October 23, 2012 10:23:46

Millar calls for Rabobank rethink

British rider David Millar is urging Rabobank to reconsider the decision to stop sponsoring its professional cycling team.

The Dutch bank’s move came in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

Continue reading the main story

“Rabobank, you were part of the problem. How dare you walk away from the young clean guys who are part of the solution. Sickening”

David Millar’s original tweet Millar has written a long open letter to Rabobank in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant,  insisting it should support the sport’s battle to clean up.

His letter states: “Those of us who make up the past have to take responsibility for the future.”

After 17 years in the sport, Rabobank is set to end its deal on 31 December.

Rabobank’s Bert Bruggink said: “We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport.”

Millar’s initial response to last Friday’s announcement was an angry tweet, calling the move “sickening”  .

The 35-year-old Garmin-Sharp rider’s open letter is more considered but still equally impassioned in its insistence that Rabobank can do more good within the sport by staying than by walking away.

Millar, who was himself banned for two years for doping in 2004, wrote: “We have made a huge difference these past few years. I KNOW it is now possible to win the biggest races in the world clean.

“I can empathise with your disillusionment with the sport, but please do not belittle all the work we’ve done and difference we have made. You are throwing away the chance to be part of the future of what is, in your own words, a beautiful sport.”

The Rabobank cycling team said in a statement it regretted but understood the bank’s decision.

Union calls for action to protect local jobs

Posted October 22, 2012 16:57:52

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union says tens of thousands of local jobs are at risk unless governments act to protect local workers on major projects.

The AMWU says up to 85,000 jobs could be lost within the next five years as large defence and resource projects look to rely more heavily on overseas-based skills and products.

It says that reliance has already cost local manufacturers at least 125,000 jobs since the start of the global financial crisis.

Union leaders are meeting workers at naval contractor BAE, south of Perth, this afternoon to address their concerns.

AMWA national secretary Paul Bastian says federal and state governments need to act now to ensure vital skills are not lost.

“What we want to do right now is stem the losses of jobs,” he said.

“To lose another 10 per cent of our manufacturing capacity is something that we should not allow to occur and we should do everything we can as a country to ensure that we have a strong manufacturing base.”

Mr Bastian says a recent report on manufacturing by a government taskforce recommends increasing the level of Australian-made content on major resources and defence projects.

“We don’t see why we can’t have a conversation about what are the top 20 projects in terms of infrastructure in the country,” he said.

“How can we bring those programs forward? How can we increase the level of local content and local material?

“At the end of the day, every billion dollars you spend on infrastructure creates or sustains 15,000 jobs.”

Topics: manufacturing, mining-industry, perth-6000

RBS exits from insurance scheme in what CEO calls ‘significant milestone’ in its recovery

Royal Bank of Scotland confirmed on Wednesday that it was pulling out of a “toxic” asset insurance scheme backed by the UK state in a move that brings its return to private sector control a step closer.

Since entering the Asset Protection Scheme in 2009, the bank has paid the UK government £2.5 billion (Dh14.75 billion) to cover it against losses potentially arising from assets built up during its ill-starred expansion before the financial crisis.

However, it did not make a claim under the scheme, which was part of a broader push by the government to shore up confidence in the UK banking sector.

Stephen Hester, RBS chief executive, said its exit from the scheme was a “significant milestone” in its recovery.

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“We all want a system in which banks will never again need to seek credit support from government in a financial crisis. Huge progress has been made towards that goal,” he said.

The APS originally covered £282 billion RBS assets. The bank would have had to absorb the first £60 billion of any loss, however, including historic losses.

Under Hester, who joined after RBS had to be rescued by the government, the bank has been aggressively shrinking its balance sheet and the scheme now only covers about £105 million of assets.

Hester said the APS had “played a valuable role, buying time for the bank as we implemented change from the worrying days of 2009”.

RBS remains 82 per cent-owned by the government. There has been speculation that the Treasury might seek to take the bank private again before the 2015 general election.

The rehabilitation of RBS was boosted by the flotation of its Direct Line insurance arm this month.

However, the collapse of a deal to sell 316 branches to Santander last week — a disposal demanded by the European Commission because of state aid rules — constituted a setback.

Murdoch calls hacking victims ‘scumbag celebrities’

Updated October 15, 2012 12:05:57


Rupert Murdoch has generated more controversy on Twitter after labelling some phone hacking victims as “scumbag celebrities”.


Mr Murdoch tweeted: “Told UK’s Cameron receiving scumbag celebrities pushing for even more privacy laws. Trust the toffs! Transparency under attack. Bad.”


News Corporation’s chief executive and chairman posted the tweet after reportedly finding out about a meeting between several phone hacking victims and British prime minister David Cameron during the Conservative Party’s conference.


The Guardian newspaper in Britain reports that the meeting was between Mr Cameron and actor Hugh Grant, singer Charlotte Church and former TV presenter Jacqui Hames, who are members of the Hacked Off campaign.


Jacqui Hames took to Twitter in response, demanding an apology and withdrawal of Mr Murdoch’s tweet, saying: “I’ve been called worse, but admittedly not by CEO of large multinational corp.”


Mr Murdoch replied: “Not referring to these ladies.”


Former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris joined the online criticism of Mr Murdoch, tweeting: “By “scumbag celebs” do u mean the WPC u put under surveillance, the teen girl yr papers perved over, or the actor u hacked?”


Another Twitter user wrote: “Scumbags”? And your journalists and executives are what?”.


Mr Murdoch replied: “They don’t get arrested for indecency on major LA highways! Or abandon love child’s”.


It is not the first time Mr Murdoch has generated controversy since opening his Twitter account at the end of last year.


Within two days of sign-up to the social networking site he landed himself in hot water for suggesting that: “Maybe Brits have too many holidays for broke country!”


That tweet was quickly deleted after an angry reaction from other members of Twitter and widespread media coverage.


Transport Minister calls unions demands unrealistic

Updated October 10, 2012 14:09:18

The Transport Minister Troy Buswell says union demands for more generous rosters would push up the Fremantle Port’s operating costs by nearly 30 per cent.

More than 100 stevedoring and maintenance workers walked off the job and blocked the entrance to the Kwinana Bulk Terminal yesterday.

The members of the Maritime Union are demanding a 20 per cent pay increase and six days off for every four worked, as part of a new enterprise agreement.

Mr Buswell has told ABC Local Radio their demands are unrealistic.

“The advice I have from Fremantle Port is just the rostering change would push up the cost of operating the port by 27 per cent,” he said.

“And I reckon it’s a bit rich in the current environment for people to be expecting to get paid 20 per cent more to get extra time off.”

He also took a swipe at the Federal Government’s Fair Work system saying it is failing the State’s economy, which depends on the port.

The Maritime Union said yesterday it was determined to maintain a blockade until the port operator agrees to compromise on pay and conditions.

The union’s Chris Cain said workers were unanimously behind the strike.

“There was a secret ballot taken under the Fair Work Act, and quite basically it came back 100 per cent for strike action and we don’t walk away from that,” he said.

“That just indicates to the employer and ourselves that they’re determined to get an outcome.”

The head of Fremantle Port says a mass protest at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal is having a big impact on trade.

Fremantle Port owns the Kwinana facility.

Port chief executive Chris Leatt-Hayter says he wants the issue resolved quickly.

“We do get about $3 million value of trade that passes through the port every hour of every day,” he said.

“Any delay to shipping can impact right through the transport supply chain straight to our importers and exporters.

“So the port has a critical role to play in WA’s economy and it’s our aim to try and resolve the situation as soon as we can.”

Mr Leatt-Hayter says some of the Maritime Union’s demands are unreasonable.

Talks will continue today.

Topics: industrial-relations, kwinana-town-centre-6167, perth-6000

First posted October 10, 2012 10:22:17

IMF calls EU to speed up reforms

Tokyo: World finance leaders expressed cautious optimism on Saturday that Europe is making progress towards containing its debt crisis but said it was critical for all advanced economies to step up the pace of policy reforms to rebuild confidence.

In a communique after two days of talks, members of the International Monetary Fund warned that global economic growth was decelerating and that substantial uncertainties and downside risks remained.

“There was no objection to the recommendation that we gave to the membership, which was A-C-T,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, spelling out the word letter by letter.

The institution’s steering committee acknowledged that the global situation was less dire now than six months ago, said Singapore’s Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who chairs the committee. But equally, they acknowledged the economic environment was tough, he added.

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Reports from the IMF last s week downgraded global economic growth forecasts for the second time since April and warned of the need for policy action in advanced economies, including the United States, to deal with their debt problems, a hangover from the global financial crisis.

IMF members adopted a global policy check-list on Saturday, detailing what they must do to safeguard global growth, and they agreed to review progress at the next IMF meetings in April.

The call for action reflected some frustration among other governments at what they see as plodding progress in Europe and a lack of urgency from Washington to tackle its so-called “fiscal cliff” of government spending cut and tax rises due at the end of the year unless Congress acts.

“Asia alone can’t carry the global economy,” said Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan. “It is time for the other players to get off the benches and start to pull their weight on global economic growth again.”

European leaders argued last week they had made considerable progress towards building a stronger fiscal and banking union, which German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble reiterated on Saturday, earning at least some recognition from the rest of the world.

“This broad framework offers a more promising strategy for addressing the crisis,” US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said. “However, what is important is how it will be applied in practice.”

The IMF meeting was held amidst some small protests through the week. On Saturday about 300 hundred demonstrators, some waving wads of fake note bills and dressed in grotesque costumes meant to mimic the super rich, walked down the luxury shopping street of downtown Tokyo near the meeting’s venue. One activist said they were protesting against the IMF’s strangle-hold grip on the global economy.

IMF calls for urgent action in Europe

Tokyo: The head of the International Monetary Fund on Thursday called for urgent action to tackle Europe’s debt problems and an approaching fiscal crisis in the US, warning that the struggling world economy is already falling short of even pessimistic expectations.


IMF chief Christine Lagarde, speaking to reporters as the IMF and World Bank held annual meetings in Tokyo, praised recent steps taken by the European Central Bank and European governments, but said “more needs to happen and faster.”


Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven richest nations met for about 90 minutes on the sidelines to discuss the European debt crisis. They also discussed the impending budget impasse in the US, an issue that prompted some at the meeting to express concern, according to a senior Japanese Ministry of Finance official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, which is ministry policy. They released no communique.


US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was upbeat about recent moves in Europe to stabilise and reform crisis-stricken economies.


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“The basic thrust of the strategy is right and good,” he told a conference on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank meetings. “They’re already having traction in improving competitiveness.”


Geithner also sought to strike a reassuring tone regarding the threat of the so-called “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and deep spending cuts that will take effect in 2013 unless Congress and the Obama administration resolve a budget impasse.


The Obama administration intends to try to fix the problem before the end of the year, Geithner said. “We’re going to take a run at it.”


The IMF has urged the US to raise the ceiling on the level of debt the government can issue, which is capped by law. In August 2011, a battle between Republicans and Democrats over raising the limit was not resolved until the US almost defaulted on its debt.


Lagarde called for “decisive action” on the issue and also said Greece should get two more years to meet austerity targets as agreed upon with its creditors. After nearly defaulting on its mountain of debt, Greece has survived on international bailouts since May 2010. But to secure and continue receiving the loans, Athens imposed tough austerity measures, such as spending cuts and tax increases, in an attempt to get its public finances in order.


“It’s sometimes better to have a little more time. This is what we have advocated for Portugal, this is what we advocated for Spain, and this is what we are advocating for Greece,” she said. “What I have said repeatedly about an additional two years was necessary for the country to actually face the fiscal consolidation program that is considered.”


The IMF has scaled back its global growth forecast for 2012 to 3.3 per cent from 3.5 per cent and has warned that even its dimmer outlook might prove too optimistic if Europe and the US fail to resolve their crises.


“We are not expecting a very, very strong recovery. The recovery continues, but it continues more slowly than we had expected earlier this year,” said Lagarde. The slowdown is “having a ripple effect on emerging markets, and in particular in Asia.”


She did praise recent steps to shore up Europe’s financial system, which has been burdened by high government debt and weak banks in countries such as Greece and Spain but stressed that more needs to be done.


The ECB has decided to buy unlimited amounts of government bonds to help lower borrowing costs but countries that want to benefit from that measure need to apply to other euro nations for a bailout first.


European governments have also taken steps to reduce budget deficits. A proposal to design a European banking supervision system, however, has run into obstacles, with Germany wanting more time to finalise details before making the ECB the supervisor of banks.


Greece, Ireland and Portugal have already received bailouts from the IMF, European Central Bank and European Union. Spain has worried investors by declining so far to ask for financial aid from the 17 countries that use the euro currency.


“Action has already occurred,” Lagarde said. “But more needs to happen and faster.”


Speaking just weeks before the US presidential election, Geithner emphasised the progress made in countering the global financial crisis and reviving growth.


“From my perspective, the US economy is doing significantly better than we had any reason to expect,” he said.


Lagarde also said two senior Chinese finance officials who cancelled their trip to Tokyo amid a territorial dispute with host Japan will “lose out” by not attending. “Our concern is that they will be missing a great meeting,” she said. “We have a lot of substantive issues to discuss.”


Diplomatic tensions have flared between the two Asian giants over a cluster of tiny islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but also claimed by China. In an apparent sign of Beijing’s anger over the issue, People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who was scheduled to give the event’s closing speech on Sunday, will not be attending. His deputy will represent him in the meeting and deliver the speech.


Speaking in Beijing, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, described the decision to have Zhou and some other senior finance officials to stay home as “completely appropriate”.


But much is at stake. Lagarde stressed that economies in Asia are critical to global growth and hoped that disputes between countries in the region can be resolved for the good of economic cooperation in Asia and the rest of the world.


“We hope that differences, however longstanding, can be resolved harmoniously and expeditiously so that from an economic point of view cooperation can continue … since we are all very closely interconnected,” she said.


Japanese auto sales in China plunged last month and tens of thousands of Chinese tourists have cancelled trips to Japan, which is depending on China as a source of growth amid the global slowdown. The dispute is also an economic negative for China. Before tensions escalated, China’s economy was already slowing and grew at its slowest rate in three years in the second quarter.

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IMF calls for action as eurozone crisis festers

TOKYO: The IMF prodded the world’s rich countries for swifter action on Thursday as Europe’s debt crisis drags on while the United States and Japan show scant progress handling their budget deficits.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said political wrangling added to economic uncertainty, slowing growth in both advanced and emerging economies. The IMF cut its global growth forecast this week for the second time since April.

“We expect action and we expect courageous and cooperative action on the part of our members,” Lagarde said in a news briefing ahead of the IMF’s twice-yearly meetings in Tokyo.

The IMF has expressed frustration with Europe’s piecemeal response to its debt crisis and warned that a recent respite in borrowing costs for debt-laden countries such as Spain may prove short-lived unless euro zone leaders come up with a comprehensive and credible plan.

Standard & Poor’s cut its rating on Spain on Wednesday to a level just above junk territory, and Moody’s may soon follow.

The IMF itself is struggling to muster the sort of decisive action that Lagarde wants to see from world leaders. Its 188 member countries meet on Friday and Saturday, and will fall short of a goal to implement voting reforms that would give large emerging economies greater say and elevate China to the No. 3 spot in IMF power.

A territorial dispute between Japan and China added another element of disharmony. China’s top central bank and finance ministry officials backed out of the meetings and sent deputies to Tokyo instead. Lagarde said she hoped the world’s second- and third-largest economies could resolve their differences “harmoniously and expeditiously.”

“I think they lose out by not attending the meeting,” she said of the Chinese officials. “And they will be missing something great.” (Reuters)

In meeting with Japanese delegation, president calls for greater linkages

Says invest­ment in Pakist­an will fetch rich divide­nds for those intere­sted.  “We can do much more, particularly in business, trade and investment,” says President Zardari. PHOTO: FILE


ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday urged foreign investors and entrepreneurs to take full advantage of the investment opportunities available in Pakistan.


He said that intelligent, trained and hard-working people, coupled with vast reserves of natural resources and liberal incentive packages, make the country an ideal destination for investment.


Addressing representatives of the Japanese business community here at the Presidency, the president said that due to its location at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, Pakistan offers a huge market for products and services.


According to the text of his speech, the president said that Pakistan’s investment policies are investor-friendly and that investment in the country will fetch rich dividends.


Under the recently enacted Special Economic Zones Bill 2012, all capital goods, machinery and equipment will be given one-time exemption from customs duties, while entrepreneurs will be exempted from income tax for 10 years.


He said that Pakistan can serve a market of over three billion consumers in neighbouring countries and called upon Japanese investors to benefit from these advantages.


Highlighting some of the facilities available to foreign investors, the president said that foreign investors can invest without any restrictions, can hold complete ownership of businesses, are entitled to equal treatment and are allowed to freely repatriate profits and capital.


He told the delegation that generous tax and customs incentives are available for bringing raw materials, plant and machinery into Pakistan. In addition to these, interest rates have been slashed twice in the past two months and large-scale manufacturing has increased this year, as compared with last year.


The president said that Japan is Pakistan’s development partner and a world leader in innovation and technology. He said Japanese goods enjoy consumers’ preference all over the world.


Calling for greater linkages, he said: “We can do much more, particularly in business, trade and investment,” adding that current bilateral trade is far below potential and there is a need to increase it.


Referring to regional developments, the president said Pakistan is working with India to ensure peace in the region. “We have liberalised the visa regime to improve trade relations. These developments will contribute to stability in the region.”


Discussing the energy crisis, he said the government is making sincere efforts to resolve issues and hoped that problems will soon be resolved. “We are not deficient in energy resources, but these resources need to be exploited.”


The president observed that solar and wind energy have great potential in helping mitigate the energy crisis.


“Our coal reserves, totalling 186 billion tons, are ready to be converted into electricity and diesel. Pakistan looks towards Japan and Japanese technologies to assist it in meeting energy challenges,” he said, adding that it will be a mutually profitable venture.


Referring to progress made by the Japanese automobile sector, the president said Japan’s share in the car and truck market is almost 100% and it has almost 50% share in the motorcycle market.


He said there is a need to increase the share of local contents, as Pakistan still imports almost 50% of the automotive parts. Japanese investors can fill the remaining half of demand, which he said will cut manufacturing costs and enhance profitability.


The president said there is also a need to expand cooperation in the field of textiles, as Japanese investors can benefit by using their textile technology in Pakistan.


He also urged Japanese companies to invest in the agriculture sector by introducing new technologies in water conservation, increasing per acre yields of major crops, introducing new varieties and converting waste products into value-added items.


The president said the Pakistan-Japan Business Forum needs to strengthen bilateral economic ties and that work on a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries should be expedited. He hoped that the holding of the meeting in the Presidency would be taken as a demonstration of close relations between the two countries.


Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2012.


View the original article here

Thai central bank chairman calls for scrapping of rice policy as stocks mount

Wednesday, 03 October 2012 15:23 Posted by Shoaib-ur-Rehman Siddiqui

thailand-central-bank BANGKOK: The chairman of the Thai central bank urged the government to scrap a politically sensitive and hugely expensive scheme to subsidise rice farmers, saying it was a threat to stability in a country which has faced repeated unrest in recent years.

Traders said the intervention scheme, which helped Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra win power in 2011, jeopardised Thailand’s position as the world’s top rice exporter, warning that the government would eventually be forced to sell its mounting stockpiles of rice at a steep loss.

“The country will be doomed if the government proceeds with the rice-pledging scheme,” Bank of Thailand Chairman Virabongsa Ramangkura was quoted on Wednesday as telling the Nation daily, a day after the cabinet endorsed the scheme, with restrictions.

The scheme is estimated to cost as much as 3.5 percent of annual economic output.

It is also likely to continue hurting exports well into 2013, with the government forced to stockpile record amounts of rice in already overflowing warehouses.

Thailand is now stuck with 12 million tonnes, or around one third of the global rice trade, priced so far above what other countries sell the grain for that its exporters have been shut out of the global market.

Virabongsa, an economist parachuted into his job in June by Yingluck despite opposition from central bank officials, has in the past sided with the government.

“This government demonstrates stability. But if there’s anything to rock the stability, it’s this scheme,” he told the newspaper, adding that it would require huge deficit-financed budgets and would open the door to corruption.

ICCI calls for enhancing Pakistan-India cooperation in banking sector

ISLAMABAD: The decision of Pakistan and India to host each other’s bank branches would help facilitate trade and commerce between the two countries, an official said on Monday.

Yassar Sakhi Butt, president of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), made these remarks during a meeting with Munir Alam, chief executive and general manager of Bank of India, in Singapore, who is currently on a visit to Pakistan, to discuss the opening of bank branches in Pakistan.

The ICCI president stressed that the two countries should fast track the process of opening of branches to facilitate the business community and to increase the trade volume up to the potential.

He exchanged views on the matters of mutual interest, including enhancement of bilateral trade, promotion of investment and strengthening of cordial relations between the two countries.

Butt said that the two countries are rich in natural resources, which should be capitalised effectively to improve infrastructure, increase in power generation and spur trade and industry.

The bilateral trade could immediately soar to $6 billion from the existing $2.7 by establishing banking channels between the two countries, he said, adding that opening of bank branches in each others country would also provide numerous opportunities for the businesses to cater to the needs of traders and exporters in terms of opening the letter of credit, he said. Alam said that the Bank of India wants to explore the possibilities of opening branches in Pakistan as a trade financer.

Oil prices rise on calls for more Iran sanctions

SINGAPORE: Crude prices rose in Asia Tuesday after the United States, Britain, France and Germany moved to apply more restrictions and sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, analysts said.


New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in November rose 31 cents to $92.24 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for November delivery gained 29 cents to $110.10.

Spains king calls for unity to tackle economic crisis

MADRID: King Juan Carlos on Tuesday called for unity to tackle Spain’s economic crisis, which has fueled support for separatism in Catalonia whose leaders blame Madrid for dragging their wealthy region down.

“We can only overcome our difficulties by acting together, walking together, joining our voices, rowing in the same direction,” he said in a letter posted on the royal household website (www.casareal.es).

“We are at a decisive moment for the future of Spain and Europe and to ensure the wellbeing that cost us so much to achieve. Under these circumstances the worse we can do is divide forces, encourage dissent, chase illusions and deepen wounds.”

Spain’s central government has raised taxes and slashed spending, and imposed tight limits on spending by regional governments, as it tries to fend off the need for a multi-billion-euro financial bailout for its economy.

The measures have sparked noisy street protests in a country where one in four people are out of work and they have raised tensions between the central government and the country’s regions, especially Catalonia.

Last week a sea of protesters, many waving red-and-yellow striped Catalan flags, jammed the centre of Barcelona to demand independence for the northeastern region on the border with France from the rest of Spain. Catalan government officials complain they pay billions of euros more in taxes than they get back from the central government even as their regional government has been forced to make cuts to education and health services.

LSE MD criticises PMEX, calls for parallel spot commodity exchange

Says exchan­ge has failed to attrac­t invest­ment in farm produc­e.  The competitive position of the LSE now depends upon the agricultural sector, says LSE Managing Director Aftab Ahmad Chaudhry PHOTO: PPI

LAHORE: 

The Government of Pakistan should either subject the Pakistan Mercantile Exchange (PMEX) to the control of all three stocks exchanges in the country, or allow setting up of a spot commodity exchange for the trading of agriculture produce, Lahore Stock Exchange (LSE) Managing Director Aftab Ahmad Chaudhry has said.


Chaudhry, while speaking at a press conference on Friday, said that the Pakistan Mercantile Exchange has failed to attract investors in trading agricultural produce like wheat and rice, as most of the trading at the PMEX takes place in minerals, like gold and crude oil. The potential in the agricultural sector does not reflect in the country’s mercantile exchange, and the proposed spot commodity exchange will help achieve this objective, he said.


He was of the view that the proposed exchange should be a subordinate organisation of the Karachi Stock Exchange, the Lahore Stock Exchange and the Islamabad Stock Exchange. He further said that management control of the proposed exchange should be given to all three stock exchanges, if they succeed in managing 40% of its share.


He maintained that the exchange will help provide maximum prices to farmers, besides eliminating the role of middlemen. Moreover, informal lending in the agricultural sector could be brought in to the banking channel, he said.


“The competitive position of the Lahore Stock Exchange now depends upon the agricultural sector,” he added.


Chaudhry said that the government should also procure its wheat stock from the spot commodity exchange to ensure food security. “We want the building of international standard warehouses for maintaining stocks across the country; meanwhile, farmers should have the facility of disposing their produce at their door-steps at spot rates with the exchange’s mobile trading units,” he added.


He further said that LSE has been completely demutualised from September 4, and the rights of members and owners have been separated. New memberships will now be invited to expand the exchange’s base, for which aspiring members will have to pay a membership fee amounting to Rs2.5 million, besides depositing Rs7.5 million.


He also complained that the present system needs significant reforming to ensure transparency in financial matters and protect investors. “Brokers should not be involved in cash and security handling, and their role should be restricted solely to an executor’s,” he said in this regard. “The LSE will either accept the responsibility of cash and security handling itself, or ask banks to do so,” he added. “The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan is being asked to take steps in this regard.”


Responding a question regarding poor trading volumes at the LSE, Chaudhry said most of the investors prefer trading at the Karachi Stock Exchange. “However, we are taking different steps in this regard, and are going to link all trading terminals with the LSE,” he said.


Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2012. 

Crude down in Asia on G7 calls for output hike

SINGAPORE: Crude sank in Asia Wednesday as a call by the Group of Seven nations for oil producers to increase output overrode US supply disruptions due to Hurricane Isaac, analysts said.


New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for October delivery, shed 37 cents to $95.96 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for delivery in the same month slipped 36 cents to $112.22.


A call by the G7 industrial nations for oil producers to increase output interrupted a crude rally fuelled by US production facility closures due to Hurricane Isaac, said IG Markets Singapore market strategist Justin Harper.


“The G7 seem a little late in making this request on oil producers as we could see subdued demand for the second half of the year, keeping energy prices contained,” he told.


G7 finance ministers said in a statement issued Tuesday that crude supply needed to be increased as higher prices posed “substantial risks” to the global economy


“We encourage oil-producing countries to increase their output to meet demand, while drawing prudently on excess capacity,” the statement, which was released by the US Treasury, stated.


The G7 statement also suggested the leading industrial democracies were ready to tap into global strategic oil reserves to keep price pressure down.

President calls for greater market access

Says prefer­ential treatm­ent will offset countr­y’s losses.  “[Cheap] cotton and lowcost labour is the springboard for the Pakistani textile industry,” says President Asif Ali Zardari while addressing textile millers. PHOTO: REUTERS/ FILE


ISLAMABAD: Reiterating his call for preferential treatment and greater market access for Pakistani products, President Asif Ali Zardari has said that it is time for the international community to think of ways to compensate countries impacted most adversely by the war on terror, including greater market access.


Addressing the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association Annual Dinner held at the Presidency, the president said the ongoing war against militancy has inflicted huge damage to Pakistan’s economy. He said the huge economic cost of the war compelled the government to curtail its Public Sector Development Programme, which had put great pressure on the business community; increasing their input costs and adversely impacting their competitiveness.


“Pakistan’s position in the world of textiles is being adversely affected. We are being reduced from our position as principal suppliers to back up suppliers,” he remarked.


He said the textiles and clothing sector was a mainstay of Pakistan’s exports and a symbol of Pakistan’s manufacturing excellence. Highlighting the importance of the sector, the President said that cotton and low cost labour is the springboard for the industry.


He said that in order to aid the textile industry, a limit has been set on the exports of low-valued yarn. This, he said, has been done to improve availability of raw material in the domestic market for the value-added textiles sector.


The president said he was aware of the effect of energy shortages on the textiles sector, which had hampered production, employment and exports; and that issues would be resolved soon.


The president urged the business community to explore new markets for their products, besides planning for the long term, adopting new methodologies and focusing on infrastructure development to maintain their competitiveness.


Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2012.

Fire near Tarbela sparks calls for in-depth analysis

WAPDA chairm­an lays stress on safety and protec­tion of projec­t. The fire broke out on Thursday night in the jungle adjacent to the dam, which had been playing a pivotal role in national economy since its completion in mid-70s. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: 

The chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) has called for devising a comprehensive strategy and conducting an in-depth analysis of the cause of the fire close to the Tarbela Dam in order to avert such an eventuality in future.

“Side-by-side smooth functioning of the project, the safety and protection of this national asset ought to be the foremost priority of the project management,” Shakil Durrani said during a visit to the project site on Saturday aimed at examining the situation after the fire.

The fire broke out on Thursday night in the jungle adjacent to the dam, which had been playing a pivotal role in national economy since its completion in mid-70s.

Durrani made a detailed evaluation of various components of the project, particularly the switchyard and the power station.

According to the project authorities, the fire erupted in the bushes and trees below the distribution transformers because of sparks following high winds. However, the fire was put out through concerted efforts.

No damage was caused to any Wapda installation, as all the equipment was immediately protected from the fire, it was told.

Later, Durrani also attended a briefing on Tarbela’s 4th Extension hydropower project. In this regard, expressions of interest (EoI) had been called to initiate a pre-qualification process for construction as detailed engineering design of the project had been completed.

This extension project with a generation capacity of 1,410 megawatts is part of a least-cost energy generation plan of Wapda. The World Bank is providing $840 million for construction of the project.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2012.