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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Algeria introducing ratings system for financial sector

Global Arab Network
Ahmed Gamal

Global Arab Network - A new ratings system for Algeria’s financial sector along with increased regulatory oversight, are expected to keep the country’s banks functioning smoothly and help further reduce the vulnerability of the sector to both exogenous and domestic crises, Global Arab Network reports according to OBG.

The Algerian banking system came through the recent international financial turmoil relatively unscathed and is characterized by both profitability and a high degree of liquidity, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nevertheless, in order to ensure the continued healthy functioning of the sector as it expands and as international banks enter the country, the government has stepped up the powers of the Bank of Algeria, the central bank, to monitor financial institutions.

In a further step, Mohamed Laksaci, the governor of the Bank of Algeria, announced plans in late June to launch a new ratings system as part of efforts to monitor the financial health of Algerian banks to better assure the stability of the sector.

Under the system, which is to be launched before the end of this year, the central bank will monitor the solvency of each bank and financial institution in the country based on a wide range of indicators and ratings, such as solvency ratios and liquidity and risk management ratings, to anticipate potential weaknesses and prevent the emergence of crises in the sector. Laksaci described the system as representing a more operational approach to the supervision of financial risk in the country.

The Bank of Algeria has been working on establishing the new regime for the last three years together with the IMF and the US Department of the Treasury. Under the new system, which is also reportedly aimed at detecting money laundering and other illicit activities, the various bodies responsible for overseeing the financial sector – including the central bank, the Banking Commission and the insurance and capital market regulators – will step up information sharing. Legislative changes made in August 2010 gave the Bank of Algeria greater power to monitor local institutions and carry out investigations at banks and other financial establishments.

Overall, the banking sector is moving forward at a healthy pace: in its most recent Algeria Article IV consultation, published in February, the IMF noted that the sector was characterized by high levels of liquidity, in part thanks to oil receipts, and well-capitalized, profitable banks. It also noted a substantial fall in the non-performing loan (NPL) ratio, from a peak of 22.1% in 2007 to 14.9% as of June 2010, though it noted ongoing substantial NPL levels in public banks.

However, the report also pointed to low lending levels in the sector due to credit risk. Local businesses complain that access to credit remains difficult and expensive in the country, and Algeria ranked 138th out of 183 countries in the “getting credit” category of the World Bank’s 2011 Doing Business rankings.

To combat this, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said in early August that the government intended to develop the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector, create jobs and promote and diversify local investment through banking and financial reform measures. To increase lending, the government is planning to launch a credit registry this year that will help banks better assess the ability of customers to repay loans. Measures to make mortgages available to individuals and to increase the level of credit to SMEs are also under way. The government is also taking measures to improve the availability and cost of credit, while foreign investment in the sector is helping it to expand.

Efforts to increase loans in general, and to SMEs in particular, are already having an impact. Lending to the economy grew at an effective rate of 16% in 2010, to AD3.27trn (€31.8bn), following similar growth levels in the three previous years. Bank loans to SMEs grew by 29% to AD830bn (€8bn), or 25.4% of total lending to the economy. Medium- and long-term loans as a share of all loans rose from 57% in 2009 to 60% in 2010.

With a new ratings system forthcoming and efforts to increase lending opportunities under way, the government is taking a pro-active stance at maintaining the banking sector’s stability, which should lead to even stronger and healthier banks.

Source: Global Arab Network.
Link: http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/2011101012157/Finance/algeria-introducing-ratings-system-for-financial-sector.html.

Japan FM says Russia key to resolving Syria, N. Korea issues

January 19, 2016

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's foreign minister pledged Tuesday to continue talks with Russia even though the two countries still lack a World War II peace treaty, saying Moscow is key to resolving international threats from Syria and North Korea.

Fumio Kishida also announced $350 million in new aid to help stabilize Syria and its neighboring countries amid the region's massive refugee crisis, following $810 million in earlier humanitarian support.

Kishida said in a speech in Tokyo that a diplomatic dialogue between Japan and Russia is indispensable, even though a territorial dispute has prevented them from technically ending their World War II hostilities. He said the two sides are seeking to hold summit talks "at the most appropriate time" this year.

Media reports say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might visit Russia in April for talks with President Vladimir Putin ahead of a Group of Seven leaders' meeting in Japan in May. "The international community is faced with various challenges, and Russia's constructive role is essential in resolving the problems," Kishida said, citing North Korea, Syria and the threat of terrorism. "In that context, political dialogue, especially at a political level, is indispensable."

Japan and Russia never signed a post-World War II peace treaty because of conflicting claims over islands north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Soviet Union seized the four island groups in 1945.

Abe has sought to make progress on the territorial issue with Russia, but possible plans for a visit by Putin to Japan were put off following the Ukraine conflict and other issues. Outlining Japanese diplomacy for this year, Kishida expressed hope to visit China in the spring for talks with his counterpart, Wang Yi, to improve relations and resume high-level economic talks that have been stalled since 2010.

Chinese exporters hurting as EU crisis deepens

Beijing (AFP)
Oct 9, 2011

Wu Wenlong, a belt maker in China, has seen European orders slump 50 percent as the region's debt crisis hits demand for Chinese exports and threatens to tip major economies back into recession.

While Zhejiang L.F. Gifts and Decoration Co. Ltd. has not yet laid off workers at its small factory in the eastern province of Zhejiang, Wu said the outlook for the belt market was bleak.

"It looks unlikely that overseas economies will turn around any time soon. They may need at least two years to recover," the sales manager told AFP.

Manufacturing activity in export-driven China has been contracting for several months as overseas demand for Chinese-made shoes and gadgets weakens and analysts expect the situation to get worse if the eurozone crisis deepens.

The European Union is the world's biggest buyer of Chinese exports -- worth about $380 billion in 2010 -- and a collapse in demand could trigger heavy job losses in Chinese factories, which employ millions of people, analysts said.

"An escalation of the eurozone debt crisis would be a triple whammy for China," Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University in New York and a former head of the IMF's China division, told AFP.

"It would result in a stronger dollar and, by extension, a stronger yuan, and hurt growth in Europe, which remains China's largest export market.

"The knock-on effects on confidence and financial markets in other advanced economies would dampen their demand for China's imports."

Ren Xianfang, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Beijing, agrees.

"In the most extreme case that European demand collapses, the impact will be quite significant as the EU accounts for about one-fifth of China's total exports," Ren said.

"But if the United States holds up, the impact wont be as huge as in 2008."

Europe's struggling economies are increasingly looking to cash-rich China -- which is investing a rising portion of its world-leading foreign exchange reserves in euro-denominated assets -- as a possible rescuer.

While Chinese leaders have repeatedly expressed confidence in the region's economies during the debt upheaval, Beijing has indicated it won't be bumping up its economic growth rate in order to save the global economy.

Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said inflation remained a "top concern" for Chinese policymakers during recent annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington.

Emerging economies such as China, which contributed heavily to the global recovery from the 2008 crisis, now faced stiff headwinds from "excessive global liquidity, volatile cross-border flows, weakening external demand, and fluctuating commodity prices," Zhou said.

China went on a massive spending spree in late 2008, unveiling a $586 billion stimulus package and ordering state-owned banks to open their credit valves to spur economic activity.

The stimulus helped China grow even as other major economies sank into recession, but the country is now battling to contain rising inflation and soaring property prices.

"The reality is that there seems to be no appetite in Beijing for another large-scale stimulus," Mark Williams, China economist at Capital Economics research house in London, told AFP.

"Moderately looser lending controls and more supportive fiscal policy may be all that we can hope for."

Beijing has been tightening interest rates and increasing the amount of money banks must keep in reserve to stem a flood of credit in the world's second largest economy.

Nevertheless the politically sensitive consumer price index has been hovering above six percent for months, increasing pressure on the already stretched budgets of the country's millions of poor.

But Prasad said policymakers would not hesitate to respond aggressively to the eurozone crisis if it threatened jobs in China, where leaders worry about the potential for social unrest in the country of more than 1.3 billion people.

"Job growth is likely to take precedence," he said, predicting that tackling unemployment, rather than inflation, would be the priority.

Zhuodong Textile Garments Co Ltd in the southern province of Guangdong -- China's manufacturing hub -- is turning to the Chinese market to make up for the sharp fall in European orders. But it takes time to find new customers.

"We have had no new clients since January," Yang Lingtong, a marketing manager, told AFP.

"We have to remain confident to keep going forward."

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Chinese_exporters_hurting_as_EU_crisis_deepens_999.html.

Scotland wants better fisheries future

Oct. 10, 2011

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Despite a $19 million grant from the European Union for its fisheries sector, the Scottish government said regional polices must be in the national interest.

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said his country was optimistic about 2012 now that it had the $19 million grant to support its fishing fleet.

"We must take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that lie ahead of us in 2012 and maximize the benefits to Scotland in what could be a truly pivotal year for our fishing industry," he said in a statement.

The Scottish government said it was expecting the European Commission to introduce sanctions against the Faroe Islands and Iceland for overfishing mackerel in the region. Edinburgh said fishermen from both countries are taking on more mackerel than their internationally agreed upon share.

The European Union is working to address a common fisheries policy aimed at rebuilding the fisheries industry.

"We must ensure we get the best deal we can for Scotland's fishermen in the common fisheries policy negotiations," said Lochhead.

Scotland said there was an 11 percent decrease in the volume of mackerel landings in 2010 compared with the previous year because of a decrease in quotas stemming from management plans for that species.

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Industry/2011/10/10/Scotland-wants-better-fisheries-future/UPI-41551318257144/.

EU chief gives migrant plan 2 months to work

January 19, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's top official warned Tuesday the bloc has just two months to get its migration strategy in order amid criticism that its current policies are putting thousands of people in danger and creating more business for smugglers.

"We have no more than two months to get things under control," European Council President Donald Tusk told EU lawmakers, warning that a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on March 17-18 "will be the last moment to see if our strategy works."

The EU spent most of 2015 devising policies to cope with the arrival of more than 1 million people fleeing conflict or poverty but few are having a real impact. A refugee sharing plan launched in September has barely got off the ground and countries are still not sending back people who don't qualify for asylum.

A package of sweeteners earmarked for Turkey - including 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion), easier visa access for Turkish citizens and fast-tracking of the country's EU membership process - has borne little fruit.

The failure has raised tensions between neighbors, particularly along the Balkan route used by migrants arriving in Greece to reach their preferred destinations like Germany or Sweden further north. Tusk warned that if Europe fails to make the strategy work "we will face grave consequences such as the collapse of Schengen," the 26-nation passport-free travel zone.

His remarks came after Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, said that border closures and tougher policing only force people seeking sanctuary or jobs to find more dangerous routes to Europe.

"Policies of deterrence, along with their chaotic response to the humanitarian needs of those who flee, actively worsened the conditions of thousands of vulnerable men, women and children," said MSF head of operations, Brice de le Vingne.

The group urged the EU to create more legal ways to come to Europe, allow asylum applications at the land border between Turkey and Greece, and set up a real search and rescue system, after more than 3,000 people died trying to reach the EU by sea in 2015.

As pressure built among EU partner nations, four Central European members confirmed Tuesday their fierce opposition to a plan to redistribute 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece, and called for the strict control and registration of all refugees on the external borders of the Schengen zone.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, who form an informal grouping known as the Visegrad Four or V4, rejected any compulsory refugee quotas. Officials from Slovenia and Serbia also warned of retaliatory measures if Austria tries to slow the entry of migrants. That, they say, would cause a domino effect and ratchet up tensions along the so-called Balkan migrant corridor back to Greece, where most migrants are arriving from Turkey.

"If Austria and Germany introduce certain measures that would mean tighter control of the flow of migrants, Slovenia will do the same," Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that Belgrade "will protect its interests."

"We cannot allow the borders to close and limit the flow of migrants and they stay in Serbia," he said. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said closing borders won't prevent people from trying to enter Europe.

Steinmeier said the root causes driving people to flee their homes, such as conflicts in the Middle East, need to be tackled and that Turkey's cooperation is also key. North African states must also take back failed asylum seekers like western Balkan nations already do, he added.

Elsewhere, Dutch police said they arrested three protesters Monday night at a demonstration against a town's plan to build a center for potential asylum-seekers. Riot police cleared a central square in the town of Heesch after demonstrators began throwing eggs and fireworks at officers. Police say there were no injuries.

Last week, someone hung a pig's carcass from a tree near the proposed location.

Mike Corder in the Hague, Netherlands, Karel Janicek in Prague, Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

Calif. bans carrying handguns openly

Oct. 10, 2011

SACRAMENTO, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Openly carrying handguns in public is banned in California under provisions of a bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Brown said he "listened to the California police chiefs" and approved the ban, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

Police chiefs said they were concerned that openly carrying handguns would waste officers' time by forcing them to respond to calls about armed suspects and could lead to potentially violent confrontations.

"This finally puts an end to the dangerous and intimidating practice of carrying openly displayed guns in public," Brian Malte, director of state legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told the Times. "California families will now be able to take their families to the park or out to eat without the worry of getting shot by some untrained, unscreened, self-appointed vigilante."

Under the law, effective Jan. 1, violations will be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a possible fine of $1,000. Gun owners may still apply to their local law enforcement agency for a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

Opponents, including OpenCarry.org co-founder Mike Stollenwerk, said the law is an attempt to undermine the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Times said.

"California already has the most convoluted and confusing gun laws in the country," Stollenwerk said, predicting that the ban "will result in mass confusion by police and the public as to what the law is, and prosecution of well-meaning people."

Source: United Press International (UPI).
Link: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2011/10/10/Calif-bans-carrying-handguns-openly/UPI-47511318254400/.

Thailand seeks better ties with Myanmar

Mae Sot, Thailand (UPI)
Oct 7, 2011

Thailand's prime minister returned to Bangkok with a promise from the nominally civilian government in Myanmar to reopen a major border crossing soon.

However, no date was announced to reopen the crossing, which was closed by Myanmar in July 2010.

The border crossing -- one of two major road trading links between the countries -- connects the town of Mae Sot in Thailand with the Myawaddy district of Myanmar's troubled state of Karen.

The Friendship Bridge over the Moei River was constructed in 1997 and had been an important trade route for goods, both legal and illegal.

A Thai news agency report in July 2010 stated, the bridge was closed to protest Thailand's construction of a riverbank protection project, which Myanmar officials claimed diverts the river and is eroding the banks on the Myanmar side.

The bridge issue discussed during the one-day visit by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra -- the country's first woman government leader -- has significance for relations between the countries.

Opening the crossing would signify improving relations that have been tense, thanks to Myanmar refugees crossing into Thailand fleeing fighting between Karen rebels and Myanmar security forces.

Thailand relies on Myanmar for natural gas and cheap labor, a report by the independent Myanmar newspaper the Irrawaddy, based in Thailand, said.

Yingluck's trip was to "foster close relations and cooperation" between the two countries both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"High on the agenda are the opening of permanent border checkpoints, assistance to develop national and human resources, as well as boosting cooperation to jointly tackle border-related problems, including suppression of illicit drugs and illegal workers," the Irrawaddy report said.

During her trip, Yingluck met with Myanmar President Thein Sein, a former junta leader, and praised the country's progress in promoting democracy and reconciliation, the Thai News Agency reported.

She stressed her country's policy of not allowing armed groups to use its territory to launch an offensive against the Myanmar government, the report said.

She urged Myanmar to reopen the border checkpoint at Mae Sot to boost trade and other economic cooperation.

The Thai News Agency report quoted Sein as saying the process would be speeded up once bridge repairs are completed.

But the Irrawaddy report questioned how soon the bridge would reopen. It pointed to a report last month by Myanmar's state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar. Myanmar Commerce Minister Win Myint said that cross-border trade with Thailand would be resumed only when "factors contributing to border trade promotion" are in place.

The key factors include better security and transportation operations, a bilateral agreement on trade as well as better customs and banking services between the two countries.

Many low-paying jobs in Mae Sot's service industries, including factories, are filled by the thousands of illegal Myanmar migrants. The town also suffers from a black market in people trafficking and smuggling gems and narcotics.

Myanmar and Thailand could be on the verge of forming a new relationship after years of suspicion by Thailand of the militarily ruled and closed society of Myanmar whose junta clamped down on any political dissent against it decades-long rule.

But the new governments in both countries are looking for ways to engage neighboring countries, economically and politically.

Yingluck is a successful businesswoman but has little political experience. She worked in the family businesses, including Shinawatra Directories, and was appointed managing director of the telecommunications company AIS, then owned by her family, in 2002.

In the aftermath of Thailand's national election in July, she put together a coalition government between her Pheu Thai Party and four smaller parties, raising the number of government parliamentary seats to 299 out of 500.

She is trying to establish her credentials away from the shadow of her controversial older brother and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, 61, who lives in self-imposed exile to escape a jail sentence on tax fraud.

Sein. 77, led the Union Solidarity and Development Party in the general election in November and was formally installed in March. The USDP is comprised of mainly retired military officers who resigned their posts to join the party and run as civilians.

Also, one-quarter of seats in Parliament are reserved for military appointments.

The military legacy dogs Myanmar's government as it embarks upon moves it says are designed to show it is on a road to democracy.

Source: Terra Daily.
Link: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Thailand_seeks_better_ties_with_Myanmar_999.html.

Russia sets priorities for federal space program

Moscow (RIA Novosti)
Oct 10, 2011

The Russian space agency Roscosmos has prioritized commercial use of its satellites as part of the federal space program until 2015.

"By 2015, we are planning to increase the number of Earth observation satellites [in orbit] from five to 20, operational Glonass navigation satellites from 24 to 30, communications and Cospas-Sarsat satellites from 26 to 48," Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin told Russian lawmakers on Friday.

Popovkin said Russia occupied only 3 percent of the commercial services segment of the global space market while conducting 40 percent of global space launches annually.

"Therefore, we have reviewed priorities of the federal space program. One of our new priorities is Earth monitoring, weather and communication satellites. Another priority is space science," he said.

Russia currently has a total of 28 Glonass satellites in orbit, although only 23 of them are operational.

Popovkin said the Glonass satellite grouping will start providing global coverage in a month, when a recently launched Glonass-M satellite becomes fully operational.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Russia_sets_priorities_for_federal_space_program_999.html.

Australia approves BHP's Olympic Dam expansion

Sydney (AFP)
Oct 10, 2011

Australia on Monday approved BHP Billiton's multi-billion dollar plans to expand its copper and uranium operations at Olympic Dam, but said it must comply with more than 100 strict conditions.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the rules allowing the expansion of the South Australian site would extend beyond the life of the mine which BHP has forecast will generate billions in earnings and create thousands of jobs.

"While I have considered the economic and jobs benefits of this project, my focus has been on protecting matters of national environmental significance," Burke said in a statement.

"The strict conditions I've imposed will help ensure protection of the natural environment, including native species, groundwater and vegetation, for the long-term."

BHP Billiton wants to create a massive open mine pit, which will operate alongside its existing underground mine, to deliver more copper and uranium to meet global demand. It will also expand its processing operations at the site.

Under the government's conditions, the Anglo-Australian miner will be required to establish an offset area of about 140,000 hectares -- eight times the amount of land forecast to be cleared for the project.

It must also contribute to biodiversity conservation priorities.

"The conditions apply to all parts of the project, including the proposed desalination plant in the Upper Spencer Gulf, and will ensure that the gulf and its marine life -- including the giant cuttlefish -- are protected," Burke said.

When the mine is closed, BHP Billiton must cover the tailings storage facility to protect the environment in the very long-term, Burke added.

"The company will be held accountable if it doesn't comply with the strict approval conditions," he said.

BHP Billiton has forecast that the expansion of the site, about 570 kilometers (353 miles) north of Adelaide, will create more than 13,000 jobs and contribute Aus$45 billion (US$45 billion) to the economy over three decades.

The proposal was subject to independent expert reviews, which made recommendations to ensure the development meets world best-practice environmental standards for uranium mining, Burke said.

In August BHP Billiton announced its full-year net profit almost doubled to a mammoth US$23.6 billion, Australia's biggest ever result, citing robust demand from China and India.

Source: Nuclear Power Daily.
Link: http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Australia_approves_BHPs_Olympic_Dam_expansion_999.html.