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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus banks brace; France threatens EU-US trade; Damascus inner-city siege

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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus banks brace; France threatens EU-US trade; Damascus inner-city siege | The Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

France threatens to delay quick start of EU-U.S. trade talks
Reauters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: France threatened on Monday to delay the swift start of EU-U.S. trade talks if its red lines on culture and farm produce are not respected.

Brussels and Washington hope to start negotiations in June on a transatlantic free-trade agreement that would encompass almost half the world’s economy, and are seeking as broad a deal as possible to deliver strong economic growth.

The negotiating mandate proposed earlier this month by the European Commission, which has kept its contents secret, must be approved by EU governments before the talks can start.

“It is out of the question to work with a mandate that is hurriedly put together,” Trade Minister Nicole Bricq told a news conference. “We want a deal but we shouldn’t rush into talks.”

In particular, a European Commission proposal to further open up European culture markets was “not acceptable,” said Bricq.

France’s support is crucial as a similar drive in the 1990s collapsed in the face of French resistance. While France is on board this time around, its enthusiasm is more muted than among free-trade advocates Britain and Germany.

“We want to exclude from the deal anything that is about culture… that’s non-negotiable,” Bricq said, referring to French laws that allow the government to restrict foreign radio and television programmes and subsidise French films.

Asked about the June target, Bricq said: “If the Commission agrees to take out its reference to culture why not, but it’s a pre-requisite.”

Bricq said France would be as firm on its demand to exclude genetically modified products in food, and hormones in meat.

France has made protecting its film, television and music a priority in international trade talks for more than 20 years, insisting that culture should be treated differently to other industries.

The United States and the European Commission hope for a free-trade deal by the end of 2014 – a tight deadline in complex international trade talks that usually take years.

But Bricq warned that talks would be long and might last several years.

Bricq, who met French businesses on Monday to discuss the planned EU-US trade pact, said most of them backed launching the talks although the audiovisual sector asked to be exempted.

Protracted talks on an EU-Canada trade deal, for which an initial end-2011 timeline has slipped, show that it was important to agree a firm mandate before starting negotiations, she said. “For Canada, the mandate was very weak,” she said.

The two sides disagree on issues related to farm exports, intellectual property and cultural diversity, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said this month.

Cyprus girds for run on banks after sealing bailout
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The president of Cyprus assured his people a bailout deal he struck with the European Union was in their best interests, but banks will remain closed until Thursday – and even then subject to capital controls to prevent a run on deposits.

Returned from fraught negotiations in Brussels, President Nicos Anastasiades said late on Monday the 10-billion euro (379.8bn baht) rescue plan agreed there in the early hours of the morning was “painful” but essential to avoid economic meltdown.

He agreed to close down the second-largest bank, Cyprus Popular, and inflict heavy losses on big depositors, many of them Russian, after Cyprus’s outsize financial sector ran into trouble when its investments in neighbouring Greece went sour.

European leaders said a chaotic national bankruptcy that might have forced Cyprus from the euro and upset Europe’s economy was averted – though investors in other European banks are alarmed by the precedent of losses for depositors in Cyprus.

“The agreement we reached is difficult but, under the circumstances, the best that we could achieve,” Anastasiades said in a televised address to the nation on Monday evening.

“We leave behind the uncertainty and anxiety that we all lived through over the last few months and we look forward now to the future with optimism,” he told compatriots who face an immediate, deep recession and years of hardship unlikely to be milder than those experienced by Irish, Greeks and Portuguese.

Many Cypriots say they felt anything but reassured by the bailout deal, however, and are expected to besiege banks as soon as they reopen after a shutdown that began over a week ago.

Reversing a previous decision to start reopening at least some banks on Tuesday, the central bank said late on Monday that they would all now stay shut until Thursday to ensure the “smooth functioning of the whole banking system”.

Little is known about the restrictions on transactions that Anastasiades said the central bank would impose, but he told Cypriots: “I want to assure you that this will be a very temporary measure that will gradually be relaxed.”

Capital controls, preventing people moving funds out of the country, are at odds with the European Union’s ideals of a common market but the government may fear an ebb tide of panic that would cause even more disruption to the local economy.

Without an agreement by the end of Monday, Cyprus had faced certain banking collapse and risked becoming the first country to be pushed out of the European single currency – a fate that Germany and other northern creditors seemed willing to inflict on a nation that accounts for just a tiny fraction of the euro economy and whose banks they felt had overreached themselves.

Backed by euro zone finance ministers, the plan will wind down the largely state-owned Cyprus Popular Bank, known as Laiki, and shift deposits under 100,000 euros to the Bank of Cyprus to create a “good bank”, leaving problems behind in, effectively, a “bad bank”.

Deposits above 100,000 euros in both banks, which are not guaranteed by the state under EU law, will be frozen and used to resolve Laiki’s debts and recapitalise the Bank of Cyprus, the island’s biggest, through a deposit/equity conversion.

Precedent set

The raid on uninsured Laiki depositors is expected to raise 4.2 billion euros of the 5.8 billion euros the EU and IMF had told Cyprus to raise as a contribution to the bailout, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said.

Cyprus government spokesman Christos Stylianides said losses for uninsured depositors would be “under or around 30 percent”.

Laiki will effectively be shuttered, with thousands of job losses. Officials said senior bondholders in Laiki would be wiped out and those in Bank of Cyprus would have to make a contribution – setting a precedent for the euro zone.

Comments by Dijsselbloem on the need for lenders to banks to accept the potential risks of their failure had a knock-on effect in the euro zone, raising the cost of insuring holdings of bonds issued by other banks, notably in Italy and Spain.

Global equity markets and the euro retreated on his comment that the Cyprus bailout could be a template for solving other problems, by shifting more risk to depositors and stakeholders:

“What we’ve done last night is what I call pushing back the risks,” Dijsselbloem, who heads the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers, told Reuters and the Financial Times.

A first attempt at a deal 10 days ago had

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Chiang Rai

Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin

Greeley Pulitzer

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Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin | The Thaiger

An 49-year-old Italian has been charged with drug smuggling after arriving at Perth Airport from Chiang Mai. He allegedly had about 300 grams of heroin, worth about 135,000 Australian dollars, hidden inside his body.

After trace technology during a baggage examination showed positive for narcotics, Australian Border Force officers referred him to the Australian Federal Police for an internal exam.

The man was taken to hospital where 63 pellets of heroin were allegedly found in his stomach. X-Rays also revealed three more pellets of heroin had been internally inserted into his rectum.

Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin | News by The Thaiger

Photo: Australian Border Force

He was charged with importing a controlled drug and faces 25 years in prison.

A spokeman for the Australian Border Forcesaid the ABF is fully aware of the lengths people are willing to go to bring drugs into Australia.

“They not only risk lengthy jail time, but are playing Russian roulette with their own lives and health,” he said.

“Smuggling drugs internally is an incredibly stupid endeavour. Furthermore there is a risk that stomach acid will eat through the wrapping of the heroin, consequently risking a fatal drug overdose,” according to federal police.

SOURCE: chiangraitimes.com

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World

Brexit latest – Five possible scenarios

The Thaiger

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Brexit latest – Five possible scenarios | The Thaiger

Britain’s three year Brexit saga, the UK’s most challenging and debilitating political debacle in decades, has taken another dramatic twist with the outcome still difficult to predict. In a landmark vote, MPs finally backed an EU divorce deal – only moments later rejecting British PM Boris Johnson’s rushed timetable to turn it into law ahead of the country’s scheduled October 31 departure date.

The decision makes that deadline almost impossible to meet, but it does not kill the deal – the first that has got a majority in parliament.

Here are some possible scenarios ahead…

A technical extension

Legislation passed last month stated that unless MPs backed a divorce deal by October 19, Johnson must write to EU leaders asking for Brexit to be postponed for three months to January 31, 2020. The PM reluctantly sent the letter last Saturday, and EU leaders are still considering their response.

European Council President Donald Tusk said yesterday, following the drama in Westminster, that he was now recommending they accept the request. Johnson had earlier told lawmakers who had just defied his bid to fast-track his deal through parliament that he would “pause” the ratification process while the EU decides on an extension.

Although he insisted Britain should still leave on October 31, he may have little choice but to accept a short “technical” delay to allow for a new parliamentary timetable to pass the legislation in the coming weeks.

More delays

Despite Johnson being adamant he will not delay Brexit for months, the EU may also offer Britain the option of a longer extension – which opposition MPs argue the premier would be compelled by law to accept. European leaders could claim a longer delay is necessary to give the country enough time to resolve the issue.

Legislation of this type would normally take months and must be approved again by the House of Commons as well as by the upper House of Lords. There is a real risk MPs could try to hijack its passage and attach various amendments, for example to make approval subject to negotiating a future customs union with the bloc or even to hold a new referendum.

A longer delay could also allow for a general election.

A crash and burn exit

The default legal position is that Britain leaves the EU on October 31 unless the other 27 member states agree to a delay.

Business and markets across Europe fear the shock of a sudden Brexit that even the government’s own assessment says would cause economic damage, raising the chances that the EU will offer an extension.

Despite EU leaders claiming they would never cause a no-deal Brexit, their decision to offer a delay must be unanimous and any one of the 27 member states could block such a move. In that highly unlikely scenario, Britain would crash out of the bloc at the end of next week.

Another general election

Johnson warned MPs ahead of the votes yesterday that he would pull his Brexit deal legislation and try to hold a general election if they rejected his timetable – although he did not repeat the threat afterwards.

Riding high in the polls, he has already unsuccessfully tried twice to get an early election to win back a majority in parliament, and seemed buoyed by having secured MPs’ initial approval for his new Brexit deal. But he needs the support of the main opposition Labour Party for an election to be called and it has so far resisted.

Labour says it would back an election when the threat of a “no deal” Brexit is off the table.

Another referendum

Labour says any deal should be subject to a new referendum, and has promised to call one if it takes office. Some MPs may try to force the issue during the passage of the Brexit deal legislation, although it is far from clear that they have the numbers to succeed.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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ASEAN

Human hair trade exploits ASEAN women

Greeley Pulitzer

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Human hair trade exploits ASEAN women | The Thaiger

Hair extensions have become an essential part of the multi-billion-dollar hair industry, with estimated annual sales of 250 million to over 1 billion USD. Based on a 2018 Research and Markets report, the global hair, wigs and extension market is expected to surpass 10 billion USD by 2023.

Raw human hair has significant commercial value: it’s a coveted commodity to be processed into hair extensions and wigs. According to a report by the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), the global value for human hair exports in 2017 was 126 million USD. Asia exported 72.4 million USD, accounting for 58 percent of the global trade.

In India, the Tirupati Balaji temple earns 10 percent of its income through auctioning hair donated by devotees, raking in a profit of 25 million to 40 million USD annually.

There are three categories for collected hair: Remy, non-Remy and virgin hair. Remy is usually obtained from temple donations and is of the highest grade. Non-Remy hair is a lower grade, collected from individuals, and is typically broken or short. Virgin hairhas never been chemically treated.

In Southeast Asia, long hair is esteemed as a mark of beauty with deep religious and social meaning, especially in Buddhist countries. While most brands opt to acquire hair from India where it’s donated for religious reasons, in Southeast Asia, traders target impoverished areas to buy hair from desperately poor people whose poverty makes them easy prey. Hair extensions in the US can cost 500 to 2000 USD, but the owner of the hair usually receives only a fraction of that. For example, Nguyen Thi Thuy of Vietnam says the highest she has ever been offered for her hair is 70,000 Vietnamese dong, or 3 USD. Pheng Sreyvy from Cambodia fared slightly better at 15 USD for her locks.

According to the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, women don’t know how to bargain over the price of hair. “They decided to sell their hair because they are poor, and they don’t know where to sell their hair for international market price,” a spokeswoman said.

The high value of human hair has made hair-theft muggings a recurrent problem in some countries, and some companies have resorted to chemical processing or a mixture of human and goat hair.

Increased awareness of exploitation has prompted many companies to collect hair from more transparent and ethical sources. While the human hair trade has provided many communities with income and opportunities, practices that exploit and deprive women of opportunities continue.

SOURCE: theaseanpost.com

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