Thursday, July 03, 2008

Bush to attend Olympic ceremony

Bush to attend Olympic ceremony July 03, 2008 Mr Bush had always planned to attend the Olympics, the White House said US President George W Bush will attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, the White House says. Spokeswoman Dana Perino said Mr Bush will also visit South Korea and Thailand as part of the trip. Human rights groups and opposition politicians including presidential hopeful Barack Obama had urged Mr Bush to consider boycotting the ceremony. Beijing's rights record has come under intense scrutiny since Tibetan protests were suppressed in March. The army and police used force to quell the biggest demonstration in Tibetan communities for a generation. Beijing says rioters killed about 20 people in the unrest, but exiled Tibetan groups accuse security forces of killing scores of peaceful protesters. Several world leaders said they were considering boycotting the 8 August opening ceremony over Beijing's actions. While it was understood that Mr Bush would go to the Games, no firm plans for the opening had been announced. The president has always maintained that the Olympics are a sporting spectacle and should not be politicised. Mr Bush and his wife, Laura, will also meet Chinese President Hu Jintao as part of their visit to China, the White House said.

South Asian nations miss business opportunities worth $8 billion a year

South Asian nations miss business opportunities worth $8b a year Non-cooperation is the reason, says Saarc secretary general The South Asian nations miss business opportunities worth $8 billion a year because of non-cooperation, said Saarc Secretary General Dr Sheel Kant Sharma yesterday."A recent study said the opportunity cost of non-cooperation [among the South Asian nations] is $8 billion," Sharma said at a roundtable styled "Saarc: Short Window of Opportunity" organised by Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) at its auditorium in the capital.If "unofficial" businesses in the region could be checked, business opportunities worth three to four times the amount would have been created, he said.He, however, expressed optimism that the Saarc processes, which appear to be moving like a locomotive, are steady and will surely witness success.Terming the present situation in the Saarc region "unprecedented", he said, "On economic sides, these countries have good growth rates. Foreign exchange reserves are also good."He said, "Promising things are in our hand. These are now at the stage of implementation."Sharma, who became the Saarc secretary general on March 1 this year, described the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) and Saarc Development Fund as the successes of the forum of the eight countries in the region.A few more projects of the development fund will be initiated before the next summit in Colombo, he added.In his keynote address, Sharma said the priorities in the last summit were energy, water, food and climate change and work on these areas progressed on their own ways. "Colombo summit will be a time for our leaders to pronounce these issues," he said.A Saarc Food Bank has already been established for food security of South Asian nations and four countries have already ratified it, one will ratify it soon and the rest are also expected to follow, he said, adding, "When ratification by all the countries is done, it will start functioning."In terms of population, the Saarc is the biggest regional grouping and all the governments are heavily engaged in addressing problems of their nationalities, he said, adding that although these efforts are regional, they are implemented on national basis.Sharma observed that the Saarc Secretariat requires more skilled and expert manpower to strengthen it.Referring to the European Union (EU) and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), he said today all refer to these regional groupings, but these also took time to fly.Responding to a question, he said there is already visa exemption for people in a few categories for travelling the Saarc countries and the Saarc Secretariat is trying to increase the number of categories.In his welcome address, BEI President Farooq Sobhan said the Saarc should give top priority on the issue of climate change as experts fear millions of people will lose shelters and adequate food production remains a challenge.Emphasising the need for activating Safta, the former foreign secretary said the free trade agreement now in place between India and Sri Lanka could also be replicated in case of other Saarc countries.Saarc food security reserve is a crucial issue in the wake of food shortage and price hike, Sobhan said, adding that the Saarc could learn from the experiences of the EU and the ASEAN. He also suggested strengthening the Saarc Secretariat to make more initiatives.He called for more cooperation on labour migration and energy cooperation among the Saarc nations, saying these are the issues that can truly help develop the region and face challenges ahead.European Commission Head of Delegation Stefan Frowein, Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, diplomats from home and abroad and development experts were present at the roundtable.

Tata Motors plans to launch ACE in the United States

Tata Motors plans to launch ACE in the United States July 03, 2008 Indian Auto major Tata Motors has finally decided to make its debut in the United States. The company is planning to enter the US market with ACE and looking for a partnership with Chrysler for its US foray. The company is engaged in manufacture of commercial and passenger vehicles primarily in India. It offers passenger cars, multi-utility vehicles, and pick-ups; medium and heavy commercial vehicles, such as rigid trucks, tractor trailers, and tippers; commercial trucks; buses and defense related vehicles. The company is now planning to launch its mini truck named ACE in the United States and also planning to distribute and market other products in partnership the Chrysler. The company will be launching a newer version of the ACE in USA. Tata Motors is also expanding its product portfolio domestically. The company has been in the news for its 1-lakh small car. Tata’s major passenger cars include Tata Indica, Tata Safari, Tata Indigo and new Sumo. At 2:30 p.m. the stock was up by 8% at Rs. 755 on NSE. The stock touched an intraday high of Rs. 759 and an intraday low of Rs. 706.

Oil passes, settles above $145 for first time

Oil passes, settles above $145 for first time Thursday July 03, 2008 Oil surges to new highs above $145 a barrel; US pump prices at record near $4.10 a gallon NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil prices raced above $145 a barrel for the first time Thursday as traders added to their bets on the commodity ahead of the long holiday weekend. There was little good news for Americans hitting the road for the July Fourth holiday, as gas prices set their own record near $4.10 a gallon. Light, sweet crude for August delivery surged $1.72 to settle at a record $145.29 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier in the trading session, the last of the week, the contract rose to $145.85 a barrel, also a new high. The gains built on a record-shattering rally the previous day, and left prices 3.6 percent higher for the week. Crude has shot up by more than half just since the start of the year. Oil has set trading or closing records in each of the last six trading sessions. U.S. gas prices resumed their march higher as motorists looked ahead to the three-day break. The average retail price for regular gasoline jumped six-tenths of a penny to $4.098 a gallon, according to AAA, the Oil Prices Information Service and Wright Express. Thursday's surge in oil was propelled by a report of lower crude stockpiles in the United States, lingering concerns about conflict with Iran and comments by Saudi Arabia's oil minister suggesting his country would not boost production. Prices might have raced even higher Thursday were it not for a sharp gain by the dollar against the euro. The greenback strengthened considerably after the European Central Bank raised interest rates by a quarter point as expected but did not signal additional rate hikes that might further boost the 15-nation euro. "The strength in crude oil is amazing given the price of the euro," said James Cordier, president of Tampa, Fla.-based trading firms Liberty Trading Group and A slumping dollar has been a key driver pushing oil prices up by half this year. Many investors buy commodities such as oil as a hedge against inflation when the greenback weakens, and a falling dollar makes oil less expensive to investors overseas. When the dollar strengthens, traders have less incentive to buy commodities. Oil prices are also rising because investors have been pumping more money into the commodity to compensate for what are perceived to be anemic returns elsewhere, analysts say. The major stock market indexes are all down by double digits since the start of the year. At the same time, recent saber-rattling in the Middle East has left the markets jittery. And many traders are concerned that there simply is not enough oil in the short term to quench rising global demand -- even without a conflict that could disrupt supplies. "There's a whole lot of thinking right now that prices haven't risen high enough to meet demand growth," Cordier said. Speaking Thursday in Madrid, Saudi Arabia's oil minister said the world's biggest oil exporter had no immediate plans to boost crude output because there was no need to do so. Ali Naimi said he was "concerned about the (price) level" and suggested Saudi Arabia is ready to raise production if the kingdom determines supply-and-demand fundamentals have changed. But for now, the minister told reporters, "all our buyers are satisfied and happy." Soaring fuel costs are squeezing cash-strapped drivers and inflating prices in the U.S., the world's leading oil consumer. Last Fourth of July, drivers were paying just $2.95 a gallon for gas -- about $1.15 less than today. The government issued more troubling economic news Thursday, reporting that U.S. employers cut payrolls by 62,000 in June, the sixth straight month of nationwide job losses. But because the jobs report was largely in line with what analysts expected, it "had little-to-no impact" on oil prices, said Addison Armstrong, director of market research at Tradition Energy. Traders were also keeping an eye on storms brewing offshore. A system developing near the Cape Verde Islands off the western coast of Africa was upgraded to become the second tropical storm of the hurricane season, although it was expected to turn northward and avoid the oil and natural gas platforms scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico. "It's more of a psychological thing," Cordier said. "It reminds traders that hurricane season is ahead of us, not behind us." In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures rose 3.45 cents to settle at $4.106 a gallon, while gasoline futures added 2.16 cents to settle at $3.571 a gallon. Natural gas futures jumped 18.8 cents to settle at $13.584 per 1,000 cubic feet. In London, Brent crude futures rose to a trading record of $146.69 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange before settling at $146.08, up $1.82.

Indian Navy to Expand Bluewater Capabilities

Indian Navy to Expand Bluewater Capabilities July 04, 2008 India is planning to expand the bluewater capabilities of the Navy with more indigenous built platforms, which can carry out underwater surveillance and anti-submarine warfare operations, minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju said on Wednesday.Speaking at a function in Kochi after formally handing over the technology for the third generation ship sonar HUNSA NG to Bharat Electronics Limited, Raju said these sonars would be fitted on a range of Indian Navy warships including frigates, destroyers and corvettes, to be built in the Indian dockyards. It would also replace earlier sets progressively. Raju congratulated the scientists of the Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL), a Defence Research and Development Organisation institution located in Kochi, for developing and transferring the technology in the stipulated time.The total production of NPOL sonar would go up by another Rs 200 crore when the new sonars were produced, he said. Stressing the importance of naval research for a country like India, which has a 7,400 km long coastline and two island chains, Mr Raju said the Indian Ocean, once an ''ocean of peace,'' could become a hotbed of hostilities. There was increased movement of superpower submarines in the region and naval build-ups in the area, against which India had to be on an alert, the minister added.Besides protecting sea trade and communication lanes, ports and Indian assets abroad, the Navy also had to be equipped to check drug and human trafficking, terrorism and piracy, Mr Raju said. ''For India to be the dominant power in the area, it is important for us to equip the Navy with bluewater capability,'' he added. The minister noted that two of the NPOL's towed array systems were close to user evaluation. The Navy had also evinced interest in Low Frequency Dunking Sonar, being developed at NPOL, by funding the installation on the Advanced Light Helicopter.In the context of low intensity warfare, the NPOL's efforts in coastal surveillance systems also needed to be augmented, Mr Raju said. Stating that delay in delivery of goods and services had been a major point of criticism against the DRDO, the minister said the organisation needed to transfer technologies to its industrial partners effectively and efficiently. In this context, Raju praised the successful three-decade-old partnership between NPOL and BEL.Chief Controller Reasearch and Development , DRDO, Sivathanu Pillai said the sonar technology developed at NPOL was comparable to the best in the world and was ready for export to other countries. The tsunami warning system and the 'Sanjeevani' life detecting device were some of the other NPOL technologies with multi-faceted applications, he said. V V R Sastry, Chief Managing Director , BEL, said with global players entering the Rs 54,000 crore Indian defence market, the competition was heating up for the local defence-related industries.

Britain doubles aid to Pakistan

Britain doubles aid to Pakistan July 03, 2008 The aid will focus on poverty reduction Britain is substantially increasing its aid to Pakistan and outlining a new strategy for how it is spent. International Development Minister Douglas Alexander is in Islamabad to announce that aid will double to £480m ($956m) over the next three years. The move comes amid British security concerns over growing Islamic militancy in the country. The increase will make Pakistan second only to India as the recipient of the UK's largest aid programme worldwide. The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says the move appears to reflect - at least in part - London's concern about the influence of Islamic militancy on Britons of Pakistani origin and its impact on British troops fighting over the border in Afghanistan. New emphasis The aid - first agreed in 2006 - will continue to focus on poverty reduction and improving health care. But there will also be an extra emphasis on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) along the border, which serve as a base for militants linked to the Taleban and al-Qaeda. And there will be a new emphasis on education. Pakistan's education system is inadequate and underfunded, and has been accused of failing to counter a rigid form of Islam taught in some Islamic schools, or madrassas. "We believe that strengthening the Fata secretariat contributes not solely to the security environment but just as significantly increases the capacity for development to be taken forward within that area," Mr Alexander told the BBC. He said there were "a whole system of checks in place" to ensure the money was spent effectively. "We have long experience of this working around the world, using systems here in Pakistan tried and tested from elsewhere. We're also significantly increasing money to civil society," he said. There are no details about how the money will be used in the tribal belt. Our correspondent says any British development programme there would be expected to face difficulties. The tribal structures traditionally used to administer aid to the area have been weakened and discredited by the rise of the Islamist militants. And the region is insecure for aid workers - especially those linked to the West - because the tribesmen see Nato and the United States as occupiers of neighbouring Afghanistan. Such hostility has grown with increased US air strikes on suspected militants in the region.

China balks at US calls for Zimbabwe arms embargo

China balks at US calls for Zimbabwe arms embargo July 03, 2008 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said here Sunday it is time for strong international action to stop political violence in Zimbabwe but China balked at US calls for a UN arms embargo. Rice and her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi met in Beijing to discuss US plans to introduce measures this week at the UN Security Council, including both an arms embargo and a travel ban on President Robert Mugabe's regime. "We believe that it is really now time for the international community to act strongly but we are consulting about what measures might be taken," Rice said after announcing plans for UN Security Council action. She spoke just before Mugabe was sworn in Sunday for a sixth term of office as Zimbabwe president after being declared winner of a one-man election widely denounced throughout the world as a brutal and illegitimate farce. Rice also hoped that an African Union meeting in Egypt on Monday would at least issue a "strong caution" to Mugabe "not to use violence against his own people." China -- one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Russia, the United States, Britain and France -- gave vague answers when asked if it supported an arms embargo. "The most pressing task now is to stabilise the situation in Zimbabwe," said Yang, the Chinese foreign minister. Yang expressed the hope that the Zimbabwe government and political opposition will "engage in a serious dialogue to find a proper solution" to Harare's handling of the March 29 election and June 27 runoff. In contrast to strong US emphasis on UN Security Council action, Yang said China hoped that the "African countries in particular" would help resolve the crisis. "China, as a responsible country, will also play a constructive role in this process," Yang promised without elaborating. Yang, whose country is a past ally of Zimbabwe's, also admitted that a Chinese ship with a "very limited amount of conventional arms" did not deliver the cargo earlier this year after what he said was a request from Zimbabwe. He said Zimbabwe and China signed the deal "long, long ago." During wide-ranging talks here, the diplomats also consulted over international efforts to press Iran into giving up uranium enrichment while they hailed progress made last week for North Korea's nuclear disarmament. China is a key player in efforts to deal with the nuclear programmes of both countries. Yang said delegates from the six countries involved in negotiations to denuclearise North Korea would meet "pretty soon" to establish a process for verifying the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes. Six-party foreign ministers will meet at the "appropriate time" to discuss the scope of the last phase of disarmament negotiations, he said. Rice also expressed concerns about China's crackdown in Tibet, while Beijing faulted US views on the problem. At the same time China announced it was resuming talks next month with the Dalai Lama's representatives, a position supported by Washington. Yang thanked Rice for the concern she showed the Chinese people earlier Sunday when she visited the site of an earthquake that hit southwest China last month, leaving 88,000 people dead or missing and up to five million displaced. "I've been tremendously impressed with the recovery, with the resilience of the people," Rice told journalists after touring the wrecked city of Dujiangyan, near the epicentre. "It is really a sign of how the human spirit can recover from great devastation." The United States has joined international relief efforts to fly life-saving supplies to the region where towns and villages were flattened by the 8.0 magnitude quake. During her talks with China's leaders, Rice said she would discuss ways to persuade China's close neighbour and ally Myanmar to accept international aid following a cyclone that slammed the nation in early May. Rice was set to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Monday.

India govt still undecided on US nuclear pact:

India govt still undecided on US nuclear pact: July 03, 2008 India's ruling Congress party has not decided if it will pursue an atomic energy deal with the United States and alienate leftist allies that prop up the government, an official said Thursday. The governing party failed Wednesday to persuade its partners to support the pact, leaving it with the choice of going it alone and risking early elections or ditching the landmark deal altogether. The pact, concluded in 2006, aims to bring India into the loop of global atomic commerce. But the deal is bitterly opposed by communists, who say it will draw New Delhi too close to Washington. "No decision has been taken as yet," a senior official from the prime minister's office told AFP on condition he not be named. "Whenever the decision is taken, it will be communicated." The communists have vowed to force early elections if the government forges ahead with implementing the deal, which would mean going to the polls by the end of this year. It is unclear if Congress is ready to face the electorate at a time of rising inflation -- notably of fuel and food prices -- or if it would rather finish its full term and wait for scheduled polls in May 2009. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has appeared willing to risk his government to push through the deal, which he says is crucial for India's energy security. Syndicated columnist Neerja Chowdhury told AFP that "who represents India at the G-8 meeting in Japan next month will indicate whether the government will go forward with the pact." Singh has indicated he will not attend the meeting of the eight major industrial powers if the government decides to shelve the pact, since he is due to meet US President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the conference. The two leaders struck the deal amid much fanfare in New Delhi in 2006. According to a source in India's foreign ministry, "arrangements are being made for both eventualities, we will know for sure in the next few days."

NKorea mum on past proliferation, enrichment: US

NKorea mum on past proliferation, enrichment: US July 03, 2008: The White House on Thursday acknowledged that North Korea's nuclear accounting did not meet past US demands for a full detailing of alleged uranium enrichment or shared atomic know-how overseas. "The accounting they have given is: 'We are not now engaged in any enrichment program or any proliferation activities and we will not in the future,'" said US national security adviser Stephen Hadley. Repeatedly pressed on whether the secretive communist regime in Pyongyang had spelled out its past activities on both fronts, Hadley gave reporters variations on the same answer and said Washington still had concerns. "The declaration they've made, with the disclosure they've made, is 'we're not engaged in this activity now. We'll not engage it in the future,'" and pledged to work on a structure for verifying their past activities, he said. "And they have, as you've noticed, have not been out publicly denying that or discounting these concerns. "So we're in the situation of not quite admitting, not denying, but opening the door for us to be able to try and get greater clarity," Hadley said. The outstanding issues include Washington's charges that North Korea helped Syria start construction on a suspect nuclear site, which Israel destroyed in an air strike in September, he said. Syria denies the allegation. "We want to get to the bottom of that so we understand what that activity was to make sure there is not continuing activity going on between North Korea and Syria or activity with respect to other locations, as well," said Hadley. The State Department said however in a statement that North Korea had handed China "a package" of nuclear declarations which "addresses North Korea's uranium enrichment and proliferation activities" without giving any details. North Korea will not be removed from the US terrorism list until a verification system is put in place and verification itself begins, the statement said. "After a period of 45 calendar days and absent the enactment of a joint resolution blocking the proposed rescission, the secretary of state may rescind North Korea's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism on August 11," it said.

Hong Kong to launch commodities exchange next year

Hong Kong to launch commodities exchange next year July 3, 2008: Hong Kong is set to launch its first commodities exchange early next year to capitalise on the mainland's growing demand for oil and other raw materials, officials said Wednesday. The Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange (HKMEx) will initially sell contracts on fuel oil, with other commodities following, the exchange said in a statement announcing its formation. It will "better reflect mainland China's underlying supply and demand, and enable Chinese traders to have more pricing power in the world's commodities markets," said Barry Cheung, HKMEx chairman and former deputy head of Titan Petrochemical, the Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of a Singapore company. Thomas McMahon, a former vice president and director of the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) Asia, will be president. The group expected to obtain the all-clear from the Securities and Futures Commission by end of the year, and estimated trading would start in the first quarter of next year. The creation of the exchange has the backing of the government, with the city's financial secretary saying: "There is a huge opportunity for Hong Kong to develop a commodities futures market that can cater to the mainland and we are delighted to see the creation of HKMEx to accommodate these needs." The HKMEx said a diversified mix of world-class institutions and financial intermediaries had expressed interests to become investors or members of the exchange. They include Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Barclay Capitals, and China International Futures Corporation, the statement said.