Archive for ‘Economics’

15/08/2017

China imposes import bans on North Korean iron, coal and seafood – BBC News

China is to stop importing coal, iron, iron ore and seafood from North Korea.

The move is an implementation of UN sanctions, which were imposed in response to North Korea’s two missile tests last month.

China accounts for more than 90% of North Korea’s international trade.

Beijing had pledged to fully enforce the sanctions after the US accused it of not doing enough to rein in its neighbour.

Economic impact

The UN approved sanctions against Pyongyang earlier this month that could cost the country $1bn (£770m) a year in revenue, according to the figures provided to the Security Council by the US delegation.

Although China’s coal imports from North Korea totalled $1.2bn last year, the figure will be much lower this year because China had already imposed a ban in February, experts said.”China has already imported its quota of coal under sanctions for 2017. So no net impact there, and North Korean exports to other countries are minimal,” said David Von Hippel, from the Nautilus Institute -a think tank based in Oregon -who has researched North Korea’s coal sector.

North Korean labourers work beside coal mound near the Yalu River

The sanctions might have more of an impact on iron and seafood, experts said.

Although they are both much smaller sources of export revenue for North Korea, the two industries have seen a rise in exports this year.

Iron ore exports grew to $74.4m in the first five months of this year, almost equalling the figure for all of 2016. Fish and seafood imports totalled $46.7m in June, up from $13.6m in May.

The sanctions do not apply to the growing clothing assembly industry in North Korea.Mr Von Hippel said in gross terms, it is nearly as large as coal, but in reality it is worth much less because North Korea has to import the inputs.

Trade and security tensions

The sanctions come against a backdrop of increased tensions between the US and North Korea, as well as heightened trade tensions between the US and China.

After weeks of heated rhetoric between the US and North Korea, on Tuesday North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has decided to hold off on a strike towards the US territory of Guam, state news agency KCNA reported.

The apparent pause in escalating tensions comes after US President Donald Trump warned of “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang persisted with its threats.

On Monday, the US President Donald Trump ordered a trade probe into China’s alleged theft of US intellectual property, which the Chinese state press saw as an attempt to force China to act more decisively on North Korea.

Officially, the US has denied any link between the two issues, although the president had previously suggested he might take a softer line on China in exchange for help on North Korea.

Source: China imposes import bans on North Korean iron, coal and seafood – BBC News

05/08/2017

China tries to keep foreign rubbish out

CHINA dominates international trade in many goods, but few more than waste for recycling.

It sucked in more than half the world’s exports of scrap copper and waste paper in 2016, and half of its used plastic. All in all, China spent over $18bn on imports of rubbish last year. America, meanwhile, is an eager supplier. In 2016 nearly a quarter of America’s biggest exporters by volume were recyclers of paper, plastic or metal. Topping the list was America Chung Nam, a California-based supplier of waste paper which last year exported a whopping 333,900 containers, almost all of them to China.

This may soon change. On July 18th China told the World Trade Organisation that by the end of the year, it will no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste as part of a government campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage”. The Ministry of Environmental Protection says restricting such imports will protect the environment and improve public health. But the proposed import ban will disrupt billions of dollars in trade. Recyclers worry that other categories of waste may soon receive the same treatment.

Imports of rubbish have helped feed China’s voracious appetite for raw materials. It is often cheaper to recycle scrap copper, iron and steel, as well as waste paper and plastic, than to make such materials from scratch, especially when commodity prices are high. So as commodity prices rose during the 2000s, the burgeoning trade in waste benefited both exporters, who made money from previously worthless trash, and importers, who gained access to a reliable stream of precious feedstock. Between 1995 and 2016 Chinese imports of waste grew tenfold, from 4.5m to 45m tonnes.

But imports of recyclable waste are often dirty, poorly sorted or contaminated with hazardous substances such as lead or mercury. In 1996 factories in Xinjiang inadvertently imported more than 100 tonnes of radioactive metal from Kazakhstan. The following year an American businessman was convicted of smuggling over 200 tonnes of unsorted rubbish labelled as waste paper. Even when the intended material is imported, it is often recycled improperly. In 2002 the authorities faced widespread criticism after a documentary showed workers in Guangdong province crudely dismantling discarded electronic devices and dumping the toxic remains into a river. Officials may have been spurred into the latest restrictions by the release of Plastic China, an unflattering documentary about the plastic-recycling industry which was screened at Sundance, a grand American film festival, in January.

The government had already been campaigning to block imports of illegal and low-quality waste under a crackdown called Operation Green Fence launched in 2013. Customs officials have ramped up inspections of scrap metal for circuit boards, plastic for syringes and other medical waste, and waste paper for plastic or wood. Since then, China’s imports of waste have fallen sharply (see chart).

Whereas Green Fence was aimed at improving the quality of imported waste, the government’s latest move bans several types of waste outright, threatening some $5bn in trade. The Ministry of Environmental Protection says the ban will cut pollution. But most of the waste consumed by China’s recycling industry comes from domestic sources, not imports, notes Joshua Goldstein of the University of Southern California: “This is not really where the problem lies.” Indeed, recyclers who rely on imports may now switch to grubbier domestic stock. “This is going to be very hard on our industry,” says Adina Renee Adler of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. As it is, Operation Green Fence has put lots of small recyclers out of business. Exporters will suffer too. Derek Kellenberg of the University of Montana says, “My suspicion is that the lower-quality stuff is more likely to end up in a landfill.”

Source: China tries to keep foreign rubbish out

28/07/2017

India’s once-shoddy transport infrastructure is getting much better

JUST after 1pm on July 31st 2012 lights blinked out across northern India. It was the world’s biggest-ever blackout, affecting more than 600m people. It was also a swingeing blow to a transport system that had struggled to cope at the best of times. Hundreds of trains came to a halt in open country and in the tunnels of Delhi’s underground railway. Some passengers had to wait for hours in shirt-drenching heat.

Five years on, India’s famously creaky transport infrastructure is starting to look strong. The power on which parts of it depend has also become far more reliable. The embarrassing system-wide collapses of 2012, and an earlier one in 2001, are now scarcely conceivable. A rush to expand the electricity supply has been so successful that analysts now warn of a looming excess of generating capacity.

On paper, India has long claimed some of the world’s most extensive road and rail networks. That belied reality: roads were twisting, bumpy, crowded and dangerous. Railways were largely single-track, which caused delays, or narrow-gauge, which limited their ability to carry large loads. By car or train it was rare to sustain speeds of more than 50kph (30mph). Puzzled tourists wondered why distances that looked small on a map took forever to traverse. The rail network had barely expanded since the days of the British Raj, despite having to handle some 8bn passengers a year. India’s remoter corners were tied to the centre by the thinnest of infrastructure threads. Snows blocked passage to Kashmir for days at a time in winter; floods regularly cut off much of the north-east.

That is changing, too. In recent months Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has inaugurated India’s longest road tunnel and longest bridge. The tunnel slashes driving time between Jammu and Srinagar, the winter and summer capitals of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, by two hours. It also makes the route passable all year round. The new bridge (pictured when it opened in May) spans the vast and moody Brahmaputra river, a once-formidable barrier running through the north-eastern state of Assam. Another one nearing completion will, for the first time, link Kashmir by rail to the rest of India. Rising a dizzying 359 metres (1,178 feet) over a gorge, it is the world’s tallest railway bridge.

China does it quicker

With less drama, transport networks are being overhauled. The central government has doubled budgets for both road- and rail-building since 2012, to a combined total of close to $30bn a year at today’s exchange rate. Progress on building expressways has been unimpressive. Unlike in China, where the government has been able to build big roads at astonishing speed thanks, not least, to its ability to kick farmers off their land at will, in India a more litigious system makes it harder to appropriate land. India’s government is also more sensitive than China’s to farmers’ political opinions (in India they can vote in proper elections). Building roads from which their animals and tractors are excluded is unpopular in the Indian countryside. But local governments are paving and widening rural roads at a rate of 117km a day.

On the railways, better signalling and tracks have pushed up the speed of faster trains to a respectable 140kph. Work is about to start on India’s first dedicated high-speed rail link, a 500-km track between the western city of Ahmedabad and the commercial capital, Mumbai. When the first line of the Delhi Metro opened 15 years ago, many passengers were surprised by its fast, clean and efficient service. India’s capital now has six such lines, some running below ground. Seven cities have such rapid-transit systems. Eight more are building them.More striking still is the growth in air traffic. Domestic passenger numbers have doubled since 2010, to nearly 100m a year. Last year alone the number surged by 23%. Indian airlines are snapping up new aircraft, with some 450 in operation and more than 1,000 on order. Mr Modi’s government has brought cheer to fast-growing private airlines. It plans to privatise much or all of the loss-making national carrier, Air India, and has also pushed through an ambitious scheme to encourage the use of smaller airports. Through a mix of subsidies and guarantees to airlines, plus ticket-price caps for passengers, the scheme aims to put 31 unused airports into passenger service and boost connectivity to 12 more that are reckoned to be underserved.

There will be plenty of power to operate them. Installed generating capacity has more than doubled since 2007. The capacity of power projects now being built should double it again from the present level, assuming they are all completed. Improvements to transmission are no less impressive. “We have a more advanced, more flexible grid than Europe’s,” enthuses Vinayak Chatterjee, an infrastructure consultant. He says the country can now more easily transmit power over long distances, such as from the north-east (which has a surplus) to the often undersupplied south.

The boost to India’s infrastructure has not been problem-free. An exuberant rush into public-private partnerships for big projects a decade ago left many private firms taking on bigger financial risks than they could manage. Many ventures stalled. Infrastructure-related deals are reckoned to account for around 10% of the nearly $200bn in non-performing loans that currently bog down India’s financial system.

The government’s own projects have not all run smoothly, either. A grim report by the state’s main auditing agency earlier this year painted a picture of incompetence and corruption in the Indian army’s Border Roads Organisation, which is responsible for building strategic roads along India’s mountainous border with China (see Banyan). Out of 61 roads that the agency was supposed to have built between 1999 and 2012, only 36% had been completed by 2016, the report revealed. Some of the unfinished ones came to a dead end in impassable gorges, or were abandoned because different stretches turned out to be impossible to join.

That is galling for India, which often rates its progress by comparing itself with China. Having spent three decades beefing up its own infrastructure before India began to get in on the act, the northern giant has set standards that India will still take decades more to match.

Source: India’s once-shoddy transport infrastructure is getting much better

14/07/2017

India alarm over rising tiger deaths – BBC News

Wildlife activists have accused Indian authorities of a culture of secrecy around steadily rising tiger deaths.

At least 67 tigers have died this year – many as a result of conflict with humans, including poachers, they say.

“There is no transparency in these matters,” Theodore Baskaran, a former trustee of WWF-India, told the BBC.India is home to 60% of the world’s tigers but they face increasing habitat loss and demand for their body parts in China and other parts of Asia.Senior officials of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) confirmed to the BBC that the bodies of 58 tigers had been recovered between January and June this year, as well as body parts from nine other tiger fatalities.

Karnataka state in the south recorded 14 deaths, more than any other, while the central state of Madhya Pradesh accounted for 13.

“Wildlife activists are alarmed mainly because of the secrecy surrounding the deaths. Also there is no co-ordination between researchers and the forest department,” Theodore Baskaran said.

Famous Indian ‘queen’ tigress dies

India may relocate tigers to CambodiaWorld tiger numbers show increase

But NTCA authorities say each case is dealt with according to standard operating procedures. They said they were unable to divulge the causes for this year’s tiger deaths until final reports from field officers had been received.

On current trends this year’s mortality rate could surpass last year, when 120 deaths were recorded, the highest number since 2006. Tiger deaths have steadily gone up in India in recent years. In 2015 officials reported 80 tiger deaths, and 78 in the previous year.

Demand for tiger body parts continues to fuel poaching, activists say

It is thought India had about 100,000 tigers a century ago. Numbers had plummeted to fewer than 1,500 by the early years of this millennium.

Tigers are now on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of endangered animals.They are found in just 2% of India and encroachment by humans on their habitat – as well as poaching for body parts and trophy hunting – is a key factor in their decline.

Since 2006 conservation efforts have yielded significant results, however. India’s tiger population rose from 1,706 to 2,226 during the period 2011-2016.

But conservationists say much more needs to be done.Theodore Baskaran and other activists want forest officials to cultivate the goodwill of forest dwellers around sanctuaries.

“The digital camera revolution coupled with uncontrolled tourism inside tiger territory is a worrying trend,” he said.”As thousands of camera-toting tourists go closer and closer into their habitat, the big cats get used to human proximity. This helps poachers get close to the animals and kill them.”

Conservation groups are worried about the impact of a rise in tiger tourism

Tigers also face extensive health dangers from diseases such as canine distemper spread by stray dogs from villages close to sanctuaries, scientific studies show.

“The higher number of deaths in the current year so far is also due to natural mortality. Deaths due to poaching and accidents are preventable and those are the ones that worry us,” Belinda Wright, executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), told the BBC.

According to WPSI records, so far this year 17 tigers died due to infighting and 18 were reported to have been found dead, with cause of death unknown.

The group says 19 tigers died at the hands of poachers. She and other conservation activists are concerned about the growing number of tigers killed by electrocution and and other methods in the human-tiger conflict.

“Tiger numbers have increased, and this in turn will be reflected in the number of natural deaths. While conservation efforts have had an effect there are still improvements needed, which include improved intelligence and enforcement of laws,” she says.

Human-tiger conflict poses a huge challenge to conservation efforts. For a tiger to survive it needs about 25,000 acres of forest land.

Shrinking forest leads to scarcity of prey and the tigers are forced to invade villages and hunt cattle on which many local communities depend for their livelihood.

In retaliation tigers are poisoned, killed or captured.

Source: India alarm over rising tiger deaths – BBC News

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05/07/2017

What Rosneft’s purchase of Essar’s oil refinery means

CONGLOMERATES sometimes sell their least promising units, thereby ginning up returns for the remaining empire. But groups saddled with huge debts do not have that luxury; only by disposing of the most profitable parts can they raise enough funds to satisfy creditors. Such is the story of the Essar Group, which is in the final stages of selling its crown jewel, India’s second-biggest private oil refinery, to a consortium led by Rosneft, a Russian oil titan. The slimming of what was once the country’s third-largest diversified corporate group is a welcome signal that an era of powerful industrialists running rings round their creditors is ending.

The purchase by Rosneft (along with a Russian investment fund and Trafigura, a trading firm) of the giant Vadinar refinery in the state of Gujarat for $12.9bn will be the largest-ever foreign investment in India. It has been a long time coming. It was first mooted over two years ago and jointly announced with fanfare in October by India’s Narendra Modi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The deal includes an Indian port and a network of coveted petrol stations.

Most analysts approve of Rosneft’s intiative as a way of diversifying away from upstream activities in Russia. But what is most telling is why the assets came up for sale in the first place. Essar, whose interests span power plants, steel, infrastructure and shipping, says that it saw a good opportunity to monetise an asset it has nurtured for years. It may have had little choice. An investment splurge starting in 2011 has left various Essar operating entities, along with a holding company based in the Cayman Islands, with a combined debt of around $20bn. Although the company does not disclose updated financials (it is privately held by the Mumbai-based Ruia family) few firms in its various industries make the sort of money it would need to pay down such a debt.

In the past, bosses at Indian state-run banks (which conduct over two-thirds of all lending) could easily be convinced to overlook trifles such as a debtor’s inability to repay loans. It takes over four years for an insolvency process to return a meagre 26 cents on the dollar to creditors, so bankers often preferred to behave as if even the most distressed company might somehow find a way of repaying a loan.

A bad-loan crisis followed. Around one in five loans made by state-owned banks are either set to default or have already done so. The central bank is pushing bankers to get tough on errant borrowers. In recent weeks it has threatened to push a dozen firms with huge debts into insolvency unless deals to refinance their debts could be reached quickly. One was Essar Steel.

Banks are still allowed to forgive a part of a company’s debt. But there is now pressure to show that shareholders pay a price, by having to forfeit large chunks of their equity to the banks. Advisers involved in the talks over Essar Steel say the group will have to give up over half its equity in the steel business to convince lenders to refinance loans. That is new: in past cases, parts of Essar have moved in and out of debt restructurings without the central group having to give up any stakes.

Part of the reason the Rosneft deal was held up for so long, insiders say, is that state-owned banks insisted that the Ruia family clear debts from other bits of the Essar empire first, including from the central holding company. They refused to agree to a sale until that was done (Essar repaid in part by taking out a bridge loan from Vneshtorgbank, a big Russian lender). That shows a savvy few thought state-owned bank executives possessed.

The cash from the sale to Rosneft will take away about half of Essar’s $20bn of debt but will also deprive it of its main source of profits. Essar’s pain in having to sell the oil refinery is the corporate system’s gain. Resolving festering bad loans, either by forcing asset sales or seizing ownership, is an essential part of restoring the health of Indian banking. Credit to Indian industry is currently shrinking for the first time in two decades. Resolving this mess can only help companies—including what will remain of Essar.

Source: What Rosneft’s purchase of Essar’s oil refinery means

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05/07/2017

Indian utility bets $10 billion on coal power despite surplus, green concerns | Reuters

India’s state-run power utility plans to invest $10 billion in new coal-fired power stations over the next five years despite the electricity regulator’s assessment that thermal plants now under construction will be able to meet demand until 2027.

In the first phase, India’s biggest power producer, NTPC (NTPC.NS), plans to build three new plants with a combined capacity of more than 5 gigawatts (GW), nearly double the capacity of those currently being phased out, five senior company officials said.

The company has not made the investment public because it has not yet received government approval.If approved, the plan could set back efforts by the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter to control carbon output and raise questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vow to stand by commitments under the Paris climate accord.

The proposal also comes as several coal-fired stations built in the last power boom a decade ago are standing idle due to softer-than-expected demand. State-controlled Coal India (COAL.NS) is struggling to sell its stockpile as a result.

But other indicators indicate demand will pick up, a top NTPC executive said, asking not to be named because the plan had not yet been announced.

“I don’t think (the current) electricity surplus will be there for a long time,” he told Reuters. “We should not fool ourselves.”

More than 300 million of India’s 1.3 billion people are still not hooked up to the grid, according to NITI Aayog, which makes policy recommendations to the government.

As connections improve, the panel reckons, the country’s per-capita power consumption could jump around a third to up to 2,924 kilowatt-hours by 2040 from 2012 levels.

In the next decade, the around 50 GW of capacity from thermal plants due to come online by 2022 will meet demand, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) said. Additional supplies will come from sources such as solar and wind, it said.

Asked about NTPC’s plan, CEA chairman RK Verma said the commercial decisions of the company were its own affair.

“NTPC is a commercial organization and they must be having their own commercial considerations,” Verma said.For its part, a spokesperson at NTPC would say only: “NTPC takes decisions after consulting both the CEA and the ministry of power.”

THERMAL VS RENEWABLE

Solar power generation capacity in India has more than tripled in three years to more than 12 GW since Modi targeted raising energy generation from renewable sources to 175 GW by 2022, against total installed capacity at the end of May of 330.3 GW.

Around 78 percent of generated power in India at the moment still comes from coal-fired plants, however, making it one of the biggest users of the dirty and cheap fuel in the world.

Carbon dioxide emissions from India’s thermal plants are expected to jump to 1,165 million tonnes by 2026/27 from 462 million tonnes in 2005, the CEA estimates. Emission intensity, measured in carbon dioxide emissions versus GDP, is likely to fall, however.India is undergoing a program to retrofit several coal-fired plants to reduce emissions.

The plants planned by NTPC are “supercritical”, meaning they are 2-3 percent more efficient than conventional plants and therefore have lower emissions.

NTPC’s proposal is likely to be greeted with alarm by environmental activists who are already worried by the CEA’s statement that existing power plants are unlikely to meet India’s emission norms before the Paris deadline of December this year.

“Adding more power plants would aggravate health impacts even further,” said Sunil Dahiya, an energy activist with Greenpeace in New Delhi, when asked about the possibility of new coal-fired plants.NTPC’s proposal is to build plants of two 660 megawatt (MW) units each at Singrauli in central India’s Madhya Pradesh and Talcher in Odisha in the east.

The biggest plant, with a capacity of 2.4 GW in the eastern state of Jharkhand, was close to getting clearance from the environment ministry, one of many steps in the process of getting government approval, one of the senior company officials said.

A plan announced by NTPC last year to generate 10 GW of energy from renewable sources by 2022 was making slow progress due to land acquisition issues, another company official said.

Source: Exclusive: Indian utility bets $10 billion on coal power despite surplus, green concerns | Reuters

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05/07/2017

Too much rain: China’s floods roil hydropower, corn supplies | Reuters

Severe flooding across southern China has forced the world’s largest power plant to slash capacity on Tuesday, delayed grain on barges and damaged farms along the Yangtze River, as the death toll rose to 56 and economic costs hit almost $4 billion.

Heavy rainfall, mudslides and hail caused by the annual rainy season has killed 56 people and 22 people were missing across 11 provinces and regions as of Tuesday morning, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

More than 750,000 hectares (1.85 million acres) of crops have been damaged and direct economic losses totaled more than 25.3 billion yuan ($3.72 billion), it said.The government said it had disbursed 700 million yuan ($103 million) in emergency aid to four flood-hit provinces – Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan and Guizhou.

Rain in the southern provinces is expected to ease in the coming days, but weather forecasters predict downpours will move to the southwestern province of Sichuan.

In what analysts said was a move unprecedented in its scale, the Three Gorges and Gezhouba, two of China’s top hydropower plants, closed as much as two-thirds of their capacity to avert flooding further downstream on the Yangtze River.

The move stoked concerns about electricity supplies from China’s second-largest power source as a heatwave continued to scorch northern parts of the country, raising the export prices of coal, the fuel the country uses to produce most of its power.

A man sits in the attic of his flooded house after a flood in Zhaoqing, Guangdong province, China July 4, 2017.

The annual rainy season, which arrived in the second half of June, has hit southern Hunan province, one of the nation’s largest hog and freshwater fish producers, the most.

High water levels on the Yangtze, Asia’s largest river, also slowed barges carrying grain from northern ports to the south, spurring a rise in freight rates and physical corn prices in some regions, analysts and corn buyers said.

Zhang Yi, a purchase manager at a feed producer in Hunan, said he had three ships carrying about 5,000 tonnes of corn stuck on waterways near the port of Changsha, the capital of Hunan, since Friday.

Spot corn prices at major ports along the Yangtze and its tributaries, including Changsha, Nanchang in Jiangxi province, and Wuhan in Hubei province, have risen by 30 yuan to 1,800 yuan a ton since last week, according to data provided by China National Grain and Oils Information Center, a government think tank.

China usually transports corn from northern growing regions to the ports in the south. Then the grain is shipped along the Yangtze and its branches, to central and western provinces including Hunan, Hubei, and Sichuan.

The Yangtze river’s large watershed also accounts for 60 percent of the nation’s freshwater fish output.Cao Delian, manager of the Dabeinong Changlin fish farm, estimated that he has lost about one-third of his carp due to the deluge.”It’s the biggest loss we’ve seen in at least 5 years,” he told Reuters.

On Monday, a natural gas pipeline in Guizhou owned by China National Petroleum Corp collapsed due to a mudslide, causing an explosion that killed at least eight people and injured another 35.

In his office in Liuyang, a city near Changsha, Zhang was hoping water levels would continue to subside on Wednesday.”I have stocks of corn that can last for four to five days. As long as it does not rain tomorrow, Changsha port can resume operation and I will get my corn offloaded,” Zhang said.

Source: Too much rain: China’s floods roil hydropower, corn supplies | Reuters

01/07/2017

China exposes US$120 million local government debt scandal | South China Morning Post

Beijing vows to punish officials involved in using taxpayers’ money to pay off debts incurred by authorities in central China city

A fresh scandal involving 818 million yuan (US$120 million) of murky local government debt has been exposed by China’s finance ministry, in another demonstration of Beijing’s determination to clean up the troublesome sector.

The municipal government of Zhumadian, a city in central China’s Henan province, is the latest to be caught out by the central government for borrowing irregularities. It is the third local authority to be named and shamed this year, following Qianjiang, Chongqing municipality in March and Zoucheng, Shandong province in April.

China’s spiralling local government debt still out of control, says outspoken lawmaker

According to a statement posted on the finance ministry’s website on Friday, the Zhumadian government in September 2015 used taxpayers’ money to repay loans and cover interest payments incurred by one of its financing vehicles, which it then billed as “government service procurement”.

“We have closely coordinated with the National Audit Office to crack down on such irregularities or violation of laws,” Wang Kebing, deputy head of the finance ministry’s budget management department, told a media briefing in Beijing.

The county at the centre of a Chinese debt crisis“Our provincial authorities are following some investigations … and we will punish [the officials involved] once confirmed,” he said.

The finance ministry is currently playing a game of cat-and-mouse with several local governments. Despite Beijing’s efforts to set clear boundaries between government debt and corporate liabilities, it is often hard to separate local governments from the debts incurred by their corporate vehicles.

Earlier this year, Moody’s downgraded China’s sovereign rating for the first time since 1989, citing the country’s rising debt level.

Rising bad debts in China a boon for some investors

After years of investment stimulus since 2008, China’s local governments have built up a mountain of debt, and raised fears at home and abroad of its potential to weigh on the banking system and bring an unprecedented level of risk to the country’s financial stability.

Since auditing the scale of local debt in 2013, Beijing has sought to regulate its growth by setting a cap on annual bond issuances and preventing illegal financing via the new Budget Law, which came into effect in January 2015.

China’s bad loan problem could reappear later this year, analysts say

According to official figures, China’s local government debt totalled 15.3 trillion yuan at the end of last year, comprising 10.6 trillion yuan of bonds and 4.7 trillion yuan pending bond replacement.

A growing concern is that many local governments are accumulating more implicit debt through a variety of means, including guarantees, trust products and, most recently, the public-private partnership (PPP). The fear for Beijing is that this, together with the contingent debt incurred by financing vehicles, will end up being shouldered by the central government.

Until it breaks: China debt risks exposed after 85pc fall in dairy firm’s stock price

“Local financing vehicles are ordinary corporations and [since the enactment of the new Budget Law] receive no more government backing for their debt. Their debt will not be paid with taxpayer’s money,” Wang said.

Meanwhile, the finance ministry said in its circular released in May that it has stepped up its scrutiny of project financing.

Wei Qiang, spokesman for the National Audit Office, said that the government has set a red line on PPP projects that do not belong to the government debt.

How China’s young people became addicted to debt

“Overall it functions well and no … violations have been found yet,” he said.The audit office said last week that the outstanding debt of 16 selected cities around the country has risen by 87 per cent over the past four years, but claimed that China’s debt level is “overall controllable”.

Source: China exposes US$120 million local government debt scandal | South China Morning Post

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01/07/2017

India launches new economic era with sales tax reform | Reuters

India early on Saturday introduced its biggest tax reform in the 70 years since independence from British colonial rule.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) replaces more than a dozen federal and state levies and unifying a $2 trillion economy and 1.3 billion people into one of the world’s biggest common markets.

The measure is expected to make it easier to do business by simplifying the tax structure and ensuring greater compliance, boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic credentials before a planned re-election bid in 2019.

At a midnight ceremony in parliament’s central hall Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee together launched the new tax by pressing a button.

“With GST, the dream of ‘One India, Great India’ will come true,” Modi said.

For the first midnight ceremony in the central hall in two decades, Modi was joined by his cabinet colleagues, India’s central bank chief, a former prime minister and major company executives including Ratan Tata.

The launch, however, was boycotted by several opposition parties including the Congress Party, which first proposed the tax reform before it fell from power three years ago.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – the architect of India’s economic reforms – also gave it a miss.

It has taken 14 years for the new sales tax to come into being. But horse trading to get recalcitrant Indian states on board has left Asia’s third-largest economy with a complex tax structure.In contrast to simpler sales taxes in other countries, India’s GST has four rates and numerous exemptions.

The official schedule of rates runs to 213 pages and has undergone repeated changes, some taking place as late as on Friday evening.

Many businesses are nervous about how the changes will unfold, with smaller ones saying they will get hit by higher tax rates.

Adding to the complexity, businesses with pan-India operations face filing over 1,000 digital returns a year.

While higher tax rates for services and non-food items are expected to fuel price pressures, compliance is feared to be a major challenge in a country where many entrepreneurs are not computer literate and rely on handwritten ledgers.

“We have jumped into a river but don’t know its depth,” said A. Subba Rao, an executive director at power firm CLP India.

Poor implementation would deal a blow to an economy that is still recovering from Modi’s decision late last year to outlaw 86 percent of the currency in circulation.

In a bid to mitigate the impact on the farm sector, the GST rates for tractors and fertilizer were slashed on Friday to 18 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

HSBC estimates the reform, despite its flaws, could add 0.4 percentage points to economic growth.

An end of tax arbitrage under the GST is estimated to save companies $14 billion in reduced logistics costs and efficiency gains.

As the GST is a value added tax, firms will have an incentive to comply in order to avail credit for taxes already paid. This should widen the tax net, shoring up public finances.

“The old India was economically fragmented,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said. “The new India will create one tax, one market for one nation.”

Source: India launches new economic era with sales tax reform | Reuters

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09/06/2017

India has made primary education universal, but not good

IN 1931 Mahatma Gandhi ridiculed the idea that India might have universal primary education “inside of a century”.

He was too pessimistic. Since 1980 the share of Indian teenagers who have had no schooling has fallen from about half to less than one in ten. That is a big, if belated, success for the country with more school-age children, 260m, than any other.

Yet India has failed these children. Many learn precious little at school. India may be famous for its elite doctors and engineers, but half of its nine-year-olds cannot do a sum as simple as eight plus nine. Half of ten-year-old Indians cannot read a paragraph meant for seven-year-olds. At 15, pupils in Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are five years behind their (better-off) peers in Shanghai. The average 15-year-old from these states would be in the bottom 2% of an American class. With few old people and a falling birth rate, India has a youth bulge: 13% of its inhabitants are teenagers, compared with 8% in China and 7% in Europe. But if its schools remain lousy, that demographic dividend will be wasted.

India has long had a lopsided education system. In colonial times the British set up universities to train civil servants, while neglecting schools. India’s first elected leaders expanded this system, pouring money into top-notch colleges to supply engineers to state-owned industries. By contrast, Asian tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan focused on schools. Of late, India has done more to help those left behind. Spending on schools rose by about 80% in 2011-15. The literacy rate has risen from 52% in 1991 to 74% in 2011. Free school lunches—one of the world’s largest nutrition schemes—help millions of pupils who might otherwise be too hungry to learn.

Pointless pampered pedagogues

However, the quality of schools remains a scandal. Many teachers are simply not up to the job. Since 2011, when the government introduced a test for aspiring teachers, as many as 99% of applicants have failed each year. Curriculums are over-ambitious relics of an era when only a select few went to school. Since pupils automatically move up each year, teachers do not bother to ensure that they understand their lessons. Overmighty teachers’ unions—which, in effect, are guaranteed seats in some state legislatures—make matters worse. Teachers’ salaries, already high, have more than doubled over the past two rounds of pay negotiations. Some teachers, having paid bribes to be hired in the first place, treat the job as a sinecure. Shockingly, a quarter play truant each day.

Frustrated by the government system, and keen for their children to learn English, parents have turned to low-cost private schools, many of which are bilingual. In five years their enrolment has increased by 17m, as against a fall of 13m in public schools. These private schools can be as good as or better than public schools despite having much smaller budgets. In Uttar Pradesh the flight to private schools almost emptied some public ones. But when it was suggested that teachers without pupils move to schools that needed them, they staged violent protests and the state backed down.

India spends about 2.7% of GDP on schools, a lower share than many countries. Narendra Modi, the prime minister, once vowed to bump up education spending to 6%. However, extra money will be wasted without reform in three areas. The first is making sure that children are taught at the right level. Curriculums should be simpler. Pupils cannot be left to pass through grades without mastering material. Remedial “learning camps”, such as the ones run by charities like Pratham, can help. So can technology: for example, EkStep, a philanthropic venture, gives children free digital access to teaching materials.

The second task is to make the system more meritocratic and accountable. Teachers should be recruited for their talents, not their connections. They should be trained better and rewarded on the basis of what children actually learn. (They should also be sackable if they fail to show up.) The government should use more rigorous measures to find out which of a hotch-potch of bureaucratic and charitable efforts make a difference. And policymakers should do more to help good private providers—the third area of reform. Vouchers and public-private partnerships could help the best operators of low-cost private schools expand.Mr Modi’s government has made encouraging noises about toughening accountability and improving curriculums.But, wary of the unions, it remains too cautious. Granted, authority over education is split between the centre and the states, so Mr Modi is not omnipotent. But he could do a lot more. His promise to create a “new India” will be hollow if his country is stuck with schools from the 19th century.

Source: India has made primary education universal, but not good

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