Economic Coordination Committee approves increase in gas tariff

ICMD, Sep 17, 2018 The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on Monday accorded its approval to a proposed hike in gas tariff. Finance Minister Asad Umar, chairing the moot approved a new tariff slab for the sale of gas. The increased was on hold for long. A larger increase in tariffs has been placed on higher tariff slabs so as not to burden masses with the price hike. The meeting also reduced the import tax on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to 10 percent. ECC had decided against an immediate increase in gas prices a week ago and left the final decision to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Further, the ECC decided to provide fertilizer factories with 50 percent local gas and 50 percent LNG.

Not possible for India, Pakistan to reverse IWT: Ali Zafar

Kalabagh Dam may be launched after reaching consensus ISLAMABAD: ICMD, Aug 6, 2018 Caretaker Minister for Water Resources Syed Ali Zafar on Monday said consensus needed to be developed on Kalabagh Dam at the national level and the project should be launched. “The caretaker government had prepared ten guidelines for the next government to address the water scarcity issue in the country,” he said while addressing a news conference in Islamabad. He said besides about 400 small dams, construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams should be started at the earliest. The minister said the other proposals included an increase in water budget up to 20 percent of the development budget, the lining of canals, modern irrigation system, regulation of tube wells, standardized equipment to gauge water for reducing confusion among provinces over the division of water, water treatment plants and system for preservation of rainwater. He said Pakistan should have constructed so far six to seven big dams to meet its water needs. Syed Ali Zafar said India had built Kishanganga project in sheer violation of the Indus Water Treaty signed with Pakistan in 1960. He said now India was planning to construct Ratle Dam in violation of the IWT and Islamabad should convince the World Bank, which is a guarantor of the treaty, to form a court of arbitration to decide this case. To a question, he said it was not possible for India or Pakistan to reverse the IWT.

Google hit with record € 4.34 bn EU fine over ‘illegal’ Android strategy

ICMD, July 18, 2018 The new sanction would nearly double the previous record EU anti-trust fine of € 2.4 billion, which also targeted Google. The EU said Wednesday it had slapped a record € 4.34-billion ($5.04 billion) antitrust fine on Google for illegally using its Android operating system to strengthen the dominance of its search engine. “Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.” The new sanction would nearly double the previous record EU anti-trust fine of € 2.4 billion, which also targeted Google, in that case for the Silicon Valley titan's shopping comparison service in 2017. The decision, which follows a three-year investigation, comes as fears of a transatlantic trade war mount due to President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminium exports. “The fine is based on the length of the infraction, but also on whether antitrust authorities believe there was an intention to commit the offence, and whether they excluded competitors or not,” said another European source. Danish former minister Vestager, who has targeted a string of US tech titans, spoke by telephone with Google chief Sundar Pichai on Tuesday night to tell him about the decision in advance. 'Financial incentives' Vestager is expected to say that Google shut out rivals by forcing major phone makers including South Korea's Samsung and China's Huawei to pre-install its search engine and Google Chrome browser, thereby freezing out rivals. They were also made to set Google Search as the default, as a condition of licensing some Google apps. Google Search and Chrome are as a result pre-installed on the "significant majority" of devices sold in the EU, the European Commission says. An EU complaint formally lodged in April also accuses Google of preventing manufacturers from selling smartphones that run on rival operating systems based on the Android open source code. Google also gave "financial incentives" to manufacturers and mobile network operators if they pre-installed Google Search on their devices, the commission said. Under EU rules Google could have been fined up to 10 percent of parent company Alphabet's annual revenue, which hit $110.9 billion in 2017. Vestager's campaign against Silicon Valley giants in her four years as the 28-nation European Union's competition commissioner has won praise in Europe but angered Washington. Brussels has repeatedly targeted Google over the past decade amid concerns about the Silicon Valley giant's dominance of internet search across Europe, where it commands about 90 percent of the market. As well as the Android and Google Shopping files, it also has a third investigation under way, into Google's AdSense advert-placing business. Silicon scalps Vestager's other major scalps include Amazon and Apple. The EU ordered Apple in 2016 to pay Ireland € 13 billion in back taxes that the iconic maker of iPhones and iPads had avoided by a tax deal with Dublin. It has also taken on Facebook over privacy issues after it admitted that millions of users may have had their data hijacked by British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which was working for Trump's 2016 election campaign. But Brussels has had US tech giants in its sights for a decade in a half, since it imposed a huge € 497 million fine on Microsoft in 2004 for anti-competitive behaviour and ruled it must make changes to its Windows system. The Google decision comes just one week before European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker is due to travel to the United States for crucial talks with Mr. Trump on the tariffs dispute and other issues. Transatlantic tensions are also high over Mr. Trump's berating NATO allies on defence spending at a summit last week, over his summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and over the US president's pull-out from the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris climate deal. -- Courtesy AFP

North American automakers call for North Korea free trade talk

ICMD, July 9, 2018 North American auto industry groups released a joint statement urging their governments to update the North American Free Trade Agreement in the wake of steep tariffs on goods including automobiles US, Canadian and Mexican auto industry groups on Monday urged their governments to resume stalled efforts to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement. Talks to revamp the trilateral NAFTA deadlocked in February after more than six months, as Ottawa and Mexico flatly rejected Washington’s calls for a five-year sunset clause on the agreement as well as steep new US-content requirements for autos. Mexico’s presidential elections early this month left the governments with little time to manoeuvre, so the talks were halted. And while there were some concerns about whether anti-establishment leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would scrap NAFTA altogether, since winning the presidency he has vowed to work towards revising the trade pact. The joint statement from the auto industry groups in the three nations urged political leaders to take advantage of the moment to proceed with the talks, even though AMLO will not take office until December. “As a new government form in Mexico on December 1st, 2018, we believe now is the time for all parties to return to the negotiating table with a renewed commitment to the modernization of a cohesive three-country NAFTA agreement,” the statement said. “We have a great opportunity to update this trade agreement and it is in the best interest of all three countries to refocus on establishing a new NAFTA agreement that will allow the North American auto industry to remain globally competitive.” Nine auto industry groups, including the US Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, and the Asociacion Mexicana de la Industria Automotriz sign onto the joint statement. The groups may be in a hurry to advance the talks before the US holds its mid-term elections in November, which has the potential to bring major changes to Congress. Trade relations among the three nations have continued to sour since the NAFTA talks stalled, after Washington imposed tariffs on Mexican and Canadian exports of steel and aluminum, and those nations retaliated with punitive duties on US goods. Citing national security concerns, US President Donald Trump also is considering imposing 25 percent duties on all auto imports, a prospect that has alarmed industry and economists, who say this would considerably expand Washington’s current trade wars, and disrupt the North American auto industry and its integrated supply chains. -- Courtesy AFP

Russia unveils world’s first floating nuclear power station

ICMD, May 19, 2018 Russia on Saturday unveiled the world’s first floating nuclear power station at a ceremony in the port of the far northern city of Murmansk where it will be loaded with nuclear fuel before heading to eastern Siberia. Built in Saint Petersburg, the Akademik Lomonosov arrived in Murmansk on Thursday where it was moored in the port and presented to the media today. Constructed by the state nuclear power firm Rosatom, the 144 by 30 metre (472 by 98 foot) ship holds two reactors with two 35 megawatt nuclear reactors that are similar to those used to power icebreaker ships. The 21,000-tonne barge will be towed in the summer of 2019 to the port of Pevek in the autonomous Chukotka region in Russia’s extreme northeast, 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The barge can produce enough electricity to power a town of 200,000 residents, far more than the 5,000 live in Pevek, Russia’s northernmost town. It will be primarily used to power oil rigs as Russia pushes further north into the Arctic to drill for oil and gas and needs electricity in far-flung locations. Vitaly Trutnev, who is in charge of the construction and operation of floating nuclear power stations at Rosatom, said such units would “supply electricity and heat to the most remote regions, supporting also growth and sustainable development.” He said use of such floating reactors can save 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. The barge had initially been scheduled to be fuelled in Saint Petersburg, but that work was moved to Murmansk instead due to concern in countries along the Baltic Sea. -- MD