Showing posts sorted by relevance for query pacific. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query pacific. Sort by date Show all posts

Tonga declares state of emergency as cyclone looms

NUKU’ALOFA — Tonga declared a state of emergency on Monday as a powerful cyclone bears down on the Pacific island nation after wreaking havoc in neighbouring Samoa.

Acting Prime Minister Semisi Sika issued the nationwide alert, saying he was "satisfied that an emergency is happening or is about to happen in the kingdom".

Severe Tropical Cyclone Gita is intensifying as it approaches and the Fiji Meteorological Service predicted it will become a maximum category five storm before reaching Tonga on Monday night.

It is already packing wind gusts of 220 kmh as it gathers strength some 370 kilometres east of Tonga’s most populous island Tongatapu.

Tonga’s Fua’amotu Weather Forecasting Centre warned residents could expect "very destructive hurricane force winds".

Gita slammed into Samoa overnight Friday, forcing the evacuation of some 200 people and causing widespread flooding, leaving many without power and electricity.

Tonga’s information ministry said evacuation centres were being prepared across the kingdom and advised residents to avoid unnecessary travel.

"Every family should have an emergency kit packed in their homes," it said.

"Everyone should be mindful of what might cause damage within their homes such as large trees that can potentially damage a house."

Cyclones are common in the Pacific at this time of year, with top-of-the-scale category five systems proving highly destructive when they make landfall.

Cyclone Winston killed 44 people in Fiji in 2016 and Cyclone Pam claimed 11 lives and damaged 65,000 homes in Vanuatu in 2015. — AFP




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Two dead in Peru after 7.3-magnitude quake

Viet Nam News

LIMA — A 7.3 magnitude earthquake shook southern Peru on Sunday, killing at least two people and injuring 65, the South American country’s civil defense agency said.

Homes made of adobe collapsed in coastal areas most directly affected by the quake, local authorities said.

The earthquake struck in the Pacific, 31 kilometers (19 miles) from the seaside town of Acari in the region of Arequipa, according to the US Geological Survey.

"There are two fatalities in the region of Arequipa and so far 65 injured have been reported," said General Jorge Chavez, head of the National Civil Defense Institute.

Chavez said military planes were delivering humanitarian aid including tents to affected areas.

An emergency will be declared in most of the stricken areas so that reconstruction of homes and roads can begin immediately, said Mercedes Araoz, president of the Council of Ministers.

One person died in the Yauca district and another in the Bella Union district, both in the Arequipa region, where rescue workers were trying to help those affected, Peru’s Civil Defense said.

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski traveled to the region and flew over the quake zone. Speaking to reporters, he attributed the two deaths to adobe houses collapsing.

About 47 percent of homes in Peru, or 3.6 million, are made of clay, earth, stone or wood materials that are vulnerable in earthquakes, according to government statistics from 2014.

The Peruvian navy and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii ruled out the threat of a tsunami.

Adobe houses were leveled in the coastal town of Lomas and elsewhere in the surrounding area, Santiago Neyra, the mayor of the nearby town of Caraveli said.

Electricity was out in several municipalities and many roads were closed or passable in only one direction, the mayor said.

Structural damage was reported to a bridge in Arequipa, said the head of the region’s highway police, Major Alberto Rojas.

In the city of Arequipa, residents ran into the streets after the quake struck at 4:18am.

It was even felt in the capital Lima, hundreds of kilometres away.

"Here at the clinic the tremor felt super long," a patient in a Lima private hospital said.

The earthquake rocked Peru just before Pope Francis is slated to arrive Thursday for a three-day visit after touring Chile.

Peru lies on the so-called "Ring of Fire" -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The South American country records about 200 earthquakes a year, most of them going unnoticed by the public.

The last major earthquake to shake Peru hit in August 2007, killing 595 people.

A 6.3-magnitude quake was felt in southern Peru on the border with Chile last October, leaving four people with slight injuries.  AFP




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Thousands of Russians endorse Navalny to challenge Putin in March vote

MOSCOW — More than 15,000 Russians on Sunday endorsed the candidacy of Alexei Navalny, seen as the only Russian opposition leader who stands a fighting chance of challenging President Vladimir Putin in a March vote.

"An election without us is not an election," Navalny declared in Moscow around 1700 GMT before submitting his nomination to the Central Electoral Commission, which will rule whether he can run.

Authorities have deemed the 41-year-old ineligible to run due to a criminal conviction, saying "only a miracle" would help him get registered. Navalny has described the conviction as politically motivated.

Thousands backing the charismatic lawyer met in 20 cities from the Pacific port of Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg in the northwest to nominate him as a candidate in the presence of electoral officials to boost his chances of contesting the March 18 ballot.

His campaign said more than 15,000 people endorsed him nationwide. An independent candidate needs 500 votes to get registered with election authorities, according to leglisation.

In Moscow, more than 700 people supported Navalny’s candidacy as they gathered in a huge marquee set up in a picturesque park on the snow-covered banks of the Moscow River.

"I am hugely happy, I am proud to tell you that I stand here as a candidate of the entire Russia," the Western-educated Navalny told supporters earlier.

"We are ready to win and we will win these elections," Navalny said before finishing his speech in a cloud of confetti.

Navalny said that if he is not allowed to put his name on the ballot he will contest the ban in courts and repeated his threat to call for the polls to be boycotted if he did not get registered.

"Thwart the elections if they are dishonest," he told supporters.

Putin, 65, announced this month that he will seek a fourth presidential term, which would extend his rule until 2024 and make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Communist leader Joseph Stalin.

He is widely expected to sail to victory.

But with the result of the March vote a foregone conclusion, turnout could be low, harming Putin’s hopes for a clear new mandate, observers say.

Navalny, who has tapped into the anger of a younger generation who yearn for change, hopes that popular support for his Kremlin bid would pressure authorities into putting his name on the ballot.

"If Navalny is not allowed to run, I am not going to vote," pensioner Marina Kurbatskaya said in Moscow. "I don’t see anyone else who I want to become president." — AFP




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Thousands of Russians endorse Navalny to challenge Putin in March vote

MOSCOW — More than 15,000 Russians on Sunday endorsed the candidacy of Alexei Navalny, seen as the only Russian opposition leader who stands a fighting chance of challenging President Vladimir Putin in a March vote.

"An election without us is not an election," Navalny declared in Moscow around 1700 GMT before submitting his nomination to the Central Electoral Commission, which will rule whether he can run.

Authorities have deemed the 41-year-old ineligible to run due to a criminal conviction, saying "only a miracle" would help him get registered. Navalny has described the conviction as politically motivated.

Thousands backing the charismatic lawyer met in 20 cities from the Pacific port of Vladivostok to Saint Petersburg in the northwest to nominate him as a candidate in the presence of electoral officials to boost his chances of contesting the March 18 ballot.

His campaign said more than 15,000 people endorsed him nationwide. An independent candidate needs 500 votes to get registered with election authorities, according to leglisation.

In Moscow, more than 700 people supported Navalny’s candidacy as they gathered in a huge marquee set up in a picturesque park on the snow-covered banks of the Moscow River.

"I am hugely happy, I am proud to tell you that I stand here as a candidate of the entire Russia," the Western-educated Navalny told supporters earlier.

"We are ready to win and we will win these elections," Navalny said before finishing his speech in a cloud of confetti.

Navalny said that if he is not allowed to put his name on the ballot he will contest the ban in courts and repeated his threat to call for the polls to be boycotted if he did not get registered.

"Thwart the elections if they are dishonest," he told supporters.

Putin, 65, announced this month that he will seek a fourth presidential term, which would extend his rule until 2024 and make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Communist leader Joseph Stalin.

He is widely expected to sail to victory.

But with the result of the March vote a foregone conclusion, turnout could be low, harming Putin’s hopes for a clear new mandate, observers say.

Navalny, who has tapped into the anger of a younger generation who yearn for change, hopes that popular support for his Kremlin bid would pressure authorities into putting his name on the ballot.

"If Navalny is not allowed to run, I am not going to vote," pensioner Marina Kurbatskaya said in Moscow. "I don’t see anyone else who I want to become president." — AFP




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Scores missing as ferry capsizes off Philippines

Viet Nam News

MANILA Rescuers were scrambling to save scores of people after a ferry capsized on Thursday in stormy weather off the Philippines, with local television networks reporting at least four people were already dead.

Around 100 passengers were plucked to safety after their vessel keeled over in heavy seas en route to a remote island.

"The wind suddenly picked up and the boat was forced to stop when the bow started taking in water. Passengers ran to the side just before it tipped over," student Donel Mendiola told DZMM radio.

"Some of us swam, but I saw some old people who were apparently already dead," Mendiola added.

ABS-CBN aired footage of rescuers wheeling injured survivors into a hospital. Four body bags were also seen being laid out on the floor.

The "Mercraft 3" tipped over between the remote island of Polillo and Real town, about 70 kilometres east of Manila, shortly before noon (0400 GMT), the coastguard said.

"We have rescued more than 100 people," Chief Inspector Mark Amat, the police chief of nearby Infanta town, said.

Amat declined to discuss the reported deaths.

The coastguard said the ferry was carrying 251 passengers and crew when it left the port of Real for Polillo, a 2.5-hour trip.

"We have heard (there were) casualties, but we’re still validating," coastguard spokesman Armand Balilo told a news conference in Manila, adding that rescue helicopters and vessels were heading to the site.

"We believe the weather was a big factor" in the accident, he said, adding nearby boats had already rescued some of those on board.

Balilo said the ferry left Real as Tropical Storm Tembin loomed over the southern Philippines, nearly a thousand kilometres away.

The vessel, which is licensed to carry up to 286 people, was allowed to sail as there were no storm warnings at or around Real or Polillo, he said.

The government had advised Filipinos planning to return to their home provinces for Christmas to do so earlier than usual to avoid heavy weather forecast to hit ahead of the holidays.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands on the Pacific typhoon belt, is plagued by poor sea transport, with badly regulated boats and ships providing the backbone of a system prone to overcrowding and accidents.

The latest incident occurred 30 years after another Philippine ferry, the "Dona Paz", collided with an oil tanker in a pre-Christmas accident that claimed more than 4,000 lives in the world’s worst peacetime disaster at sea.

More recently, the wooden ferry "Kim Nirvana" capsized shortly after departure off the city of Ormoc in the central Philippines in 2015, killing 61 people.

The accident was thought to have been due to overcrowding. As well as passengers, the boat had also been transporting sacks of cement, rice and fertiliser which would have weighed as much as 7.5 tonnes.

In 2013, at least 71 were killed when the "Saint Thomas Aquinas" ferry sank after colliding with a cargo ship near Cebu port in the central Philippines.

The ship was carrying 830 passengers and crew. — AFP




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Global trade meeting ends with a wimper

BUENOS AIRES — The World Trade Organisation concluded a ministerial meeting on Wednesday with nothing significant to boast -- a meager outcome for its first gathering in the Donald Trump era.

Trump is outspokenly hostile to multilateral trade accords, and his top delegate here launched a broadside at the WTO, accusing it of losing its focus on trade negotiation and becoming a "litigation-centred" body.

The three day meeting ended with no significant deal on promoting global trade.

On the sidelines, the European Union and the South American trading bloc known as Mercosur did however announce they were close to concluding a free trade accord under negotiation since the 1990s. It might be ready early next year, they said.

But the broader WTO gathering was seen as a dud.

"We are disappointed. Despite our efforts, members failed to reach any significant agreements," said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo.

He took a jab at what he called the US delegation’s inflexibility, saying "multilateralism does not mean getting what you want, but rather that which is possible".

As has been the case for years, bilateral deals took precedence over multilateral accords, which are hard to achieve because they require consensus within the WTO.

A fisheries agreement had shaped up as a possible major accord at this meeting, but it was blocked by India, according to an NGO called Bloom.

"Buenos Aires should serve as a wakeup call. The result is not satisfactory," said France’s secretary for foreign trade, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Trump has already withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

And on Monday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer accused the WTO of losing its focus on trade negotiation.

"Too often members seem to believe they can gain concessions through lawsuits that they could never get at the negotiating table," Lighthizer said.

He also criticised special treatment given to some countries because they are classified as developing nations.

Trump has long made the WTO a preferred target of its "America First" policy, threatening to pull Washington out of the trade organisation it says is hampering its ability to compete.

Lighthizer did not even stay for the end of the WTO conference, leaving a day early. — AFP




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Global trade meeting ends with a wimper

BUENOS AIRES — The World Trade Organisation concluded a ministerial meeting on Wednesday with nothing significant to boast -- a meager outcome for its first gathering in the Donald Trump era.

Trump is outspokenly hostile to multilateral trade accords, and his top delegate here launched a broadside at the WTO, accusing it of losing its focus on trade negotiation and becoming a "litigation-centred" body.

The three day meeting ended with no significant deal on promoting global trade.

On the sidelines, the European Union and the South American trading bloc known as Mercosur did however announce they were close to concluding a free trade accord under negotiation since the 1990s. It might be ready early next year, they said.

But the broader WTO gathering was seen as a dud.

"We are disappointed. Despite our efforts, members failed to reach any significant agreements," said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo.

He took a jab at what he called the US delegation’s inflexibility, saying "multilateralism does not mean getting what you want, but rather that which is possible".

As has been the case for years, bilateral deals took precedence over multilateral accords, which are hard to achieve because they require consensus within the WTO.

A fisheries agreement had shaped up as a possible major accord at this meeting, but it was blocked by India, according to an NGO called Bloom.

"Buenos Aires should serve as a wakeup call. The result is not satisfactory," said France’s secretary for foreign trade, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Trump has already withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

And on Monday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer accused the WTO of losing its focus on trade negotiation.

"Too often members seem to believe they can gain concessions through lawsuits that they could never get at the negotiating table," Lighthizer said.

He also criticised special treatment given to some countries because they are classified as developing nations.

Trump has long made the WTO a preferred target of its "America First" policy, threatening to pull Washington out of the trade organisation it says is hampering its ability to compete.

Lighthizer did not even stay for the end of the WTO conference, leaving a day early. — AFP




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Global trade meeting ends with a wimper

BUENOS AIRES — The World Trade Organisation concluded a ministerial meeting on Wednesday with nothing significant to boast -- a meager outcome for its first gathering in the Donald Trump era.

Trump is outspokenly hostile to multilateral trade accords, and his top delegate here launched a broadside at the WTO, accusing it of losing its focus on trade negotiation and becoming a "litigation-centred" body.

The three day meeting ended with no significant deal on promoting global trade.

On the sidelines, the European Union and the South American trading bloc known as Mercosur did however announce they were close to concluding a free trade accord under negotiation since the 1990s. It might be ready early next year, they said.

But the broader WTO gathering was seen as a dud.

"We are disappointed. Despite our efforts, members failed to reach any significant agreements," said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo.

He took a jab at what he called the US delegation’s inflexibility, saying "multilateralism does not mean getting what you want, but rather that which is possible".

As has been the case for years, bilateral deals took precedence over multilateral accords, which are hard to achieve because they require consensus within the WTO.

A fisheries agreement had shaped up as a possible major accord at this meeting, but it was blocked by India, according to an NGO called Bloom.

"Buenos Aires should serve as a wakeup call. The result is not satisfactory," said France’s secretary for foreign trade, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Trump has already withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

And on Monday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer accused the WTO of losing its focus on trade negotiation.

"Too often members seem to believe they can gain concessions through lawsuits that they could never get at the negotiating table," Lighthizer said.

He also criticised special treatment given to some countries because they are classified as developing nations.

Trump has long made the WTO a preferred target of its "America First" policy, threatening to pull Washington out of the trade organisation it says is hampering its ability to compete.

Lighthizer did not even stay for the end of the WTO conference, leaving a day early. — AFP




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Officials preview APEC’s digital development, inclusion targets

Viet Nam News

SINGAPORE — APEC is set to put digitally-driven growth and employment opportunities within greater reach across the Asia-Pacific in 2018, boosted by APEC member economies’ capacity to adapt to trade and economic policy disruptions demonstrated over the past year.

Officials, speaking at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, APEC Study Center for Singapore, on Thursday previewed measures to be taken forward during Papua New Guinea’s APEC chairmanship to promote digital development that equips workers and businesses in all parts of the region to thrive.

It came on the heels of a strategic planning meeting of APEC Senior Officials in Port Moresby, which confirmed the priorities for policy collaboration among APEC economies in 2018.

“We are going to focus on growth, connectivity and the changing needs of our labour forces and employers in the digital environment,” Ambassador Ivan Pomaleu, 2018 Chair of APEC Senior Officials, explained.

“We recognise innovative technologies can act as future catalysts for growth in APEC and provide the means for more people to share in the benefits.”

“Improving infrastructure, skills, open markets and high quality regulatory regimes in the region will be key to fully harnessing the benefits of digital development and are issues we want to address next year,” Pomaleu said. “If APEC as a whole does its best to meet these challenges, there are real opportunities that could be gained by all of us.”

APEC members will seek to facilitate industry innovation and growth by promoting clear governance arrangements and interconnectivity in the digital marketplace, according to a press release from the APEC Secretariat on Thursday.

“This includes confronting rising concerns about the rules of trade, cybersecurity, hacking and ownership and privacy of data as it moves across borders in larger volumes with the expansion of e-commerce,” it said.

Parallel efforts in APEC will centre on broadening participation in digital trade and supply chains in high growth sectors such as agriculture, tourism and the sharing economy as middle class demand in the region rises. Particular attention will be paid on access and training to open the digital space for small firms, women, youth and disadvantaged people in urban and rural communities.

“More and more, we are focused on the possibilities of digital search, marketing, branding, intellectual property, payment, and, increasingly, services delivery,” Dr Alan Bollard, APEC Secretariat’s executive director, said. “We see room for local entrepreneurs and micro enterprises to use these tools to tap into drivers of growth in quite revolutionary ways.”

“We have a long way to go to realise the region’s digital potential given the complexities involved but the incentives for action are high,” Dr Bollard concluded. “The flexibility of APEC’s voluntary, non-binding approach to policy innovation that has kept economic integration and free trade moving in this age of disruption puts us in a good position to achieve new breakthroughs.”

Implementation work will proceed when trade and sectoral officials convene for a cluster of policy development meetings in Port Moresby beginning on February 24, 2018, and culminating with the First APEC Senior Officials’ Meeting to decide the next steps. — VNS




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Officials preview APEC’s digital development, inclusion targets

Viet Nam News

SINGAPORE — APEC is set to put digitally-driven growth and employment opportunities within greater reach across the Asia-Pacific in 2018, boosted by APEC member economies’ capacity to adapt to trade and economic policy disruptions demonstrated over the past year.

Officials, speaking at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, APEC Study Center for Singapore, on Thursday previewed measures to be taken forward during Papua New Guinea’s APEC chairmanship to promote digital development that equips workers and businesses in all parts of the region to thrive.

It came on the heels of a strategic planning meeting of APEC Senior Officials in Port Moresby, which confirmed the priorities for policy collaboration among APEC economies in 2018.

“We are going to focus on growth, connectivity and the changing needs of our labour forces and employers in the digital environment,” Ambassador Ivan Pomaleu, 2018 Chair of APEC Senior Officials, explained.

“We recognise innovative technologies can act as future catalysts for growth in APEC and provide the means for more people to share in the benefits.”

“Improving infrastructure, skills, open markets and high quality regulatory regimes in the region will be key to fully harnessing the benefits of digital development and are issues we want to address next year,” Pomaleu said. “If APEC as a whole does its best to meet these challenges, there are real opportunities that could be gained by all of us.”

APEC members will seek to facilitate industry innovation and growth by promoting clear governance arrangements and interconnectivity in the digital marketplace, according to a press release from the APEC Secretariat on Thursday.

“This includes confronting rising concerns about the rules of trade, cybersecurity, hacking and ownership and privacy of data as it moves across borders in larger volumes with the expansion of e-commerce,” it said.

Parallel efforts in APEC will centre on broadening participation in digital trade and supply chains in high growth sectors such as agriculture, tourism and the sharing economy as middle class demand in the region rises. Particular attention will be paid on access and training to open the digital space for small firms, women, youth and disadvantaged people in urban and rural communities.

“More and more, we are focused on the possibilities of digital search, marketing, branding, intellectual property, payment, and, increasingly, services delivery,” Dr Alan Bollard, APEC Secretariat’s executive director, said. “We see room for local entrepreneurs and micro enterprises to use these tools to tap into drivers of growth in quite revolutionary ways.”

“We have a long way to go to realise the region’s digital potential given the complexities involved but the incentives for action are high,” Dr Bollard concluded. “The flexibility of APEC’s voluntary, non-binding approach to policy innovation that has kept economic integration and free trade moving in this age of disruption puts us in a good position to achieve new breakthroughs.”

Implementation work will proceed when trade and sectoral officials convene for a cluster of policy development meetings in Port Moresby beginning on February 24, 2018, and culminating with the First APEC Senior Officials’ Meeting to decide the next steps. — VNS




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Global trade meeting ends with a wimper

BUENOS AIRES — The World Trade Organisation concluded a ministerial meeting on Wednesday with nothing significant to boast -- a meager outcome for its first gathering in the Donald Trump era.

Trump is outspokenly hostile to multilateral trade accords, and his top delegate here launched a broadside at the WTO, accusing it of losing its focus on trade negotiation and becoming a "litigation-centred" body.

The three day meeting ended with no significant deal on promoting global trade.

On the sidelines, the European Union and the South American trading bloc known as Mercosur did however announce they were close to concluding a free trade accord under negotiation since the 1990s. It might be ready early next year, they said.

But the broader WTO gathering was seen as a dud.

"We are disappointed. Despite our efforts, members failed to reach any significant agreements," said WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo.

He took a jab at what he called the US delegation’s inflexibility, saying "multilateralism does not mean getting what you want, but rather that which is possible".

As has been the case for years, bilateral deals took precedence over multilateral accords, which are hard to achieve because they require consensus within the WTO.

A fisheries agreement had shaped up as a possible major accord at this meeting, but it was blocked by India, according to an NGO called Bloom.

"Buenos Aires should serve as a wakeup call. The result is not satisfactory," said France’s secretary for foreign trade, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Trump has already withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

And on Monday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer accused the WTO of losing its focus on trade negotiation.

"Too often members seem to believe they can gain concessions through lawsuits that they could never get at the negotiating table," Lighthizer said.

He also criticised special treatment given to some countries because they are classified as developing nations.

Trump has long made the WTO a preferred target of its "America First" policy, threatening to pull Washington out of the trade organisation it says is hampering its ability to compete.

Lighthizer did not even stay for the end of the WTO conference, leaving a day early. — AFP




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WTO, under fire from US, meets in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES — The World Trade Organisation opened a conference on Sunday under the cloud of US hostility to multilateral trade accords.

The 164-member WTO is also wracked by disagreements over China and has been struggling to kickstart stalled trade talks.

The Buenos Aires meeting, which lasts through Wednesday, is the first in the era of US President Donald Trump, who has pummeled the body relentlessly since taking office, describing it as a "disaster".

The Trump administration has made the WTO a preferred target of its "America First" policy, threatening to pull the US out of the trade organisation it says is hampering its ability to compete.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri said, in opening remarks, that "WTO problems get fixed with more WTO -- not with less WTO".

Trump has already withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said on Sunday he would ask US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for "political commitment, political will and flexibility".

"Without flexibility we will not get anywhere," Azevedo said at an opening press conference at a Buenos Aires hotel.

Washington has been blamed for blocking appointments of judges to the WTO’s dispute settlement system, saying it was ineffective and insisting on a more aggressive approach to defending its interests.

The dispute body arbitrates international rows over subsidies or tariffs, among other things playing an important role in the standoff between US and European plane-makers Boeing and Airbus.

The European Union, on the other hand, comes to the conference with a robust spirit of multilateralism. The EU and Japan announced on Friday that they have finalised a major trade agreement.

EU officials will also meet with counterparts from the South American trade bloc known as Mercosur to continue talks on a free trade accord. These discussions have been going on for nearly 20 years.

Low expectations

Expectations for any kind of a breakthrough at the Buenos Aires meeting are low.

For the past decade the WTO has failed to make progress in the so-called Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks, which began in 2001.

The WTO is also accused of failing to do enough to resolve problems that some of its members have with China.

"There is life after Buenos Aires," said the president of the conference, Susana Malcorra of Argentina.

She has said a deal was likely to end harmful fisheries subsidies, of keen interest to developing countries.

Beijing, meantime, wants to be seen by the WTO as a "market economy," but the Europeans and the United States -- for once on the same wavelength on trade issues -- oppose this. Any such recognition would entitle China to preferential economic treatment under WTO rules.

It is currently classed as a non-market economy. That status allows the US and others to use a special recourse to levy anti-dumping duties against China if they determine that it is selling its goods -- notably steel and aluminum -- at unfairly low prices abroad.

A European diplomat in Buenos Aires said protectionist US rhetoric may actually give fuel to negotiations between the EU and Mercosur. — AFP




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WTO, under fire from US, meets in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES — The World Trade Organisation opened a conference on Sunday under the cloud of US hostility to multilateral trade accords.

The 164-member WTO is also wracked by disagreements over China and has been struggling to kickstart stalled trade talks.

The Buenos Aires meeting, which lasts through Wednesday, is the first in the era of US President Donald Trump, who has pummeled the body relentlessly since taking office, describing it as a "disaster".

The Trump administration has made the WTO a preferred target of its "America First" policy, threatening to pull the US out of the trade organisation it says is hampering its ability to compete.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri said, in opening remarks, that "WTO problems get fixed with more WTO -- not with less WTO".

Trump has already withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said on Sunday he would ask US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for "political commitment, political will and flexibility".

"Without flexibility we will not get anywhere," Azevedo said at an opening press conference at a Buenos Aires hotel.

Washington has been blamed for blocking appointments of judges to the WTO’s dispute settlement system, saying it was ineffective and insisting on a more aggressive approach to defending its interests.

The dispute body arbitrates international rows over subsidies or tariffs, among other things playing an important role in the standoff between US and European plane-makers Boeing and Airbus.

The European Union, on the other hand, comes to the conference with a robust spirit of multilateralism. The EU and Japan announced on Friday that they have finalised a major trade agreement.

EU officials will also meet with counterparts from the South American trade bloc known as Mercosur to continue talks on a free trade accord. These discussions have been going on for nearly 20 years.

Low expectations

Expectations for any kind of a breakthrough at the Buenos Aires meeting are low.

For the past decade the WTO has failed to make progress in the so-called Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks, which began in 2001.

The WTO is also accused of failing to do enough to resolve problems that some of its members have with China.

"There is life after Buenos Aires," said the president of the conference, Susana Malcorra of Argentina.

She has said a deal was likely to end harmful fisheries subsidies, of keen interest to developing countries.

Beijing, meantime, wants to be seen by the WTO as a "market economy," but the Europeans and the United States -- for once on the same wavelength on trade issues -- oppose this. Any such recognition would entitle China to preferential economic treatment under WTO rules.

It is currently classed as a non-market economy. That status allows the US and others to use a special recourse to levy anti-dumping duties against China if they determine that it is selling its goods -- notably steel and aluminum -- at unfairly low prices abroad.

A European diplomat in Buenos Aires said protectionist US rhetoric may actually give fuel to negotiations between the EU and Mercosur. — AFP




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UN envoy bound for NKorea as tensions soar

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations has dispatched an envoy to North Korea for a rare visit aimed at defusing tensions over Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch, as the US and South Korea began joint military exercises condemned by North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

The unusual visit by Jeffrey Feltman, which begins on Tuesday and runs to Friday, comes less than a week after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile believed capable of reaching the US.

On Monday, the US and South Korea launched their biggest-ever joint air exercise -- maneuvers slammed by Pyongyang as an "all-out provocation."

The five-day Vigilant Ace drill involves 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and tens of thousands of troops, Seoul’s air force said.

Pyongyang sent tensions soaring on the Korean Peninsula five days ago when it announced it had successfully test-fired a new ICBM, which it says brings the whole of the continental US within range.

Analysts say it is unclear whether the missile survived re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere or could successfully deliver a warhead to its target – key technological hurdles for Pyongyang.

A Cathay Pacific crew spotted what was "suspected to be the re-entry" of the missile as they flew from San Francisco to Hong Kong, the airline said.

In a separate message to staff, Cathay general manager Mark Hoey said the crew described seeing the missile "blow up and fall apart," The South China Morning Post reported.

UN envoy to break logjam?

North Korea has staged six increasingly powerful atomic tests since 2006 -- most recently in September -- which have rattled Washington and its key regional allies South Korea and Japan.

Pyongyang faces tough international sanctions as a result of its unwillingness to stop its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

Ahead of his visit to Pyongyang, Feltman -- the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs -- was in Beijing on Monday. 

Once in the North, Feltman will discuss "issues of mutual interest and concern" with officials, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding he was unable to say whether Feltman will meet with Kim.

It will be Feltman’s first visit to North Korea since he took office five years ago, and the first by a UN under-secretary-general in more than seven years.

The UN envoy is planning to see foreign diplomats and UN workers in the North on humanitarian missions, Dujarric said. — AFP




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Ash from rumbling volcano forces Bali airport to stay shut

Viet Nam News

KARANGASEM — Plumes of ash from a rumbling volcano forced Indonesian authorities to close Bali’s airport for a second day Tuesday, as a threatened eruption stranded tourists and forced mass evacuations.

Tens of thousands of frightened people have fled their homes near Mount Agung, which looms over the resort island, as experts raised the alert level to maximum and warned it could erupt at any moment.

Towering columns of thick grey smoke have been belching from the volcano since last week, and in the last few days have begun shooting into the sky, forcing all flights to be grounded until at least on Wednesday morning.

"The Volcanic Ash Advisory shows that the plane routes have been covered by volcanic ash, this is dangerous for the flights," Wisnu Darjono from the air traffic agency AirNav official said, referring to a global network of experts that supplies volcano-related information.

Some 40,000 people have abandoned their homes in the danger zone but as many as many as 100,000 will likely be forced to leave, disaster agency officials have said.

"Volcanic ash is still spewing. It’s thick and rising very high -- up to three or four kilometres from the crater," said I Gede Suantika, an official at Indonesia’s volcanology agency.

"Activity at Mount Agung remains very high. It’s still on the highest alert level," he added.

The exclusion zone around Agung, which is 75 kilometres away from the beachside tourist hub of Kuta, has also been widened to 10 kilometres.

As of Tuesday some 443 flights had been cancelled, affecting more than 120,000 passengers in Bali, a top holiday destination that attracts millions of foreign tourists every year.

The airport on nearby Lombok island -- also a popular tourist destination east of Bali -- has opened and closed several times in the past few days. It is currently open but may yet be shuttered again, officials said.

Memories of disaster

Mount Agung last went off in 1963, killing some 1,600 people in one of the deadliest eruptions ever seen in a country with nearly 130 active volcanoes.

Memories of that disaster have helped drive people towards community centres and makeshift camps, including villagers who have to leave precious livestock behind.

"I am very worried because I have experienced this before," 67-year-old Dewa Gede Subagia, who was a teenager when Agung last roared, said from one evacuation centre.

"I hope this time I won’t have to evacuate for too long. In 1963, I left for four months."

Experts said however that Agung’s recent activity matches the build-up to that disaster, which ejected enough debris - about a billion tonnes - to lower global average temperatures by 0.2 - 0.3 degrees Celsius for about a year.

"What we are seeing at the moment are small explosions, throwing out hot gases and fragments of molten rock, or ash," said David Pyle, a volcano expert at Oxford University.

"The probability of a large eruption is high, but this may take some days or weeks to unfold."

Agung rumbled back to life in September, forcing the evacuation of 140,000 people living nearby. Its activity decreased in late October and many returned to their homes.

However, on Saturday the mountain sent smoke up into the air for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption - caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.

Then on Monday so-called cold lava flows appeared - similar to mud flows and often a prelude to the blazing orange lava seen in many volcanic eruptions.

Indonesia is the world’s most active volcanic region. The archipelago nation with over 17,000 islands lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activities.

Last year, seven people were killed after Mt. Sinabung on the western island of Sumatra erupted. A 2014 eruption at Sinabung killed 16. — AFP




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