Eurozone unlocks €10.3bn bailout loan for Greece; Pisa tests to include global skills; Singapore non-oil exports slide 9%

1 Eurozone unlocks €10.3bn bailout loan for Greece (Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian) European officials have agreed to unlock €10.3bn in bailout money for Greece as the International Monetary Fund made a significant climbdown in its demand for upfront debt relief for the recession-hit country.

Greece’s international creditors emerged from an 11-hour meeting in Brussels having agreed on steps to ease the burden of Greece’s €321bn debt mountain, worth 180% of annual economic output.

But the debt relief plan was a far cry from the “upfront” and “unconditional” debt relief the IMF had demanded, when it warned that Greece would face an ever-growing bill to service its loans. Poul Thomsen, director of the IMF’s European programme, said the IMF had made “a major concession”.

The fund had been locked in a stand-off with Germany, which was adamant that debt relief could not be considered before the end of Greece’s current €86bn bailout programme in mid-2018. Germany’s reluctance to make concessions is also thought to stem from fear of antagonising voters ahead of federal elections, due in October 2017 at the latest.

The €10.3bn is the long-delayed second instalment of Greece’s third bailout agreed last August, worth €86bn.

The Syriza-led government of Alexis Tsipras voted through €1.8bn of revenue-raising measures, including tax increases on coffee, tobacco, internet use and a higher VAT. These followed an unpopular pensions reform voted in by a narrow majority earlier this month. The government has also created a privatisation fund to sell off state assets, in effect security for the loans.

2 Pisa tests to include global skills (Andreas Schleicher on BBC) Pisa tests, an international standard for comparing education systems around the world, could include a new measurement of global skills in the next round of tests in 2018.

The OECD, which runs the tests in maths, reading and science, is considering adding another test which would look at how well pupils can navigate an increasingly diverse world, with an awareness of different cultures and beliefs.

Education leaders around the world are increasingly talking about the need to teach “global competences” as a way of addressing the challenges of globalisation. Globalisation can mean different things to different people. It can mean innovation and higher living standards for some – but it can also contribute to social division and economic inequality.

In the past, education was about teaching people something. Now, it is also about making sure that children develop a reliable compass, the navigation skills and the character qualities that will help them find their own way through an uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.

Schools need to prepare students for a world where many will need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins. They will need to appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values. It’s a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across differences.

The OECD sees global competence as being shaped by three principles – “equity”, “cohesion” and “sustainability”. Today, all three principles are at risk. But the OECD sees global competence as the centrepiece of a broader vision for 21st-Century education.

3 Singapore non-oil exports slide 9% (Chia Yan Min in Straits Times) Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports slid 9 per cent in the first three months of the year from a year ago, trade agency IE Singapore said.

The agency also revised its forecast for the full-year downwards, amid a lacklustre global environment. It now expects non-oil domestic exports to decline between 3 and 5 per cent this year, from an earlier forecast of 0 to 2 per cent growth.

Shipments to eight out of 10 of Singapore’s top export markets slid in the first quarter, IE data showed. The biggest contributors to the contraction were China, Taiwan and the European Union. Both electronic and non-electronic non-oil domestic exports were hit.

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‘China needs massive bailout’; World’s first 3D-printed office in UAE; Uber tests self-driving cars; People of no religion outnumber Christians in England & Wales

1 ‘China needs massive bailout’ (Straits Times) Charlene Chu, a banking analyst who made her name warning of the risks from China’s credit binge, said a bailout in the trillions of dollars is needed to tackle the bad-debt burden dragging down the nation’s economy.

Speaking eight days after a Communist Party newspaper highlighted dangers from the build-up of debt, Ms Chu said she was yet to be convinced the government is serious about deleveraging and eliminating industry overcapacity.

She also argued that lenders’ off-balance-sheet portfolios of wealth-management products (WMPs) are the biggest immediate threat to the nation’s financial system, with similarities to Western bank exposures in 2008 that helped to trigger a global meltdown.

She estimated as much as 22 per cent of all China’s outstanding credit may be nonperforming by the end of this year, compared with an official bad-loan number for banks in March of 1.75 per cent. “The stock of Chinese banks’ off-balance-sheet WMPs grew 73 per cent last year. There is nothing in the Chinese economy that supports a 73 per cent growth rate of anything at the moment” she said.

“We call off-balance-sheet WMPs a hidden second balance sheet because that’s really what it is – it’s a hidden pool of liabilities and assets. In this way, it’s similar to the Special Investment Vehicles and conduits that the Western banks had in 2008, which nobody paid attention to until everything fell apart and they had to be incorporated on-balance-sheet.

“The mid-tier lenders is where these second balance sheets are very large. China Merchants Bank is a good example. Their second balance sheet is close to 40 per cent of their on-balance-sheet liabilities. Enormous. However, the idea that China needs a massive bailout in the trillions of US dollars isn’t something I think the authorities are on board with or accept yet. They still believe they can grow out of it.”

2 World’s first 3D-printed office in UAE (Khaleej Times) “The rapidly changing world requires us to accelerate our pace of development, for history does not recognize our plans but our achievements,” Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai said while opening the ‘Office of the Future’, the first 3D-printed office in the world.

The unique building on the Emirates Towers premises will house the temporary office of the Dubai Future Foundation. Shaikh Mohammed stated: “We announce today the opening of the first 3D-printed office in the world, after less than a month of launching Dubai 3D printing strategy which showcases a modern model of construction.”

Shaikh Mohammed pointed out that the competitive advantages of 3-D printing in terms of lower costs and faster delivery will make the UAE one of the most important sustainable economic hubs, enabling the effective use of this technology to establish future cities in all sectors.

The office space covers up to 250 square metres, while the exterior design reflects the most innovative forms of future work place. The 3D-printed office was constructed using a special mixture of cement and a set of building material designed and made in the UAE and the US.

A 3D-printer measuring 20 feet high, 120 feet long and 40 feet wide was used to print the building. The printer features an automated robotic arm to implement printing process. The labour involved included one staff to monitor the function of the printer, seven people to install the building components on site, and a team of 10 electricians and specialists to take care of the mechanical and electrical engineering. As a result, the labour cost was cut by more than 50 per cent compared to conventional buildings of similar size.

The full model took only 17 days to print after which the internal and external designs were adopted. The office was installed on site within two days, which is significantly faster than traditional construction methods.

3 Uber tests self-driving cars (Emily Price in San Francisco Chronicle) One of the first self-driving Ubers is hitting the streets within the next few weeks .The ride-sharing company is deploying a self-driving Ford Fusion, a test car from its Advanced technologies Center.

The vehicle is loaded with sensors and will be mapping the areas it drives through while simultaneously testing the car’s self-driving capabilities. Don’t worry, the car won’t be alone. In the driver’s seat will be a trained employee that will be monitoring how the car performs, and will be there to grab the wheel if anything happens.

“[A total of] 1.3 million people die every year in car accidents — 94% of those accidents involve human error. In the future we believe this technology will mean less congestion, more affordable and accessible transportation, and far fewer lives lost in car accidents,” Uber said in its blog.

Uber isn’t the only one looking into self-driving cars. Lyft and General Motors have teamed up to work of a self-driving taxi of their own, and they plan on testing self-driving Chevrolet Bolt vehicles on public roads within the next year. In January, GM made a $500 million investment in the ride-sharing service.

Uber is testing self-driving cars, but not in San Francisco

4 People of no religion outnumber Christians in England & Wales (Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian) The number of people who say they have no religion is rapidly escalating and significantly outweighs the Christian population in England and Wales, according to new analysis.

The proportion of the population who identify as having no religion – referred to as “nones” – reached 48.5% in 2014, almost double the figure of 25% in the 2011 census. Those who define themselves as Christian – Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations – made up 43.8% of the population.

“The striking thing is the clear sense of the growth of ‘no religion’ as a proportion of the population,” said Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham.

The new analysis will fuel concern among Christian leaders about growing indifference to organised religion. This year the Church of England said it expected attendance to continue to fall for another 30 years as its congregations age and the millennial generation spurns the institutions of faith.

According to Bullivant’s report, both the Anglican and Catholic churches are struggling to retain people brought up as Christians. Four out 10 adults who were raised as Anglicans define themselves as having no religion, and almost as many “cradle Catholics” have abandoned their family faith to become “nones”. Neither church is bringing in fresh blood through conversions. Anglicans lose 12 followers for every person they recruit, and Catholics 10.

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Japan export slump enters seventh month; Flexibility as the new injustice; Airbus unveils 3D-printed electric bike

1 Japan export slump enters seventh month (Straits Times) Japan’s exports fell 10.1 per cent in April from a year earlier, down for a seventh straight month, Ministry of Finance data showed, reflecting sluggish demand from China and emerging markets.

That matched a 10 per cent decrease expected by economists in a Reuters poll, and followed a 6.8 per cent drop in March. Imports plunged 23.3 per cent in April, versus the median estimate for a 19 per cent decrease. The trade balance came to a surplus of 823.5 billion yen, against the median estimate for a 492.8 billion yen surplus.

2 Flexibility as the new injustice (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) As a new documentary on release now shows, the pressures of modern work go well beyond the factory floor. The Divide reminds us of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book The Spirit Level, which documents how those in better-off societies and better-off jobs are making themselves unhappy.

From 2001 we saw a flurry of initiatives designed to deal with falling incomes and rising costs in a desperate attempt to maintain living standards. Labour’s introduction of tax credits in 2003 was the main prop under household incomes, extending as it did to those earning up to £60,000.

But other ways to maintain incomes – for instance, flexible working – allowed parents to dovetail working hours to minimise childcare costs. Flexibility came in the form of self-employment, flexible rotas and, to a lesser extent, zero-hour contracts. Each of these has transformed the labour market.

The numbers of those in self-employment, after decades hovering around the 3 million mark, began to increase in 2001. Now there are 4.6 million self-employed people and they account for 15% of the workforce. There is scant research into what the newly self-employed do. The Royal Society of Arts has reported that thousands are young digital entrepreneurs. Others have set themselves up as drivers delivering the ever-growing mountain of stuff bought online.

In the five years after the financial crash the majority of new jobs were part-time, temporary or self-employed. It wasn’t until 2014 that full-time employment edged into the lead. If the 1990s was characterised by increasing debt to fund a decent living, flexible working is the cancer eating away at 21st century workers.

The defenders of flexible working argue that people like it. They are supported by surveys that show most appreciate being offered it. But as employment expert John Philpott points out, those who say they like zero-hours contracts are generally students and older workers, who have another income to fall back on.

Even full-time workers say the flexibility they like does not come from draconian rota systems, but from time off to look after a sick child, and the opportunity to take leave or make up the hours another time. Working weekends and nights is rarely a pleasure.

Regulators like the Bank of England are oblivious to the problems that are being stored up. Almost everyone on its interest-rate-setting committee believes that GDP growth will bring back permanent full-time employment. They should realise that, in an era of corporate anxiety and low investment, the trend will remain in the opposite direction.

3 Airbus unveils 3D-printed electric bike (San Francisco Chronicle) What weighs 77 pounds, goes 50 mph and looks like a Swiss cheese on wheels? An electric motorcycle made from tiny aluminum alloy particles using a 3D printer.

European aeronautics giant Airbus unveiled the ‘Light Rider ‘ in Germany on Friday. Manufactured by its subsidiary APWorks, a specialist in additive layer manufacturing, the motorcycle uses hollow frame parts that contain the cables and pipes. The frame weighs just 13 pounds, about 30 percent less than conventional e-motorbikes.

APWorks chief executive Joachim Zettler said the complex, branched hollow structure wouldn’t have been possible with conventional production technologies such as milling or welding. The company is taking orders for a limited run of 50 motorbikes, costing 50,000 euros ($56,095), plus tax, each. They’ll have a range of 37 miles (60 kilometers).

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IMF says bribery eats up 2% of global economy; Tesla’s Elon Musk conquers Wall Street; Venezuela crisis escalates

1 IMF says bribery eats up 2% of global economy (The Times of India) The International Monetary Fund has said that bribery sucks up between $1.5 and $2.0 trillion dollars annually around the world, dragging down economies and worsening social services for the poor. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said more and more leaders are openly seeking help to fight the scourge.

Lagarde dismissed the idea that corruption is a stubborn cultural phenomenon in many countries. In fact, it is common across cultures, and countries with diverse backgrounds have found ways to address it, she said. The late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew “was very effective in both signalling a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption and building competent institutions at a time when corruption was pervasive in Singapore,” she noted.

The cost of bribery alone tops more than two percent of global gross domestic product — a broad measure of economic output — and because it is tainted, that money is often sucked out of economies to offshore havens, meaning it does not contribute to growth. Corruption perpetuates economic inefficiency, undermines public policy, and exacerbates inequality, the report says. It also scares off both domestic and foreign investors.

2 Tesla’s Elon Musk conquers Wall Street (Matthew DeBord in San Francisco Chronicle) Tesla banked almost $1.5 billion last week, selling new shares — to fund the launch of its now hotly anticipated Model 3 — at a healthy $215 per share. The ease with which it raised the funds (and the fact that its shares rose 5% the week of the sale), shows how easily Tesla is able to use Wall Street to do its bidding.

Plenty of people in the auto industry are astounded that a profitless company, one that struggled to build 50,000 cars in 2015, can tap the equity markets so easily. Unlike Tesla, traditional automakers have seen their shares flatline for the better part of a decade and have to turn to debt markets for cash.

Worse yet, CEO Elon Musk does it even after making the jaw-dropping promise that Tesla will ramp up production to 500,000 vehicles in just over two years. The car maker did a capital raise last year, to the tune of over $700 million, when shares were trading above $240.

It’s all kind of predictable: Tesla will lack market-moving news, or face up to its own substantial challenges, and the stock will tank below $200, sometimes falling below $150 (remember, this is a company that went public in 2010 at $17 per share).

Then something like the massive Model 3 pre-orders will hit, and the stock will lurch higher, prompting Musk and his team to access the easiest money they can: the well of risk-loving capital represented by Tesla’s market cap.

If you look around, the only other companies working the investment market in this manner are Silicon Valley “unicorns,” the $1-billion-and-up valuation startups like Uber whose worth is tied up in the highly illiquid private markets.

3 Venezuela crisis escalates (Sibyilla Bordzinsky in San Francisco Chronicle) Venezuela is rich in oil, but dogged by chronic shortages of basic goods and essential medicines, electricity and water rationing, spiraling inflation and rampant crime.

Unrest has spread throughout a city of 200,000 just outside the capital, Caracas. Protesters shouted “We want food” as they blocked intersections with burning tyres and clashed with security forces. The protests were not related to marches in Caracas and other major cities, which were called this week by opposition leaders seeking to cut short the term of President Nicolás Maduro who they say has driven the country into the ground through mismanagement.

The opposition won control of parliament in December elections, but Maduro has blocked all attempts at reforms passed in the legislature though the government-controlled supreme court. Maduro blames the country’s woes on an “economic war” against his government by right-wingers and foreign interests. Last week Maduro decreed a 60-day state of emergency because of the “threat” against his government.

Venezuelans have been living with shortages of food and essential items for nearly three years as the oil-dependent economy began to buckle. And patience is wearing thin. “We are like a bomb going tick-tock, tick-tock,” said Zenovia Villegas, a 54-year-old housewife.

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US corporate giants hoarding over $1tn; Mexico lowers growth forecast; Why Apple’s Tim Cook is visiting India

1 US corporate giants hoarding over a trillion dollars (Jill Treanor in The Guardian) Some of the biggest US companies have accumulated cash piles worth almost $1.7tn – more than two thirds of it overseas.

According to the calculations by ratings agency Moody’s, the five companies hoarding the most cash – Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle – between them held $504bn by the end of last year. The tech sector held 46% of the total.

Apple – described as the “cash king” by the ratings agency – held $216bn of cash, more than double the $102bn held by the next largest hoarder, Microsoft. The figures will add to the controversy about companies sitting on cash as the data shows they are parking it offshore to avoid the tax bill that would be due on returning it to the US.

An estimated $1.2tn of cash was held overseas at the end of 2015 – about 72% of the $1.68tn cash stockpile, Moody’s said. Of the five big hoarders of cash, three – Apple, Microsoft and Cisco – keep more than 90% outside the US.

With the US presidential election looming, Moody’s said it did not expect any major tax reforms that would prompt companies to start sending money to the US. Companies can put their cash to use in a number of ways, with capital expenditure – spending on equipment – usually the largest use. Payouts to shareholders through share buybacks and dividends is another use, as is making acquisitions.

The biggest cash pile held by a non-tech company is the $39bn in the coffers of pharmaceutical company Pfizer. It was forced to abandon a tie-up with rival Allergan – in what was regarded as the biggest pharmaceutical deal in history – in April after the US government clamped down on so-called tax inversion deals. Such transactions are structured to allow corporations to relocate their headquarters to countries with a lower tax rate.

2 Mexico lowers growth forecast (San Francisco Chronicle) Mexico is lowering its economic growth forecast for 2016, citing what it calls “adverse” international conditions including sluggish industrial production in the United States.

The Treasury Department is now predicting GDP expansion of 2.2 percent and 3.2 percent this year. That’s down from its previous forecast of 2.6 percent to 3.6 percent. Deputy Treasury Secretary Fernando Aportela said Friday that Mexico’s economy is also being hurt by volatility in financial markets and low prices for oil, a key export.

Nearly 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the US. Mexico’s central bank also lowered its growth forecast recently, to between 2 percent and 3 percent.

3 Why Apple’s Tim Cook is visiting India (Prasanto K Roy on BBC) India was the sole bright spot in its results as Apple reported its first-ever revenue decline in 13 years. While global iPhone sales fell for the first time ever, a drop of 16% from the first quarter of 2015, they rose 56% in India in the same quarter.

Tim Cook’s visit to India is a first for an Apple CEO. None of the California-based technology giant’s seven CEOs ever visited India while in office, though Steve Jobs famously came here as a backpacking hippie looking for “answers” in the mid-1970s.

If a country’s importance to a global firm is measured by CEO visits, Mr Cook’s score is telling: China 8, India 1. India accounts for just 1% of global iPhone sales and Apple’s share of India’s mobile handset sales is 1.5%. India’s market is dominated by phones under 5,000 rupees ($75), while Apple’s recent models start at 39,000 rupees ($580).

Of India’s rapidly-growing smartphones market, Apple has 3.4% share, according to CyberMedia Research (CMR). It ranks seventh among smartphones brands in India, though it is number two worldwide after Samsung. China, on the other hand, is the second-largest market in the world for Apple after the US.

For Apple, the almost-untapped Indian market could help revive its fortunes. Apple has already made two announcements. Apple’s first development centre in India will be in Hyderabad, the capital of the southern state of Telangana, where over 150 Apple developers will work on Apple Maps.

Apple also announced a “design and development accelerator” in Bangalore, the southern city considered to be India’s tech and start-up capital. The centre, to be set up in 2017, will provide support to iOS app developers in India.

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In digital push, HSBC to close half of India branches; China’s future emerges in Shenzhen; How politicians conquered FB and Snapchat

1 In digital push, HSBC to close half of India branches (Straits Times) HSBC Holdings plans to shut almost half its branches in India and rely more on digital banking to expand its consumer business in the South Asian nation.

The London-based bank will cut 24 of its 50 branches as it seeks “the right mix of digital versus physical branch distribution,” according to an e-mailed statement. The outlets to be closed account for less than 10 per cent of HSBC’s retail customer base in India, the bank said.

Chief executive officer Stuart Gulliver is paring back HSBC’s sprawling global network and shutting money-losing businesses to improve earnings hurt by compliance costs. Since 2011, the bank has slashed more than 87,000 positions, exited at least 80 businesses and reduced its footprint to about 71 countries and territories from 88.

2 China’s future emerges in Shenzhen (Khaleej Times) Forget Beijing and Shanghai. China’s economic future is emerging in Shenzhen. Once a collection of fishing enclaves next door to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, which has become the epicentre of China’s manufacturing-driven miracle, is staking its future growth on finance, technology and culture.

Divided from the former British colony of Hong Kong by a river, Shenzhen has been the preferred laboratory for experiments by China’s communist leaders since reformist Deng Xiaoping designated the tranquil area as the country’s first “special economic zone” in 1979.

Now a sprawling megacity of 11 million people, its fortunes were made churning out cheap clothes, electronics and toys for big foreign brands. Innovative new companies are drawn by Shenzhen’s well-established manufacturing supply chains and transport links, proximity to Hong Kong’s banking and financial expertise, and better traffic, milder weather and less air pollution than Beijing and Shanghai.

Established tech giants such as telecom gear makers Huawei and ZTE and internet company Tencent call Shenzhen home. So do rising stars like DJI Technology Co, the world’s No. 1 supplier of civilian drones, inspiring local rivals such as Xenosky and Flypro. BGI, the world’s biggest gene research center, and Kuangchi Science, the main investor in New Zealand jetpack maker Martin Aircraft, are also based here.

Emerging industries such as information technology, biotech, green energy and new materials now account for about 40 per cent of Shenzhen’s economic output, Mayor Xu Qin said last month. Shenzhen’s economy expanded at an 8.9 per cent pace last year, while nationwide growth slowed to a 25-year low of 6.9 per cent. Per capita GDP has risen to 158,000 yuan ($24,334), on a par with Portugal. Meanwhile, growth in Hong Kong slowed to 2.4 per cent.

Yet, like the rest of China, Shenzhen suffers from many side-effects from the past three decades of rapid industrialization, including sewage-choked rivers, grim and grimy factory zones on its fringes and sky-high property prices. The collapse of a mountain of construction waste last year killed nearly 60 people, exposing cost cutting and a lack of oversight.

3 How politicians conquered FB and Snapchat (Denise Hruby on BBC) World leaders are getting in on the celebrity act with carefully curated Facebook pages and Instagram feeds, all in a bid to show their human side and promote their political standing. And in the all-out race for popularity before and after the ballot box, followers, likes and shares are the ultimate prizes.

They’re in a competition for eyeballs against the likes of celebrities, singers, and cartoon characters. So while Shakira, Cristiano Ronaldo and The Simpsons still have more likes, among his peers, US President Barack Obama wins the popularity race by a mile. With more than 48 million likes on his main Facebook page, a study found the current US president is winning the political figure social media race.

Premiers of India, Turkey and Indonesia are also among the top five world leader accounts, partly because, like Obama, they come from populous countries, but also because they play the social media game oh-so-well.

“Effective social media translates into votes,” said Brian Donahue, who has served on several US election campaign teams, including George W Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, and founded Craft, a PR firm. “It translates into support, interest, contributions, and overall engagement in your base. It’s crucial.”

When it comes to that — although he’s more a Twitter guy than anything else — one candidate really stands out. “Like him or hate him, Donald Trump epitomises that,” says Brian Donahue, who has served on several US election campaign teams. Through an aggressive online campaign for the US presidential nomination, Trump has dominated headlines, leaving him the actor, while others react, he said.

Newer social media channels are also on the rise, but measuring popularity isn’t always easy. Argentina’s new president Mauricio Macri stands nearly alone as a master of Snapchat. On Snapchat, for example, the number of followers and views isn’t shared publicly, making it hard to determine how popular an account really is. But it is the fastest-growing social network among teenagers who will be voting beginning in the next few years. That makes politicians quite keen to crack it.

Facebook has become a popular tool even among autocrats. Hun Sen, who has tightly ruled the small Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia for more than 30 years, ranks second on Luefken’s engagement ranking. On Facebook, the strongman presents himself strolling down a beach in a revealing bathrobe and playing with his grandchildren while he sports a tight white undershirt.

Just like leaders in free democracies, autocrats care deeply about their public image, said Aim Sinpeng, a lecturer of comparative politics at Sydney University who has looked into how politicians use social media. “(Hun Sen) needs more legitimacy from the young, wired, middle class so hence Facebook as a main form of engagement and re-designing his own image,” she said.

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US, China in steel duty war; Japan surprises with growth; Climate change puts 1.3bn at risk

1 US, China in steel duty war (BBC) The US has raised its import duties on Chinese steelmakers by more than five-fold after accusing them of selling their products below market prices. The taxes specifically apply to Chinese-made cold-rolled flat steel, which is used in car manufacturing, shipping containers and construction.

The US Commerce Department ruling comes amid heightened trade tensions between the two sides over several products, including chicken parts. Steel is an especially sensitive issue. US and European steel producers claim China is distorting the global market and undercutting them by dumping its excess supply abroad.

A separate filing by major US steelmakers to the International Trade Commission is looking to completely ban all Chinese steel imports. The US steel industry claims that around 12,000 workers have been laid off in the past year because of unfair Chinese competition.

China claims the weak economy is more responsible for the industry’s problems and that it has taken steps to reduce its steel production.

2 Japan surprises with growth (Straits Times) Japan’s economy expanded at the fastest pace in a year in the first quarter on robust private consumption and exports, complicating Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision on whether to delay a planned sales tax hike next year.

The world’s third-largest economy expanded by an annualised 1.7 per cent in January-March, much more than a median market forecast for a 0.2 per cent increase and rebounding from a 1.7 per cent contraction in the previous quarter.

On quarter-on-quarter basis, the economy grew 0.4 per cent in January to March. Government officials have said the data will be crucial in Mr Abe’s decision on whether to postpone a sales tax hike scheduled for next year.

Japan’s economy contracted in the final quarter of last year as slow wage growth hurt private consumption, while exports felt the pinch from sluggish emerging market demand and the pain of a strong yen. Mr Abe raised the sales tax to 8 per cent from 5 per cent in 2014, which tipped the economy into recession. That led Mr Abe to delay a second tax hike to 10 per cent by 18 months.

3 Climate change puts 1.3bn at risk (Larry Elliott in The Guardian) The global community is badly prepared for a rapid increase in climate change-related natural disasters that by 2050 will put 1.3 billion people at risk, according to the World Bank.

Urging better planning of cities before it was too late, a report from a Bank-run body that focuses on disaster mitigation, said assets worth $158tn – double the total annual output of the global economy – would be in jeopardy by 2050 without preventative action.

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery said total damages from disasters had ballooned in recent decades but warned that worse could be in store as a result of a combination of global warming, an expanding population and the vulnerability of people crammed into slums in low-lying, fast-growing cities that are already overcrowded.

The facility’s report cited case studies showing that densely populated coastal cities are sinking at a time when sea levels are rising. It added that the annual cost of natural disasters in 136 coastal cities could increase from $6bn in 2010 to $1tn in 2070. The report said that the number of deaths and the monetary losses from natural disasters varied from year to year, but the upward trend was pronounced.

Total annual damage – averaged over a 10-year period – had risen tenfold from 1976–1985 to 2005–2014, from $14bn to more than $140bn. The average number of people affected each year had risen over the same period from around 60 million people to more than 170 million.

According to the facility, disaster risk is affected by three factors. It said these were: hazard – the frequency of potentially dangerous naturally occurring events, such as earthquakes or tropical cyclones; exposure – the size of the population and the economic assets located in hazard-prone areas; and vulnerability – the susceptibility of the exposed elements to the natural hazard.

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