Nepal, China to enhance cooperation under Belt & Road Initiative

Jun 22, 2018 0

Beijing– Nepal and China have agreed to execute projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to enhance connectivity that encompasses ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications within the overarching framework of Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.

In a joint statement issued during the visit of Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, the two sides agreed to take practical measures to promote cooperation in all fields mentioned in the MOUs that included conducting a feasibility study of Kerung-Kathmandu railway, reconstruction of two friendship fridges, protocol on the utilization of Tibetan highways for cargo transport and investment and cooperation on production capacity.

On the railway pact that aims to extend the Chinese railway network to Kathmandu, the joint statement said: “Nepal and China underscored it as the most significant initiative in the history of bilateral cooperation and believed that it would herald a new era of cross-border connectivity.

Other pacts reached during Oli’s visit from June 19-24 were setting up of a mechanism for facilitation on the implementation of China-Nepal Cooperation Programmes and Projects in the Himalayan nation, MOUs on strengthening cooperation between their Foreign Ministries, cooperation in fields of energy and human resource development.

Beijing and Kathmandu also agreed to work together in areas of economy, trade, investment, industrial capacity, post-disaster reconstruction and other mutually beneficial areas, according to the statement.

Another takeaway of the visit was an early finalization of the joint feasibility study on the China-Nepal Free Trade Agreement (FTA), establishing cross-border economic cooperation zones and an agreement on completing the post disaster recovery of two frontier inspection stations on Nepal-China border.

Beijing agreed to support the Chinese-funded banks for opening their branches in Nepal. It said that it was ready to negotiate the financing modalities of the projects on road, railway connectivity, hydropower and transmission lines, among others, proposed by Nepal.

The two sides will also boost cooperation between the law enforcement agencies on information exchanges, capacity building and training. They will negotiate the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and Treaty on Extradition to fight against illegal border crossing and transnational crimes.

There will be more exchanges and cooperation between China and Nepal in areas of education, culture, tourism, media, think tanks, youth and people-to-people relations.

China said it will provide more government scholarships every year to Nepal, whereas Kathmandu said it will facilitate the teaching programme of volunteer Chinese language teachers.

“The two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the UN and other multilateral forums and to safeguard common interests of developing, least developed and landlocked developing countries in particular,” the joint statement added.

The two countries will also view and support each other’s participation in the regional cooperation process and enhance coordination and cooperation within the SCO, SAARC and other regional cooperation mechanisms within the agreed frameworks and guidelines. (IANS)

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EU launches retaliatory tariffs on US goods

Jun 22, 2018 0

London– The European Union (EU) on Friday launched tariffs on some $3.2 billion worth of American goods, in retaliation for tariffs US President Donald Trump’s administration imposed on imported steel and aluminium earlier this month.

The bloc slapped a 25 per cent tariff on American products such as whiskey, tobacco, Harley Davidson motorcycles, cranberries and peanut butter, reports The Independent.

They also leveraged another 50 per cent tax on select items such as footwear, some types of clothing and washing machines.

Speaking to the Irish Parliament on Thursday night, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU would “do what we have to do to rebalance and safeguard” against the US tariffs.

“It goes against all logic and history,” he said of the US taxes.

“Our response must be clear but measured.”

The statement echoed the words EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström remarks on Wednesday that the 28-member bloc was “left with no other choice” than to impose retaliatory measures.

The tariffs come weeks after the Trump administration implemented a 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent tariff on aluminium, affecting trade partners like Canada, Mexico, and the EU, The Independent reported.

Trump threatened additional taxes on European cars if the EU chose to retaliate.

The EU has also filed a case with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), claiming Trump’s tariffs were “pure protectionist” and “illegal”.

They also threatened a second round of tariffs on some $4.3 billion worth of US products if the dispute was not resolved.

Mexico has already announced its own tariffs on US goods, and Canada’s tariffs on nearly $13 billion of US products are set to take effect next month.

Trump has also imposed tariffs on other trade partners as well, slapping a 25 per cent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods last week. (IANS)

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Britain assures India of cooperation in extradition of Nirav Modi, Mallya

Jun 11, 2018 0

New Delhi– Britain on Monday assured India to fully cooperate in the extradition process of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi and liquor barron Vijay Mallya who are accused in separate multi-crore bank loan defraud cases, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said.

Meanwhile, government sources said that British Minister for Counter Terrorism Baroness Williams also confirmed to Indian authorities that Nirav Modi, the billionaire jeweller at the heart of a more than Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud case, is reportedly residing in her country – an admission coming in the wake of reports about him seeking political asylum there.

At a counter terrorism dialogue held here, Williams guaranteed Rijiju of Britain’s support in the process to extradite Nirav Modi and Mallya to India.

“I had a very useful meeting with UK Minister, Baroness Williams. We discussed about India-UK joint efforts to deal with terrorism and extremism. We also agreed to cooperate in the matters of extradition and sharing of information,” Rijiju said after the meeting.

“We have put across the government of India’s demands that anybody who is wanted by Indian agencies or an Indian court, we seek the cooperation from the UK authorities (on extradition).

“The (UK) minister has assured to give full cooperation whether it is Vijay Mallya case or Nirav Modi or anybody,” he said.

Nirav Modi left India with his family a month before the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a criminal case against him on January 31 after PNB, India’s second-largest, state-run bank, lodged a case alleging him and his uncle Mehul Choksi to defraud it by raising credit from overseas branches of other banks using illegal guarantees issued by rogue PNB staff at a Mumbai branch over several years.

India is already seeking the extradition of Mallya, a liquor and aviation tycoon, over unpaid loans to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines after the businessman and co-owner of the Formula One Force India team moved to Britain in March last year. Mallya, who has been staying there for over a year now, has been accused of defaulting on loans worth thousands of crores.

Rijiju further said there is a good understanding between the Indian and British governments and that the two leaders reiterated they would cooperate with each other and address each other’s concerns over other issues.

Besides extradition of Nirav Modi and Mallya, Rijiju discussed issues related to anti-India movement being carried out by pro-Khalistan Sikh Federation with the British minister.

“…there are certain elements who are misusing the UK territory to propagate or also conduct activities which is anti-India.

“So, I have requested the minister that using the UK’s territory for anti-India agenda must be curtailed. We are not against the freedom of speech. UK is a liberal country, so are we. We are also a democratic country and we cannot curb the freedom of speech. But the freedom of speech cannot be misused to abuse the country’s image. So, we are very clear that UK should not be a country where anti-India activities can be conducted without any kind of restriction or check,” Rijiju said.(IANS)

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India, Ethiopia review bilateral ties

May 9, 2018 0

New Delhi– Reflecting New Delhi’s increasing engagements with Africa, India and Ethiopia on Wednesday reviewed bilateral ties during the second Joint Commission Meeting headed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Ethiopian counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu here.

“The discussions focused on building closer cooperation in areas of defence cooperation, lines of credit, human resource development, capacity building, trade and investment, cultural exchanges and enhancing people to people contact,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

“India reiterated its commitments towards development partnership with Ethiopia.

“The two sides also exchanged views on issues of mutual interest at regional and multilateral levels including cooperation at the United Nations and other international organisations,” it said.

India-Ethiopia bilateral trade in 2016 stood at $1.37 billion, of which India’s exports to Ethiopia were $1.30 billion and imports were $68.4 million, according to figures provided by the External Affairs Ministry.

An MoU between the Foreign Service Institute of India and the Foreign Service Training Institute of Ethiopia was signed between the two countries after the conclusion of the meeting.

Indian companies are among the top three foreign investors in Ethiopia.

There are over 540 Indian companies in Ethiopia with licensed investment of over $4 billion of which about $2 billion is estimated to be on the ground, according to figures provided by the External Affairs Ministry. (IANS)

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Deal reached to sell Sahara’s NY Plaza Hotel for $600 million

May 4, 2018 0

New York– A Dubai investment group and a New York real estate company have reached a deal to buy the majority stake owned by Subrata Roy’s Sahara Group in the New York Plaza Hotel for $600 million, according to media reports.

The prospective buyers have seven weeks to close the deal, real estate newspaper Real Deal reported quoting sources close to the buyers.

Roy’s Sahara Group has been under orders from the Indian Supreme Court to make refunds of thousands of crore rupees to investors.

The New York Times identified the buyers as Shahal Khan, founder of the Dubai-based White City Ventures, and Kamran Hakim of the Hakim Organisation, a New York City real estate company.

The newspaper said the deal was confirmed by Sandeep Wadhwa, head of corporate finance at the Sahara Group, which owns a 70 per cent stake in the hotel, and Sant Singh Chatwal, a hotelier who owns 5 per cent being sold.

One of the sources for funding the acquisition by Khan and Hakim is a loan from David and Simon Reuben, whom the Real Deal described as “Mumbai-born British billionaires” who “bought the note on the Plaza from Sahara in 2015”.

A partnership of the real estate firm Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp and Saudi Prince Al-waleed bin Talel-controlled Kingdom Holdings owns the remaining 25 per cent of the Plaza, the Times said.

The Plaza Hotel founded in 1907 is one of the city’s landmarks.

The Sahara Group is under court orders in India to pay off debts amounting to several thousands of crores of rupees.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had asked the court in 2014 to order the recovery of Rs 36,000 crore from Sahara to pay investors who had bought securities from two companies belonging to the group.

Roy is now out on parole after spending time in Delhi’s Tihar Jail for failing to comply with court orders.

Last year, a New York company, MG Capital Holdings, backed out of an offer to buy the hotel for $550 million and failed to pay the required deposit of Rs 750 crore in the SEBI account for Sahara refunds to investors.

The Supreme Court, which had ordered the repayment of Sahara debts, jailed Prakash Muthuswamy, who held the power of attorney for the prospective buyer, for one month.

Unlike previous deals, the offer by Khan and Hakim is expected to go through because they made an irrevocable $30-million deposit, the Times said.

However, the Times said that the minority shareholder, the Ashkenazy and Kingdom partnership, have the right of first refusal to buy the hotel at the same price.

The Real Deal said that Sahara may consider a lower bid from Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that employees at the hotel were on strike and that guests who had booked rooms costing as much as $1,000 a night were being turned away.

Real Deal described Khan as the founder of Chimera Group and the Dubai-based investment company, White City Ventures.

According to the newspaper, Hakim is an immigrant from Iran and a company controlled by him owns more than 100 properties in New York.

CNBC, the business TV channel, reported that Chimera had considered a proposal to raise money for buying the Plaza Hotel through a cryptocurrency offering valued at $375 million.

But Real Deal said that cryptocurrency was not being used. (IANS)

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India, Japan agree to work on electric vehicle development

May 1, 2018 0

New Delhi– India and Japan on Tuesday agreed to initiate discussions on development of electric vehicles (EVs) by collaborating at a policy dialogue on next generation zero emission vehicles, an official statement said.

According to an Indian Power Ministry statement, both countries confirmed their commitment to promoting well-functioning energy markets as well as cooperation on environmental measures for coal-fired power plants at the ninth India Japan Energy Dialogue co-chaired by Power Minister R.K. Singh and Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko.

“Both countries agreed to initiate the discussion towards development of EVs by collaborating on the ‘Policy dialogue on next generation/Zero emission vehicles’,” it said.

“Both India and Japan further confirmed their commitment to work together in promoting well-functioning energy markets and affirmed to promote transparent and diversified liquefied natural gas (LNG) market through the relaxation of destination clause.

“Both Ministers agreed on further strengthening of bilateral energy cooperation for energy development of both countries, while also contributing to worldwide energy security, energy access and climate change issues,” it added.

According to the ministry, India and Japan also reiterated the continued importance of coal-based electricity in the energy mix of both countries and agreed to promote cooperation on environmental measures for coal-fired power plants. (IANS)

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Pakistani investors in Sri Lanka to discuss business opportunities

Apr 24, 2018 0

Colombo– A group of Pakistani investors arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday to explore investment opportunities in the island nation in the fields of health, housing, tourism, science and technology.

The Pakistani delegation met President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo, during which special emphasis was also given to building highways and oil exploration, reports Xinhua news agency.

The investors also expressed their interest in constructing a state-of-the-art hospital in Sri Lanka to perform heart surgeries and to build two tourism zones as well as to construct a low-cost new housing scheme.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan recently agreed to redouble trade promotion efforts to reach the target of $1 billion in trade by the end of 2018.

Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka in the SAARC region.

The value of total trade between the two countries has increased from $158 million in 2005 to $423.06 million in 2017. (IANS)

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China hits back, slaps new tariffs on 106 US products

Apr 4, 2018 0

By Gaurav Sharma

Beijing–  China in no time hit back by slapping tariffs of worth $50 billion on 106 US products on Wednesday, hours after Washington decided to impose import taxes on 1,300 Chinese products.

The Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council has decided to impose an additional tariff of 25 per cent on 106 items of products under 14 categories, Xinhua quoted the Chinese Finance Ministry as saying.

The Ministry said the move was in response to Washington’s proposed list of products subject to additional tariffs, which covered Chinese exports worth $50 billion with a suggested tariff rate of 25 per cent.

The date of implementation will depend on when the US government impose the tariffs on Chinese products, the Ministry said.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry said the US move was “an evident violation of rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO)”.

Washington’s action “severely infringed on the legitimate rights and interests that China enjoys in accordance with the WTO rules, and threatened China’s economic interests and security”, said the Commerce Ministry.

New tariffs China decided to impose on US products were a reaction to “the emergency caused by the US violation of international obligations”, it added.

Affected products will include a wide variety of agricultural products such as soybeans, corn, beef, orange juice and tobacco. A range of chemicals and automobiles as well as aircraft with unladen weight between 15 and 45 tonnes, will also be subject to the tariffs, Xinhua said.

The trade war between the world’s two largest economies has escalated. The US says it is taxing Chinese products as punitive measures against Beijing’s arm-twisting American companies to transfer their technology in return of letting them do business in China.

Beijing says although doors for talks are always open for Washington, it will give befitting reply if it faces the heat. (IANS)

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India, Japan call for free, stable, prosperous Indo-Pacific

Mar 29, 2018 0

Tokyo– India and Japan on Thursday called for a peaceful, stable, free and prosperous Indo-Pacific region following the Ninth India-Japan Strategic Dialogue co-chaired by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono here.

“Our Special Strategic and Global Partnership has acquired a broader significance in the current global context,” Sushma Swaraj said while jointly addressing the media with Kono.

“Our growing convergence on economic and strategic issues is important for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.

Kono said India was Japan’s most important partner in its Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.

“Our Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy and India’s Act East Policy should be further merged,” he said.

The remarks assume significance given China’s belligerence in the South China Sea and attempts to increase its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region.

India and Japan, along with the US and Australia, are also part of the recently revived quad that seeks to work for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.

In her address, Sushma Swaraj said that in Thursday’s Strategic Dialogue, she and Kono discussed bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest.

Stating that India has emerged as the fastest-growing large economy in the world, she said that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is strongly committed to improving the “ease of doing business” and has “set into motion many far-reaching changes to build infrastructure, reform the business environment and promote education, skills and economic development”.

“In my discussions with Foreign Minister Kono, I emphasized that in India’s transformational journey, we regard Japan as a natural partner.”

Sushma Swaraj said that India welcomes Japanese entrepreneurs with new opportunities in flagship initiatives such as Smart City, Digital India, Start-Up India and many others.

“Foreign Minister Kono and I had very productive discussions on how India and Japan are today working closely to build robust ties in high speed rail, information and communications technology, innovation, space science, healthcare and food processing, to name just a few.

“We also exchanged views on some new areas of focus in our engagement, such as skills development, Japanese language training in India and the possibility of Indian professionals working in Japan under the Technical Intern Training Programme.”

She said that both sides appreciated the growing people-to-people ties between the two countries and “also expressed our satisfaction over growing role of states in India and prefectures in Japan as active stake-holders in our partnership”.

Stating that both sides exchanged views on some important global issues where India and Japan have growing convergences, she said: “We shared the view that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is a global scourge that requires global action in the spirit of azero tolerance’, including by rooting out terrorist safe havens, disrupting terrorist networks and financing channels and halting cross-border movement of terrorists.”

Sushma Swaraj also said that both sides emphasised the need for concerted global action to deal with other common challenges such as climate change.

She said she believed the Strategic Dialogue has laid a sound foundation for the annual bilateral summit between Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe to be held later this year.

Following the talks, the two sides signed loan agreements on projects being implemented in India with Japanese aid, including on connectivity in northeastern India, Mumbai Metro Line 3, construction of Chennai Sea Water Desalination Plant and Himachal Pradesh forest ecosystem management.

Earlier, Sushma Swaraj addressed the Indian community at the Vivekanand Cultural Centre here during which she lauded the contribution of the diaspora in strengthening India’s relations with Japan and creating a positive image about India in Japan.

She met former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is Chairman of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council, and discussed ways to take the bilateral relationship forward. (IANS)

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Sri Lanka for stronger ties with Bangladesh to boost trade

Mar 27, 2018 0

Colombo– Sri Lanka has called for stronger maritime and air links with Bangladesh to boost bilateral trade and investments between the two nations, the Commerce and Industry Ministry said on Tuesday.

The Ministry said that while the ports of Hambantota and Colombo were of vital importance to the maritime industry due to their strategic locations in the Indian Ocean, there could now be strong linkages between these ports and the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh to facilitate shipping, tourism and investments, Xinhua news agency reported.

In addition, the Ministry said more frequent direct air links between Colombo and Dhaka too shall strengthen economic cooperation, investment promotion, tourism and people-to-people contacts.

“Expansion of air links would bring more opportunities to entrepreneurs and investors of the two countries,” said Commerce and Industry Minister Rishad Bathiudeen.

“As neighbouring members of the Bay of Bengal region, both countries have many commonalities. Our common cultural affinities and historical links have immensely nourished our modern day inter-state relations,” Bathiudeen added.

He said that in recent years, Sri Lanka’s bilateral trade with Bangladesh saw a surge.

In 2017, apparels, plastics and petroleum products were Sri Lanka’s leading exports to Bangladesh. (IANS)

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