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  • ‘Floating Island’ points to greener tourism

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    Mon, 2019-08-26 02:19

    ABIDJAN: The seaside resort offers visitors a cool drink or tasty meal, a dip in a pool, a karaoke session or an overnight stay, all with a view.
    Nothing much new there, you may say — creature comforts like this are pretty much standard in tropical hotels.
    The big difference, though, is that this mini resort is also a moveable island that floats on plastic bottles.
    Riding on the laguna in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic hub, the unusual complex floats on a platform made from 700,000 discarded bottles and other buoyant debris.
    Its inventor, Frenchman Eric Becker, says his creation can help greener, more mobile tourism — something less harmful to seas and coastlines than traditional fixed, concrete resorts.
    His “Ile Flottante” — French for “Floating Island” — comprises two thatched bungalows and a restaurant, two small pools, trees and shrubs and a circular walkway, spread out over 1,000 square meters.
    Visitors are brought to the moored island by a boat. Water is provided by a pipe from the shore. Electricity is supplied by solar panels, backed by a generator.
    The island is bigger than a moored boat and handier than a jetty as it can also be taken to other locations, Becker told AFP.
    “It really is an artificial island that floats — you can move it.”
    Becker, a former computer entrepreneur, first toyed with the idea of building a catamaran.
    But it was when he came to Abidjan and saw the lagoon that the vision of a floating, moveable island came into his mind — and he sold everything he owned to achieve it. The first step was to forage for everything floatable — “plastic bottles, bits of polystyrene, even beach sandals.”
    Bemused locals gave him the nickname of “Eric Bidon” — a word that has a subtle dual meaning of jerrycan and phoney.
    “We bought disused bottles off people, we foraged for them in the lagoon. After a while, we learned to follow the wind and find the places where floating rubbish accumulates,” he said.
    After living on his island for a number of years, Becker turned it into a hotel last year.
    He has around 100 customers a week, mostly curious Ivorians or ecologically friendly tourists.

    Others want a relaxing break from the bustling city and to use its swimming pools — taking a dip in the lagoon, fouled by industrial pollution and sewage outflows is an act for the foolhardy.
    “When you’re competing with major hotels, you need an original idea like a floating island. It’s become a tourist attraction,” said Mathurin Yao Saky, a friend who has been advising Becker on the scheme.
    Charles Moliere, a 28-year-old Frenchman who works in Ivory Coast for a large corporation, read about the resort in a guidebook.
    “It’s very original, it’s a very untypical place — I’ve seen nothing like it elsewhere,” he said.
    “I think it’s a neat idea to give a second life to plastic like this and to make a kind of small technical breakthrough. I like this place a lot.”
    The island charges 15,000 CFA francs ($25) per person per day, which includes a meal and the ferry, and 60,000 CFA francs for a night.

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    Posted: by Arab News

  • Austria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight

    Mon, 2019-08-26 02:26

    VIENNA: It may sound like a strange thing to enshrine in a country’s constitution: The right to pay cash.
    But a debate on whether to do just that has entered Austria’s election campaign, shining a light on the country’s love of cold, hard currency.
    The Austrian People’s Party (OeVP) recently made the suggestion as part of its campaign for a parliamentary election in late September, for which it has a commanding poll lead.
    This led to other parties — though skeptical of the OeVP’s proposal — vaunting their commitment to protecting cash, with the center-left Social Democrats (SPOe) demanding an end to fees levied at cashpoints. And it is not hard to see why all major parties see protecting cash as a vote-winner.
    “In Austria, attitudes change slowly,” an employee of Weinschenke, a burger restaurant in downtown Vienna, told AFP.
    The woman in her 30s, who only gave her name as Victoria, says she prefers to use cash because “you don’t leave a trace.”
    Financial law expert Werner Doralt says Austrians put a high value on privacy and are wary of anything that could be used to keep tabs on them, such as card transactions.
    “If for example I go shopping, and it’s recorded exactly how much schnapps I’ve bought, that’s an invasion of my privacy,” he says.
    A recent survey conducted by the ING bank in 13 European countries, Australia and the US, showed Austrians were the most resistant to the idea of giving up cash payments.
    Just 10 percent of those surveyed in Austria said they could imagine doing without cash, compared to a European average of 22 percent.
    According to European Central Bank data compiled in 2017, cash accounted for 67 percent of money spent at points of sale in Austria, compared to just 27 percent in the Netherlands. Even in neighboring Germany, another country known for its attachment to cash, the rate is only 55 percent.

    SPEEDREAD

    • In Austria, citizens prefer to use cash because ‘you don’t leave a trace.’

    • According to data compiled in 2017, cash accounted for 67 percent of money spent at points of sale in Austria, compared to just 27 percent in the Netherlands.

    • In neighboring Germany, another country known for its attachment to cash, the rate is only 55 percent.

    Academic and author Erich Kirchler, a specialist in economic psychology, says in Austria and Germany, citizens are aware of the dangers of an overmighty state from their World War II experience. “In that case the efficiency of state institutions becomes dangerous,” Kirchler told AFP.

    ‘Lived freedom’
    It is a theory that finds a resounding echo in the slogan printed in bold on the menu of one Vienna restaurant and bar, Caffe Latte: “Cash is lived freedom!”
    “When we have no more cash, we become totally exposed. A totalitarian state would then have unfettered power over us,” the menu reads.
    Admittedly the cafe accepts cards as its owner Philipp Klos says he has to think about business too.
    “In five years, there will be no more cash. I’m 100 percent sure,” he told AFP, saying the OeVP proposal to amend the constitution is “empty talk.”

    Other parties and experts have also pointed out that Austria would not have the unilateral right to protect cash through constitutional changes because it uses the euro, which is under the purview of the European Central Bank.
    Even 17 years after the euro came into circulation, some Austrians are still finding notes and coins in their previous currency, the schilling, much of it left in forgotten hiding places in homes.
    The haul from under the nation’s mattresses, which until now could be exchanged at the “Euro-Bus” of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB), which toured the country, was almost 19 million schillings (€1.38 million) this year.

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    ‘Floating Island’ points to greener tourismCostco to open first store in China tomorrow

    Posted: by Arab News

  • Central bankers face political shocks, and hope to avoid the worst

    Mon, 2019-08-26 03:04

    JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING: Global central bank chiefs know their job is to keep the economy out of the ditch. What became clear at the US Federal Reserve’s central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, over the past couple of days is that not only do other people hold the wheel, some seem intent on steering toward trouble.
    “We are experiencing a series of major political shocks; we saw another example of that yesterday,” Reserve Bank of Australia Gov. Philip Lowe said on Saturday, a day after China and the US slapped more tariffs on each other’s goods and US President Donald Trump called on American companies to shut down their operations in the Asian nation.
    As those political shocks slow growth, Lowe said in a panel discussion, “there is a strongly held view that the central bank should just fix the problem … The reality is much more complicated,” and not something monetary policy can likely repair.
    His comments spoke to an uncomfortable truth that hovered over an annual symposium where the mountain backdrop and two days of technical debate often seem distant from the world of realpolitik. Even as central bankers and economists referred to the deep connections that now tie the world’s economies together, a US-driven trade war seemed to be driving them apart and raising the specter of a broad global downturn.
    Worse, it’s a downturn none of the central bankers seemed confident about how to fight — coming not from a business- or financial-cycle meltdown that they have a playbook to combat, but from political choices that threaten to crater business confidence.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    • Even as central bankers and economists referred to the deep connections that now tie the world’s economies together, a US-driven trade war seemed to be driving them apart and raising the specter of a broad global downturn.

    • It’s a downturn none of the central bankers seemed confident about how to fight — coming not from a business — or financial-cycle meltdown that they have a playbook to combat, but from political choices that threaten to crater business confidence.

    If that’s the problem, Lowe and others said, lower interest rates — something demanded by Trump to get an upper hand in the trade war with China — will do little to help.
    “The problem is in the president of the United States,” former Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said at a lunch event on Friday. “How the system is going to get around some of the sorts of things that have been done lately, including trying to destroy the global trading system, is very unclear. I have no idea how to deal with this.”
    It was a rare calling out of Trump, though his presence infused other remarks. Fed Chair Jerome Powell, handpicked by Trump to run the central bank but now an object of the president’s ire, noted in his opening speech that the Fed had no chartbook for building a new global trading system.
    ‘Last moment’
    Central banks have asked politicians for years to use fiscal policy more constructively and address structural problems plaguing economies.
    What they’ve gotten instead is a fast multiplying set of risks, with the US-China trade war at the epicenter but also including the possibility of a disruptive British exit from the EU, an economic slowdown in Germany, a political collapse in Italy, rising political tensions in Hong Kong, and longstanding international institutions and agreements under pressure.
    European Council President Donald Tusk described this weekend’s G7 leaders summit in Biarritz as a “last moment” for its members — the US, Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Italy and Canada — to restore unity.
    Amidst all the tumult, and with interest rates across the globe already lower than they’ve been historically, monetary policy may be no match.
    “There is not that much policy space and there are material risks at the moment that we all are trying to manage,” Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney said on Friday.

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    Austria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight‘Floating Island’ points to greener tourism

    Posted: by Arab News

  • S. African rare earth mine hopes for boost from US-China feud

    Author: 
    Mon, 2019-08-26 03:10

    CAPE TOWN: It’s old, doesn’t look like much and is located well out the way in an arid part of western South Africa.
    But the Steenkampskraal Mine may be about to become piping hot mining property thanks to some of the world’s highest-grade deposits of rare earth metals.
    “Steenkampskraal will become a very important source of rare earths for the global industry,” Trevor Blench, chairman of Steenkampskraal Holdings Limited, said during a recent tour.
    The mine, located about 350 km north of Cape Town, used to produce thorium, a component of nuclear fuel, in the 1950s and 60s.
    But now it’s been found to also have monazite ore which contains extremely high grade rare earth minerals including neodymium and praseodymium — elements vital to cutting-edge industries.
    Manufacturing uses range from tinted welding goggles to industrial magnets, strong alloys for aircraft engines, military hardware, hybrid cars, consumer electronic devices, medical equipment and even the flints in cigarette lighters.

    ‘Tech minerals’
    China produces the largest share of “tech minerals,” with a domestic output of 120,000 tons in 2018. That’s vastly more than the US, which relies on China for about 80 percent of its rare-earth imports.
    But now Beijing has threatened to cut off the supply as trade frictions mount, prompting US President Donald Trump to give the Pentagon an executive order to find other sources of the crucial elements.

    Rare earth elements are a group of 17 minerals unique for their magnetic, catalytic and electrochemical properties.
    For the first time since 1985, China last year became a net importer of some rare earths for its industrial needs, while the government cracked down on illegal exploration and production.
    Global sales of electric cars, which need the minerals, jumped by 68 percent in 2018 to 5.12 million, with China selling over a million vehicles, according to the International Energy Agency.

    FASTFACT

    17 – Rare earth elements are a group of 17 minerals unique for their magnetic, catalytic and electrochemical properties.

    “China may, as a result of its own requirements, just export less and less to the rest of the world,” Blench said.
    Steenkampskraal Mine could just be the answer to growing demand, he suggested.
    “About 14 percent of this rock is rare earths. That is an extraordinarily high grade and we don’t know anything like it on the planet,” Blench said, holding a small but heavy reddish brown rock.
    Worldwide, many mines have around six percent or less rare earths in their ore.
    No mines for rare earth elements currently operate in South Africa, but the government confirms the presence of yet-to-be tapped tech minerals.
    “South Africa is certainly on par with any other country that would lay a claim to being able to supply rare earths elements to meet this increasing demand,” said mineralogist Deshenthree Chetty at Mintek, a government mineral and metallurgy research department.
    She added that it would be “a great deal for our country to be able to supply, and we are in a position to do so, as long as those markets are favorable.”
    “We have an abundance of rocks in which rare earth elements are found,” Mosa Mabuza, CEO of the Council for GeoScience, which surveys mineral deposits, told AFP.

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    Central bankers face political shocks, and hope to avoid the worstAustria’s love of cash in poll campaign spotlight

    Posted: by Arab News

  • White House says Trump regrets not raising tariffs higher

    Mon, 2019-08-26 03:16

    TOKYO: President Donald Trump said Sunday that he had second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China, but the White House later reversed that message saying the president was misinterpreted and that his only regret in hiking tariffs is that he didn’t raise them higher. Trump faced a tense reception from world leaders meeting amid mounting anxiety of a global economic slowdown at the Group of Seven summit in France. During a breakfast meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Trump suggested he had qualms about the spiraling conflict. “Yeah. For sure,” Trump told reporters when asked if he has second thoughts about escalating the dispute, adding he has “second thoughts about everything.”
    But hours later, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement saying Trump’s comments about US tariffs on China were “greatly misinterpreted.”
    She said Trump only responded “in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.” The comments appeared at first to mark a rare moment of self-reflection by the famously hard-nosed leader. But the later reversal fit a pattern for Trump in recoiling from statements he believes suggest weakness.

    HIGHLIGHTS

    • President Donald Trump faced a tense reception from world leaders meeting amid mounting anxiety of a global economic slowdown at the Group of Seven summit in France.

    • White House said comments about US tariffs on China were ‘greatly misinterpreted.’

    Trump had been trying to use the conference to rally global leaders to do more to stimulate their economies, as fears rise of a potential slowdown in the US ahead of his reelection. Trump’s counterparts, including Johnson, are trying to convince him to back off his trade wars with China and other countries, which they see as contributing to the economic weakening.

    US-Japan agreement
    Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Sunday a deal in principle on a major bilateral trade deal.
    “It’s a very big transaction,” Trump said after talks with Abe on the sidelines of the G7 summit.
    “Billions and billions of dollars,” he said. “It involves agriculture, it involves e-commerce. It involves many things. We’ve agreed in principle.”

    Amazon fires
    Also on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that world leaders at the G7 summit have agreed to help the countries affected by the huge wildfires ravaging the Amazon rainforest as soon as possible.
    “We are all agreed on helping those countries which have been hit by the fires as fast as possible,” he told journalists.

     

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    Central bankers face political shocks, and hope to avoid the worstS. African rare earth mine hopes for boost from US-China feud

    Posted: by Arab News

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