October 1999


  • World News Today... daily headlines and abstracts
  • Vietnam Delays US Trade Accord in Favor of Relations With China
  • Thailand Sees Opportunity to Export GMO-Free Foods
  • US and Saudi Arabia Begin Trade Talks
  • World Populations Hits 6 Billion
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  • HANOI, Vietnam -- Vietnam has delayed signing a landmark trade agreement with the United States out of courtesy to China and in an effort to avoid the potential risk of angering Beijing before China joins the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Vietnamese deal is the most comprehensive and stringent ever negotiated by the United States. And the costs of delaying this agreement are enormous for Vietnam's economy.

    In signing the trade agreement, Vietnam would receive preferential tariffs from the US. And they would nearly double exports to the United States to US$800 million in just the first year. In return, US companies in key sectors such as finance and telecommunications, would be able to compete on equal ground with Vietnamese companies after an initial phase-in period. Of course, this phase-in period of removing import barriers would require Vietnam to change fundamental policies -- changes which would be the most dramatic since the implementation of the Doi Moi policy of market reforms. Conservative opponents to this agreement argue that it would make Vietnam's inefficient and out-of-date state-owned enterprises obsolete, leaving the country vulnerable to foreign competition.

    The decision to delay signing while improving relations with China, implies that Hanoi has decided in favor of its communist cousins to the north for the time being.

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    BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand is hoping to capitalize on the growing demand for GMO (genetically modified organisms) -free foods, since their crops are currently free of GMO. They see opportunity among consumers in the EU (European Union) and Japan, where GMO-free foods are preferred. At present, commercial cultivation of GMO crops is banned in Thailand (although GMO materials may be imported for use in food processing).

    While the opportunity seems ripe, there is debate about the profit potential in developing this market for export due to the costs associated with production, testing, and distribution (i.e. storage & handling to avoid contamination). And it is still unclear what the market potential will be for these crops. For instance, a similar growth trend was expected with regard to organic foods, but that didn't materialize. A decade ago, organic foods were projected to become a huge market, but it is still only a niche market representing just a couple of percentage points of the entire food production market.

    Meanwhile, some countries have made significant profits by cashing in on the demand for GMO-free products. For example, when Europe blocked imports of genetically-modified canola from the US -- a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- Australia seized the opportunity to market its purely natural canola crop (despite being among the world's top producers of GMO foods). The matter is currently before the World Trade Organisation.

    Whether the market for GMO-free crops will continue to expand is yet to be seen, especially as the benefits of genetically modified foods become more widely expected among consumers -- having longer shelf lives, better taste and lower costs. Moreover, these new crops could bring big financial benefits to farmers, as they may be resistant to pests and thus would not require spraying with costly chemicals. Nevertheless, there is a present market for GMO-free crops and Thailand sees this as an opportunity.

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    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- US and Saudi Arabia began trade talks this month and both parties agree that talks went well. While no details have been disclosed, the US appears interested in investing in the world's largest oil industry, since the Saudi Oil Minister, Ali bin Ibrahim al-Nuaimi, recently began open talks with world oil firms regarding foreign investment in Saudi Arabia's petroleum sector. Oil has been a state-owned industry for more than 20 years in Saudi Arabia.

    Besides US oil firms: Arco, Chevron, Conoco, Phillips Petroleum, Texaco, Exxon and Mobil which have been involved in the talks, the Saudi's has also been talking with France's: Elf Aquitaine and Total, Royal Dutch's: Shell and Italy's: ENI Group.

    Riyadh is the largest oil producer in the world with production of 7.44 million barrels per day and proven reserves of 261 billion barrels. It also has the fourth largest reserves of gas in the Middle East.

    The country is also making plans to privatize the energy, oil, gas, telecommunications and railroads industries. New foreign investment laws will be introduced in the coming months for companies planning to take advantage of these reforms.

    The United States and Saudi Arabia have been doing business together for a long time and, in fact, the US is Saudi Arabia's primary trade partner. Trade between the two nations was approximately US$17 billion in 1998.

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    WORLD -- The world population hit the symbolic six billion mark this month, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Of this total, nearly one billion are between the ages of 15 to 24. The global youth market is large and represents a tremendous opportunity for youth-oriented goods and services.

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    International flight departures leave on Thursday or Friday, October 28 - 29, 1999 . Thursday departures return anytime the following Monday and Friday departures return anytime the following Monday/Tuesday.

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