EU says 'electroshock' tax plan for

internet giants

PARIS (AFP): The European Commission will present by the end of March its plan for overhauling tax rules for internet giants, aimed at making them pay up in the countries where they earn their profits, a top official said Sunday. EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told France's Radio J that his proposals would "create a consensus and an electroshock" on taxing digital economy revenues. Under EU law, American technology titans like Google and Facebook can choose to report their income in any member state, prompting them to pick low-tax nations like Ireland, the Netherlands or Luxembourg. That deprives other nations in the bloc of any of the tax revenue, even though they may account for a bigger share of the earnings. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says such rules cost governments around the world as much as $240 billion (193 billion euros) a year in lost revenue, according to a 2015 estimate.

"The idea is to be able to identify the activities of digital companies, so we need a range of indicators -- the number of clicks, the number of IP addresses, advertising, and eventually revenues... and then we'll find ways to tax them," Moscovici said.

He said the new rules would apply to giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon -- together known as GAFA -- as well as services like AirBnB and Booking.com.

"When you rent a room on Booking, it generates considerable revenue for a company which we don't really know where it's located, and which pays very little in taxes," he said.

On average internet giants pay a tax rate of 9 percent in Europe, compared with an average corporate rate of 23 percent, Moscovici said.

 The gridlock hurting business at Nigeria's busiest port

LAGOS (AFP): Even okadas, the motorcycle-taxis that buzz fearlessly around Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, struggle to negotiate the road to Apapa -- the country's busiest seaport. Riders pick their way gingerly around giant potholes that resemble blast craters, and among the lines of stationary trucks perched at precarious angles on the rutted surface. Getting to and from Apapa -- the catch-all name for Lagos' two seaports of Apapa and Tin Can Island -- has increasingly become a nightmare for pretty much everyone. Now, with the chronic traffic jams hurting business and no sign of any swift resolution to the problem, labour unrest is looming large on the horizon. The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has given the federal government an ultimatum: fix the roads or face an indefinite walk-out. MWUN leader Adewale Adeyanju said an open-ended strike by its members would paralyse port activities but they had no alternative.

"The road is now a safe haven for criminals, who use every opportunity to attack, assault and rob innocent Nigerians, including our members, who trek to and from work daily on the road, because it is no longer motorable," he told AFP.

As well as security, he said shipping companies and businesses were increasingly using alternative berths such as those in Cotonou, in neighbouring Benin.

"While our neighbouring ports are booming, our ports have been deserted because of the failed access roads to the ports, the gateway to the nation's economy," said Adeyanju.

- Businesses hurt -

Union leaders are due to meet the labour minister in Abuja on Tuesday. But it's possible that even then, oil tanker drivers like John Chinedu will still be waiting on the dilapidated highway.

"We have been at this same spot for the last four days and we've not been able to enter the port," he said.

Chinedu, though, is a recent arrival compared to Lekan Yinusa.

"It's been two weeks since we arrived in Lagos to help an importer carry his container that has been lying in the port for several weeks," he said.

"But we have not been able to because of the bad condition of the road. I go to the toilet, wash and even eat over there," he added, pointing to the side of the road.

The dismal state of the roads is all the more astonishing for a port that handles more than 60 percent of Nigeria's cargo and generates some 70 percent of customs revenue.

In 2017, duties totalled more than one trillion naira ($2.8 billion, 2.2 billion euros) -- up from just under 900 billion naira the previous year.

Jonathan Nicol, a Lagos-based importer, said the condition of the roads has had a knock-on effect on business, and spiralling costs had forced some to shut down.

"We are forced to pay extra charges and demurrage (when a ship's owner pays a penalty for not loading or discharging in time), which is not the fault of importers," he added.

"Manufacturers cannot get their raw materials on time. The delay leads to extra port charges which will be passed on to the final consumers in terms of high prices."

- Fuel depot congestion -

Shipping executive Lukman Busari said Apapa's chronic traffic jams were not helped by the location of fuel depots around the ports.

"There are over 200 farm tanks with thousands of trucks waiting to load petroleum products at the ports, thereby creating gridlock on the roads," he said.

"To decongest the roads, the railway should be developed while pipeline distribution of petroleum product should be considered."

The managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, acknowledged the grievances, which come as Nigeria looks to boost growth after months of recession.

"There is no doubt that the deplorable state of the roads at Apapa is hurting businesses. We are not happy about the situation," she said.

The NPA last year contributed 1.8 billion naira for road repairs and was pushing the government to do further work, despite it not being in the authority's remit.

"We are ready to do it because of its importance to our operations," she said, appealing to port users to bear with the authorities while the facilities are improved.

"We have to adopt a multi-transportational approach to move cargo to and from the ports.

"Right now, over 90 percent of cargo is moved through the roads, which is not too ideal. There is need to develop the railway and inland waterways as well."

 Lufthansa aims to replace top

management at Brussels Airlines

BRUSSELS (Reuters): German airline Lufthansa wants to replace top management at Brussels Airlines, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday, pointing to the unit’s weak performance compared to other divisions. The changes, which would affect Brussels Airlines’ chief executive and chief financial officer, will be discussed at a supervisory board meeting of the unit scheduled for Monday, the person said. “If you want to improve Brussels Airlines it can only work with a new management,” the source said. Lufthansa declined to comment.  Brussels Airlines plans to cut its costs by between 10 and 15 percent in the coming years to remain competitive with low-cost rivals, its Chief Executive Bernard Gustin told Belgian daily De Tijd in December.  Lufthansa took full control of Brussels Airlines in late 2016, expanding its network in Africa, where the Belgian unit flies to many sub-Saharan destinations. Currently, Brussels Airlines has 44 planes, 10 of which are long-haul jets.