Russia may demand early payment of $3b loan to Ukraine

MOSCOW (AFP): Moscow may ask for early payment on its three billion dollar loan to Ukraine, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Saturday, accusing Kiev of violating loan conditions. “Ukraine has violated the conditions of this loan, specifically that Ukraine’s public debt does not surpass 60 per cent of its GDP,” the minister told Russian news agencies. “Russia has all the grounds for demanding an early repayment of this loan,” he said, while adding that “the decision has not been taken yet.” He said Kiev has not kept up with its obligations for the loan, which must be repaid by December.

“It is astonishing that Ukraine’s budget does not include the repayment of these three billion dollars,” he added.

Russia had agreed to provide a massive $15 billion bailout loan to Ukraine in December 2013, before its ex-president Viktor Yanukovych was toppled. It then froze the loan after the first $3 billion instalment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with German channel ARD in December that Russia has the right to demand early repayment, but added that Moscow would refrain from this course of action.

“If we do this, the entire financial system will collapse,” he said. “We have made a decision: we will not do this. We don’t want to worsen the situation. We want Ukraine to finally be steady on its feet.”

Malaysia keen to enhance ties

with Pakistan in diverse sectors

ISLAMABAD (Online): Malaysia has expressed keen interest in expanding cooperation with Pakistan focusing on science and technology. This was stated by Malaysian High commissioner to Pakistan Dr. Hasrul sani bin Mujtabar while addressing a two-day seminar in Islamabad on Saturday. The Seminar organized by UNSECO in collaboration with Pakistan Engineering Council is aimed to prepare future Engineers for Sustainable Development. The Malaysian high commissioner said that while being in Pakistan he has a dream that the Pakistan-Malaysia cooperation should go beyond palm oil and rice. He said Pakistan-Malaysia cooperation should be strengthened further through cooperation in diverse fields.

Speakers at the event underscored the need to harmonize the curricula of engineering institutions with the local industry and the needs in Pakistan to better serve people. They said that Engineers could play a vital role in energy shortage, climate change and food insecurity.

Our representative Amanullah reports that besides vice chancellors of various Engineering Universities of Pakistan, Ambassadors of Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan also attending the event.

US businesses begin push to lift Cuba export rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters): US businesses are pushing to entirely lift an embargo on Cuba and win a larger share of its imports in the wake of President Barack Obama’s move to ease sanctions against the island nation. The Caribbean country imports 80 percent of its food, a market valued at $1.7 billion. The United States lags behind Venezuela, China, Spain and Brazil in goods imported to Cuba, which is just 90 miles from the U.S. coast. At one point, U.S. growers supplied about 30 percent of Cuba’s now $300 million annual rice market. A rule change in 2008 that forced payment on order, rather than on receipt, pushed U.S. producers out of the market.

Total U.S. exports of all goods to Cuba in the first 11 months of 2014 were just $273 million.

Devry Boughner Vorwerk, chair of the newly launched U.S. Agriculture Commission for Cuba and vice president at Cargill, the largest privately owned U.S. food processor, said there is an opening to shape Obama’s rules as they simultaneously press Congress to lift the more than 50-year U.S. embargo.

“We’ve already come together and ... are working on some solid recommendations,” Vorwerk said at a coalition launch event on Thursday.

The coalition represents nearly 30 food companies and industry groups. A bipartisan group of lawmakers spoke Thursday, though opposition to the president’s plan is expected from some Republicans in Congress.

Obama announced on Dec. 17 he would direct his administration to allow U.S. companies to sell agricultural and building materials, equipment used by private-sector entrepreneurs and telecommunications services in Cuba.

Among the changes Obama instructed the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce to make was to tweak the definition of “cash in advance” to ease agricultural exports such as rice.

Companies still face barriers. Cuba has its own restrictions on telecommunications networks and financing trade between the two countries will likely remain difficult because U.S. exporters cannot extend credit. Still, many hailed the president’s move as an important first step.

Jodi Bond, vice president of the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called the president’s announcement “small but significant,” particularly for the agricultural and construction industries.

Agricultural and construction equipment manufacturers could also see increased opportunities in Cuba.

First Pakistani super store

opens in Berlin

BERLIN (Online): In Germany, the first Pakistani super store has been opened in Berlin. Inaugurating it, Pakistan’s Ambassador Syed Hasan Javed urged Pakistani community to undertake more such business ventures.  He said it will not only benefit their country but also help them integrate with German society. The store has majority of items imported from Pakistan besides “halal” food. The supermarket will open more branches in different German cities to promote Pakistani products.The store aimed to facilitate the people of Germany as well as Pakistan community with Pakistani standerd  imported halal food and all varities of Pakistani  products. 

Greek PM Samaras vows tax cuts

ATHENS (Reuters): Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged on Saturday to cut taxes and gradually end austerity as he seeks to woo voters and overturn a poll lead by the leftist opposition party Syriza ahead of a snap election. At the helm of a coalition government since 2012, Samaras has pursued unpopular reforms as part of a 240 billion euro ($284.26 billion) EU/IMF bailout to pull Greece back from almost crashing out of Europe at the height of the euro zone crisis. Opinion polls show radical leftist Syriza, which opposes Greece’s international bailout programme, ahead of Samaras’ centre-right New Democracy party with two weeks until snap polls triggered by parliament’s failure to elect a new president.

Amid fierce campaigning, Samaras is trying to focus on the improvement in Greece’s finances and the first signs of economic growth after a six-year recession, promising to ease the financial pressure faced by many Greeks if his party is re-elected.

“There won’t be any further pension and wage cuts,” he told party members and supporters at a central Athens hotel. “The next breakthrough in our growth plan includes tax cuts across the board which can happen gradually, step by step.”

Greek economy grew in the first quarter last year for the first time since the second quarter of 2009 and continued expanding until the third quarter of 2014.

Samaras vowed to lower an unpopular property tax this year and reduce corporation tax to 15 percent from 26 percent gradually to boost investment.

However, in a veiled attack on his main election rivals, he tied such promises and a return to wider prosperity in Greece to successfully concluding negotiations with international lenders to exit the bailout and securing debt relief.

“Who can get that? A responsible government, as a reward for the sacrifices made by the Greek people who met the targets, without clashing with (European) partners and any kind of turbulence,” he said.

Greece’s bailout talks with lenders will resume once a new government is in place after the elections.

Samaras’ main opponent, Syriza’s head Alexis Tsipras, has taken a harder line towards EU/IMF partners, saying he wanted to cancel austerity measures which form part of the bailout that is keeping Greece afloat, raise the minimum wage and freeze state layoffs.

He also wants Europe to write off a big chunk of Greece’s debt as part of a re-negotiation with lenders, something that has spooked the financial markets.