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Saturday, April 12, 2014

​US corn exports to China drop 85 percent after ban on GMO strains – industry report

China’s rejection of shipments of US corn containing traces of unapproved genetically modified maize has caused a significant drop in exports. According to a new report, US traders have lost $427 million in sales.
Overall, China has barred nearly 1.45 million tons of corn shipments since last year, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), an American industry association, said Friday.
The tally is based on data from export companies and is significantly higher than the previous numbers reported by the media, which said roughly 900,000 tons were affected. US corn exports to China since January are down 85 percent from the same period last year, the report says.
China has been blocking shipments of American corn from its market since November. This was caused by the presence of the MIR162 genetically modified corn strain in the shipments. It was developed by the company Syngenta and has not been approved by the Chinese government since an application was submitted in March 2010.
China has sharply increased corn imports since the late 2000s, with purchases increasing from 47,000 tons in 2008 to an estimated 5 million tons last year. It was the third-largest importer of American corn before the imports of Syngenta’s GMO strain were blocked.
US traders want seed companies to shoulder some of the losses. They also say seed companies should not introduce new varieties of seeds to farmers until they are approved by major markets, including China.
Part of the ire is also falling on the Chinese government, which, traders say, maintains an opaque process of approving and rejecting GMO strains, an accusation that Beijing rejects. China has so far approved 15 genetically modified corn strains for import.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Russia can’t support Ukrainian economy forever-----Putin

Russia can’t continue to prop up Ukraine’s faltering economy, and this responsibility should fall on the US and EU, which have recognized the authorities in Kiev but not yet given one dollar to support the economy, President Putin has said.
“The situation is - to put it kindly, strange. It’s known our partners in Europe have recognized the legitimacy of the government in Kiev, yet have done nothing to support Ukraine – not even one dollar or one euro,” Putin said at a meeting with government officials at his residence outside of Moscow.
“The Russian Federation doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the authorities in Kiev, but it keeps providing economic support and subsidizing the economy of Ukraine with hundreds of millions and billions of dollars. This situation can’t last indefinitely,” Putin said.
In December, Russia provided Ukraine with a $3 billion loan, which was a part of a bigger $15 billion aid package agreed the same month. Russia also offered a 33 percent gas price discount that would have saved more than $7.5 billion.
The head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde said that Russia’s loan tranche last year was vital for the collapsing Ukraine economy.
In the meantime, the West hasn’t yet effectively provided any money to Ukraine. The International Monetary Fund has agreed to provide Ukraine a bailout package of up to $18 billion, but the details are still being worked out. The US has also promised $1 billion in loan guarantees to help the collapsing Ukraine economy.

Gassing over gas

At the same meeting, Russia’s Ministry of Energy Alexander Novak said that Ukraine’s debt to state monopoly Gazprom stands at $2.238 billion.
Ukraine has not paid for Russian gas since the beginning of 2013, and with all discounts withdrawn it is now charged $485 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas.
This is a price Ukraine says it will not pay, claiming it is much higher than most of the rest of Europe pays for Russian gas.
President Putin also asked Gazprom to refrain from asking advance payments from Ukraine, until further consultations are held.
“This certainly complies with the contract, but given the difficult situation in Ukraine and the incompleteness of our negotiations with the EU, I would ask the Government to hold off on such measures [advance payments - RT] that appear in the contract until additional consultations, if, of course, our partners agree to such consultations.”
“If they don’t agree, we’ll act according to the existing contract,” Putin added.
Ukraine’s reserves of natural gas have dwindled to 6.5 billion cubic meters which is not enough for the coming winter, Gazprom’s Deputy Chairman Vitaly Markelov said at the meeting.
Kiev will need 11.5 billion cubic meters to keep the lights on, Markelov added.
Ukraine’s overall debt to Russia, including the bill for gas, now stands at $16.6 billion Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said.
"Three billion dollars is Ukraine's debt, the accumulated gas debt stands at $2.2 billion, and what we consider Russia's profit shortfall, at $11.4 billion, in total, $16.6 billion."
Moscow turned off gas transit through Ukraine to Europe in the winter of 2006 and 2009 after Kiev failed to pay its Gazprom bill, leaving parts of Europe without energy during the winter months. Moscow has accused Ukraine of siphoning off supplies intended for Europe during these periods, an accusation Kiev refutes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Communist candidate tops mayoral poll in Siberia’s biggest city

A Communist Party candidate has won the mayoral elections in the ‘Siberian capital’, Novosibirsk, leaving behind the United Russia candidate in what could be seen as a joint achievement by opposition forces.
Anatoly Lokot has won with about 43.75 percent of votes, the Novosibirsk regional elections commission reported on Monday morning. This is not the official result yet, but the preliminary figure was received after counting over 99 percent of ballots and any drastic deviations are unlikely.
Lokot’s result was about 4 percent higher than the one of Vladimir Znatkov - interim mayor representing parliamentary majority party United Russia. The support of the rest of 11 candidates was negligible – none of them managed to get 4 percent of the vote.
The mayoral poll was closely watched by the mass media because Novosibirsk is Russia’s third-largest city, the administrative and industrial center of Siberia, as well as a major science and technology hub.
The result was largely unexpected, as until recently United Russia party had dominated the political scene, capitalizing on the centrist conservative course which appeals to ordinary Russians, and taking credit for strong social programs and independent foreign policy that are both trademarks of President Vladimir Putin’s course.

United Russia candidate Vladimir Znatkov had the additional advantages of being acting mayor since January this year and before that heading the economic bloc in the city administration for several years. At the same time he faced serious problems during the race – in March a city court ordered he be removed from the ballot over abuse of power. Competitors had complained that Znatkov used every appearance on TV as propaganda and as the city head he spent more time on screen than the rest of the contenders. Very soon this decision was overturned by the regional court, but the damage to Znatkov’s reputation remained.
However, the main reason behind the interim mayor’s defeat is the coordinated efforts of opposition forces – a relatively rare occasion in modern Russia. The initial number of registered candidates in the Novosibirsk poll was 17. In the middle of the race, five people, including leftist lower house MP Ilya Ponomaryov and former senator Ivan Starikov, made a pact and withdrew their candidacies in favor of just one representative of the opposition - member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee and former State Duma MP Anatoly Lokot.
One more candidate quit without supporting anyone, bringing the number of candidates to 11.
On Monday morning Lokot gave a press conference as mayor-elect and thanked all Novosibirsk residents for their “credit of trust,” adding that he did not intend to waste it. The first initiative of the Communist politician was to hold a major ‘Subbotnik’ – a day of voluntary community service that was first introduced in the early days of the Soviet Union.
The mayor-elect also dismissed media allegations of the looming “red terror” – major purges in the administration stating that he planned to use civil servants’ professionalism as the only criteria in forming the new team. Lokot promised to use his old connections in the federal power bodies to get more federal funds for development of the Novosibirsk communal sector and transport, including the Metro.
The newly-minted mayor also unveiled a plan to boost the cooperation between the administration and the society by adding openness to the various state bodies. The first step in this will be free entrance to City Hall for everyone.
“We should remove all curbs. What is there to be afraid of? Protest actions? Hard work will do away with such fears,” Lokot was quoted as saying by Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

​US supply of heavy weapons to Syria will ‘escalate slaughter’----Chris Bombery

The sudden shipment of anti-tank missiles to Syrian rebels from the US, which has so far been reluctant to supply any heavy weapons, is Washington's way of getting back at Russia by hitting the Assad government, political analyst Chris Bambery told.
On Monday, Israel’s Debkafile website reported that two moderate Syrian rebel militias, the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Revolutionary Front, have been supplied with advanced US weapons — including armor-piercing, optically-guided BGM-71 TOW missiles.
Q: The US has been apparently reluctant since the start to send heavy weapons to Syria. Why would Washington be changing its mind now, if that is the case?
Chris Bambery: I think the answer is because of the cold war which is taking place between Russia and the United states over the whole question of Ukraine and Crimea, and I think once again the Americans see hitting the Assad regime as a way of getting back at Russia. So I think that’s a simple answer. I have to say I find it strange that we are hearing reports of these anti-armor weapons being given to these groups in Syria.
At the same time, here in London this week there’s going to be a conference expressing fears in the West about the number of jihadists who have gone to volunteer to fight in Syria and the fact that they could pose a threat when they come back. So we have British, European, Western governments worried about these heavy weapons. And as your report makes clear, yes they are providing them to these two groups who say they are pro-western, but these two groups say they actually cooperate with Salafist groups on the Al-Qaeda-linked ground. And secondly, we know as well that these groups have had difficulty defending their arms stocks from these groups when they come in. And I think the question I’m going to ask is, firstly, this is an escalation of course by providing these weapons — but where is it going to end?
The Americans gave Sergey Lavrov a promise they would not deliver anti-aircraft weapons to the Syrian rebels. The Saudis, having provided those weapons, the conduit through which these weapons have reached the rebels in Syria, will now be pressing Washington to provide anti-aircraft weapons — and if that happens, it’s going to be a significant escalation. So I think the West is opening up a Pandora’s box here and they don’t really know what they are doing. Once again, the Western policy towards Syria appears to be uncoordinated. On the one hand, they’re worried about jihadi groups operating in Syria and on the other hand, they’re providing heavy weapons such as this.

A Free Syrian Army fighter gestures as he poses for a photograph in the town of Morek in Hama province March 11, 2014. (Reuters/Rasem Ghareeb)
A Free Syrian Army fighter gestures as he poses for a photograph in the town of Morek in Hama province March 11, 2014. (Reuters/Rasem Ghareeb)
Q: What sort of role can they play in turning the tide in the Syrian conflict with weapons like these?
CB: It seems that the response of the Assad regime is to withdraw the heavy armor and step up the use of air power and artillery, which then of course the stepping up of air power will lead to sure voices from Riyadh demanding anti-aircraft weapons be supplied by the West to the Syrian rebels. But I would also have thought that with the help of Russia and elsewhere, they can quickly find ways of adding extra armor to the tanks to overcome this problem. It’s not insurmountable. But it will ring alarm bells in Russia and elsewhere around the world that actually the Americans are once again intervening in the Syrian conflict after the debacle of what took place last summer when Obama was stopped in his tracks from military intervention in Syria. Once again we’re talking about a civil war. Providing heavy weapons like this is just going to add to the slaughter and add to the civilian casualties. So I don’t know. I can’t find the rationale for Western policy in Syria. There doesn’t seem to be one, apart from seeing it as a way they can hit back at Russia, by hitting the Assad regime.
Q: The US and some of its European allies stopped short of a direct military intervention in Syria last year - is this position still tenable?
CB: I don't think there is any taste in the West, I mean they were stopped short by public opinion. If you remember, the House of Commons here in Britain voted against that because of the distaste people felt towards further military adventure after the lies of the Iraq war. But very quickly it became clear that public opinion in America was against military intervention in Syria.
I think it will be very difficult for Obama to now roll that back and directly intervene with troops or airstrikes, although his track record is not a good one, it has to be said when engaging in military adventures. But I think there's no public support for this, and hopefully this is as far as it goes. But as I say, the Saudis will be demanding that Washington increases its arms supplies to the rebels and they've demanded to provide anti-aircraft missiles to them.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Russian communists join international anti-NATO proposal

The Russian Communist Party has signed a proposition by international leftist groups condemning NATO politics and demanding the bloc is disbanded.
The motion was prepared by the Communist Party of Portugal to mark the 65th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.About 50 different left-wing parties and movements have already signed it.
We demand NATO dissolution and support the sovereign right of all nations to decide on their countries’ withdrawal from this aggressive alliance,” reads the document, a Russian copy of which was posted on the Russian Communist Party website on Wednesday.
The left claim NATO is responsible for the "non-stop" arms race and blames the bloc and its allies for over two thirds of the world’s total military budget. Nevertheless, NATO and its leading member, the USA, are constantly seeking to expand their military base network and areas of influence, the address reads.
The motion says the bloc acts under its openly hostile strategic concept and also expands the area where military intervention and occupation are possible, adding that such behavior confirms NATO’s main role as “a military wing of the major transnational monopolies.” It goes on to blame the USA and its NATO allies for numerous war crimes and significant damage, for cruel acts of aggression in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, interfering with other nations' domestic affairs, like in Syria or a policy of intimidation that is being applied to Iran.

The leftists also accused NATO, the USA and the European Union (which they called NATO’s European cushion) of aiding the growing militarization of international relations and other aggressive and hostile processes resisting the struggle for freedom of different peoples and the working class as a whole.
The proposal demands a stop to NATO expansion, the nuclear arms race, and the program to place US and NATO missile defense systems in Europe. It also promotes the complete ban on weapons of mass destruction, and the closure of foreign military bases all over the world, the immediate withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan and other countries.
We call the working people and nations of the whole world to join in the common struggle for peace, against war and NATO, and for the future where peace, progress and social justice would become priorities, where every nation could freely decide on its future,” the call reads.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is traditionally anti-Western and anti-NATO. The official position is much more tolerant – despite listing NATO as a potential enemy in its military doctrine, Russia has developed cooperation with the bloc, allowing cargo to be transported through its territory to Afghanistan and even opening a major transport hub for the purpose.
Ordinary Russians are more cautious. According to a poll conducted by the Levada polling center in mid-2013, two-thirds of Russians did not consider NATO to be a partner of their country, and only one in seven Russians thought that cooperation with NATO was a good thing. At the same time, NATO ranked only 13th in the rating of external threats, far behind international terrorism, drug trafficking, Mideast countries and China.

Turkish diplomat admits Syrian rebels carried out Reyhanli bombings

The bloody attack on the border town of Reyhanlı was carried out by Syrian elements of Al-Qaeda, and not by groups connected to the government of Bashar Assad, Tacan Ildem, Turkey’s representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told the OSCE Permanent Council on March 27. The report, published in Sunday’s Zaman, is the first time a Turkish official has contradicted the longstanding Turkish assertion that Damascus was behind the attack. On May 11, 2013, twin car bombings left 53 people dead and 140 wounded. It is the single deadliest terrorist act in the history of Turkey.