Posts tagged ‘World’

September 26, 2014

New Laos web decree bans criticism of government policy: media


New Laos web decree bans criticism of government policy: media

Tue Sep 23, 2014 6:28am EDT

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(Reuters) – Communist Laos has issued a decree outlawing online criticism of policies of the ruling party or government, state media reported, the latest Southeast Asian country to enact strict internet controls.

According to legislation approved by Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong last week, web users will face criminal action for spreading “false” information aimed at discrediting the government, the official KPL news agency said.

It added users must also use their real names when setting up social media accounts.

Internet service providers could face action for making “available conditions” for any individual or group that had intentions of “tarnishing the party and government’s guidelines and policy”, KPL said.

The decree comes as cellphone and internet usage climbs in tandem with economic growth, a reduced poverty rate and greater electricity access in the country of 6.4 million people.

The new laws bear similarities to those of its Communist neighbor Vietnam, which commands strong influence over Laos and has a near identical political system.

Vietnam announced a cyber decree last year that drew condemnation from a coalition of internet firms, among them eBay, Facebook, Google and Yahoo.

Vietnam has taken a tough stand on government critics, jailing dozens of bloggers and activists for spreading “anti-state propaganda” on the internet in what rights groups say are fear tactics aimed at discouraging dissent.

Thailand has closed hundreds of thousands of websites and jailed people who have used the internet to post critical comments about its monarchy under its 2007 Computer Crimes Act.

The Lao decree bans “disseminating or circulating untrue information for negative purposes against the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and the Lao government, undermining peace, independence, sovereignty, unity and prosperity of the country,” according to KPL.

It also banned uploading of pornography or “inappropriate” photographs and said pseudonyms must not be used.

Punishments range from warnings to fines and unspecified criminal action.

(Reporting by Martin Petty in Hanoi; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)



August 2, 2014

Brits Say Putin Shows NATO Is Useless

Brits Say Putin Shows NATO Is Useless

June 24, 2014

Laos stuggles to meet vaccin goals

Steve Finch, Vientiane, Laos

June 23, 2014

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Vientiane, Laos has one of the highest economic growth rates in the region in recent years – about eight percent — but it also has a budget shortfall. That means many state workers including doctors and nurses also haven’t been paid in months.

Amid the ongoing fiscal crisis, aid workers were concerned the government wouldn’t meet a sharply rising financial commitment to fund patchy, but improving immunization coverage. In the absence of a local commitment, there was concern international donors would cry foul, potentially threatening the country’s vaccination program.

Then on May 12, UNICEF reported that Laos had deposited the requisite $530 000, confirming the landlocked Southeast Asian state’s small commitment to the program, which totaled US$7.9 million in 2014. The government’s commitment has placated foreign donors, guaranteeing coverage for the majority of the country’s nearly seven million people.

“In light of the fiscal situation, it is encouraging that the government of Laos is continuing to commit its financial resources to high impact and life-saving interventions for children, such as immunization,” said Julia Rees, acting head of UNICEF’s Laos office, the procurer of vaccines for the country.

In at least one province, local authorities had already asked an international health nongovernmental organization to help fund immunization efforts.

Dr. Soulivanh Pholsena, director of foreign relations at the Laos Ministry of Health, did not respond to questions on the country’s vaccination program.

Laos aims to graduate from least developed country status by 2020 — the first country in the world to state such an ambition — which will mean lowering donor funding. To that aim, the government has been asked to contribute sharply rising annual payments towards routine vaccines. It started funding them in 2012 with a payment of just $22 400.

“Over time, countries take on an increasing share of vaccine costs so that — when the time is right — they are ready to assume the full costs of financing their vaccine programs,” said Rob Kelly, a spokesman of GAVI Alliance, which has disbursed US$19.3 million since 2000 as one of the biggest funders of immunization in Laos.

Although a new real-time, digital vaccine supply system that tracks cold storage and delivery to patients was introduced this year and major progress has been made recently, many people in remote areas still do not receive routine vaccinations.

Laos has increased coverage for measles from just 40% of the population in 2007 to 82% last year, according to the national statistics bureau. But in four provinces, still less than a quarter of babies at the critical age of 12 to 23 months are immunized against the disease.

While the mortality rate for under-fives has reduced much faster than expected, studies by the University of Washington this month did not include Laos on a list of countries expected to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal for reducing child mortality.

Viorica Berdaga, head of health and nutrition at UNICEF Laos, said there was still every chance of reducing under-five deaths by two-thirds to meet MDG4 in time for next year.

“To maintain this pace the government of Laos should continue to increase its resources for the delivery of child survival interventions to those who are hardest to reach,” she said.


June 23, 2014

ASEAN As A Single Market: What, When, How, And Really?

ASEAN As A Single Market: What, When, How, And Really?

Jun. 22, 2014 9:17 AM ET  |  Includes: ASEA

By Laurel Teo, CFA

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Are you eyeing investments in Asia, but tired of the usual “China,” “India” options? Tempted to investigate an exciting growth region somewhere south of the former and east of the latter?

The 10 countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are now moving towards economic integration. First announced more than 10 years ago, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is due to be established by 2015.

With less than a year left to the official deadline, there’s been a revival of interest in this potential unified market comprising a diverse mix of nascent frontier markets (Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar), rising economies (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam), established markets (Thailand and Malaysia), and wealthier states (Brunei and Singapore). News media, research outfits, and even industry conferences are beginning to flirt with the theme.

A recent report by McKinsey (Understanding ASEAN: Seven things you need to know) highlights some key attractions of ASEAN as a collective market:

  • Combined GDP of $2.4 trillion in 2013, making it the seventh-largest economy in the world if it were a country. Projected to be fourth largest by 2050.
  • Population of 600 million, ahead of North America or the European Union. Labour force is third largest in the world, behind only China and India.
  • Almost 60% of total growth since 1990 has been derived from productivity gains.
  • ASEAN’s five key members (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand) together pulled in more foreign direct investments than China in 2013 ($128 billion vs $117 billion)

Those of us from the investment and financial industry may be drawn to a specific section of the AEC Blueprint focusing on capital markets. When implemented, the measures proposed will ensure that within ASEAN:

  • Capital can move freely across borders.
  • Issuers are free to raise capital anywhere.
  • Investors can invest anywhere.

Theoretically, investors should be able to trade capital market products freely in any ASEAN market from a single access point, while capital market intermediaries should be able to provide services throughout the region, based on home country approval.

Too good to be true? Possibly. While the plans and priorities have been approved by the respective governments, the devil is always in the details – in this instance, the speed and extent of implementation.

There is a host of initiatives and actions outlined in the AEC Blueprint, divided into four broad areas, targeted to be phased in over eight years (2008 to 2015). However, the general consensus by observers and ASEAN watchers is that a full integration will not happen by the end of 2015.

That’s not to say that progress hasn’t been made.

To monitor the AEC process, ASEAN set up an AEC Scorecard, tracking implementation in four phases (2008-2009, 2010-2011, 2012-2013, and 2014-2015). Reports for the first two phases (2008-2011) have been published.

So far, ASEAN has scored best in terms of integrating the region into the global economy (namely creating free-trade agreements, or FTAs, between ASEAN and other major economies, e.g. China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand). More than eight in 10 (85.7%) measures in this area targeted for the first two phases have been achieved.

However, when it comes to promoting a single market and production base, such as free flow of investment and freer flow of capital, only slightly under two-thirds (65.9%) of the targeted initiatives for this period (2008-2011) have been accomplished. The pace in this area has also slowed. Where almost all of the single-market initiatives in Phase 1 (93.8%) were on track, the pace had halved (49.1%) by the end of Phase 2.

What does this mean? While investors and business people should not hold their breath for full integration come 2015, they can and should expect pockets and even swathes of areas where capital, services, and goods begin to flow more freely. Those ASEAN members that are better prepared will kick-start the initiatives, with the circle widening as and when other member economies are ready to join.

This accretive approach is typical of ASEAN, going by historical precedents (not only of the AEC thus far, but also most other earlier cooperation efforts).

In the case of the AEC, a trading link allowing investors to connect to and trade on other exchanges in the region went “live” with just the Malaysia and Singapore bourses in September 2012; Thailand joined shortly after. Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines have agreed to the scheme in principle, but delayed coming on board, pending technology upgrades and other practical concerns.

Likewise, the ASEAN funds passport scheme is scheduled to go live this year with three core members: Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Known officially as the ASEAN Collective Investment Schemes (CIS) Framework, it will allow fund managers operating in one market to offer CIS (typically mutual funds or unit trusts) directly to retail investors in the other two member markets. All members will adopt a set of common standards in areas such as qualifications, investment limits, and capital requirements for instance, to ensure that retail funds are managed based on industry best practices.

And even though it’s just three markets to start with, the trio’s combined assets under management (AUM) is still a sizeable chunk – $240 billion at the end of 2012 – sufficiently attractive to warrant the interest of the investment industry.

An internal projection by BNP Paribas Securities Services reckons that the AUM could reasonably grow between 33% (to $317 billion) and 70% (to $400 billion) over the next five years, depending on the impact of ASEAN passporting on funds growth.

The projection, discussed in a recent report in Asian Investor (“Exploring the Asean fund passport’s potential”), further considers a scenario with Indonesia and the Philippines joining. This could expand AUM to $470 billion in the same period.

So even with partial integration, there are still benefits to be reaped. As BNP Paribas Securities Services Senior Executive Mostapha Tahiri put it in the report: “As Malaysia and Thailand are relatively closed fund markets, the passport gives local and global players immediate benefits from cross border distribution.”

A potential stumbling block, however, could be the simple fact that outside of governments, a vast majority of the private sector remains unaware or unconvinced about the AEC and its merits, if any.

Consider this particularly telling episode at the inaugural ASEAN Economic Congress, a new conference organized earlier this year by Euromoney on the AEC.

A panelist threw out this question to the 400-plus delegates in the hall: “How many of you have seriously thought about what the AEC means to your business? Is anyone’s company preparing for how business is going to change? Has anyone received any company training about the AEC?”

Not a single hand was raised. Clearly, people were either completely oblivious to the AEC, or completely skeptical that the AEC will make any difference, the panelist observed wryly.

A more scientific assessment in 2012 had indicated as much. The ASEAN Economic Community Business Survey polled 381 firms from nine of the 10 ASEAN countries and found that more than half (55%) were unaware of the AEC 2015. In contrast, more than two-thirds of the same sample knew about the ASEAN FTA with China. In fact, a consistently higher proportion was aware of other ASEAN free-trade agreements (with India, Korea, and Australia and New Zealand) compared to the AEC.

Based on responses to a number of other questions, the report by National University of Singapore economics don Albert Hu concluded:

“… what drives the business community’s interest in AEC 2015 is the actual process of economic integration. We can infer from this that the lack of awareness of AEC 2015 in the business community can be attributed to the lack of actual economic integration.”

A 2013 Deutsche Bank report on the AEC came to a similar view. “Thus far, the public impression of AEC is that it is driven by the government sector, which needs to be corrected …. AEC success depends crucially on private-sector involvement and public support. In this regard, greater efforts should be made to raise awareness of AEC among the business community to bring it on board,” it said.

Indeed, implementation does not equal integration. The ASEAN governments can only open doors, clear trade barriers, and prepare the infrastructure. This would only be an empty frame, however, without the private sector’s buy-in and involvement.

The next step for ASEAN governments thus would be to pitch, nay evangelise, the vision. Any takers?

Disclaimer: Please note that the content of this site should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute.


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June 5, 2014

Ukraine crisis: Russia must engage with Kiev, says G7

BBC News Europe


Ukraine crisis: Russia must engage with Kiev, says G7

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Barack Obama: “If Russia’s provocation continues, the G7 nations are ready to impose additional costs”

Leaders of the G7 industrial nations have urged Russia to begin talks with the new leadership in Kiev to end the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama and UK PM David Cameron said Moscow must recognise Petro Poroshenko, who takes office as president on Saturday.

The G7 leaders meeting in Brussels said they were fully behind Mr Poroshenko.

Later in Paris Mr Cameron met Russian President Vladimir Putin, giving him a “very clear and firm set of messages”.

The two leaders met in a customs area of the French capital’s Charles de Gaulle airport.

This was Mr Putin’s first face-to-face meeting with a Western leader since the Ukraine crisis began.

“The status quo, the situation today, is not acceptable and it needs to change,” Mr Cameron said.

“We need the Russians to properly recognise and work with this new president. We need de-escalation, we need to stop arms and people crossing the border. We need action on these fronts.”

Mr Putin later met French President Francois Hollande for dinner, but according to Russian media no announcements were made after the meeting. Mr Hollande was to see Mr Obama for a separate meal.


Analysis Hugh Schofield, BBC News, Paris

Desperate not to offend either of his mutually loathing invitees, the French president has taken the unusual step of agreeing to eat two meals in one evening.

First he dines on Thursday night at the Chiberta restaurant – just by the Arc de Triomphe – with President Obama.

Then – after presumably toying with his Michelin-starred plat and definitely not ordering the cheese – he returns to the Elysee for what they are calling “supper” with Vladimir Putin.

It is an unusual situation for a head of state – a reminder perhaps of the lengths Mr Hollande is prepared to go to make these two days a success.

When you are as unpopular at home as the president is, a big international shindig can come as a lifesaver. And shindigs rarely come as big as this one.

Hollande’s double dinner date dilemma


Mr Putin has not ruled out a meeting with Mr Poroshenko at a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy on Friday.

No talks are planned between Mr Putin and Mr Obama, who will also be at the ceremony.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, with reports of an attack on a border post in Donetsk region.

A convoy of vehicles carrying pro-Russian separatists was involved in the attack near the Marynivka checkpoint which has now been repelled by government forces, the Ukrainian border guard service said.

The attack comes a day after rebels seized a border guard base in neighbouring Luhansk region after days of combat.

‘Resolute message’

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels with Mr Cameron, Mr Obama said Russia should “seize the opportunity” provided by the change of leadership in Kiev, and be prepared to face sanctions if the situation continued to deteriorate.

“Russia needs to recognise that President-elect Poroshenko is the legitimately elected leader of Ukraine and engage the government in Kiev,” he said.

“Given its influence over the militants in Ukraine, Russia continues to have a responsibility to convince them to end their violence, lay down their weapons and enter into a dialogue with the Ukrainian government.

“On the other hand, if Russia’s provocations continue, it’s clear from our discussion here that the G7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia.”

Francois Hollande meets Vladimir Putin in Paris - 5 June
Presidents Hollande is having the second of his two dinners with Mr Putin
Vladimir Putin and David Cameron in Paris - 5 June
Mr Cameron urged Mr Putin to take action to end the status quo in eastern Ukraine
G7 leaders in Brussels (5 June 2014)
G7 leaders said they were sending a “resolute message “to Russia

Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the G7 leaders had “exchanged expectations” about Ukraine and Russia.

“On substance, there is no difference whatsoever,” she said. “There is great common ground.”

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the group was united in sending a “resolute message” to Russia, that it should “recognise and fully engage with” the new Ukrainian authorities.

He added that Russia should “take concrete and credible measures to de-escalate the situation in the east of Ukraine”.


Barroso: “This democratic club… does not accept the Russia of Vladimir Putin”

The G7 summit is the first since Russia was expelled from the group following its annexation of Crimea in March.

On Thursday, leaders also discussed the global economic outlook, climate change and development issues.


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