January 2014
A group of clothing makers say they will stop using fibers made from endangered forests, a move aimed at limiting environmental damage. One third of the 70-million  trees cut down each year to make cheap clothing fibers come from places such as Canada's northern boreal forest, the rain forests on the West Coast and Indonesia. Demand for cheap fabric is growing as the world's US$2.7-billion garment industry looks for ways to cut costs while  meeting consumer desire for inexpensive clothing.

A French restaurant has been forced to turn customers away since it began serving insect-based entrées three months ago. The head chef regularly imports grasshoppers, beetles and water scorpions from Thailand for about US$720 a kilogram which arrive salted and in sealed packages. The dead insects have become  the core ingredient in dishes served in the restaurant which has more than doubled its business in less than a month. Last spring, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization encouraged the practice, citing that insects are a good source of protein, good fats, calcium, zinc and iron.

The Colombian government is seeking to assure Canadian financiers of the safety of investing in its plans to build 8,000 kilometers of roads through the mountainous South American country. Colombia, which has a free-trade agreement with Canada, expects to spend US$25-billion by 2020 on new roads and highways, some of which will be built up and down three mountain ranges to allow easier travel between the capital Bogota and the Pacific coast. It is an ambitions project. By comparison, the expansion of the Panama Canal is a $5-billion project.

The days of Ontario bragging about being the largest automaking jurisdiction in Canada and the United States are coming to an end. Michigan has roared into first place in vehicle manufacturing among states and provinces last year, knocking Ontario off the perch it has enjoyed since 2004. Michigan and some other states have been the biggest beneficiaries of the robust recovery in the US market that has the Detroit Three auto makers
rushing to boost production as quickly as they can.

A company founded by some Apple employees has redefined the unglamorous smoke detector with a new Internet-connected device. The new product is a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that uses wireless technology. The device has different sensors for smoke and steam (so no more alarms when you are boiling pasta) and can warn residents of rising CO levels with its own speaking voice. And when the battery runs low it sends the owner a message instead of chirping around 3:00 am. 

Because of improved stability in the advertising market, it is expected that global advertising expenditures will have reached US$503-billion in 2013 having risen 3.5 per cent. In Canada, advertising revenues grew by 2.7 per cent to $11.3-billion with spending on Internet advertisements exceeding TV slightly. 

Oil shipments by train jumped in 2013 as pipelines exceeded capacity. In the first half of 2013, the amount of oil and refined petroleum products transported by rail reached 356,000 carloads, up 48 per cent over 2012. This is the equivalent of 1.37-million barrels per day, nearly 20 per cent of US daily crude production. In Canada, where only 500 carloads were shipped in 2009, 2013 saw about 140,000 carloads shipped, about 286,000 barrels per day, a 280-fold increase in just four years.

Maine's new law that allows for  international prescription-drug imports is the first in the US. The Maine State Employees Association has a pending contract with a Canadian broker to provide some 200 brand medications from licensed pharmacies to as many as 13,000 state employees plus their dependents. The contract could save the union's health plan and Maine taxpayers between US$3-million and 5-million a year.

The new Canada-European trade agreement will provide a boost for European auto makers, who have posted gains in their Canadian market share for the past decade. The key to larger gains is the elimination of a 6.1 per cent tariff that applies to vehicles imported into Canada from outside North America. This will be a major benefit for luxury car makers in Germany and Britain. The tariff will remain in place on vehicles imported from their home countries by Japanese and South Korean manufacturers.

After a decade of development at its laboratory in Kohja, which sits above a 333-metre-deep mineshaft, the Finnish elevator manufacturer Kone announced that it has devised a system that should be able to lift an elevator a kilometre (3,300 feet) or more. This is twice as far as they can go at present.  Effectiveness of lifts is one of the main constraints on the height of buildings. Kone's technology replaces the steel cables by which lift cars are presently suspended with ones made of carbon fibers which weigh 45 per cent less than steel.

Nigeria is hoping that a new investment protection treaty with Canada will help double trade with Canada between the two countries by 2015 but particularly outside the African nation's dominant oil industry. Bilateral trade with Nigeria reached C$2.3-billion last year, having doubled since 2006. However, Canadian direct investment totalled just $36-million. The new treaty will  provide reassurance for Canadian mining companies that they will not see their investments nationalized.

In the past month, only 3 per cent of Britons used a phone box to make a call. Calls from boxes have fallen by over 85 per cent in the past five years. In rural areas, over 12,000 phone boxes are used for just one call a month and over 70 per cent are losing money. Payphone kiosks in other countries are falling out of fashion too. Almost 100,000 have been removed in France since 2000. In Austria, 30 booths have been converted into charging stations for electric cars. In Japan, an art group in Osaka has converted some into aquariums.

The PowerPot is an ingenious device targeted at campers that allows people to charge a mobile phone while they are cooking. The device hides a thermoelectric generator inside a normal looking cooking pot. When filled with water over a heat source it begins to generate electricity for charging USB devices. A five watt model charges an iPhone twice as fast as connecting it to a computer over USB. The pot is perfect for campers, backpackers and emergency-preparedness people and even has an application for use in developing nations.    

Experts from the Asian Development Bank forecast that climate change could chop an average of 5.3 per cent off annual gross domestic product in East Asia by 2100 if four countries in the area don't take measures to tackle it. Rising temperatures in China, Japan, Mongolia and South Korea will spur more flooding and tropical storms in coastal areas and make northern agricultural regions more prone to drought. China's model of economic growth at all costs has made it the world's biggest carbon emitter and has blanketed cities in smog that can surpass the UN's recommendations by almost 40 times.  

Researchers have tested an underwater w-f network in a lake in an attempt to make a deep-sea Internet. The team say that the technology could help to detect tsunamis, offering more reliable warning systems. They aim to create an agreed standard for underwater communications to make interaction and data-sharing easier. Unlike normal w-f, which uses radio waves, the submerged network technology utilizes sound waves.

A fire in Brazil's largest port has burnt some 180,000 tonnes of raw sugar, damaging six warehouses and pushing international prices to a one-year high. Brazil is the world's main sugar exporter, accounting for nearly half of international sales. This is the biggest fire in the history of the port of Santos, which exported 12.8-million tonnes of sugar in the first eight months of last year. The cause of the fire is still unknown and four other sugar warehouses in the terminal are operating normally.

An invasive species of beetle that has killed tens of millions of ash trees in North America could spread across Europe. The emerald ash borer, first recorded in the Moscow area in 2007 has now become established in surrounding broadleaf woodlands. The pest, which is expected to cost the US economy US$10-billion has spread up to 25 miles each year has now been found 235k west and 220k south of the Russian capital.

Scientists have found that gold is found in the leaves of some plants. Researchers from Australia say that the presence of the particles in a eucalyptus tree's foliage indicates that deposits are buried many metres below. They believe that the discovery offers a new way to locate the sought-after metal in difficult-to-reach locations. Using the Australian synchrotron, a vast machine that uses X-rays to probe matter in remarkable detail, they found traces of gold in the leaves, twigs and bark of some trees.

America depends less on international trade than many other countries. Its imports and export of goods add up to less than 25 per cent of GDP. China's are nearly 50 per cent  and Ireland's nearly 90 per cent. It is not because Americans are insular but because the vibrant domestic market is so big. America moved US 20-trillion in merchandise in 2010, or more than 100 per cent of GDP, if trade between cities is counted. The top 20 metropolitan areas count for almost a third of the total. St. Louis and Detroit are busier traders than the Netherlands. 

A railway tunnel underneath the Bosphorous has opened creating a new link between the Asian and European shores of Istanbul. Work began in 2004 but archaeological excavations delayed the construction. Japan gave US$1-billion towards the $4-billion total cost of the 1.4 km tunnel which is designed to withstand earthquakes. 

The population across the Japanese archipelago dropped by around 284,000 to an estimated 127.5-million last year. The number of people aged 65 or over surpassed 30-million for the first time, accounting for 24 per cent of the population, in contrast to children aged 14 and under which decreased to a record low of 13 per cent. 

A new survey in Ontario and Quebec shows that smoking, the smell of which gets absorbed into carpets, walls and ceilings, can reduce the resale value of a home by nearly 30 per cent. With an average home in Ontario listed at C$369,000 that means a loss of $107,100 for homeowners.

The Belgian post office is issuing a new set of stamps that smell and taste like chocolate. More than 500,000 stamps are being printed on special paper with a cocoa-scented varnish and chocolate tasting glue.

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