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FORECASTS

The Economist reports that the OECD, in a preliminary edition of its Economic Outlook, states that prospects for the world economy are more favourable than they have been for over ten years. Strong growth in Europe, America and Asia has led to a forecast 4% growth rate for all OECD countries this year. However, the OECD added the caveat that, if central banks are mindful of inflation, interest rates will have to rise steeply.This is particularly true in America, where the OECD suggests that rates might have to go above 7% in order to avoid a hard landing.

LUMBER

Japan is to reduce restrictions on four-story wood frame buildings and change its land and lease laws which will likely expand new housing starts within an hour's drive of Tokyo by 17 percent. It is expected that US and Canadian companies, in turn, will increase timber product sales to Japan by hundreds of millions of dollars. Japan is the world's second-largest building materials market. The US currently sells approximately US$3.3 billion in building materials to Japan each year.

KOREA

The WTO dispute panel has published a ruling in favour of a complaint filed by the U.S. and Australia that South Korean restrictions on imports of fresh, chilled and frozen beef, are in breach of global trade rules. The finding, which recommends that South Korea bring its various measures into conformity with the WTO accords, is expected to sweep aside the barriers put in place by Seoul, and enhance market access to one of Asia's most lucrative beef markets, after Japan.

TASTE

British experts, tasting an array of expensive bottled waters for a consumer magazine, awarded top marks to a humble sample of tap water from Thames Water, a less-than-fashionable utility. Some of the water sampled costs more than $1.50 a litre; Thames Water will fill a medium-sized bath for around 25 cents.

VIETNAM

Vietnam has worked out a scheme to develop the vegetable and fruit sector to reach an output of 20 million tonnes and to earn an export turnover of more than US$ 1 billion by 2010. Of the export turnover, US$690 million is expected to come from vegetables and US$ 350 million from fruit.

PAYMENTS

The U.S. Treasury Department is setting up a new Internet gateway to streamline the handling of payments to the federal government. The project, called Pay.gov will allow the government to process, more cheaply and efficiently, any of the 80 million transactions it handles each year. The system is to be phased in starting in October.

SHIPPING

Fourteen Asian shipping firms have filed a suit with the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice asking it to annul a decision by the European Commission slapping the companies with millions in fines for allegedly forming a cartel. The commission, the executive body of the 15-member European Union (EU), announced it will fine 15 firms operating shipping lines between Europe and the Far East a total of $6.3 million for allegedly joining together to agree not to offer discounts to customers.

ASIA

Trade between Japan and China surged 30 percent in the first half of the year to a record as Japan's economic recovery boosted demand for imports. Trade between the two Asian nations rose to $38.76 billion during the period, up from $29.80 billion in 1999. That surpassed the previous record of $29.90 billion set during 1997. The expansion was attributed to Japan's gradual economic recovery which helped boost imports and exports of finished manufactured products. Other positive factors included China's demand for information technology products and services amid increased production of cellular phones and personal computers.

CLAIMS

A report released recently shows that since NAFTA came into effect, the U.S. has filed 17 claims against Mexican exports. On the other hand, U.S. products represent a third of Mexican investigations into unfair trade. Mexico is the second most important trade partner of the U.S. after Canada. Trade between Mexico and the United States went from $81 billion in 1993, a year before NAFTA came into effect, to some $200 billion in 1999. Mexican products facing U.S. sanctions include oil, livestock, rubber, wire, lamb, tomato, millet brooms, TV sets, steel pipes and plates.

SWEETS

Cookies accounted for 48.4% of U.S. sweet baked goods sales in 1999. Pastries followed with a share of 15.3%, just beating out snack cakes at 14.0%. Projected retail sales of packaged sweet baked goods will top $12.2 billion in 2004, as a result of a 3.1% compound annual growth rate for 1999-2004. Since the 1960s, increasing awareness of health and fitness issues, including harmful effects of fat, cholesterol and sodium had caused Americans to stop eating sweets. However, in the early to mid 1990s, Americans began to ignore previous warnings and started indulging again, but in moderation.

GMOs

Reuters reports that while there may be an uproar in Europe over genetically modified (GMO) ingredients in food, American consumers have voiced only mild concern and food companies say they are under little pressure to change. However, advocacy groups are stepping up the pressure and a study by the International Food Information Council, showed 59 percent surveyed in May thought biotechnology would benefit them versus 78 percent in 1997. American consumers, who spent $1 trillion last year at supermarkets and restaurants, appear to be confident of government claims that GMO foods are safe, Reuters says.

TEXTILES

China exported 42 per cent more textiles and garments in the first half of this year than in the equivalent period in 1999. Monthly exports exceeded US$4 billion a month for three consecutive months. In this period, China's textile exports to Asian countries were worth US$15 billion and exports to Europe and the US and reached US$2.4 billion and US$2.6 billion respectively.

PARKS

In 1998-99, Canada's 39 national parks recorded 15, 042, 543 visitors. Banff National Park in Alberta was the most visited spot with 4.3 million visitors. There are 12,311 campsites and 139 hotels in the national parks. The most endangered site, according to the Canadian Nature Federation is the Prince Edward Island National Park which had 41,028 visitors per square kilometre in 1998-99

HAVENS

An OECD report has named 35 tax havens that are harmful to trade and investment, including the Channel Islands, the US Virgin Islands and Panama. After a year's grace, OECD member governments will consider action including economic sanctions. Six centres, including the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, were removed from the list after promising to co-operate in a crackdown on tax evasion.

SURFING

Prime time for Web surfing in Europe is earlier than in North America or Japan and not just because of time zone differences. The heaviest traffic by surfers riding the Internet from home occurs between 8pm and 9pm local time in Britain, France and Germany. In Japan, prime time is between 10pm and 11pm while for Canada and the U.S. it's 9pm to 10pm. Australians, however, flock to the Internet most heavily between 6pm and 7pm.

WHEAT

Canada is selling a lot of wheat to Mexico thanks in part to the NAFTA. Mexico is the world's sixth-largest buyer of wheat from Canada, the world's No. 2 exporter. A decade ago, Mexico was No. 28. Since the NAFTA, wheat shipments by the Canadian Wheat Board have soared more than ten-fold to 670,000 tonnes in the last crop year from 62,000 in 1990-91. Canada is free to ship as much grain as it can to Mexico since the NAFTA.

SPECTACLES

A recent find at a Viking settlement in Sweden suggests that these Norsemen wore the first form of spectacles. Archaeologists initially thought the clear discs they discovered on the island of Gotland were jewellery, but further inspection revealed them to be sophisticated lenses dated between 1000 and 1100 AD. Such elliptical "reading stones" were not seen before this period or for at least five centuries afterwards.

E-COMMERCE

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is considering forming a task force charged with speeding up the process of drawing up internationally acceptable rules on electronic commerce. The task force is expected to discuss ways to categorize types of online transactions into goods trading and services trading about which there is a considerable divergence of views among WTO members.

GOLD

As long as 4,500 years ago, the Egyptians used gold in dentistry. Remarkable examples of the artistry of these early orthodontists have been found, perfectly preserved, by archaeologists in recent times. Today, U.S. dentists use around 13 tons of gold each year for crowns, bridges, inlays and dentures. The reasons that gold is so popular are that it is non-toxic, can be shaped easily, it is tough and never wears, corrodes or tarnishes. In ancient Rome, gold was used for the treatment of skin ulcers.

SPLASHING

Researchers in France have found a way to stop liquids from splashing. When adding small amounts of a flexible polymer such as polyethylene glycol to water, it helps to ensure that droplets stay in one piece when they hit a surface, as the polymer chains resist stretching on impact.

AWARENESS

Coca-Cola is still the most valuable brand in the world, worth $72.5 billion, according to a survey by Interbrand. However, the worldwide symbol of American cultural supremacy could be overtaken by one representing the relentless march of American capital. Microsoft's Windows brand has caught up fast and is now judged to be worth $70.2 billion.

ROBOTS

Shell Oil has pulled the plug on the world's first consumer-operated robot, a Canadian-designed experimental gas pump. The "SmartPump" is an array of sensors equipped with a robotic arm designed to read credit cards or coded computer chips, identify car makes, locate and open fuel doors, insert a nozzle and fill the tank. It was expected to be a hit in cities where motorists were scared to get out of their cars. However, consumers were not thrilled to pay an extra $1.00 per tank to use the robot.

SUEZ

The Egyptian government has approved a plan to widen and deepen the Suez Canal to allow passage of supertankers. The total cost of the 10 year project is estimated to be $440 million U.S. dollars. The project will be entirely funded by government funds and canal revenues. The Suez Canal earned $1.67 billion in U.S. dollars in 1999-2000, up 5.8 per cent from the year before, due largely to a revival of business in southeast Asia.

TRIVIA

British prison staff faced disciplinary action after attaching an electronic tag to a prisoner's artificial leg. Reports say the prisoner was able to dodge his curfew by simply taking off his false leg and going to the pub.

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