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PACTS

Canada has signed a framework agreement to liberalize trade with Latin America countries of the Andean Pact. The non-binding agreement with the five countries--Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia--commits the parties to assessing each other's trade barriers, harmonizing customs and collaborating at talks toward the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The hemispheric free trade agreement is to be signed in 2005.

SOFTWARE

Software piracy in Canada grew last year even as it fell in the U.S. despite attempts here to educate the public and impose tougher penalties against sellers of illegal computer programs. The Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST) says the industry must work harder to narrow the piracy-rate gap between Canada and the U.S. if industry sales, jobs and government tax revenues are to be protected. CAAST found that 40 per cent of business software applications loaded on personal computers in Canada in 1998 were pirated, compared with 39 per cent in 1997. The U.S. rate by comparison dropped to 25 per cent last year, from 27 per cent in 1997.

GROWTH

The Conference Board of Canada predicts that Toronto will lead all Canadian cities with an average real GDP growth of 3.4 per cent between 1999 and 2003. Montreal ranks second at 3.2 per cent powered by its high-tech sector followed by Ottawa and Edmonton. Vancouver lags in sixth position.

PAPER

Futurists' predictions of a paperless society have been blown away by the surging demand for electronic information. Americans have been using more paper than ever. Consumption of new paper products rose to 747 pounds per person last year, up steadily from 695 pounds per person at the beginning of the 1990s.

GOLF

According to Golf Digest, there are 16,000 golf courses in the U.S. Japan is next with 2,300 and the U.K. and Canada are tied at 1,725 each. There are 15 courses in Bangladesh, eight in Botswana, two in Papua New Guinea and a pair in El Salvador.

AIRLINES

Airline Quarterly Financial Review shows that for calendar year 1998, operating profit and net income for the 13 major airlines combined were near all-time highs. Every major carrier, except for Northwest and Trans World, attained an operating and net profit for the calendar year. Five major airlines -- Alaska, America West, American, Delta, and Southwest -- reported all-time carrier records for any calendar year in both operating and net income. The 13 carriers as a group reported a combined operating profit during the fourth quarter of $1.4 billion and a combined net profit of $596 million.

CHINA

A price war among Chinese TV makers has exposed a deep struggle between state support of industry on one side and ferociously competitive firms on the other. TV used to be a rare luxury in China. Today, about 100 TV makers can produce a third more than the country needs, or about 45 million sets a year. The result; cutthroat tactics as firms fight for market share. China's leading TV maker recently slashed prices by 20 per cent and rivals followed suit which has resulted in smaller companies going out of business. But many TV companies were formed in the days of central planning with a goal of creating mammoth industries, not market winners. Many churn out identical cheap televisions no one wants, but they enjoy the protection of officials unwilling to see them fail.

BROADCASTING

We are used nowadays to those ubiquitous bar codes on everything from soup cans to traffic tickets. Now, some work being done by Motorola could put them in the history books. A new kind of microchip being developed combines enough memory to store 110 characters with a radio antenna - all the size of a single coffee ground. This microchip can be stuck or manufactured to just about anything. The chip can use its built-in antenna to transmit information about the product it's stuck to. That means no more waiting in line to check out at the grocery store - you just walk to the checkout station and a radio receiver will tally up what is in your cart.

FACT

A chip of silicon a quarter-inch square has the capacity of the original 1949 ENIAC computer, which occupied a city block.

NEWSPAPERS

In 1971 there were 114 Canadian daily newspapers, 115 in 1981, 108 in 1991 and 105 at the end of last year. Circulation was reasonably steady registering 5.4 million in 1980 and 5.1 million in 1997. One of the most marked changes in daily newspaper statistics relates to morning and evening editions. In 1980, there were 25 Canadian morning and 95 evening editions. By 1997, the numbers were 44 morning and 61 evening papers. The trend is even more pronounced in the U.S. There, 387 morning papers and 1,388 evening editions in 1980 became a nearly even split by 1997 between 705 morning and 816 evening papers.

PROGRESS!

According to the Washington Post, the little known truth about North American farming, in fact farming everywhere, is that it's in a never-ending race to stay ahead of disaster. Only a handful of major crops (including rice, wheat and corn) supply most of the calories for the world and their production has been concentrated on a relatively small number of varieties. It takes about five to nine years on average before a widely planted variety of crop becomes particularly susceptible to disease, and researchers must have a new variety waiting in the wings. The new strains come, in part, from places that haven't been "saved" by modern agriculture.

BANKING

Internet banking for most means retail banking -- new ways for individual customers to access accounts and manage their money. A new study indicates that corporate banking is also embracing the Web. The U.S. management consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton says the number of corporate banking sites will quadruple within a year. There are now about 500 and we can expect around 2,000 worldwide by the year 2000. Of those sites, as many as 700 will have the complete range of corporate services. The major obstacle continues to be security, but stronger cryptography and security mechanisms are emerging. So far, three countries, Canada, the U.S. and Australia, account for all the corporate Internet sites.

DOWNLOADING

Using Microsoft technology, Sony Music will this summer start selling hit "virtual singles" on the Internet, as soon as they are available in record shops. The price is likely to be similar -- $3.49 -- and they will take around five minutes to download.

HEALTH CARE

Worldwide sales of over-the-counter health-care products were worth $75 billion in 1998. Vitamins and dietary supplements made up one third of the total; cold and allergy remedies account for just under one fifth. Although they still represent only a small share of the overall market, sleeping aids and products to help people give up smoking are the two fastest-growing segments of the market. With an average of $135 per person, Japanese spend the most on over-the-counter health care. Americans are second at $76 per head with Canadians fifth at $44 per head.

STETHOSCOPES

After almost 200 years, the stethoscope has gone high-tech. Introduced by the medical division of Hewlett-Packard, it is a fully electronic stethoscope capable of amplifying biological sounds up to 14 times higher than the conventional stethoscope.

AREA CODES

Internet lines, fax machines, wireless phones and increased competition in the telephone industry are causing North America's pool of area codes to dry up 23 years earlier than first anticipated. Industry experts say the last of those three-digit numbers will be used up sometime in the next decade and that fixing the problem will be a monumental task equivalent to the billions of dollars and hours put into the year 2000 computer bug. When area codes run out, the industry will need to move to either a four-digit code or eight-digit phone number, requiring all terminal equipment, network switches, data bases, and call centre software to be reprogrammed to accept at least 11 digits.

TRADE

Nearly 20 per cent of world trade is now in services, rather than goods. Global exports of commercial services totalled $1.29 trillion according to the World Trade Organization. The U.S. is by far the world's biggest exporter of services with sales of $234 billion last year., 18 per cent of the world total. Britain ranked second with $99 billion in sales.

MUSIC

Global recorded-music sales rose by 3 per cent last year to $38.7 billion. But unit sales fell by one per cent to 4.1 billion units. A rise in CD sales of 6 per cent was offset by a 10 per cent decline in cassette purchases and an 11 per cent decline in singles. Sales in the U.S., which made up 34 per cent of the world market in 1998, jumped by 11 per cent to $13.2 billion. Sales in the EU were also up but Japanese sales declined by 5 per cent.

LIFE

The life expectancy of both men and women reached record highs in 1997 as a result of declines in mortality rates for most of the leading causes of death. While women born in 1997 could still expect to live longer than men, the gap between the two is closing. In 1997, life expectancy at birth, a key indicator of a population's health status, reached 75.8 years for men and 81.4 years for women, a gain of 0.3 and 0.1 years respectively over 1996. The gap in life expectancy at birth between the sexes has been narrowing in the last two decades, from a peak of 7.5 years in 1978 to 5.6 years in 1997.

MEXICO

Mexican retailers are reporting they expect flat or declining retail sales this year. Retail growth last year was expected to be about 7 per cent but ended up at 2.7 per cent following the rise in interest rates and inflation caused by the Asian and Russian financial crises. Wages fell and both businesses and consumers couldn't get credit which led to reduced profits for most retailers. In real terms, retail sales are still lower than they were in 1994, before the peso crisis. Manufacturers can expect reduced sales to Mexican retailers, whether the product comes from Mexico, the U.S. or other countries.

SAFETY

A soggy baby diaper is helping to save everything from homes to utility poles from wildfires. A fire resistant gel has been developed by a firefighter who noticed a disposable diaper was the only thing that survived uncharred in a house fire. It is being hailed by experts and businesses as the greatest invention in firefighting since the hose and pump. Barricade gel, made from super-absorbent polymers, looks like shaving cream and can be applied with a hose.

CASSETTES

According to the Canadian Recording Industry Association, pre-recorded cassette sales in Canada are now at one-fifth of their peak level of 41 million units in 1985. The CRIA stopped reporting vinyl LP sales a decade ago when they dropped below 3.6 million units.

SOUND

A three-mile stretch of highway in England is to be resurfaced at a cost of $9 million, reducing tire noise, so local owls can find prey more easily. The birds rely on hearing as well as sight.

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