Hong Kong protest boom for protection gear businesses begins to tumble

Businesses selling protection gear have enjoyed a boom in sales. (Reuters)
Updated 15 August 2019
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Hong Kong protest boom for protection gear businesses begins to tumble

  • Behind the tear gas, flying bricks and transport disruptions there are bigger factors at play, such as shrinking global trade volumes and a slowdown in demand from mainland China

BEIJING: John Lam’s safety equipment shop has been spared the global downdraft shaking Hong Kong’s economy. In times of crisis, businesses providing basic necessities tend to fare better.
In Lam’s case, that means hard hats, filtered masks, goggles and other gear that millions of anti-government protesters taking to the streets in the past two months bought to protect themselves as clashes with police turned increasingly violent.
“Many people are willing to save a meal in order to buy some protective equipment, especially students,” Lam said inside his Shing Fat Safety Products shop in Yau Ma Tei, a working class commercial area of the city.
“Usually unnecessary items for civilians have become the necessity of the moment.”
Lam, who opposes the violence that has marked many of the protests, said sales had “doubled or tripled” since early June.
At times, he could not replenish stocks fast enough to meet demand. Some customers were buying 50 items at once. But lately, in a sign of saturation, demand has been easing. The reality of a slowing economy is also kicking in.
Behind the tear gas, flying bricks and transport disruptions there are bigger factors at play, such as shrinking global trade volumes and a slowdown in demand from mainland China.
Those trickle through into all aspects of the economy, including the construction industry — Lam’s core customer base.
“Although our business has improved lately, it does not mean that the economic downturn will not affect our business next month,” Lam said.
Indeed, the problems facing Hong Kong’s wide-open economy — which is expected to grind to a halt in coming quarters — run so deep that even those businesses whose products have been repurposed as protest paraphernalia are losing momentum.
Joe Chan, director of Many Stationery & Book Centre Co in the Sham Shui Po, a neighbourhood that has been the scene of protests and has been soaked in tear gas multiple times, said sales of Post-It notes are up 20 percent. Protesters have been using them to cover walls with part-art, part-political messages across the territory.
But his more important clients, event organisers who use stationery as promotion materials, are now few and far between. Overall, revenues are down 10 percent.
“This year they cancelled, or delayed,” Chan said, referring to orders.

FASTFACT

Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in 1997.

Emily Tam, store manager of Baleno, a clothing shop in Causeway Bay, said stocks of black T-shirts, the unofficial uniform of the protests, ran out on a daily basis in June and July.
But over the past two weekends, the shopping district witnessed violent clashes and barricaded roads. Her shop closed early and since then it has seen fewer customers.
“We’re getting close to the red line that means business losses,” Tam said.
Across the road, a seller surnamed Hui at a Watsons pharmacy says her store often runs out of cooling pads, surgical masks and other supplies that protesters use. But sales of other, more expensive items, such as cosmetics, are dropping.
“Surely we are also experiencing an overall economic downturn. And when there was tear gas, we shut the door,” Hui said.
The economy has become a focus for a public relations battle between authorities and protesters.
As a city-wide strike kicked off last week, government officials said protests were scaring high-end shoppers and tourists away, threatening growth.
Protesters are blaming the downturn on the fact that Hong Kongers have little control over public policy in the absence of universal suffrage.
They say the government spends too many resources on Beijing’s priorities, such as developing a “Greater Bay Area” around the Pearl River Delta, and it is not doing enough to solve income inequality and a housing shortage.
Chan Chi Ming, 60, at Shing Cheong Stationery & Books Ltd, in Sham Shui Po, agrees with the government. He is losing business and hopes police “arrest thousands.”
But Hungry Dino owner Tracy Tang sees it differently. She has been handing out discounted rice balls to young protesters after hearing some skipped dinner amid family feuds over their participation in the movement.
“If we say that the economic deterioration is all related to the protests, it is extremely unfair,” Tang said. “We should shift the question to why youngsters are sacrificing themselves.
“As Hong Kongers with a conscience, we feel heartbroken for what has happened in the past two months. It has already affected the economy. But we will still offer discounts and high-quality food to Hong Kong people.”


Squabbles erupt as G7 leaders open summit in French resort

Updated 25 August 2019
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Squabbles erupt as G7 leaders open summit in French resort

  • Disputes on trade, climate may eclipse Macron’s agenda
  • EU’s Tusk warns of lack of global unity, spars with Johnson

BIARRITZ, France: Squabbles erupted among G7 nations on Saturday as their leaders gathered for an annual summit, exposing sharp differences on global trade tensions, Britain’s exit from the EU and how to respond to the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.
French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit host, planned the three-day meeting in the Atlantic seaside resort of Biarritz as a chance to unite a group of wealthy countries that has struggled in recent years to speak with one voice.
Macron set an agenda for the group — France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — that included the defense of democracy, gender equality, education and the environment. He invited Asian, African and Latin American leaders to join them for a global push on these issues.
However, in a bleak assessment of relations between once-close allies, European Council President Donald Tusk said it was getting “increasingly” hard to find common ground.
“This is another G7 summit which will be a difficult test of unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders,” he told reporters ahead of the meeting. “This may be the last moment to restore our political community.”
US President Donald Trump had brought last year’s G7 summit to an acrimonious end, walking out early from the gathering in Canada and rejecting the final communique.
Trump arrived in France a day after responding to a new round of Chinese tariffs by announcing that Washington would impose an additional 5% duty on some $550 billion worth of Chinese imports, the latest escalation of the tit-for-tat trade war by the world’s two largest economies.
“So far so good,” Trump told reporters as he sat on a seafront terrace with Macron, saying the two leaders had a special relationship. “We’ll accomplish a lot this weekend.”
Macron listed foreign policy issues the two would address, including Libya, Syria and North Korea, and said they shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Trump later wrote on Twitter that lunch with Macron was the best meeting the pair has yet had, and that a meeting with world leaders on Saturday evening also “went very well.”
However, the initial smiles could not disguise the opposing approaches of Trump and Macron to many problems, including the knotty questions of protectionism and tax.
Before his arrival, Trump repeated a threat to tax French wines in retaliation for a new French levy on digital services, which he says unfairly targets US companies.
Two US officials said the Trump delegation was also irked that Macron had skewed the focus of the G7 meeting to “niche issues” at the expense of the global economy, which many leaders worry is slowing sharply and at risk of slipping into recession.
French riot police used water cannons and tear gas on Saturday to disperse anti-capitalism protesters in Bayonne, near Biarritz. A police helicopter circled as protesters taunted lines of police.
The leaders themselves were gathering behind tight security in a waterfront conference venue, the surrounding streets barricaded by police.

Spat over ‘Mr. No Deal’ Brexit
Macron opened the summit with a dinner at the base of a clifftop lighthouse overlooking Biarritz, where a menu of piperade, a Basque vegetable specialty, tuna and French cheeses awaited the leaders.
Adding to the unpredictable dynamic between the G7 leaders are the new realities facing Brexit-bound Britain: dwindling influence in Europe and growing dependency on the United States.
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson will want to strike a balance between not alienating Britain’s European allies and not irritating Trump and possibly jeopardizing future trade ties. Johnson and Trump will hold bilateral talks on Sunday morning.
Johnson and Tusk sparred before the summit over who would be to blame if Britain leaves the EU on Oct. 31 without a withdrawal agreement.
Tusk told reporters he was open to ideas from Johnson on how to avoid a no-deal Brexit when the two men meet.
“I still hope that PM Johnson will not like to go down in history as Mr.No Deal,” said Tusk, who as council president leads the political direction of the 28-nation European Union.
Johnson, who has said since he took office last month that he will take Britain out of the bloc on Oct. 31 regardless of whether a deal can be reached, later retorted that it would be Tusk himself who would carry the mantle if Britain could not secure a new withdrawal agreement.
“I would say to our friends in the EU if they don’t want a no-deal Brexit then we’ve got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty,” Johnson told reporters, referring to the Irish border protocol that would keep the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland open after Brexit.
“If Donald Tusk doesn’t want to go down as Mr.No Deal then I hope that point will be borne in mind by him, too,” Johnson said on his flight to France.
Johnson is trying to persuade EU leaders to drop the backstop from a withdrawal agreement that was negotiated by his predecessor but rejected three times by the British Parliament as the United Kingdom struggles to fulfill a 2016 referendum vote to leave the bloc.

‘Not the way to proceed’
Despite the Brexit tensions, diplomats played down the likelihood of Trump and Johnson joining hands against the rest, citing Britain’s foreign policy alignment with Europe on issues from Iran and trade to climate change.
“There won’t be a G5+2,” one senior G7 diplomat said.
Indeed, Johnson said he would tell Trump to pull back from a trade war that is already destabilising economic growth around the world.
“This is not the way to proceed,” he said. “Apart from everything else, those who support the tariffs are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy, irrespective of whether or not that is true.”
Anti-summit protests have become common, and on Saturday thousands of anti-globalization activists, Basque separatists and “yellow vest” protesters marched peacefully across France’s border with Spain to demand action from the leaders.
“It’s more money for the rich and nothing for the poor,” said Alain Missana, an electrician wearing a yellow vest — symbol of anti-government protests that have rattled France for months.
EU leaders piled pressure on Friday on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.
Even so, Britain and Germany were at odds with Macron’s decision to pressure Brazil by blocking a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur group of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said not concluding the trade deal was “not the appropriate answer to what is happening in Brazil now.”
The UK’s Johnson appeared to disagree with Macron on how to respond. “There are all sorts of people who will take any excuse at all to interfere with trade and to frustrate trade deals and I don’t want to see that,” he said.