WTO needs to show results on economic crisis, vaccines: Okonjo-Iweala

Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will take over leadership on March 1. (File/AFP)
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Updated 17 February 2021

WTO needs to show results on economic crisis, vaccines: Okonjo-Iweala

  • Her immediate goals are to ensure vaccines are produced and distributed worldwide, not just for rich nations, and to resist the push toward protectionism

WASHINGTON: Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, newly selected head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said Tuesday she will push for concrete results in addressing the dual economic and health crises facing the globe.
Her immediate goals are to ensure vaccines are produced and distributed worldwide, not just for rich nations, and to resist the push toward protectionism that worsened during the pandemic, so that free trade can help the economic recovery.
“I think the WTO is too important to allow it to be slowed down, paralyzed and moribund,” she told AFP in an interview. “That’s not right.”
She will take over leadership on March 1 of an institution that has become weighed down and increasingly defanged, especially by the open hostility of Donald Trump’s administration.
Amid the turmoil, including the US move that shutdown the dispute resolution court in December 2019 about complaints about handling of disputes with China, her predecessor stepped down last August, a year before his term was up.
Selected by the membership on Monday, after US President Joe Biden’s administration backed her candidacy, Okonjo-Iweala promised to breathe fresh life into the trade body which she says has lost focus on helping improve living conditions for real people.
“I believe the WTO can contribute more strongly to a resolution of the Covid-19 pandemic by helping to improve access accessibility and affordability of vaccines to poor countries,” she said.

“It’s really in the self-interest of every country to see everyone vaccinated because you’re not safe until everyone is safe.”
Some countries, such as India and South Africa, have been pushing for a suspension of trade rules on patents to allow more rapid vaccine rollout.
But rather than get caught in another squabble among WTO members, Okonjo-Iweala said the organization could promote a quicker path.
“Instead of spending time arguing on those we should look at what the private sector is doing” with licensing agreements, to allow vaccines to be produced in multiple countries — something she noted AstraZeneca already has done in India.
“The private sector has already looked for a solution because they want to be part of reaching poor countries and poor people,” she said.
In addition, the WTO needs to work to ward off the trend toward export restrictions for medical devices and therapeutics, as well as the possibility of restrictions on the vaccines themselves.
While it is natural for politicians to help their own countries first, she warned that supply chains are tightly linked and cannot be quickly disentangled to create all-domestic production.

The MIT-trained economist, who served as Nigeria’s first woman and longest serving finance minister, who also is a US citizen, is adamant the WTO must return to its original function of helping countries to deliver better living standards to their people.
“It’s about creating employment, decent work for people. It’s about ... improving lives,” she said.
“There is definitely a role for trade to play in the recovery” from the Covid-19 economic crisis.
Even before the pandemic sparked a global recession, the organization had lost sight of that goal, she said, lamenting the example of the negotiations over a fisheries subsidies agreement that has dragged on for two decades.
“This cannot go on. We must bring it to a conclusion. We can’t afford to fail on this.”
The talks, which aim to end subsidies that lead to overfishing, failed to yield an agreement by the end-2020 deadline.
She blamed some of the calcification on the dominance of negotiators, which she called an “Achilles heel” of the WTO.
“Geneva is full of negotiating experts, but the problems have not been solved they’ve gotten worse,” she said. “For them it’s all about winning or not losing and so they stalemate each other.”
The WTO needs “something entirely different” to turn things around, she said, rejecting criticism from some sectors that she lacks trade experience.
“You need strong political skills you need the ability to maneuver,” she said, adding that she can serve as a bridge between developed and developing nations, pulling on her 25-year career at the World Bank as well.
She also intends to push to schedule the pandemic-delayed WTO ministerial meeting by the end of this year to start which will allow her to spark movement on critical issues.

Okonjo-Iweala will once again be the first woman in a key leadership role, taking over the WTO for a term that runs through August 31, 2025, but is renewable.
She agreed it was a challenging, thankless job, but said that make her even more passionate to show results, so that in future no one can question placing a woman in the role.
“That means I need people to support me even more. I need more cooperation,” she said.


Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack

Updated 1 min 45 sec ago

Top US fuel pipeline operator pushes to recover from cyberattack

  • Colonial moves 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline
  • DarkSide is known for deploying ransomware

NEW YORK: Colonial Pipeline, top US fuel pipeline operator, continued work on Sunday to recover from a ransomware cyberattack that forced it to shut down on Friday and sparked worries of a spike in retail gasoline prices.
The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has prompted calls from American lawmakers to tighten up protection for critical US energy infrastructure against hackers.
Colonial said on Saturday it was “continuing to monitor the impact of this temporary service halt” and to work to restore service. It did not give an estimate for a restart date.
Colonial moves 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline and other fuels from refiners on the Gulf Coast to consumers in the eastern and southern United States. It also serves some of the largest US airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport, the world’s busiest by passenger traffic.
Retail fuel experts including the American Automobile Association said an outage lasting several days could have significant impacts on regional fuel supplies, particularly in the US Southeast.
While the US government investigation is in early stages, a former US official and two industry sources said the hackers are likely a professional cybercriminal group and that a group dubbed “DarkSide” was likely among the potential suspects.
DarkSide is known for deploying ransomware and extorting victims while avoiding targets in post-Soviet states. Ransomware is a type of malware designed to lock down systems by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access.
Cybersecurity firm FireEye has also been brought in to respond to the attack, according to the two industry sources. FireEye declined to comment. Colonial said late on Saturday it was working with a “leading, third-party cybersecurity firm,” but did not name the firm.
Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the matter, reported late on Saturday that the hackers are part of DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network on Thursday ahead of the pipeline shutdown.
Colonial did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment outside usual US business hours.
US President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident on Saturday morning, a White House spokesperson said, adding that the government was working to try to help the company restore operations and prevent supply disruptions.
The privately held, Georgia-based company is owned by CDPQ Colonial Partners, IFM (US) Colonial Pipeline 2, KKR-Keats Pipeline Investors, Koch Capital Investments Company and Shell Midstream Operating.
Gasoline futures and diesel futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose on Friday after the outage was reported. In previous Colonial outages, retail prices have risen substantially, if briefly.
Oil refining companies contacted by Reuters on Saturday said their operations had not yet been impacted.


Abu Dhabi's ADNOC said to invite banks to pitch for bookrunner roles for drilling unit IPO

Updated 09 May 2021

Abu Dhabi's ADNOC said to invite banks to pitch for bookrunner roles for drilling unit IPO

  • ADNOC is planning to take the unit public in the third quarter
  • ADNOC Drilling owns and operates a large fleet of rigs

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (ADNOC) has invited investment banks to pitch for bookrunner roles for the initial public offering of its drilling unit, two sources told Reuters on Sunday.
The oil giant invited a handful of international and local banks to take part in the process of the public share sale of ADNOC Drilling, which is due later this month, they said.
ADNOC is planning to take the unit public in the third quarter, they added. One of the sources previously said ADNOC could raise at least $1 billion from the share sale.
ADNOC, which supplies nearly 3 percent of global oil demand, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters on Sunday.
ADNOC Drilling owns and operates a large fleet of rigs, including 75 onshore rigs, 20 offshore jackup rigs, and 11 well water rigs, according to its website.
The drilling business is critical for ADNOC’s upstream operations, helping the oil company reach its production targets.
ADNOC Chief Executive Sultan Al-Jaber has been chief architect of the transformation strategy the company embarked on more than four years ago, building an investment team to monetise assets and raise funds from international private equity groups.
It is also planning to float Fertiglobe, a fertiliser joint venture with Dutch-listed chemical producer OCI later this year.

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Long-haul carrier Emirates to ship aid for free into India

Updated 09 May 2021

Long-haul carrier Emirates to ship aid for free into India

DUBAI: Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates will begin shipping aid for free into India to help fight a crushing outbreak of the coronavirus, the airline said Sunday.
The offer by Emirates, which has some 95 flights weekly to nine cities, comes as air freight costs have skyrocketed. That’s as air cargo demand has risen to its highest recorded level ever amid the pandemic, which has seen carriers including Emirates fly cargo in otherwise-empty passenger seats.
Emirates made the announcement at Dubai’s International Humanitarian City, already home to a World Health Organization warehouse that’s been crucial to the distribution of medical gear worldwide.
Nabil Sultan, the divisional senior vice president for Emirates SkyCargo, said the initial priority would be shipping aid out of Dubai, rather than elsewhere from its network. He acknowledged airfreight costs were high, but said the priority remained getting help to India.
“At the moment, cost is not the issue,” Sultan told journalists. “India is going through a major crisis.”
The first shipment, including tents to expand hospital capacity and other gear, is being prepared to be shipped later this week, Sultan said.
Since the founding of the long-haul carrier in 1985, Emirates has flown to India. The airline over time grew its network into flying into nine destinations across the country.
As India’s economic fortunes have grown, so too have Emirates as a key link in East-West flights from its hub at Dubai International Airport, long the world’s busiest for international travel. Passenger numbers from India for Emirates, just under 3 million in 2008, grew to 5.5 million a decade later. Millions of Indians live in the United Arab Emirates and comprise a key part of its labor force.
Then came the pandemic and the fierce outbreak now burning through India. Infections have surged there since February, fueled by variants and the government’s permission for massive crowds to attend religious festivals and political rallies. On Saturday alone, India reported over 400,000 new cases and more than 4,000 deaths. Since the pandemic began, India has reported 21.8 million cases and nearly 240,000 deaths, though experts say even those figures likely are undercounts.
The UAE banned in-bound passenger flights from India in late April, though cargo flights continued and passenger planes return with their seats now empty.
All this comes as air cargo has reached record levels after flights around the world halted when the pandemic first took hold. The International Air Transport Association, an aviation trade organization, said in March it saw the highest levels of demand ever as the world’s economy slowly began to pick up.
Per pound, costs for airfreight worldwide are up by some 75 percent, according to data provider WorldACM.

US pipeline company halts operations after cyberattack

Updated 08 May 2021

US pipeline company halts operations after cyberattack

  • The company transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from refineries primarily located on the Gulf Coast through pipelines running from Texas to New Jersey

WASHINGTON: A US energy company says a cyberattack forced it to temporarily halt all operations on a major pipeline that delivers roughly 45 percent of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.

Colonial Pipeline said the attack took place on Friday and also affected some of its information technology systems. The company transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from refineries primarily located on the Gulf Coast through pipelines running from Texas to New Jersey.

The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company said it hired an outside cybersecurity firm to investigate the nature and scope of the attack and has also contacted law enforcement and federal agencies.

“Colonial Pipeline is taking steps to understand and resolve this issue,” the company said in a late Friday statement. “At this time, our primary focus is the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation. This process is already underway, and we are working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline.”

Oil analyst Andy Lipow said the impact of the attack on fuel supplies and prices depends on how long the pipeline is down. An outage of one or two days would be minimal, he said, but an outage of five or six days could causes shortages and price hikes, particularly in an area stretching from central Alabama to the Washington, DC area.

Lipow said a key concern about a lengthy delay would be the supply of jet fuel needed to keep major airports operating, like those in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The precise nature of the attack was unclear, including who launched it and what the motives were. A Colonial Pipeline spokeswoman declined to say whether the company had received a ransom demand, as is common in attacks from cyber criminal syndicates.

Ransomware scrambles a victim organization’s data with encryption. The criminals leave instructions on infected computers for how to negotiate ransom payments and, once paid, provide software decryption keys.
While there have long been fears about US adversaries disrupting American energy suppliers, ransomware attacks are much more common and have been soaring lately.

Mike Chapple, teaching professor of IT, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and a former computer scientist with the National Security Agency, said systems that control pipelines should not be connected to the internet and vulnerable to cyber intrusions.

“The attacks were extremely sophisticated and they were able to defeat some pretty sophisticated security controls, or the right degree of security controls weren’t in place,” Chapple said.

Colonial Pipeline said it transports more than 100 million gallons of fuel daily, through a pipeline system spanning more than 5,500 miles.

The FBI and the White House’s National Security Council did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The federal Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency referred questions about the incident to the company.


New funding rules to ‘revolutionize’ traditional Saudi banking models

Updated 08 May 2021

New funding rules to ‘revolutionize’ traditional Saudi banking models

  • Regulations on open banking, crowdfunding platforms helping to modernize fintech sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new rules on crowdfunding and open banking platforms will revolutionize traditional models and benefit financial technology (fintech) providers, developers, and corporate bank customers, an international expert has predicted.

Paul Kayrouz, head of fintech, blockchain, and emerging technology at global consultancy firm PwC Middle East, said traditional banks would need to think hard about their business models to remain relevant.

“Digital banking is here to stay. So, for these incumbents, they have to decide where they place themselves on this spectrum, to what extent they want to adopt digital banking and make strategic moves to have strong relationships with their customers,” he added.

Crowdfunding, a process whereby a large group of people invests small amounts of money to collectively fund a project, has been popular since the turn of the century and took off with the launch of platforms such as Kickstarter, in 2009.

According to database company Statista, in 2019 the global crowdfunding market was valued at $13.9 billion, and that figure was forecast to triple by 2026.

In January, the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) issued new regulations for debt-based crowdfunding in the Kingdom. The framework provided more opportunities for startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the country to access capital and source funding to expand.

The rules provided a licensing structure for crowdfunding activities and outlined the minimum requirements for crowdfunding players wishing to enter the Saudi market, Kayrouz said.

FASTFACTS

• Crowdfunding is a process through which a large group of people invests small amounts of money to collectively fund a project.

• In 2019 the global crowdfunding market was valued at $13.9 billion, and that figure was forecast to triple by 2026.

• In January, the Saudi Central Bank issued new regulations for debt-based crowdfunding in the Kingdom.

He pointed out that the main benefit for SMEs was being able to raise funds and gain access to capital without having to give up a stake in their business to investors, a situation many smaller firms had been struggling within the Saudi market. The new regulations would also increase competition between venture capital (VC) organizations, and crowdfunding platforms themselves, he added, meaning improved interest rates and terms for startups.

“With the rise of these crowdfunding platforms the rules around these financial technologies may have a ripple effect on the VC ecosystem, therefore, other VCs will adopt some of these similar financial technologies,” Kayrouz said. In January, SAMA also issued its policy on open banking, enabling bank customers to securely manage their accounts, share their data with third parties, access bespoke financial products and services from the same platform, and experience smoother daily banking activities.

“Open banking is a global phenomenon, and each country has a different approach based on its market needs.

“For Saudi fintech providers and developers, this is really a big gain. The fintechs, or what we call the third-party providers, will have access to financial data that they do not have at the moment and, more importantly, access to it will be free of charge. This is really an evolution in the fintech space,” Kayrouz added.

He noted that besides technology benefits, customers would also be able to take advantage of additional products, not currently available, through open banking platforms.

As with all new forms of technology, he said that the rise of digital platforms would lead to some roles disappearing. But among new openings likely to emerge were know your customer roles, as organizations looked to incorporate new users quickly while making sure they were complying with global and regional regulatory requirements in doing so.

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