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US regrets foreign interference in Libya's economy – Anadolu Agency

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ANKARA

The US Embassy in Libya on Monday regretted foreign interference in the Libyan economy.

“After several days of intense diplomatic activity aimed at allowing the National Oil Corporation [NOC] to resume its vital and apolitical work as a way of defusing military tensions, the US Embassy regrets that foreign-backed efforts against Libya’s economic and financial sectors have impeded progress and heightened the risk of confrontation,” the embassy said in a statement.

It noted that incursions by Russian Wagner mercenaries against NOC facilities and conflicting messages conveyed by warlord Khalifa Haftar’s militia “hurt all Libyans striving for a secure and prosperous future.”

On Sunday, the NOC accused the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of instructing Haftar’s forces to disrupt the country’s oil output and exports.

The NOC said oil production has been halted, referring to a recent statement by Haftar saying that output would continue to be interrupted if certain conditions were not met.

It added that oil exports had resumed on July 10 but Haftar’s forces ordered a blockade on exports on July 11 and stepped back from negotiations.

“Illegal obstruction of the long-overdue audit of the banking sector further undermines the desire of all Libyans for economic transparency,” the embassy said. “These disappointing actions will not deter the embassy from its commitment to work with responsible Libyan institutions, such as the Government of National Accord [GNA] and the House of Representatives [HOR].”

The embassy expressed determination to continue to work “to protect Libya’s sovereignty, achieve a lasting ceasefire, and support a Libyan consensus on the transparent management of oil and gas revenues.”

It warned that “those who undermine Libya’s economy and cling to military escalation will face isolation and risk of sanctions.” 

“We are confident the Libyan people see clearly who is prepared to help Libya move forward and who instead has chosen irrelevance,” the embassy added. 

Oil production has almost come to a standstill in Libya after pro-Haftar groups shut down oil facilities in eastern parts of the country in January to squeeze resources of the UN-recognized Libyan government.

Libya, with the largest oil reserves in Africa, can produce 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day. But production has fallen below 100,000 barrels a day due to the interruptions by the pro-Haftar militias over the past six months.

Since April 2019, Haftar’s illegitimate forces have launched attacks on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and other parts of northwestern Libya, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths, including those of women and children.

But the Libyan government has recently achieved significant victories, pushing Haftar’s forces out of Tripoli and the strategic city of Tarhouna.

The country’s new government was founded in 2015 under a UN-led agreement, but efforts for a long-term political settlement failed due to a military offensive by Haftar, who has been backed by France, Russian paramilitary group Wagner, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The UN recognizes the Libyan government headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj as the country’s legitimate authority.



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Economy

Austrian economy might not shrink as much as previously forecast: ONB – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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BERLIN (Reuters) – Austria’s economy could shrink by around 6% this year, the Austrian National Bank on Friday, striking a more optimistic tone than in early June, when it had forecast a 7.2% decline.

It said weekly real-time gross domestic product (GDP) data showed the Alpine republic’s economy was recovering faster than expected.

“As long as we avoid a strong second wave of COVID-19 infections, the collapse in Austria’s economy in 2020 could be less severe than had been expected in our forecast in early June,” the ONB said.

It warned that the risks related to the forecast for a 6% contraction remained clearly to the downside though.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; editing by Thomas Seythal)

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Japan's spending slump eases as economy reopens, COVID-19 clouds outlook – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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By Leika Kihara

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s household spending fell at a much slower pace in June than in the previous month as the economy re-opened from lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, offering some hope of a moderate recovery later this year.

But the recovery was driven largely by the government’s blanket cash payouts to households, which were spent on big ticket items like television sets, personal computers and sofas.

That cast some doubt on the sustainability of the rebound, particuarly as rising COVID-19 infections nationwide have forced the government to request citizens hold off on unnecessary travel and work from home as much as possible.

“The rebound in consumption was stronger than expected, so we may see the economy pick up faster than initially thought,” said Yoshiki Shinke, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“But renewed rises in infection numbers are worrying. It’s too early to be optimistic on the outlook.”

Household spending in June declined 1.2% from a year earlier, government data showed on Friday, less than a median market forecast for a 7.5% drop.

It followed a record 16.2% drop in May, when consumers were still heeding authorities’ calls to stay home to contain the pandemic. Those emergency steps were lifted in late May.

Compared with the previous month, household spending jumped 13.0% in June to mark the biggest increase on record as the government’s cash payouts offset a steady drop in regular wages.

The payouts helped push spending on air conditioners up by nearly 30% in June, television sets by 83%, and tables and sofas by two-fold, the data showed.

But inflation-adjusted real wages fell for the fourth consecutive month in June, clouding the outlook for an economy bracing for a prolonged impact from the pandemic.

The fallout from the pandemic has pushed Japan deeper into recession, hitting an economy already reeling from the damage to consumption and exports from last year’s tax hike and slumping overseas demand.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara; additional reporting by Daniel Leussink; editing by Jane Wardell)

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Lebanon's economy was already in crisis. Then the blast hit Beirut – CNN

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On Tuesday, a massive explosion at the city’s port left at least 135 people dead and 5,000 injured. The number of deaths is expected to climb as search-and-rescue efforts continue.
The blast, which also leveled huge swaths of Beirut and displaced 300,000 people, couldn’t come at a worse moment.
In the past year, a breakdown in the country’s banking system and skyrocketing inflation had triggered mass protests. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the World Bank projected that 45% of people in Lebanon would be below the poverty line in 2020.
“It’s an economic crisis, a financial crisis, a political crisis, a health crisis and now this horrible explosion,” said Tamara Alrifai, spokesperson at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
Dumpster diving, blackouts and suicides. Lebanon's woes laid bare as crisis deepens
European and Gulf countries have sent aid to help Lebanon manage the fallout from the blast, and the country’s central bank instructed lenders to make zero-interest dollar loans to be repaid over the next five years so people and businesses can rebuild. But it’s expected to fall far short of what the country needs to pull back from the brink, and some donors may be deterred by widespread corruption and mismanagement.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was mobbed by angry crowds during a tour of devastated Beirut neighborhoods on Thursday, said France would provide medication and food, but not via corrupt officials.
“This aid, I guarantee it, won’t end up in corrupt hands,” he told Lebanese protesters, according to a spokesperson.
Macron told reporters later that France would help organize an international conference to raise funds for Lebanon. He promised “clear and transparent governance, whether it’s French or international” to ensure the money is “directly provided to the local population, the NGOs and teams on site that need it.”

Economy in free fall

The economic situation in Lebanon was grim before the explosion.
The International Monetary Fund last forecast that Lebanon’s economy — beset by soaring food prices, a collapsing currency and Covid-19 — would contract by 12% this year. That’s far worse than the 4.7% average drop in output forecast for the Middle East and central Asia.
The country defaulted on some of its debt in March. And last week, Moody’s cut Lebanon’s credit rating to its lowest rank. It’s now on par with Venezuela.
“The country is steeped in an economic, financial and social crisis, which very weak institutions … appear unable to address,” Moody’s said in a statement. The currency’s collapse and the related surge in inflation create a “highly unstable environment,” it continued.
Lebanon had been looking to secure a $10 billion loan from the IMF, but talks stalled last month.
On Thursday, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva called for “national unity” to address the country’s deep crisis, and she said the agency is “exploring all possible ways to support the people of Lebanon.”
“It is essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms and put in place a meaningful program to turn around the economy and build accountability and trust in the future of the country,” she added.
The explosion in Beirut, which has been declared a “disaster city,” will only pile more pressure on the economy.
“There is not one apartment in Beirut that wasn’t impacted, not one [business] that wasn’t impacted — whether the storefront [or] the goods,” Lebanon’s Economy Minister Raoul Nehme told CNBC Arabia on Wednesday.
The port where the blast occurred is the nation’s main maritime hub, and 60% of the country’s imports pass through it. Nehme said it has been “practically erased.”
Tourism accounted for nearly a fifth of Lebanon’s GDP in 2018, when two million people visited the country. That sector has suffered another huge hit.
“It’s a disaster for Lebanon,” said Pierre Achkar, head of the Lebanon Hotel Federation for Tourism. He said occupancy rates at the hotels still open had already slumped to 5% and 15% because of coronavirus and political issues.
Achkar told the state news agency NNA on Wednesday that the explosion damaged 90% of the hotels in Beirut.
— Chris Liakos, Nada AlThaher, Schams Elwazer, Barbara Wojazer and Sharon Braithwaite contributed to this article.

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