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WTO boss seeks boost for COVID-19 vaccine production, gets backing

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By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Trade Organization’s chief on Tuesday called for action on boosting COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries as several members of the global trade watchdog urged her to hold urgent talks with manufacturers to do so.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister who was until recently chair of the board of global vaccine alliance GAVI, took on the top job at the global trade watchdog last week. She has said health and vaccine access would be a top priority.

“The fact is that each additional day the vaccine shortage continues, people will pay with their lives,” Okonjo-Iweala said at a two-day summit focused on COVID-19 vaccine production, adding that around 130 countries were still waiting for vaccines.

She added that new vaccine manufacturing sites could be prepared in six to seven months or less than half the time previously thought.

In a sign that her ideas are gaining traction, seven of the body’s 164 members released a document on Tuesday urging her to hold urgent talks with COVID-19 vaccine developers and manufacturers on boosting production. The WTO chief has few executive powers and members’ support is essential.

“… The WTO should rapidly make use of its resources to the full extent to foster a prompt, pragmatic and tangible acceleration in the global response to COVID-19, and particularly the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” said the document co-sponsored by Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, New Zealand, Norway and Turkey.

In parallel, WTO members are also due to discuss a possible waiver for intellectual property rights for COVID-19 drugs on Wednesday that could allow producers in more countries to begin manufacturing shots.

However, talks are currently deadlocked with several wealthy countries opposing the waiver, saying it would undermine the expensive research that allowed the production of COVID-19 vaccines in the first place.

Okonjo-Iweala also said in her speech that pandemic-related export restrictions had fallen in recent months, urging countries to drop or reduce the remaining ones or set timelines for their phase-out to help minimise problems in the vaccine supply chain.

The COVAX vaccine-sharing programme, created to provide vaccines for poor and middle-income countries and backed by the GAVI alliance and the World Health Organisation (WHO), late in February began rolling out delivery of doses to African countries. It said earlier this month that it would deliver 237 millions doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccination to 142 countries by the end of May.

 

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis)

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Citigroup lawyer says another bank made bigger payment error than Revlon

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for Citigroup Inc told a U.S. judge on Friday he was aware of another large bank that recently made a bigger payment error than Citigroup made last August when it sent $894 million of its own money to Revlon Inc lenders.

Neal Katyal, the lawyer, made the disclosure at a hearing in Manhattan federal court, where Citigroup urged U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman to extend a freeze on $504 million that it has been unable to recoup from the Revlon lenders.

Katyal did not identify the bank, the size of the payment error, or whether the error was fixed.

Citigroup is appealing Furman’s Feb. 16 decision that 10 asset managers, whose clients include Revlon lenders, could keep its mistaken payments.

Furman accepted the asset managers’ argument that Citigroup, as Revlon’s loan agent, paid what they were owed, and they had no reason to think a sophisticated bank would blunder so badly.

Citigroup has said the lenders received a “windfall,” and Furman’s decision could steer banks away from doing wire transfers in a “finders, keepers” marketplace.

Katyal is a partner at Hogan Lovells and former Acting U.S. Solicitor General. Citigroup hired him for its appeal.

 

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Diane Craft)

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Canada aims to raise safety along notorious “Highway of Tears” with cell phone service

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By Moira Warburton

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Canadian authorities will help fund mobile phone service to increase safety along a remote stretch of highway in British Columbia known as the “Highway of Tears” for the number of women who have gone missing on the route, most of them indigenous.

Indigenous groups recommended the move in 2006 in a report on disappearances and murders of women along the highway between the cities of Prince Rupert and Prince George, roughly 800 km (500 miles) north of Vancouver.

The recommendation was endorsed by a provincial government-mandated commission several years later.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating 13 cases of murdered women and five who disappeared on or near the Highway of Tears, although no new cases have been added since 2007. Advocates believe the number of homicides and missing is significantly higher.

Lisa Beare, British Columbia’s minister of citizens’ services, called the project “a critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies along this route.”

Cell phone plans in Canada are among the most expensive in the world, according to government data, and the cost and lack of coverage in rural areas was a top issue in the last election.

The provincial and federal governments will contribute C$4.5 million towards the C$11.6 million ($9.24 million) cost for Rogers Communications to install 12 cell phone towers, the British Columbia government said on Wednesday.

Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, applauded the plan but said it was only one step in making the area safer for indigenous women.

“This truly is a blessing for the women,” she said. “But not all women have a phone. These towers are being put up, but it makes no use to the person that has no cell phone.”

($1 = 1.2558 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Canadian fertilizer producer Nutrien to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030

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By Rod Nickel and Rithika Krishna

(Reuters) –Canada‘s Nutrien Ltd, the world’s largest fertilizer producer by capacity, said on Thursday it aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% by 2030, in a plan costing the company up to $700 million.

Agricultural companies, including Mosaic and Corteva, have set carbon emissions targets as climate-conscious investors push firms to become more environmentally friendly.

Nutrien plans to spend $500 million to $700 million to meet the carbon emissions target, which includes cutting emissions from nitrogen production by 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually by the end of 2023.

“We’re in a really unique spot to address two big societal challenges – food security, and in a way that reduces our environmental footprint,” said Mark Thompson, Nutrien’s chief corporate development and strategy officer, in an interview.

Synthetic fertilizers account for 12% of global emissions from agriculture, according to a 2016 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report.

Nutrien’s target includes Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which reflect direct operations and electricity use. Nutrien is addressing Scope 3 emissions – those related to on-farm activity – with a program that encourages growers to adopt sustainable practices that generate monetary credits.

The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based company plans to deploy wind and solar energy at four potash plants by the end of 2025, replacing electricity generated by coal and natural gas.

It also plans to expand its sequestration of carbon emissions from nitrogen fertilizer production and to invest in technology to capture nitrous oxide gas from its facilities.

Nutrien estimates that its carbon credit program could directly amount to $10 to $20 per acre for farmers, and it expects to benefit financially itself as well.

“If we can provide agronomic value and the value of the carbon credit over time, we’ll have customer loyalty – we anticipate that we’ll be a preferred supplier,” Thompson said.

(Reporting by Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Steve Orlofsky)

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