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New Italian Economy Minister Vows to Stay in Euro, Cut Debt Level

Italy’s new coalition government has no intention of leaving the euro and plans to focus on cutting debt levels, Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said on Sunday, looking to reassure nervous financial markets.

Italian government bonds have come under concerted selling pressure on fears the government will embark on a spending splurge that Italy can ill-afford and markets are wary that euro-skeptics within the coalition might try to push Italy out of the eurozone.

In his first interview since taking office a week ago, Tria told Corriere della Sera newspaper that the coalition wanted to boost growth through investment and structural reforms.

“Our goal is [to lift] growth and employment. But we do not plan on reviving growth through deficit spending,” Tria said, adding that he would present new economic forecasts and government goals in September.

“These will be fully coherent with the objective of continuing on the path of lowering the debt/GDP ratio,” he said.

The government, comprising the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far-right League, initially named as economy minister a man who had called the euro an “historic error”.

He was eventually handed a less important portfolio after the head of state refused to accept his nomination.

Tria, a little-known economics professor who is not affiliated to any party, said the coalition was committed to remaining within the single currency.

“The position of the government is clear and unanimous. There is no question of leaving the euro,” he said.

“The government is determined to prevent in any way the market conditions that would lead to an exit materializing. It’s not just that we do not want to leave, we will act in such a way that the conditions do not get anywhere near to a position where they might challenge our presence in the euro.”

Tria said he had spoken to his German counterpart and was looking for “fruitful dialogue” with the Europe Union, adding that Italian interests chimed with those of Europe.

“Basic choices”

The new government has promised to roll back pension reform, cut taxes and boost welfare spending, measures that are expected to cost tens of billions of euros. It also needs to find an estimated 12.5 billion euros ($14.8 billion) to stave off the threat of an automatic increase in sales taxes because of previously missed deficit targets.

Tria declined to say whether the coalition would hike the deficit target, but said he aimed to meet existing 2018 and 2019 debt reduction goals.

The previous center-left government had forecast a fall in debt to 130.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and 128 percent next year against 131.8 percent in 2017.

Tria urged investors to look not just at the hard figures, but also study the content of the forthcoming 2019 budget.

“As part of the debt reduction and deficit reduction goals, the budget will reflect the basic choices on how and when to implement the [government] program,” he said.

“We have a program that focuses on structural reforms and we want it to also act on the supply side, creating more favorable conditions for investment and employment.”

The government has also promised to review a recent shake-up of mutual and co-operative banks, saying the changes risked penalizing domestic lenders. However Tria said the issue “is not the first problem we have to tackle”.

He also distanced himself from calls within the coalition for the government to issue securities to pay off individuals and companies owed money by the state.

“Stop-gap solutions solve nothing,” he said.

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XI Takes Swipe at G-7 Summit In SCO Remarks

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)is holding its first summit since India and Pakistan joined the bloc which is widely seem by observers as a means for blocking American influence in Central Asia. 

The founding members of the alliance are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. 

The summit is being held in the eastern Chinese coastal city of Qingdao. 

Chinese President Xi Jingping told the group in opening remarks Sunday, “We should reject selfish, short-sighted, narrow and closed-off policies.We must maintain the rules of the World Trade Organization, support the multilateral trade system and build an open global economy.”

Political analysts see the Chinese leader’s remarks as a thinly veiled reference to the chaos at the recent G-7 summit in Canada where the U.S. and its allies were divided by escalating trade tensions. 

After leaving the G-7 meeting, U.S. President Donald Trump described Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “meek and mild” and “dishonest & weak.”

Trump also withdrew his endorsement of the G-7 summit’s communique.

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Girls Education Fund Announced at G-7

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Saturday that nearly $3 billion in pledges has been raised to help fund the education of vulnerable girls and women around the world.

Canada will contribute $300 million to the campaign. Germany, Japan, Britain and the World Bank are among the additional supporters. 

The prime minister made the announcement on the last day of the G-7 summit which was held in Quebec. 

Women’s groups that had met with Trudeau on the sidelines of the summit welcomed the news of the generous pledges that exceeded the groups’ expectations. 

“It gives young women in developing countries the opportunity to pursue careers instead of early marriage and child labor,” said Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head in Pakistan because of her campaign for the right of girls to receive an education.

Yousafzai, currently a student at Oxford University, said the pledges give “all of us the chance to create a safer, healthier and wealthier world.” 

According to a government statement, the funds will be used to equip girls and women, including refugees, with the skills needed for the jobs of the future.

David Morley, president of UNICEF Canada, said “UNICEF believes that the right to education is as fundamental as the right to food or shelter, and provides girls with the skills they need to break the cycle of crisis and poverty.” 

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UK’s May Orders Retreat to Sort Out Brexit Details

Prime Minister Theresa May will gather together squabbling British ministers at her country residence after this month’s European Union summit

to settle on details of a much-anticipated Brexit policy paper.

May has yet to agree on some of the fundamental details of what type of trading relationship she wants to have with the European Union after Britain leaves next March. As a result, talks with the EU have all but ground to a halt, raising fears among businesses and in Brussels that Britain could end up crashing out of the bloc without an agreed-upon deal.

“There’s going to be a lot happening over the next few weeks. You know, people want us to get on with it, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” May told reporters on her way to a G-7 summit in Canada.

May will look to the June 28-29 EU summit as a chance to pin down some of the most troublesome details of Britain’s exit agreement and pave the way for more intensive talks on the all-important future economic partnership between the world’s fifth-largest economy and the world’s biggest trading bloc.

But senior ministers are still at odds about what type of post-Brexit customs arrangement will be best for Britain, meaning talks on the future are unlikely to move far in June.

Before leaving for Canada, May was forced into crisis talks with her Brexit minister who had challenged her so-called backstop plan to ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland.

Then her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, was recorded saying there could be a Brexit meltdown.

‘Away day’

With that in mind, May said she was planning to summon ministers to Chequers, her country residence, for an “away day” aimed at ending months of squabbling and agreeing upon the contents of a so-called “white paper” policy document.

The white paper is expected to set out in more detail what Britain wants from its long-term relationship with the EU. May did not give a firm date for when it would be published.

Ministers had said it would be published before the June EU summit, suggesting rows had helped delay the paper.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, criticized the delay. “The government promised a ‘detailed, ambitious and precise’ Brexit white paper this month setting out their negotiating priorities. Once again it’s been postponed. The Tories are botching Brexit and risking jobs and our economy in the process,” he said in an emailed statement.

May said her government and the EU were still working toward an October deadline in talks to secure an agreement on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal and an outline of the future partnership.

“We’re all, both we and the European Union, working to that timetable of October,” May said. “From my point of view, what we’re doing is working to develop that future relationship, because there’s a big prize for the U.K. here at the end of this.”

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Trump: Meeting with Kim ‘One-Time Shot’ for North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump warned Saturday that his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 is a “one-time shot” for the reclusive leader.

Before leaving the international Group of Seven summit in Quebec, Trump told reporters that he expects to know right away if Kim is serious about giving up the country’s nuclear weapons. “Within the first minute I’ll know,” he said. “It’s what I do.”

He has described his planned meeting with Kim as a “mission of peace” and expressed optimism about North Korea’s future. “We think North Korea will be a tremendous place in a very short period of time,” Trump said.

On Friday, Trump defended his readiness for the summit, telling reporters, “I’ve been preparing for this all my life.”

WATCH: President Trump on N. Korea Summit

Before departing Washington for the G-7 talks, the president said he was taking along “15 boxes of work” he will be reviewing for his meeting with Kim.

The president himself sparked discussion about his preparations Thursday, when he told reporters that although he believes he is well prepared for the talks, “I don’t think I need to prepare very much. It’s about attitude, it’s about willingness to get things done.”

The Trump administration is seeking the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In exchange, Pyongyang is believed to be seeking relief from international sanctions.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted Thursday that Congress might be given a say in any deal Trump may reach with the North Korean leader.

Pompeo was responding to a reporter’s question about whether a future president could undo an agreement — the way Trump pulled the United States out of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

If talks do not go well, Trump has made clear he is prepared to walk away and to impose even more sanctions against Pyongyang, potentially increasing tensions between the two nations and the region.

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Macron’s Campaign Economists Warn French Leader Over Rich-Friendly Policies

French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policy is viewed as favoring the rich and must change to address inequalities, according to a memo written by three economists who worked on his campaign program, Le Monde newspaper said on Saturday.

The criticism is the latest sign of the trouble created by Macron’s economic reforms among the center-left supporters who propelled him to power last year.

In the confidential memo sent to Macron and plastered across Le Monde’s front page, the economists said his policy was failing to convince “even the most ardent supporters.”

“Many supporters of the then-candidate express their fear of a lurch to the right motivated by the temptation to steal the political space left vacant by a struggling conservative party,” the economists wrote.

Jean Pisani-Ferry, the Sciences Po Paris university professor who coordinated Macron’s economic program and is an influential voice in Franco-German academic circles, is one of the authors. He declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

The other two, Philippe Martin, a former Macron adviser who heads France’s Council of Economic Analysis (CAE), and Philippe Aghion of the elite College de France, did not return Reuters’ requests for comment.

Macron, who campaigned on a promise to be “neither left nor right”, moved swiftly in his first year to loosen labor rules and slash a wealth tax, earning himself the nickname “president of the rich.”

The economists said there was a risk the French would find these measures unfair and think the government is deaf to the needs of the poorest in society.

“The president must talk about the issue of inequalities and not leave this debate to his opponents,” the economists wrote.

Among proposals to reduce inequalities, the economists suggested a rise in inheritance tax for the richest, scrapping tax credits on property investments, and cancelling Macron’s promise to abolish a housing tax for the wealthiest 20 percent.

Macron’s office confirmed it had received the note, but said it did not foretell government policy. Macron is currently in Canada with other Group of Seven

leaders, locked in a battle over trade tariffs with U.S. President Donald Trump.

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Australian Bank Hit With $530 Million Fine for Money-Laundering

Australia’s Commonwealth Bank has agreed to pay a $530 million fine for breaching anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing laws. The scandal relates to more than 53,000 suspect transactions that the bank did not immediately report to authorities.

If approved by the Federal Court, this will be the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history.

At the heart of the case were so-called smart cash machines that allowed customers to anonymously deposit and transfer money. Thousands of suspect transactions of more than $7,600 each were not referred to the authorities as required by law.

An investigation by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (AUSTRAC), the federal financial intelligence agency, along with state and federal police found the machines were being used to launder the proceeds of crime. 

Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison says the bank must now rebuild its reputation.

“It is for them to rebuild that trust, it is for them to make these admissions, it is for them to incur these penalties and get on with the job of restoring trust in the conduct of the CBA and this, I think, is another important step toward doing that,” Morrison said.

The Commonwealth Bank said its actions were not deliberate but it understood “the seriousness of the mistakes” it had made. It had reportedly been anticipating a fine of about $285 million.

“For AUSTRAC, it is able to demonstrate that there has been serious failings by Commonwealth Bank (CBA), one of our major financial institutions,” said Ian Ramsey, a director at Melbourne University’s Center for Corporate Law. “I am sure what the bank did not want was a very lengthy trial where every day more evidence is brought before the court and then promptly reported in the media of systemic, serious failings by CBA.”

AUSTRAC said the penalty would send a strong message to Australia’s financial industry. Since February it has been investigated by a Royal Commission, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, which has unearthed widespread misconduct within the banking and financial services sector.

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Pope Francis: Providing Clean Energy Is ‘A Challenge of Epochal Proportions’

Pope Francis has told the world’s oil executives that a transition to less-polluting energy sources “is a challenge of epochal proportions.”

On the last day of a two-day conference Saturday, the Roman Catholic leader urged the executives to provide electricity to the one billion people who are without it, but said that process must be done in a way that avoids “creating environmental imbalances resulting in deterioration and pollution gravely harmful to our human family, both now and in the future.”

Reuters reports the unprecedented conference was held behind closed doors at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

The news agency says the oil executives, investors and Vatican experts who attended the summit, believe, like the pope does, that science supports the notion that climate change is caused by human activity and that global warming must be curbed.

Pope Francis told the conference, “Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”

 

 

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Award-winning Smart Drones to Take on Illegal Fishing

Drones guided by artificial intelligence to catch boats netting fish where they shouldn’t were among the winners of a marine protection award on Friday and could soon be deployed to fight illegal fishing, organizers said.

The award-winning project aims to help authorities hunt down illegal fishing boats using drones fitted with cameras that can monitor large swaths of water autonomously.

Illegal fishing and overfishing deplete fish stocks worldwide, causing billions of dollars in losses a year and threatening the livelihoods of rural coastal communities, according to the United Nations.

The National Geographic Society awarded the project, co-developed by Morocco-based company ATLAN Space, and two other innovations $150,000 each to implement their plans as it marked World Oceans Day on Friday.

The aircraft can cover a range of up to 700 km (435 miles) and use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to drive them in search of fishing vessels, said ATLAN Space’s founder, Badr Idrissi.

“Once (the drone) detects something, it goes there and identifies what it’s seeing,” Idrissi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Idrissi said the technology, which is to be piloted in the Seychelles later this year, was more effective than traditional sea patrols and allowed coast guards to save money and time.

From satellites tracking trawlers on the high seas to computer algorithms identifying illegal behaviors, new technologies are increasingly coming to the aid of coast guards worldwide.

AI allows the drones to check a boat’s identification number, establish whether it is fishing inside a protected area or without permit, verify whether it is known to authorities and count people on board, Idrissi said.

If something appears to be wrong, it can alert authorities.

Other winners were Marine Conservation Cambodia, which uses underwater concrete blocks to impede the use of bottom-dragged nets, and U.S.-based Pelagic Data Systems, which plans to combat illegal fishing in Thailand with tracking technologies.

“The innovations from the three winning teams have the potential to greatly increase sustainable fishing in coastal systems,” National Geographic Society’s chief scientist Jonathan Baillie said in a statement.

Much of the world’s fish stocks are overfished or fully exploited, according the U.N. food agency, and fish consumption rose above 20 kilograms per person in 2016 for the first time.

Global marine catches have declined by 1.2 million tons a year since 1996, according to The Sea Around Us, a research initiative involving the University of British Columbia and the University of Western Australia.

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California Group Funds Candidates It, Trump Supporters Like

Sipping California zinfandel, eating deviled eggs and fretting about President Donald Trump, the guests attending a political fundraiser at a Silicon Valley executive’s home were the usual assortment of tech entrepreneurs and investors.

But the congressional candidate they had come to meet that March evening in the hills north of San Francisco was anything but typical.

Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat and former defense official, is running for Congress in Michigan’s 8th District, a pocket of Detroit suburbs, college campuses and farmland more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) away. She is a gun owner, a supporter of constitutionally enshrined gun rights and a critic of single payer health care, hardly the kind of far-left candidate voters in the San Francisco Bay Area generally embrace.

But Slotkin, 41, and the party guests shared a goal: wresting control of the House of Representatives from Republicans in November’s congressional elections.

Swing districts

With no Bay Area Democrats facing serious challenges from Republicans, the party host, Brian Monahan, and a group of fellow technology and marketing executives have decided to look farther afield for candidates in swing districts that need financial support.

To focus their efforts, Monahan, technology investor Chris Albinson, executive recruiter Jon Love and a handful of others have formed a loose-knit organization they call Purple Project.

So far, the group has raised at least $210,000 for Democratic candidates in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. The sum is a pittance compared to the money being spent on key races by fundraising Political Action Committees (PACs), which represent corporations and political interest groups and contribute millions of dollars each election cycle.

But in moderate districts with close races like Slotkin’s, such grassroots efforts can make a difference.

​‘Simply unacceptable’

Purple Project is one of a number of informal groups in solidly blue states such as California, Vermont and Massachusetts that have mobilized this year to back candidates in distant swing districts. So far, it has endorsed six candidates and plans to endorse 14 more by the end of July.

Love, a longtime executive recruiter for technology companies, spearheads candidate vetting. Many in the group have made the maximum allowable individual donation of $2,700 to each candidate.

For its participants, Purple Project is a way to channel months of political frustrations since Trump took office.

“Things are simply unacceptable and sitting on the sidelines just stewing on it isn’t helping anyone,” Monahan said. “You feel like out here in California your vote is worthless.”

That’s because House representatives from the San Francisco Bay Area are unwaveringly Democratic.

Bruising battle, outside money

To retake the House, Democrats would need to take 23 seats held by Republicans, as well as keep all the districts they now hold. That means races like Slotkin’s, in a competitive district with a mix of Republican and Democratic counties stretching from north of Detroit to the state capitol, Lansing, are pivotal.

She faces a bruising battle, however, trying to unseat two-term Congressman Mike Bishop, who won with 56 percent of the vote in 2016.

Out-of-state money has been the financial lifeblood of Slotkin’s campaign, putting her far ahead of her competitor for the Democratic nomination and nearly neck-and-neck with Bishop.

Slotkin had raised $1.5 million as of March 31, with just $304,000 coming from Michigan donors, approaching Bishop’s $317,000 in home-state contributions, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Slotkin raised more than $120,000 from individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area.

FEC filings generally do not include donations of $200 or less.

“Our campaign finance laws are so broken that in order to compete you have to raise a significant amount of money,” she told Reuters during a tour of her 400-acre farm in Holly, Michigan, when asked about Purple Project’s donations to her campaign. “If that means raising from outside the state I’d rather have that than the influence of a corporate PAC.”

At a house party in April in the small Michigan city of Brighton, about a dozen neighbors from a tidy middle-class neighborhood gathered to meet Slotkin and cheer her on, but not all were hopeful.

“I don’t give her much of a chance, but it’s good to have her there and maybe she’ll take a bite out of Bishop’s vote,” said Blake Lancaster, 74.

​Personal politics

Purple Project is a political organization with a deeply personal origin. Albinson, co-founder of San Francisco technology investment firm Founders Circle, said he was unnerved to learn his father-in-law in Michigan, Jerry Smith, voted for Trump. After 18 years as a registered Republican, Albinson, also a Michigan native, became an independent voter following Trump’s nomination.

He set about finding moderate congressional candidates he and his friends in Silicon Valley could support, but who would also appeal to Smith.

After Albinson met Slotkin, he subjected her to a litmus test: she had to visit his father-in-law.

Smith, 72, describes himself as a “common-sense Republican” worried about his health care costs. A retired small business owner who lives on a 40-acre farm just outside the 8th District, Smith said he and his wife, Barb, fret about spending down their savings “just for the regular monthly bills.”

Slotkin won over Smith, who said he was impressed by her resume and decency, and her views on improving President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, the Affordable Care Act, to keep health care costs down. From there, Purple Project has grown, with members scattered across the country.

To win the group’s backing, candidates must be able to appeal to Trump supporters and must have past service in the military, government or nonprofit sector. They also have to reject corporate PAC money and support affordable health care and infrastructure improvement, among other criteria.

The group offers more than money. Monahan, who was head of marketing at Walmart.com and an advertising executive at image-sharing and shopping website Pinterest, helps campaigns with digital marketing, for instance.

Last spring, Slotkin left Washington and a 15-year government career in defense and intelligence work to move back to the family farm in Holly. But some of her neighbors in this working-class town are not particularly interested in a newcomer Democrat.

Holly town supervisor George Kullis said he plans to vote for Bishop because the congressman helped him get federal funding for new signs for the national cemetery in town.

“Bishop has been good; he’s been ‘Johnny on the spot,’” Kullis said. “Besides, who is this Elissa Slotkin? I’ve never heard of her.”

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