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8/21/14

US Exports: Maine not optimizing opportunities in being the closest US State to Europe

In a Bangor Daily News OpEd on June 10 this year Charles Hastings noted "sadly" in his "reality check" on Maine exports, that Maine "lags behind its neighbors, even at what it does best." 

"In 2013, the port of Baltimore experienced significant growth in pulp and wood product exports, setting a record. Furthermore, the Canadian government and biomass giant Enviva, with manufacturing facilities located throughout the Southeastern U.S., are closely eyeing future opportunities with wood pellets, biomass and pulp — traditionally economic strong suits for Maine."

"But what our neighbors to the north and south are doing is quite the opposite of what we in Maine are doing. They are investing in capacity in anticipation of large growth not just domestically but in a fast-growing European market for biomass products."

"Countries such as Germany have created mandates to cut down on high-emission sources of energy such as coal. "

"They have decided to fill the void with solar, wind and also biomass. According to many of the reports I’ve read, biomass in Europe is expected to grow at nearly 20 percent a year and by 2020, Europe will be consuming nearly 35 million to 40 million tons of wood pellets per year. Similarly, reports are predicting that after Europe, Asia will follow in similar trends toward biomass-based fuels."

"To meet this overseas demand, companies like Enviva are investing in huge biomass and wood pellet plants, concentrated largely in Georgia and South Carolina. Once operational, these plants will provide a steady stream of pellets to ports such as the one in Baltimore, for a transatlantic ship routing to high-demand markets in Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Germany. In a similar fashion, New Brunswick and Western Canada are gearing up for their own expansions."

So where does this leave Maine?

"Biomassmagazine.com, a credible industry publication, published an article in January 2012 explaining how Maine was in an advantaged position to send pellets to Europe. The article says that while raw materials are much more expensive in Maine, that cost is offset by much more favorable freight costs from the Northeast to Europe. Further, Maine’s ports have invested in recent years in better infrastructure to provide better transportation options to shippers. But still, Maine has yet to move any significant amount of pellets or biomass to the growing European market."

"From what I can tell, the problem is capacity here in Maine to produce pellets. Maine does produce a significant amount of pellets. But at the same time, Maine is consuming almost as many as it is producing. This leaves a small margin for export. As a result, almost no Maine pellets reach the European market, which accounts for nearly 85 percent of global consumption."

How can Maine get a larger piece of the pie? Promotion is one of the most important in addition to many other avenues.

"Maine must build or expand existing pellet plants. That is the goal of F.E. Wood & Sons, which proposed in 2011 to build a pellet plant in West Baldwin, Maine. The plant would use the dormant and state-owned Mountain Division rail line to ship pellets to the port in Portland for export to Europe. This plant would offer a boost to a new proposal by local entrepreneur David Schwanke to revitalize freight service on this line operated by the Golden Eagle Rail Corp."

"But no funding has yet come forth for this plant, which was supposed to be completed in 2013. Further, a new proposal in the Prospect area by Maine Biomass Exports would use the newly formed Central Maine & Quebec Railway lines to bring biomass to Searsport for export to Europe."

"While the market in Europe is real, the market growth fueled by European Union policy is real, and competition from Canada and the Southeastern U.S. also is very real."

"While Maine continues to spin its wheels with things such as wood pellet exports, an offshoot of the forestry industry that Maine pioneered, our neighbors will continue to eat our lunch."

EU-Digest

Terrorism: EU ministers vow to aid Iraq in fight against ISIS militants

EU ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday approved arms deliveries to Kurdish fighters and increases in humanitarian aid to Iraqis fleeing the rapid advance of Islamist militants.

At an emergency meeting in Brussels of the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers, diplomats pledged to step up their efforts to help those displaced by the advances of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL), which now calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Several nations announced that they would supply dozens of tonnes of aid to northern Iraq over the coming days.

“First of all we need to make sure that we alleviate humanitarian suffering,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told reporters. “Secondly, I believe we need to make sure that IS is not in a position to overrun the Kurds or to take a stronger hold on Iraq.”

France has pledged to ship weapons to the Kurds while Britain will deliver ammunition and military supplies. Germany, the Netherlands and other EU nations said they would also be considering requests to arm the Kurds.

Read more: Europe - EU ministers vow to aid Iraq in fight against ISIS militants - France 24

8/20/14

The Economics of War: The Terrifying Reason Nations Keep Waging War - by Paul Krugman

One of the more enduring myths about waging war is that it helps the economy. Not so, this cold inhumane calculation, Paul Krugman writes today.

Alarmed by the escalation of rhetoric and events in the Ukraine, Krugman casts his shrewd eye on warfare since the start of World War I a century ago, and concludes that we haven't learned much since. "The war to end all wars" just didn't. Why, given the overwhelming amount of evidence that war is ruinous in every way, including economically, would that be so?

First, the columnist takes a quick detour into history:
Once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit; when Rome overran Asia Minor or Spain conquered Peru, it was all about the gold and silver. And that kind of thing still happens. In influential research sponsored by the World Bank, the Oxford economist Paul Collier has shown that the best predictor of civil war, [4] which is all too common in poor countries, is the availability of lootable resources like diamonds. Whatever other reasons rebels cite for their actions seem to be mainly after-the-fact rationalizations. War in the preindustrial world was and still is more like a contest among crime families over who gets to control the rackets than a fight over principles.
But times have changed, Krugman points out. "If you’re a modern, wealthy nation, however, war — even easy, victorious war — doesn’t pay," he writes. "And this has been true for a long time."

Read more: Krugman on the Terrifying Reason Nations Keep Waging War | Alternet

USA: In search of: The US role in the world

The sentiment that something is wrong with US foreign policy is not new to Americans. Arguably that feeling was one reason why US voters decided to elect a young Senator in 2008 who vowed to do things differently and end America's two protracted wars.

And while the debate about the future of America's role in the world had been simmering since then, it took the recent eruption of violence in the Middle East and Ukraine coupled with an article by the preeminent neoconservative thinker Robert Kagan as well as Hillary Clinton's criticism of Barack Obama to really get the discussion going.

Essentially the argument circles around the question whether the US can and should be the world's decisive superpower in the future and whether Obama's retrenchment of US power is or should be the new normal.

Kagan, who didn't respond to a request for an interview, fears that retrenchment of US power could become the new standard for America's foreign policy. Notwithstanding the rise of China or changes in the global power structure, Kagan believes the US can retain its role as the sole superpower and shape the world accordingly. The problem, he argues, is that Americans are becoming increasingly skeptical about the outsized role of their country.

Read more: In search of: The US role in the world | World | DW.DE | 20.08.2014

Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano rumblings prompt orange alert

Three days of earthquake activity at Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano prompted the country's meteorological office to issue an orange alert Monday for a heightened risk of eruption.

The volcano sits underneath Europe's largest glacier, raising concerns that an eruption would loft large amounts of steam and ash into the air as magma meets meltwater, disrupting air travel.
Recent eruptions in Iceland have had a long reach.

In May 2011, the most active volcano on the island, Grimsvötn, erupted, forcing airlines to cancel some 900 flights to and from Iceland, Britain, Greenland, Germany, Ireland, and Norway over a three-day period. The volcano sent plumes of ash up to seven miles high, overspreading air routes. Bardarbunga shares the same glacial skull cap sitting atop Grimsvötn.

Read more: Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano rumblings prompt orange alert (+video) - CSMonitor.com

Islamic State (IS) group purported shows a man with a British accent executing US journalist, James Foley.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has interrupted his holiday to return to London after a video released by the Islamic State (IS) group purported to show a man with a British accent executing US journalist, James Foley.

Cameron will meet with officials from the Home Office, Foreign Office, and intelligence agencies on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria, and the threat posed by fighters from the IS.

The footage posted late on Tuesday, showed Foley wearing orange overalls and kneeling besides an Islamic State group fighter, who warned Western countries against further intervention in Iraq.

The unidentified man spoke in what sounded like an English accent, before apparently beheading Foley in the video, titled "A Message To America."

"If true, the brutal murder of James Foley is shocking and depraved," said a statement from Cameron's office, the Reuters news agency reported.

"Our intelligence services will be looking very carefully on both sides of the Atlantic at this video to establish its authenticity, to try to identify the individual concerned and then we will work together to try to locate him," UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told British broadcaster, Sky news, in a reference to the masked man.

"We are absolutely aware that there are significant numbers of British nationals involved in terrible crimes, probably in the commission of atrocities."

Elsewhere, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, said he condemned Foley's execution in the "strongest terms."

Read more: Robert Reich: American Democracy Is Diseased | Alternet

Technology: The cyborg workforce ?

A 2014 study from RobotEnomics suggests that implementing industrial robotics can increase a firm’s number of human employees. The EU recently invested €2.8bn in robotics research. The goal: boost productivity and create more than 240,000 jobs. - See more at: http://gelookahead.economist.com/slideshow/cyborg-workforce/#sthash.u52VOP2Y.dpuf
A 2014 study from RobotEnomics suggests that implementing industrial robotics can increase a firm’s number of human employees. The EU recently invested €2.8bn in robotics research. The goal: boost productivity and create more than 240,000 jobs. - See more at: http://gelookahead.economist.com/slideshow/cyborg-workforce/#sthash.u52VOP2Y.dpuf
A 2014 study from RobotEnomics suggests that implementing industrial robotics can increase a firm’s number of human employees. The EU recently invested €2.8bn in robotics research. The goal: boost productivity and create more than 240,000 jobs.

Manufacturing jobs are being augmented with industrial robots. BMW already uses robotics to support workers in its Spartanburg, SC, plant. Since 2001, the global market for industrial robotics has more than doubled, with about 179,000 industrial robots sold globally in 2013.

n May, researchers from the Technische Universität München demonstrated the feasibility of flight via brain control. Using EEG devices to connect their brains to flight simulator software, subjects demonstrated the ability to safely fly, maneuver and land.

Many fear technology could replace jobs. Evidence has yet to fully materialise, however. Though long-term concerns may be valid, most jobs, particularly those requiring high levels of social intelligence, are likely safe. Technology doesn’t kill jobs: it changes their nature.

Manufacturing jobs are being augmented with industrial robots. BMW already uses robotics to support workers in its Spartanburg, SC, plant. Since 2001, the global market for industrial robotics has more than doubled, with about 179,000 industrial robots sold globally in 2013. - See more at: http://gelookahead.economist.com/slideshow/cyborg-workforce/#sthash.u52VOP2Y.dpuf
Read more: The cyborg workforce - | GE Look Ahead | The Economist

8/19/14

China: EU exporters' group hits out at China over raids on offices - by Donal O'Donovan

Investigators have launched high profile raids on the Chinese offices of companies including Daimler, the maker of Mercedes Benz cars, and Microsoft in recent weeks.
Yesterday, in a rare intervention, the European Chamber of Commerce in China lashed out at what it called "administrative intimidation" of some companies.
The chamber represents 1,800 European companies that do business in the world's second largest economy.
The European Commission and the Chinese authorities recognise it as the official voice of European business in China.
The group said it is concerned about competition probes into overseas companies operating in China, saying authorities are using strong-arm tactics and appeared to be unfairly targeting foreign firms.
In some cases, domestic Chinese companies were not probed when the sector they operate in was reviewed, and the Chinese side of joint ventures was left out of investigations that only focused on foreign partners, the Chamber claimed.
It called on China to follow the European Commission's model for investigating potential competition concerns.
- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/business/world/eu-exporters-group-hits-out-at-china-over-raids-on-offices-30509867.html#sthash.3UfZOdNY.dpuf
Investigators have launched high profile raids on the Chinese offices of companies including Daimler, the maker of Mercedes Benz cars, and Microsoft in recent weeks.

Yesterday, in a rare intervention, the European Chamber of Commerce in China lashed out at what it called "administrative intimidation" of some companies.

The chamber represents 1,800 European companies that do business in the world's second largest economy.

The European Commission and the Chinese authorities recognise it as the official voice of European business in China.

The group said it is concerned about competition probes into overseas companies operating in China, saying authorities are using strong-arm tactics and appeared to be unfairly targeting foreign firms.

In some cases, domestic Chinese companies were not probed when the sector they operate in was reviewed, and the Chinese side of joint ventures was left out of investigations that only focused on foreign partners, the Chamber claimed.

It called on China to follow the European Commission's model for investigating potential competition concerns.

Read more: EU exporters' group hits out at China over raids on offices - Independent.ie

The Netherlands: New law proposed to revoke Dutch Citizenship for citizens who partricipate in Jihadist activities

Dutch citizenship can be revoked for citizens who participate in Jihadist training camps or for those  participating as an instructor in those training camps or those who  become involved in the transfer of specific skills to Jihadist terrorists.

The proposal  bill by the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice has been agreed on by the National Council of Ministers.  

The proposed  law will be be reviewed by the Dutch Council of States of the Kingdom after which it will be presented to the Parliament for approval. 

The measure is part of a more integrated approachby the Dutch Government to control Jihadists and their supporters activities in the Netherlands.

Oppinion polls show the bill is supported by a large majority of the Dutch population.

EU-Digest

Canada: Nova Scotia exports up 50 per cent in first half of 2014: APEC report - by Kelly Shiers

Nova Scotia’s economy has been buoyed by gains in export sectors, despite factors such as weakening employment and retail spending and a slowdown in home construction being felt across the entire region, says a report released Wednesday.

“In general, it’s a pretty soft economy across the region, including in Nova Scotia,” said Fred Bergman, senior analyst with the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

“Nova Scotia benefited from strong growth in natural gas exports. Part of it was from Deep Panuke being on stream this year and also the Sable Project producing at a higher level.”

In its economic update for the region, the think-tank said total exports in Nova Scotia increased 50 per cent from January to May.

There has also been an increase in lobster and wood pulp exports.

Lobster fishery exports increased by 43 per cent to May of this year, compared to the same period in 2013. While the United States is the largest importer by far, there are growing sales to Asia over the past five years.
Sales will benefit from weekly shipments of live lobster from Halifax Stanfield International Airport via Korean Air that began May 25 and are expected to continue to the end of August, the report says.


Read more: Nova Scotia exports up 50 per cent in first half of 2014: APEC report | The Chronicle Herald

Ukraine: As Its Forces Advance, Ukraine Says Poroshenko Will Meet With Putin - by Andrew Higgens and Adrew E. Kramer

Ukrainian forces pushed deeper into territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels on Tuesday, fighting street battles in the besieged city of Luhansk and pressuring the outer defenses of Donetsk in a further blow to the separatists’ crumbling virtual state.

While continuing its offensive, the Ukrainian government said it saw a real chance for a peaceful settlement after an announcement that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would meet next Tuesday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro O. Poroshenko, and European Union leaders in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

“I come with positive news. I think we have a chance to switch to a real road map towards a peaceful process,” Valery Chaly, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, said at a news conference in Kiev.

Previous efforts toward a settlement, which included a meeting of foreign ministers last week in Berlin, have all failed, and even an agreement on when and how a Russian aid convoy could enter Ukraine has proved elusive. 

The convoy of more than 260 trucks remained stuck on the Russian side of the border, a week after it left Moscow. Ukrainian officials expressed bewilderment over why many of the Russian trucks appeared to be mostly empty if their only purpose was to deliver humanitarian aid.

Read more: As Its Forces Advance, Ukraine Says Poroshenko Will Meet With Putin - NYTimes.com

EU: Who Pays the Most for Russian Gas in Europe and Why - by Varvara Fomina

Following the revolution in Ukraine, the ousting of ex-President Viktor Yanukovich and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Gazprom, Russia’s sole natural gas exporter, has almost doubled Ukraine’s natural gas price.

According to the state-run gas giant, the price was raised due to the cancellation of two major discounts.
One of the discounts was granted to Ukraine for permitting the Russian fleet to use Crimea’s city of Sevastopol as its base. When Crimea became part of Russia, the agreement and the discount were canceled by Russian President Vladimir Putin in early April. The second discount, for timely payments, was canceled a few days later because Ukraine failed to fulfill its obligations to get a discount. Western political leaders have accused Russia of energy bullying and threatened it with sanctions.

In May, Russia signed a 30-year deal, worth $400 billion, to deliver gas to China. The media speculated on the reasons why, after 10 years of unsuccessful negotiations, the two countries managed to come to an agreement. One of the assumptions was that the deal was Putin’s reaction to the potential threat of European sanctions against Russia following the Crimean crisis.

During the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in May, Alexey Miller, CEO of Gazprom,said the recent contract between Russia and China will likely influence gas pricing in the European market. With many details to discuss and hundreds of kilometers of pipelines to build, it is unclear what the selling price for China will be, or in what ways the contract can affect Europe.

According to Dr. Mikhail Korchemkin, managing director of East European Gas Analysis, a consulting company, the agreement between Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corp. will not affect the price of Russian gas sold to Europe. “First, European prices are set by existing contracts,” Korchemkin said. “Second, East Siberian gas fields are not connected to Europe, so this gas cannot be sold to Europe.”

However, the setting of gas prices for European countries raises a lot of questions. The price varies from country to country. Gazprom is secret about commercial transactions, and the terms of agreements for long-term gas contracts are generally not disclosed. In Europe there is no market price for natural gas, as such. Also, there is no standard formula that would define gas prices for wholesale customers.

In the late 1960s, Gazprom introduced the contract model, in which gas prices were tied to oil prices. In 2012, the European Parliament called for liberalization of the gas market. The new model implies the development of an integrated European system of gas indexation, which would allow European gas companies to trade with gas providers on a more predictable basis. Instead of being dependent on oil price dynamics, gas prices would be set in gas hubs (centers of market trading).

Read more: Who Pays the Most for Russian Gas in Europe and Why | Student Reporter

Bike Industry: E-Bike Sales Are Surging in Europe - Danny Hakim

With a faint electric whir, Iris Marossek pedals her bicycle through concrete apartment blocks in the heart of old East Berlin, delivering mail to 1,500 people a day.

Painted yellow and black like a bumble bee, her bicycle is a nod to both past and future. It is decorated with an image of a curving black horn, harking back to earlier centuries when German postal workers trumpeted their arrival. But the twin battery packs under her seat also reveal it is more than the average bike.

Ms. Marossek rides one of the 6,200 e-bikes in service for Deutsche Post, the German mail service. E-bikes use electric motors to make them easier to pedal and have been gaining popularity in bike-loving countries like Germany, appealing to older people, delivery businesses and commuters who don’t want to sweat.

“They are really nice and they are only getting better,” Ms. Marossek said. “You’re not as exhausted as you would be with a regular bike.”

With tens of millions of e-bikes already on the road in China, e-bike sales are now surging in Europe, especially in northern countries with long cycling traditions. For some markets, e-bikes have recently been the only area of growth.

Read more: E-Bike Sales Are Surging in Europe - NYTimes.com