Tuesday, December 15, 2015

WTO seen to be losing clout; Female billionaires increase seven-fold in 20 years; Seattle lets Uber drivers unionize

1 WTO seen to be losing clout (Andrew Walker on BBC) Does the World Trade Organization matter anymore? The organisation is increasingly at risk of being side-lined as groups of countries do trade and investment deals outside it. The WTO was established in 1995 to be the main forum for trade rules and for negotiating the removal of barriers to international commerce.
It is conducting a wide-ranging set of negotiations intended to take this process further. It is called the Doha Round, and it was launched in the Qatari capital 14 years ago. It is still limping along despite the original target for completing the talks being the beginning of 2005.
So far all it really has to show is an agreement on improving customs procedures, known as the Trade Facilitation Agreement. The wider negotiations - to reduce tariffs (taxes on imports), farm subsidies and remove many other trade barriers - have failed to produce results. Many countries have turned their attention to negotiating in smaller groups. The prime examples are the US' negotiations with Pacific nations and with the European Union.
WTO trade ministers are heading for their tenth ministerial meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. It's very unlikely that the Nairobi conference will pronounce the Doha Round dead. Some countries, including India, Indonesia and Venezuela want a formal reaffirmation of the declaration issued back in Doha.
Others, notably the US and European Union do not. They think it has become clear that this huge exercise - known in WTO-speak as a "single undertaking" - will fail to deliver results. So it is certainly possible that the Nairobi Conference will mark an important moment in the failure of the Doha Round.
However, there are areas where there could be some agreement. One is the final agreement among a group of countries on tariff-free trade in a range of technology goods. There is also the possibility of a deal to improve export opportunities for the poorest nations, the least developed countries. There are signs that the WTO's members do seem to be willing to agree in these areas, but even so there is no guarantee they will.
2 Female billionaires increase seven-fold in 20 years (Rupert Jones in The Guardian) The number of female billionaires worldwide has increased nearly sevenfold in the past 20 years to 145 – and it is Asian entrepreneurs who are driving this growth, according to a study.
The report found that women have outpaced men when it comes to membership of the billionaires’ club, with their ranks and wealth growing at faster rates. The number compares with only 22 in 1995. Lists of the world’s wealthiest women have long featured the likes of Liliane Bettencourt, the 93-year-old L’OrĂ©al heiress, and Christy and Alice Walton, members of the Walmart family.
But they are now increasingly featuring self-made billionaires from countries including China, Hong Kong and India. Among them are women such as Zhang Xin, a 50-year-old Chinese real estate mogul, who worked in a garment factory in Hong Kong from the age of 14, saved enough to come to the UK to study at Sussex University, and was said earlier this year to be worth well over $3bn (£2bn).
However, this is a club still very much dominated by men over 60. There are 1,202 male billionaires – but their number has only grown by a factor of 5.2. In 1995, there were 289 billionaires globally, but by 2014 their number had swelled to 1,347, according to the study published by the Swiss bank UBS and professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Over that period, while global GDP has jumped from $30tn to more than $77tn, the wealth of the planet’s billionaires has risen almost eightfold, from $700bn to $5.4tn. Asia’s fast-growing young economies have been the driving force behind greater diversity, as they have allowed a small but increasing number of female entrepreneurs to create billion-dollar legacies, said the study.
The report’s authors said their research showed that the three leading sectors where these women had made their wealth were property, industrials and health. Equally, some had inherited from their fathers – the region’s pioneering entrepreneurs.
3 Seattle is first US city with unionised Uber drivers (San Francisco Chronicle) Seattle this week became the first city in the US to allow drivers of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to unionize over pay and working conditions. Supporters erupted into cheers after the City Council voted 8-0 in favor of the legislation, which is seen as a test case for the changing 21st century workforce.
The companies strongly oppose it, and several council members acknowledged there would be legal challenges ahead but said it was worth doing. The measure requires companies that hire or contract with drivers of taxis, for-hire transportation companies and app-based ride-hailing services to bargain with their drivers, if a majority shows they want to be represented. Drivers would be represented by nonprofit organizations certified by the city.
Seattle has been a national leader on workers' rights, such as gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 and requiring most employers to provide paid sick leave. Council member Mike O'Brien said innovation can continue to happen, but it shouldn't be done at the expense of workers. The National Labor Relations Act does not extend collective bargaining rights to independent contractors.
Uber has about 400,000 drivers US-wide with about 10,000 in Seattle. Its rival, Lyft, also has thousands of drivers in Seattle but declined to give a specific number. Legal experts have been mixed on how the bill would be challenged in court, including whether the ordinance violates antitrust laws because it would allow drivers to get together and set rates.

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