Trade

Indonesia bans palm oil exports

In late April, the Indonesian government announced a temporary ban on exports of crude palm oil and its refined products, such as cooking oil. The decision came as a surprise to commercial goods traders as the government had previously stated the ban would only apply to refined products. After the government’s initial statement, prices of crude palm oil significantly fluctuated given uncertainties about what products the ban would cover. Prices have again skyrocketed in light of the most recent announcement.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the world has seen a wave of food protectionism, as governments seek to protect domestic food supplies in light of surging agricultural prices. As the world’s largest edible oils shipper, providing one third of global supplies, Indonesia threatens to worsen global food inflation with its decision and raises the risk of a full-blown hunger crisis.

Translation helps promote trade

Steep tariffs, challenging geography and government subsidies come to mind when we think about the barriers to international trade. But there are lots of different languages in the world, and translation problems can slow things down, too.

Evidence from a new translation technology powered by artificial intelligence might be able to help clear those hurdles. In 2014, eBay mediated over $14 billion of international trade in more than 200 countries. That same year, the company introduced eBay Machine Translation, or eMT, an in-house machine learning system that translates between languages when users search or view listings on its website.

The system was about 7 percent more accurate than the previous translation service the company was using, and that led to a 17 to 20 percent increase in exports through the platform to Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.

Japan and EU sign free trade deal

The European Union and Japan signed a monumental trade deal in, July 2018, eliminating nearly all tariffs between the entities in one of the world’s largest free-trade deals. The pact, signed in Tokyo, covers a third of the global economy.

The agreement is in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s trade war and alignment with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the leaders didn’t mention him by name, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker distanced themselves from Trump’s tactics in a press conference following the deal.

“Politically, it’s a light in the increasing darkness of international politics,” European Council President Tusk said of the deal. “We are sending a clear message that you can count on us. We are predictable – both Japan and [the] EU – predictable and responsible and will come to the defense of a world order based on rules, freedom and transparency and common sense.”

Rare earths discovered in Japan

Every day, we use products that are built using “rare earths”—a group of 17 elements that are, as the name suggests, very rare. They’re used to make everyday items such as rechargeable batteries, LED lights and display panels, as well as larger products such as wind turbines.

Now, it turns out, Japan has an estimated 16 million tons of the stuff on its turf. Researchers claim the trove might be enough to supply the world with metals such as yttrium and europium on a “semi-infinite basis.”

This is good news for Japan’s industrial sector. The world’s biggest source of rare earths is by far China, which has in the past halted exports to Japan when the two countries have been at odds.

Japan asks China for pandas

The Japanese government has asked the Chinese government to loan Japan more giant pandas. Amid the growing popularity of the giant panda cub Xiang Xiang, who is on public view at Ueno Zoo in Taito Ward, Tokyo, the Japanese government hopes to realize the loan as soon as possible as a symbol of improved relations between Japan and China.

The Japanese government is considering Oji Zoo and Yagiyama Zoological Park in Sendai as possible breeding facilities for new pandas. Oji Zoo has only one female, Tan Tan, meaning they need a male for breeding. Yagiyama Zoological Park has petitioned for pandas, to cheer up people affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Giant pandas are extremely popular in each country for their cute appearance and rarity; they have become an important diplomatic tool for the Chinese government. China is likely to decide whether to loan more pandas after carefully examining developments in China-Japan relationships.

Is McDonald's a foreign agent?

A Russian politician proposed labeling American fast food chains like McDonald's and KFC as foreign agents, following recently passed legislation which provides the same classification for international news outlets.

Boris Chernyshov, a 26-year-old Moscow lawmaker in the federal Russian Assembly, described advertisements made by American restaurants for Russian consumers as manipulative and nontransparent about their longterm health effects. The State Duma deputy added that chains like McDonald’s, available across Russia, were contributing to the decline of the nation's cuisine, according to local reports.

The latest measure to classify news outlets like CNN and Washington Post as foreign agents followed the U.S. requiring Russian outlets like RT and Sputnik to register under the same label. Not even three days later, the Russian lawmaker took the tit-for-tat a step further by once again pulling food chains into the feud.

Japanese investment in India

 On more than 445 hectares of land dedicated exclusively to Japanese corporations, titans such as Toyota Motor Corp., Daikin Industries Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd. have clustered together to protect themselves from the vagaries of India’s chaotic business landscape.

“In India, the size of investment matters,” said Takayoshi Tokimune, the managing director of the India subsidiary for Dainichiseika Color & Chemicals Manufacturing Co. “So we flocked together.”

Japanese foreign direct investment in India has risen since the global financial crisis, reaching nearly $3.5 billion in 2016. Japan is India’s 10th largest trading partner, with the bilateral relationship worth about $14.5 billion.