Free trade deals for ‘poorest countries’ to be maintained post-Brexit

Woman in Bangladesh working in a textiles factory

Free trade deals with developing countries will continue post-Brexit, the government has said.

The UK will maintain an EU deal, which provides 48 countries with duty-free access to Britain for imports.

It means British firms do not pay import tariffs on goods bought from countries such as Bangladesh and Haiti.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said Brexit gave the country an opportunity “to step up our commitments to the rest of the world”.

He added: “Free and fair trade has been the greatest liberator of the world’s poor, and today’s announcement shows our commitment to helping developing countries grow their economies and reduce poverty through trade.”

The deal excludes arms and ammunitions.

The list of countries – which also includes Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Uganda – is based on the

Currently £19.2bn of goods are imported from the 48 countries, including 79% of the tea consumed in the Britain.

Some 45% of the UK’s textile and clothing imports, and 22% of its coffee, also come from the developing nations.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the renewed commitment would “help the world’s poorest people stand on their own two feet”.

She added: “Building a more prosperous world and supporting our own long-term economic security is firmly in all our interests‎.”

The government is also intending on exploring options to expand relationships with richer countries like Jamaica, Pakistan and Ghana, which currently enjoy a mixture of reduced tariffs or zero tariffs.

Dr Fox added it would result “in lower prices and greater choice for consumers”.

Building society’s account deadline axed

Norwich and Peterborough branch

A deadline for the closure of current accounts with the Norwich and Peterborough (N&P) has been cancelled, with 30% of customers still to receive letters explaining the move.

It was announced in January that the building society’s brand is to be abolished, some branches closed, and current accounts shut down.

The plan was for customers to move or close accounts by the end of August.

But its owner, the Yorkshire Building Society, now says there is no deadline.

The Yorkshire – the UK’s second biggest mutual – said that about 35% of the 100,000 customers affected had already closed their current account, switched to another bank, or was in the process of doing so.

It was staggering the flow of letters to affected customers to avoid a rush of inquiries, and has now written to 70% of those affected.

The remaining letters will be sent by the end of July.

The Yorkshire will close 28 N&P branches this year. The remaining branches will be rebranded as Yorkshire Building Society branches.

A spokeswoman for the Yorkshire said: “We are continuing to work closely with other financial providers in assisting customers to switch or close their account. We’re writing to customers with details of what they need to do next, and asking that customers complete the closure or switch of their account within six months of receiving their letter. We have not set a final date for closure.

“If a customer has not taken steps to close or switch their account within six months of receiving of their letter, we will work closely with the customer on a case-by-case basis to facilitate a switch or closure.”

In the meantime, no customers would be blocked from depositing money or conducting any normal banking transactions via their current account, she said.

The N&P is not part of the Current Account Switching Service so the process will be slower than could have been the case, taking about 12 days.

It was feared that some cash incentives to switch offered by rivals would not have applied, but many providers are now offering the perks to customers moving from the N&P.

Mike Regnier, chief executive of the Yorkshire Building Society, told earlier this year that it was a “real shame” that the accounts had to close. He said that too much investment would be required to keep the current accounts compliant with regulation if offered by the mutual. Instead it is to concentrate on savings and mortgage products.

Tesco is raising store staff pay by 10.5% over two years

Tesco store

Hourly pay rates for Tesco store staff will rise by 10.5% over the next two years, the supermarket has said.

But pay remains lower than at Aldi and Lidl and overtime pay on Sundays and Bank Holidays is being cut.

Currently Tesco workers are paid £7.62 an hour, which will rise to £8.42 an hour by November 2018.

The pay rise will put Tesco workers’ pay above the £7.90 level that the National Living Wage reach by 2018.

The National Living Wage is the effective minimum wage for adults aged 25 and over, and is currently £7.50.

Those under the age of 25 are entitled to a lower minimum wage rate, whilst workers in London receive a premium.

Statutory minimum pay rates will continue to rise until at least 2020, according to recent government Budgets, and companies are planning for those changes, as well as striving to remain competitive with rivals in order to recruit and retain staff.

Wage growth in the UK has been slow in recent years, but inflation has risen and other supermarkets have increased the wages they pay.

Aldi recently announced a rise in hourly pay to £8.53 an hour; Lidl’s website says it pays store staff £8.45 an hour.

Tesco said it would increase hourly pay in three stages: to £8.02 in November 2017, then to £8.18 in July 2018 and to £8.42 in November 2018.

“This reward package sees our biggest investment in store pay for a decade, and gives colleagues a sustainable pay deal that rewards them for everything they do, while allowing us to also attract new talent,” said Tesco UK chief executive, Matt Davies.

The retailer said maternity pay terms had also been improved. But extra pay for Sundays and bank holidays will be reduced from time-and-a-half to time-and-a-quarter after July 2018.

“This is designed to meet the government legislative requirement around the minimum wage.

“As expected, most of the businesses who have had to face up to this rise have had to reduce premiums and other perks that employees benefitted from in order to meet the core wage rises,” said retail analyst Steve Dresser.

EU prepares to move two agencies from London

People look at Canary Wharf in London

EU leaders have officially launched the competition between member states to decide which will host two London-based EU agencies, responsible for medicines and banking.

The relocation must take place by the Brexit deadline – 30 March 2019.

Some countries are bidding to host both the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and European Banking Authority (EBA).

It means hundreds of jobs moving from London, along with significant revenue from hotel stays and conferences.

The deciding vote will take place in November.

The EU 27 agreed on the selection process on Thursday night, after UK Prime Minister Theresa May had left the Brussels summit.

The 27 are determined that the UK will pay the relocation bill, as Brexit was a UK decision.

The EMA’s total number of staff in 2015 was 890, while the EBA’s was 189. Both are headquartered in Canary Wharf.

The EMA had 36,000 visitors in 2015, and 30,000 hotel nights were booked, the .


EMA

  • Monitors the safety and quality of medicines EU-wide and issues scientific advice
  • Provides a single route for evaluating medicines, avoiding duplication by member states
  • Helps innovation by collaborating with medicine manufacturers

EBA

  • Works to harmonise European banking rules and supervisory practices
  • Assesses risks and vulnerabilities in EU banking sector
  • Mediates in cross-border disputes between financial authorities

The national rivalry over hosting the agencies will be closely watched. It could reveal some wider tensions over Brexit, so it will be an early test of EU unity in the tough Brexit negotiations.

In 2001 Italy’s then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi mocked Finland’s bid to host the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

“There is absolutely no comparison between culatello (speciality ham) from Parma and smoked reindeer,” Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying.

Italy’s bid beat Finland’s, and the EFSA opened in Parma in 2005.

First the European Commission will assess the competing bids and make its recommendations.

In November each of the EU foreign ministers will vote in order of preference – three points for the preferred bid, two points for the second-favourite and one point for the third.

Accessibility and efficient infrastructure are the top two agreed criteria. But the EU also wants the new hosts to have good “European-oriented” schooling and job opportunities for the families of agency staff.


Germany’s joked that the voting would be rather like the Eurovision Song Contest.

“That’s why the Germans fear equally wretched results,” Spiegel said – even though Frankfurt, as HQ of the European Central Bank, would be a logical host for the EBA.

A flavour of this new EU “beauty contest” was provided by Austria.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said his country “is already a terrific location for many international organisations.

“We have wonderful general conditions in Vienna, and that’s why I consider that we are a very attractive location.”

The EU is keen to locate some of its agencies in the newer member states of Central and Eastern Europe – it has stated that as an aim.

But their rejection of the EU asylum policy – notably refusing to take in refugees currently in Italy and Greece – may count against them.

Troubled Toshiba flags deeper losses

Toshiba logo

Ailing electronics giant Toshiba has said its losses for 2016 may be greater than it had previously forecast.

It now of 995bn yen (£7bn) for the year to March, up from its earlier estimate of 950bn yen.

The firm was after confirming its liabilities outweighed its assets.

It also got to delay filing its annual earnings again, this time until 10 August, after a previous deadline extension to 30 June.

Failure to gain an extension would have put the troubled company’s stock exchange listing in further jeopardy.

In April, Toshiba said its future may be in doubt after facing a series of difficulties.

An accounting scandal that was uncovered in 2015 led to the resignation of the chief executive and several senior managers. The company was found to have inflated the previous seven years’ profits by $1.2bn.

The firm was dealt another blow in January when it became clear its US nuclear unit, Westinghouse, was in financial trouble.

Toshibas’s dire financial position has forced it to try to sell off its highly prized chip unit.

The company has named a consortium of Bain Capital and Japanese government investors as the preferred bidder for the business

But US-based Western Digital, which jointly runs Toshiba’s main chip operations in Japan, has filed a request with the International Court of Arbitration to stop the sale going ahead.

Toshiba is the world’s second-largest chip manufacturer. Its products are used in data centres and consumer goods worldwide, including iPhones and iPads.

ECB bids for more euro clearing oversight

City of London skyline

The European Central Bank has put forward a proposal to boost its oversight over euro clearing.

The legal amendment would give it a “significantly enhanced” role in regulating the lucrative market.

London currently processes most of the trade in this financial sector, providing thousands of jobs.

The ECB’s proposal comes shortly after the European Commission published a draft law to give it the power to move euro clearing business out of London.

Clearing is where a third party organisation acts as a middleman for buyers and sellers of financial contracts tied to the underlying value of a share, index, currency or bond.

Trillions of euros are handled through clearing houses every year, mostly through London.

The ECB said the amendment would give it “clear legal competence” in the area of central clearing, which is currently dominated by London firms.

Under the proposal, the ECB and its national central banks would monitor risks that could affect monetary policy, the operation of payment systems and the stability of the euro.

Daniel Hodson of the Financial Services Negotiation Forum told the BBC that at the moment the ECB did not have sovereignty over euro clearing in London, as the UK regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority – is responsible.

However, there are “substantial” arrangements in place with the ECB that are “very similar” to those in place with US regulators for dollar clearing, he said.

“There is no economic reason for changing this well-developed and thought out established framework, adapted as appropriate post-Brexit,” he said.

“There is a strong argument that to try to move substantial amounts of London based euro clearing business into the eurozone would actually create more systemic risk than it would offset,” he added.

The move comes after the European Commission that would impose stricter supervision of the euro derivatives market and could force operators to leave London as a result of Brexit.

At the moment London is the world leader for clearing all types of currency-denominated derivatives including the euro.

Watchdog clamps down on online gambling

Playing cards and gambling chips

The competition regulator is to take action against some online gambling companies which it suspects of breaking consumer law.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said some punters did not get the deal they expected from sign-up promotions offering cash bonuses to attract them to gaming websites.

The CMA also said the firms were “unfairly holding onto people’s money”.

Online gambling companies should “play fair”, said the CMA.

Facebook launches initiative to fight online hate speech

Facebook

Facebook is launching a UK initiative to train and fund local organisations to combat extremism and hate speech.

It comes a week after the social network from its site.

The UK Online Civil Courage Initiative’s initial partners include Imams Online and the Jo Cox Foundation.

Facebook has faced criticism for being slow to react to terrorist propaganda on its platforms.

“The recent terror attacks in London and Manchester – like violence anywhere – are absolutely heartbreaking,” said Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

“No-one should have to live in fear of terrorism – and we all have a part to play in stopping violent extremism from spreading.

“We know we have more to do – but through our platform, our partners and our community we will continue to learn to keep violence and extremism off Facebook.”

In recent months, governments across Europe have been pushing for technology companies to take more action to prevent online platforms from being used to spread extremist propaganda.

In particular, security services have criticised Facebook, Twitter and Google for relying too much on other people to report inappropriate content, rather than spotting it themselves.

In April, Germany passed a bill to fine social networks up to €50m (£44m) if they failed to give users the option to report hate speech and fake news, or if they refused to remove illegal content flagged as either images of child sexual abuse or inciting terrorism.

Following the , UK PM Theresa May announced that new international agreements needed to be introduced to regulate the internet in order to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online”.

And last week in Paris, Mrs May and French President Emmanuel Macron to look at how they could make the internet safe, including making companies legally liable if they refused to remove certain content.

Similar initiatives to counter hate speech were launched in Germany in January 2016 and in France in March 2017.

They have held training workshops with more than 100 anti-hate and anti-extremism organisations across Europe, and reached 3.5 million people online through its Facebook page.

In the UK, people are being encouraged to visit the , to share stories, content and ideas, and use the hashtag #civilcourage.

Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered MP Jo Cox and the founder of the Jo Cox Foundation, has welcomed the move.

“This is a valuable and much needed initiative from Facebook in helping to tackle extremism,” he said.

“Anything that helps push the extremists even further to the margins is greatly welcome. Social media platforms have a particular responsibility to address hate speech that has too often been allowed to flourish online.

“It is critical that efforts are taken by all online service providers and social networks to bring our communities closer together and to further crack down on those that spread violence and hatred online.”

Virgin Media urges password change over hacking risk

computer hacker

Virgin Media has told 800,000 customers to change their passwords to protect against being hacked.

An investigation by Which? found that hackers could access the provider’s Super Hub 2 router, allowing access to users’ smart appliances.

A child’s toy and domestic CCTV cameras were among the vulnerable devices.

Virgin Media said the risk was small but advised customers using default network and router passwords to update them immediately.

A spokesman said: “The security of our network and of our customers is of paramount importance to us.

“We continually upgrade our systems and equipment to ensure that we meet all current industry standards.

“We regularly support our customers through advice and updates and offer them the chance to upgrade to a Hub 3.0 which contains additional security provisions.”

The company said the issue existed with other routers of the same age and was not exclusive to their model.

The study, carried out in conjunction with ethical security researchers SureCloud, tested 15 devices -of which eight had security flaws.

In one case a home CCTV system was hacked using an administrator account that was not password protected. Hackers were able to watch live pictures and in some cases were able to move cameras inside the house.

Which? called for the industry to improve basic security provisions, including requiring customers to create a unique password before use, two-factor authentication, and issuing regular software security updates.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “There is no denying the huge benefits that smart-home gadgets and devices bring to our daily lives.

“However, as our investigation clearly shows, consumers should be aware that some of these appliances are vulnerable and offer little or no security.

“There are a number of steps people can take to better protect their home, but hackers are growing increasingly more sophisticated.

“Manufacturers need to ensure that any smart product sold is secure by design.”

Which? said it had contacted the manufacturers of the eight affected products to alert them to the security flaws.

Fed: US banks have money for crisis

US Federal Reserve

The 34 largest banks in the US have money on hand to withstand a severe recession, the US central bank said on Thursday.

The finding comes from an annual “stress test” conducted by the Federal Reserve.

The tests were put in place after the financial crisis to strengthen financial capacity in the event of a downturn.

Banks have been pushing to relax those rules.

Some said Thursday’s results could make it easier to convince policymakers to do so.

“We see today’s … stress test results as a positive for Trump administration efforts to deregulate the banks,” Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst with Cowen & Co, told Reuters.

The Federal Reserve tested to see how banks with $50bn (£39.4bn) or more would respond in the event of a global recession, if unemployment increased to 10% and property values declined.

That would trigger combined losses of nearly $500bn over more than two years – including $383bn from loans – but the firms have enough of a cushion to handle such a blow, the Federal Reserve said.

Since 2009, the 34 firms have added more than $750bn in common equity capital, the Federal Reserve said.

Jerome H Powell, a governor of the Federal Reserve who has urged some regulatory reform, said the tests show that “even during a severe recession, our large banks would remain well capitalised”.

“This would allow them to lend throughout the economic cycle and support households and businesses when times are tough,” he said.

The firms reviewed included Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

A second, more closely watched component is due next week.