The first multilateral deal agreed at the World Trade Organization came into force Wednesday, a step billed as a milestone for the body facing unprecedented threats from a hostile US administration. The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has now been ratified by 112 of the WTO’s 164 members, crossing the two-thirds threshold needed for activation, the Geneva-based organization confirmed. Under the deal, nations agreed to simplify and standardize customs procedures at borders to make it easier for goods to flow around the world. WTO chief Roberto Azevedo said that TFA was estimated to trim global trade costs by more than 14 percent and could boost global growth by half a percentage point per year. (AFP)
Italy’s government was put on notice Wednesday that it may face a fine from the EU for not getting the country’s debt levels down. The European Commission urged Rome to take more cost-saving measures, worth up to 0.2 percent of its annual GDP. That’s unlikely to go down well in the center-left government as it faces the possibility of elections this year or next. “The Commission is not trying to create a storm, it’s trying to guide the ship safely into harbor,” said Pierre Moscovici, the commissioner responsible for economic and financial matters. Italian debt is expected to rise to a record 133.3 percent of GDP this year from 2016’s 132.8 percent - against a decline it was meant to achieve. (AP)
Kiev Economic court of appeal has dismissed the complaint of the Russian gas holding Gazprom against the decision of the Kiev Economic Court dated December 5, 2016. The latter upheld the lawsuit of Ukraine’s antimonopoly committee to oblige the Russian company to pay a fine of 172 billion hryvnias (about $6.4 billion). “The appeal of Gazprom has been rejected today,” a spokesman with the court told TASS.
The head of the EU’s bailout fund voiced confidence Wednesday that Greece would not require a new aid package in 2018 after its current international rescue program runs out. “If it makes good use of the next 18 months, I am confident that [the third aid package] would be the last for Greece,” Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “Greece has made progress… I am going on the principle that Greece would fly with its own wings from mid-2018 and would be able to obtain its own funds from the markets,” added Regling. Greece obtained its third international rescue package worth €86 billion in 2015, with the bailout funds paid out in several tranches. (AFP)
European shares climbed to a new 14-month high on Wednesday, supported by well-received earnings updates from companies such as Lloyds, Telefonica Deutschland and Scor. The pan-European STOXX 600 index was up 0.5 percent at 375.19 points by 0831 GMT after setting an intra-day high of 375.42 points, the highest level since early December 2015. Germany’s DAX was up 0.4 percent after hitting levels not seen since April 2015. Telefonica Deutschland was one of the best-performing stocks, up 5.8 percent after it reported better-than-predicted core profit for the fourth quarter and raised its target for synergies from its acquisition of E-Plus. (Reuters)
Hong Kong stocks ended near 18-1/2-month highs on Wednesday, led by resource and property stocks, as sentiment was lifted by the city’s firmer economic growth outlook and stronger China inflows. The benchmark Hang Seng index ended 1.0 percent up at 24,201.96, the highest since August 11 2015, while the Hong Kong China Enterprises Index gained 1.2 percent, to 10,537.58. Market confidence was lifted on news that Hong Kong handed out billions in tax cuts and poverty relief on Wednesday, to stimulate its economy that is expected to grow more strongly than expected at 2 to 3 percent this year. (Reuters)
China’s main share indexes rose for a third day on Wednesday to approach three-month highs, though gains were capped as speculators sold some recently-listed financial sector stocks. The blue-chip CSI300 index rose 0.2 percent, to 3,489.76 points. The Shanghai Composite Index also added 0.2 percent, to 3,261.22 points. Shares in Jiangsu Wujiang Rural Commercial Bank tumbled 9.1 percent, the biggest one-day since it was listed in late November. Real estate stocks barely moved after data showed home price growth slowed for the fourth straight month as demand cooled further in China’s biggest cities. Most sectors were largely unchanged. Gains were led by material and consumer shares. (Reuters)