The North American Free-Trade Agreement renegotiation begins

THE North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a 23-year-old trade deal between America, Mexico and Canada, is being revamped. On August 16th, after months of threats, taunts and tweets, the first round of talks started in Washington. The negotiators face a daunting challenge, straddling domestic and foreign policy. They must please their political masters while grappling with devilishly detailed policy problems. If they fail, it will not be for lack of experience. The professionals are in the room.

This negotiation will be more tense than most. Participation in trade talks is usually by mutual consent. In this one, President Donald Trump is trying to hold his trade partners hostage, by threatening to withdraw from the original deal if a better one cannot be agreed on. That such an outcome would also hurt America does not make the exercise any easier.

Pressure is added by a desperately tight, if unacknowledged, deadline, set by the presidential-election timetable in Mexico….Continue reading
Source: Business and Finance

China’s digital-payments giant keeps bank chiefs up at night

IN WESTERN countries it is common to talk about American technology being dominant. From an Asian perspective that seems off. Fresh from visiting the region, where buskers and kerbside fishmongers can be paid by presenting a phone, Schumpeter has found it a shock being back in New York. There, buying most things involves signing bits of paper and PIN numbers are viewed as dangerously transgressive. Only 2% of credit- and debit-card transactions in America are authenticated with PIN numbers; 19bn cheques are written in the country every year.

Asian firms have leapfrogged ahead, offering a new model of financial technology. Exhibit A is Ant Financial, a payments company affiliated with Alibaba, one of China’s two giant internet firms (the other is Tencent, whose WeChat messaging app is ubiquitous and supports payments). Ant is popular in China and has ambitions outside it. Already the world’s most valuable “fintech” firm, worth $60bn, it has 520m payments customers at home and its…Continue reading
Source: Business and Finance

Efficiency eludes the construction industry

NINE years ago the first concrete was poured for Berlin Brandenburg airport. It was expected to open in 2012, to cost €1.2bn ($1.8bn) and to welcome 34m passengers each year. Today the only people in its terminals are those with hard hats. Six times over budget, the project has had 66,500 building errors in need of fixing. Last year its spokesman was sacked after calling the project a “shit-show” and saying no manager who was not “addicted to pills” could guarantee an opening date.

Berlin’s airport is an extreme example of a broader problem. Superficially, the construction industry would seem healthy enough. The global market is worth $10trn. Euler Hermes, an insurer, expects 3.5% growth this year. Yet more than 90% of the world’s infrastructure projects are either late or over-budget, says Bent Flyvbjerg of Saïd Business School at Oxford University. Even the sharpest of tech firms suffer. Apple’s new headquarters in Silicon Valley opened two years behind schedule and cost…Continue reading
Source: Business and Finance