China still on track to hit growth target despite pollution war — state planner

China’s steel output dropped 3.7 percent in September from a record high the previous month as mills reduced production in line with Beijing’s anti-pollution campaign. (Reuters)
Updated 21 October 2017
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China still on track to hit growth target despite pollution war — state planner

BEIJING: China’s economy is on track to meet its official growth target for 2017, the head of the state planning agency said on Saturday, despite a punishing war on pollution which is expected to slash industrial output over the winter months.
China has forced 28 cities in smog-prone northern regions to reduce emissions of airborne particles known as PM2.5 by at least 15 percent from October to March 2017, with some cities expected to cut steel production by as much as 50 percent.
But officials with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said the world’s second-largest economy will remain on track.
“We expect to achieve the full-year growth target of about 6.5 percent,” He Lifeng, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told a briefing on the sidelines of China’s Communist Party Congress.
Most economists believe China’s actual growth should easily beat the target. The economy grew 6.8 percent in the third quarter of the year, and 6.9 percent in the first half. Last year’s growth rate of 6.7 percent was a 26-year low.
China’s economy has surprised global markets and investors with robust growth so far this year, driven by a renaissance in its long-ailing “smokestack” industries such as steel and stronger demand from Europe and the United States.
But economists with Societe Generale said in a recent note that the winter output cuts could slash industrial production growth by 0.6-0.8 percentage points and GDP growth by 0.2-0.25 percentage points in the next six months.
Industrial growth slowed to 6.3 percent in the third quarter, from 6.6 percent in the previous period, data showed last week, with the services sector taking up much of the slack.
Prices of commodities like steel, copper and iron ore have turned wildly volatile in China and in global markets recent weeks on fears of possible winter shortages.
China’s steel output dropped 3.7 percent in September from a record high the previous month as mills reduced production in line with Beijing’s campaign, and analysts predict further declines as winter curbs set in.
However, Zhang Yong, vice-chairman of the NDRC, told reporters that the direct impact was likely to be limited.
“Measures to fight pollution don’t have a big impact on economic growth,” he said. “Measures to treat pollution have a positive impact on economic development in the long term.”
The government has been pushing a restructuring program designed to “upgrade” its heavy industrial economy, cut pollution and tackle profit-sapping capacity gluts in sectors like steel and coal.
China says it has cut annual crude steel capacity by as much as 110 million tons over the last five years, with coal capacity slashed by as much as 400 million tons, though some analysts say much of the outdated, inefficient plants are merely being replaced with leaner, cleaner ones.
Ning Jizhe, vice head of the NDRC and also head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, said the country would continue to crack down on steel overcapacity, prevent obsolete plants from restarting and promote more mergers in the sector.


Ryanair inks new deals with unions in Europe

Updated 19 October 2018
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Ryanair inks new deals with unions in Europe

  • Ryanair pilots across Europe staged a 24-hour stoppage in September to push their demands also for better pay and conditions

LONDON: Ryanair has inked deals with more unions across Europe, the Irish no-frills airline said Friday as it looks to avoid further strike action threatened by pilots and cabin crew.
“These signed agreements with our pilot unions in Portugal, the UK, Italy and shortly in Spain, demonstrate the considerable progress we’re making in concluding union agreements with our people in our major EU markets,” Ryanair’s head of human resources Eddie Wilson said in a company statement.
But the latest agreements are only a stepping stone toward the key demand of Ryanair staff outside Ireland that the airline stop employing them under Irish legislation.
Employees argue that the status quo creates huge insecurity for them, blocking access to state benefits in their own countries.
Ryanair’s statement came one day after Belgian unions representing the airline’s cabin crew threatened “several strike days before the end of the year” by Europe-wide employees.
Ryanair pilots across Europe staged a 24-hour stoppage in September to push their demands also for better pay and conditions, plunging tens of thousands of passengers into transport chaos at the peak of the busy summer season.
In July meanwhile, strikes by cockpit and cabin crew disrupted 600 flights in Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, affecting 100,000 travelers.
Earlier this month, Ryanair slashed its profits forecast and signaled job losses in the Netherlands and Germany as it reported on the fallout of the pan-European strikes.
An update on its earnings outlook and past performance is due Monday when Ryanair publishes half-year results.