Accord on revised Pacific Rim trade pact stalled

Leaders and their spouses pose for a family photo ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit leaders gala dinner in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 10, 2017. (AFP / Vietnam News Agency)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Accord on revised Pacific Rim trade pact stalled

DANANG, Vietnam: Talks on a Pacific Rim trade pact abandoned by US President Donald Trump appeared to have stalled Friday as Canada balked at a basic agreement worked out in ministerial-level talks hours before.
Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January. Leaders of the 11 countries remaining in the TPP had been due to meet and endorse a deal worked out in last-minute talks overnight.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that the 11 leaders had to postpone their meeting on the sidelines of the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam.
“It was said that it is not at a stage where (the agreement) can be confirmed at the summit level,” said Abe, who was to co-chair the meeting. He made the comments to Japanese reporters after meeting with his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, who stayed away from the planned TPP leaders’ gathering while most other leaders showed up.
There was no immediate word from Canada on its stance. However, Trudeau had said days earlier that Canada would not be rushed into an agreement.
The chances for a deal by the time the summit ends on Saturday were unclear.
Earlier in the day, officials from Japan and some other countries expressed differing opinions on whether an “agreement in principle” had been reached.
The TPP member countries are trying to find a way forward without the US, the biggest economy and, before Trump took office, one of its most assertive supporters. Trump has said he prefers country-to-country deals and is seeking to renegotiate several major trade agreements to, as he says, “put America first.”
Vietnamese officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump reiterated his markedly different stance on trade before the 21-member APEC summit convened late Friday with a gala banquet.
The US president told an APEC business conference that “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore.” He lambasted the World Trade Organization and other trade forums as unfair to the United States and reiterated his preference for bilateral trade deals, saying “I am always going to put America first.”
Trump said he would not enter into large trade agreements, alluding to US involvement in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the TPP.
In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the same group that nations need to stay committed to economic openness or risk being left behind.
The Chinese president drew loud applause when he urged support for the “multilateral trading regime” and progress toward a free-trade zone in the Asia-Pacific.
APEC operates by consensus and customarily issues nonbinding statements. TPP commitments would eventually be ratified and enforced by its members.
But even talks this week on a declaration to cap the APEC summit had to be extended for an extra half day as ministers haggled over wording. It’s unclear what the exact sticking points were, but officials have alluded to differences over the unequal impact more open trade has had on workers and concerns over automation in manufacturing that could leave many millions in a wide array of industries with no work to do.
As a developing country with a fast-growing export sector, this year’s host country, Vietnam, has a strong interest in open trade and access for its exports to consumers in the West. The summit is an occasion for its leaders to showcase the progress its economy has made thanks largely to foreign investment and trade. Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, is in the midst of a construction boom as dozens of resorts and smaller hotels pop up along its scenic coastline.
APEC’s members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.


Jet Airways’ survival may rest on founder Goyal leaving the cockpit

Updated 14 December 2018
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Jet Airways’ survival may rest on founder Goyal leaving the cockpit

  • Abu Dhabi’s Etihad injected $600 million in 2013
  • Founder started as an assistant in a travel agency

NEW DELHI: Jet Airways’ 69-year-old founder Naresh Goyal, who started out as an assistant in a travel agency, wove together charm, persistence and consummate dealmaking to build India’s biggest full-service carrier.
Now, his penchant for control has emerged as a major obstacle as the indebted airline tries to negotiate a rescue deal, several people who have worked closely with him or known him over the years told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“He was a visionary in his day but those days are behind us,” said a senior aircraft financier who has done deals with Goyal. “This is the moment of truth for Naresh Goyal.”
The rising dominance of low-cost carrier IndiGo in a price sensitive market as well as high oil prices, hefty fuel taxes and a weak rupee have left Jet strapped for cash and unable to pay employees and lessors on time.
The 25-year-old airline, which Goyal set up with his wife at a time when state-run Air India was the only real formidable opponent, has outstanding dues of about $400 million.
Jet, which has a mainly Boeing Co. fleet, has delayed pre-delivery payments to the Seattle-based aircraft maker as well as to Airbus SE, and is overdue on its repair and maintenance contracts, two sources aware of the matter said.
Although the Indian air travel market is the world’s fastest growing, at about 20 percent a year, it is also hobbled by cut-throat competition and chronically low fares. To stay afloat, Jet is cutting flights on some non-profitable routes and trying to raise cash by monetising assets.
It still retains a valuable strategic position as the biggest operator at Mumbai airport, where all of the good slots have been taken and a second airport is years away. It also has lucrative slots at major international airports and code share agreements with more than 20 airlines.
Jet has survived a near-death experience once before; in 2013, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways injected $600 million of capital for a 24 percent stake in the airline, three London Heathrow slots and a majority share in Jet’s frequent flyer program. The infusion helped Jet pare down debt and fight growing domestic competition.
The airline is in talks with Etihad a second time and with Indian conglomerate Tata Sons for fresh funds or a stake sale, but sources have told Reuters that any rescue would require Goyal to step down, or take a less prominent role.
Goyal has rejected seeking funds from Tata if it meant him having to give up his position, two sources aware of the discussions said. Talks with Etihad are continuing.
Goyal did not directly respond to requests for comment but a Jet spokeswoman said the “conjectures being implied with regards to the organization’s ways of working” were misleading.
“The airline management is a fully empowered team ... all strategic, operational and tactical decisions are taken by the management under the advice of the company’s board of directors,” she said.
Will Horton, an independent aviation analyst based in Hong Kong, said it was time for Jet to evolve beyond “one leader or family.”
“A change at the top runs its course down. Freedom to implement a new management plan is critical for strategic and financial partners, existing and potentially new,” he said.
When Goyal launched Jet Airways in 1993, air travel in India was at a nascent stage. He kickstarted the sector’s growth and put the country on the map.
With 124 planes, Jet now flies to places like Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris and London, besides over 45 destinations in India.
Ceding control may not be easy for Goyal. He is Jet’s chairman and holds a 51 percent stake in the airline with his wife Anita still on the board.
“It is a very mom-and-pop kind of operation where nothing happens without the two of them,” said a former Jet employee, who describes the founder as a workaholic.
Goyal is always involved in key decisions and the airline’s CEOs often have little executive power and do not survive for long, according to two other current and former employees.
Jet has had seven CEOs in 10 years with its current chief Vinay Dube taking over in August 2017.
“The airline is his life and he built it from nothing, you have to give him respect for that,” said one of the former employees. “But ... the airline business can be unforgiving.”
In 2012, Kingfisher Airlines, founded by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya, went bust for want of cash, leaving its lessors and creditors with pending dues.
After Kingfisher went down, India ratified the Cape Town convention, an international treaty making it easier for foreign owners to repossess aircraft when airlines default on payments. That means Jet’s lessors could choose to reclaim planes in case of a default.
The airline could also be dragged to court by its creditors under India’s new insolvency laws.
Jet is committed to turning around its business and creating “a competitive cost structure that ensures a sustainable future for the airline and its stakeholders,” the spokeswoman said.
She did not comment on any specific deals but said the airline continues to be in active discussions with various investors to secure “sustainable financing.”
But Jet’s rescue options appear somewhat limited given its poor financial position — it posted losses in the last three quarters and its shares have fallen about 70 percent so far this year, erasing more than $900 million in market value.
Goyal, is knocking on all doors, including that of the government. Jet and Etihad executives also met lenders in India to discuss a rescue deal.
Senior Etihad adviser and former Jet CEO Cramer Ball was in Mumbai last week, just days ahead of a meeting of the Abu Dhabi carrier’s board on Dec. 7 where it was expected to discuss its investment in the Indian airline, two sources said. The outcome of the closed-door meeting remains unknown.
Etihad, in an email to Reuters, said it would not comment on speculation.
However, the Abu Dhabi carrier, which owns 24 percent of Jet, is ready to put in more money only if Goyal dilutes his stake, a source aware of the matter told Reuters.
Even so, Etihad’s stake will be capped at 49 percent due to foreign ownership rules in Indian airlines and if it goes past the 25 percent ownership threshold, it would need to adhere to capital markets regulations and make an open offer to shareholders to buy a further 26 percent stake.
If forced to do this, Etihad would risk breaching the foreign ownership restrictions and so it may have to seek a rare exemption from the markets regulator from making an open offer.
Talks with Tata are on the backburner for now but three people familiar with the conglomerate’s thinking said they may be found waiting in the wings if the Etihad deal falls through.
“There is an expectation that there will be a rescue and Goyal will find a way — he always does — but there is no clarity on how much control he will have after a deal is done,” said one of the people who works with him.