British lawmakers launch inquiry into cryptocurrencies

A global investment craze over bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the last year has seen wild gyrations in their valuations, making fortunes for some investors, while others have lost heavily. (Reuters)
Updated 22 February 2018
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British lawmakers launch inquiry into cryptocurrencies

LONDON: Britain’s cross-party Treasury Select Committee of lawmakers on Thursday said it is launching an inquiry into digital currencies, as well as the underlying distributed ledger technology.
The probe will focus on the opportunities and risks posed to consumers, businesses and the government by the rising popularity of so-called cryptocurrencies, the committee said in a statement.
A global investment craze over bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the last year has seen wild gyrations in their valuations, making fortunes for some investors, while others have lost heavily.
Bitcoin, the best-known virtual currency, lost over half its value earlier this year after surging more than 1,300 percent.
“People are becoming increasingly aware of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, but they may not be aware that they are currently unregulated in the UK, and that there is no protection for individual investors,” Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury Committee, said.
The British committee of politicians will take written and verbal evidence from a range of experts on the digital currencies, which will then inform a report it submits to the government containing recommendations on what to do.
The inquiry will consider whether the government is striking the right balance between protecting customers and businesses without stifling innovation.
Governments and regulators worldwide have in recent months shown themselves divided on what to do about cryptocurrencies, which have already spawned investment scams promising returns of over 1,000 percent and hacks on the exchanges that store the virtual funds.
The finance ministers and central bank governors of France and Germany earlier this month called for the policy and monetary implications of cryptocurrencies to be placed on the agenda of the upcoming G20 meeting of the largest advanced and developing economies.
The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney meanwhile on Monday said that bitcoin has “pretty much failed” as a currency measured by standard benchmarks, and is neither a store of value nor a useful way to buy things.
But the BoE is one of a number of central banks and governments around the world that are looking into the underlying blockchain technology as a potential way of issuing digital-only currency, for making settlement more efficient, or for distributing and tracking money in the public sector.


EU slaps tariffs on US as trade war erupts

Updated 22 June 2018
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EU slaps tariffs on US as trade war erupts

  • Customs agents across Europe’s colossal market of 500 million people will now impose the duty, hiking prices on US-made products in supermarkets and across factory floors
  • Donald Trump claimed America had been obliged to levy the metals tariffs as it has been exploited as the world’s “piggy bank”

BRUSSELS: The EU slapped revenge tariffs on iconic US products including bourbon, jeans and motorcycles on Friday in its opening salvo in a trade war with President Donald Trump.
The tariffs, which took effect at midnight (2200 GMT Thursday) according to the EU’s official journal, will further fuel jitters on world stock markets that are already alarmed by trade tensions between the US and China.
Customs agents across Europe’s colossal market of 500 million people will now impose the duty, hiking prices on US-made products in supermarkets and across factory floors.
“These measures are the logical consequence of the US decision,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.
“They reflect a Europe that is resolute and principled,” he said.
Brussels imposed the raft of duties on US products worth €2.8 billion ($3.3 billion) in a tit-for-tat response to Trump’s decision to slap stiff tariffs on European steel and aluminum exports.
Global markets on Friday took the development in stride, with stocks in Europe firm after weeks of instability on trade worries.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said this week that the 28-nation bloc was “left with no other choice” but to impose tariffs of its own after the “unilateral and unjustified decision of the US.”
Together with US tariffs against Mexico and Canada, the trade battles have raised the spectre of a global trade war, spooking financial markets that fear major consequences to the global economy.
“We have a trade war — and it’s an escalating trade war,” SEB chief economist Robert Bergqvist said in an interview.
Brussels first drew up the list in March when Trump initially floated the 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum, which also target Canada, Mexico and other close allies.
The list does not specifically name brands but European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker spelled out in March that the bloc would target “Harley-Davidson, bourbon and Levi’s jeans.”
Cranberries, cranberry juice, orange juice, sweetcorn and peanut butter are among the other food products targeted.
Juncker said on Thursday that the US decision to impose tariffs “goes against all logic and history.”
“Our response must be clear but measured. We will do what we have to do to rebalance and safeguard,” he said.
European consumers would be able to find “alternatives,” European Commission Vice President for trade Jyrki Katainen said.
“If we chose products like Harley Davidson, peanut butter and bourbon, it’s because there are alternatives on the market. We don’t want to do anything that would harm consumers,” he said on Thursday.
“What’s more, these products will have a strong symbolic political impact.”
International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde warned on Thursday that trade war, as well as Brexit, were the key risks to the eurozone economy.
While she didn’t see a serious “direct impact of tariff increases... it’s a trend that is worrying, the breach of confidence that undermines confidence,” she said on the sidelines of eurozone minister talks in Luxembourg.
Transatlantic ties are at their lowest level for many years due to rows over a host of issues including the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.
Relations plumbed new depths at the recent G7 summit when Trump abruptly rejected the joint statement and bitterly insulted his Canadian host, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trump claimed America had been obliged to levy the metals tariffs as it has been exploited as the world’s “piggy bank.” He is also targeting EU auto imports with a US probe now underway.
Trump’s outbursts were the latest in which he has clashed with America’s closest allies, even as he has had warm words for autocrats like North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with whom he had a historic meeting earlier this month, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
But US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell said on Thursday that Trump’s approach toward his allies was about “strategic renovation.”
“Strengthening the West means making hard decisions today when we initially disagree, rather than continuing to accept the appearance of transatlantic unity,” he told the Carnegie Europe think-tank in Brussels.