Rising bread prices in Lebanon gobble up 11 percent of pay

Rising bread prices in Lebanon gobble up 11 percent of pay
A street vendor sells traditional Lebanese bread, as he is pictured through rain drops on his cart, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tripoli, Lebanon January 29, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 February 2021

Rising bread prices in Lebanon gobble up 11 percent of pay

Rising bread prices in Lebanon gobble up 11 percent of pay
  • Rescue government needed, says union chief

BEIRUT: Bread prices in Lebanon rose by LBP250 ($0.17) on Tuesday, the second increase in less than a month, with 930 grams of the basic foodstuff now costing LBP2,500. 

A family would need around LBP75,000 a month in order to have a pack of bread a day, with the latest price representing 11 percent of the LBP650,000 monthly minimum wage.       

The Ministry of Economy blamed the first increase on the global rise in wheat prices and promised to reduce the price “when global wheat prices or the local dollar exchange rate declines because these two factors control the price of bread in Lebanon.”

It gave the same reason on Monday for the second rise. However, neither the price of wheat nor the dollar exchange rate in Lebanon has declined and the dollar exchange rate is approaching LBP9,000 on the black market.

Economic analysts fear that a pack of bread could rise to as much as LBP5,000. But the government has not shown an appetite for intervening and providing for the poor, who constitute more than 20 percent of the population. The poverty rate in general exceeds 55 percent.

Bechara Al-Asmar, leader of the General Labor Union, said that aiming to increase bread prices and aiming to raise the price of a can of diesel to LBP20,000 suggested that subsidies on basic materials would be gradually removed.

“The state and financial authorities have not only ignored the misfortunes of hungry people, who belong to vulnerable and labor groups impacted by the daily rise in the prices of food and basic commodities, and the need to hold smugglers of medicine, fuel, and other goods accountable, but it also seeks to make the removal of subsidies a fait accompli without putting forward any economic plan that would restore the purchasing power of the national currency, recovering stolen or smuggled money, or protecting the money of depositors,” he told Arab News.

Hunger would increase, people would be drained and security would be undercut, he warned.

Bread prices are expected to rise even more, with a political stalemate stymying the formation of a new government. 

The months-long deadlock undermines Lebanon’s chances of implementing the reforms it needs to unlock vital international financial aid that will help the country out of its economic crisis. 

Asmar said the solution was to immediately form an emergency rescue government that was trustworthy and capable of taking the first step before everything fell apart.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Tuesday chaired a meeting of a ministerial committee that is tasked with studying subsidies. 

The National Federation of Employees’ and Workers’ Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL) said it held the caretaker government responsible for the “security shocks” that might result from further impoverishment, starvation, and unemployment.

It called on all labor bodies, trade unions, and civil society to “take to the squares of the Oct. 17 uprising,” a reference to the mass protest movement that rocked the country in 2019.

There was a violent protest in the city of Tripoli a week ago over the deteriorating living situation because of a COVID-19 lockdown. A man was killed and dozens of civilians and soldiers were injured.

A UN study showed that the Lebanese economy shrank by 20 percent in 2020 compared to the previous year due to the decline in private sector activity, dealing a severe blow to the country’s gross domestic product and tax revenues.

The study also showed that private sector sales declined by 45 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, and that 23 percent of employees working in key sectors were laid off.

It forecast that the recession would worsen in 2021 unless the COVID-19 vaccine was “rolled out in a timely manner and unless the necessary political and economic reforms are implemented.”

Rola Dashti, the executive secretary for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, urged the development of a national rescue plan for micro, small, and medium enterprises to “reduce unemployment and provide soft loans to meet cash flow requirements in times of emergency to avoid mass bankruptcy and the loss of more jobs.”


American Express joins Amazon network to benefit KSA cardholders

American Express joins Amazon network to benefit KSA cardholders
Updated 13 sec ago

American Express joins Amazon network to benefit KSA cardholders

American Express joins Amazon network to benefit KSA cardholders
  • Amex cardholders in the Kingdom will now be able to use their cards to pay online merchants who are part of the Amazon Payment Services network

DUBAI: Credit card giant American Express has signed a deal with Amazon Payment Services, expanding cardholders’ use for their online payments in Saudi Arabia.

Under the deal, Amex cardholders in the Kingdom will now be able to use their cards to pay online merchants who are part of the Amazon Payment Services network.

“By partnering with Amazon Payment Services, American Express will be able to enhance and expand the online network of merchants in Saudi Arabia where American Express cards can be used,” Peter George, managing director of the payment service, said.

This comes as e-commerce and digital payments continue to grow in the Kingdom and the wider Middle East.


Kuwait to implement largest government restructuring in its history as of 2022

Kuwait to implement largest government restructuring in its history as of 2022
Updated 15 min 27 sec ago

Kuwait to implement largest government restructuring in its history as of 2022

Kuwait to implement largest government restructuring in its history as of 2022

Kuwait plans to merge ministries, abolish others and create new strategies as part of the largest restructuring roadmap in its history over the next four years, Al Qabs reported.

Beginning in 2022, the ministries of electricity, water and oil will come together under one umbrella called the 'Ministry of Energy', while a 'Ministry of Economy and Trade' will also be created.

This department will be responsible for managing economic development, take responsibility for the national strategy for privatization, and manage the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Authority.

The plan also includes transferring the affiliation of Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority (KDIPA) to the Ministry of Economy and Trade at the beginning of 2023, and developing strategies for a free economic zone and export promotion.

Kuwait's roadmap consists of reviewing investment laws, foreign ownership, bankruptcy and public-private partnership, evaluation, reform, simplification and digitization of the commercial registration process, and facilitation of procedures for obtaining credit.

The roadmap also includes expanding the competencies of the Competition Protection Office, including more experts in it, and expanding the scope of the National Fund for the Development of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to include innovation.

Kuwait plans to shift the executive management of the country from operator to regulator, through a government center to be established in early 2022.

The plan also includes dissolving the Ministry of Services and creating a new Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in order to develop the ICT strategy, as well as building a smart national strategy 'Towards a Smart Kuwait' in line with Vision 2023.

The Ministry of Information will be dismantled as of the last quarter of 2024, and the Media Authority will be established to implement media regulations in early 2023, the country decided.

Kuwait plans to establish six new local municipalities covering all its governorates, abolish of the Ministry of State for Housing Affairs and transfer its powers and responsibilities to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

It will also establish a new independent authority under the name 'The Public Authority for Social and Housing Support; at the beginning of the first half of 2022.

 


UAE small businesses lead the world in trading optimism: Visa

UAE small businesses lead the world in trading optimism: Visa
Updated 48 min 40 sec ago

UAE small businesses lead the world in trading optimism: Visa

UAE small businesses lead the world in trading optimism: Visa

Small businesses in the UAE are more confident about future trading than those in the US, Hong Kong, and Germany, according to a survey by Visa.

The financial services company’s 'Back to Business Study' states 64 percent of small and medium firms in the country are very optimistic about their long-term success — the highest proportion of all markets surveyed.

This figure rises to 88 percent when it includes firms who are generally optimistic about trading.

The survey also claimed that in the UAE the shift to contactless payments is becoming more permanent.

Nearly all consumers in the UAE — 92 percent  — say COVID-19 has permanently changed their payment habits, compared to 68 percent globally. 

About 73 percent  of UAE consumers would not shop at a store that does not accept contactless payments, compared to 44 percent across the globe. 

A third of UAE consumers have not used cash in the past week, the second highest among all markets.

Digital commerce has also particularly supported small business amid the pandemic, Shahebaz Khan, Visa’s general manager for the UAE, said.

He added: “Seemingly small pivots toward digital commerce can continue to make the difference between a small business surviving and thriving." 


HP, Procter & Gamble join companies pledge to cut emissions

HP, Procter & Gamble join companies pledge to cut emissions
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 20 September 2021

HP, Procter & Gamble join companies pledge to cut emissions

HP, Procter & Gamble join companies pledge to cut emissions
  • The companies aim to cut almost 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2040
  • Scientists say the world needs to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050 if it wants to meet the Paris climate accord's goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century

Computer-maker HP, consumer goods business Procter & Gamble and coffee capsule company Nespresso have joined a corporate pledge to sharply cut their greenhouse gas emissions over nearly two decades.


The Climate Pledge, a grouping of companies and organizations spearheaded by Amazon, said on Monday it has signed up 86 new members for its voluntary measures. The group has 201 members with global annual revenues of more than $1.8 trillion, it said.


Other new members include telecoms company BT, truck-maker Scania and the Selfridges department store chain.


Together, the companies aim to cut almost 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2040 — more than 5 percent of the current global total.


While the group's members are encouraged to eliminate as many emissions as possible, those that can't be avoided need to be completely offset in the next two decades. That means paying for measures to ensure as many emissions are absorbed by then as the companies continue to emit.


Scientists say the world needs to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050 if it wants to meet the Paris climate accord's goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times.


Saudi Arabia leads regional adoption of online shopping post-pandemic

Saudi Arabia leads regional adoption of online shopping post-pandemic
Updated 20 September 2021

Saudi Arabia leads regional adoption of online shopping post-pandemic

Saudi Arabia leads regional adoption of online shopping post-pandemic
  • 83 percent of 13,000 surveyed consumers said they will “maintain or even increase their current level of e-commerce spending into the next year”
  • The unprecedented growth in both e-commerce and digital payments are also reflective of a developing regulatory regime

DUBAI: When countries implemented lockdowns to control the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers all over the world took to the internet to satisfy their shopping needs – accelerating the growth of e-commerce.

The region was no exception, and the trend is likely to continue post-pandemic.

Based on a new report by global payments company Checkout.com, 83 percent of 13,000 surveyed consumers said they will “maintain or even increase their current level of e-commerce spending into the next year.”

The shift in consumer behavior was remarkable in Saudi Arabia, the report noted, with 53 percent of Saudi respondents saying they shop online at least once a month – above the regional average of 45 percent.

It’s even highlighted during peak shopping seasons, such as in Ramadan, where 76 percent of consumers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE say they were likely to buy products and services online more frequently during the holy month.

The report estimated that 209 million more customers in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Pakistan, — a region known as MENAP — have begun shopping online since the pandemic broke out in March 2020.

The growth in e-commerce owes to a “greater sophistication” in the region’s digital payments ecosystem.

“A flourishing digital payments and e-commerce ecosystem is leading consumers to feel more empowered, with star-ups thriving in the fintech arena, and commercial markets opening up,” said Mo Ali Yusuf, regional manager for MENAP at Checkout.com.

The report said 60 percent of consumers in the region now prefer to use a digital payment method when purchasing online – up by 20 percent since the company’s 2020 report.

Not only is cash being used less, but consumers are also using newer ways of paying, including digital wallets and “buy now, pay later” apps.

Outperforming Europe

Yusuf said MENAP has begun “to outperform European markets in the adoption of emerging payment methods.”

Around 24 percent of surveyed consumers have used a “buy now, pay later” option this year – higher than the 23 percent across the UK and Europe.

“This presents a phenomenal opportunity for global and domestic merchants to expand their businesses across MENA,” he added.

An official at the World Bank earlier highlighted the role of digital payments in economic growth, entrepreneurship, job creation, public service delivery and financial inclusion in the region.

The use of financial technology (fintech) applications in the region has been promising – with 76 percent reporting to use some form of it in the past year, only 4 percent short of the consumers in the Asia Pacific region.

This presents an opportunity to address financial inclusion in the region, the Checkout.com regional manager said, particularly empowering the unbanked and underbanked population.

Government backing and a modernized regulatory regime

The unprecedented growth in both e-commerce and digital payments are also reflective of a developing regulatory regime, with many countries including Saudi Arabia showing keenness in adapting to trends in banking and finance.

Core policies in several Gulf countries are built around promoting a “digital economy,” even accelerated by the impact of COVID-19.

“As countries recover from this crisis, robust inclusive digital financial systems will be vital to creating a foundation for critical gains for sectors,” a statement from the Arab Monetary Fund said.