Germany overtakes Japan as third-biggest economy

Germany overtakes Japan as third-biggest economy
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The buildings of the banking district are pictured in Frankfurt, Germany, early on Feb. 12, 2024. (AP Photo)
Germany overtakes Japan as third-biggest economy
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Containers are pictured in the small harbor in Frankfurt, Germany, on Feb. 13, 2024. In the background are the ECB and other buildings of the banking district. (AP Photo)
Germany overtakes Japan as third-biggest economy
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A sushi chef prepares a plate at the Toyosu Market in Tokyo on Jan. 29, 2024, in Tokyo. Japan has slipped to the world's fourth-largest economy, falling behind Germany. (AP/File)
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Updated 15 February 2024
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Germany overtakes Japan as third-biggest economy

Germany overtakes Japan as third-biggest economy
  • Japan became the world’s second-largest economy behind the US in the late 1960s, booming even further in the 1970s and ‘80s
  • In 2010, Japan was overtaken as No. 2 by fast-rising China, whose economy is now around four times larger
  • In 2026, India is forecast to overtake both Japan and Germany

TOKYO: Once forecast to become the world’s biggest economy, Japan slipped below Germany last year to fourth place, official data showed Thursday, although India is projected to leapfrog both later this decade.

Despite growing 1.9 percent, Japan’s nominal 2023 gross domestic product in dollar terms was $4.2 trillion, government data showed, compared with $4.5 trillion for Germany, according to figures released there last month.
The change in positions primarily reflects the sharp fall in the yen against the dollar, which slumped by almost a fifth in 2022 and 2023 against the US currency, including around seven percent last year.
This was in part because the Bank of Japan has maintained negative interest rates, unlike other major central banks, which have raised borrowing costs to fight soaring inflation.
Both economies rely heavily on exports, though Germany’s manufacturers have been hit particularly hard by soaring energy prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Europe’s biggest economy has also been hampered by the European Central Bank raising interest rates in the eurozone as well as uncertainty over its budget and chronic shortages of skilled labor.




IMF forecast in January 2024. (AFP)

In January, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner dismissed accusations that his country was the “sick man” of Europe.
“Germany is a tired man after a short night and the low-growth expectations are partly a wake-up call,” he said.

Japan is also heavily reliant on exports, in particular cars, sales of which have been helped by the weak yen.
But it is suffering more than Germany in terms of worker shortages as its population falls and birth rates remain low.
Thursday’s data showed that its economy shrank 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2023, missing market expectations of 0.2 percent growth.
Growth for the third quarter was also revised downwards to negative 0.8 percent.
Japan became the world’s second-largest economy behind the United States in the late 1960s, and during the boom years of the 1970s and ‘80s some projected it would become number one.
But the catastrophic bursting of Japan’s asset bubble in the early 1990s led to several “lost decades” of economic stagnation and deflation.

When in 2010 Japan was overtaken as number two by Asian rival China — whose economy is now around four times larger — it prompted major soul-searching.
While more down to the yen’s slide, falling behind Germany will still be a blow to Japan’s self-esteem and add to the pressure on unpopular Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Kishida, reeling from a string of scandals, has already reshuffled his cabinet twice and in November announced a stimulus package worth 17 trillion yen ($118.5 billion).
More pain is to come, as India’s economy, with a burgeoning young population, is projected to overtake Japan in 2026 — then Germany in 2027 — according to the International Monetary Fund.
The Nikkei financial daily said in an editorial last week that the German economy faces its own problems.
“Nevertheless, Japan has not made progress in raising its own growth potential. This situation should be taken as a wake-up call to accelerate neglected economic reforms,” the paper said.
 


Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
Updated 4 sec ago
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Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election

Deepfakes of Bollywood stars spark worries of AI meddling in India election
  • In fake viral videos, two A-lister Bollywood stars are seen criticizing PM Modi, asking people to vote for Congress
  • Deepfakes are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including US, Pakistan and Indonesia

MUMBAI: In fake videos that have gone viral online, two of India’s A-lister Bollywood actors are seen criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and asking people to vote for the opposition Congress party in the country’s ongoing general election.

In a 30-second video that shows Aamir Khan and another 41-second clip of Ranveer Singh, the two Bollywood actors purportedly say Modi failed to keep campaign promises and failed to address critical economic issues during his two terms as prime minister.

Both AI-generated videos end with the Congress election symbol and slogan: “Vote for Justice, Vote for Congress.”

The two videos have been viewed on social media more than half a million times since last week, a Reuters review shows.

Their spread underlines the potential role such AI (artificial intelligence)-generated content can play in the mammoth Indian election that started on Friday and will continue until June. AI and AI-generated fakes, or deepfakes, are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including in the US, Pakistan and Indonesia.

Campaigning in India has long focused on door-to-door outreach and public rallies, but extensive use of WhatsApp and Facebook as campaigning tools started in 2019. This year’s general election — in which Modi is expected to secure a rare third term — is the first in which AI is being used.

A Congress spokesperson, Sujata Paul, shared actor Singh’s video with her 16,000 followers on X on April 17 and by Saturday afternoon, her post had been reshared 2,900 times, liked 8,700 times and received 438,000 views.

Paul told Reuters by telephone she was aware the video was marked “manipulated media” by X, but she did not want to delete it as, while posting, she thought the person was a look alike of Singh and “it has creativity for sure.”

The post was no longer visible on X on Sunday, hours after Reuters sent a request for comment to Congress’ head of social media cell, who did not respond.

Both actors have said the videos are fake. Facebook, X and at least eight fact-checking websites have said they are altered or manipulated, which the Reuters digital verification unit has also confirmed.

Reuters could not ascertain who created the videos. Khan was “alarmed” by the viral “fake” video and Singh’s team was looking into the matter, according to a spokesperson for both actors. Singh wrote on X on Friday: “Beware of deepfakes, friends.”

Modi’s office, and the IT head of his Bharatiya Janata Party, did not respond to requests for comment.

POLICE PROBE

Nearly 900 million people in India have access to the Internet and a survey conducted by research organization Esya Center and the Indian Institute of Management business school showed an average Indian spends over three hours a day on social media. The country has nearly one billion voters.

Some versions of the videos have been blocked on social media but at least 14 were still visible on X on Saturday. Facebook deleted two videos Reuters flagged to the company but one other was still visible.

Facebook in a statement said it has “removed the videos” for violation of its policies. X did not respond to Reuters queries.

The videos have sparked one police investigation with Khan registering a case in Mumbai against unnamed persons on April 17 for alleged impersonation and cheating for creating the fake video.

Mumbai police did not return a request for comment, but two officers working on Khan’s case, who declined to be named, said they wrote to Facebook and X to take down the video and the companies had said it was done.

The officers said they were up until 2 a.m. on Friday, refreshing pages to check if Khan’s online videos were removed. Asked about progress in the case, one of them said: “Such technical investigations take time.”

AI VIDEO OF DEAD FATHER

In this year’s election, politicians are using AI in other ways.

In southern India, Congress leader Vijay Vasanth’s spokesperson said his team has created a 2-minute audio-video clip using AI that was shared on social media platforms and shows his now dead but more popular politician father, H. Vasanthakumar, seeking votes for him.

The late politician is seen saying “even though my body left you all, my soul is still around.”

In videos put out on YouTube by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), Samata, an AI-generated anchor dressed in a traditional saree and speaking in a style that mimics regular news channels, criticizes the ruling party in West Bengal state.

In one clip, the anchor alleges the party does not care about the environment as many water bodies have vanished due to illegal construction.

A spokesperson for the ruling party denied the allegation and said the state government has ensured no such construction takes place. The CPM did not respond to requests for comment.

In the video, which has been seen 12,000 times, anchor Samata declares: “These are questions that we the citizens of this city need to ponder over.”
 


Kebab chef joins Germany’s President Steinmeier on tricky Turkiye visit

Kebab chef joins Germany’s President Steinmeier on tricky Turkiye visit
Updated 10 min 59 sec ago
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Kebab chef joins Germany’s President Steinmeier on tricky Turkiye visit

Kebab chef joins Germany’s President Steinmeier on tricky Turkiye visit
  • By bringing Berlin kebab shop owner Arif Keles with him, Steinmeier hopes to highlight the contribution made by generations of Turkish migrants in Germany
  • Around 3 million people with Turkish heritage live in Germany, but their presence has often been the subject of a fraught debate over split loyalties

BERLIN: German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier begins a delicate visit to Turkiye on Monday, taking a Berlin kebab chef with him as a show of close personal ties between the two nations despite differences with his Turkish counterpart.

Steinmeier, who is visiting Turkiye for the first time since becoming president, has had a difficult relationship with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The German head of state has been quick to call out Erdogan’s approach toward Israel and has previously raised concerns about the erosion of democratic norms in Turkiye.
The fact that he is not starting the trip in the capital Ankara “is a signal,” said a source in the German presidency who asked not to be named.
Instead, Steinmeier’s first stop will be Istanbul, where he will meet civil society activists, as well as the city’s mayor, opposition figure Ekrem Imamoglu.
Voters’ decision to return Imamoglu as mayor in recent local elections dealt a blow to Erdogan and his ruling party.
On Tuesday, Steinmeier will meet survivors of the devastating 2023 earthquake in Gaziantep near the Syrian border.
Talks with Erdogan in Ankara will wait until Wednesday.
Instead of flattering the president, Steinmeier is hoping to put the emphasis on the links between people in the two countries.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attends a Bundeswehr training in Munster, Germany, on April 18, 2024. (REUTERS)

In particular, the German president hopes to highlight the contribution made by generations of Turkish migrants, who since the 1960s have come to work in Germany.
Among those to establish themselves in Germany was the grandfather of Arif Keles, a Berlin kebab shop owner invited on the trip by Steinmeier.
The grilled meat artisan will serve doner kebab to guests at a dinner in Istanbul on Monday night.
“The spit is traveling with us in the presidential plane,” Keles told AFP ahead of the journey.
The dish of thinly sliced meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie was introduced to Germany by Turkish migrants.
Packed with chopped vegetables and doused with mayonnaise, the doner kebab has gained iconic status.
The snack has become “a kind of German national food,” one of Steinmeier’s advisers said in a briefing.
Local sales of the kebab total an estimated seven billion euros ($7.5 billion) — an immigrant success story the German presidency wants to celebrate.
Doner dealer Keles is the third generation to manage the family business in southwest Berlin.
His grandfather moved to Germany and worked for years in a factory before opening his own restaurant in 1986.
“Now the president is taking me as a grandson to the home of my ancestors,” Keles said.
“I see it as a great honor that I am allowed to go on this visit.”

Steinmeier’s trip was meant to underline that “the personal stories and achievements of four generations of Turkish immigrants” are part of Germany’s history, the presidential office said.
Around three million people with Turkish heritage live in Germany, but their presence has often been the subject of a fraught debate over split loyalties.
Only last year did Germany agree to significantly ease citizenship rules to allow more dual nationals, a relief to many Turkish people who have lived in Germany for decades.
Perceived backing for Erdogan in the Turkish diaspora has also caused irritation in Germany, while officials in Berlin have had a strained relationship with Ankara.
Erdogan’s support for Hamas has troubled Berlin, which solidly backs Israel in the war against the Palestinian militant group.
Erdogan traded barbs with Steinmeier on a visit to Germany in November last year, shortly after the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that triggered the war.
The disagreement has added to tensions over sharp German criticism of authoritarian moves that German officials see as threatening democracy in Turkiye.
Berlin has criticized Erdogan’s clampdown on domestic dissent while recognizing that getting regional power Turkiye onside was necessary to tackle thorny issues.
Despite having served seven years as president, this is Steinmeier’s first visit to Turkiye as head of state.
 


RFK Jr. says he loves his family ‘either way’ after relatives endorse Biden’s campaign over him

RFK Jr. says he loves his family ‘either way’ after relatives endorse Biden’s campaign over him
Updated 50 min 7 sec ago
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RFK Jr. says he loves his family ‘either way’ after relatives endorse Biden’s campaign over him

RFK Jr. says he loves his family ‘either way’ after relatives endorse Biden’s campaign over him
  • The son of assassinated former US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy has not been taken seriously for his vaccine-skeptic campaign
  • His relatives have openly opposed his decision to run for the presidency, saying he could take away some votes for Biden

ROYAL OAK, Michigan: Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Sunday acknowledged endorsements from more than a dozen of his relatives who are backing Democratic President Joe Biden, noting that he feels no ill will over the family political divide.

“Some of them don’t like the fact that I’m running,” Kennedy said of his relatives, after a comedy showcase in suburban Detroit to benefit his campaign.
Kennedy — who last year launched an independent presidential bid after first challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination — was reacting to the endorsements from his sister and other relatives last week, a move by the Biden campaign that signals how seriously the president’s team is taking a long-shot candidate using his last name’s lingering Democratic magic to siphon support from the incumbent.
In Philadelphia, Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, niece of former President John F. Kennedy and sister of the current presidential candidate, called Biden “my hero,” saying — without mention of her brother — that the family wanted to “make crystal clear” their support for reelecting Biden.
Biden, who keeps a bust of Robert F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, said the endorsements were “an incredible honor.”
Going on to describe family debates he said his father orchestrated among his children, Kennedy said Sunday night that the exercise showed him a respectful way to take opposing positions with people he cares about without taking it personally.
“I debated them with information and passion and not to hate each other because we disagreed with each other,” he said. “I love my family, either way.”
Kennedy — who mentioned Biden’s Oval Office RFK bust, as well as his relatives currently working both in the Biden’s administration and on his own presidential campaign — made his remarks in Michigan, where last week, the campaign secured access to the general election ballot. In front of the suburban Detroit theater ahead of the performances, several dozen protesters opposed Kennedy’s appearance, with signs aiming to align Kennedy with former President Donald Trump.
Kennedy has spoken publicly in the past about disagreeing with his family on many issues, but maintains it can be done in “friendly” ways. After a super political action committee supporting his campaign produced a TV ad during the Super Bowl that relied heavily on imagery from John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential run, Kennedy Jr. apologized to his relatives on the X social media platform, saying he was sorry if the spot “caused anyone in my family pain.”
“I love my family. I feel that they love me,” he said Sunday. “And I wish the same thing would happen for all of our country, where we disagree with each other without hating on each other.”
 


Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say

Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say
Updated 22 April 2024
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Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say

Health-harming heat stress rising in Europe, scientists say
  • Temperatures in Europe are rising at roughly twice the global average, Copernicus and WMO reported
  • Deaths related to heat have increased by around 30 percent in Europe in the last 20 years, the report said

BRUSSELS: Europe is increasingly facing bouts of heat so intense that the human body cannot cope, as climate change continues to raise temperatures, the EU’s Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization said on Monday.
In a report on Europe’s climate, Copernicus and the WMO noted last year’s extreme conditions, including a July heatwave which pushed 41 percent of southern Europe into strong, very strong or extreme heat stress — the biggest area of Europe under such conditions in any day on record.
Extreme heat poses particular health risks to outdoor workers, the elderly, and people with existing conditions like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Parts of Italy recorded 7 percent more deaths than normal last July, with victims including a 44-year-old man painting road markings in the northern town of Lodi who collapsed and died.
Heat stress measures the impact that the environment has on the human body, combining factors like temperature, humidity and the body’s response, to establish a “feels like” temperature.

Parts of Spain, France, Italy and Greece experienced up to ten days of extreme heat stress in 2023, defined as a “feels like” temperature of more than 46 degrees Celsius, at which point immediate action must be taken to avoid heat stroke and other health issues.
Deaths related to heat have increased by around 30 percent in Europe in the last 20 years, the report said.
The EU’s environment agency urged governments last month to prepare health care systems for climate change and called for EU rules to protect outdoor workers from extreme heat.
Last year was the world’s hottest since records began. Europe is the world’s fastest-warming continent.
Greenhouse gas emissions were the biggest cause of last year’s exceptional heat, the report said. Factors including the El Nino weather pattern also played a role.
The heat fueled extreme weather including flooding, since the warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, causing heavier downpours when it is released.
Floods in Slovenia last year affected 1.5 million people. Greece suffered the EU’s biggest wildfire on record which, at 960 square km, was twice the size of Athens. Alpine glaciers lost 10 percent of their remaining volume during 2022 and 2023.
“Some of the events of 2023 took the scientific community by surprise because of their intensity, their speed of onset, extent and duration,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

 


World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report

World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report
Updated 22 April 2024
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World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report

World’s largest private firms fail to set climate targets: report
  • Several jurisdictions including the United Kingdom have adopted climate disclosure regulations

PARIS: Only 40 of the world’s 100 largest private firms have set net-zero carbon emissions targets to fight climate change, according to a report released Monday, lagging far behind public companies.
But for the world to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming 1.5 degree Celsius, all companies need to reduce their planet-heating emissions, the report by the group Net Zero Tracker noted.
The lack of market and reputational pressures on private firms compared to those publicly-listed, along with an absence of regulation are to blame for their slow uptake of climate commitments, John Lange of Net Zero Tracker told AFP.
“I think things are changing on all three of those fronts,” he added.
The report compared 200 of the world’s largest public and private companies based on their reported emissions reductions strategies and net-zero targets.
It found that only 40 of the 100 private firms assessed had net zero targets, compared to 70 of 100 publicly-listed companies.
Of the private companies that have set targets, just eight have published plans on how they will meet them.
“A pledge without a plan is not a pledge, it is a naked PR stunt,” the report said.
Only two firms — furnishing giant Ikea and US engineering giant Bechtel — ruled out using controversial carbon credits to achieve their net-zero goals, the report said.
Carbon credits allow businesses to offset their emissions by directing money toward a project that reduces or avoids emissions, such as protecting forests, but critics say they allow companies to keep polluting.
Meanwhile, none of the eight fossil fuel companies included in the report was found to have a net-zero target, compared with 76 percent of the sector’s largest public firms.
There was also little improvement in the figures compared with a previous analysis done in 2022, “despite a massive uptick in regulation around the world,” Lang said.
Several jurisdictions including the United Kingdom have adopted climate disclosure regulations.
Others have regulations on the horizon, with business hubs of California and Singapore requiring greenhouse gas emissions reporting from 2027.
The European Union also introduced two climate regulations — the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) — which will soon require thousands of large companies to report their climate impacts and emissions, and to take action to curtail them.
“We’re trying to get private firms to understand what’s coming for them,” Lang said.
The EU policies will have far-reaching effects in particular, targeting firms not only based in the bloc but those that may be headquartered elsewhere with branches or subsidiaries within the member states.
Yet two European private firms, including French hypermarket chain E. Leclerc, were singled out in the report for having set any emissions reduction targets.
E.Leclerc told AFP that the company has made efforts toward more sustainable practices like eliminating the use of single-use plastic bags, and is “committed to setting near-term company-wide emissions reduction targets.”
But with the enforcement of EU regulations looming, firms will not be able to “dodge” climate targets much longer, Sybrig Smit of the NewClimate Institute told AFP.
“It’s actually quite watertight. If companies want to do business in Europe, they are going to have to face the consequences,” she said.
The firms analyzed account for roughly 23 percent of the global economy, with the majority based in either China, the United States or EU states — the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, Lang said.
Any changes the firms make to meet new regulations will have substantial benefits for the environment.
“They have such a trickledown effect. Whenever such a big company is implementing something real, it will have a huge effect on the rest of the sector that they operate in,” Smit said.