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29 June Current Affairs

President Trump promises a ‘very big trade deal with India’

In News:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday held “very open and productive” talks on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on a host of issues ranging from trade disputes to the crisis in the Gulf.

Details:

The two leaders also pledged to provide a “strong leadership” to the world to address pressing global challenges like terrorism.

The Prime Minister said India stands committed to further deepening economic and cultural relations with the U.S.

“The talks with @POTUS were wide ranging. We discussed ways to leverage the power of technology, improve defence and security ties as well as issues relating to trade”.

In a readout of the Trump-Modi meeting, the White House said the two leaders met to exchange perspectives on progress in the strategic partnership and develop new ideas to bring it to the next level.

The leaders acknowledged the breadth and depth of bilateral ties, including economic, trade, energy, defence and security, counterterrorism and space.

“They reiterated their commitment to provide strong leadership to address global challenges and build prosperity for their citizens in the decades to come.”

On Iran, the Foreign Secretary said Mr. Modi outlined India’s energy concerns as well as worries over threats to peace and stability in the region. He pointed out that although Iran supplies 11% of India’s energy, it has reduced oil imports from the sanctions-hit Gulf country.

“We have been able to sustain this position and we also had our diaspora in the region, we have energy requirements in the region, we have economic interest in the region, therefore, it is in India’s fundamental interest to maintain peace and stability in the region,” the Prime Minister was quoted as telling President Trump.

Mr. Modi also recalled that India has deployed some of its Navy ships in the region to protect the Indian-flagged vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz where oil tankers came under attack in the recent past.

On the issue of 5G technology, Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump discussed the technical and business opportunities that this new area provides for cooperation between India and the US.

Mumbai blast victim moves NHRC for compensation

In News:

A survivor of the 1993 Mumbai blasts lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) here on Friday, stating that he had not received adequate financial aid from the government, and asking the NHRC to look into the government’s efforts to extradite the accused, Dawood Ibrahim.

Background:

The victim of one of the serial blasts that ripped through Mumbai on March 12, 1993, at Bombay Stock Exchange, Kirti Ajmera suffered injuries that left him needing medical care for years, his complaint filed through advocate Utsav Singh Bains stated.

About NHRC:

National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC), is a statutory body established in 1993, under the provisions of The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

It is responsible for the protection and promotion of “rights relating to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution or embodied in the International Covenants”.

‘Move on electric vehicles is well-thought-out’

In News:

Countering the industry’s claims that the NITI Aayog’s proposal for transition to electric vehicles (EVs) was “unrealistic” and “ill-timed”, the think-tank’s Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said it was a well-thought-out policy to capitalise on the “sunrise industry” and that two-wheeler makers should work with the NITI Aayog rather than paint an incorrect picture.

Details:

“We are trying to create a policy that will attract resources and investment. How does one attract investment without declaring a policy? Work with us rather than trying to paint us wrong and saying that the policy has not been thought through,” Mr. Kumar told The Hindu . The NITI Aayog has proposed that only electric three-wheelers be sold in the country post March 31, 2023. Additionally, all new two-wheelers below 150cc sold after March 31, 2025, should be electric, it said.

Industry opposes:

The industry has strongly opposed the recommendation, terming it impractical and cautioning that such a move would disrupt the automotive sector, which is already reeling under stress.

“We started this consultative process very actively in preparation of our mobility conference held last October. I have myself met so many industry people.”

“At this point of time, we want to achieve policy clarity. Rather than going that route [BS VI], they can switch to this route [electric]. And if investments have been made, then they have five years to fully utilise these investments… Plus they can continue to export ICE [internal combustion engine] vehicles”.

About 90% of the two-wheelers now sold in the country are 150cc or below.

Massive imports likely:

“This is a sunrise industry…If we don’t have a policy, no targets… then we are simply muddling through. As a result, there will be no domestic capacity and we will see massive imports as in the case of the electronics sector”.

In a recent meeting between the Aayog and the industry, “Everyone agreed that the transition to electric is in the national interest. Some players said 2025 was too short a time-frame, but when we asked them to give a time-frame, they said they can’t give one and the market should decide. If you are the dominant player and will continue producing ICE vehicles, how will the market decide”.

On 5G and data storage, India aligns with developing nations

In News:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Donald Trump came closer to resolving trade issues when they met in Osaka on Friday, but on technological issues such as data storage and 5G network, India ranged itself across the divide from Japan and the U.S., and alongside leaders of BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa).

Details:

“We recognise the importance of the interface between trade and the digital economy. We also affirm the role of data for development,” said a statement issued by the BRICS grouping after the meeting. “We are committed to transparent, non-discriminatory, open, free and inclusive international trade. Protectionism and unilateralism run counter to the spirit and rules of the World Trade Organisation [WTO],” it noted.

Briefing the media, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale underlined the need for framing rules on data within the WTO and not at the G-20, running counter to Japan’s initiative as the host of this year’s G-20 summit, to push for “Data Free Flow with Trust, (DFFT)”. The initiative for free flow of data, announced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January, came after the Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines mandating that the storage of all financial data, including by multinational companies, must be kept on servers in India. The move sparked protests from major companies such as Google, MasterCard, Visa and Amazon and the U.S. called it a major non-tariff barrier, adding to trade tensions between the countries.

On Friday, Mr. Trump hit out at countries like China and India for passing such norms. “The United States opposes data localisation and policies, which have been used to restrict digital trade flows and violate privacy and intellectual property protections,” he said.

During their meeting, however, Mr. Modi is believed to have stressed that data was a “new form of wealth”. The U.S. and its allies would need to take into account “the requirements of developing countries” on the issue, said Mr. Gokhale.

5G issue:

On the equally fraught issue of 5G technology, where the U.S. has demanded that countries ban Chinese telecom major Huawei’s 5G network because of its ability to spy on them, Mr. Modi appeared to have given Mr. Trump no assurances.

According to its 5G rollout plan, India is preparing to begin technology trials in September, and while that deadline may be postponed, India has not yet decided on whether to include Huawei from the trials.

If India drops the company from consideration, Beijing has made it clear it would protest the decision strongly.

Going into the bilateral meeting on Friday morning, Mr. Trump had clearly said he would discuss Huawei with Mr. Modi. After the meeting, however, India and the U.S. only spoke of collaboration on R&D between their respective telecommunication industries.

According to former cyber security chief Gulshan Rai, the outcome should be welcomed, as he said the “U.S. has made great strides on developing telecom technologies for routing, computing and semi-conductor chips.” He, however, added that in the case of 5G, the U.S. had not yet developed “end-to-end equipment” and thus the collaboration could only refer to outcomes in the distant future.

India’s National Security Advisory Board Chairman P.S. Raghavan told The Hindu that it would be premature to cut out Huawei or any other company at this incipient stage. “5G is becoming a fault line in the technology cold war between world powers,” he said, adding that India must avoid getting “caught” in the U.S.-China telecom tussle.

Mr. Gokhale said Mr. Modi told Mr. Trump that India, with a billion users, would be the world’s second largest market. “The way India moves or the way whatever choices India makes will essentially determine the way the global trend will go,” the Prime Minister reportedly observed.

Kargil conflict was Vajpayee’s finest hour: former Navy chief

In News:

The Kargil conflict of 1999 was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “finest hour”, former Navy chief Admiral Sushil Kumar said on Friday, as India commemorates 20 years of the conflict.

Details:

“He turned a strategic tactical loss into a massive victory…. He gave full credit to the armed forces. But it was his master stroke. He said, ‘Do not cross the LoC (Line of Control), but drive them [Pakistan] away’,” Admiral Kumar said. He was speaking at the launch of his book, A Prime Minister to Remember: Memories of a Military Chief .

Admiral Kumar was the Navy chief between 1998 and 2001 and oversaw the Kargil conflict in 1999.

In the context of instructions to not cross the LoC, Adm. Kumar observed that Mr. Vajpayee knew the value of restraint. Former Air chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, who was Air chief during the Kargil conflict, said no other Prime Minister could have faced “a war that fell in his lap” while heading a coalition government with 23 different partners.

Centre releases action plan on higher education

In News:

The Centre has released a five-year vision and action plan to transform higher education by doubling enrolment and employability, addressing inequalities of access, and revamping governance and funding mechanisms.

Details:

The Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP) is likely to involve investment of Rs. 1.5 lakh crore over the next five years, much of which will have to be raised from the market.

It was drafted by 80 experts in 10 teams headed by eminent academicians, scientists and industrialists over the last two months and was submitted to Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank on Friday.

The plan has suggested more than 50 initiatives with timelines, implementation methods and funding requirements, with quality and access as its major goals. After further consultation within the Ministry, the plan will be submitted for Cabinet approval.

‘One ration card’ scheme launch soon

In News:

To curb corruption and end the dependence on one Public Distribution System (PDS) shop, the Centre will shortly launch the ‘One nation, One ration card’ scheme.

Details:

The scheme, according to Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Ram Vilas Paswan, would ensure that all beneficiaries can access PDS across the nation from any shop of their choice. The biggest beneficiary of this, he said, would be migrant labourers who move to other States to seek better job opportunities.

“This will provide freedom to the beneficiaries as they will not be tied to any one PDS shop and reduce their dependence on shop owners…,” the Ministry said in a statement. In the next two months, beneficiaries of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh would be able to access the PDS shops. The objective was to ensure that this was implemented nationally in a time-bound manner.

Trade war makes India a haven for aluminium scrap dumping

In News:

India has overtaken China as the preferred destination for aluminium scrap with imports growing 18.8% in the January-March 2019 quarter compared with the same quarter of the previous year.

Details:

This, according to industry players, is hurting Indian industry and is the direct result of the trade war between China and the U.S.

India imported 3,34,725 tonnes of aluminium scrap in the January-March 2019 quarter compared with China’s 3,30,567 tonnes in the same period, according to a report by S&P Global Platts. While India’s imports grew 18.8% over this period, China’s declined by 32.1%.

“The U.S. had imposed an import duty of 10% on aluminium in March 2018 and in response, China had implemented a 25% duty on the import of aluminium scrap from the U.S.,” said Rahul Sharma, vice-president, Aluminium Association of India.

“This means that the scrap is being diverted and dumped in India. Imports of scrap from the U.S. have gone up by about 148% from 2017-18 to 2.6 lakh tonnes in 2018-19.” Commerce Ministry data shows that this rising trend of aluminium scrap imports coincides strongly with the tariff war between the U.S. and China.

“China is also classifying aluminium scrap as a restricted import, which will be implemented from July 1, 2019,” he added. Industry players say that the other reason for the dumping of aluminium scrap in India is the duty structure in place, something they want the government to revisit in the upcoming Budget.

While other metals like zinc, copper, lead, and nickel all have the same import duties for their primary and scrap variants, this is not so for aluminium. Aluminium scrap imports are taxed at just 2.5%, while primary aluminium is taxed at 7.5%.

“What is also happening is that scrap is eating into the primary market,” Mr. Sharma explained. “That is, impure scrap is being used in place of pure primary scrap in consumer-facing sectors such as consumer durables, utensils and also in sectors of national importance such as power transmission.”

RBI allows ARCs to buy financial assets from peers

In News:

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has allowed asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) to buy financial assets from other such entities. However, all such transactions have to settled in cash, the banking regulator said.

Details:

“In view of amendment to the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Securities Interest Act, 2002, it has been decided to permit ARCs to acquire financial assets from other ARCs,” the RBI said.

“Price discovery for such transaction shall not be prejudicial to the interest of security receipt holders,” the RBI further said, adding the selling ARC must utilise the proceeds so received for the redemption of underlying security receipts.

The date of redemption of underlying Security Receipts and total period of realisation should not extend beyond eight years from the date of acquisition of the financial asset by the first ARC, RBI said.

Fiscal deficit at 52% of full year target

In News:

The government’s fiscal deficit touched 52% of the Budget estimate for the full year in the first two months of 2019-20.

Details:

In absolute terms, the fiscal deficit, or the gap between expenditure and revenue, was Rs. 3,66,157 crore, as per the data released by the Controller General of Accounts (CGA).

The fiscal deficit was 55.3% of the 2018-19 Budget estimate in the year-ago period. In the Interim Budget passed in February, the government had estimated the fiscal deficit at Rs. 7.03 lakh crore for 2019-20.

The government aims to restrict the fiscal deficit to 3.4% of the GDP during the current fiscal.

NASA to send a drone to Saturn’s largest moon

In News:

For its next mission in our solar system, NASA plans to fly a drone copter to Saturn’s largest moon Titan in search of the building blocks of life.

Details:

The Dragonfly mission, which will launch in 2026 and land in 2034, will send a rotorcraft to fly to dozens of locations across the icy moon, which has a substantial atmosphere and is viewed by scientists as an equivalent of very early-era earth.

It is the only celestial body besides our planet known to have liquid rivers, lakes and seas on its surface, though these contain hydrocarbons like methane and ethane, not water.

“This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

NASA said the vehicle would have eight rotors and fly like a large drone.

“During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years,” NASA said.

“Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. “Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.”

The craft will land first at the equatorial “Shangri-La” dune, exploring the region in short trips before building up to longer “leapfrog” flights of 8 km.

 

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