World Bank says India has huge potential, projects 7.3% growth in 2018

Washington: With an “ambitious government undertaking comprehensive reforms”, India has “enormous growth potential” compared to other emerging economies, the World Bank said today, as it projected country’s growth rate to 7.3 per cent in 2018 and 7.5 for the next two years.

India, despite initial setbacks from demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST), is estimated to have grown at 6.7 per cent in 2017, according to the 2018 Global Economics Prospect released by the World Bank here today. “In all likelihood India is going to register higher growth rate than other major emerging market economies in the next decade. So, I wouldn’t focus on the short-term numbers. I would look at the big picture for India and big picture is telling us that it has enormous potential,” Ayhan Kose, Director, Development Prospects Group, World Bank, told PTI in an interview.

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He said in comparison with China, which is slowing, the World Bank is expecting India to gradually accelerate. “The growth numbers of the past three years were very healthy,” Kose, author of the report, said.

In 2017, China grew at 6.8 per cent, 0.1 per cent more than that of India, while in 2018, its growth rate is projected at 6.4 per cent. And in the next two years, the country’s growth rate will drop marginally to 6.3 and 6.2 per cent, respectively. To materialise its potential, India, Kose said, needs to take steps to boost investment prospects.

There are measures underway to do in terms of non-performing loans and productivity, he said. “On the productivity side, India has enormous potential with respect to secondary education completion rate. All in all, improved labor market reforms, education and health reforms as well as relaxing investment bottleneck will help improve India’s prospects,” Kose said.

Noting that India has a favourable demographic profile, he said it is rarely seen in other economies. “In that context, improving female labour force participation rate is going to be important. Female labour force participation still remains low relative to other emerging market economies. Bringing force right now idle outside of the productive activities will make a huge difference,” he said.

Reducing youth unemployment is critical, and pushing for private investment, where problems are already well-known like bank assets quality issues…If these are done, India can reach its potential easily and exceed, Kose asserted. “In fact, we expect India to do better than its potential in 2018 and move forward,” he said.

India’s growth potential, he said, would be around 7 per cent for the next 10 years. The Indian government is “very serious” with GST being a major turning point and banking recapitalisation programme is really important, Kose said. “The Indian government has already recognise some of these problems and undertaking measures and willing to see the outcomes of these measures,” he said.

“India is a very large economy. It has a huge potential. At the same time, it has its own challenges. This government is very much aware of these challenges and is showing just doing its best in terms of dealing with them,” the World Bank official said. The latest World Bank growth estimate for 2017 is 0.5 per cent, less than the previous projection, and 0.2 per cent less in the next two years.

“It is slightly lower than its previous forecast, primarily because India is undertaking major reforms,” Kose said. These reforms, of course, will bring certain policy uncertainty, he said, “but the big issue about India, when you look at India’s growth potential and our numbers down the road 2019 and 2020, is that it is going to be the fastest growing large emerging market.”

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“India has an ambitious government undertaking comprehensive reforms. GST is a major reform to have harmonised taxes, is one nation one market one tax concept. Then, of course, the late 2016 demonetisation reform was there. The government is well aware of these short-term implications,” Kose said. He said there might have been some temporary disruptions but “all in all” the Indian economy has done well.

“The potential growth rate of the Indian economy is very healthy to 7 per cent. I think the growth is going to be at a high rate going forward,” the World Bank official said. The big question is whether Indian policymakers would, under the necessary reforms, push its potential growth up, Kose said.

“So far we have seen ambitious policy initiatives and implementation like GST. And we have all the reasons to expect this government to continue economic policies to create friendly environment for businesses and push its growth potential up,” he said. In a South Asia regional press release, the World Bank said India is estimated to grow 6.7 per cent in fiscal year 2017-18, slightly down from the 7.1 per cent of the previous fiscal year.

This is due in part to the effects of the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, but also to protracted balance sheet weaknesses, including corporate debt burdens and non-performing loans in the banking sector, weighing down private investment, it said.

China’s second aircraft carrier’s sea trial in Feb

Beijing : China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier is expected to conduct its maiden sea trials next month, even as the country’s navy began building a third carrier vessel in Shanghai.

China had launched its second aircraft carrier in April 2017 after it commissioned the first carrier the Liaoning, a re-fitted Soviet Union-made vessel in 2012.

“China’s first homemade aircraft carrier might conduct its sea trials around Spring Festival in mid-February,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told state-run Global Times.

He said it was possible the Liaoning could carry training personnel from China’s second aircraft carrier for them to study and gain experience.

Taiwan’s defence authorities last week in a statement on its website had said that the Liaoning, which passed the west side of the Taiwan Straits, was expected to embark on a long- distance voyage.

China has developed a new jet fighter called A J-15 fighter to operate from the decks of its carriers, the report said. The Liaoning conducted three cross-sea area training exercises in 2013, 2016 and 2017.

“Passing the Taiwan Straits is not strange for the aircraft carrier and its naval formation,” Li stressed. He added that this time the Liaoning might go through Miyako Strait to complete another circle of Taiwan.

Last week the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post had reported that China has started building its third aircraft carrier with a hi-tech launch system.

The third aircraft, a second home-grown, is being built at a Shanghai shipyard since last year, it quoted People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officials as saying.

First gay weddings take place in Australia

Canberra, Same-sex weddings took place across Australia on Tuesday, as Australia celebrated its first official day of marriage equality. In December, Australia’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to legalise same-sex marriage following a postal survey of 12.7 million people which returned a 61.6 per cent “yes” result, reports Xinhua news agency.

However, same-sex couples had to wait another month before they could tie the knot due to Australian law requiring 30 days of notice before getting married. The waiting period expired on Tuesday with some couples wasting no time and marrying just minutes after midnight.

Australian Commonwealth Games sprinter Craig Burns and his now-husband Luke Sullivan, also an athlete, were one of those couples, marrying each other in a midnight ceremony attended by 50 family and friends in New South Wales. “People I have never met I don’t know who are just sending love and congratulations, it’s really touching,” Sullivan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Tuesday.

Ron van Houwelingen and Antony McManus were another couple who wed on Tuesday following 30 years together and 16 unofficial wedding ceremonies. “Our first wedding was on our sixth anniversary, that was a big deal with family and friends,” Van Houwelingen said.

“Most of the others have been more protests – we’ve renewed our vows at rallies, married on TV and on radio. They’ve been a statement in the fight for marriage equality.”

US suspends over USD 1.15 billion security assistance to Pakistan

Washington: The US has suspended more than USD 1.15 billion security assistance to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of harbouring terror groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network within its border and showing unwillingness to take “decisive actions” against them.

The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes days after President Donald Trump in a new year tweet accused Pakistan of giving nothing to the US but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven” to terrorists in return for USD 33 billion aid over the last 15 years.

Prominent among the suspended amount include USD 255 million in Foreign Military Funding (FMF) for the fiscal year 2016 as mandated by the Congress. In addition, the Department of Defense has suspended the entire USD 900 million of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) money to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017.

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“Today we can confirm that we are suspending national security assistance only, to Pakistan at this time until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. We consider them to be destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel. The US will suspend that kind of security assistance to Pakistan,” State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters.

The US, she said, will not be delivering military equipment or transfer security-related funds to Pakistan unless it is required by law. Referring to the new South Asia Policy announced by Trump in August, Nauert said despite a sustained high-level engagement by this administration with the government of Pakistan, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to find sanctuary inside Pakistan as they plot to destabilise Afghanistan and also attack the US and allied personnel.

Department of Defense Spokesperson Lt Col Mike Andrews told PTI that National Defense Authorisation Act 2017 provides up to USD 900 million for Pakistan in CSF. Of these funds, USD 400 million can only be released if the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis certifies that the Pakistan government has taken specific actions against the Haqqani Network. “At this stage all Fiscal Year 17 CSF have been suspended, so that’s the entire amount of USD 900 million,” Andrews said.

During an interaction with Pentagon reporters, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did not respond to question if he was in favour of cutting off the aid to Pakistan. “I prefer not to address that right now because it’s obviously still being formulated as policy. But I’ll give my advice on it to the president. I also agree on some confidentiality there,” he said.

According to a senior State Department official, no decision has been taken on the fate of USD 255 million security assistance to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2017. The deadline for that is September 30 this year. Mattis along with the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have travelled to Pakistan in recent months to deliver tough message to their leadership. So, this action should not come as a surprise to them, Nauert said.

“They may say it’s a surprise, but what is no surprise is that the President has expressed his concerns, Secretary Tillerson has expressed his concerns, as has Secretary Mattis, and I imagine many other government officials having those conversations with Pakistan,” Nauert said. Now, the money that has been suspended at this time does not mean that it will be suspended forever, she said.

“Pakistan has the ability to get this money back, in the future, but they have to take decisive action. They have to take decisive steps,” she added. “People have long asked, why don’t you do more about Pakistan, and I think this sort of answers that question. Obviously, Pakistan is important, an important relationship to the US, because together we can work hard to combat terrorism. Perhaps no other country has suffered more from terrorism than Pakistan and many other countries in that part of the region,” she said.

“They understand that, but still they aren’t taking the steps that they need to take in order to fight terrorism,” she said. In an interaction with reporters, two senior state department officials asserted that such a move is not a punishment, but to provide an incentive to Pakistan to take more action against terrorist groups.

“We have not done anything that’s irreversible here. All this funding is available to Pakistan, if they undertake to take the measures that we’ve asked of them,” a senior administration official said in response to a question. Noting that a country is going to react very differently to an irreversible step, the official hoped Pakistan would react differently that they would react to something which is reversible.

“Pakistanis have repeatedly said we don’t care about this money. What matters I think to the Pakistani’s is that it is the symbolism of doing this that it represents a deterioration of our relationship that they care about a great deal,” the official said. “So we were hoping that this is an incentive that they don’t want to see this relationship deteriorate any further and that they’re going to commit to working with us to try to find a way to put it on a more solid footing,” the official added.

According to another senior administration official, as part of the latest decision, the US will now not deliver military equipment or transfer security related funds to Pakistan unless required by law. “Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis if they’re determined to be critical for national security interests,” the official said, adding that this suspension is not a permanent cut off at this time.

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“Security assistance funding and pending deliveries will be frozen but not cancelled as we continue to hope Pakistan will take the decisive action against terrorists the militant groups that we seek,” the official said, adding that the US does not intend to reprogram any funds at this time. This suspension includes FMF 2016 (USD 255 million) as well as prior year FMF that has not yet been spent or delivered.

Final figures are still being calculated, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Suspension also includes coalition support funds for Pakistan. However, the suspension does not include US civilian assistance programs in Pakistan.

“Pakistan remains an important country in the region and in the world and has historically been a vital partner for the US,” the official said. The State Department official defended the decision not to suspend civilian assistance. “We all have no reason to believe that civilian assistance represents any form of leverage. The elements of the Pakistani government that needs to take the steps that we’re talking about are not touched by civilian assistance. So, it wouldn’t make any sense to tie civilian assistance to those steps that we’re asking for,” the official said.

US has been holding regular talks with Pakistan, the official said, adding that they do not believe that talks are an impasse as reported in some section of the media. “We are having conversations on a weekly basis at senior levels with the Pakistanis. Our hope is not that they will see this as the end of the road,” the official said.

“Our hope is that they will see this as a further indication of this administration’s immense frustration with the trajectory of our relationship and that they need to be serious about taking the steps we asked in order to put it on a more solid footing,” the State Department Official said.

Seoul, Pyongyang agree to hold high-level talks

Seoul: South Korea and North Korea on Friday agreed to hold high-level talks next week to discuss Pyongyang’s potential participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and ways to improve bilateral ties. North Korea notified that it has accepted South Korea’s latest offer for talks on January 9, Yonhap News Agency quoted the Unification Ministry as saying.

“The two sides decided to discuss working-level issues for the talks by exchanging documents,” Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman at the ministry, told a press briefing. The move comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed willingness to send a delegation to the Olympics to be held in South Korea next month and said the country was open to inter-Korean talks over the matter.

The agreement came as South Korea and the US agreed late Thursday to delay their joint military drills during the Winter Olympics. North Korea has long denounced the military drills as a war rehearsal and used them as an excuse for its provocations. But South Korea and the US said that the exercises were defensive in nature.

Next week’s talks will be the first inter-Korean dialogue since December 2015. After a nine-year rule of two conservative governments, liberal President Moon Jae-in, who favours engagement with Pyongyang, took office in May 2016.

But North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats have prompted him to maintain the dual track of seeking sanctions and dialogue. Seoul hopes that better inter-Korean relations can help pave the way for the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear issue and broader talks between Washington and Pyongyang. Some experts said that North Korea’s overture to South Korea may be aimed at weakening the united front in enforcing sanctions on Pyongyang and driving a wedge in the decades-long alliance between Seoul and Washington.

Pakistan relationship with China and US not the same: US official

Washington: The US has appeared unperturbed that its suspension of security aid to Pakistan would bringIslamabad closer to China and insisted that the two relationships are different. “I believe they (Pakistan) do want to build strong relations with both countries. But what they get from China is not necessarily going to be the same thing to get from the US and vice versa,” a State Department official told reporters.

“We (US) don’t have the capacity to direct state banks and state companies to invest USD 55 billion dollars in Pakistan. But at the same time China does not have the capacity to provide the highest quality military equipment in the world,” the official said. The official was responding to question that the latest American move would push Pakistan towards China.

“We have no problem with Pakistan and China relationship. China has invested a significant amount and plans to invest significant amount more,” the official said. “Pakistan is in need of economic development and economic growth. In so far as China’s able to contribute to that that will contribute to Pakistan’s stability and security and economic well-being. And that’s perfect. That’s totally fine. That’s a good thing,” the official said.

Noting that Pakistan and China have had a longstanding and very strong relationship, the official asserted that that relationship has never come at the expense of US-Pak ties. “I think Pakistan clearly understands that our relationship and what we bring to the table internationally is different than China. And they shouldn’t want to choose between China and the United States and they do want to build strong relations with both countries,” the State Department official said.

After stopping aid for Pakistan, Trump threatens same action against Palestinians

“It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue…,” Trump said on twitter.

“…peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he tweeted.

Trump had earlier also threatened to withdraw financial aid to countries that supported a U.N. resolution against his administration’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians would not accept any American role in the in the wake of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

I too have a ‘Nuclear Button’ on my desk: Donald Trump replies to Kim Jong-un

Washington D.C.: United States President Donald Trump has hit back at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying that he too has a nuclear button on his desk which was much bigger and powerful than his.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times’. Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump said on twitter on Tuesday.

Trump’s tweet came days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned the United Statesthat “the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office”.

“The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office. They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality,” he said, according to a CNN translation of his speech, during his national New Year’s address.

He also declared that North Korea was “a responsible nuclear nation that loves peace” and that “the US cannot wage a war” against it.

Rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, which conducted its largest nuclear test in September and fired off a powerful ICBM in late November, have raised concerns worldwide.

Trump has long been trading insults with Jong-un over this issue.

While Trump has referred to Jong-un as “rocket man”, his rival had previously called him a “mentally deranged dotard”

Former CIA Director slams Trump for Iran strategy

Washington D.C.: Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan has slammed United States President Donald Trump’s administration for its hard-line stance toward Iran, saying it has diminished the possibility of peaceful political change there.

“With wholesale condemnation of Iran and nuclear deal over past year, Trump Admin squandered the opportunity to bolster reformists in Tehran and prospects for peaceful political reform in Iran. Bluster is neither a strategy nor a mechanism for the exercise of U.S. power and influence,” Brennan tweeted on Tuesday. Brennan served as CIA director during the Obama administration.

Trump dubbed the Iranian regime as “brutal” and “corrupt” and also purported that the money was given to Iran by Barack Obama, when he was the American president “went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.'”As anti-government protests continued in Iran for the fifth consecutive day between the Iranian security forces and protestors, the official death toll rose to 20.

On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the people of Iran were free to protest peacefully, but rejected protesting by violence. The authorities have also blocked two popular social media apps – Telegram and Instagram – as a security measure.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wished Iranian people “success in their noble quest for freedom.” “I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom,” Netanyahu said in a YouTube video published on Monday.

He also dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s claim that Israel is behind the protests in Iran. “I heard today Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani’s claim that Israel is behind the protests in Iran. It’s not only false. It’s laughable. And unlike Rouhani, I will not insult the Iranian people. They deserve better,” Netanyahu said.

Iran is still witnessing a wave of demonstrations, being held in many cities across the country as people took to raising anti-government slogans, over alleged corruption and rising prices that have plagued the people of the country.

Scores of protestors have been arrested in the last few days.

Donald Trump lays out immigration deal demands

Washington: US President Donald Trump has said that there will be no deal to protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation without funding to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, the media reported.

“The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed wall at the Southern Border and an end to the horrible Chain Migration and ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc,” Trump tweeted on Friday.

Russia probe makes US ‘look very bad’: US President Donald Trump
“We must protect our Country at all cost!”  Trump’s declaration casts doubt over how Democrats and Republicans will come together to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) participants, of which there are nearly 800,000 who were brought to the United States illegal as children, from deportation because it is unlikely that Democrats will agree to substantial funding for Trump’s border wall in exchange for DACA protections, CNN reported.

Drew Hammill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s spokesman, responded to Trump’s tweet late Friday by stating that Democrats were “not going to negotiate through the press and look forward to a serious negotiation at Wednesday’s (January 3) meeting when we come back”.  Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will meet on January 3.

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