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After wheat, India caps sugar exports

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India is the world's second largest sugar exporter after Brazil
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India said it has capped sugar exports to safeguard its own supplies and ease inflation, days after a ban on wheat shipments sent global prices soaring in the wake of the Ukraine war.

The world’s largest sugar producer and number two exporter after Brazil said on Tuesday that shipments would be limited to 10 million tonnes for the current marketing year to September.

The decision was taken “with a view to maintain the domestic availability and price stability during the sugar season,” the food ministry said in a statement.

Sugar exports are forecast to hit a record high this marketing year, with contracts signed for around nine million tonnes, and 7.8 million tonnes already shipped, it said.

Citing inflation and its own food security needs, in mid-May India banned any new wheat exports without government approval after the hottest March on record — blamed on climate change — hit harvests.

Although India is a marginal player on the global market, the move sparked a further surge in already-soaring global food prices since Russia’s February invasion of agricultural powerhouse Ukraine, which previously accounted for 12 percent of global exports.

The decision also stoked fears of growing protectionism in the wake of the conflict. 

The export ban also left hundreds of thousands of tonnes of wheat stranded at a major port in western India, with long lines of thousands of trucks waiting to unload.

Authorities stressed that government-to-government requests for wheat from other countries reeling from record high prices would be permitted.

Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia temporarily halted palm oil exports and Malaysia banned chicken exports.

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Global trade unions urge UK to resolve rail strike row

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Members of the RMT rail union have scheduled three strikes this week in a dispute over pay, pensions and conditions
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International transport trade unions on Friday urged London to negotiate a swift end to Britain’s biggest rail strike in over 30 years, on the eve of the latest walkout.

More than 100 unions have written an open letter to UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps calling on him to help settle the bitter row over pay, as surging inflation sparks growing industrial unrest.

The letter, coordinated by the International Transport Workers’ Federation, comes one day before the third of this week’s three rail strikes.

“We are writing to call on you to meet with the transport unions to discuss rail workers’ concerns and enable the unions to reach a negotiated settlement to the disputes with rail employers,” the letter read.

And it called upon the government to “defend rail workers’ jobs, pay, conditions and pensions”.

Shapps has so far refused to get involved in negotiations, arguing that they should be held between workers’ trade unions, Network Rail and private-sector railway operating firms.

The letter was signed by unions from across the world, including Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East.

“We are shocked that … the UK government is set to impose cuts to railway services and scrap infrastructure projects at exactly the time when it should be investing, expanding and promoting public transport, especially the railways to help reduce global emissions from transport,” the letter continued.

“We call on you to do what’s right by these workers and their communities, and call on you to meet urgently with the transport unions.”

The RMT rail union insists strikes are necessary as wages have failed to keep pace with UK inflation, which has hit a 40-year high and is on course to keep rising.

The RMT also accuses Shapps of having “wrecked” negotiations by not allowing Network Rail to withdraw a letter threatening redundancies of 2,900 RMT members.

However, Shapps has called that “a total lie”.

Rail staff went on strike on Tuesday and Thursday — and are also set to do so on Saturday in the absence of a deal.

A Department for Transport spokesperson denied that the government had sought to obstruct any agreement.

“It is entirely false to claim the government is blocking negotiations,” the spokesperson stated.

“We have said from the outset we urge the unions and industry to agree a deal that is fair for railway staff, passengers and taxpayers.”

Separately, British Airways workers at London’s Heathrow airport voted on Thursday to strike over pay.

Members of the GMB and Unite trade unions overwhelmingly backed action and warned of a “summer of strikes” as the nation’s cost-of-living crisis worsens.

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Ryanair, Brussels Airlines strikes disrupt Europe air travel

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Ryanair cabin crew unions in Spain, Portugal and Belgium called a three-day strike starting on Friday, and in Italy and France on Saturday
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Strikes by staff at Ryanair and Brussels Airlines over pay and working conditions on Friday forced the cancelation of dozens of flights in Europe as the busy summer travel season gets underway.

The strikes are adding more headaches to passengers and the aviation sector, which has struggled with staff shortages as it struggle to recruit people after massive layoffs during the Covid pandemic.

Ryanair cabin crew unions in Spain, Portugal and Belgium called a three-day strike starting on Friday, and in Italy and France on Saturday.

The biggest impact was felt in Belgium, where the work stoppage led Europe’s biggest budget airline to cancel 127 flights to and from Charleroi airport near Brussels between Friday and Sunday.

Ryanair could only guarantee 30-40 percent of its scheduled flights at the airport, said a spokeswoman for Brussels South Charleroi Airport.

The situation in Belgium was further complicated by a three-day strike by staff at Brussels Airlines, a unit of German airline Lufthansa, which began on Thursday.

The company has cancelled 315 flights to and from Brussels’ international airport during the three-day strike.

The impact of the Ryanair strike was more limited in Portugal, where only two flights we cancelled on Friday morning, according to the SNPVAC union behind the walkout in the country.

It expects the strike to gain force later in the day.

In Spain, where Ryanair employs 1,900 people, no flights we cancelled except those heading to Belgium.

“We didn’t even know there was a strike…we didn’t have any problem at all,” said Manuel Carrion, a Spanish passenger with a Ryanair flight at Madrid airport.

Spain’s transport ministry on Thursday ordered Ryanair to operate 73 percent to 82 percent of flights over the strike period to maintain minimum services.

It argued there needs to be a balance between the “right to strike” and the “interest of travellers”.

– Threats –

But unions said Ryanair had gone beyond what was required and forced staff to maintain 100 percent of flights. Unions said they would take Ryanair to court as a result.

“The company informed staff that all flights were subject to the minimum service, and threated them with disciplinary action,” Ernesto Iglesias of local USO told reporters at Madrid airport.

The airline was not “respecting the law,” he added.

Ryanair cabin crew unions in Spain have called another strike from June 30 to July 2.

A strike on the weekend of June 12 and 13 already prompted the cancellation of about 40 Ryanair flights in France, or about a quarter of the total.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has been dismissive of the strikes, saying earlier this month that most of the company’s flights “will continue to operate even if there is a strike in Spain by some Mickey Mouse union or if the Belgian cabin crew unions want to go on strike.”

– ‘Pushed to the brink’ –

Ryanair’s low-cost rival easyJet also faces nine days of strikes on different days in July at the Barcelona, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca airports.

British Airways workers at London’s Heathrow airport have voted to strike over pay as the cost-of-living crisis worsens in the UK, though no dates were set yet.

The strikes come as air travel has rebounded since Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

But the staff shortages have forced airlines to cancel flights, with German carrier Lufthansa cancelling more than 3,000 of them during the summer holidays.

On Monday, the European Transport Workers’ Federation called “on passengers not to blame the workers for the disasters in the airports, the cancelled flights, the long queues and longer time for check-ins, and lost luggage or delays caused by decades of corporate greed and a removal of decent jobs in the sector.”

The Federation said it expects “the chaos the aviation sector is currently facing will only grow over the summer as workers are pushed to the brink.”

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European stocks, oil prices rebound

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Growing talk of a recession has led investors to temper their expectations for central bank rate hikes
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European stock markets and oil prices recovered Friday following heavy losses this week on fears that interest rate hikes aimed at cooling decades-high inflation will spark a global recession.

London stocks rallied 1.3 percent around midday with investors brushing aside news of bruising defeats for Britain’s ruling Conservatives in by-elections on Thursday. 

The pound firmed against the dollar and euro, despite data showing a drop in UK retail sales volumes as inflation soars.

Paris stocks jumped 1.8 percent in eurozone trade, while Frankfurt rose 0.8 percent with gains tempered by news of the worsening German business climate.

“Stock markets are taking a breather after being beat up… as recession fears took their toll,” OANDA analyst Craig Erlam told AFP.

But he warned that stock markets remain “vulnerable to another onslaught if the news does not improve”.

Asian stock markets closed higher after Thursday’s gains on Wall Street.

The slight recoveries come after global markets have been thrown into turmoil for months owing to soaring inflation, interest-rate hikes, the Ukraine war and China lockdowns.

Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell this week told lawmakers a recession was “certainly a possibility”.

He suggested officials were ready to press on with big rate hikes, following last week’s three-quarter point increase for US borrowing costs that sent markets tanking.

By contrast, the Bank of Japan is sitting tight over interest rate rises, even as the country’s inflation stands at a seven-year high.

Sentiment in Asia has meanwhile been boosted by comments from Chinese President Xi Jinping suggesting an end to China’s tech crackdown as well as possible new measures aimed at lifting the economy.

Hong Kong shares were among the biggest winners Friday thanks to a rally in tech giants including Alibaba, Tencent and NetEase.

– Key figures at around 1100 GMT –

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.3 percent at 7,110.72 points

Frankfurt – DAX: UP 0.8 percent at 13,010.79

Paris – CAC 40: UP 1.8 percent at 5,991.39

EURO STOXX 50: UP 1.4 percent at 3,485.73

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.2 percent at 26,491.97 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 2.1 percent at 21,719.06 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.9 percent at 3,349.75 (close)

New York – Dow: UP 0.6 percent at 30,677.36 (close)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0543 from $1.0523 late Thursday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2304 from $1.2260

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.68 pence from 85.83 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 135.02 yen from 134.95 yen 

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.6 percent at $111.79 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 1.6 percent at $105.91 per barrel

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