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Moldova wine industry’s EU focus pays off

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Moldovan winemakers like Nicolae Tronciu had already largely shifted from selling in Russia to the EU, which has helped spare them from upheaval due to the war in Ukraine
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In the small Moldovan village of Pereni, Nicolae Tronciu gazes at his vineyard, with its buds ready to bloom.

The 71-year-old launched his current brand four years ago, selling it to Europe rather than Russia, traditionally his country’s biggest customer — a move that is paying off amid the war in Ukraine.

“Most of my production goes to Europe, especially to our Romanian brothers,” Tronciu told AFP at his vineyard, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) away from the Ukrainian border.

Moldova — a small former Soviet republic of some 2.6 million people nestled between Ukraine and Romania, and among the world’s 20 largest wine producers — has long sought closer ties with Europe.

This has now mitigated the war’s impact as the industry struggles with rising prices for raw materials and a lack of Ukrainian consumers.

– ‘Freedom blend’ –

“The Russian market was our traditional market… In the EU you can charge higher prices for wine, but there the focus is on quality,” Tronciu said.

His family has been making wine for four generations, and he hopes to turn over his business to his sons working abroad.

He makes no secret of where his preferences stand.

“Geographically and as a person I’m pro-European, yes,” he said.

Moldova seeking stronger Europe ties has angered Moscow and resulted in two Russian embargoes in 2006 and 2013.

Those pushed the country further West with the EU liberalising its market for Moldovan wines and sealing a bilateral free trade agreement with Chisinau in 2014.

The transformation has been radical — Russia accounted for only 10 percent of Moldovan wine exports in 2021, down from 80 percent in the early 2000s, according to figures from the Moldovan Ministry of Agriculture.

Moldova exported more than 120 million litres to European countries last year, compared to 8.6 million litres to Russia.

“Before the 2006 (Russian) embargo, the country did not know the term ‘market diversification’… Today, it exports nearly 68 million bottles each year to more than 70 countries,” senior agriculture ministry official Sergiu Gherciu told AFP.

Moldova’s top wine maker Purcari has even taken a direct political stance against Russia’s influence with a wine called “Freedom Blend”, launched in 2014 and made from three grape varieties from Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

“This wine is a symbol of these countries which are de facto fighting for their freedom,” Purcari chief operating officer Eugen Comendant said.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the company helped Ukrainian refugees — offering them free accommodation — and sponsored an anti-war banner in the Romanian capital Bucharest, where Purcari is listed on the stock exchange.

– Expensive raw materials –

Comendant said the war’s impact was “close to zero” in terms of Russians no longer purchasing Purcari wines.

There are currently no trade restrictions on wine between the two countries, but the war has made transport difficult and international sanctions make it difficult for Russia to conduct international trade.

But the Ukrainian market, which was in full development and represented four percent of the company’s sales, collapsed.

The war blocking the southern Ukrainian port of Odessa has also caused “major logistical problems and complicates our exports to Asia,” Comendant added.

In March, the Moldovan government said more than 750,000 euros ($790,000) worth of wine were blocked in the Ukrainian port. 

But the main challenge for Moldova’s wine producers lies with rising production costs, which are expected to soar by 50 percent this year, according to Gherciu.

Tronciu, who sells between eight and ten tonnes of wine every year, said all the raw materials have gotten more expensive. 

“Pesticide, fuel, gas, even the iron wire we use” for the grapevines, he said.

He also deplored a lack of tourists, who he used to welcome.

“Most of them were Ukrainians, but also a few Russians,” he said in his now empty tasting room.

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More strike calls cloud summer for European low-cost airlines

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Strikes could keep Ryanair flights on the tarmac at peak travel times this summer, but management is unfazed as passengers return en masse
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Europe’s low-cost airlines are facing more strikes this summer as staff in Spain and France announced new walkouts on Tuesday.

Trade unions representing Ryanair cabin crew in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have called for strikes this coming weekend, while easyJet’s operations in Spain face a nine-day strike next month.

Damien Mourgues, a representative of the SNPNC trade union at Ryanair in France, said the airline doesn’t respect rest time laws and is calling for a raise for cabin crew still paid at the minimum wage.

Cabin crew will go on strike on Saturday and Sunday.

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’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.

The union said Tuesday that Spanish easyJet cabin crew, with a base pay of 950 euros per month, have the lowest wages of the airline’s European bases.

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

But many airlines, which laid off staff during the pandemic, are having trouble rehiring enough workers and have been forced to cancel flights, including easyJet, which has been particularly hard hit by employee shortages.

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.”

– Aviation sector ‘chaos’ –

In Spain, trade unions have urged Ryanair cabin crews to strike from June 24 to July 2 to secure their “fundamental labour rights” and “decent work conditions for all staff”.

Ryanair staff in Portugal plan to go on strike from Friday to Sunday to protest work conditions, as are employees in Belgium.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has been dismissive of the strikes.

“We operate two and half thousand flights every day,” he said earlier this month in Belgium.

“Most of those 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 over here,” he added in a media conference.

In Italy, a 24-hour strike is set to hit Ryanair operations on Saturday with pilots and cabin crew calling for the airline to respect the minimum wages set for the sector under a national agreement.  

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Oil turbulence could last five years, ExxonMobil boss warns

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Exxon Mobil Corporation's Chairman and CEO Darren Woods speaks during a press conference and signing ceremony at QatarEnergy headquarters in Doha, on June 21, 2022
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Consumers must be prepared to endure up to five years of turbulent oil markets, the head of ExxonMobil said Tuesday, citing under-investment and the coronavirus pandemic.

Energy markets have been roiled by the Ukraine war as Russia has reduced some exports and faced sanctions while Europe has announced plans to wean itself off dependency on Russian fossil fuels in coming years.

Speaking ahead of ExxonMobil’s unveiling as the fourth international partner for Qatar’s natural gas expansion, chairman and chief executive Darren Woods said major uncertainty lies ahead. 

“You are probably looking at three to five years of continued fairly tight markets,” Woods told the Qatar Economic Forum. “How that manifests itself in price will obviously be a big function of demand, which is difficult to predict.”

On top of under-investment in finding new oil sources in 2014-2015, Woods said the pandemic “really sucked a lot of revenues out of the industry”.

Woods said companies and governments needed to think long-term. “We are going to see a lot of volatility and discontinuity in the market place if we don’t get to more thoughtful policies,” he predicted.

Representatives from the Middle East energy industry also renewed calls for better planning in consumer countries.

Sheikh Nawaf Saud al-Sabah, chief executive of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, said the company was supplying all customers, but that multinational oil firms were not matching the investment of national oil enterprises.

– ‘Tremendous disruption’ –

As part of the Gulf state’s response, Kuwait was starting its first offshore oil exploration and building the world’s biggest oil refinery.

“We have never touched the offshore in Kuwait. The first offshore drill rig arrived in Kuwait a week ago and will start soon,” he said.

The new refinery would come online by the end of 2022, Sabah added.

“It will be the largest refinery in the world at 615,000 barrels of oil a day capacity,” he said adding that it would help meet increased demand from Europe and elsewhere.

Sabah said there was a “dangerous trend”, with world consumers wanting energy but not being prepared for the change from polluting hydrocarbons to green energy.

“That is a paradox here that is causing quite a tremendous disruption in the investment cycle. We are making the long-term investments, but not international oil companies.”

Sabah said the world currently produces and consumes about 100 million barrels of oil a day but that the equivalent of Kuwait’s production — about 3.5 million barrels a day — was being lost through declining fields.

Qatar’s Energy Minister Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi meanwhile criticised the “demonisation” of oil companies, and the windfall taxes on oil majors that many governments are proposing.

“I don’t see the governments coming to pitch in when they (oil companies) were losing money and borrowing when the oil price was negative in Texas,” he said.

ExxonMobil has taken a 6.25 percent stake in the expansion of Qatar’s North Field, which contains the world’s biggest natural gas reserves. 

The stake is the same as France’s TotalEnergies while Italy’s Eni and US firm ConocoPhillips have 3.13 percent shares.

Woods said the project will “bring balance to the global market”.

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Musk says Twitter deal remains deadlocked over fake users

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Business magnate Elon Musk said Tuesday that his $44 billion move to take over Twitter remained held up by “very significant” questions about the number of fake users on the social network.

Musk was reluctant to talk about the deal when asked at the Qatar Economic Forum, saying it was a “sensitive” matter.

“There are still a few unresolved matters,” Musk said by video link.

This includes whether “the number of fake and spam users on the system is less than five percent as per their claims, which I think is probably not most people’s experience when using Twitter. 

“So we are still awaiting resolution on that matter and that is a very significant matter,” the Tesla car and SpaceX exploration chief said.

Musk said there were also questions about Twitter’s debt and whether shareholders will vote for the deal.

“So I think these are the three things that need to resolved” to make the transaction happen.

Musk said he wanted to get 80 percent of the North American population and half the world’s population onto Twitter.

“That means it must be something that is appealing to people, it obviously can’t be a place where they feel uncomfortable or harassed or they will simply not use it.”

“I think there is this big difference between freedom of speech and freedom of reach,” Musk added.

“You are allowed to yell whatever you want in a public space, more or less. But whatever you say, however controversial, doesn’t need to then be broadcast to the whole country. 

“So I think generally the approach of Twitter should be to let people say what they want within the balance of the law but then limit who sees that based on any given Twitter user preferences.”

He said that if the deal went ahead his role would be to “drive the product”, saying this is what he did at Tesla and SpaceX.

Musk said he expected Tesla’s number of employees to fall by about 3.5 percent in the next three months but the headcount would start rising again in a year.

Asked about the next US presidential election in 2024, Musk said he had not decided who to back but that he was ready to inject $20-$25 million into a candidate’s campaign. 

He has previously indicated he could support Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis.

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