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G20 finance talks to end without joint communique: officials

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Indonesia will issue a declaration at the end of talks instead of a communique, officials said
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A two-day meeting of G20 finance ministers in Indonesia is expected to end Saturday without a joint communique, two officials said, after Russia’s war in Ukraine overshadowed proceedings.

During talks on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, finance chiefs from Western nations accused Russian technocrats of complicity in the invasion.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Friday blamed the invasion for sending a shockwave through the global economy.

In place of a formal communique will be a statement by Indonesia, which holds the G20 presidency, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another source at the meeting said the host would summarise the talks in a declaration that would not fall under the G20 banner.

Indonesian officials did not respond to a request for comment.

At the beginning of the second day of talks, Indonesian central bank governor Perry Warjiyo called on ministers and global finance leaders to concentrate on recovery in a world economy still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is important that we remain focused on what we have planned to achieve this year, as this will also send a positive message to the global community on the G20’s role and efforts to support global recovery,” Warjiyo said.

But the talks have been under the shadow of the Ukraine war — which Russia calls a “special military operation” — after it roiled global markets, caused rising food prices and added to breakneck inflation.

It has left the forum unable to agree on a text with Russia disagreeing with Western nations over its invasion of Ukraine being the cause of the global economic headwinds.

The Kremlin instead blames subsequent Western sanctions for blocked food shipments and rising energy prices.

“Russia tried to say that the world economic situation had nothing to do with the war,” a French delegation source told AFP on Friday.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko participated virtually in the meeting.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov attended the talks in person.

He was in the room as Western officials expressed their condemnation, according to a source present at the talks.

Marchenko said the Russian invasion “clearly marks the end of the existing world order”, and called for “more severe targeted sanctions” against Moscow.

Members will also discuss sustainable finance, cryptocurrencies and international taxation on Saturday.

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GSK spin-off to create consumer healthcare giant

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The spin-off of GSK's consumer healthcare unit, renamed Haleon, is the pharmaceutical company's biggest move in two decades
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British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline on Monday demerges its newly-named consumer healthcare unit Haleon, resulting in what is set to be London’s largest new stock market listing in more than a decade.

The new company — owning brands including Sensodyne toothpaste, pain relief drug Panadol and cold treatment Theraflu — is set for a valuation of about £40 billion ($47.4 billion) when it begins trading on the London stock market, according to Bloomberg. 

The major strategy shift by GSK chief executive Emma Walmsley comes after she has faced intense activist shareholder pressure over the company’s delays in producing Covid jabs and treatments.

– ‘Landmark London listing –

“This will be the largest London stock market listing in a decade, with the new company becoming a big beast with a new skin in the consumer goods world,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

It is set to be the capital’s biggest listing since Swiss mining giant Glencore was valued at £38 billion on entry in 2011.

GSK, which owns 68 percent of Haleon, plans to retain six percent of the group following the spin-off.

US pharmaceutical titan Pfizer has said it plans to sell its 32-percent minority stake.

Walmsley, who had led the consumer unit prior to her promotion as head of GSK in 2017, has described the demerger as the group’s most significant corporate change in 20 years.

The split sees GSK “parcelling off a considerable quantity of its sizeable debt pile into Haleon, expected to be around £10 billion”, Streeter said.

Haleon could join London’s top-tier FTSE 100 depending on its market valuation.

Walmsley, part of a group of less than 10 women chief executives running companies on the benchmark index, sees more long-term value in the demerger than a sale.

GSK at the start of the year rejected a £50 billion bid for the unit from consumer goods titan Unilever.

– Vaccine push –

Alongside the demerger, GSK is expanding further into the field of vaccines, having in May snapped up US biopharmaceutical firm Affinivax for up to $3.3 billion.

Also this year, the British company spent $1.9 billion on US group Sierra Oncology, a specialist in medicines for rare forms of cancer.

Keith Bowman, analyst at Interactive Investor, said the demerger was aimed at giving GSK “increased management focus to each respective business”.

This was the case “particularly for its pharma business which has underperformed rivals such as (Covid vaccine-maker) AstraZeneca over recent years”, he told AFP.

GSK is set to receive £7 billion in dividends at separation.

The consumer healthcare division, whose portfolio of products includes also Centrum multivitamins and anti-inflammatory Voltaren, generates annual sales of about £10 billion.

Haleon will be headquartered in Weybridge, southwest of London.

“The idea is that a more focused consumer business will help boost sales,” said Streeter.

“There will be no change at the top… which is a vote of confidence in Brian McNamara, a former Procter & Gamble executive who has led the division for eight years.”

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From catwalk to perp walk: Colombian designer awaits fate on smuggling charges

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Gonzalez risks 25 years in an American jail
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Colombian celebrity designer Nancy Gonzalez’s fall from grace was sudden and spectacular: taken in handcuffs from her luxury home in Cali last week to a Bogota jail cell, accused of smuggling protected animal skin purses into the United States.

The 77-year-old is now awaiting a ruling by a Colombian judge on whether she should be extradited to the United States, where she risks a 25-year jail sentence.

Gonzalez’s purses, clutches and wallets sell for thousands of US dollars apiece, have appeared on catwalks and TV shows and grace the shelves of high-end shops around the globe.

But according to an indictment from prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida, dated April 26, more than 200 of the caiman- and python-skin products sold in the United States were imported illegally. 

Gonzalez and two employees of her Gzuniga company, the charge sheet states, conspired to smuggle bags made of protected animal skins between February 2016 and April 2019 without the permit required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The goods were brought to the Gzuniga showroom in New York City by the accused for the purpose of “enriching themselves upon the sale of the contraband products in the United States,” said the indictment.

Individuals were allegedly paid to bring the bags from Colombia to New York on commercial flights, and coached to lie about the provenance of the goods if asked.

Gonzalez and her co-accused face one charge of conspiracy and two counts of smuggling.

– Not ‘black market’ –

According to her website, Gonzalez’s bags are handcrafted in her native Cali by a team of artisans.

The site says her bags are sold at over 300 luxury retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harrod’s and Tsum.

Her designs were also featured in an exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Among Gonzalez’s famous clients are Salma Hayek, Britney Spears and Victoria Beckham, according to specialized portals.

According to the Florida indictment, the animals that provided the skins were not on the CITES endangered list but fell under a category of species “that had to be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with survival.”

This means that trade in products obtained from such an animal required a permit, which Gonzalez allegedly failed to obtain.

Elmer Montana, a lawyer for one of Gonzalez’s employees, told AFP that the skins used to make the bags were “obtained by Nancy Gonzalez… from certified farms which are supervised by the Ministry of the Environment.

“These are not skins that she buys on the black market” in one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, where reptile trafficking is rife. 

Footage released by the Colombian prosecutor’s office showed the glamorous businesswoman led away in handcuffs after a raid on her luxury home in Cali last week.

A court must now decide on her extradition to the United States, a process that can take weeks or even months, according to defense lawyers.

A judge had denied Gonzalez’s request for bail pending a ruling.

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Rattled and uncertain of its future, Twitter stumbles on

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Anxious employees, wary advertisers and hamstrung management: Twitter is limping along as it waits to learn how the fight over Elon Musk’s buyout bid will end.

Just days before the first court hearing in Twitter’s lawsuit seeking to force the Tesla boss to close the $44 billion deal, the firm is stuck in limbo.

“The best conclusion for me would be that he leaves us alone, so that we can go on our merry way,” an engineer at the key social media network told AFP on condition of anonymity. 

The engineer spoke of employees departing and a “climate of uncertainty that does not leave one with a peaceful state of mind.” 

“We’re still trying to do our work normally, because the main reasons why we chose to work for Twitter still hold true,” he added.

But there’s been nothing normal about Musk’s unsolicited bid that he’s now backed away from, saying Twitter has obfuscated on the number of fake accounts on the platform.

He has harangued the network, on its own platform no less, with mocking tweets about its management and direction.

“Musk’s repeated disparagement of Twitter and its personnel, create uncertainty… that harm Twitter and its stockholders,” the firm’s lawyers argued in their lawsuit lodged this week.

The billionaire’s comments “also expose Twitter to adverse effects on its business operations, employees, and stock price,” the lawyers added.

A judge has set the first hearing in the case for Tuesday in a court in the eastern state of Delaware.

– Sluggish ad sales – 

“Twitter is facing a huge image crisis, and confidence in its leadership is wavering,” eMarketer analyst Debra Williamson told AFP. “But whether the Musk situation has affected its revenues is unclear.”

She said the most loyal advertisers have likely stuck around, but those less committed to Twitter may have scaled back their spending while waiting for the endgame.

Angelo Carusone, president of watchdog group Media Matters, thinks the damage is already done because Musk has been a frequent critic of content moderation.

The fight against hate and disinformation is widely defended internally, but also by many advertisers, concerned that their brands are not associated with toxic messages. 

Carusone said that in early May, at an annual marketing event where companies negotiate large advertising deals, Twitter was “not able to give advertisers any clarity or confidence” that it would continue to be safe showcase for them.

“They didn’t go anywhere close to what they normally sell at that event. And it’s obviously been sluggish since then,” he added. 

The San Francisco-based social network cannot afford to lose customers. 

Unlike big fish such as Google and Facebook parent Meta, which dominate online advertising and make billions in profits, Twitter lost hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020 and 2021.

The group will capture less than one percent of global ad revenue in 2022, according to eMarketer, compared to 12.5 percent for Facebook, 9 percent for Instagram and nearly two percent for booming upstart TikTok. 

On top of that, Twitter’s user base is barely expected to grow and may even shrink in the United States, noted Williamson, the eMarketer analyst.

– ‘Twitter can’t meaningfully respond’ – 

Musk once had potential Twitter investors salivating with his talk of growing revenue fivefold and aiming for a billion users by 2028.

Instead, a court battle is building to “end either with Twitter being owned by an unhappy investor who decided he didn’t want it after all, or with Twitter on its own and weaker than it was before this all started,” Williamson added.

The battle is set to last for months, and at a time when economic headwinds are steady and firms need to be nimble to monetize new audio and video formats, diversify revenue sources and attract younger audiences.

“At least Facebook can respond to current threats, even if they’re responding poorly, they can respond,” said Carusone, the Media Matters president.

“What Twitter cannot do right now is meaningfully respond to anything.”

The social network’s lawyers have blamed Musk for withholding consent for two employee retention programs “designed to keep selected top talent during a period of intense uncertainty generated in large part by Musk’s erratic conduct.” 

Internally, some employees have also lost confidence in management, which they would have liked to be more combative in dealing with the world’s richest person. 

Parker Lyons, a financial analyst at Twitter, went so far as to tweet several memes that took aim at the firm’s board for its deal with Musk.

In one, the board is shown firing bullets into Twitter above the sarcastic caption: “Who could have done this?”

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