From a potential EU visa ban on Russians to free government scooters in France – Here’s your August 23 news briefing

From a potential EU visa ban on Russians to free government scooters in France – Here’s your August 23 news briefing
FILE PHOTO: People walk on the bridge over Narva river at the border crossing point with Russia in Narva, Estonia, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

To start off, we’re looking into:

Will Europe ban Russians?

There’s been recent debate over the idea of limiting or banning EU travel visas for Russians after Zelenskiy requested the West make the move. Finland has said it will cap the daily visas available to Russians from 1,000 to 500 beginning September 1, with only 100 available to tourists. The Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia and Estonia all support a total visa ban preventing Russians from entering the bloc. They hope that if ordinary Russians feel the consequences of the war, they may pressure their government to back off Ukraine.

But Greece, Cyprus and Germany oppose a total ban, saying that many Russians don’t support the war and may be fleeing the country. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been outspoken against the ban, saying that Putin should be blamed for the war, not ordinary Russian citizens. The US has also rejected calls for a ban in the country, saying it wouldn’t want to “close off pathways to refuge and safety for Russia’s dissidents or others who are vulnerable to human rights abuses." EU foreign ministers are set to discuss this issue in Prague next week.

Hong Kongers go missing in job scams

Hong Kong trafficking
Senior superintendent of Organised Crime and Triad Bureau Tony Ho addresses reporters about the Southeast Asian job scams on Sunday. Photo: Screenshot, via Hong Kong Police.

Dozens of Hong Kongers are suspected of going missing in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos on promises of false job opportunities this year. The victims were given flight tickets, had their passports taken when they landed and were forced to work in a scam center. Twenty-three of these victims are still missing and believed to be held in Cambodia and Myanmar, and many haven’t been in contact with their families. So far, 14 victims have been deemed safe, and 12 are back in Hong Kong.

On Sunday, Hong Kong police arrested five people believed to be involved in this scheme on charges of conspiracy to defraud, and a sixth man was arrested yesterday. Last Thursday, Hong Kong set up an investigative task force that will work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chinese embassies and consulates abroad and Interpol to look into the trafficking cases. Now, authorities are working on educating the public about scams like this one.

PDD is coming for you, Amazon

Source: Shutterstock

When it comes to e-commerce in the US, Amazon is hands down the biggest player. It has nearly 38% of the overall market, with Walmart coming in second at just over 6% of the roughly US$768 billion industry.

But Chinese company Pinduoduo (PDD) is coming to challenge Amazon’s presence in the industry, according to people familiar with the plans. The company had so far mainly been operating in China, where it broke through by incorporating e-commerce retail sales with social media platforms like WhatsApp, where people could share coupons with their friends for mutual benefits. It has also managed to withstand hardship, growing 2.5% during the same period that Alibaba, which runs AliExpress internationally, contracted.

There has also been some speculation that PDD might begin trading on the Hong Kong exchange instead.

Either way, Amazon might be losing ground in the US since Chinese clothing retailer Shein also just passed Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app in the world.

To end, we’ll look into:

We all getting scooters

A little while back, we wrote a story about how high gas prices were causing some interesting consumer behaviors, like people switching to bikes and electric vehicles. And we got this legendary response:

Well, if that’s you, we have good news – France is willing to subsidize that scooter!

More accurately, it’s investing a bunch of money into getting people to transition from gas-guzzling vehicles to electric scooters and bikes, and it’s willing to give up to around €4,000 (about US$3,974) to anyone willing to make the switch. The idea is modeled after a similar program that was really successful in Lithuania, and it’s meant to bring France to the same level of sustainable transportation development as other countries in the region, like Germany and the Netherlands. The French government hopes 9% of the country will swap to bikes by 2024.

France isn’t the only country offering this kind of subsidy to move away from gas vehicles – in addition to Lithuania, several states in India have also joined in, along with over 100 cities around the world.

But there are some problems with bikes, too, one of them being that bike lanes don’t go nearly everywhere that car lanes do. In Paris, mayor Anne Hidalgo promised to add 130 kilometers (over 80 miles) of bikeable lanes to the city, and President Emmanuel Macron said the government would invest a quarter billion euros to make the whole city bikeable.

Adding bikes and e-scooters to the streets can cause problems, too, considering there’s virtually no training required to use them, whereas driving a car or motorcycle often requires courses and licenses. This means that too many bikes on the streets can be, well, chaos, and locals get pretty irritated over it.

That said, the green initiative is there, and other countries like the Netherlands (which has nearly a quarter of its population riding bikes to commute) prove that bikes could be a viable solution to reduce a nation’s carbon footprint.

In other news …

📉Stocks: MSCI’s global gauge of stocks is down 1.85%, now at 2,736.10.

📰Some specifics:

  • S&P 500 slid 2.14% to 4,137.99.
  • Nasdaq dropped 2.55% to 12,381.57.
  • Dow Jones is down 1.91% to 33,063.61.
  • Hang Seng Index is down 0.59% to 19,656.98.

🧠Some quick factors to bear in mind:

  • In the US, fears are rising again over the central bank’s attempts to tame rising inflation with interest-rate hikes, which could weaken the global economy and lead to a recession. The market awaits an update on Friday regarding the Fed’s plan, and although there’s a chance of a 75-basis-point hike, it’s more likely to be 50 basis-points.
  • With Gazprom announcing a three-day oil shutdown to Germany, there’s a new energy disruption that could affect the global market as Europe’s economic outlook becomes a little less clear.
  • Meanwhile in China, the central bank reduced some key lending rates by between 5 and 15 basis points to support the slowing economy. It’s also asked the country’s banks to increase their loan output. But, zero-COVID policy lockdowns are still affecting businesses nationwide.

👄Some comments and chatter:

“The global growth story is in shambles right now. That’s what’s really kind of weighing on risk appetite right now because you can’t have the US continue to be attractive while the rest of the world is crumbling,” said Ed Moya, a senior market analyst at Oanda.

“Lower mortgage rates have not translated into higher property sales due to the lack of confidence in large developers and the presales model. Policymakers may need to implement more non-traditional measures, or even some kind of intervention, to restore faith in the property market,” said David Chao, a strategist at Invesco in Hong Kong.

🛢Oil: Oil prices traded nearly flat after Saudi Arabia said it could cut production to deal with market challenges. US crude futures fell 54 cents to settle at US$90.23 a barrel, and Brent went down 24 cents to land at US$96.48.

👛Bitcoin: At the time of writing, Bitcoin is down 1.36% to 21,217.60.

🤑China offers help to its developers: China’s housing sector is in a bit of trouble, with a whole bunch of unoccupied or stalled properties and projects that have caused a heap of angst and unrest. According to people familiar with the situation, though, the government will offer 200 billion yuan (US$29.3 billion) in special loans to help ensure stalled projects are delivered to waiting customers.

😶Japanese lawmakers visit Taiwan: Joining the US in defying China, Japanese lawmakers are making a trip to Taiwan. Their visit also overlaps one from US Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and follows US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit. The Japanese delegation arrived Monday to speak with President Tsai Ing-wen.

🥵China’s heat wave beats records: The extreme drought and heat wave that has affected southern China for the past 70 days are a complete anomaly. No heat wave in modern Chinese record-keeping even rivals the current one, nor does any heat wave in world history. Now, climate scientists are facing the question of how much climate change has contributed.

🩹Healing Arab-Iranian ties: In 2016, the Gulf Arab states began to separate themselves from Iran due to nuclear tensions and other sociopolitical clashes. Now, the UAE plans on restoring diplomatic relations. Other Arab states are closely watching the nuclear talks between Iran and the US.

🏫Back to school in the Philippines: With the longest school closures in the world, the Philippines began opening in-person learning for students once again yesterday. About half of the country’s schools are now in session. Other schools will have a mix of in-person and online schooling.

🌈LGBTQ+ win in Vietnam: The Vietnamese government no longer classifies homosexuality as a disease. Its ministry of health plans to ban conversion therapy, but it isn’t clear how exactly this will be enforced. Now, the fight for legalized gay marriage continues…

💃The PM of partying: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s tested negative for drugs after her partying videos were leaked. And now, other professional women have begun an entire social media trend in support of Marin, who’s seeing a lot of criticism for her decision to keep a social life while in office. On LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, women are tagging #SolidarityWithSanna in posts of them dancing and socializing with friends.

Written and put together by Jake Shropshire, Vanessa Wolosz, Christine Dulion and Krystal Lai