Independence Day


It’s the fourth of July here which is Independence Day in the USA, except it’s only July the third there.

It’s still the third in Egypt where a full military coup has ousted President President Mohamed Mursi.

Egypt’s army deployed tanks and troops close to the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday after a military deadline for Islamist President Mohamed Mursi to yield to street protests passed without any agreement.

Mursi’s national security adviser said a military coup was under way as armed forces commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met political, religious and youth leaders.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported on its website that the army told President Mohamed Mursi at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) that he was no longer head of state. It quoted a presidential source.

Meanwhile the state news agency MENA said they would make a joint announcement of a roadmap for a new transitional period and new elections two years after the overthrow of autocratic ex-president Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising. . .

Hopes were high that the Arab Spring would bring democracy, and prosperity, to Egypt.

Two years later those hopes have yet to be realised.

Happy Independence USA.

Good luck Egypt.

Joined not separated


Quote of the day:

. . . we are nations joined by a large ocean, rather than separated by it. Too often the obvious potential of the Pacific is overlooked. We need to focus more on the strengths and assets of our part of the world, rather than pondering on what we allegedly don’t have.  Prime Minsiter John Key in his address to the Pacific Island Forum opening ceremony.

It’s good advice for more than the forum.

Be happy by order


The United Nations has decreed that March 20th will be the International Day of Happiness.

When you can have a whole Year of the Potato a single day for happiness is a modest request and a worthy aim.

But it would be more than a little sad if you happen to have one of those days that day – not just a bad day for you but a blot on the canvas of international happiness .

Former Eqyptian president Mubarak declared dead – updated


As Egyptians rallied in Cairo to protest against a decision by the ruling military council to assume new powers  the country’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, was declared dead.

He’d been sentenced to life imprisonment a few weeks ago for complicity in the killings of protesters during the uprising that ended his 30-year rule.

One dictator has gone but Egyptian’s still face an uncertain political future.

UPDATE: There are now conflicting reports and Reuters is saying that Mubarak is unconscious and on a respirator but not dead.

USA does deal


USA  leaders have done a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Congressional leaders of both parties and President Obama said they have agreed to a framework for a fiscal deal that they will present to their caucuses Monday morning, moving Congress closer to taking up a measure that could pass both the House and Senate with bipartisan support and be signed by President Obama, averting a fiscal calamity.

The two Senate leaders, Harry Reid of Nevada and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, announced the agreement on the Senate floor and President Obama a few moments later. He indicated he would support it, although it was not his preferred approach.

“It will allow us to avoid default,” he said.

The threat of the USA defaulting on its debt was never very real, but even so this is good news for not only the USA but all the other countries whose economies are intertwined with it.

Bin Laden is dead


Osama Bin Laden is dead.

Radio NZ reports US officials saying his body has been recoverd by US authorities.

Does the army rule ok?


It’s a poor reflection on Egypt when rule by the army is regarded as a cause for celebration after 30 years under ex-President Hosni Mubarak.

Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who is now in charge, will have a period of grace while decisions are made on where-to-from-here.

But change by itself does not necessarily bring improvement and the removal of a dictator does not automatically result in democracy or stability.

Euro-centric is comfortable but our future is in Aisia


Quote of the day:

We allow ourselves to take on an isolation of the mind . . .

. . .  We go to where we’re comfortable . . . Going to Australia is like going to the rich neighbours for lunch. Going to England is like going back to stay with your grandmother.

And it’s all very comfortable  and it’s all very within the  sort of Anglo-Saxon English speaking world but the future for New Zealand is Asia.

Already China is our number 2 trading partner soon to be our number one trading partner and we are still teaching Latin and French and German in our secondary schools. We should have a whole generation of New Zealanders already that speak Mandarin or even Bahasa so they can deal in Malaysia or Indonesia .

We are a Southern Asian nation economically but we still have a very Euro-centric mindset.

David Mahon, head of Mahon China Investment Management on Q&A.

Happy Independence Day


Happy Independence Day to the USA and the Phillipines.


A little bird told me . . .


A pigeon has been detained on suspicion of being a spy

It gives a whole new meaning to the expression a little bird told me.

Relatively better isn’t the same as good


New Zealand tops Transparency International’s 2009 corruption perception index.

The others in the top 10 are: Denmark, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands and Australia, Canada and Iceland which are 8th equal.

The countries at the bottom are: Chad, Iraq, Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Corruption is a form of oppression and this map shows how widespread it is:

While it’s good to be relatively good, what really matters is not how good we are perceived to be relative to anyone else but how good we are fullstop.

A score of 9.4 does mean we’re perceived to be pretty good.

That makes it more likely that other countries and other people will trust us and our institutions.

But we need to be vigilant to ensure that reality matches the perception.

Hat tip: Poneke.

Where were you when . . .


. . .  the Berlin Wall fell?

An event as momentous as that ought to be ingrained on my memory.

But as I digested news reports about what happened 20 years ago today I could recall only very vague memories of learning about it at the time.

Then I realised our son would have been only a few months old and the fall of the wall must have conincided with one of the many crises which punctuated his life.

When you’re wondering if your child will live or die the world shrinks and matters of international moment barely register.

FSU fails foreign investment 101


When I posted on Farming Systems Uruguay in August I was restrained in my criticism.

I didn’t say that we were so unimpressed by what we learned when we visited one of their farms that we sold our shares in the company as soon as we got home.

I didn’t say that the manager of the farm we visited, who is one of New Zealand’s top dairy farmers, wasn’t being left to manage. He had to answer to the company’s representative who visited once a week not just on strategy but on day to day farming practices.

I didn’t say that the manager had only had a two-week Spanish course when he arrived, been getting just one lesson a week since then and his wife and children weren’t getting any help with the language at all.

I didn’t say that the manager told us of visiting another FSU farm where he’d been concerned that the cows were hungry and asked why they weren’t in a paddock with more grass. He was told that was being saved for the directors’ visit.

I didn’t say that everything we saw contradicted the glowing picture being painted in New Zealand of the company, its farms and the opportunities in Uruguay.

I didn’t say that we could see there was money in the business for PGG Wrightson and anyone else who could clip the ticket but we couldn’t see what was in it for investors in FSU.

I didn’t say any of that on the earlier post because it’s more than two years since we were there and I thought things might have improved. Brian Gaynor’s column shows they haven’t.

Everything he writes supports what we saw and heard in Uruguay.

What works in business in one country doesn’t necessarily work in another. The sobering lessons from the experiences of several companies which ventured across the Tasman show that and at least they speak the same language there.

Uruguay is not just another country, it has a different climate, different language and different culture.

It’s on a similar latitude to northern New Zealand but on a continent which gets much hotter than we do. Pastures which last 10 years or more here will have to be replaced every two or three years there. That’s good for PGG Wrightson which has the rights to all the business on the farms and will sell the seed. But it’s not good for farm profits and FSU shareholders.

Spanish is probably one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn. With total immersion you should have a good grasp of the basics after three months and be reasonably fluent in a year. But Gaynor says the last New Zealand manager who had been in Uruguay for two and a half years never learned the language.

 It is the height of ignorance to live and work in another country without being able to converse with the locals. It’s also not good for business because you never get the full story if you have to rely on interpreters. But that the manager didn’t learn isn’t necessarily his fault. If his staff spoke English they would when talking to him and the demands of the farm would take precedence over Spanish classes.

But one of the first lessons of foreign investment 101 is that the people working on the ground must speak the local language. Ensuring its managers and their families learn Spanish should be one of FSU’s priorities.

Then there’s the culture. They do things differently in Latin America you can’t just pick up what works here, transplant it there and expect it to work as it does at home.

Adolf at No Minister is even less impressed than I am. He blames the directors. They are responsible for the decisions they made but I think they only see what the people in Uruguay want them to see and have no idea of what’s really going on.

PGW will make money by clipping the ticket on everything the farms buy but it’s going to be a long time before the farms make a profit and shareholders get a return on their investment.

There are wider concerns too. Crafar Farms has shown what happens when a business grows too quickly without good processes, systems and staff. If that happens here, the potential for problems half a world away are even greater.

New Zealand deserves its reputation for high standards of animal welfare and environmental practice. Our reputation is at risk  from companies which try to emulate what we do here in other countries and fail to do it properly.

Unlike the rest of the world we like America – Updated with Letterman Top 10


John Key often speaks off the cuff, whether he’d rehearsed what he said when he appeared on the Letterman show or not, this comment would be hard to beat:

“Unlike the rest of the world, we like America”.

It might have been said with a smile, but there is a very serious message in that statement.

He will however, be hoping that no-one took him seriously when he said:

“New Zealand is a convenient 20-hour flight away” and “if you go in the next 30 days I’ll pick you up at the airport personally”.

Key also rang the bell which closes the New York Stock exchange.

New Zealand Stock Exchange boss Mark Weldon says ringing the bell is a highly coveted honour bestowed on visiting dignitaries.

Mr Weldon says the financial markets all cover the ringing of the bell and the prime minister will get great profile for New Zealand by doing it.

If my experience is anything to go by a lot of Americans won’t know where New Zealand is – and ignorance of our location or even existence isn’t confined to the US.

That said, we have a lot to gain from warmer relationships with the US. Hopefully a few of the people who do know where New Zealand is and are in a position to influence policy will have got Key’s message.

UPDATE: (Hat Tip Rob’s Blcockhead) The Top 10 List from the show:


The quote I linked to above got it wrong. Key said: “Unlike most of the world we still like Americans.”

Bienvenido al Rey y La Reina de España


King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain will visit New Zealand next week.

They will be accompanied by Spain’s Foreign Minsiter Miguel Angel Moratinos and Secretary of State for Trade Silvia Iranzo.

“I am delighted to host King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. Their visit presents a unique opportunity to enhance understanding and visibility of New Zealand at the highest levels in Spain,” says Mr Key.

“New Zealand’s relationship with Spain is on the cusp of an exciting phase of further development, with the prospect of increased trade, investment and tourism.

“Our two countries are also seeking to expand education, science and technology, and cultural links.

“In recent years, high-level bilateral political interaction has strengthened considerably,” says Mr Key.

When New Zealanders travel overseas we are accustomed to people in other countries having only a vague, if any, idea about New Zealand.

But in Spain when people asked where we were from, almost all reacted with a smile when they heard nueva zelanda and responded by saying, “el pais más lejos de españa,” – the country furtherest from Spain.

They also knew us because of los kiwis – kiwifruit. Spain is one of the biggest markets (maybe the biggest?) for our kiwifruit and we saw them everywhere fruit was sold from the biggest supermarkets to the smallest neighbourhood stores.

Farmers we spoke to had some knowledge of, and respect for, our sheep industry too.

Spain suffered from the years of oppression under Franco but it has been rapidly catching up. When we lived there four years ago, the EU was pouring billions of euros in to infrastructure and the country with a positive flow on effect on the economy.

New Zealand’s former dependence on British markets blinded us to opportunities in other parts of Europe in the past. This visit will  provide opportunities for trade and other relationships to our mutual benefit.

NZ tops Global Peace Index


 New Zealand has topped the  Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index .

dairy 1

The Institute is an Australian think tank dedicated to developing the inter-relationships between business, peace and economic development.
The results of the 2009 survey  suggest:
that the world has become slightly less peaceful in the past year, which appears to reflect the intensification of violent conflict in some countries and the effects of both the rapidly rising food and fuel prices early in 2008 and the dramatic global economic downturn in the final quarter of the year. Rapidly rising unemployment, pay freezes and falls in the value of house prices, savings and pensions is causing popular resentment in many countries, with political repercussions that have been registered by the GPI through various indicators measuring safety and security in society.
The GPI uses 23 indicators  of the existence or absence of peace, divided into three broad categories:  measures of ongoing domestic and international conflict, measures of safety and security in society and measures of militarization.
The Top 10 countries were: New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Austria, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Finland and Slovenia.
At the bottom were: Georgia, Zimbabwe, Russia, Pakistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Israel, Somalia, Afghaanistan and Iraq.
The full list is here.

BBC World Food Price Index


The BBC World Service has been tracking food prices in seven major cities to create a World Food Price Index.

Reporters started making a weekly record of five basic food items in July last year. The basket of goods was normalised to 100 and subsequent changes in prices are measured against that to show rises and falls.

Bread, milk, potatoes, eggs and beef were the products chosen in Brussels, Buenos Aires, Moscow and Washington DC; onions, rice, ground flour, lentils and milk were priced in Delhi; in Jakarta it was eggs, rice, sugar, flour and cooking oil; and in Nairobi it was green maize, milk, maize flour, bread and tomatoes.

Some interesting points in the analysis:

In Brussels prices were fairly flat. The price of milk fell because of a price war between supermarkets but the change wasn’t as great as the fall in price paid to dairy farmers.

In Argentina the price of potatoes, bread and beef were steady but the latter was due to export taxes which resulted in farmers reducing production of beef in favour of better paying produce and the country may have to import meat.

Inflation has hit food prices in India where the price of wheat, rice and other grains has risen by 12%,  fruit and vegetables gained 8.5% and the price of milk rose 6.4% and the price of sugar nearly tripled.

Religious factors influence food prices in Jakarta with a rise in the price of chicken and meat at the end of the Muslim month of fasting. The price of rice has fallen and the government it delaying exports because of this.

Russian food prices increased nearly 10 times more than prices in the European Union.

The biggest rises in the four-month period were seen in prices for fruit – which spiked 17% in Russia while rising only 1.9% in Europe – and sugar, jam, honey, chocolate and confectionery goods, which jumped by 12.7% and only 1.5% in Europe.

Prices for vegetables rose by 11.6%, while fish and seafood prices were up by 9.4%.

 Russia imports nearly a third of its food and the low value of its currency is one of the reasons prices have increased.

Food shortages because of drought and political violence contributed to food shortages in Kenya.

In the USA food prices went up by 5.5% last year but falls in the price of meat and diary products are expected to result in a smaller increase this year.

World Service Average 18/05/09

Tell the people to come to Fiji


Politics is important to the politicians but not to the people.

The trouble is all in Suva, not here in Nadi.

Tell the people to come. to Fiji.

These were the messages from the Fijians we met during our long weekend visit.

We were in the process of booking the trip when the latest consitutional outrages happened. We monitored the news, wondering if it was wise to go,  but people who had been in Fiji during previous outbreaks of political unrest told us they hadn’t known anything was happening until they got home, so we went.

Had it not been for what we’d read and heard before we left home last Wednesday we might not have known that anything was wrong. There was no noticable increase in security at the airport, no-one asked why I was carrying a laptop or queried who I wrote for and we saw nothing at all to suggest political instability.

The only sign that anything was amiss wasn’t in what we saw during our three and a half day stay, it was what we didn’t see – lots of tourists.


April isn’t peak tourist time, it’s the end of the rainy season so the weather may be unsettled in Fiji and it’s not yet cold enough in New Zealand and Australia to tempt people looking for a sunshine fix. But the locals we spoke to – taxi drivers, waiters, hotel manager, shop assistants, business owners, told us it was quieter than normal.

That was evidence that the people who said that politics isn’t important were wrong. They might not notice the sacking of the judges, the suspension of the constitution, the reinstatement of Frank Bainimarama, the censorship of the media and other affronts to democracy because it’s not impacting on their day to day life.

But it is affecting their economy and has been for some time. Their currency has been devalued – it cost us only 80 cents to buy a Fijian dollar – and that’s impacting on prices.  Lunch which cost me $9.60 on Friday was $10.40 on Saturday. “It’s the devaluation,” the woman serving me said when I mentioned the difference. That might have just been an excuse to charge tourists more, but several people said prices for locals were going up too because anything imported was costing more.

The devaluation is recent, the tourist downturn has been going on for longer. Three people told us of adult children who were at home because the jobs weren’t there any more. A hotel manager told of  3000 bednights cancelled with a single phone call.

That anecdotes were backed up by the small number of holiday makers we saw. Eight hotels line the beach of Denarau Island. We walked from one end to the other, and saw hardly anyone – a family of four and a couple of couples round one pool, another family playing on the beach, a few couples wandering as we were but no sign of the numbers we remembered from out last visit six years ago.


Denarau Island is a toruist resort, not the real Fiji, but it’s where a lot of real Fijians work and if the visitors don’t come their jobs will go.

The sun is still shining, the beaches are still beautiful, the people are still warm and welcoming but the politics they don’t think are important are strangling the economy.

Governments can impose sanctions in the hope they will force Commodore Bainimarama to hold elections and restore democracy.

Individuals might wonder if they should stay away because they don’t want to support an undemocratic regime but it’s not the politicians it’s the people who will be hurt most by that.

They know that and that’s why they told us to tell the people to come to Fiji.

Eskimo lollies leave sour taste


A Canadian Inuit touring New Zealand has been offended by one of the staples of the Kiwi lolly mixture, the marshmellow Eskimos .

Seeka Lee Veevee Parsons, 21, an Inuit of the Nunavut Territory in Canada, says the Eskimo lolly, manufactured by Cadbury/Pascall, is an insult to her people.

The word Eskimo is unacceptable in her country and carries with it negative racial connotations, she said.

She intends sending packets of the iconic confectionary to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and her grandfather, a Inuit tribal elder in the Nunavut Territory.

A name change by the manufacturer will no doubt be called a PC over-reaction, but would we say that if we came across a marshmellow caricature called a Hori in another country?

Is this very different from the name change for the wee white sticks with the pink ends we called cigarettes when I was a child? They’re now known as space sticks because the attitude to smoking has changed and it’s, correctly, seen as silly to associate smoking with sweets.

Now that the insult has been pointed out, Cadbury/Pascal will have to have a rethink and when they act on that I’m sure we’ll find that marshmellow lollies by another name will taste as sweet.

UPDATE: Alf Grumble  has a different view.

UPADATE 2: Keeping Stock  is on Alf’s side.

Korean blogger faces 18 month sentence


A South Korean blogger who has been critical of government ecnomic policy is facing an 18 month gaol sentence.

Prosecutors demanded an 18-month sentence Monday for a popular South Korean blogger who is accused of spreading false financial information in a case that has ignited a debate about freedom of speech in cyberspace.

Bloggers don’t have sub editors to save us from ourselves so we have only ourselves to blame if we defame someone or spread false information.

However, call me cynical if you will,  but I suspect a government acting against a blogger in this way might have more to do with censorship than any concern for the facts.

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