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India may decide on GM food as China makes big leap with Syngenta buy

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NEW DELHI Officials may decide on Friday whether to allow what could be India’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop, mustard, spurred by food security concerns and as China makes a big bet on the technology with a $43 billion bid for seed firm Syngenta.

Permitting GM food crops is a big call for a country that spends tens of billions of dollars importing edible oils and other food items every year.

Farmers are stuck with old technology, yields are at a fraction of global levels, cultivable land is shrinking and weather patterns have become less predictable.

Two straight droughts for the first time in three decades have made India a net importer of some food products for the first time in years.

If a commercial launch of GM mustard is allowed, it could pave the way for other food crops such as corn varieties developed by Monsanto (MON.N) (MNSN.NS), in one of the world’s biggest farm markets.

“I see this as a test case and I am hopeful,” said Deepak Pental, the lead scientist who used government grants to conduct tests on the oilseed crop over the past decade.

“How can we keep on running so scared when there is so much need for improving agricultural production?”

But even winning the panel’s approval is no guarantee that the GM crop would be introduced.

Political and public opposition to lab-altered food remains strong amid fears they could compromise food safety and biodiversity. There is also suspicion among farmers that their introduction would give foreign seed suppliers too much control.

“Why is the government imposing its decision on farmers on an unsafe and unproven technology, despite the availability of good varieties of mustard in our country?” Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister, told Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter this week.

“We pray to you not to compromise our agriculture, citizens’ health and the environment under pressure from a handful of foreign companies.”

PRESSURE BUILDING?

Friday’s meeting, the third held to evaluate field trial data on GM mustard, is an indication of how serious Modi’s government is about pushing technology to lift food production after an impasse under the previous government halted research on transgenic crops.

A member of the GM approval committee comprising government and independent experts said they had already discussed the mustard in the past two meetings this year, and the next gathering would be crucial to deciding its future.

He declined to be named and did not give more details.

Ashok Gulati, a farm economist who advised the last government, said that China’s takeover of Swiss GM seed developer Syngenta (SYNN.VX) should push the government into taking quick action.

“It should come as … a wakeup call for India, which has to feed more than a billion mouths,” said Gulati. “India now doesn’t have the luxury to sit on the issue of GM. It just needs to take this bold and decisive step.”

India placed a moratorium on GM aubergine in 2010, fearing the effect on food safety and biodiversity. Field trials of other GM crops were not formally halted, but the regulatory system was brought to a deadlock after that.

However, Modi, who was instrumental in making Gujarat state the leading user of GM cotton in India when he was chief minister, cleared several field trials soon after taking office in New Delhi in 2014.

Some grassroots groups associated with Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party have opposed GM crops because of the reliance on seeds patented by multinationals like Monsanto, DuPont (DD.N), Dow Chemical (DOW.N) and Syngenta.

But New Delhi-based Pental said the mustard variety was developed by Indian scientists, and local firms could easily supply farmers with cheap seeds.

TESTS REVEAL NO PROBLEMS

The government’s chief scientific adviser, R. Chidambaram, has also asked Modi for a quick decision on the issue.

A senior environment ministry official, who is a member of the GM approval committee, had said earlier that studies found no ill effects from GM foods.

Pental’s mustard makes use of three genes already incorporated in rapeseed hybrids in Canada, the United States and Australia and extensive biosafety tests have revealed no cause for concern, according to a copy of the field trial report submitted to the government and seen by Reuters.

Additionally, oil derived from its seeds does not contain proteins linked to the three genes used, Pental said.

The mustard’s yield is up to 38 percent higher than normal varieties, which would help Modi slash an annual bill for vegetable oil imports of more than $10 billion.

A farm ministry official said they were keen to roll out any innovation that can help farmers produce more, as long as concerns of human and soil health are addressed.

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)


Source: R-Business

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Tata Steel posts Q3 loss on cheaper imports

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MUMBAI Tata Steel Ltd swung to a loss in its third quarter, hit by cheap imports into India and Europe and sluggish demand.

Net loss at Tata Steel, a unit of the hotels-to-automobiles Tata group, was 21.27 billion rupees ($314.53 million) in the quarter ended Dec. 31, as against a profit of 1.57 billion rupees in the year-ago period.

Revenue dropped 16.5 percent to 280.39 billion rupees as against 336.33 billion rupees a year ago.

($1 = 67.6250 rupees)

(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

Source: R-Business

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Crises spoil Chinese, Russian appetite for luxury London property

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LONDON Crises at home and turmoil on world markets may have taken the shine off London’s luxury property market for Chinese, Russian and Middle Eastern investors: some are even looking to sell up.

From Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern oil barons to newly-minted Chinese entrepreneurs, foreign buyers have driven a spending spree on London property over the past two decades, snapping up everything from opulent homes to iconic commercial property.

London is not alone. Wealthy overseas buyers have been investing in other cosmopolitan cities such as Sydney and New York, where property purchases are also viewed as a prestigious insurance policy against changes of fortune.

But oil has lost nearly two thirds of its value since mid 2014, the Russian rouble has more than halved and Chinese growth is slowing. The scale of this wealth destruction combined with property tax rises in London has prompted investors to pause, estate agents said.

“There’s definitely been less (interest) … over the last six months or so with the oil price and currency issues for the Russians,” said Ed Mead, executive director of Douglas & Gordon estate agents which sells some of London’s most expensive homes.

“If people have bought a property here, which a lot of Chinese people have done over the last few years, we are definitely seeing more of them coming to us, saying look can you sell it for me.”

Data from estate agents and property consultancies shows there has been a fall in transactions in some of the most expensive areas of central London, a decline in asking prices and fewer Russian, Chinese and Middle Eastern buyers.

Around 4 percent of prime London property buyers were Chinese in the first half of 2015 but that fell to 3 percent during the second half, according to data from property firm Savills.

London ranks as the best city in the world for the global ultra-rich taking into account factors such as quality of life, business and leisure, according to the consultancy arm of estate agent Knight Frank, followed by New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai.

MOSCOW-ON-THAMES

There was an even sharper fall in the number of Middle Eastern and North African buyers in 2015, with the proportion of those purchasing homes in central London’s most expensive area more than halving to 4 percent from 10 percent in 2014.

“People like the Qataris … a year ago were big buyers and sovereign wealth funds too in London,” said Charlie Ellingworth, who co-founded firm Property Vision which helps top-end buyers find homes worth more than 1 million pounds.

“By all accounts that’s going into reverse.”

The oil price has fallen by almost 60 percent since late 2014, hitting its lowest since 2003 in January, as near-record levels of output have caused currency devaluations and pushed Saudi Arabia to a record budget deficit.

“When you’ve got an environment like this: the oil price has gone through the floor, the stock market is falling all over the place, everyone just sits like a frozen rabbit,” Ellingworth said.

London was once dubbed ‘Londongrad’ or ‘Moscow-on-Thames’ as the city of choice for rich Russians and other residents of former Soviet republics but enquiries from Russians fell 60 percent year-on-year in 2015, he said.

In prime central London, the number of transactions fell by nearly a fifth in the last six months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014, according to Knight Frank, with asking prices often needing to decline by 10 percent or more.

Prices fell in some of the most attractive postcodes to foreign buyers including Knightsbridge, home to department store Harrods, Notting Hill and Chelsea.

TAX PLEASE

As London has traditionally benefited from far-off crises, some estate agents said the pause in buying from Russia, China and the Middle East was also being driven by a rise in UK taxation.

In an attempt to allay the anger of locals priced out of the British capital, finance minister George Osborne has increased the taxation foreign buyers have to pay.

Osborne has raised the amount of a property levy known as stamp duty paid on homes worth more than just under a million pounds, hiked the tax on properties bought through a company structure and cut mortgage interest relief for landlords.

“There has been (a decline) but that is probably as much to do with what George Osborne has done as with what the Russians have done themselves,” said Charles McDowell, an agent who mainly helps buyers find properties in some of the capital’s most desirable areas.

Multi-million pound properties are regularly sold in London with a seven-bedroom home with six bathrooms, a jacuzzi, sauna, cinema and two terraces currently on the market for 55 million pounds ($80 million) in Belgravia, one of the most expensive parts of Europe.

Jonathan Hewlett, head of London sales at Savills, said that in the long term the capital still had a well-established reputation worldwide as a place to invest.

“I think when you talk to people from overseas, they still see London as a very safe, nice place to live, safe for security, safe for ownership of property,” he said.

($1 = 0.6882 pounds)

(Writing by Costas Pitas; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Anna Willard)


Source: R-Business

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