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Drop Box Suspension: Ex-Perm Sec, diplomat say no implication on U.S-Nigeria relations

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A retired Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Olukunle Bamgbose, says the indefinite suspension of the “Drop Box” policy by U.S. will not have any implication on Nigeria-U.S relations.

Bambgose said this in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria on Wednesday in Abuja.

The U.S. Mission to Nigeria on Tuesday, announced indefinite suspension of interview waivers for Visa renewals otherwise known as “Drop Box” process.

”Visa applications will no longer be accepted by DHL in Nigeria. All applicants in Nigeria seeking a non-immigrant visa to the United States must apply online.

“Applicants will be required to appear in person at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or U.S. Consulate General in Lagos to submit their applications for review.

“Applicants must appear at the location they specified when applying for the visa renewal,” the mission stated.

Bamgbose said: “I don’t think it has any major implications on the existing cordial and warm relations between our two countries.

“It’s possible that the suspension of the drop box policy could also have been triggered by some inappropriate actions of some Nigerians applying for visas through this door.

“In any case, I don’t see the suspension of the drop box process affecting the issuance of appropriate visas to qualified Nigerians in any negative way.

“This is particularly so if the mission has the human capacity to cope with the number of visa applications.”

On his part, Amb. Dapo Fafowora, a former Deputy Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN, also said that there was no major or serious implication on the step taken by the U.S.

Fafowora said that U.S. had the right to review its visa policy any time and that the decision could be a way of scrutinizing travellers from Nigeria to the U.S.

He, however, said that applicants should not be discouraged to go to the embassy to appear in person for visa renewal

“People should be willing to go to the embassy to apply for visa; anybody willing to get U.S visa should be ready to go to the embassy for interview,” he said.

Agriculture

Tomato price to drop as farmers approach surplus period

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South-West Tomato Growers Association of Nigeria on Monday assured the nation that high cost of the commodity would soon be over as the farmers are approaching the glut period.

The group’s president, Mr Bamidele Ajani said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Monday in Ibadan.

The tomato is the edible, often red, berry of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The species originated in western South America and Central America.

Ajani however, added that the farmers also believed that the cost would reduce because tomatoes grown from the North were being harvested.

He attributed the rising cost of the commodity to hike of transportation from the North as well as lack of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) by some farmers.

Ajani also said that the Northern states grew more tomatoes than those in the South, pointing out that cost of transportation had a great impact on the commodity’s high cost.

He said that lack of GAP could also lead to low yield and eventual high cost of the produce.

According to him, increasing industrial need of tomatoes by tomato processing plants in the country is also putting pressure on price of tomatoes.

“Another one is the difference between the planting season of the North and South Nigeria, the Southern part planting season starts February/March while Northern planting starts May/June, we do have glut and scarce period.

“The cost of a basket can be as low as N3, 000 to N4, 000 during gluts (September to January of the year) while during scarcity it can go as high as N15, 000/N17, 000.

“The price is supposed to be lower soon because we are approaching the glut period,” he said.

The President said that the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted negatively on tomato production as the lockdown started at a time when preparations of farmland for the planting season commenced.

According to him, COVID-19 prevented farmers’ access to fund as all financial institutions, government agencies and major stakeholders were also affected by the lock down.

“All collaboration we use to get from government/stakeholders practically stopped.

“In fact, this year agricultural yield/production may turn out low unless government takes proactive and decisive steps toward boosting agriculture production.

“The governments as a matter of urgency should ease lockdowns, law enforcement agencies should comply with the government’s directives that exempted farmers/farm produce from lock down restrictions.

“Farmers need to be provided with adequate facilities, farm lands around river banks/dams should be cultivated using irrigation system, all farmers should return to farm in earnest,” he said.


Edited By: Edwin Nwachukwu/Maureen Atuonwu (NAN)

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Cambodia’s famed Angkor sees 65 pct drop in foreign visitors in 5 months

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Cambodia’s famed Angkor Archeological Park received 386,093 foreign tourists during the first five months of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, down 65 percent over the same period last year, said a statement on Monday.

The ancient park earned gross revenue of 18.02 million United States dollars from ticket sales during the January-May period this year, down 64 percent over the same period last year, said the state-owned Angkor Enterprise’s statement.

The park attracted 1,776 foreigners and earned 72,037 United States dollars from ticket sales in May, down 98.7 percent and 98.8 percent respectively compared to the same month last year.

Situated in northwest Siem Reap province, the Angkor Archeological Park, inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1992, is one of the kingdom’s most popular tourist destinations.

The remarkable decline in foreign tourists to the park was due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the country to impose entry restrictions for all foreign travelers since late March to stem the virus spread.

According to the Ministry of Health, the Southeast Asian country has recorded a total of 125 confirmed cases of the virus to date, with 123 patients cured.

(XINHUA)

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Daily COVID-19 death toll in Netherlands drops to 5, lowest since March 16

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The death toll from COVID-19 in the Netherlands rose by five to a total of 5,956 since Saturday, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) announced on Sunday.

The daily death count is the lowest since March 16, when four people were reported dead from COVID-19.

As of Sunday, the number of COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands stood at 46,442, up by 185 from a day earlier. The number of COVID-19 patients who are or were admitted to hospitals rose by eight to 11,735, according to the RIVM.

(XINHUA)

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Uzbekistan announces tender for construction of three new hydropower plants

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Uzbekistan’s Energy Ministry has announced invitation to bid for the design and construction of three hydropower plants in southern Kashkadaria region with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the ministry said Saturday.

Uzbekistan has received funding from the ADB for the Sustainable Hydropower Project, under which Rabat, Chappasuy and Tamshush hydropower plants on the Aksu River will be built, according to the ministry.

The announcement said that bidding will be held by Uzbekhydroenergy company and it is open to companies from ADB members, which has an annual turnover of 30 million U.S. dollars or above.

The tender process will be governed by ADB rules and applications can be received till July 31 this year, the ministry said.

Uzbekistan has announced early this week a national Low-Carbon Energy Strategy with an aim of deploying up to 30 GW of additional power capacity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent in the coming 10 years.

(XINHUA)

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S. Korea’s daily COVID-19 tally drops below 40 amid push to contain cluster infection

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South Korea’s daily number of new coronavirus cases dropped below 40 Saturday, amid a stepped-up push to contain cluster infections traced to a distribution center just west of Seoul and fend off a potential virus resurgence.

The country logged 39 additional COVID-19 cases, down 19 from the previous day, bringing the total caseload to 11,441, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The latest tally marked a drop from the nearly two-month high of 79 on Thursday. But the authorities remained on high alert amid concerns recent bouts of infections could hamper efforts to return to normal after months of the grueling fight against the pandemic that has disrupted daily life and dented economic growth.

In a renewed plea for public cooperation, KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Joon-wook said that the next two weeks will be a “crucial juncture” in flattening the infection curve.

“We need to take greater caution, particularly in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area,” he told a regular press briefing.

“When the scale of COVID-19 infections grows, the virus could infiltrate medical, welfare and religious facilities where there are many vulnerable classes of people,” he added.

He also said that there could “inevitably” be long-term restrictions imposed on operations of facilities that have not properly practiced everyday social distancing.

The slowdown in new infections appears to be attributable to the health and quarantine officials’ aggressive campaign to stop the spread of infections from a distribution center of e-commerce leader Coupang in Bucheon.

The facility has emerged as a focus of the country’s containment campaign following mass infections traced to clubs and bars in the nightlife district of Itaewon in central Seoul.

As of 11 a.m. Saturday, the number of virus cases traced to the Coupang center was 108, an increase of six from a day earlier, the KCDC said, urging citizens to avoid large crowds and outdoor activities over the weekend.

All of the 108 cases were confirmed in Seoul and its surrounding areas. Of them, 73 patients are employees of the center with the remainder being people that came into close contact with them.

The number of infections linked to Itaewon clubs reached 269 as of noon Saturday, up three from the previous day, according to the KCDC.

“We are conducting tests on and putting into self-quarantine all the employees who have worked at the logistics center since May 12,” Kwon said.

The cases from the logistics center have laid bare the vulnerabilities of enclosed workplaces, particularly those where social distancing protocols are loosely applied due to heavy workloads.

The drop in new cases in Saturday’s tally was a relief for the quarantine authorities fretful over the possible new wave of infections.

Late last week, the daily number of new cases hovered a little over 20 and then dropped below 20 early this week. But the figure shot up to 40 on Wednesday and to 79 the following day, with Friday’s tally standing at 58.

Despite the slowdown, the health authorities remain wary of additional transmission, as a high-school third grader in the southeastern city of Busan was confirmed to have contracted the virus on Friday, the first case since schools recently started phased reopenings.

The KCDC said that 27 of Saturday’s new cases were confirmed in Seoul and its surrounding areas, while the southern cities of Daegu and Gwangju reported two new cases each. Busan, South Jeolla Province and Gwangwon Province added one case apiece.

The country, meanwhile, added 12 imported cases and reported no additional deaths, with the total death toll staying at 269.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 10,398, up 35 from the previous day.

In related news, the defense ministry said that one of the 12 COVID-19 patients in the military, whose infections are linked to the Itaewon district, fully recovered from the infectious disease in the first such recovery case related to the cluster infection.

Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)

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Spotlight: Turkey’s automotive sector faces challenges amid dropping demand

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Turkey’s key automotive sector is trying to compensate losses due to the COVID-19 outbreak by fully restarting manufacturing after a long break, but the drop in domestic and international demand will be challenging, industry officials said.

Factory production in Bursa province, northwestern Turkey, where the bulk of the automotive industry is located, was not completely halted during lockdown as there was still demand from the Far East and South America.

Major plants started production in mid-May with some COVID-19 restrictions eased, hoping to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Tugrul Arikan, general manager of Turkish bus manufacturer Anadolu Isuzu, recently said their factories were running at 60-percent capacity, which could increase if foreign demand rises.

He added that the company had started production with only 50 percent of the workforce initially, and enhanced safety measures to protect workers from contracting the coronavirus.

The sector struggled with a major drop in exports as Europe came to a near standstill because of the pandemic. Around 75 percent of vehicles manufactured in the country are exported to the region.

Automotive Manufacturers’ Association (OSD) data showed that Turkey’s total automotive exports declined by 33 percent annually in January-April.

“Domestic demand in Turkey was not enough to offset the collapse in demand from Europe for the automakers,” Alper Kanca, head of the Automotive Supplier Industry (TAYSAD), said.

The official said they expected a revival of the sector in 2021, after a contraction this year.

Turkey’s automotive industry has developed from assembly-based production to an industry with research and development, and design capabilities, and high added values.

The sector has been of key value to local production input over the years, with the partnerships established between foreign companies, such as Ford, Fiat, Renault, Toyota and Hyundai, and Turkish entrepreneurs.

Turkey is now the largest light commercial vehicle manufacturer in Europe and ranks 14th in the world in terms of automotive production output.

The automotive industry is one of the main locomotives of the manufacturing sector in Turkey. It is also one of the main sources of employment in the country, providing more than 400,000 jobs.

It is also one of the largest sources of exports, accounting for 16 percent of total exports.

A source close to the government told Xinhua that the sector would be unlikely to reach the levels of 2018 or 2019 in short term, but it is expected to rebound at the end of the year in line with the economic recovery.

“We will continue to export, but it also depends on the foreign demand,” he stressed, indicating that 85 percent of vehicle production in Turkey sent to foreign markets in 2018.

More than 1.3 million vehicles were exported from Turkey to foreign markets in the same year. In addition, Turkey was the number one vehicle exporter to European markets with 1.1 million units in 2018, statistics show.

In a car dealer shop in capital Ankara, a sales representative told Xinhua that sales have plummeted during the outbreak because of the lockdown and the fact that customers didn’t know what to expect in the aftermath.

The Turkish customers definitively love cars and we expect a revival ahead in the stagnated domestic market,” Merdan Yasa said, adding that the government should also look into some tax advantages for consumers considering the declining national currency.

Last week, Turkey has increased the tax on the buying of foreign currency to curb fallout of the lira from the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision has increased car prices by up to one percent, according to experts.

(XINHUA)

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Ireland’s retail sales in April record largest monthly drop in 11 years

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Ireland’s retail sales in April decreased by 35.4 percent when compared with the previous month, said the country’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) on Friday.

This is the largest monthly drop since January 2009, said the CSO, adding that retail sales in April decreased by 43.3 percent when compared with a year ago.

In April, largest decreases were recorded in the sector of furniture and lighting which plummeted by 84.1 percent compared with the previous month, followed by bars (down 77.1 percent), clothing, footwear and textiles (down 73.6 percent), and motor trades (down 71 percent), showed the CSO figures.

However, all the retail sales sectors in the country saw an increase in the proportion of their online sales in April, said the CSO.

The proportion of clothing, footwear and textiles sold online in April increased eight times compared with the previous month whereas the proportion of electrical goods sold online increased from 15.2 percent in March to more than 60 percent in April, it said.

In April, online sales accounted for 15.5 percent of the total turnover of the retail sales sector in Ireland, the highest figure recorded since November 2018 when collection of such figures started, according to the CSO.

(XINHUA)

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Japan’s factory output drops to 7-year low in April due to virus outbreak

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Japan’s industrial output dropped to the lowest level in more than seven years in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government said in a report on Friday.

The pandemic has caused factories to halt operations as domestic and overseas demand fell significantly, the government, the report said.

According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the seasonally adjusted index of production at factories and mines tumbled 9.1 percent from the previous month to 87.1 against the 2015 base of 100.

The latest reading, which came on the heels of a 3.7 percent fall in March and a 0.3 percent drop in February, marked the lowest since comparable data became available in January 2013, the ministry’s data showed.

The ministry’s assessment of the country’s output, one it has not used since the global financial crisis, was lowered to “rapidly declining.”

The ministry’s data set showed the index of industrial shipments dropped 8.8 percent to 85.0, while inventories fell 0.3 percent to 106.1 in the recording period.

Looking ahead, the ministry’s survey revealed that according to manufacturers polled, industrial output is forecast to drop 4.1 percent in May before increasing 3.9 percent in June.

(XINHUA)

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Spain reports slight drop in new COVID-19 cases, deaths

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The Spanish Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare on Thursday confirmed a slight decline in the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths.

The ministry confirmed 38 deaths in the past seven days (one less than the 39 confirmed on Wednesday) from COVID-19, meaning a total of 27,119 people have now lost their lives in Spain to the coronavirus.

There was also a drop in the number of new infections detected by PCR tests (which indicate whether the coronavirus is active in the body). The ministry reported 182 new infections (compared with 231 a day earlier), taking the total number of confirmed cases to 237,906.

Of the new cases, 106 were confirmed in the regions of Madrid and Catalonia, while 13 of Spain‘s 17 autonomous communities reported less than ten new cases each in the last 24 hours.

(XINHUA)

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