Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 24 May 2017

Current Affairs for IAS Exams - 24 May 2017

:: National ::

Africa is NDA government’s top priority in foreign as well as economic policy

  • Africa has been the NDA government’s top priority in foreign as well as economic policy matters and although Indian sportsmen can’t compete with their African peers in long-distance running.

  •  The country will stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the continent in its race towards a brighter future, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.

  •  “India’s partnership with Africa is based on a model of cooperation, which is responsive to the needs of African countries. It is demand-driven and free of conditions,” the PM said.

  •  The relationship that was earlier restricted to mercantile and maritime ties has now evolved to include cricket connections between Chennai and Cape Town, business ties between Bamako and Bengaluru, an           development links between Delhi and Dakar, Mr. Modi said.

  •  “India’s commodity trade with Africa in 2015-16 was higher than our commodity trade with the United States of America,” the PM said.

  •  India’s private sector is also providing an impetus to stronger India-Africa ties with Africa accounting for nearly one-fifth of Indian overseas direct investments between 1996 and 2016, the PM pointed out.

  •  Mr. Modi said he was encouraged by the response of African countries to the International Solar Alliance initiative, which was launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in November 2015.

  •  Nauru ratified the framework and shared it with India, while five other African countries signed the pact on Monday.

Banking reforms and Aadhaar are two major reforms says PM

  • The two most crucial factors for the Union government’s performance over the past three years have been banking reforms and Aadhaar, which has already yielded savings of $4 billion in cooking gas subsidies, PM said.

  •  Mr. Modi expressed satisfaction over the improvement in “all macro-economic indicators” under his watch, but said he remained focussed on the many challenges that lay ahead to fulfil his aim of making India a global growth engine.

  • The Jan Dhan Yojana helped India achieve universal banking and banks “normally associated with helping businesses and the rich” have been enlisted for helping the development of the poor, the Prime Minister said.

  • “The fiscal deficit, balance of payments deficit, and inflation are down. The GDP growth rate, foreign exchange reserves and public capital investment are up. At the same time, we have made big strides in development,” Mr. Modi said.

  • While laying out the common challenges faced by both India and Africa, Mr. Modi indicated that his government’s priorities were “uplifting our farmers and the poor, empowering women, ensuring our rural communities have access to finance, and building infrastructure”.

FTA is high on agenda between India and Germany

  • Shared concerns over China’s Belt and Road initiative should push India and the European Union closer to resume stalled talks over a Free Trade Agreement.

  • The issue of the FTA will be high on the agenda when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

  • Germany and other European countries had joined the Belt and Road Forum, they had refused to sign a trade document at the summit due to a lack of transparency in the negotiations.

  • Mr. Modi will travel to Germany for the fourth round of the annual Inter- Governmental Commission on May 29-30, and is expected to announce a number of agreements after his meeting with Ms. Merkel.

  • The meeting will be followed by a lunch to meet business leaders at the Indo- German business forum, where officials say, concerns by German tycoons over the lack of a negotiated FTA are expected to be highlighted.

  • Germany's comments are significant, as they not only suggest Germany would like to work with India to counter certain parts of the Belt and Road, which India has refused to join over sovereignty concerns.

  • Germany is also making a strong pitch to India over completing the EU-BTIA (called the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement) that has been deadlocked since 2013, despite 16 rounds of negotiations.

  • Mr. Modi’s visit to the European Commission in April 2016 failed to bring about any agreement to even resume the talks that essentially broke down over high taxes, market access and India’s concerns over visas for skilled workers.

  • In the meanwhile, the India-Germany Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), one of 23 BITs with EU countries, lapsed in March this year.

The world’s largest aircraft Airlander 10

  • The world’s largest aircraft has successfully completed a test flight, bringing the massive helium-filled airship one step closer to commercial use.

  • The hybrid aircraft dubbed the Airlander 10 combines technology from airplanes, helicopters and airships. It is designed to fly at altitudes of 6,100 metres for up to five days when manned.

  • With a length of 92 metres, it is the largest aircraft currently flying.

:: International ::

US to increase spending in national security and defence

  • The White House proposed massive cuts in the country’s welfare programmes, while seeking an increase in national security and defence spending, including a wall along the U.S border with Mexico.

  • Congress is unlikely to approve the proposals made by the White House in a document titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness”, but they indicate the political priorities of the Donald Trump administration.

  • Cuts in health care for the poor, food stamp, financial aid to the jobless and the disabled are among the features of the budget that the White House presented saw government spending from the perspective of the tax payer.

  • The money saved will go into reducing taxes and enhanced military spending.

  • White House Budget director appeared to suggest a conflict of interest between tax payers and beneficiaries of welfare programmes and claimed the slow rate of growth in America is partly because of people’s refusal to work.

  • Number of Americans on food stamp has swelled to 44 million in 2016, up from the 28 million people in 2008 when the economic recession hit the country.

  • The situation has not returned to normal in many parts of the country where job losses are concentrated.

  • The Trump budget proposes to cut food stamp funding by over 25 percent over the next 10 years, directly hitting at a political constituency that supported him in the November 2016 election.

  • While the benefits and medical care for the retirees would be untouched as promised by Mr. Trump during the campaign, the health care support for the poor will see cuts.

  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will face cuts in all its research and preventive interventions. CDC’s global health programmes that monitor and respond to disease outbreaks around the world will take a 17% cut.

:: Business and Economy ::

Centre to embark on a programme to refurbish the ship-repairing facilities

  • In tandem with its policy to utilise the country’s waterways, the Centre is planning to embark on a programme to refurbish the ship-repairing facilities in various ports across the country.

  • The locations include Mumbai, Goa, Pandu (Assam) , Kandla (Gujarat), Farakka (West Bengal), Kolkata and Dorigunj (Bihar). Most ports had ship-repair facilities since olden days but they needed to be developed.

  • Cruise-shipping as another thrust area saying the terminals at the ports, where cruise vessels plied, needed to be modernised to ensure pleasant experience for travellers.

India upset with services trade liberalisation in RCEP

  • India, which is in talks for the proposed mega-regional FTA along with 16 other Asia Pacific nations, has expressed disappointment over the inadequate progress in talks on services trade liberalisation.

  • Following economic slowdown and the consequent job losses, most countries in the grouping have turned protectionist when it comes talks on norms to ease temporary movement of skilled workers, adding that India fears that the issue is getting mixed up with immigration.

  • The negotiations for the FTA, officially known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), started in November 2012.

  • It includes the 10 ASEAN member States and six nations that have existing FTAs with ASEAN — India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.

  • These nations have a combined GDP of about $24 trillion and a population of around 3.6 billion.

  • Talks are likely to stretch into the first half of 2018 as several aspects of goods, services and investment have not yet been negotiated.

  • So far, four ministerial meetings, three inter-sessional ministerial meetings and 18 rounds of the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) at the technical level have been held. The nineteenth round of TNC meeting is scheduled in Hyderabad from July 18-28.

  • In return for eliminating or reducing tariffs on goods, India wants RCEP member countries to work toward liberalisation across all modes of services, including movement of professionals.

  • India, a leading services supplier with a large pool of skilled workers, is keen that the FTA ensures easier temporary movement of such professionals as well as an ‘RCEP Travel Card’ for business people.

Centre aims to grow India’s digital economy to $1 trillion by 2022

  • The Centre aims to grow India’s digital economy to $1 trillion by 2022, Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

  • Mr. Prasad said the Centre had roped in consulting firm McKinsey to help draw a roadmap to achieve this target.

  • “How will it become a trillion dollar economy, that roadmap will talk about what the government needs to do, what the industry needs to do…. Different sectors such as healthcare and education, what they need to do,” he said.

  • Currently the digital economy in India, which includes sectors such as fintech, communications, e-commerce, cybersecurity and electronics, is estimated at about $270 billion.

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