17 episodes

A weekly look at the world's top business and economics stories.

Counting the Cost Al Jazeera English

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A weekly look at the world's top business and economics stories.

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    Can Australia give up its addiction to coal? | Counting the Cost

    Can Australia give up its addiction to coal? | Counting the Cost

    "This is coal! Don't be afraid, don't be scared."

    When a prime minister takes a lump of coal into his own parliament as a peculiar form of show-and-tell, you can be sure of a couple of things.

    One: that coal means a lot to the country's fortunes, and two: there is going to be some controversy about it.

    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been a vocal supporter of the coal industry which has been partly responsible for helping Australia's economy avoid a recession for the last 30 years.

    But then he also went on holiday while his nation burned, in some of the worst bushfires ever seen.

    Now scientists are saying climate change has helped create conditions for the rapid spread of Australia's wildfires. And environmental activists are warning that Australia must curtail its carbon-producing industries such as coal.

    In 2018, the value of Australian coal exports was $46bn, equivalent to 3.5 percent of nominal gross domestic product or GDP, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia.

    The coal industry directly employs a quarter of a million people and many more through support services and related businesses.

    But Morrison says Australia is only responsible for 1.3 percent of global emissions.

    However, when you take into account its export of petroleum and coal and its population of approximately 24 million people that means we have a country with 0.3 percent of the world's population, responsible for 5 percent of global carbon emissions, according to Bloomberg.

    And then there is the cost: More than 500 Australians die each year from heat stress alone, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

    The institute also says that the financial cost of climate change is expected to rise to $26.7bn every year by 2050 - which is as much as it spends on defence currently.

    With a debt-to-gross GDP ratio of just 40 percent, Australia has the power to transform its economy away from fossil fuels, if it wants to.

    Tom Swann, a senior researcher at The Australia Institute, tells Al Jazeera that there has been a big shift in the rhetoric and some of the political positions taken by Australia's commonwealth government over the last month but there has not been any change in policy.

    "In fact, rather than taking stronger action to reduce emissions and calling for global leadership this government has, in fact, shifted towards saying things like climate action includes hazard-reduction burning, reducing the amount of fuel loads to try and make bushfires less common, less severe."

    Swanson points out: "Unfortunately it's actually climate change that is making this hazard-reduction burning more hazardous and more dangerous in Australia. That has really become a bit of a distraction from what has to be the main game: reducing emissions."

    Julien Vincent, Executive Director of Market Forces says most people are deeply concerned about the effects of climate change, especially after the latest season of the bushfires outbreak.

    But he points out that many people are perhaps "less aware" of how their personal investments may be helping to fuel the problem.

    "What we do is help shift the behaviour of financial institutions by giving that sense of power to the people they are ultimately accountable to."

    Is Lebanon ready for an IMF bailout?
    Protests in Lebanon have been going on for months. At times, they have been violent, driven by the failing economy and general disdain for the government.

    Now Lebanon may be forced to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the political and economic crisis escalates. It may also need to reconsider its 23-year-old currency peg to the dollar as its debt becomes unmanageable.

    Lebanon's debt to GDP ratio is 150 percent - the third-highest in the world.

    Now it has to repay $1.2bn in debt due in March. There was a plan to swap those, giving it more time to repay the debt, but i

    • 27 min
    • video
    Did China capitulate to the US on 'beautiful monster' trade deal? | Counting the Cost

    Did China capitulate to the US on 'beautiful monster' trade deal? | Counting the Cost

    Three years ago Chinese President Xi Jinping stood in front of the world's business elite in Davos, defending the post-war international liberal order as President Donald Trump railed against globalisation.

    Now, 18 months later, a trade deal of sorts has been signed. The deal, whichever way you choose to break it down, is a win for Trump who argues the agreement delivers "economic justice" for the country.

    Has Xi wasted the political capital he established?

    China's treatment of 13 million Uighur Muslims, tactics against democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and removal of presidential term limits - giving Xi indefinite power to stay as leader - have created uncertainty, cramping growth both at home and abroad.

    Still, China has agreed to buy $200bn of US goods over two years, including $32bn in additional agricultural products. And tariffs on $360bn of Chinese goods will remain in place until after the US election or China proves it is in compliance with the deal.

    But there is little confidence in that target being met because American farmers may never be able to produce enough. Plus, US companies will no longer need to hand over their technology to gain access to the Chinese market.

    Greg Swenson, partner at investment bank Brigg Macadam, tells Al Jazeera that the new deal with China is a win for Trump and a win for the US, arguing that the Chinese economy could not handle the tariffs imposed on its export-dependent economy and ageing population.

    "They did lose the battle politically, there's not a lot of support. They have basically isolated themselves for a number of reasons and I think President [Trump] has done a really good job of exposing some of the flaws or some of the real problems with the Chinese model," Swenson says.

    He adds: "It's important to know that the rest of the world is very much aware of the Chinese state-owned enterprise model and the risk that poses to the rest of the world as well as the military, security intelligence, and human rights issues."

    Russia's pivot to the East and South
    Boxed in by sanctions imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and backing an uprising in the east of Ukraine, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been working hard to reduce reliance on the West.

    First came the opening of a $55bn pipeline to supply gas to China, completing Putin's so-called pivot to the East. And this month, Russia opened a pipeline through Turkey to supply southern Europe, further punishing Ukraine, which now stands to lose billions in transit fees, for strained relations between the two neighbours.

    Russia currently supplies 40 percent of Europe's gas. The proposed pipeline will provide more gas for Turkey and open up markets in Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. It comes as Russia's biggest gas company, Gazprom, was forced to halt construction of another pipeline under pressure from the US.

    Gulmira Rzayeva, founder and managing director for Eurasia Analytics, explains that when it comes to gas exports from Russia to Turkey, the political dimensions and existing tensions have not affected energy exports.

    "This is an interdependent issue and Turkey, as much as Russia, has depended on the export and import of natural gas."

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    • 25 min
    • video
    Counting the cost of US military bases around the world | Counting the Cost

    Counting the cost of US military bases around the world | Counting the Cost

    The assassination of Iran's second-most powerful figure, Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike has led to the deployment of more troops to Iraq. And while Iran hit back and tensions appeared to ease, a US-Iran shadow war goes on.

    Counting the Cost takes a look at the trillions spent on wars and the billions spent on maintaining US military bases.

    There are 200,000 US troops stationed at hundreds of bases in countries and territories outside of the US. Despite President Donald Trump's promises to remove US troops from the Middle East, the number of troops in the region has increased.

    Since 9/11, American taxpayers have spent $6.4 trillion on wars and military action in the Middle East and Asia, according to the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University. And according to US central command, there are between 60,000 and 70,000 US troops in the Middle East.

    Glenn Carle, former CIA deputy national intelligence officer and assistant professor at Boston College, explains that some host countries pay substantial amounts to maintain a US military presence while other countries do not necessarily make the same kinds of formal contributions.

    "In Iraq, I'm not so clear that they are actually making a formal contribution to hosting us as much as they are happy to have us, I'm sure. So there will be ancillary or secondary indirect costs that the host country is paying certainly. But I don't think that they are paying some sort of a fee to host 6,000 American soldiers now in several bases," Carle says.

    On how the latest US-Iran tensions may play out, Carle notes that the US political system is largely paralysed so that any "coherent, decisive action" in international relations is difficult to carry out.

    "There has been strong inclination on the part of half the country to remove the American presence from Iraq, which is viewed as a disaster, and yet most professional national security officials or individuals think that it is necessary for the US to have some sort of a presence there, which is independent of whether we are the ones who broke the crockery or try to put it together, but that to leave now would be a problem," says Carle.

    "So I don't see us leaving anytime soon, unless the incoherent and capricious man in the Oval Office actually manages to act upon his compulsions."

    Does the meat industry need to change to save the planet?
    The hog and pork industry has taken a hit from African swine flu in China and Asia and the whole question of how we get our protein fix has gained prominence against the background of climate change.

    Animal agriculture is responsible for about 9 percent of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions globally.

    Justin Sherrard, global strategist for Rabobank, tells Al Jazeera that meat is a dietary staple for most people around the world, as much as staples such as rice or bread. He notes that the debate around the meat industry is not really about whether people are addicted to meat consumption.

    "What it is about is how we are going to change the emission signature associated with meat production and consumption in the future," Sherrard says.

    "And on a positive side, we are starting to see commitments being made by the larger leading animal protein companies in Europe and in the US about reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their whole supply chain."

    Will France's digital tax on Silicon Valley escalate trade war with US?
    Silicon Valley's tech giants have often been criticised for not paying fair taxes. Much of the problem exists because of international laws that allow corporations to pay their taxes in the country of their choosing.

    But France is leading a group of nations in imposing a tax on the revenues of Google, Facebook and Amazon, and that has threatened to escalate a trade war.

    The US has proposed tariffs on $2.4bn of French goods but the Fren

    • 26 min
    • video
    What to expect for the global economy in 2020 | Counting the Cost

    What to expect for the global economy in 2020 | Counting the Cost

    The International Monetary Fund's (IMF) new managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, has described the global outlook as 'precarious'.
    The global economy is growing at its slowest pace since the 2008 financial crisis, and trade tensions could cut global economic growth by $700billion - which is roughly the size of the Swiss economy.

    Central bankers have been pretty clear that any slowdown this year would require governments to step in with stimulus packages, because monetary policy is at the limits of what could be achieved.

    But there are many variables, challenges and geopolitical events that will affect the world of business and economics in 2020: The US election, a lack of leadership as the US steps back on the world stage, climate change, and protests from Chile to Lebanon.

    Will President Donald Trump win another term? And what does that mean for trade wars and disputes? Can the world come together to tackle global warming and globalisation? And will we see more people on the streets to protest austerity and the fact that wealth is unequally spread across society?

    We've got a panel of experts to cast an eye on the year ahead and to give us some insights into what to expect in 2020:

    Akber Khan - senior director, Al Rayan Investment
    Charles Hecker - senior partner, Control Risks
    Jairo Lugo-Ocando - Northwestern University in Qatar

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    • 25 min
    • video
    How 2019 events shaped the world of business and economics | Counting the Cost

    How 2019 events shaped the world of business and economics | Counting the Cost

    In this episode of Counting the Cost, we look back at the year 2019: people from Latin America to the Middle East took to the street to protest the unequal spread of wealth and demand that governments end austerity; a trade war between the United States and China has put the breaks on global growth and is reshaping globalisation.

    But the biggest story of the year 2019 has to be climate change and the lack of will to do anything about it.

    Climate crisis: With the exception of the European Union, there is very little effort to reduce emissions. The cost of our inaction has been put at $2bn a day. The United Nations says that $48 trillion needs to be spent by 2050 to avoid catastrophe to humanity; that means putting survival before short term profits.

    Teresa Bo reports from Brazil on the threat of deforestation, the Amazon crisis and President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policies.

    Raheela Mahomed reports from East Kalimantan, Indonesia, on the environmental cost of moving the capital from sinking Jakarta to Borneo.

    Lucia Newman reports from Santiago on the continuing protests in Chile and how the economic and social crisis has spiralled into a political one.

    US-China trade war: The idea of globalisation has come under attack - from President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India", while the trade war between the US and China has taken a few points off global growth. The biggest losers have been exporting nations like Germany and Japan.

    Scott Heidler looks at some of the benefits from Bangkok. And Tanvir Chowdhury reports from Tongi, Bangladesh on the rise of steel prices thanks to the US trade war.

    Africa Continental Free Trade Area: In May 2019, a new economic bloc was born: 54 nations came together to form the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. The aim of the bloc is to increase trade between nations by tearing down trade barriers - in the hope of becoming the next European Union. Ahmed Idriss reports from the Nigeria-Benin border.

    Healthcare in the US: Who should be responsible for providing healthcare? The state or for-profit organisations?

    Shihab Rattansi reports from the US on how the health insurance industry is failing patients.
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    • 26 min
    • video
    What's behind violent protests? Ecuador's vice president explains | Counting the Cost

    What's behind violent protests? Ecuador's vice president explains | Counting the Cost

    Weeks of violent street protests were brought to an end in Ecuador in mid-October after the president walked back austerity measures.

    Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno withdrew the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed agreement to increase fuel costs. The agreement had paralysed Ecuador's economy as it hit the poorest and the minority indigenous population.

    The government decided to cut fuel subsidies, which cost the government $1.3bn a year.

    Quito had asked the IMF for a $4.2bn loan as it struggled to cut its budget deficit and debt. At the same time as receiving the loan, big businesses won a concession wiping out past taxes, according to former Minister of Finance Wilma Salgado.

    Now the question for many is: Why would you take a loan to help corporations but cut subsidies to the poorest?

    In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Ecuador's Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner explains that cutting fuel subsidies was the right thing to do for the country.

    Sonnenholzner argues that fuel subsidies in Ecuador benefit the "ones who have the most" and those who consume the highest quantity of fuel.

    "I have nothing against subsidies when they are necessary and they go to the people who need them. But in the case of Ecuador and fuel subsidies, they just don't," Sonnenholzner says.

    He adds that if you put it together, "the fuel subsidies has cost the country more than its GDP for the last 45 years."

    "It has no economic sense, no social sense, and of course no environmental sense. So something that makes no sense, why would you keep it?"

    Cash crunch in Kenya
    Kenya is in the midst of a cash crunch. Now the lender of last resort, the IMF, may lineup a loan to make sure East Africa's biggest economy does not succumb to an economic shock.

    The cash crunch comes after President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to create one million jobs annually but to do that he has been increasing spending on healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture and housing.

    Nairobi has increased its debt to 62 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), spending a third of its revenue on servicing debt. And the loans are not cheap - going to the markets to raise seven billion euros ($7.8bn). There is now less money to pay contractors, forcing the government to increase the debt limit to $87bn.

    Ahead of elections in two years, there seems to be little political will to downsize civil services, which eats another third of tax revenue.

    The Kenyan government also seems to be unaware of the breach of its legal debt ceiling of 50 percent of GDP from 2015 to 2016. The infringement only surfaced after a new team took over the treasury following charging of the previous finance minister with corruption-related offences.

    Alisa Strobel, senior economist for Sub-Saharan Africa at IHS Markit, says besides the job losses the latest cash crunch in Kenya has resulted in "sticky, non-performing loans" in the banking sector.

    "With the removal of the interest rate cap, we do expect to see some improvement on this front that will hopefully support aggregate demand in the near term," Strobel says.

    Can Netflix hold on to its crown?
    Cord-cutting, Peak TV and the rise of so-called over-the-top services, or streaming to you and me - are we witnessing the end of television as we know it?

    It is estimated that 63 percent of people watch their favourite shows online. And more content companies like Disney, HBO and Peacock are launching their own services.

    Industry leader Netflix saw 13.2 million people watch Martin Scorsese's epic gangster movie The Irishmen in the United States over the first five days of its release. The streaming giant is spending billions on content and has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide.

    Apple is now spending $6bn on content, including a reported $300m on the Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston. And Amazon claims it signed up millions of people after

    • 25 min

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