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Rio rejects Chinese bribe reports


Rio rejects Chinese bribe reports

CANBERRA/BEIJING – july 17  – Global miner Rio Tinto on Friday strongly defended its four employees being held in China on accusations of industrial espionage, saying claims they bribed Chinese steel mills were unfounded.

The Anglo-Australian miner said it was “very concerned” for its workers, held in Shanghai since July 5.

The detention of Australian Stern Hu and three Chinese colleagues have strained Australia-China ties, with Beijing warning Canberra not to interfere in its judicial independence.

The detentions have also unsettled the global iron ore trade, but Rio, which sells billions of dollars worth of iron ore to Chinese steel mills each year, said it was maintaining high tonnages of iron ore shipments to China.

“Rio Tinto believes that the allegations in recent media reports that employees were involved in bribery of officials at Chinese steel mills are wholly without foundation,” Sam Walsh, chief executive of Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore division said.

“We remain fully supportive of our detained employees, and believe that they acted at all times with integrity and in accordance with Rio Tinto’s strict and publicly stated code of ethical behaviour,” Walsh said in a statement.

China detained the four workers on allegations of stealing state secrets related to sensitive iron ore price negotiations.

The detentions have complicated annual negotiations on iron ore contract prices between Chinese steel mills and Australia’s top mining firms Rio and BHP Billiton. Iron ore is used to make steel.

This year’s negotiations have been fraught, since they coincided with the collapse of a deal by Chinese state-owned aluminium firm, Chinalco, to increase its stake in Rio.


Australia and China traded warnings on Thursday over the spy case, while the United States urged Beijing to ensure transparency and fair treatment for staff of foreign companies.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he believed China had not yet reached a conclusion that the four detained Rio employees were guilty and investigations were ongoing.

Smith, who discussed the detentions with China’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs He Yafei at a meeting in Egypt on Thursday, said statements by an official in Beijing that the four had harmed China’s economic interests were not conclusive.

Australia understood the matter was “subject to an investigation, subject to Chinese law and Chinese potentially criminal, legal and judicial processes”, and had made that point to He during their meeting, said Smith.

“An investigation is under way. He (Stern Hu) has not yet been on the receiving end of charges. If and when he is, we will deal with it at that point in time,” he said by telephone from Dubai.

But some analysts believe China would not have detained the Rio workers without strong evidence.

“The Chinese government knows that if it really does not have evidence at this critical time, its image will be damaged,” said Scotia Capital China strategist Na Liu.

“In recent years, China has been very conscious in terms of its image and has been improving its PR skills. It would not likely risk the prospect of future foreign resource acquisitions with baseless allegations against Rio.”

Australia’s Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a former Beijing diplomat, has been criticised at home for not intervening in the case and phoning China’s President Hu Jintao.

Rudd, facing an election late next year, is struggling “to strike the right note with the Chinese”, senior Age newspaper political editor Michelle Grattan wrote.

China is Australia’s top trading partner, with total two-way trade worth $53 billion in 2008, of which the iron ore trade made up $14 billion.

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El Nino weather menace looms for frail economies


An aerial view of the flooded outskirts of Trinidad, Beni, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of La Paz, February 22, 2007. A nascent El Nino weather cycle threatens to wreak more economic havoc and disrupt raw material production across a wide swath of the world, evoking memories of the killer edition of 1998.

El Nino weather menace looms for frail economies

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A nascent El Nino weather cycle threatens to wreak more economic havoc and disrupt raw material production across a wide swath of the world, evoking memories of the killer edition of 1998.

The timing could not be worse. This El Nino appears to be developing as the world is struggling to emerge from the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Eleven years ago, a damaging El Nino occurred in the middle of the Asian financial crisis which roiled financial markets.

“El Nino is a little bit like recession: you are in it before you can say you have one. If it continues as it is now, the historians will say the El Nino started in May,” said David Jones, head of climate analysis in Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. Jones said they could declare an El Nino in weeks.

During El Nino, an abnormal warming of the waters of the equatorial Pacific unhinges weather patterns in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. A La Nina weather pattern, in which waters cool, was in place last year.

In 1998, El Nino-related storms, floods, tornadoes and mudslides killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage to crops, infrastructure and mines.

Michelle L’Heureux, head of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center which tracks El Nino, said this version may not approach the one in 1998, the strongest weather anomaly in 150 years. The CPC is an office under the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

If the anomaly does recur with severity, drought in Asia could lift grain prices, which are already near historic levels due to supply shortages, while storms that would disrupt crude production in the Gulf of Mexico may be minimized.

Mike Palmerino, U.S. agricultural meteorologist with DTN Meteorlogix, added: “This one has a little more going for it. But a year ago at this time it looked like we were building toward an El Nino and everything just totally fell apart toward the end of the summer, where all the Pacific circulation patterns changed and we actually slipped back into a La Nina.”


Some forecasters fret that an early sign of this El Nino is the weak annual monsoon plaguing India, one of the world’s biggest producers and consumers of everything from sugar to soybeans.

The monsoon rains are the lifeblood for farmers in India. Its faltering sugar crop is a prime reason why sugar prices are at their highest levels in three years.

China typically turns to South America for soybeans during the U.S. growing season. But the 2009 crops from Brazil and Argentina are suffering from drought and U.S. soybean stocks are at a 32-year low — less than two weeks of normal commercial supply.

Shawn McCambridge, grains analyst with Prudential Bache Commodities in Chicago, said the El Nino could “dry out the second half of 2009 in Australia and it can also affect South American production.

“It’s developing a little too late to really have much of an impact on the Northern Hemisphere, but the concern would be in the Southern Hemisphere (crops),” he said.

Indonesia, one of the biggest producers of palm oil and a large consumer of sugar and rice, faces drought.

Australia is one of the world’s biggest wheat producers and has barely recovered from the worst drought in 100 years which hit a few years ago.

Rob Imray, general manager of grain trading and agricultural risk management firm Farmarco, said the Australian wheat crop is off to a good start but the southern areas could suffer if no rain arrives in August and September.


Severe floods may disrupt mining operations in Chile, the world’s biggest copper producer, and Peru, among others.

India is the world’s biggest gold buyer when farmers, whose annual income is tied to the monsoon, buy the metal for the festival of lights celebrating the end of their harvest in November.

Still, Andrew Montano, a director at bullion dealer ScotiaMocatta in Toronto, said, “the bulk of the demand is coming from international investors, more so than from the Indian subcontinent.”

In the United States, El Nino could funnel wind shear into the Atlantic basin and hinder storm formation during the annual hurricane season.

Vernon Kousky, former head of the CPC, said there could “be a suppression of Atlantic hurricane activity, provided that further intensification of El Nino occurs during the next couple of months.”

A strong El Nino could lead to a mild winter in the Northeast, the world’s biggest heating-oil market. The snow pack in the Western United States may also suffer and affect hydroelectric power generation.

But Stephen Schork, editor of The Schork Report in Pennsylvania, said the weak economy would mute the weather phenomenon’s impact on energy markets.

“There’s just a lot of supply out there,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Bruce Hextall and Michael Perry in Sydney, Frank Tang and Rebekah Kebede in New York, Christine Stebbins in Chicago, and Naveen Thukral in Singapore)

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More charged with terrorism offences in Australia


More charged with terrorism offences in Australia

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australian police charged four more men on Wednesday with planning to attack an army base and shoot soldiers as the government considered whether to ban a Somalia militant group linked to the plot.

During a brief court hearing in Melbourne on Wednesday, one of those charged refused to stand before the court and then shouted at the presiding magistrate.

“You call me a terrorist? I have never killed a person in my life, said Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, 33, before he was led to a jail cell. “Your army kills innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel takes Palestinian land by force,” he said.

Australia has gradually tightened anti-terrorism laws since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, but analysts say the country remains a target because of its contribution to the Iraq war and its more than 1,500 troops in Afghanistan.

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