World Business

South-East Asia inks free trade agreement with Australia, New Zealand

South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) LogoCha-am, Thailand - The ten members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday signed a free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand, demonstrating the region's commitment to open markets at a time of growing protectionism in the West.

The free trade agreement (FTA), which will lower tariffs over a 12-year period, is deemed one of the most comprehensive yet signed by the ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand, covering trade in goods and services.

IATA: Aviation industry has yet to see the bottom

IATA: Aviation industry has yet to see the bottomGeneva  - January was the fifth consecutive month of contraction in international air passenger demand and was the eighth straight month of contraction for freight traffic, the International Air Transport Association said Thursday.

"Every region's carriers are reporting big drops in cargo," Giovanni Bisignani, the IATA chief, said in a statement.

Furthermore, "aside from the Middle East carriers, passenger demand is falling in all regions."

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) confirms record losses

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) confirms record lossesLondon - Britain's Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Thursday confirmed it had made record losses of 24.1 billion pounds (34.7 billion dollars) in 2008, believed to be the biggest in British corporate history.

RBS, which had to be bailed out by the government last year, also announced a major restructuring programme focussed on placing
325 billion pounds of so-called toxic assets into a scheme that offers insurance against any future losses.

Austrians overtake Germans in beer-drinking, but Czechs still lead

Vienna  - Austria overtook Germany as a beer-drinking nation in 2008 and is now second only to the Czech Republic, the Austrian brewery association revealed on Monday.

Austrians downed 8.6 million hectolitres of beer in 2008, or 109.3 litres per person. Germany fell behind as its consumption per head dropped slightly to 108 litres, while the Czechs are expected to have comfortably defended their top position.

Every Czech drank 159 litres of beer in 2007, according to the latest available figures.

While 2 per cent more of the beverage flowed from Austrian taps in 2008, volumes in traditional beer-drinking countries like Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands fell, the brewery association said.

VP Bank Group reports 2008 losses

VP Bank GroupVaduz - Lichtenstein's VP Bank Group said Monday it lost 80.3 million Swiss francs during 2008, after being forced to take writedowns due to the financial crisis.

The group said it would reduce operating expenses in 2009 by at least 10 per cent.

In a statement the bank said it had to write down 117 million francs in the income statement and 55.3 million of shareholders' equity.

The financial crisis pushed the bank to offer capital protection for clients invested in VP Bank's cash and money market funds, adding some 68.1 million francs to the 2009 financial statement.

Germany to open one-stop-shop for business investment in Iraq

germanyBerlin - Germany plans to open Tuesday an information office for German businesses operating in Iraq, with centres in Baghdad and the northern city of Erbil.

The one-stop-shop will offer information, advice and help establish contacts, in order to encourage business relationships between the two countries.

Economics Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said the information office would "help revive the previously intensive economic relationships between Germany and Iraq."