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The Independent Online
Japan: quicker on liquor

The World Trade Organisation has ruled that Japan should speed up plans to cut taxes on imported liquors, including Scotch whisky, French cognac and American bourbon.

The acceleration was welcomed by the Scotch Whisky Association, although a spokesman warned that it would wait to see the full text of the WTO's ruling before making a judgement.

Japan must narrow the gap between taxes on domestically produced liquors and imported ones by 1 February 1998, the WTO arbitrator ruled. Japan had proposed to begin partial compliance within 23 months and reach full compliance within five years.

Japan is the second largest export market for US and Scotch whisky distillers. Sales from the UK are worth about pounds 120m a year, a tiny percentage of the overall market of $25bn (pounds 15bn).

No crash landing

American Airlines will cut fares by up to 50 per cent in the next few weeks to recover some of the $100m it lost in the weeks leading up to a brief strike by pilots this weekend.

The 9,300 pilots walked off the job for 24 minutes, but President Clinton ordered them back to work and appointed a presidential emergency board to resolve the dispute.

The board will examine the dispute for 30 days before making a settlement proposal. If either side rejects the proposal, there is a 30-day cooling off period after which the union could strike again or the company could impose its own contract terms.

It's good to talk

Countries accounting for more than 90 per cent of the $600bn (pounds 370bn) world telecommunications trade have reached an agreement in principle to throw open the market to broad competition, the EU's senior trade official said.

"Essentially we have a deal," Sir Leon Brittan told reporters. Sir Leon's announcement followed last minute wrangling between US trade negotiators and their counterparts in Canada, Japan and other countries.

The agreement taking shape could increase investment in the telecoms industry by as much as $1,000bn.

Courting disaster

T&N, the UK engineer that used to make asbestos, is one of 20 companies including Union Carbide and Pfizer Inc, that go before the US Supreme Court this week in an appeal to save a controversial $1.3bn settlement designed to free them from all future lawsuits about illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.

One of the most controversial aspects of the settlement is that it would cover all future asbestos claims, including people who don't currently know whether they will suffer any asbestos-related ailments.

The outcome could settle the outcome of potential injury lawsuits worth billions of dollars and lay down far-reaching rules about when companies can resolve huge groups of nationwide claims in a single settlement.

The case has wider implications outside the industry. It could affect other negotiated settlements in legal disputes such as claims about tobacco- related illnesses, HIV-tainted blood-clotting substances or silicone breast implants.