US fails to curb China's bootlegging

Trade talks upset follows unprecedented £1.76bn loss disclosure by Japa nese bank
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The Independent Online
American trade negotiators left China yesterday without winning an agreement on protecting US copyrights, trademarks and patents after nine days of talks.

The Americans have set a 4 February deadline for a deal to end what they say is widespread bootlegging of American products in China.

Mickey Kantor, the US trade representative, said that if the deadline was missed he would publish a list of Chinese imports to be subject to 100 per cent tariffs.

The China upset followed the announcement on Friday of a $2.8bn (£1.76bn) loss by Japan's Sumitomo bank in 1994 due to its writing off bad debts.

For a big bank to acknowledge losses is unprecedented in post-war Japanese history, but Sumitomo's action could prompt other banks to come clean on their non-performing loans. The announcement came after the Tokyo stock market closed for the weekend, andanalysts thought it would trigger some selling when trading resumed today.

Stephen Hannah, director of research at IBJ International in London, said: "I would expect Asian markets to be pretty weak. These events will emphasise the desirability of safe havens, which could lead to another flow of money out of emerging markets."

In recent weeks jitters in Asian markets other than Tokyo and in the Latin American markets have reinforced each other.

This week is poised to turn into another trial for Mexico's financial markets. The $40bn US loan-guarantee package for Mexico has run into the sands in Congress. Some of the commercial banks participating in a separate $3bn loan for Mexico said they would withhold the aid until the US package had gone through.

Officials from Latin American countries have been visiting other financial centres since the Mexican crisis first burst upon them, in an attempt to persuade investors not to withdraw their funds.

Officials from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are due in London this week.

Steven Bell, chief economist at Morgan Grenfell, said: "Investors are nervous about the valuation of equity markets, and the emerging markets are a disaster.

"There is a growing band predicting a crash, although this is alarmist talk."

Against this background policy makers in the United States and Britain meet this week to discuss interest rate policy. The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise interest rates after its policy meeting tomorrow and Wednesday, after a series of statistics showing the US economy to be growing at full tilt despite six increases in rates in 1994.

Laura Tyson, head of President Bill Clinton's council of economic advisers, said at the weekend that there would be a small rise in inflation in 1995, but the inflation performance would still be good.

Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, said it was not yet obvious that interest rates had gone up enough to keep inflation under control.

Wall Street analysts overwhelmingly predict another move this week.

In Britain, most City commentators expect Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of England, to raise base rates for a third time either after this week's meeting or after the March meeting.

The Chancellor has been discouraging expectations of higher rates this week, but his arguments cut little ice with the financial markets and even fanned speculation that there was a split between him and Mr George over the appropriate policy.

Mr Hannah said: "Whatever Mr Clarke says, the Bank of England will push for a further rate rise, and the evidence is on its side. We cannot afford any doubts about the commitment against inflation, or the pound will come under severe pressure."

Statistics on the UK economy published since the new year have consistently suggested that the recovery is still progressing at a rapid pace while inflation is beginning to creep up.

The preliminary estimate of national output in the final quarter of last year showed it expanded by 0.8 per cent, the same as the July-September quarter.

Financial market expectations tipped the balance in favour of raising base rates in December, according to minutes of the meeting published subsequently.