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Serena Williams crashed out of the Miami Open in the first round on Wednesday, slumping to a straight sets defeat against Japan’s Naomi Osaka in the latest setback to the former world number one’s comeback.
With less than two weeks to go for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is still grappling with getting the visas sorted for athletes, coaches and support staff, who are part of the Indian contingent for the April 4-15 multisport event.
World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Roberto Azevedo was in Delhi for the informal mini-ministerial meeting organised by the government. After the meeting, he spoke about some of the global trade issues and challenges. Excerpts:
You touched upon possible escalation of tension due to the US duty hike and a trade war. How real are these fears?
There was announcement of measures on steel and aluminium and the announcement was not well taken on the part of other partners, particularly exporters of those products to the US to such an extent that these partners indicated that they could apply counter measures. What those counter measures would be and the extent of that is difficult to tell. Clearly, in other situations, if you look back in history, when you begin to have these kinds of tit-for-tat situations, it tends to escalate because you apply a restrictive measure that you believe is legitimate and justified and the other side responds with something… it goes on and on. Usually, this is not restricted to two. Others are affected either because of the chain of production in their countries is affected or for some other reason. And then when you begin to get more players and more measures, it’s difficult to know where you are going to end up.
You said you are in touch with countries to reduce this tension. What are you doing on this front?
I am talking to them and trying to understand what their concerns are and whether there are ways to mitigate those concerns. More importantly, I have been telling them to be very careful with whatever they do to avoid a possible spiral of measures that could have domino effect. It will be a losing proposition for everyone. I have been telling everyone that they should think carefully and that if there are ways of avoiding this process from taking off, they should explore those things.
Is a trade war already underway because EU has said that they will raise tariffs on certain products?
I don’t want to get into a semantic discussion of what a trade war is. In general terms, a trade war is the kind of thing you know when you see it. I don’t think we are there yet. We haven’t seen measures or counter-measures automatically happening. It may come but we are not quite there yet. But there is a risk we will go down that path.
The US has been defending its measures by saying that they are based on their domestic rules. When it is domestic rules versus multilateral rules, where does WTO stand on that? Don’t multilateral rules take precedence?
WTO does not take stances. It is a forum where companies go and discuss and find solutions. The problem is not whether you follow domestic legislation. Every country follows domestic legislation. The question is whether the domestic legislation is consistent with the WTO disciplines. The only person who can tell you whether that consistency exists or does not exist is the WTO panel. A measure is presumed to be consistent until somebody challenges that.
Since the WTO Appellate Body is inadequately staffed. Is there discussion on an alternate mechanism?
In Geneva (WTO headquarters), members are talking about roughly two types of ideas. One idea is how to solve the impasse and how to unblock the situation. Another set of ideas is on an alternative to what we have today. Those ideas are still being thrown about.
How do you break the deadlock in trade talks?
We need to show flexibility. You have different types of flexibility. You have the flexibility of the kind you find in the trade facilitation agreements where developing countries decide which commitments you take immediately, where you need time to implement and which commitments do you need time and technical assistance. That’s very flexible compared to what we had before. You have flexibility in terms of which countries that participate. We have 164 countries, with different levels of development and with different trade policies. Some may be ready for a bigger step, others may not. So, the only way to have comfort and move forward is if everybody is reasonably certain that they don’t have to undertake things that they don’t want to.
In the Delhi meeting, did you see things move forward? Was there discussion on issues beyond those in the Doha Round?
There was no proper attempt to have a breakthrough. It was just a conversation. Basically, testing if others would like to engage in a conversation if it goes in a particular direction. In general, the attitude was constructive. We heard people that we want to discuss Doha issues but we also want to discuss other issues that are important to us. Others were saying we want to have a conversation on Doha issues but we are not ready for conversation on other issues.
MUMBAI: The country’s largest insurer New India Assurance Company has launched a global mediclaim policy that will cover hospitalisation expenses for treatments like cancer, neurosurgery, hearty surgery, organ and bone marrow transplants in hospitals outside India.
“Although India is fairly advanced when it comes to medical treatment, there are people who are keen on obtaining specialised treatment abroad and we decided to come out with a plan for this segment,” said New India Assurance chairman G Srinivasan.
The policy is available to anyone with a domestic health insurance cover of Rs 8 lakh and above from any company. However, a cover from New India gets a 5% discount. The insured can choose between a $500,000 cover for treatment in Asia or a $1-million cover for worldwide treatment. This is subject to a lifetime limit of $2 million.
The premium for a 30-year-old starts from Rs 9,003 and Rs 11,453 for Asia and worldwide covers, respectively, and can go up to Rs 16,006 and Rs 20,906. Like in overseas mediclaim policies, the premium will be collected in rupees and the claims settled directly with hospitals abroad. However, unlike overseas mediclaim, the global cover is available for those who are living in India.The cover starts once domestic treatment commences. Global medical centres like Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, John Hopkins Medical Center and Kings College Hospital are among the 99 top-notch hospitals worldwide that are part of New India’s empanelled hospitals.
New India requires the insured to obtain a second opinion from one of the world-leading medical centres. In addition to providing cashless treatment, the policy covers travel cost up to $3,000 per person. In addition to the insured, the policy covers the travel cost of a companion as well.
MUMBAI: Even as the government tries to push debit card use, banks continue to hit customers with unreasonable charges for incidents such as transactions declined for want of minimum balance. Each time a customer swipes a card without adequate balance in his bank account, between Rs 17 and Rs 25 is debited from him. The applicable rate of GST is added too.
SBI charges Rs 17 each time a debit card swipe is declined at either an automated teller machine (ATM) or a point of sale (PoS) terminal. HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank charge Rs 25 as transaction decline charges at PoS machines.
IIT-Bombay professor (mathematics) Ashish Das said, “For debit card usage for non-cash merchant transactions, these exorbitant fees make no sense and by no means incentivise the government’s wish of promoting payments through card and digital.” Das has authored several research reports on bank charges and has been instrumental in changing regulatory policies in the past.
The fees on declined transactions persist even as the government has capped merchant discount rate or MDR — the charges imposed by banks on merchants who accept card payments. Also, banks are running campaigns encouraging customers to use debit cards at shops for payments and not visit their branches or ATMs.
Das added, “The present system is highly anti-digital and unnecessarily risky (in terms of fees) for people who have no great savings but live on monthly salary. Such charges only disincentivise and create negatives for digital payments.”
Banks have argued that the rationale is the same as the one behind cheque decline charges, which are much higher. Charges similar to cheque bouncing are also applied on failed ECS (electronic clearing services) debit transactions. Das said, “Cheque/ECS returns involve third parties and create distrust in the payment mode. These should be discouraged and thus severe deterrents should be put in place in the form of penalty. However, decline of an ATM transaction due to insufficient balances is nowhere on a par with cheque/ECS returns. It does not involve any third party. Moreover, National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) does not consider it a transaction and hence no interchange is paid by the card-issuing bank.”
According to Das, if there is misuse of debit cards, banks could at least set a floor of two free declined merchant transactions per month due to insufficient funds and thereafter impose a reasonable fee.