From Volume 37, Issue 14 of EIR Online, Published Apr. 9, 2010

Global Economic News

U.S. Finally Offers Nuclear Power to Old Adversary, Vietnam

March 30 (EIRNS)—Over four decades after the inglorious end to the Vietnamese War, the United States has signed an agreement to move towards allowing U.S. firms to build nuclear plants in that energy-poor country.

"This is an important moment in our bilateral relations," U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak said during a signing ceremony with Le Dinh Tien, Vietnam's vice minister of science and technology. The agreement, which addresses nuclear safety and nonproliferation concerns, is a prerequisite to a deal that could allow companies like Westinghouse and General Electric to participate in Vietnam's nuclear energy sector.

Michalak also announced that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will attend a nuclear security summit hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington next month.

Vietnam's demand for power is expected to grow by 16% a year under the most recent plan. The country's booming economy, along with the government's determination to begin bringing a modern standard of living to its population, has made it difficult for supply to keep pace with demand.

Vietnam has already signed nuclear energy cooperation agreements with Russia, China, France, South Korea, India, and Argentina, Tien said. And, last year, Vietnam signed a deal with Russia for a Russian firm to help build the first plant. Construction is to start in 2014 and be completed in 2020.

If You Have Cancer in Britain, Have a NICE Death

April 3 (EIRNS)—The British Conservative party blasted the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for continuing to deny cancer patients treatment with new drugs, with the claim that keeping the patient alive is not "cost effective." This is especially the case, if the patient has a rare cancer, such as liver or kidney cancer. NICE is Barack Obama's model for his IMAP death panels.

The London Times reports that the Tories have accused NICE of failing to approve new cancer drugs for use in the National Health Service (NHS), since November 2008 in England and Wales. Yet the Conservatives said that for at least 19 out of 21 cancer drugs assessed last year, British patients were less likely to be given the drug than in other European country. This is despite the fact that the medications could help to treat conditions such as liver or kidney cancer, which affect fewer than 7,000 patients a year.

The Tories added that NICE's committees did not consider value-based-pricing schemes—to make expensive treatments available by sharing the cost of the drugs with the pharmaceutical industry—in 40% of new cancer treatments.

"It is unforgivable that thousands of cancer sufferers in England die each year, because they are not given the medications that they need, when we spend over a hundred billion pounds a year on the NHS," said Andrew Lansley, the Tories' shadow health secretary. "There is no reason why we should not be able to get cancer drugs in England that are readily available in the rest of Europe."

The Rarer Cancers Forum estimated last month that as many as 16,000 patients may have been denied access to treatments because NICE had deemed that it was too expensive to keep them alive with these new drugs.

Helen Rainbow, policy analyst at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "We are pleased the Conservatives are highlighting the issue of access to cancer treatments, in particular the high number of drugs for rarer cancers rejected by NICE since November 2008. The way drugs are currently approved for use on the NHS is penalizing people with rarer cancers, such as liver or kidney cancer, and must be reformed. People don't choose what cancer they get and shouldn't lose out simply because of the rarity of their condition. A more flexible system is needed to end the inequality in access to cancer treatments, improve survival rates and bring the U.K. in line with other European countries."

British and Spanish Commercial Real Estate Collapse Is On

March 30 (EIRNS)—Great Britain and Spain are at the center of the emerging European commercial real estate crisis. According to a report by DTZ, the British listed property agents, there is an EU115 billion ($156 billion) shortfall in the funds needed to refinance European commercial real estate debt over the next two years, as reported in the Daily Telegraph. About 56% of the funding gap comes from just two countries: Great Britain, with $57 billion, and Spain, with $31 billion.

Total loans that need to be refinanced over the next two years amount to EU482 billion (more than $650 billion), but the situation is actually much worse than these numbers indicate, since most of these properties are no longer worth the face value on the loans. In fact, the report accuses the creditor banks of practicing the "extend and pretend" model, in which the banks are content to extend the maturity of the debt as long as it is being serviced—which is obviously "not sustainable in the medium term," as the DTZ notes delicately. The report makes the point that much of this portfolio should be written down, but the banks are maintaining the pretense that the properties have not lost their value, for fear that they would blow the whole show, so they are not selling them.

South Korea and China Both Building Railroads in Sumatra

March 31 (EIRNS)—South Korea is looking to join China in aiding Indonesia to develop its mining infrastructure by constructing mine-to-port railroads in the southern portion of the large Indonesian island of Sumatra.

South Korea Doosan Engineering & Construction is talking to Tundjung Inderawan, Indonesia's Transportation Ministry's director general for trains, about investing in double track railway construction. The railway track, Tundjung said, would be part of a distribution line for coal produced by state-owned PT Bukit Asam. Bukit Asam plans to produce 14 million tons of coal this year up from 11.6 million tons in 2009, and states that its output can grow in line with improvements in the railway system for transporting coal, according to a report in the Jakarta Post.

Last week, Bukit Asam signed two other contracts worth US$4.8 billion in total with China Railway Group on the construction and maintenance of a 307 km railway in a different area of South Sumatra. The project aims to have a capacity of 27 million tons of coal per year, and is expected to be operational by 2014.

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