Pandemic restrictions pushing coffee prices up and undermining production – dpa international

Sign outside a Dublin coffeeshop. Cafes in Ireland have been restricted to takeaway services, and more recentky, offering outdoors dining, since December 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Even as the coronavirus pandemic has receded in some parts of the world, coffee drinkers might not be able to sip in peace anytime soon: According to a recent analysis, coronavirus restrictions have likely spurred a crisis across the global coffee industry. In a study published by the National Academy of Sciences in the US, researchers led by academics from Rutgers University said “socio-economic disruptions” since the start of the pandemic “are likely to drive the coffee industry into another severe production crisis.” Lead author Kevon Rhiney warned of “serious implications for millions of people across the globe” if there is turmoil in the sector.

Global foreign investment to recover lost ground this year – dpa international

The centre of Dublin, the capital of Ireland, which received the world's 7th-most foreign investment in 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Foreign direct investment should revive in 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said on Monday, after a 35 per cent global drop last year when lockdowns “slowed down existing investment projects.” According to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2021, global investment should “recover some lost ground” by growing 10-15 per cent, as multinational enterprises resume work paused due to “prospects of a recession” last year. The global economy shrank by over three per cent in 2020 but is expected to rebound this year with 5-6 per cent growth, according to recent World Bank and OECD estimates. Though overseas investment is expected to bounce back in tandem with GDP expansion, it will remain 25 per cent below 2019 levels after a tough 2020, according to Unctad’s James Zhang.

Singapore cedes top spot to Switzerland in competitiveness index – dpa international

Singapore harbour seen from Marina Bay, a popular vantage point for visitors (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Wealthy city-state Singapore is no longer the world’s most competitive economy, according to the Institute for Management Development (IMD), which on Thursday put Switzerland top of its 2021 World Competitiveness Ranking. Singapore topped the list for the previous two years and was the sole Asian representative in the top five, which was rounded out by Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Though most European countries were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, measured by lives lost and case numbers, the Lausanne-based IMD said the continent’s economies “weather[ed] the health crisis better than most other regions,” with Switzerland ranked highest after it “kept a disciplined financial strategy.” Singapore’s fall from first to fifth came despite being it being relatively lightly hit by the pandemic – and was down to “problems with job losses, lack of productivity and the economic impact of the pandemic,” the IMD said.

‘Pervasive’ privacy breaches found on mobile phone health apps – dpa international

Jogger in Dublin's Phoenix Park in early June 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Thousands of health-related mobile phone applications have “serious problems with privacy,” according to analysis by Macquarie University in Australia. Published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the Sydney-based team’s research into more than 20,000 apps found “collection of personal user information” to be “pervasive.” Of the almost 5 million apps available on platforms operated by Apple and Google, around 100,000 are health-related, including increasingly-popular fitness monitors. However “inadequate privacy disclosures” often hinder users “from making informed choices,” said the Macquarie researchers, who compared 15,000 health apps with a sample of 8,000 others. While the health apps gathered less user data the others examined, around two-thirds of them still “could collect advert identifiers or cookies” and a quarter could “identify the mobile phone tower to which a user’s device is connected.”

Poorer nations face bigger food bills as prices surge – dpa international

DUBLIN — Less well-off countries are facing bigger food bills, according to the United Nations, which on Thursday said the world’s food imports are set to increase by 12 per cent this year to 1.72 trillion dollars, equivalent to Russia’s gross domestic product. In its biannual report on global food markets, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated consumer prices for proteins and calories to have increased by between 20 and 34 per cent compared to a year ago, risking “deteriorating quantitative and qualitative dietary trends in vulnerable countries” where food can account for up to half of household spending. The FAO last week estimated an overall annual jump in food costs of around 40 per cent, due to “a surge in prices for oils, sugar and cereals.”

World Bank forecasts ‘uneven’ 5.6 per cent global economic growth this year – dpa international

Pedestrians seen on Grafton St., one of Dublin's main shopping avenues, in late May 2021. Ireland's economy was one of the few to grow last year (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The global economy should expand by 5.6 per cent this year but developing countries will struggle to keep up due to “the pandemic’s lasting effects,” the World Bank said on Tuesday. While such growth would be “the fastest post-recession pace in 80 years,” overall global output could remain 2 per cent less than if the pandemic had not happened and the ensuing restrictions on business were not imposed, the bank estimated. While pent up demand could result in wealthy, large economies such as the US and China growing by 6.8 per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively, smaller and poorer nations will have to wait until next year to recover per capita income losses, the bank warned, meaning global growth will be “uneven.” Per capita incomes in many emerging market economies are expected “to remain below pre-pandemic levels,” the bank cautioned, which would likely “worsen deprivations associated with health, education and living standards.”

Pandemic and lockdowns drive food prices up but send diet quality down – dpa international

DUBLIN — The coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions have jacked up food prices around the world and spurred a surge in unhealthy eating, according to a set of papers published on Monday by the American Society for Nutrition. According to author Caroline Um of the American Cancer Society, the researchers found a “decrease in the consumption of many food groups, particularly healthy foods such as vegetables and whole grains, compared to before the pandemic.” “We saw panic buying, problems in the food supply chain, increases in food prices and rising unemployment rates,” Um said. Researchers at Tufts University said food prices went up across 133 countries as pandemic-related curbs were introduced. “More stringent restrictions were linked with a higher price of food and a higher ratio of food prices to prices across all consumer goods,” they said.

Scientists claim quantum leap for secure communications – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left usually-busy city landmarks quiet as people work from home and conduct meetings online.(Simon Roughneen

DUBLIN — After more than a year of easy-to-hack pandemic-induced Zoom meetings, the world could be “one step closer to ultimately secure conference calls,” according to a British-led team of scientists. The group, which includes academics from Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, claim in the journal Science Advances to have discovered how to facilitate hack-proof “quantum-secure conversation” between four parties. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, what the team calls the “global reliance on remote collaborative working, including conference calls,” has led to a “significant escalation of cyberattacks on popular teleconferencing platforms in the last year.” The team said their newly published research is “a timely advance” that “could lead to conference calls with inherent unhackable security measures, underpinned by the principles of quantum physics.”

Irish GDP up 7.8 per cent though local businesses hurt by lockdowns – dpa international

Retaliers deemed 'non essential' such as this sports shop, were not permitted to open during Ireland's pandemic lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product grew by 7.8 per cent in the first quarter of the year due to surging exports by multinational corporations, according to official estimates. However, gross national product, a measurement which cuts out multinationals, fell by 1 per cent quarter-on-quarter, the government’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Friday. According to the CSO’s Jennifer Banim, “the tightening of Covid-19 related restrictions led to lower levels of economic activity for many of the sectors focused on the domestic market.” Ireland’s government lifted a third pandemic lockdown in May after almost five months of restrictions that were ranked among Europe’s harshest by the University of Oxford.

Only China realizing potential, says economist behind BRICs moniker – dpa international

DUBLIN  — Two decades after coining the acronym BRICs – grouping the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China – economist Jim O’Neill believes only China  is “fully achieving its potential.” In an article published on Wednesday by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), O’Neill said that, while the quartet’s economies fared relatively well before the 2008 global financial crisis, India has since “notably disappointed,” while Brazil and Russia have posted “very disappointing” performances. China’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth exceeded that of the other three BRICS for all but three years between 2001-19, according to World Bank data, leaving it with an economy twice the size of the other three put together.