On July 6, under the witness Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov, UnionPay International and the Bulgarian National Card Scheme signed a Memorandum of Understanding Agreement (MOU) in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, aimed to initiate a project for enabling POS and ATM terminals in Bulgaria to accept UnionPay chip card and support UnionPay contactless payment service as well.
Since the establishment of the China-CEE Cooperation Mechanism (“16+1 Cooperation”) in 2012, cooperation between China and CEE countries in different fields including investment, trade and tourism has witnessed rapid growth. In line with this trend, UnionPay International has cooperated with major institutions in the region to expedite its business expansion. So far, UnionPay is present in 12 of the 16 CEE countries. In Bulgaria, one of the leading countries in the “16+1 Cooperation”, UnionPay cards are accepted at some of the local merchant POS terminals, covering shopping malls and specialty stores frequented by tourists.
Bcard National Card Scheme of Borica AD operates since 2016 and functioning separated and independent from the Card Payment Processor. All Payment Service Providers in Bulgaria are Members of the Scheme.
Brand Bcard as a Bulgarian national payment card is accepted at all possible locations (ATM/POS) on the territory of Bulgaria. The main mission of the Scheme is migration of cash and paper to digital channels through development of new electronic services in the public and private sectors in Bulgaria. Positioning the wide range of Scheme products through new local business and price models is expected to have a positive impact on the economy of the state and to change radically the payment methods in Bulgaria. The business line of the Scheme follows the following main directions: First, creating equal conditions and unified product and technological rules for interoperability in the country. Second, creating new products and services to provide cheap, adequate and convenient solutions to meet the needs of different sectors of the economy and business. Third, cooperating with other national/international schemes for technology transfer and expanding the acceptance of the brand outside the country.
With the establishment of this cooperation, the two parties’ efforts are focused on significant breakthroughs in three aspects: First, UnionPay to achieve comprehensive acceptance in Bulgaria in a feasible period of time. UnionPay cardholders visiting Bulgaria will be able to pay and withdraw cash using UnionPay cards, and when possible in future to activate UnionPay mobile QuickPass service via the “UnionPay” mobile app to make tap-and-go payments. Second, the two parties may jointly issue UnionPay-Bcard co-badge cards locally, expanding the use of Bcard cards from Bulgaria to 169 countries and regions covered by the UnionPay acceptance network. Third, the two parties may further cooperate in promoting innovative payments including online payment, QR code payment and e-wallet products.
UnionPay International management introduced that the company attaches great importance to the CEE region. On the one hand, UnionPay is working on accelerating its acceptance and issuance business development to support economic and trade exchanges and mutual visits between China and CEE countries. On the other hand, taking advantage of its network, products and technology, UnionPay actively participates in the infrastructure construction of payment industry in the region, to promote technical standards cooperation and realize the interconnection and upgrading of payment networks. The cooperation is of great significance: First, UnionPay cards will be comprehensively accepted in Bulgaria, which will guarantee smooth payments between the two countries; Secondly, the issuance of the UnionPay-Bcard co-branded cards will expand the acceptance scope of cards that previously can only be used domestically in Bulgaria to overseas countries, significantly improving the convenience of local residents’ daily consumption and international travel; Thirdly, UnionPay will promote innovative payment cooperation under UnionPay standard and contribute the level of electronic payment in Bulgaria.
In recent years, UnionPay has made positive progress in Central and Eastern Europe: In Hungary, UnionPay is accepted at more than half of the local merchants and ATMs. In the Czech Republic, UnionPay is accepted at 50% of ATMs and tens of thousands of merchants. In Serbia, the local bankcard switch network DinaCard plans to adopt the UnionPay standards to upgrade its system; and the UnionPay chip card standard has become the unified technical standard for DinaCard acceptance and issuance business.
OPEC+ to weigh modest oil output boost at meeting – sources
By Ahmad Ghaddar, Alex Lawler and Olesya Astakhova
LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – OPEC+ oil producers will discuss a modest easing of oil supply curbs from April given a recovery in prices, OPEC+ sources said, although some suggest holding steady for now given the risk of new setbacks in the battle against the pandemic.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies, known as OPEC+, cut output by a record 9.7 million bpd last year as demand collapsed due to the pandemic. As of February, it is still withholding 7.125 million bpd, about 7% of world demand.
In January OPEC+ slowed the pace of a planned output increase to match weaker-than-expected demand due to continued coronavirus lockdowns. Saudi Arabia made extra voluntary cuts for February and March.
Three OPEC+ sources said an output increase of 500,000 barrels per day from April looked possible without building up inventories, although updated supply and demand balances that ministers will consider at their March 4 meeting will determine their decision.
“The oil price is definitely high and the market needs more oil to cool the prices down,” one of the OPEC+ sources said. “A 500,000 bpd increase from April is an option – looks like a good one.”
A rally in prices towards $67 a barrel, the highest since January 2020, the rollout of vaccines and economic recovery hopes have boosted confidence the market could take more oil. India, the world’s third biggest oil importer, has urged OPEC+ to ease production cuts.
Saudi Arabia’s voluntary cut of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) ends next month. While Riyadh hasn’t shared its plans beyond March, expectations in the group are growing that Saudi Arabia will bring back the supply from April, perhaps gradually.
Some OPEC+ members also anticipate that the Saudis will be willing to ease cuts further, but it was not clear if they had had direct communication with Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has warned producers to be “extremely cautious” and some OPEC members are wary of renewed demand setbacks. One OPEC country source said a full return of the Saudi barrels in April would mean the rest of OPEC+ should not pump more yet.
“The Saudi voluntary cut will be back to the market,” the source said. “I’m personally with no more relaxation, not until June.”
Russia, one of the OPEC+ countries which was allowed to boost output in February, is keen to raise supply and a source last week said Moscow would propose adding more oil if nothing changed before the March 4 virtual meeting.
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)
UK’s Sunak to build bridge to recovery with more spending
By William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak will next week promise yet more spending to prop up the economy during what he hopes will be the last phase of lockdown, but he will also probably signal tax rises ahead to plug the huge hole in the public finances.
Sunak, who is due to announce a new budget plan on March 3, has already racked up more than 280 billion pounds ($397 billion) in coronavirus spending and tax cuts, pushing Britain’s borrowing to a peacetime record.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift England’s current lockdown entirely only in late June so Sunak is expected to rely heavily on the debt markets again.
His job retention scheme, paying 80% of employees’ wages, will probably be extended beyond a scheduled April 30 expiry date, further inflating its estimated cost of 70 billion pounds. Support for the self-employed looks set to stay too.
Businesses are demanding Sunak keep other lifelines, such as exempting the firms hardest hit by the lockdown from property taxes and giving them a value-added tax cut.
And calls are growing for an extension of a 20 pounds-a-week emergency welfare increase due to expire in April.
The Times newspaper said Sunak would prolong his stamp duty property tax break for three months until the end of June.
Sunak hopes that by then Britain will be emerging from its deep freeze thanks to Europe’s fastest vaccination programme.
Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane likens the economy to a “coiled spring” primed with the savings that households have built up after being stuck at home.
A strong recovery would mean a jump in tax revenues, doing some of the Treasury’s job of fixing the public finances.
Rupert Harrison, an aide to former finance minister George Osborne, said Sunak should not try to slash Britain’s 2.1 trillion-pound debt mountain, equivalent to 98% of GDP – a ratio unthinkable for decades.
Instead he should write new budget rules tied to the cost of debt servicing, which is close to record lows.
“We can safely carry higher levels of debt than before,” Harrison told a webinar organised by Onward, a think-tank.
But the scale of Britain’s borrowing is raising questions about how long Sunak and Johnson can stick to their promises not to raise key taxes, made to voters before the 2019 election.
The huge costs of tackling the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to ease in the months ahead, meaning this year’s 400 billion pound budget deficit should narrow.
But Britain is probably on course to be stuck with a gap of 60 billion pounds between revenues and day-to-day spending by the mid-2020s, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank says.
In a nod to that, Sunak is expected to start raising Britain’s low corporation tax rate.
The Sunday Times said the rate would rise steadily to bring in an extra 12 billion pounds a year by the time of the next election, due in 2024.
Other options include ending a freeze on fuel duty increases which has been in place since 2012 and looks at odds with Britain’s plans to be carbon net zero by 2050.
But higher fuel prices now would hurt the haulage industry, already struggling with Brexit-related disruption, and could alienate working-class voters who backed Johnson in 2019.
Higher capital gains tax or lower pension incentives would anger lawmakers in Johnson’s Conservative Party.
David Gauke, a former deputy finance minister, said the only big revenue-raising options were the ones that Johnson has promised not to touch – income tax, VAT and national insurance contributions.
“In the end, they are going to have to say, sorry we just can’t responsibly maintain that manifesto commitment,” Gauke told the Onward webinar.
($1 = 0.7046 pounds)
(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)
Women inch towards equal legal rights despite COVID-19 risks, World Bank says
By Sonia Elks
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women gained legal rights in nearly 30 countries last year despite disruption due to COVID-19, but governments must do more to ease the disproportionate burden shouldered by women during the pandemic, the World Bank said on Tuesday.
Nations should prioritise gender equality in economic recovery efforts, the bank said, warning that progress on equal rights was threatened by heavier job losses in female-dominated sectors, increased childcare and a surge in domestic violence.
“This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women,” David Malpass, World Bank Group president, said in a statement accompanying the annual “Women, Business and the Law” report.
“Women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the centre of our efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A total of 27 countries reformed laws or regulations to give women more economic equality with men in 2019-20, said the report, which grades 190 nations on laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunities.
While countries in all of the world’s regions made improvements in the new index – with most reforms addressing pay and parenthood, women on average still have only about three quarters of the rights granted to men, the report found.
Notably, nearly 40 countries brought in extra benefit or leave policies to help employees balance their jobs with the extra childcare needs created by coronavirus restrictions.
But such measures were “few and far between” worldwide and will probably not go far enough to tackle the “motherhood penalty” many women face in the workplace, it said.
The report also noted separate data from a United Nations tool tracking gender-sensitive pandemic responses which found 70% of such measures addressed violence, with just 10% targeting women’s economic security.
The pandemic could result in “a backslide on various hard-won advances in women’s rights achieved in recent years”, said Antonia Kirkland, the global lead on legal equality at women’s rights organisation Equality Now.
“This disruption is a unique opportunity for countries to rebuild more resilient, inclusive and prosperous economies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
“But this can only be achieved alongside the removal of sex discriminatory laws that prevent women from participating fully and equally in economic, social and family life.”
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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