Despite pandemic fears, it’s game on for advertisers as Tokyo Olympics kick off

Masked athletes, empty venues, no fans: an Olympics like no other has launched in Tokyo but for Canadian advertisers, it’s largely business as usual.

Japanese automaker Toyota has decided to scrap all of its local Olympic-themed TV advertising because of public opinion about the Games in Japan. (Koji Sasahara/Associated Press)

Masked athletes, empty venues, no fans: an Olympics like no other has launched in Tokyo but for Canadian advertisers, it’s largely business as usual.

Canadian companies are sticking with plans to promote their brands during coverage of the Summer Games despite growing fears it could become a superspreader event as more athletes test positive for COVID-19.

The ongoing advertising plans of Canadian sponsors signals not just the sizable investment they’ve already committed to the Games, but the continued benefits of being linked to an event with strong viewership and consumer engagement that can evoke feelings of patriotism and pride, experts say.

While advertisers risk facing a potential backlash if there’s a serious outbreak, communications expert Andrew Simon said there’s a strong advantage to supporting Canadian athletes.

“Nothing changes the narrative like a success,” said Simon, global creative lead and chief creative officer for public relations firm Edelman Canada.

“The minute the first gold medal is won there will be a very different tone.”

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Cautious mood

Still, the mood heading into the first weekend of competition was sombre as rising infection rates risked eclipsing the world’s premier athletic competition.

Calls continued in Japan to cancel the Olympics, making advertising during the event an increasingly thorny proposition for companies.

Top corporate sponsors in Japan like Panasonic, NEC, Bridgestone, Fujitsu and Toyota have taken steps to distance themselves from the Tokyo Games, with some even scrapping all Olympic-themed television advertisements in the host country.

The unprecedented move underscores how contentious the postponed 2020 Olympics have become, with rising boardroom fears of being connected to the pandemic-era event and the potential impact on a brand’s reputation.

“What matters is that (brands) retain their reputation and that might mean walking away,” said marketing expert Markus Giesler. “Toyota recognized this and pulled their ads in Japan, and it came across as the responsible thing to do.”

Still, Canadian advertisers say they have no plans to skip the event.

Toyota Canada’s advertising campaign “has already been introduced nationally and will continue to be shown as planned with our media partners,” spokesman Michael Bouliane said in an email.

Corporate sponsors including Bell Canada and the Royal Bank of Canada also confirmed their advertising plans are moving ahead as planned.

The decision to continue advertising during an Olympics that has ignited public health concerns and garnered criticism around the world underlines the ongoing benefits of the global event for brands.

“There’s still tremendous value in the Olympics,” Simon said. “NBC has shown that their ad sales are more robust than ever. From a North American standpoint, it’s full-steam ahead.”

NBC Universal said last year it had sold more than $1.25 billion US in advertising for the Tokyo Olympics, a record-setting amount for the Games.

Ad dollars

CBC, the Canadian rights holder to the Tokyo Olympics, declined to disclose financial information regarding national advertising revenue for the event, saying only that the sales figures are “competitive information.”

But Canadian advertisers have likely committed enough money that they won’t walk away unless things get dire, Giesler said.

“The Olympics have been inscribed with values and morals that have taken on a near mythical status, and companies want to be associated with that,” he said. “They want those positive feelings of great competition and camaraderie reflected in their brand.”

But just because Canadian companies are rolling out their Olympic ads doesn’t mean they aren’t keeping close tabs on public sentiment.

“They will be constantly monitoring the public conversation around the Olympics and anything that could potentially bring harm to the brand,” Giesler said.

Indeed, if things go sideways, companies could face criticism for spending untold amounts on advertising when they could have helped with vaccine supplies and other measures to fight the pandemic, said Tandy Thomas, an associate professor at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business.

But despite the potential pitfalls, she said advertising that lauds the accomplishments of Canadian athletes continues to be a safe bet.

“The situation from every angle — from a health and safety perspective, from a marketing perspective — is fraught with peril,” Thomas said. “But those young athletes are doing their best in this very difficult situation and having some support from their home country and supporters is a good thing.”

She added: “Many people will argue the Olympics shouldn’t be happening. But supporting Canadian athletes is never something that will be viewed poorly.”


Wildfires are pushing up lumber prices — but not for why you might think

The price of lumber rose at its fastest pace in more than a year on Thursday, after timber companies warned that wildfires in Western Canada are hurting their business.

Rail lines owned by CN and CP were damaged by wildfires in B.C. last month, and that has caused their entire networks to face bottlenecks. (James MacDonald/Bloomberg)

The price of lumber rose at its fastest pace in more than a year on Thursday, after timber companies warned that wildfires in Western Canada are hurting their business.

The price of a lumber futures contract jumped by more than 10 per cent, triggering circuit breakers designed to halt trading. Late in the day on Thursday, a contract for 1,000 board-feet of lumber was going for $647 US, up by more than $60 from the previous day’s close.

Prices are spiking because lumber companies in B.C. and elsewhere are scaling back operations because of wildfires.

Vancouver-based Canfor said it will produce about 115 million fewer board-feet of product this quarter because wildfires have damaged the rail network on which it depends. CN lost the use of at least one rail bridge on its line into Vancouver, and CP is facing similar bottlenecks.

“Canadian rails will … face pressure from wildfires in British Columbia as volumes may take several more weeks to fully recover,” Bloomberg Intelligence railway analyst Adam Roszkowski said in a note to clients on Thursday.

That means it’s harder to move just about anything to market, so Canfor is going to take its foot off the gas.

Canfor’s anticipated production drop of 115 million board-feet of wood is less than 1 per cent of what the industry normally cranks out every quarter. But Bank of Montreal analyst Mark Wilde said he expects more companies will also have to reduce production in the next little while.

“We expect more announcements of reduced shifts/hours over the next two to three weeks,” he said in a note to clients Thursday.

Lumber boom

Like many industries, the lumber business slowed down at the start of the pandemic as workers were sent home and facilities idled. But demand for lumber unexpectedly exploded, mainly due to booming demand for home renovations.

At one point in May, the price of lumber hit an all-time high of more than $1,600 US per 1,000 board-feet or about five times what it was at the start of the pandemic. Builders reported that higher lumber prices were adding as much as $30,000 to the cost of constructing a standard home and lumber yards across the country were selling out.

WATCH | Why high lumber prices are going to make everything more expensive:

The pandemic has disrupted supply chains so much that the price of lumber has gone through the roof. 1:58

But things changed in a hurry. Those astronomical prices caused demand to crater once again, leading to inventory piling up at lumber yards as people shelved their do-it-yourself construction plans.

“People were holding off unless they really needed that wood right now, so there’s a bit of pent-up demand,” is how Kéta Kosman, publisher of Madison’s Lumber Reporter, described it in an interview with CBC News.

Big box retailers in the U.S. such as Home Depot have reported that demand for lumber is down by almost half since May.

“After a year of chasing inventory, the market is now struggling with bulging inventories at many mills in the U.S. and Canada,” Wilde said.

So a lack of supply pushed up prices in May, which led to a lack of demand from consumers in June. Now the pendulum is swinging back toward another perceived supply problem, Kosman said.

“When there’s fires like this, it creates a perception that there will be a shortage of supplies and there is a reaction,” she said. “When we have these big fluctuations over this year where the price is so sky high, I do think it’s possible that the correction down may have gone too far.”

After feverish demand a few months ago, lumber is starting to pile up as consumers balked at astronomical prices. (Robert Short/CBC)

Indeed, the correction was so swift that Wilde said a number of B.C. sawmills were likely recently selling lumber for less than the cost of production.

“At those levels, some B.C. mills may need a snorkel,” Wilde said of when the price dipped as low as $435 US. “It would be crazy to simply return all that cash to the market by overproducing during a weak market.”

Hurricanes playing a role, too

Kosman notes that wildfires aren’t the only way Mother Nature is impacting the lumber market. On top of the fires in western North America, violent storms in the East are looming, too.

“The fires in the West right now are a month earlier than we would normally have. And the storm season in the south and in the East Coast is two months earlier [than] would normally be,” she said. “So that’s a lot of potentially rebuilding and a lot of ordering of plywood first to board up the windows and then for reroofing.”


U.S. and Canada blame China for Microsoft Exchange hack earlier this year

The United States, Canada and other nations blamed China on Monday for a massive hack of the Microsoft Exchange email server software and accused Beijing of working with criminal hackers in ransomware attacks and other cyber operations.

Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping were all smiles in this file photo from when they met in 2013. President Biden now blames Chinese interests for a massive hack of the Microsoft Exchange server earlier this year. (Lintao Zhang/Reuters)

The United States, Canada, and numerous other nations formally blamed China on Monday for a massive hack of the Microsoft Exchange email server software and accused Beijing of working with criminal hackers in ransomware attacks and other cyber operations.

While they were not accompanied by sanctions against the Chinese government, the announcements were intended as a forceful condemnation of activities a senior Biden administration official described as forming part of a “pattern of irresponsible behaviour in cyberspace.”

The Government of Canada estimates that as many as 400,000 servers were compromised.

“This activity put several thousand Canadian entities at risk — a risk that persists in some cases even when patches from Microsoft have been applied,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement.

“Canada is confident that (China’s) Ministry of State Security is responsible for the widespread compromising of the exchange servers.”

The broad range of cyberthreats include ransomware attacks from government-affiliated hackers that have targeted victims with demands for millions of dollars. U.S officials allege that China’s Ministry of State Security has been using criminal contract hackers who have engaged in cyber extortion schemes and theft for their own profit, officials said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department on Monday announced charges against four Chinese nationals who prosecutors said were working with the Ministry of State Security in a hacking campaign that targeted dozens of computer systems, including companies, universities and government entities. The defendants are accused of stealing trade secrets and confidential business information.

Unlike in April, when public finger-pointing of Russian hacking was paired with a raft of sanctions against Moscow, the Biden administration did not announce any actions against Beijing.

Canada also declined to impose any sort of punitive action. But the U.S. has confronted Chinese officials behind the scenes in the hope that Monday’s public shaming sends an important message, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Monday.

The European Union and Britain also called out China. The EU said malicious cyber activities with “significant effects” that targeted government institutions, political organizations and key industries in the bloc’s 27 member states could be linked to Chinese hacking groups. The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre said the groups targeted maritime industries and naval defence contractors in the U.S. and Europe and the Finnish parliament.

WATCH | Canadians were likely hit by the massive Microsoft hack

The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is urging organizations to protect businesses that use the Microsoft Exchange server because of a massive hack aimed at stealing data. 3:27

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the hacking was “conducted from the territory of China for the purpose of intellectual property theft and espionage.”

The Microsoft Exchange cyberattack “by Chinese state-backed groups was a reckless but familiar pattern of behaviour,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

NATO, in its first public condemnation of China for hacking activities, called on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and obligations “and to act responsibly in the international system, including in cyberspace.” The alliance said it was determined to “actively deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats.”

That hackers affiliated with the Ministry of State Security were engaged in ransomware was surprising and concerning to the U.S. government, the senior administration official said. But the attack, in which an unidentified American company received a high-dollar ransom demand, also gave U.S. officials new insight into what the official said was “the kind of aggressive behaviour that we’re seeing coming out of China.”

The majority of the most damaging and high-profile recent ransomware attacks have involved Russian criminal gangs. Though the U.S. has sometimes seen connections between Russian intelligence agencies and individual hackers, the use of criminal contract hackers by the Chinese government “to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally is distinct,” the official said.

An advisory Monday from the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency laid out specific techniques and ways that government agencies and businesses can protect themselves.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return an email seeking comment Monday. But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has previously deflected blame for the Microsoft Exchange hack, saying that China “firmly opposes and combats cyber attacks and cyber theft in all forms” and cautioned that attribution of cyberattacks should be based on evidence and not “groundless accusations.”

Growing threat

Canada’s cybersecurity agency also released a report last Friday outlining some of the threats that foreign actors could pose during the next federal election, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to call in the next few weeks.

The Communications Security Establishment report specifically blamed the majority of online attacks and threats to democratic processes in Canada and other parts of the world since 2015 on China, Russia and Iran.

And while Canada may have good defences and may not be a major target now, the CSE said a growing number of actors have the tools, capacity and understanding of this country’s political landscape to take action in the future “should they have the strategic intent.”


Toyota scraps all Olympic-related TV ads in Japan amid COVID-19 outbreak

Toyota won’t be airing any Olympic-themed advertisements on Japanese television during the Tokyo Games despite being one of the IOC’s top corporate sponsors.

Among its many Olympic-themed initiatives, Toyota launched a fleet of taxi cabs that would ferry visitors around Tokyo. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

Toyota won’t be airing any Olympic-themed advertisements on Japanese television during the Tokyo Games, despite being one of the International Olympic Committee’s top corporate sponsors.

The extraordinary decision by the country’s top automaker underlines how polarizing the Games have become in Japan as COVID-19 infections rise ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.

“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood,” Toyota’s chief communications officer, Jun Nagata, told reporters Monday.

CEO Akio Toyoda, the company founder’s grandson, will be skipping the opening ceremony. That’s despite about 200 athletes taking part in the Olympics and Paralympics who are affiliated with Toyota, including swimmer Takeshi Kawamoto and softball player Miu Goto.

Nagata said the company will continue to support its athletes.

Pandemic of bad marketing

Being a corporate sponsor for the Olympics is usually all about using the Games as a platform to enhance the brand. But being linked with a pandemic-era Games may be viewed by some as a potential marketing problem.

Find live streams, must-watch video highlights, breaking news and more in one perfect Olympic Games package. Following Team Canada has never been easier or more exciting.

More from Tokyo 2020

Toyota Motor Corp. signed on as a worldwide Olympic sponsor in 2015, in an eight-year deal reportedly worth nearly $1 billion US, becoming the first car company to join the IOC’s top-tier marketing program.

The sponsorship, which started globally in 2017, runs through the 2024 Olympics, covering three consecutive Olympics in Asia, including the Tokyo Games.

The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by a year, are going ahead despite the Japanese capital being under a state of emergency.

IOC president Thomas Bach, right, and Toyota president Akio Toyoda are shown in 2015, when Toyota was more than happy to align its brand with the 2020 Olympic Games. (Reuters)

It’s already virtually a made-for-TV Olympics with most events, including the opening ceremony, going ahead without fans in the venues. Some dignitaries, such as IOC president Thomas Bach and Emperor Naruhito, are likely to attend.

We should never have gotten the Games– Japanese factory worker Motoyuki Niitsuma

Toyota is one of the most trusted brands in Japan. The maker of the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models prides itself on its quality controls, with its “just in time” super-efficient production methods praised and emulated around the world.

Public opinion surveys reflect widespread concern among Japanese people about having tens of thousands of Olympic participants enter the country during a pandemic.

Motoyuki Niitsuma, a manufacturing plant worker who was banging on a bucket in a recent Tokyo protest against the Olympics, said he didn’t like the idea of cheering for the national team, and the pandemic has made that message clear.

“The time to compete is over. Now is the time to co-operate,” he said. “We should never have gotten the Games.”


OPEC, allies raise limits for 5 countries to end oil dispute

OPEC and allied nations agreed Sunday to raise the production limits imposed on five countries next year and boost their production by two million barrels per day by the end of this year, ending a dispute that roiled oil markets.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies agreed on Sunday to raise production limits imposed on five countries next year. (Ramzi Boudina/Reuters)

OPEC and allied nations agreed Sunday to raise the production limits imposed on five countries next year and boost their production by two million barrels per day by the end of this year, ending a dispute that roiled oil markets.

The disagreement, sparked by a demand by the United Arab Emirates to increase its own production, temporarily upended an earlier meeting of the cartel. In a statement Sunday, the cartel announced that Iraq, Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE would see their limits rise.

“What bonds us together is way much beyond what you may imagine,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said. “We differ here and there but we bond.”

Prince Abdulaziz declined to elaborate on how they came to that consensus, saying it would see the cartel “lose our advantage of being mysterious and clever.” But he clearly bristled at earlier reports on the dispute between Saudi Arabia, long the heavyweight of the Vienna-based cartel, and the UAE.

Prince Abdulaziz deferred at the beginning of a news conference afterward to UAE Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei  in a sign of respect.

“The UAE is committed to this group and will always work with it and within this group to do our best to achieve the market balance and help everyone,” al-Mazrouei said. He praised the deal as a “full agreement” among all the parties.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman refused to answer questions on how the deal was reached. (Saudi Press Agency/Reuters)

Outside of OPEC, however, tensions still remain between the neighboring nations. The UAE largely has withdrawn from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, while also diplomatically recognizing Israel. Saudi Arabia also has opened its doors to Qatar again after a yearslong boycott, though relations remain icy between Abu Dhabi and Doha. Saudi Arabia also has aggressively sought international business headquarters — something that could affect the UAE’s business hub Dubai.

Abu Dhabi’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the country’s de facto ruler, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been close though over the years. The two leaders likely will meet Monday in Saudi Arabia.

New production limits

Under the new production limits, the UAE would be able to produce up to 3.5 million barrels of crude oil a day beginning in May 2022. That’s below the 3.8 million barrels a day it reportedly sought. Saudi Arabia’s limit of 11 million barrels a day would rise to 11.5 million, as would Russia’s. Iraq and Kuwait saw smaller increases.

In its statement, OPEC acknowledged oil prices continued to improve.

“Economic recovery continued in most parts of the world with the help of accelerating vaccination programs,” the cartel said.

Prince Abdulaziz also mentioned OPEC members Algeria and Nigeria had raised concerns about their production limits as well.

Oil prices collapsed amid the coronavirus pandemic as demand for jet fuel and gasoline dropped amid lockdowns across the globe, briefly seeing oil futures trade in the negatives. Demand since has rebounded as vaccines, while still distributed unequally across the globe, reach arms in major world economies.

Benchmark Brent crude oil traded around $73 a barrel Friday.

Once muscular enough to grind the U.S. to a halt with its 1970s oil embargo, OPEC needed non-members like Russia to push through a production cut in 2016 after prices crashed below $30 a barrel amid rising American production. That agreement in 2016 gave birth to the so-called OPEC+, which joined the cartel in cutting production to help stimulate prices.

OPEC+ agreed in 2020 to cut a record 10 million barrels of crude a day from the market to boost prices. It’s slowly added some 4.2 million barrels back over time.

Beginning this August, the cartel said it separately will increase its production by 400,000 barrels a day each month through December — a total of 2 million barrels. The cartel then will assess plans on whether to phase out its current 5.8 million barrel of oil production cut by the end of 2022 as planned by the initial agreement.

OPEC member nations include Algeria, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Venezuela. Members of the so-called OPEC+ include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, Sudan and South Sudan.

Prince Abdulaziz, in praising Sunday’s agreement, offered a cheery assessment of the future despite the recent turmoil, suggesting at one point the enlarged group might last beyond the expiration of the cuts next year.

“OPEC+ is here to stay,” the prince proclaimed.


To reach a peace deal, Taliban say Afghan president must go

The Taliban say they don’t want to monopolize power, but they insist there won’t be peace in Afghanistan until there is a new negotiated government in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is removed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group’s negotiating team, laid out the insurgents’ stance on what should come next in a country on the precipice.

The Taliban have swiftly captured territory in recent weeks, seized strategic border crossings and are threatening a number of provincial capitals, as the last U.S. and NATO soldiers leave Afghanistan. This week, the top U.S. military officer, Gen. Mark Milley, told a Pentagon press conference that the Taliban have “strategic momentum,” and he did not rule out a complete Taliban takeover. But he said it is not inevitable. “I don’t think the end game is yet written,” he said.

Memories of the Taliban’s last time in power some 20 years ago, when they enforced a harsh brand of Islam that denied girls an education and barred women from work, have stoked fears of their return among many. Afghans who can afford it are applying by the thousands for visas to leave Afghanistan, fearing a violent descent into chaos. The U.S.-NATO withdrawal is more than 95% complete and due to be finished by Aug. 31.

Shaheen said the Taliban will lay down their weapons when a negotiated government acceptable to all sides in the conflict is installed in Kabul and Ghani’s government is gone.

“I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power because any governments who (sought) to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past, were not successful governments,” said Shaheen, apparently including the Taliban’s own five-year rule in that assessment. “So we do not want to repeat that same formula.”

But he was also uncompromising on the continued rule of Ghani, calling him a war monger and accusing him of using his Tuesday speech on the Islamic holy day of Eid-al-Adha to promise an offensive against the Taliban. Shaheen dismissed Ghani’s right to govern, resurrecting allegations of widespread fraud that surrounded Ghani’s 2019 election win. After that vote, both Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah declared themselves president. After a compromise deal, Abdullah is now No. 2 in the government and heads the reconciliation council.

Ghani has often said he will remain in office until new elections can determine the next government. His critics — including ones outside the Taliban — accuse him of seeking only to keep power, causing splits among government supporters.

Last weekend, Abdullah headed a high-level delegation to the Qatari capital Doha for talks with Taliban leaders. It ended with promises of more talks, as well as greater attention to the protection of civilians and infrastructure.

Shaheen called the talks a good beginning. But he said the government’s repeated demands for a ceasefire while Ghani stayed in power were tantamount to demanding a Taliban surrender.

“They don’t want reconciliation, but they want surrendering,” he said.

Before any ceasefire, there must be an agreement on a new government “acceptable to us and to other Afghans,” he said. Then “there will be no war.”

Shaheen said under this new government, women will be allowed to work, go to school, and participate in politics, but will have to wear the hijab, or headscarf. He said women won’t be required to have a male relative with them to leave their home, and that Taliban commanders in newly occupied districts have orders that universities, schools and markets operate as before, including with the participation of women and girls.

However, there have been repeated reports from captured districts of Taliban imposing harsh restrictions on women, even setting fire to schools. One gruesome video that emerged appeared to show Taliban killing captured commandos in northern Afghanistan.

Shaheen said some Taliban commanders had ignored the leadership’s orders against repressive and drastic behavior and that several have been put before a Taliban military tribunal and punished, though he did provide specifics. He contended the video was fake, a splicing of separate footage.

Shaheen said there are no plans to make a military push on Kabul and that the Taliban have so far “restrained” themselves from taking provincial capitals. But he warned they could, given the weapons and equipment they have acquired in newly captured districts. He contended that the majority of the Taliban’s battlefield successes came through negotiations, not fighting.

“Those districts which have fallen to us and the military forces who have joined us … were through mediation of the people, through talks,” he said. “They (did not fall) through fighting … it would have been very hard for us to take 194 districts in just eight weeks.”

The Taliban control about half of Afghanistan’s 419 district centers, and while they have yet to capture any of the 34 provincial capitals, they are pressuring about half of them, Milley said. In recent days, the U.S. has carried out airstrikes in support of beleaguered Afghan government troops in the southern city of Kandahar, around which the Taliban have been amassing, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday.

The rapid fall of districts and the seemingly disheartened response by Afghan government forces have prompted U.S.-allied warlords to resurrect militias with a violent history. For many Afghans weary of more than four decades of war, that raises fears of a repeat of the brutal civil war in the early 1990s in which those same warlords battled for power.

“You know, no one no one wants a civil war, including me,” said Shaheen.

Shaheen also repeated Taliban promises aimed at reassuring Afghans who fear the group.

Washington has promised to relocate thousands of U.S. military interpreters. Shaheen said they had nothing to fear from the Taliban and denied threatening them. But, he added, if some want to take asylum in the West because Afghanistan’s economy is so poor, “that is up to them.”

He also denied that the Taliban have threatened journalists and Afghanistan’s nascent civil society, which has been targeted by dozens of killings over the past year. The Islamic State group has taken responsibility for some, but the Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for most of the killings while the Taliban in turn accuse the Afghan government of carrying out the killings to defame them. Rarely has the government made arrests into the killings or revealed the findings of its investigations.

Shaheen said journalists, including those working for Western media outlets, have nothing to fear from a government that includes the Taliban.

“We have not issued letters to journalists (threatening them), especially to those who are working for foreign media outlets. They can continue their work even in the future,” he said.

rawhide traded-at-lower-prices-than-govt’s-fixed-rate

Rawhide traded at lower prices than govt’s fixed rate

Rawhide is being traded at lower prices than the government’s fixed rate.

The government earlier fixed prices of salt-applied rawhide of cows at Tk 40-45 per square foot in Dhaka and Tk 33-37 outside Dhaka to ensure fair prices and avoid the recurrence of last year’s situation when many threw away rawhide failing to recover even their cost.

Traders and other people, who took part in Eid-ul-Azha, said prices were very low this year too.

Many people gave away the rawhide while many did not bother to take care of the raw material for leather and leather goods, which brings in nearly a billion-dollar from export.

Ala Uddin, a seasonal leather trader, said that he bought rawhide at a high price after seeing in the newspapers that the price of leather was good this year.

But, he had to sell goat hide at Tk 10 to Tk 15 per piece after purchasing them at Tk 30 to Tk 40.

Aminul Islam, a seasonal trader in Naldanga upazila of Natore, one of the biggest markets for rawhide, said he bought goatskin at Tk 20 per piece and cowhide at Tk 200 to Tk 300 per piece and had to sell the goatskin at half the prices that he bought.

Aminul, however, got higher prices for cowhide at Tk 400 to Tk 500 per piece. But these are supposed to be sold at a price of at least Tk 1,200 to Tk 2,000 at the government fixed price, he said.

Shariful Islam Sharif, president of the Natore Leather Traders’ Association, said they were buying leather at a price set by the government.

But the tannery owners are not able to buy leather properly as they have not paid the arrears.

In Dhaka, prices of rawhide have also been low.

Sabbir Ahmed, a sessional hide trader in the city’s Uttara area, said he bought rawhide at Tk 200 to Tk 300 depending on size and quality.

Robiul Alam, secretary general of Dhaka District Hide Merchants Association, said prices of hides are higher this year than the previous year.

But this year, goatskins were damaged in many places, he added.

Md Aftab Uddin, president of Bangladesh Hide and Skin Merchants Association, said they bought rawhide at government fixed rates until Wednesday evening in Lalbagh area of Dhaka.

But many traders brought the rawhide late. As a result, the quality of skin deteriorated and some had to take back the skins after failing to sell them, he said.

Aftab also said hides were damaged in Chattogram and Sylhet this year.

Over the last two seasons, many people have either thrown away or buried rawhide in many areas of the country because of low prices or nominal prices from the seasonal traders.


Incurring loss, cattle traders leaving Dhaka with animals

Mohammad Azgar Ali was excited when he came to Dhupkhola cattle market in Dhaka with his 16 bulls — hoping to make good profit like last year. But that excitement dissipated as he had to incur loss when selling most of the animals and some remain unsold.

“I’ve faced a loss of Tk 3 lakh already, selling 11 bulls. So I’m taking back the rest of my bulls home,” said Azgar, who came to Dhaka from Jhenaidah.

“I will face Tk 10,000 loss for each as I take them back. But if I would sell them here, I would face Tk 50,000 to 60,000 loss for each bull,” said Azgar who was preparing to take his bulls back on a truck around 8:00 am today.

Azgar said several dozen trucks carrying bulls left the market and the picture is same at every cattle market in Dhaka. He added that they purchased additional bulls this year, thinking that there will be a shortage of sacrificial animals in Bangladesh but they were wrong. The number of the animals were higher compared to customers.

Ismail Hossain, who was preparing to take his four bulls back from the cattle market, said, “I asked for Tk 14 lakh for my large bull, weighing around 22 maunds, but at the end I was ready to sell it for Tk 4.5 lakh. Even then, it remained unsold.”

However, Ismail decided to sell these animals to meat traders at reasonable prices.

Saiful Islam, another cattle trader at Dhupkhola who brought 15 bulls, could not sell five of them and faced Tk 5 lakh loss, selling 10.

Many are not sacrificing animals this year or are sharing with others due to the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent fallout, according to traders.

Mohammad Sohel, a businessman and a resident of Gandaria who used to sacrifice a cow every year, could not afford to buy an animal this year as his income took a hit.

According to statistics of the Department of Livestock Services, about 1.19 crore cattle are reared each year on average for sacrifice during Eid-ul-Azha. Last year, over 1.1 crore animals were sacrificed during the religious festival across the country.


Farmers in a remote village selling cattle online

For decades, traditional haats had been the main place for Bangladesh’s farmers and traders for selling bulls ahead of Eid-ul-Ahza, one of the biggest festivals for Muslims when demand for sacrificial animals surges.

That dependence has begun to reduce as digital devices and internet networks offer a window to digital marketplaces.

Nationally, online markets for cattle have mushroomed over the last couple of years to offer a respite to urban buyers from the hassle of visiting crowded cattle haats to buy sacrificial animals for Eid.

Now, farmers have come up.

In a remote village named Haropara of northwest district Pabna, livestock farmers and traders are selling their reared cattle through online platforms in order to avoid the hassle of visiting haats or bazars in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and its spread.

Md Ashraful Alam, a small cattle farmer of the village under Pabna, one of the biggest dairy and livestock farming districts, is one of them.

He sold all three bulls he reared through an online platform maintained by one of his peers. They took photos and recorded videos of the bulls and posted those on YouTube and Facebook for sale.

It worked.

“It provides a lot of relief from hassles. I do not need to count extra costs for transporting cattle from one haat to another,” he said.

Alam is one of over 150 livestock farmers who have sold their bulls online. Until midday yesterday, they could sell nearly 3,500 bulls out of 4,000 online.

The sales figure is insignificant when it comes to total sales of cattle nationally through haats and also through online marketplace developed and operated under the government patronage to enable people to buy animals by avoiding physical contacts and prevent spread of the contagious virus.

Until yesterday, roughly 3.50 lakh cattle were sold through online platforms at Tk 2,424 crore through the online markets tracked by the Department of Livestock Services (DLS).

Farmers of Haropara village of Pabna expected that the rest of the 500 bulls will be sold online before the Eid.

Md Shahabul Islam, a cattle trader in Pabna’s Haropara, said he used to sell cattle in local haats a few years ago and often did not get the expected profits due to the hassles of cattle market.

Now, he is free of tension.

“I often buy cows from local farmers and outside of the village a month before Eid-ul-Azha and go for nourishing the animal. Then I take photos and videos of the animal and upload it onto Facebook and YouTube under the name of my cattle farm, ABC Farm, including my cellphone numbers,” Sahabul said.

“If the buyers like an animal they see, they contact me. If I get the expected price then I give my word on the sale. Buyers, however, send us money through banks and then I send the animal to the desired address on a vehicle,” he added.

“If anybody wants to keep the cattle in my farm, then we take an extra charge of Tk 3,000 for maintenance per month,” he said.

Sahabul has nine bulls in his farm. He, however, bought 10 more last week and sold at least 15 till Friday.

Md Abdul Kader, who started selling cattle of his farm online since 2017, said he has sold almost 2,000 bulls online from this village.

“Now we are expecting to sell more this year as many people are dependent on online markets owing to the alarming Covid situation,” he said.

Kader has 117 fattened cattle. Of them, he sold 110 till Friday. He said big cattle traders and industrialists were the key buyers of online markets.

Once the animals are sold, these are transported to the place opted for by buyers on trucks.

“Big traders or their representatives are coming to our village after viewing the animals at our online platform and complete deals through electronic transactions,” he said.

Md Johurul Islam, acting livestock officer of Vangura upazila in Pabna, said cattle farmers and traders of Haropara village have set an example of digital marketing.

“Due to the alarming spread of coronavirus, we always request everybody to operate cattle markets following health guidelines but nobody does. We have encouraged cattle farmers to sell on online platforms. Farmers of Haropara village have set an example through their own initiatives,” he said.   


Stock index crosses 6,400 points for the first time

Dhaka stocks rose for a fourth consecutive day yesterday with the benchmark DSEX crossing the 6,400-point mark for the first time, bringing cheer to investors just before a five-day Eid holiday beginning today.

The prime index DSEX of Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) went up 39 points, or 0.62 per cent, to 6,405.04.

The DSEX was hovering around 6,000 points for more than one and a half months and finally it hit a new high on Sunday.

Participation of both individual and institutional investors has increased, said a stock broker.

But risks remain in the market as many stocks having subpar performance records rose abnormally in recent times, he said, adding that insurance stocks also jumped manifold.

So investors should be careful when making their investments because if they invest into stocks with good performance records they have no reason to be worried about, added the broker.

Turnover, another important indicator of the market, however, dropped 29 per cent to Tk 1,264 crore which was Tk 1,793 crore a day earlier.

As investors are travelling back to their homes in other districts to celebrate Eid, their participation was low, said Brac EPL Stock Brokerage Manager Md Rasel.

On the other hand, trade of Beximco’s shares was suspended for the day as it was the date for recording names of the shareholders who are entitled to get its sukuk.

So trade of the company’s shares, which remained at the top of the trading list for many days, was suspended, he said.

He hoped for the turnover to go higher after the Eid vacation.

At the DSE, 159 stocks advanced, 179 declined and 34 remained unchanged.

Investors are really happy now as the index is in a rising trend and they are getting profits, said stock investor Abdul Haque.

“We fear that if institutional investors leave the market suddenly, we will be impacted,” he said, reminding that banks had left the market suddenly in 2010, intensifying the market crash.

If the market can run on its own rhythm, there will be no reason for tension, he hoped.

Along with the index, the DSE’s market capitalisation also reached a historical high yesterday to Tk 535,185 crore.

Baraka Patenga Power topped the gainers’ list, rising 10 per cent, followed by Global Insurance, Beacon Pharmaceuticals, Central Insurance and Islami Insurance.

Stock of SAIF Powertec were traded the most, worth Tk 28 crore, followed by British American Tobacco Bangladesh, Fu-Wang Ceramic Industries, Power Grid Company and Beacon Pharmaceuticals.

Pioneer Insurance shed the most, falling 7.72 per cent, followed by Prime Finance First Mutual Fund, Zaheen Spinning Mills, Miracle Industries and Shinepukur Ceramics.

The port city bourse also rose yesterday. The CASPI, the general index of Chittagong Stock Exchange, advanced 190 points, or 1.03 per cent, to 18,569.

Among 313 stocks to witness trade, 138 advanced, 148 dropped and 27 remained unchanged.