Economist 1/3/16

  1. Sales of art online reached €3.3 billion ($3.6 billion) in 2014, about 6% of all worldwide sales, according to the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF).Influential investors agree. Peter Thiel and Jack Dorsey, the respective founders of PayPal and Twitter, are among the backers of a startup called Artsy. It has an extensive online art catalogue and last year it launched a platform for online auctions. Top gallerists such as David Zwirner of New York and Jay Jopling of London are backing Paddle8, another online auctioneer, which says its sales doubled last year. Auctionata, yet another, reports even faster growth.The main effect is to open up the cliquish art world. Any collector who has provided credit-card details in advance can bid in an online Sotheby’s or Christie’s sale.Though online auctions can lure new collectors, they are not yet stealing much business from conventional art firms.
  2. Syngenta, a Swiss maker of seeds and agrichemicals announced it has approved an offer from China National Chemical Corp, or ChemChina, an acquisitive state-owned enterprise, to buy the company. The deal, valuing Syngenta at SFr44 billion ($43 billion), counts as the biggest foreign acquisition yet by a mainland company. Syngenta had rebuffed Monsanto partly because a tie-up would face close antitrust scrutiny. The sale to ChemChina, with its much smaller agricultural business, stands a far greater chance of being approved—especially in China, where the authorities are keen to bolster food security. President Xi Jinping has declared research in GM technologies a national priority.
  3. THE EUROPEAN Union and America have reached a deal on data  protection. The “EU-US Privacy Shield” allows companies to store Europeans’ personal data on American computers. This ends a three-month hiatus since the European Court of Justice struck down the previous agreement, “Safe Harbour”, on the grounds that it gave insufficient protection against snooping by American spy agencies.The new deal involves some more compromises. America will establish a data ombudsman. Europeans will have access to judicial redress. And the deal will be reviewed every year.European privacy activists are derisive about the new arrangement. They do not believe that an American government agency which operates in secret can be trusted to obey any rules. What is the point in Europeans having judicial redress when they will not know if their data has been spied on? It is likely that the new deal will be tested in the European Court of Justice.
  4. Jordan is home to 635,000 registered Syrian refugees, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and long-term Palestinian residents, many of whom are keen to head to Europe.Jordan’s King Abdullah has so far managed to ward off disaster through a combination of skill and good fortune.Abroad, he has managed to keep friends in a divided region. He has resisted pressure from Saudi Arabia, his bulky neighbour and regular grant-giver, which wanted Jordan to let weapons flow across its border to Syria. Instead, he is trying to create a sort of buffer zone to stop the refugee flow from southern Syria by quietly arming some of the rebels there.He manages to have relations with Iran, Saudi’s nemesis, too.At home, Jordan has gained from a fear that set in across the region as countries fell apart.This uneasy peace will not be easy to keep. The king is warning that his country is at “boiling point”. Jordan is refusing to take any more refugees unless foreign donors, gathering in London on February 4th, give more. Angst towards (and despair among) refugees is growing.
  5. Improving the economy would ease Jordanians’ gripes. The regional crises have, unsurprisingly, deterred tourists and investors. Only half the number of people visit Petra today as in 2010. The economy depends on charity from the Gulf rather than what it produces itself: unemployment is around 30%. The debt-to-GDP ratio reached 91% last year from 67% in 2010. As prices go up, people are feeling the pinch.Jordan’s biggest worry is an attack by IS or its sympathisers.Youngsters, who are a majority of the country’s people, are almost absent from politics.

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