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Czech Watch - 13 March 2001

13.3.2001 11:46

Prices of industrial producers, construction work and market services grew by 0.9%, 0.5% and 1.8%, respectively, while those of agricultural producers decreased by 1.2% (all month-on-month). On a year-on-year basis, February prices of industrial producers were higher by 4.7%, of construction work by 4.9%, of market services by 5.3%, and of agricultural producers by 10.6%. Unexpectedly high jump in industrial prices was caused partly by dear oil. Oil prices rose over the 30 USD/barrel level at the beginning of February. However, the weight of the refinery industry is not so high to explain such a high increase in industrial prices. It is evident that prices in other branches were also hit by very strong increase. We can ascribe this development to absorbing supply shocks that occurred in 2000 (escalation of oil and natural gas prices). Usually firms include an increase of input prices in January. This year, it came partly in February.

January year-on-year industrial production index was 13.8% up before and 11.5% after working days adjustment. Labor productivity increased by 18.1%, while wages grew by 12.4%. The main force pushing industrial pruction figures up is an impressive performance of motor vehicles production (36.4%, y-o-y) and electric and optical machines (50.2%, y-o-y). The increase of production of these industries is enabled mainly by foreign demand.

Despite the CSSD promise to submit a new pension reform plan within a month, in order to prolong the opposition agreement with ODS, Labor Minister Vladimir Spidla (designated successor of Milos Zeman at the helm of the CSSD) confirmed his intention to run the future pension scheme based on the pay-as-you-go basis. Without a profound pension reform, Czech public finance are threatened to accumulate exploding deficit during the next three decades.

A team of economists brought together by Konsolidacni banka and in cooperation with the World Bank drafted another important amendment to the Czech Bankruptcy Act. The amendment should be discussed in the Parliament within next few weeks. The goal of the proposed amendment is to further strengthen position of creditors and accelerate the transition of failed enterprises into hands of new owners. According to deputies from various political parties, the amendment has solid chances to be passed.

All air travelers arriving from the EU area have been obliged to disinfect their shoes as they disembark since yesterday. Within days, also cars and persons coming entering from Austria, Germany, and Poland will be subject to disinfecting. A high-ranking health official said that if foot-and-mouth disease spreads to the CR, it would be a rather severe blow for the already seriously troubled farm industry in the country.

Jan Kavan, the Czech Foreign Minister, met with U.S. Chargé d´affaires Steven Coffey in order to discuss U.N. resolution proposed by the CR and criticizing both human-rights violations at Cuba and economic sanctions implemented by the U.S.

Czech Foreign Ministry argues that the resolution is well in line with the EU attitude towards Cuba, but there is little doubt that inclusion of the „sanction“ clause into the resolution spoils otherwise idyllic Czech - American diplomatic relations.

(David Marek)

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