Current Affairs summary 5 Sept

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1. India wins key concession on services at RCEP Singapore Ministerial

• Members of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal have conceded to India’s demand to liberalize their services market and allow movement of skilled professionals. This may help India, which had so far been a reluctant participant, to conclude RCEP negotiations by the year-end.

• India believes strong commitments in services by RCEP countries will open up opportunities for its burgeoning skilled professionals seeking gainful employment.

• At the two-day Singapore Ministerial, which concluded on Friday, the 16-member grouping adopted a “package of year-end deliverables”, negotiations for which need to be completed by November. RCEP negotiations are on since 2013.

• With general elections due in India and Indonesia next year, countries are seeking to conclude substantial negotiations. However, Indian officials believe the deal cannot be signed before the end of 2019.

• There may be another two rounds of Ministerial meetings before the heads of states meet at the RCEP Summit in November. The trade ministers have directed negotiators to intensify negotiations during their meeting in Auckland between 17 and 24 October.

• Members also agreed that countries, which do not have trade agreements, can negotiate bilaterally to decide more ambitious tariff liberalization within a certain range. India is also likely to phase out tariffs on certain sensitive items with China beyond 20 years. This will allow India to allay concerns of domestic industries such as steel and textiles, which fear that China will start dumping goods once RCEP takes effect.

• India had set up an informal group of ministers (GoM) under Prabhu, with growing opposition to the RCEP deal from within and outside the government.

• RCEP is a proposed trade pact between 10 Asean countries and their six FTA partners–Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand. It comprises 25% of global GDP, 30% of global trade, 26% of foreign direct investment flows and 45% of the population.


2. Technology Initiatives for Coffee Stakeholders

• Minister for Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation, Suresh Prabhu today launched Coffee Connect – India coffee field force app and Coffee Krishi Tharanga – digital mobile extension services for coffee stakeholders at a function here today.

• The mobile app Coffee Connect has been developed to ease the work of field functionaries and to improve the work efficiency. This application provides solution by harnessing the power of mobility comprising the latest technology in easing the whole process of the field activities like digitization of Coffee Growers & Estates with Geo Tagging, collecting the Plantation details.

• It will also help in transparency in the activities of the extension officers and officials, transparency in subsidy disbursement and real time report generation.

• The Coffee Krishi Tharanga services are aimed at providing customized information and services to increase productivity, profitability, and environmental sustainability. The customized services are two ways, 24 X 7 service supports.

• The “Coffee KrishiTharanga” is pilot tested in the Chikmagalur and Hassan districts of Karnataka State covering 30,000 farmers during the first year and will be extended to remaining growers in a phased manner.

• NABARD has partly funded the Pilot project. The solution will help in to reach maximum growers in limited period, efficient, timely, customized advisory, improve the efficiency through digitization and leverage existing mobile reach for wider delivery of improved technology.

• Suresh Prabhu also launched pilot projects on data analytics, artificial intelligence, IOTS and blockchain& smart contract Coffee Board has also identified technological solutions to address some of the perennial coffee production and coffee farming issues and challenges such as rainfall, pests and diseases.

• Coffee Board in collaboration with EKA Analytics, a global leader in the data analytics and artificial intelligence has developed the hyper local weather forecast, pest (white stem borer) identification and leaf rust disease forecast applications for pilot testing.

• Coffee is cultivated in India in about 4.54 lakh hectares by 3.66 lakh coffee farmers and 98% of them are small farmers. Its cultivation is mainly confined to Karnataka (54%), Kerala (19%) and Tamil Nadu (8%) which form traditional coffee tracts. Coffee is also grown in non-traditional areas like Andhra Pradesh & Odisha (17.2%) and North Eastern states (1.8%), with main emphasis on tribal development and afforestation.

• In line with the digital transformation initiatives of the Government of India, Coffee Board has taken key digital initiatives for the overall technological advancement of the coffee sector and value chain. These initiatives are aimed at benefiting all stakeholders in the coffee value chain. All these initiatives are intended towards unlocking the potential in coffee sector by leveraging the technology and reach such as mobile. The farmers being the end user the technologies have been built on certain critical principles like ease of use, wider participation, maximize reach and benefit.


3. Japan to test mini space elevator

• A Japanese team has developed a ‘space elevator’ and will conduct a first trial this month, blasting off a miniature version on satellites to test the technology.

• The test equipment, produced by researchers at Shizuoka University, will hitch a ride on an H-2B rocket being launched by Japan’s space agency from southern island of Tenegashima next week.

• The test involves a miniature elevator stand-in – a box just 6 cm long, 3 cm wide, and 3 cm high.

• It all goes well, it will provide proof of concept by moving along a 10-metre cable suspended in space between two mini satellites that will keep it taut.

• The mini-elevator will travel along the cable from a container in one of the satellites. Its going to be the world’s first experiment to test elevator movement in space.

• The movement of the motorized ‘elevator’ box will be monitored with cameras in the satellites.

• It is still a far cry from the ultimate beam-me-up goals of the project, which builds on a long history of ‘space elevator’ dreams.

• The idea was first proposed in 1895 by Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky after he saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and was revisited nearly a century later in a novel by Arthur C. Clarke.

• But technical barriers have always kept plans stuck at the conceptual stage.

• Japanese construction firm Obayashi, which is collaborating with the Shizuoka university project, is also exploring other ways to build its own space elevator to put tourists in space in 2050.

• The company has said it could use carbon nanotube technology, which is more than 20 times stronger than steel, to build a lift shaft about 96,000 km above the earth.


4. Bill suggests armed force for protection of Ganga, punitive measures for polluters

• The draft Bill for protection of the Ganga has suggested provisions like having an armed force with the power to arrest those who pollute the river, and imprisonment and fine for offences varying from commercial fishing to construction of illegal structures in active flood plains.

• The draft bill, which has been circulated to different ministries for construction, envisages constitution of National Ganga Council and a National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority to enforce the law.

• The Bill also lays down provisions of imprisonment of 2-5 years for offences like commercial fishing, polluting the river and construction of illegal structures in active flood plains.

• The official added the Armed Ganga Protection Corps (GPC) personnel will have power to arrest those who pollute the river covering offences like obstructing the flow of the river to commercial fishing.

• According to the draft bill, the GPC personnel will be provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs and will be deployed by the National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority.

• The draft says the existing environmental laws are not adequate to restore and protect the 2,500 km long river.

• The Bill has listed out a list of offences marked as cognizable. These include construction activities causing obstruction in the river, withdrawal of ground water for industrial or commercial consumption from the land fronting the river and its tributaries; commercial fishing or aqua culture in the river and its tributaries; discharge untreated or treated sewage into the river.

• In 2016, a panel headed by retired judge of the Allahabad High Court, Justice Girdhar Malviya, had submitted a draft Bill named ‘The National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill, 2017’.

• Subsequently, a four-member panel was set up by the government to examine that and the ministry has circulated a Cabinet note which includes a revised version of that draft Bill.


5. AI changing jobs but no mass unemployment expected: UN labour experts

• Rise of frontier technologies like Artificial Intelligence has caused fears of robots taking over blue-collar jobs, but a UN expert says mass unemployment is not expected as humans still have the upper hand given their creative abilities.

• Ekkehard Ernst, Chief of Macro-economic policies and job unit at the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), says the manufacturing sector does not stand to profit most from AI, at least not in developed countries, and will not suffer the forecast demise.

• The jobs more likely to be impacted are in service sectors such as construction, health care and business.

• The type of tasks that are being replaced by AI algorithms are routine, repetitive tasks that take a lot of time and can be more easily and more effectively performed by machines and by robots – leaving people to focus on interpersonal, social, emotional skills.

• In developing countries, the area which most stands to benefit is agriculture, Ernst said. AI is already helping farmers figure out the weather or get the latest market prices. In sub-Saharan Africa, a mobile app created in part with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) can identify crop pests such as the Fall Armyworm.

• Technological progress depends on whether consumers and firms ask for products and serves made possible by new technologies, Ernst said, adding that it means in part on whether workers have the right skills to implement the changes, and whether consumers want them.

• An example of a changing consumer taste is online buying. Ernst predicts that while there might be fewer brick and mortar stores, they will reinvent themselves, adding services to improve the customer experience and not disappear.

• Historically, technological advances have created new products and markets. At the turn of the 20th century, automobiles put horse transport out of work, but created many more jobs for manufacturing and servicing of cars. More recently, mobile phone app developers became an actual job, with the creation of the smart phone which did not even exist before the 1990s.

• The latest study on AI from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) anticipates the technology to have “profound impact” on labour markets and inequalities, but the path is not pre-ordained and can be shaped by policies at the local, national and global levels. He noted that humans may well be more productive and cheaper than machines.

• In addition to cheap human labour, the report also pointed to a lack of required skills, poor energy infrastructure and broadband, and transport network, as to why automation is not used on a global scale.

• There are also legal and regulatory issues. For AI to be deployed on a large scale in healthcare, for example, it must be decided whether the doctor or the AI will be responsible for claims of medical malpractice.

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