Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Business Quick Take

AGENCIES

■ Automobiles

Suzuki plans US campaign

Japanese carmaker Suzuki Motor aims to triple its vehicle sales in the US within about two years by boosting dealerships and product line-ups to woo customers, an official said yesterday. Suzuki aims to lift annual US sales to about 200,000 vehicles in 2005, compared with slightly below 70,000 estimated for this year, the official said. In order to achieve the sales goal, the company will boost the number of dealerships by some 30 percent to 600 by the end of next year, he said. Suzuki incurred an operating loss of ?3.5 billion (US$33 million) in its North American business in the six months to September with large sales to corporate customers yielding only slim profit margins.

■ Trade

China drops steel tariffs

China has lifted its steel import tariffs, responding to a US decision earlier this month to drop tariffs on steel imports, a news report said yesterday. "In view of the latest developments in the steel trade, the Ministry of Commerce has decided to terminate its safeguard steps starting Dec. 26," the ministry said in a statement, according to the official news agency Xinhua. China, the world's largest steel importer, slapped tariffs of up to 26 percent on five steel products in November last year. The move followed a decision by the US to impose tariffs of up to 30 percent on steel imports in March last year, which violated international trade law, according to a WTO ruling last month. The US dropped the safeguards after the WTO decision.

■ Toys

FAO Schwarz sells assets

Bankrupt US toy retailer FAO said Friday it had signed a deal to sell its assets to an investment group, which averts a shutdown of its famed FAO Schwarz store on New York's Fifth Avenue. The company said the sale, for about US$20 million, to VGACS Acquisition, a subsidiary of DE Shaw Laminar Portfolios, was subject to approval of the supervising bankruptcy court. Under the deal, the investment group, backed by financier David Shaw, would acquire FAO's New York and Las Vegas store leases, as well as its catalog and Internet assets. But FAO Inc was to sell the remaining inventory in these stores before temporary closings after which they would be turned over to the new owners for re-opening next year. FAO, which is based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, said it would ask the court to approve the deal or accept a better bid by Jan. 22.

■ Internet

Hermit Kingdom goes online

A Berlin entrepreneur said Friday that he had signed a deal with North Korean officials to bring Internet access to the country beginning in mid-February, a date chosen to coincide with leader Kim Jong-Il's birthday. Jan Holtermann, a former banker and one-time employee of the North Korean embassy in Berlin, told reporters that the project would involve the use of filtering software similar to that in place in Chinese and Cuban networks. "We started from the assumption that the North Korean government would be very selective in granting access to the Internet," he said. A select group of handpicked users will be allowed to send e-mail, and only a few will be able to view information on the web. Holtermann said that the company he founded for the project, KCC Europe, had signed a contract on Jan. 17 after negotiating with North Korean officials.

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