S Korea's economy shrinks
South Korea's economy shrank for the first time in two years and the central bank said the spread of SARS in Asia may cause a second quarter of contra-ction. GDP fell a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months, as consumer spending slumped, curbing sales for companies such as Kia Motors Corp, the Bank of Korea said. That compares with the fourth quarter's 2 percent growth. The reversal in an economy that grew 6.3 percent last year highlights the impact of SARS, even on countries that contained the disease. While South Korea has reported only three SARS cases, Hong Kong and China, the worst-affected countries, buy about a fifth of the cars, computers and cell phones that South Korea exports.
■ Free trade
New Zealand loses out
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on Wednesday dashed New Zealand's hope for a free trade agreement with the US because it would raise too many objections from US farmers. New Zealand had been hoping to begin talks on a free trade agreement with the US, its second-largest trading partner, following negotiations underway on a US accord with Australia. "A lot of [New Zealand's] agricultural exports are ones that are very sensitive here," Zoellick told the US House of Representatives Agriculture Committee, referring specifically to lamb and dairy products. The opposition of farm groups would make it very difficult to win congressional approval, he said. Without offering specifics, Zoellick also said the US was disappointed with recent actions by New Zealand, which opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Security firm gives warning
Desktop inkjet printers are now so good and so cheap that they are a fast-growing lure to money counter-feiters, the world's leader in security printing, De La Rue, has told banks and govern-ments. "There appears to be little appreciation of the nature of the problem -- and even less sense of urgency," De La Rue's warning document says, according to next Saturday's issue of New Scientist. "The world's central banks are now having to deal with an increasing number of counterfeit banknotes, generated by color inkjet printers." Big, commercial color copiers, which have been around for a quarter of a century, are not the problem, the British weekly says. This is because since the mid-1980s, their makers have voluntarily built in software that detects the fine details of banknote security marks and stops them from being copied.
Toshiba, Samsung ally
Japan's Toshiba has tied up with rival Samsung Electronics in the washing machine business while Mitsubishi Electric is quadrupling purchases from the South Korean firm, officials said yesterday. "As we expand our product line-up, it is impossible to manufacture all of them by ourselves," a Toshiba Corp spokesman said. Samsung Electronics Co is supplying the Japanese technology giant with small washing machines under the Toshiba brand, marking the firm's first procurement from South Korea in the "white goods" home appliance division. Toshiba aims to sell 10,000 of the washing machines in Japan in the first year. Mitsubishi Electric Corp said it would increase the range of washing machines it buys from Samsung, boosting pro-curement to 120,000 units in the year to March of next year.