Microsoft launching program
Microsoft Corp said yesterday it will launch a major new program in Japan to promote the use of its products among small and medium businesses. Speaking at a conference in Tokyo, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer said the company's additional investment would be in the "tens of millions of dollars." Microsoft said the new program would include the opening of four new Microsoft stores nationwide bringing the total to 11 by the end of next week. The company also said it would conduct a nationwide bus tour to promote its products and services.
■ Free Trade
Seoul rejects concessions
South Korea will not make major concessions in talks with the US merely to meet the target date for a free trade agreement (FTA), South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday. "The government will do its best to bring the FTA to conclusion at an early date by all means," he told parliament in a state of the nation address read by Prime Minister Han Myeong-Sook. "However, under no circumstances will we make concessions on important matters just to reach the target date." After a fourth round of talks last month in the South Korean resort island of Jeju, both sides expressed hope for an eventual deal even though the lengthy negotiations will drag on into next year. A fifth round is scheduled for next month in the US and a sixth round in January in South Korea.
Toyota flex-fuel plans
Japan's leading automaker Toyota Motor plans to roll out flexible-fuel vehicles in North America that can run on different mixtures of ethanol and gasoline, a report said yesterday. The system will be first installed in the Tundra pick-up truck as early as 2008, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said without citing sources. Toyota will expand its line-up of environmentally friendly vehicles against a backdrop of high gasoline prices and stricter emission regulations expected to take effect in North America around 2009. Toyota's flex-fuel models would run on gasoline as well as a fuel blend that contains as much as 85 percent ethanol, the newspaper said. The flex-fuel Tundra would be produced either at Toyota's Indiana plant or a Texas site that is scheduled to open later this month. Output is estimated at several tens of thousands, the newspaper said.
Ladbrokes in 888 talks
British bookmaker Ladbrokes confirmed yesterday that it was in talks to buy 888 Holdings PLC, the online gambling group. In a statement, Ladbrokes said it "can confirm that it is in the early stages of reviewing a possible transaction involving 888. No decision has been made as to whether any proposal will be made to 888." In an interview yesterday, Kiaran O'Brien, a company spokesman, said the talks began a few days ago and that it was too early to estimate the possible sale price for Ladbrokes. He described an estimate of ?470 million (US$892 million) in the British media as too high. 888 Holdings is trying to prop up its business after the US effectively banned Internet gaming. The company was among several London-listed gaming groups to close or sell their US business after US Congress added to an unrelated bill a provision that would make it illegal for banks and credit-card companies to settle payments for online gambling sites.