April 1st, 2010
03:21 PM GMT
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Obese passengers who require a second adjoining seat to fly will no longer be charged by Air France if the flight is not full, the airline announced today.

Should obese people be given a second airplane seat for free?

Since 2005, the airline has charged larger customers for an extra seat (with a discount of 20-25%) if they cannot adequately fit in their designated space.

Similar policies have been adopted by other airlines but authorities in the U.S. and Europe are now planning on harmonising their plans.

The FAA has specific rules on obese people and requires that all passengers use FAA required restraint devices and that no aisle may be blocked by any passenger or bags in case of an emergency.

Currently nearly 73 million U.S. adults are classified as obese and the World Health Organization predicts that the global figure will be greater than 700 million by 2015.

We’d like to know what you think.

Should overweight passengers be forced to buy a second seat? Should the airlines give them a second seat for free? Have you ever been uncomfortable next to an overweight passenger?

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April 1st, 2010
03:11 PM GMT
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It’s been about a decade since Jim O’Neill coined the acronym BRIC and two decades since I first interviewed him as a leading currency economist with a Swiss bank based in London.

O’Neill has been hanging his hat at Goldman Sachs for years and beyond his BRIC research most recently garnered attention as one of the Red Knights, a small group of wealthy Manchester United fans working on a buyout of the famed football club.

I caught up with O’Neill in Cernobbio, Italy, the site of the annual European House/Ambrosetti workshop. It is a not a big affair – about 150 attendees – which means it is much better for brainstorming and networking, with the spring breeze coming off Lake Como providing added inspiration.

O’Neill is an ideal Marketplace Middle East interviewee, because he was one of the first in the west to see the world in a different way. When he coined the BRIC acronym, his counterparts in the research field poured cold water on the concept.

Yes his choice of countries had high populations, but the word on the street was they cannot deliver growth. Fortunately for him, the data answers all the naysayers, minus the severe bump in the road for the R in his equation. Russia is an invited participant of the G-8 but is still finding it difficult to find its free-market footing. When this downturn smooths out, O’Neill’s inclusiveness will prevail.

Many have tried in vain to jump onto the economic acronym bandwagon. One of the more recent additions has been “Chindonesia”. Nicholas Cashmore at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets came up with the term to describe the Asian triangle of growth with China, India and Indonesia. Sounds catchy, but his work has not garnered the support of the BRIC.

Meanwhile, O’Neill is looking at new frontiers and this is where the Middle East comes in. As the momentum continues to build in developing markets, the son of a Manchester, England postman is casting his economic net wider and raising a few eyebrows along the way with his selection of countries.

During our interview at Villa D’Este, O’Neill explained why he put three Middle Eastern players into what he calls “The Next 11” – the next wave of economic bright sparks. (He coined that phrase five years ago.)

Going from West to East around the globe, O’Neill and his team see the greatest potential coming from Mexico, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines. He believes most in western economies are overlooking what is really transpiring today – new trade relationships from the Middle East and Africa to Asia, without a European or American partner involved in the process.

The economist does not shrug off the political implications of some of the emerging relationships with Middle Eastern countries. For example, he says a timeline for Turkey’s membership into the European Union would be a “good way to explore bringing civilizations together” and that he “looks forward to the day when European leaders act in a more pro-active way” with the Muslim world.

Turkey and Egypt garner their fair share of attention due to their respective populations and the fact both have pursued an aggressive economic reform agenda has kept foreign direct investment flowing in. O’Neill likes Iran’s educated workforce and natural resources, but certainly recognizes that real economic progress will need to happen in an environment where the word “investment” replaces the first thought that often comes to mind, economic “isolation”.

If Iran does indeed open up, Gulf states move to a single currency and continue to mount record surpluses, it may be worth joining the chorus of others who have asked the economist to amend his original work.

Maybe BRIC can be expanded to ARABRIC?

April 1st, 2010
12:34 PM GMT
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Pessimism among companies in the world's second-biggest economy has declined during the first three months of this year, a survey by Japan's central bank showed.

Japan's economic outlook is on the rise.
Japan's economic outlook is on the rise.

The main index of Japan's large manufacturers was at minus 14, according to the Bank of Japan's tankan survey. That compares to minus 25 last December.

The country's business mood improved for the fourth straight quarter, according to the report. The tankan is a measure used by the Bank of Japan to help guide the nation's monetary policy.

Potential for economic growth helped investors globally get markets off to a positive start.

The FTSE All-World index rose 0.5 percent - just shy of a 18-month high.

Attention will now turn to the U.S., which releases it's next set of jobs data tomorrow.

We'd like to know what you think.

Do you think the second quarter will signal better economic times? Have you noticed an improvement in your economic outlook?

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