Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is China the next Global Economic Leader?

Will China surpass and overtake the United States in order to become the main Global Economic Leader? It becomes the talk among the foreign investors for years, since after China opens the door to global trade market.

Since then, Chinese people become richer while some of them become the world's super-rich. Most of them can afford to purchase a lot of properties in overseas market besides, traveling and shopping for branded goods in overseas countries. As such, majority of foreign companies invest into China market in hope to get bigger slice of profits from the Chinese consumers.

Here are some of the recent news compiled where many Chinese companies buying foreign companies as well as investing into natural resources outside of China.


Chinese Snap Up Bordeaux Vineyards

When passing by Chateau Laulan-Ducos it looks like any of the over 7,000 wine estates in Bordeaux, France's best known wine-growing area. But when entering the wine domain, you'll notice something different is taking place.

Chateau Laulan-Ducos, a picturesque 54-acre wine estate nestled on the remote tip of the haute Médoc region of Bordeaux, is owned by a Chinese businessman, and its complete wine production is shipped to China. 

Richard Chen, the 42-year old owner of the Chinese high-end retail jewelry chain Tesiro, bought Chateau Laulan Ducos last year because he is a wine lover and keen to develop a market in China for the 150,000-bottle annual output of the Chateau.

Laulan Ducos' bottles are now distributed at 'Laulan French Wine', a chain of 32 franchised wine shops set up by Mr Chen. 

Although you wouldn't directly associate China with French chateau-ownership, is it no longer an exception. In the past four years an estimated 30 chateaux in the world's fine wine capital have been bought by Chinese businesses and investors, and an estimated 20 deals are in the pipeline.
Jane Anson, Bordeaux correspondent for wine magazine Decanter, speaks of an "avalanche of purchases." 

But China's presence in the region does not come out of nowhere. The Asian tiger has recently overtaken the traditional strongholds of Germany and the U.K. as Bordeaux's largest export destination for wine. Fifty-eight million Bordeaux bottles worth more than 300 million euros were exported to China in 2011 - a growth of 100 percent.

The Chinese associate Bordeaux wines with luxury and status, Eddie Yuan, of the Chinese Langfan Consulting group, which advises Chinese investors on French chateau purchases, told CNBC. And as French properties have become more affordable for China's growing middle class, buying up a French chateau seems like the logical next step. 

Although foreign ownership of French chateaux is nothing new and Bordeaux's grand stone chateaux have attracted buyers from the U.S., Japan, Canada, and other developed countries for decades, the arrival of Chinese investors is different.

"The arrival of the Chinese has astonished the region because it has been very fast and aggressive. Chinese investments have been more extensive, more numerous and made within a short period of time," Philippe Roudie, geography professor at the University of Bordeaux, told CNBC.

Anson told CNBC, the Chinese are changing the distribution of the wine production as they export the wine directly to China.

Grand Cru Love Affair
The first purchase of a French chateau by a Chinese investor was Chateau Latour Laguens and took place in 2008. 

Chateau Latour Laguens is a 124-acre property in a small village about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Bordeaux in the Entre deux Mers region, one of the areas in the Bordeaux region most affected by a drop in land value from the region's wine crisis in 2007-2008.

Although the chateau is far away from Bordeaux's Haut-Médoc, home to internationally-recognized wines like Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Latour, the estate's name is similar to Bordeaux's world famous Chateau Latour wine, something the Chinese like. 

Another Chinese billionaire more recently bought Chateau Chenu-Lafitte, which, like Chateau Latour Laguens, is located in a lesser known wine-growing area - Côtes-de-Bourg - but holds a similar name to that of the world's best known Grand Cru wine: chateau Lafitte-Rothschild. 

Local Skepticism
The local population of Bordeaux is rather skeptical about the increasing presence of wealthy Chinese in the world-renowned wine region. 

Although China's growing importance as an export market for wine allows the region to compensate for the decreased wine consumption domestically, and Chinese investments are giving distressed wineries a much-needed boost, local inhabitants are slightly worried when they see how easily the land on which they have been producing wine for centuries is being sold.

"It doesn't mean that because they're clients, they can invade us," Petra du Jardin, who works at a local hotel, told CNBC.

"Although they're investing their money here and they're not taking the properties with them to China, it's a bit disturbing to see how they've so promptly started to intervene in our business," Lois de Roquefeuille, a local chateau owner, told CNBC.

It remains unclear, however, if the Chinese will continue to expand their presence in the region at the same pace they're doing now, or if their wine interest will be just part of a short boom that is about to temper. 


Chinese colonialism?

Damian Grammaticas Beijing correspondent 

People working at an assembly line at the Huajian shoe factory in Dukem, Ethiopia  
China has fast become Africa's largest trading partner, with varied investments
Is China becoming Africa's new colonial master? Is Beijing sucking away resources to drive its own economic growth, while offering little in return?

Or is such talk the product of fear and envy? Is it a sign of Western anxieties, that China is fast becoming the new power in Africa, building more equal relationships, and undermining Western influence on the continent?

China is certainly a real force in Africa. Just look at the clutch of presidents and the officials from many more parts of Africa who have made the long trek to Beijing this week for the China-Africa Co-operation Forum.

The visitors certainly have incentives to be here. They are being showered with attention, feted at banquets and tantalised with the prospect of preferential loan deals.

“Start Quote

We should have a fertilizer manufacturing plant here instead of importing the product from China which causes delays and poor harvests”
Raila Odinga Kenyan prime minister

Neo-colonialist charge
But China is extremely sensitive to the charge it's a neo-colonialist power and is trying hard to refute it.

Ahead of the forum the People's Daily newspaper, the Communist Party's main mouthpiece, warned that "a trickle of critics... have struck a chord of dissonance, warning of the 'new colonialism' looming on the continent in a veiled swipe at Beijing's efforts to forge closer ties with Africa".

The opinion piece, from the official Xinhua news agency which echoes official opinion, said the charge was "biased and ill-grounded", the relationship is based on "equality and mutual benefit... fact is more convincing than rhetoric".

"Africa's exports of crude oil, minerals, steel and agricultural products have played an active role in lifting the Chinese people's livelihood. Meanwhile, the continent also serves as an indispensable market with great potential for Chinese products," it explained.

"China also provides Africa with much-needed products and technologies, and a vast market for its commodities," said Xinhua. "What's more, Beijing focused on helping build the continent's productive capacity by improving its infrastructure and boosting the manufacturing sector, rather than involving the so-called "resource-grabbing practice".

President Hu Jintao picked up the theme at the forum, repeatedly calling this "a new type of China-Africa strategic partnership".

He said "the Chinese and African peoples have always treated each other as equals... we will... forever be a good friend, good partner and good brother of the African people".

Chinese President Hu Jintao (R) with South African President Jacob Zuma  
China has pledged $20bn (£12.8bn) in credit for Africa over the next three years
He, too, had a barrage of facts to show China is bringing benefits to Africa. 

"China has built over 100 schools, 30 hospitals, 30 anti-malaria centres and 20 agricultural technology demonstration centres in Africa. It has met the pledge of providing $15bn [£9.58bn] of lending of a preferential nature to Africa....China has trained close to 40,000 African personnel...and provided over 20,000 government scholarships" said China's president.

Media barrage
China's commerce minister even got poetic, penning an article in the China Daily highlighting the way China is investing in Africa, not just stripping resources from it.

"In Malawi, a landlocked African country, rows of cotton cultivated by local farmers with instruction from Chinese experts are budding; in Ethiopia, a shoe factory built with investment from the China-Africa Development Fund is teeming with local workers; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a hydropower station financed by credit from China has just been inaugurated," wrote Chen Deming.

He went on: "In Yiwu, a city in East China, Chinese customers are selecting South African wine at the Exhibition Centre for African Products; at the New Port of Tianjin, a cargo ship loaded with fruit and textile products from Benin is preparing for tariff exemption procedures to enter the Chinese market. These are the encouraging scenes unfolding before us."

At the forum itself, China has promised $20bn of new loans, reduced tariffs on African imports and help for Africa's development. All of this is designed to show that China is different from colonial powers.

The English-language mouthpiece, the China Daily, gave space to Sehlare Makgetlaneng from the Africa Institute in Pretoria, South Africa, who wrote: "The West's claim that China's relationship with Africa is neo-colonialism... results from the fear its strategic interests will be harmed as a result of structural changes in African countries and China's growing presence on the continent."

A Chinese worker fixes pipes at a construction site in Khartoum, Sudan  
A number of Chinese companies bring in their own people to Africa

Despite this media barrage, though, there are still concerns in many parts of Africa that this is not an equal exchange, concerns that the investment deals are opaque and open to corruption, that Chinese infrastructure projects often import Chinese labour rather than developing local skills, that Chinese firms may exploit local workers, that cheap Chinese products undermine Africa's ability to build it's own industries, that for all the new roads, railways and ports, this is not a mutually beneficial relationship.

Winning over doubters?
Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga is at the forum. He will be signing deals for new power plants and roads. But before he left Kenya, the PM Press Service said he wanted to talk to China's leaders about areas where trade has "not worked well."

"We import a lot of manufactured equipment like tractors, ploughs and harvesters. I feel that we should by now be having a tractor manufacturing plant here in Kenya. There is no reason why we should be importing tractors from China year in year out. These are some of the things we want to engage the Chinese on," Mr Odinga was quoted as saying.

"We should have a fertilizer manufacturing plant here instead of importing the product from China which causes delays and poor harvests," he added.

And that may be the key for China, if it can invest more in African factories and businesses, not just infrastructure and buildings, if it can create more jobs in Africa rather than export more Chinese-made products to the continent, if Kenya gets a tractor factory and a fertilizer plant, China may win over many of the doubters.


Canada Shifts Toward China With $15 Billion Nexen Deal

Cnooc Ltd. (883)’s $15.1 billion cash takeover bid for Nexen Inc. (NXY) signals a Canadian shift toward China and away from the U.S. as the nation’s traditional oil and natural-gas partner and main export market. 

Canada’s oil sands reserves, the third-largest recoverable crude deposits in the world, were developed in part by U.S. money as companies such as California’s Richfield Oil Corp. brought technology to extract bitumen from boreal peat bogs half a century ago. Now, for the first time, a Chinese company will own and operate oil-sands crude production as well as Nexen’s shale-gas assets in British Columbia, along with leases in other parts of the world. 

  China Ousts U.S. in Canada Oil Market With Bid for Nexen
The headquarters of Cnooc Ltd. stand in Beijing. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg 
“This is really a decoupling of the north-south axis with the U.S.,” Michael Black, a partner with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP who has advised on C$8.5 billion ($8.4 billion) worth of Canadian deals by Abu Dhabi Nation Energy Co. (TAQA), said in an interview. “The U.S. guys just aren’t coming up here the way they used to. It further illustrates Chinese interest in big assets, big reserves and Canadian expertise.” 

Chinese oil producers have turned more frequently to Canada after political opposition in the U.S. derailed Cnooc’s $18.5 billion bid for Unocal Corp. in 2005, and after TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline route south to Texas was blocked by President Barack Obama’s administration last year.

Friendly Supplier

China, seeking to add oil and gas reserves to meet demand in the world’s largest energy-consuming country, sees Canada as a ready supplier as it prepares to expand its pipeline network to the Pacific coast for exports to Asia. 

Over the past decade, Chinese companies have spent $53.4 billion on Canadian oil and gas fields and companies, compared to $30.8 billion invested in the sector by U.S. companies, according to Bloomberg data. 

“Canada is politically stable, has fantastic assets and technological know-how in the oil and gas sector,” said Dan Cheng, vice president at Calgary-based Matco Financial Inc., which oversees C$375 million in assets including Canadian oil and gas companies. “Canadian politicians and companies have been going over to China a lot recently. It’s easy to speculate that there are more deals to come.” 

The Canadian government, which turned down a 2010 hostile $40 billion bid by BHP Billiton Ltd (BHP) for Potash Corp. (POT) of Saskatchewan Inc., has to approve the transaction. Potash Corp. is the world’s largest supplier of the fertilizer, which is produced in only a handful of countries around the world.

Geographic Diversity

By comparison, less than a third of Nexen’s second-quarter oil and gas production of 207,000 barrels a day was in Canada. Cnooc nevertheless will gain access to Canadian engineers and geologists familiar with developing and operating oil sands and shale-gas projects, said Fasken’s Black. The company’s other assets include production platforms in the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and in Nigeria. 

Canada’s oil and gas and other natural resource industries have traditionally been open to foreign investment to speed development, Lysle Brinker, director of energy equity research at IHS Herold, said by telephone from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. 

“It’s in the interest of the long term viability and the health of the Canadian oil and gas industries” to approve the Nexen takeover, he said. And the Canadian government has taken a “long-term view” to recognize the energy industry needs a lot of investment to succeed, he said.

Deal Price

China’s largest offshore oil and gas explorer is paying $27.50 for each common share, a premium of 61 percent to Calgary-based Nexen’s closing price on July 20, according to its statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange yesterday. Nexen’s board recommended the deal to its shareholders. 

Cnooc was 3.6 percent at HK$14.88 at 1:01 p.m. compared with a 0.2 percent gain in the benchmark Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong after a delayed start to trading because of a typhoon. 

“The 61 percent premium is huge, it’s totally unreasonable,” said Laban Yu , an analyst at Jefferies Hong Kong Ltd., who cut his rating on Cnooc shares to underperform from hold after the deal was announced yesterday. 

Cnooc last year acquired Nexen’s partner Opti Canada Inc., which held a minority stake in the Long Lake project, a production operation that uses steam to melt underground seams of tar-like bitumen and refines it in giant vats called upgraders. The joint venture allowed them to better understand the business as well as the political context, said Wenran Jiang, an adviser to the Alberta government and director of the Canada-China Energy and Environment Forum. 

“The political context in Canada is very good at the moment,” Jiang said in an interview. “The Chinese have been careful to step up their involvement in Canada slowly. This isn’t coming out of nowhere.”

Strained Ties

Canada’s traditionally close energy ties to the U.S. were strained in the past year by political controversy that threatened to stall TransCanada’s plans to ship crude from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast via its Keystone pipeline. As TransCanada redesigns the project to overcome U.S. environmental objections, the Canadian government stepped up its courtship of China. 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Alberta Premier Alison Redford have visited China this year to promote Canada’s energy industry and build trans-Pacific ties. Harper told Chinese business leaders in February during a dinner in Guangzhou, China, that he wants to take Canada’s economic partnership to “the next level.” 

“We want to sell our energy to people who want to buy our energy,” Harper said at the time. “It’s that simple.” 

The Nexen deal is one of two major Chinese energy acquisitions announced yesterday. China Petrochemical Corp. (1314) agreed to spend $1.5 billion for a 49 percent stake in Calgary- based Talisman Energy Inc. (TLM)’s U.K. unit after spending $2.2 billion last year to buy Canada’s Daylight Energy Ltd.

Nexen Options

Before the Nexen purchase was announced, trading in bullish options on the Canadian company’s U.S. shares last week reached the highest level since March 2008, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The activity, which included three trades that may bring profits of more than $40 million, may indicate the deal was leaked, according to Joe Kunkle, founder of, a Boston-based provider of options market data and analytics. 

Nexen has been searching for a new CEO since Marvin Romanow stepped down in January amid a slumping share price and missed production targets. Nexen’s market value had plunged 60 percent before today from a high of C$43.45 in June 2008 as prices fell for natural gas, which accounts for about 20 percent of output. Production growth also slowed more than the company expected because of setbacks at projects in Canada’s oil sands and in the North Sea.

Calgary Headquarters

“The Chinese have shown that they’re good at buying assets that have long-term value,” said Jennifer Stevenson, who helps oversee about C$5 billion in assets at Dynamic Funds in Calgary and doesn’t own Nexen shares. 

Cnooc will add 900 million barrels of oil equivalent reserves at $19.94 per barrel through the deal, according to a document posted on the company’s website. Cnooc plans to boost output by as much as 2.7 percent this year to the equivalent of as much as 930,000 barrels of oil a day. 

Calgary will become one of Cnooc’s international headquarters and the operations hub for overseeing an additional $8 billion in assets in North and Central America. The Chinese company will list its shares on the Toronto exchange, it said in the statement yesterday. 

“This agreement diversifies our reserve base by adding to our presence in Canada while providing high quality assets,” Cnooc Chief Executive Officer Li Fanrong said today in a conference call with reporters. “We are in Canada to invest.” 


Chinese company buys AMC theater chain

The $2.6 billion deal will make Wanda the largest worldwide movie operator.

By Kim Peterson May 21, 2012 12:56PM  Source: MSN Money

Image: Hollywood (© Comstock/SuperStock) 
The largest Chinese takeover of an American company in history was just announced.

AMC Entertainment Holdings, which had filed plans for an IPO, will instead be sold to the Dalian Wanda Group out of China for $2.6 billion. What a relief for the private equity owners who wanted to unload AMC after buying the chain in 2004.

The Dalian Wanda Group, more informally known as Wanda, will now create the world's biggest movie theater operator after absorbing AMC and its 346 cinemas in North America. Wanda wants to continue to expand AMC, and said it will invest some $500 million into AMC's development in the future.

It looks like Wanda will allow AMC to run fairly independently. It will keep AMC's management and headquarters in Kansas City, and didn't initially announce any layoff plans, according to the Associated Press.

AMC had been the No. 2 movie theater operator in the U.S., with $2.5 billion in sales last year compared with the $2.7 billion for Regal Entertainment Group (RGC +2.39%).

This was a nice sale for AMC's owners, which include Bain Capital and several other private equity companies. AMC has a ton of debt, and has had difficulty paying that off. The company hasn't made a profit in the recent past, but this past year its financials improved on strong ticket sales.

Apollo Global Management (APO -0.67%) and a unit of JPMorgan Chase (JPM +0.84%) bought AMC in 2004 for $2 billion, including debt, Bloomberg reported. The next year, AMC merged with Loews Cineplex Entertainment, which was owned by three other private equity firms.

All of those private equity owners wanted to get some money back. They tried to spin out AMC into an IPO in 2008, but withdrew. They filed again for an IPO in 2010, but shelved those plans as talks with Wanda expanded.

Before the AMC deal, the largest Chinese takeover of an American company had been Lenovo Group's $1.8 billion buyout of IBM's PC business in 2005, Bloomberg reported.


China 'offers South Sudan $8bn for projects'
Beijing to supply development funds for projects such as hydropower and roads, South Sudan information minister says.
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2012 08:18  Source: Reuters & AlJazeera English News 

The loan comes after talks between Kiir and Li Keqiang, China's vice premier, in Beijing [Reuters] 
China has offered South Sudan $8bn in development funds for road, hydropower, infrastructure and agriculture projects, South Sudan's information minister has said.

The loan came after Salva Kiir, the country's president, visited Beijing to secure support from China, which has major oil interests in both South Sudan and its northern neighbour Sudan.

A long-brewing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan over oil export fees, border demarcation and citizenship has halted nearly all oil production in the two countries, who sit atop one of Africa's most significant oil resources.

South Sudan depends on oil for nearly 98 per cent of its state revenue and the shutdown has puts its economy under pressure.

"China has offered financial funding to the value of $8bn for major development projects," Information Minister Barnaba Benjamin said.

The funds will be provided over the next two years and the projects will be conducted by Chinese companies, Benjamin said.

China is already the biggest investor in oilfields in South Sudan, through state-owned Chinese oil companies China National Petroleum and Sinopec.
The Asian economic powerhouse has had to play a delicate balancing act with the two countries, since Beijing is also one of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's major supporters.

When landlocked South Sudan seceded from Sudan last year, it took three-quarters of the region's oil production, while the pipelines to export the oil are mostly in Sudan.

South Sudan is considering building two alternative pipelines, one to a port in Kenya and another through Ethiopia and Djibouti.


China to buy New Zealand farmland
Published 20 April 2012 14:01  Source: Aljazeera English News
After a year-long legal battle, China will be allowed to buy farmland in new Zealand. Some experts say these purchases are less about business and more about rich countries securing their own food supply at the expense of less well off nations.


Chinatowns' avant-garde in Northern Iraq
Published 14 February 2011 21:23  Source: Aljazeera English
About 500 Chinese people are said to live in Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan's second city. Many work in the new Kawa Mall where Chinese flags, lucky cats and paper lanterns present an incongruous scene on the Kurdish landscape. Such immigration and foreign investment is becomming more prominent in the semi-autonomous area run by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Al Jazeera's Rhodri Davies reports.


Concern over Myanmar's Irrawaddy dam
China investing billions into hydroelectric scheme, which is set to displace many.
Last Modified: 22 Apr 2011 05:21  Source: AlJazeera English News
Chinese companies are funding a multi-billion dollar project to dam the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar.
The river, the longest one left undammed in southeast Asia, is important to the Kachin people, and millions of people up and down its length would be affected by the changes, experts say. 
When it is dammed, it will leave an area the size of New York City submerged.
There are now concerns over who is to benefit from the river's riches.
Our special correspondent in Myanmar, who we cannot name for security reasons, filed this report.


The dragon goes shopping in South America
China is buying commodities and fuelling economic growth, but some worry the communist giant is creating dependency.
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2011 18:41  Source: AlJazeera English News

China has more than $75bn in financial investments across South America [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]

The small restaurants and shops selling plastic sandals, tacky umbrellas, kitchen wares and paper lanterns in Buenos Aires' Chinatown do not give the impression of impending economic dominance. 

Away from this small urban area, however, China has been not-so-quietly buying up agricultural products, companies and minerals around South America. 

Some analysts consider this aggressive drive for resources as a new form of imperialism, in which a big power wrangles raw materials from weaker states. Others believe China's push gives South Americans an alternative to the US, which critics say has attempted to control Latin economies through debt and support for dictators. Regardless of how it is seen, China's economic footprint in the region is growing dramatically. 

"Across Latin America we are seeing that China is having an increasing importance in trade and investment," Ricardo Delgado, director of Analytica Consulting in Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera.
"Brazil and Argentina produce and export many raw materials: soy, sugar, meat and corn… China is a very important driver of demand for these commodities."

Since 2005, China's development bank and other institutions have spent an estimated $75bn on financial investments in South America, said Boston University professor Kevin Gallagher. This is, he points out, "more [investment] than the World Bank, US Export Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank combined".

Chinese private investment, often coming from large state-supported firms that set-up operations in the region or buy local companies, has been about $60bn, Gallagher said.

In the past five years, Bilateral trade between China and South America jumped more than 160 per cent, rising from $68bn in 2006 to $178bn in 2010. In Peru, Chinese mining giant Chinalco spent $3bn buying "copper mountain" - an entire rock formation containing two billion tonnes of the precious metal. The firm expects a 2,000 per cent profit on its investment. 

The Chinese state lent Petrobras, Brazil's national oil company, $10bn in 2009. And a plan from China's Beidahuang food company to lease more than 300,000 hectares of land to grow genetically modified soya, corn and other crops in Argentina's Patagonia region has locals furious about potential environmental damage. 

Food and fuel
As director of Mercampo, an agricultural consulting firm based in Rosario, Argentina, Gabriel Perez has seen the increase first hand. More trade delegations are coming from China, and tycoons from the world's second largest economy are eager to invest in agriculture and commodities.

"China has the strategic vision to ensure food security and energy in their country [as they worry] that long-term problems will be the supply of raw materials," Perez told Al Jazeera. "This is undoubtedly the primary reason for China's investments in South America."

nese firms often buy local assets or lock-in long term supply agreements, sometimes making deals in Chinese currency, rather than the US dollar which typically underpins international trade.

China's expanding relationship with South America has global repercussions far from Argentinian soy farms or Brazilian beaches. Unlike most Americans, regular working-class Chinese people save money. Instead, China maintains a large surplus in its foreign trade.

These factors allowed the Chinese government to amass more than $3tn worth of foreign exchange reserves by the end of March 2011, according to China's national statistics bureau.

Most of that money, nearly $2tn, has been invested in US treasury bonds. For years, they provided a low-risk, low- reward, but stable place to put surplus capital. Now China has a conundrum: The US is living beyond its means and has, according to Standard and Poor's, lost its AAA credit rating.

Yet, if China starts selling its US bond holdings, the debt will lose value. China, the largest holder of the debt, will be shooting itself in the foot. The country, therefore, is trying to quietly move its reserves into assets in emerging economies such as those in South America.

South America became the "primary focus" of Chinese non-bond investments in 2009, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think-tank that has tracked the communist giant's overseas purchases.

China is now Brazil's largest trading partner. Beijing owns $18.3bn worth of assets in South America's largest country, according to the Heritage Foundation.

"The most important contribution of China’s growth has been trade," Eliana Cardoso, a World Bank economist and former MIT economics professor based in Sao Paulo, told Al Jazeera. "It has contributed to the increase of commodity prices."

Debt and dependency
Throughout South America's history, economists and politicians have worried about dependency created by countries exporting raw materials and then depending on industrialised nations for high-end manufactured goods and technology.

"An economy organised around the export of resources often dampens economic diversification and the development of value-added industries, so there is a way in which China could be as much of a problem as the US," said Greg Grandin, professor of history at New York University and author of Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the rise the new imperialism.

China has, however, given Latin American countries a "more diversified set of options to negotiate prices and interest rates" than what the US would offer, Grandin told Al Jazeera.

Raul Prebish, an Argentinian economist and former director of the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), argued that nations on the "periphery" of world trade were doomed to be primary commodity exporters unless they developed by building a domestic manufacturing base and closing trade links.

"Unlike the Americans, the Chinese do not have all sorts of draconian policy conditions on their finance "
- Kevin Gallagher, Boston University
"In Brazil, China is an important competitor in low labour cost industries. Chinese prices are low and problems of dumping and subsidised exports are common," Delgado said. "Our industries are not prepared very well for this competition." China is frequently accused of keeping its currency artificially low to boost exports.

Brazil's real and other South American currencies have risen drastically due to the commodities boom in recent years. Brazil’s former finance minister went so far as to warn of a "currency war" as countries around the world tried to lower their currencies to boost exports.

"You hear lots of complaints from the industrial sector that competition has become very hard, because the exchange rate is misplaced," Cardoso said, adding that she thinks such concerns are minor compared to the country's growth.

Plenty of economists who do not have strong positions in debates about dependency think it's wrong to worry about Chinese investment because the terms of trade are squarely in South America's favour, as countries maintain large trade surpluses with China.

The values of basic products have changed dramatically since the 1960s when "dependency" became a fashionable topic of discussion.

High prices

"In the last decade, the price of commodities that Latin America exports have doubled and tripled, while the industrial goods it imports from China have become cheaper," Aldo Pignanelli, Argentina’s former Central Bank president, told Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman. "This has allowed Latin America to have a positive trade balance, a strong accumulation of reserves in its central banks and a growth rate that will surpass six per cent this year."

More importantly, Chinese loans, representing the bulk of investment, do not come with the same strings as aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or Inter- American development Bank, which are seen as Washington's fiscal agents.

Through the IMF and World Bank, US policy makers demanded privitisation and low inflation rates, often at the expense of growth, on Latin America through the 1970s and 80s.

Governments in the region have discarded that advice in recent years, looking instead to a mixed economy, in which the state is actively involved in setting monetary policy and managing natural resources. Brazil's government-backed oil giant Petrobras is the clearest example of South America's new form of hybrid capitalism.

Critics charge that the IMF offered one set of prescriptions for developing countries: cut social spending, lower inflation at the cost of job creation and raise interest rates. During crisis at home, the fund's US backers did the opposite, relying on government stimulus programmes and low interest rates to boost growth.

"Unlike the Americans, the Chinese do not have all sorts of draconian policy conditions on their finance," Gallagher said. Other experts have echoed this sentiment - China is more concerned with getting the goods, rather than changing the structure of economies with which it trades.

After defaulting on its massive debt in 2002, following street protests and a bitter economic crisis, Argentina settled its debts with the IMF in 2006 and has ignored its advice ever since.

Back in Buenos Aires' Chinatown, a young Cantonese waitress carried trays of fresh orange juice and sparkling water, chatting in imperfect Spanish to eager Portenos (residents of Buenos Aires) who sit outside in the summer air. While it does not glisten, Chinatown is increasingly becoming fashionable, with young Argentines. Some local libraries even offer free Mandarin language classes, financed with Chinese money, as part of the country's quiet "soft power" in the region.

In recent weeks, Chinese officials have expressed concerns about an economic slow-down, linked to the crisis in European export markets. That could spell trouble for growth in South America.

"Seventy-two per cent of Argentina's soy goes to China," Gallagher said. "If China's demand slows by a few percentage points, you could have an unwinding." He worries commodity exporters have put "too many eggs in the China basket".

Even so, the restaurants in Buenos Aires' Chinatown and beyond are filled with well-dressed people chowing down on BBQed meat, noodles and warm bread. The economy has been strong, despite inflation. 

China's growth has played an important role in reducing poverty across Latin America, which has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years, according to the UN figures released in December.

While Brazilian manufacturers worry about dependency and increased competition, the country's economy has, according to Cardoso, seen an "increase in productivity, an increase in real wages, and a decrease in inequality".

"People are feeling better off," she said. At least part of this feeling can be linked to China and the commodities boom.


101 East - Australia: Selling the Farm


Inside the world of China's super-rich 

7 June 2011 Last updated at 19:08 ET Source: BBC News Business

A $620,000 tiara on display in a Beijing jewellery store  
China's fantastically rich are well catered for
Who are the leaders of China's economic miracle? Where do they come from, and what are their wildest ambitions?
A hundred years ago it was the likes of Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie who were building the future.

With China closing in on America to become the world's biggest economy, the next century belongs to names like... Zong... Dai... Liu.

We had better get used to it.

As I read ever-more hyperbolic accounts of the Chinese economy, its impact on global trade, and the spending spree of its newly rich middle classes, I wanted to find out about the men and women who are leading this transformation.

I was not after the bosses in government and the Communist Party, although they are pulling the levers in their state-controlled society. 

I was seeking the people behind the country's explosive economic growth - the top entrepreneurs.

They are the ones building world-beating companies, leading China's export success and creating new jobs by the million.

Thirty years ago the Party denounced entrepreneurs as: "self-employed traders and peddlars who cheat, embezzle, bribe and evade taxation."

Then the line changed. Deng Xiaoping, the driving force behind the move to capitalism after Mao's death, famously declared ''to get rich is glorious''.
Benign Capitalism?
Zong Qinghou  
One of China's richest men, Zong Qinghou says he lives on $20 a day
Karl Marx himself had a soft spot for entrepreneurs. In Das Kapital he asserted that workers were exploited by capitalists who profited from the added value of their labour.

But he argued entrepreneurs, although still capitalists, added their own value - through their fresh ideas and ability to seize opportunities.

Entrepreneurs, at least the good ones, were benign capitalists, said Marx.
That explains their rehabilitation in post-Mao China. But they are still expected to play their part in a centralised system.

I wanted to get behind the corporate announcements and the carefully managed public appearances to see how China's super-rich actually live, to hear what they really think and to try to understand why they had risen to the top of society, rather than their 1.3 billion fellow-countrymen and women.

What do they feel about the vast mass of China's population? How are they coping with their wealth. What are their plans for the future?

Liu Yi Qian  
Liu Yi Qian, born into a working class family in Shanghai, is now China’s biggest art collector
As they talked openly about their fortunes, their path to the top, their hopes for their own children, and the prospects for the world's fastest growing economy, I felt I had just begun to penetrate behind the mask of inscrutability which is the default mode for all Chinese dealings with foreigners.

The billionaires I spoke to had all risen from total poverty. Not relative poverty, compared, say, to a typical Western family.

They had known the sort of poverty where there was not enough to eat, and each day was filled with grinding labour.

Traditionalist or aristocrat
Now they have made their fortunes, they divide into two types, depending on their attitude towards money and luxury.

The first type, you might call the "Party Traditionalists". They are typified by Zong Qinghou, boss of drinks and clothing firm Wahaha, who when I met him was the reigning richest man in China.

As we sat facing each other across the desk in his modest office, he told me that the money he had made was for society, not for himself. And he emphasised that he eschewed luxuries.

The second group are exemplified by Dai Zhikang, a 40-something property developer. I call them China's "New Aristocracy".

They are more at ease with their new-found wealth.

Unlike the Russian oligarchs they tend to steer clear of vulgar displays of opulence, and in a sense they are making their new money into old money - buying art, travelling widely, buying property and sending their children to private schools and universities in Britain or America.

The next generation Both types talked freely about the role their children might play in inheriting their fortunes.

Even the traditionalists reserved the right to entrust their wealth to the next generation, although only if the children could be relied upon to build on the fortune rather than fritter it away.

Dai Zhikang 
Dai Zhikang's spent his early years looking after pigs and cows in Jiangsu province

They were all aware that they had seized an opportunity that would never again be presented to the Chinese people - that it was easy to start a business during the transition from communism to capitalism - "the opening up" - much easier than now.

The other difference between the Party Traditionalists and the New Aristocracy was their attitude to luxury brands.

One of the younger generation proudly showed me his new $50,000 Patek Phillipe watch.

He had bought several he told me, because they keep their value. By contrast, a top Party man, an industrialist, wore his humble Citizen timepiece with equal pride.
The Traditionalists wore Chinese-made suits. The Aristocrats sported beautifully made casual wear.

Each of the entrepreneurs I met was near the top of the various rich lists that fascinate China's (and the world's) media.

In the near future it is quite possible that at least one of them will drop out through the ebb and flow of business success. But their eventual fate makes no difference to the insights I gleaned through meeting them.

As well as being fascinating characters in their own right, they allowed us to glimpse new China through their eyes, and understand the forces that will shape all our lives over the next decades.

Nick Rosen is head of Vivum Intelligent Media Ltd. He is making a documentary about the lives of China's top entrepreneurs.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Misleading & Mislabeling Healthy Products

Consumers become more health conscious and picky with the ingredients of food we consume. We are willing to spend more in purchasing food which carries the words like "fresh", "healthy", " "No MSG", "Organic", "Gluten-free", "Natural ingredients", "Free range" etc. in supermarkets. But, how much the labeling claims the truth? 

When consumers become more demand for healthy food, the manufacturers begin to relabel and repackage their products in order to deceive the consumers' perception and create their impulsive buying behaviour. There are many regular products which are sold at higher prices since they are  being mislabeled as "expensive healthy products" in order to meet the consumers' needs.  It begins to capture my attention when I read the news last year, Walmart China was sued for mislabeling tons of regular pork as "organic". I begin to wonder how much we can trust the food labeling from the manufacturers. Should we continuously spending more when we are concerned about being mislead on premium products which carries high quality, premium and "healthy terms"? 

I'm not sure how much I will believe the labeling and manufacturers but if I am given a choice, I would begin farming in my garden for the main reason of food safety. When you grow your own vegetable, you are convinced that your vegetable is fresh and safer to consume as you use less chemical products, compared to the vegetables from the markets. Even more young professionals in China begin growing their vegetables as they concern about the standard of food safety there. 

Whether we choose to consume the premium or regular food products, we should practice the healthy lifestyle such as, consuming the balance and healthy food and nutrients moderately and exercising every day. A famous Chinese proverb says, 吃饭少几口,活到九十九。(Healthy and moderate eating will prolong our lives up to 99 years). We should adapt the culture of Japanese healthy eating up to 80% full on every meal. We should control our brains on the type and amount of food to consume and not to be controlled by our brains entirely. Overeating doesn't bring benefit to us but it causes more health problems and obesity.

'Health halo' effect: how healthy foods can make us fatter 

28 June 2012 Last updated at 05:03 ET  Source: BBC News

The labelling of some foods as low-fat may be encouraging us to eat more and so contributing to the continuing rise in obesity according to Pierre Chandon, a Professor of Marketing at Harvard Business School. His research suggests we eat more if we believe foods are good for us in what he describes as a "health halo" effect. The final episode of The Men Who Made Us Fat is broadcast on BBC Two at 21:00 BST on Thursday 28 June. Catch up on all three episodes online via iPlayer (UK only) at the above link. You can join in the debate and leave your comment on Jacques Peretti's blog via the link



Healthy or hype? 16 most misleading food labels
June 11, 2012 Source: CBS News Health Pop
(Credit: istockphoto)
( Have you ever picked one grocery item over another because of the health claims on the label? You may have been duped. That's because terms like fat free or all natural are often slapped on a food item that may not be healthy at all. 
 Frustrated? You're not alone. Nearly 59 percent of consumers have a hard time understanding nutrition labels, according to a Nielsen survey.

Here's our list of the 16 most common - and most misleading phrases - manufacturers use on food, with advice on how to look past the hype to make smarter supermarket choices.

All natural

(Credit: iStockphoto)
Don't be fooled, "all natural" doesn't mean all that much. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't define it, although food makers won't get in trouble as long as so-labeled food doesn't contain added colors, artificial flavors, or "synthetic substances." 
 That means there's room for interpretation.

So a food labeled natural may contain preservatives or be injected with sodium, in the case of raw chicken. "Some natural products will have high fructose corn syrup and companies will argue that since it comes from corn, it's healthy," says Stephan Gardner, director of litigation at the Center of Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "Well, that isn't true."


Turkey Sandwich with Mushroom Soup (Credit: iStockphoto)
When shopping for healthy bread and crackers, look for the words "whole grain" or "100 percent whole wheat." It's not enough if it says multigrain or "made with whole grain." 
 Whole grains, (which include popcorn, brown rice, and oatmeal), have more fiber and other nutrients than those that have been refined, a process that strips away the healthiest portions of the grain.

And don't go by color alone: Some darker breads or crackers have caramel coloring and are no healthier than highly refined white breads. For a list of ingredient to keep on your radar, check out The Whole Grain Council's helpful chart.

No sugar added

(Credit: istockphoto)
If you're concerned about calories and carbs (maybe because you have
diabetes or are trying to prevent it), you may toss "no sugar added" products in your grocery cart
 But foods, including fruit, milk, cereals, and vegetables naturally contain sugar. So although these products may not have added sugar they still may contain natural sugars. And "no sugar added" products still may contain added ingredients like maltodextrin, a carbohydrate.

Carbohydrates - which can be simple sugars or more complex starches - raise blood sugar, and "no sugar added" doesn't mean a product is calorie- or carbohydrate-free.

Sugar free

cupcake, woman, healthy eating, istockphoto, 4x3 (Credit: istockphoto)
Sugar free doesn't mean a product has fewer calories than the regular version; it may have more. (Although food makers are supposed to tell you if a product isn't low-cal). Sugar-free products have less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving, but they still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources. 
 These products often contain sugar alcohols, which are lower in calories (roughly 2 calories per gram, compared to 4 per gram for sugar), but compare labels to see if the sugar-free version is any better than the regular version. (Common sugar alcohols are mannitol, xylitol, or sorbitol).

Caution: Sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea so don't consume a lot in one sitting.

Zero trans fat

Basket of crispy fried chicken with fries out of focus on a blue background.
Trans fat is bad for your heart, and the ideal intake is zero. But products that say "no trans fat" can actually contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. "If a product says 0 trans fat on it, it isn't actually at zero," says Gardner. "If the consumer were to have two servings, then you would get a good amount added to your diet."

Check for words on the ingredient list such as hydrogenated oils and shortening, which mean trans fat is still present. There are some products that are more likely to contain trans fat than others.

Free range

(Credit: istockphoto)
Although a food label may say "free range chicken," don't assume your bird was scampering around outside Farmer Brown's barn. 
 Although the US Department of Agriculture does define the words "free range," there are no requirements for the amount, duration, and quality of outdoor access.

"What it's supposed to mean is that they are out running in a field," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, nutrition expert and author of "Read It, Before You Eat It." "But what it really means is they just have exposure to the outdoors."

Fat free

fat, obesity, waist, measure, istockphoto, 4x3 (Credit: istockphoto)
This is a notoriously misleading label. When the dangers of saturated and trans fat became clear, the market was flooded with products that touted their fat-free status. The problem? They sometimes contained nearly as many calories as full-fat versions. 
 "Just because it says it's fat-free, doesn't mean you get a free ride," says Taub-Dix. "Packages could say it's fat free, but be loaded with sugar, and sugar-free products could be loaded with fat."

Check the label for calorie content, and compare it to the full-fat version.


yogurt, eat, woman, istockphoto, 4x3 (Credit: istockphoto)
A food label may say a product, such as olive oil, is light, but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor rather than the ingredients. 
 "The flavor might be lighter, but you aren't saving one calorie," says Taub-Dix. "The wording on light products can be confusing for consumers, but it is important to read the nutritional facts."

To be considered a light product, the fat content has to be 50% less than the amount found in comparable products.

Gluten free

Gluten Free Diets Are Here to Stay (Credit: AP)
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat or rye and it can wreak havoc on the health of those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. 

Gluten-free products are becoming easier to find, which is great for those with gluten intolerance. For everyone else though, there's no advantage to buying them. In fact, gluten-free whole grains may have less fiber than the regular version.

"Unless you have metabolic problems, gluten-free products don't help you lose weight and are not necessarily good for you," says Taub-Dix. "But because it's a buzz word, it's put on packages."

Made with real fruit

Assorted fruit smoothies (Credit: iStockphoto)
Products that claim to be made with real fruit may not contain very much at all, or none of the type pictured on the box. 

While companies must list the amount of nutrients they contain, such as fat and cholesterol, they do not have to disclose the percentage of ingredients, such as fruits and whole grain, according to CSPI.

In 2012, a California woman filed a class-action lawsuit over Fruit Roll-Ups, which contain "pears from concentrate" and no strawberries (in the case of the strawberry flavor).

Lightly sweetened

sugar generic (Credit: iStockphoto)
Although the FDA has definitions for terms like "reduced sugar," "no added sugar," and "sugar free," companies sometimes come up with marketing lingo that is, well, just made up. 
 One of those terms is lightly sweetened, which isn't defined by the FDA.
"Whether Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size is "lightly sweetened" should be determined by federal rules, not the marketing executives of a manufacturer," according to a CSPI report from 2010.

Cholesterol free

(Credit: istockphoto)
Cholesterol free doesn't mean, literally, no cholesterol. Cholesterol-free products must contain less than 2 mg per serving while low-cholesterol products contain 20 mg or less per serving. Foods that say "reduced" or "less cholesterol" need to have at least 25 percent less than comparable products.
 Cholesterol is made by the liver, so only animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, and butter can contain it. If a plant-based product (such as corn oil) touts its cholesterol-free status, there's no benefit compared to other vegetable oils, which also don't contain it.

(The American Heart Association recommends people consume less than 300 mg of cholesterol daily.)


(Credit: istockphoto)
While "organic" was once a bit like the term all natural - open to interpretation - that's no longer true. If a product has a USDA label that says organic, 95 percent or more of the ingredients must have been grown or processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides (among other standards). 
 A label that says "made with organic ingredients" must have a minimum of 70% all ingredients that meet the standard.

Keep in mid that organic is not synonymous with healthy. In fact, it may be anything but. Organic food can still be packed in fat, calories, and sugar.

"Companies like to add magnetic words on products to make you think it's healthy," says Taub-Dix.

Two percent milk

(Credit: istockphoto)
Two percent milk sounds great - it's such a low number! What most people don't realize is that whole milk contains only 3.25 percent fat. 

So 2 percent milk contain less fat than regular milk, but not that much. It isn't technically considered low fat; only 1 percent milk and fat free (also called skim milk, which has less than 0.5 percent fat) meet that standard.

Two percent milk may say reduced fat however, because it has at least 25 percent less fat than regular milk. But the American Heart Association and other health experts recommend that adults choose 1 percent or fat free over other types of milk.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Seared salmon steak with a fresh salad.
Seared salmon steak with a fresh salad.
(Credit: iStockphoto)
Omega-3 fatty acids come in three main types: Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), docosahexaenoic (DHA) and a type called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which doesn't have the proven benefit for the heart as EPA and DHA. 

Some foods are higher in ALA, such as flax seeds, than EPA and DHA. Eggs may contain omega-3 if chickens are fed flax seed or fish oil, but are not considered to have a heart health benefit because of their cholesterol and saturated fat content.

"If you are looking for a good helping of omega-3, stick to fish and seaweed products," says Gardner. "Products will sprinkle flax on their food just to slap the omega-3 label on the front."

Serving size

(Credit: istockphoto)
Food manufacturers can be tricky with serving sizes. To make a product look low in fat or calories, they may list information based on a tiny, unrealistic serving size. 
 And FDA recommendations on serving size, the Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) index, tend to be outdated, based on eating habits of decades past. For example, the RACC for ice cream is a half-cup, or one scoop - a lot less than what most people now eat in one sitting. For example, a pint of ice cream would be considered to have four half-cup servings, a buzz kill for those of us who could eat the whole thing in one sitting.

If you are a two-or-more scoop kind of person, double, triple, or quadruple the label's calorie and fat information as needed.


Organic Food Labels Misleading Consumers to Make Unhealthy Choices

April 29, 2011 4:34 PM EDT  Source: Business & Health

The LA Times recently reported a dangerous food myth that has been circulating throughout the health-conscious community as of late: cookies and chips are tastier, have fewer calories, less fat and more fiber when they are organic.

Organic food labeling has been a hot button issue lately as the nutritional and medical communities often find themselves at odds with food manufacturers that market foods in such a way that consumers perceive organic products as healthier choices.

"There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there when it comes to food marketing," said Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, of Halevy Life. "For example, Twizzlers are labeled as 'low-fat' but they have the same amount of carbohydrates as the average loaf of bread. And that is just one example of how [consumers] are being misled by labeling."

According to Dr. Kent Sasse, MD, of Sasse Guide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. In order to legally be considered organic, products must be at least 95 percent organic. To be labeled as 100 percent organic, items must be made entirely with organic ingredients.

Despite these regulations, there are many mixed messages out there when it comes to the nutritional content of organic food.

"Nutritionally speaking, organic packaged foods [such as cookies and crackers] are no healthier than the conventional versions," said Moskovitz. 

"When it comes to fruit and vegetables, the primary difference is that no chemicals or pesticides have been used in the growing (vegetables), raising (animals) or processing of a food item."

In addition to being free of pesticides and chemicals, organic foods tend to be more expensive than conventional. If you're looking to cut down your grocery budget, Moskovitz suggests choosing conventional fruits and vegetables and taking the extra care to wash them well before eating or preparing them.

"With organic produce, you don't have to wash it as well because it's already pretty clean," Moskovitz said. "With conventional produce, wash it well and pat it dry to get rid of any remaining chemicals."

When purchasing meat and poultry, Moskovitz said it isn't as important to look for organic options as it is to look for products labeled 'grass-fed.'

"Grass-fed animal products are higher in monounsatured fats and lower in saturated fats. They're not organic, but typically have more health benefits."
While organic food remains in the category of common food myths and misconceptions, experts point out that studies to-date are lacking in proving the nutritional superiority of organic foods.

"As a registered dietitian, my main concern at the end of the day is that my clients are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and getting the nutrients they need," said Moskovitz. "Eating conventional produce is not harmful if you wash it properly. What is harmful is not eating them at all."

Reproduced from Dietsinreview


What caused the obesity crisis in the West?

13 June 2012 Last updated at 07:25 ET  Source: BBC News Health 

Jacques Peretti
British people are on average nearly three stone (19kg) heavier than 50 years ago, but who or what is to blame? Jacques Peretti (pictured above) investigates. (Photo Source: BBC News)
Contrary to popular belief, we as a race have not become greedier or less active in recent years. But one thing that has changed is the food we eat, and, more specifically, the sheer amount of sugar we ingest.

"Genetically, human beings haven't changed, but our environment, our access to cheap food has," says Professor Jimmy Bell, obesity specialist at Imperial College, London.

"We're being bombarded every day by the food industry to consume more and more food.

"It's a war between our bodies and the demands our body makes, and the accessibility that modern society gives us with food. And as a scientist I feel really depressed, because we are losing the war against obesity."

One of the biggest changes in our modern diet stems back to the 1970s when US agriculture embarked on the mass-production of corn and of high-fructose corn syrup, commonly used as a sweetener in processed foods.

This led to a massive surge in the quantities of cheaper food being supplied to American supermarkets, everything from cheap cereal to cheap biscuits. As a result, burgers got bigger and fries (fried in corn oil) got fattier.

According to nutritionist Marion Nestle, this paved the way for obesity.

“Start Quote

Obesity is caused when people consume too many calories without the exercise to balance it out”
End Quote Susan Neely American Beverage Association
"The number of calories produced in America, and available to American consumers, went from 3,200 in the 1970s and early 80s to 3,900 per person, almost twice as much as anybody needed. And that enormous increase, I think it's the cause of a great deal of difficulty," she says. 

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a highly sweet by-product of waste corn, was also incredibly cheap. It began being used in every conceivable food - pizzas, coleslaw, meat. It provided a "just baked" sheen on bread and cakes.

By the mid 1980s, corn syrup had replaced sugar in fizzy soft drinks. The move made financial sense from the soft drink companies' point of view, as corn syrup was a third cheaper than sugar.

But it was also sweeter and, argue some scientists, more addictive. In the next two decades, the average American's consumption of fizzy drinks almost doubled - from 350 cans a year to 600.

But Susan Neely from the American Beverage Association says the increased consumption of fizzy drinks is not to blame for increased obesity in the West.
"The evidence says that obesity is caused when people consume too many calories without the exercise to balance it out," she says. 

"Certainly our regular soft drinks are a source of calories, so if you're consuming too many calories and watching too much television or not getting enough exercise, you're going to have a problem."

Weight gain
Dr Jean-Marc Schwarz from San Francisco General Hospital says it's the sheer amount of fructose being consumed that makes it dangerous.

Sugars: What's the difference?

  • Sucrose is the sugar we know as basic table sugar. It contains both glucose and fructose.
  • Glucose is found in fruits in small amounts. Glucose syrup is made from corn starch.
  • Fructose is the main sugar occurring naturally in all fruits. It also occurs in high-fructose corn syrup.
"It doesn't have a toxic effect like lead. It's not comparable to lead or mercury, but it's the quantity that just makes it toxic," he says.

Fructose is easily converted to fat in the body, and scientists have found that it also suppresses the action of a vital hormone called leptin.

"Leptin goes from your fat cells to your brain and tells your brain you've had enough, you don't need to eat that second piece of cheesecake," says Dr Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist.

He says when the liver is overloaded with sugars, leptin simply stops working, and as a result the body doesn't know when it's full.

"It makes your brain think you're starving and now what you have is a vicious cycle of consumption, disease and addiction. Which explains what has happened the world over," he says.

Heart disease
In the mid-1970s, a fierce debate raged behind the closed doors of academia over heart disease. It boiled down to one simple question: what causes it - sugar or fat?

The view that fat was to blame prevailed, and in doing so it created an entirely new genre of food - "low-fat" products.

The creation of "low fat" promised an immense business opportunity forged from the potential disaster of heart disease.

“Start Quote

When you're eating food that is highly hedonic, it sort of takes over your brain”
End Quote David Kessler Former head, US Food and Drug Administration
Overnight, low-fat products arrived on the shelves. Low-fat yoghurts, spreads, desserts and biscuits. All with the fat taken out, and largely replaced with sugar.

The public embraced the new products, believing them to be healthier. But the more sugar we ate, the more we wanted. 

By the time anyone began to ask if it was a good thing to replace fat with sugar, it was too late - but it was a decision with huge implications for the obesity crisis. 

"If fat's the cause, that's a good thing to do," says Dr Lustig. "If sugar's the cause, that's a disastrous thing to do… and I think over the last 30 years we've answered that question."

David Kessler, the ex-head of the US government's most powerful food agency, the Food and Drug Administration, believes sugar - together with fat and salt - appeals to our brains in the same way as addictive substances.

"It gives you this momentary bliss," Mr Kessler says. "So when you're eating food that is highly hedonic, it sort of takes over your brain."

Terry Jones, from the UK's Food and Drink Federation, says: "All the time the science is changing, the thinking around how to tackle the problem is changing.

Obesity and lifestyle

  • What is obesity? It is normally defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30
  • Use the BMI calculator to check your BMI, from your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared
  • According to figures from 2009, almost a quarter of UK adults are obese (22% of men and 24% of women)
  • Find out more about healthy living or explore a Diet and Fitness plan to suit you
"This is an industry which takes its responsibilities very seriously. It has already done an awful lot and will continue to do so, and we know that there's a real commitment behind us playing our full part in public health." 

The US Sugar Association are keen to point out that that sugar intake alone "is not linked to any lifestyle disease", but scientists are now beginning to think there is something specific about fructose which accelerates obesity.

If a link with obesity is established beyond doubt, we could see the food industry creating a whole new market for low-sugar products, according to former Coca-Cola executive Hank Cardello, who is campaigning to get corporations to tackle obesity.

"The silver lining in the challenge of obesity is that even though it's a problem, it creates a galvanising effect.

"Companies need to make money, and consumers need to eat food that is convenient and tastes good, and from the public health perspective we need products that are healthier. And all those need to come together."