Business News

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Temelin insurance insufficient

Environmentalists have warned that insurance of the Temelin nuclear power station against a nuclear accident is insufficient. The owner of the plant, the energy monopoly CEZ, insured Temelin at 1.5 billion Czech crowns (almost 45 million USD), in accordance with the law on nuclear power. However, the value of property in a 20-km zone around Temelin is in the order of trillions of crowns, according to data collected in the mid-1990s. The law stipulates that the nuclear facility operator is responsible for damage of up to 6 billion and cannot be held liable for damage exceeding that limit. That, according to environmentalists, means that those affected by a possible accident will not receive decent compensation.

Meanwhile, the government rejected a parliamentary proposal for calling a referendum on putting Temelin into operation. Government spokesman Libor Roucek said ministers were convinced that citizens of any country should have the right to express their opinion on issues of great importance. Nevertheless, in the case of Temelin, which is finished and ready to be put into operation, the cabinet considers a referendum pointless.

Food prices may rise by as much as 15 percent

Consumer prices of some foodstuffs may rise by as much as 10 to 15 percent later this year. The chairman of the Czech Agricultural Chamber, Vaclav Hlavacek, explained that Czech food prices were 25 - 50 percent lower than those in the EU, a figure which will not be sustainable. However, he said Czech prices will grow gradually, so the public does not have to fear a sudden, drastic price hike. Hlavacek added that turnover in agriculture decreased by almost one third in 1999. Besides the low price levels last year, another factor that will contribute to a rise in food prices will be the severe droughts in the spring that destroyed many crops in the Czech Republic.

Mobile operators report fast increase in number of customers

Czech mobile phone operators have reported a sharp increase in the number of customers this year, confirming strong growth in the cellular market this year. The market leader, Eurotel, said that its user base grew to 1.5 million in July compared to 1.2 million in March. The number of Eurotel customers has now doubled as compared to last year. Eurotel also announced a 39-percent year-on-year increase in operating revenues for the first six months of this year. The second strongest operator, RadioMobil, reported nearly 1,350,000 users at the end of July, an almost 150-percent increase since last year. Cesky Mobil had a mere 72,000 users at the end of June. Experts say however, that this is a quite reasonable number given that the operator only launched its services in April this year. As far as the overall cellular penetration is concerned, it rose from 19 percent at the end of 1999 to 28 percent in June.

According to economic analyst and telecommunications market expert Ondrej Datka from Patria Finance, the Czech Republic is gradually catching up with more developed countries.

Prime minister foresees decrease in unemployment

Prime Minister Milos Zeman predicts that unemployment in the Czech Republic could decrease to 7.5 percent by 2002 from the current 9. Zeman said positive factors expected to contribute to the process include the continuing restructuring of industry, especially in the troubled Northern parts of the country, and an economic revival. The prime minister foresees an acceleration of economic growth to 4 percent in 2002, a level higher than the EU average.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance has revised its economic forecast for this year. The ministry changed estimated GDP growth this year from 1.5 to 2.5 percent. It also decreased the projected end-of-year inflation to 4.1 percent. As far as unemployment rate is concerned, the Finance Ministry foresees a figure of 9.4 percent at the end of 2000 and a slight increase to 9.6 percent at the end of 2001, which analysts say is rather optimistic.

Right-wing MP's criticise "social engineering", communists agree

Opposition politicians have criticised the latest proposals by Labour and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla concerning reform of the social welfare system. Right-wing opposition MP's disapprove of Minister Spidla's plan to introduce benefits for all families with children. They say this would be a waste of money because higher-income families do not need such support. The only opposition party that would welcome an introduction of this and other non-addressed social benefits is the Communist Party. The Communists claim that the falling birth rate in the Czech Republic is becoming an urgent political problem, and that it is necessary to encourage families to have more children.

Foreign trade gap widens

The Czech foreign trade deficit widened to almost 300 million USD in June. For the same period of 1999, the passive balance was only 70 million. The Czech Statistics Office said the main cause of the development was higher imports of crude oil. The value of these imports was double than that in June 1999. The unfavourable development has been partly compensated for by an increase in exports of products with added value, mainly to EU countries.

Government mulling oil price regulation

The ruling Social Democratic Party is considering the introduction of price regulations on motor fuel if costs remain high at the petrol pump. Deputy leader Zdenek Skromach said high petrol prices were unfair now, when the holiday season is at its peak. Oil prices have been rising in the Czech Republic since the beginning of the year and have been the key element to hikes in consumer and producer prices. Skromach complained that despite recent drops in the supply prices charged by producing countries, local retailers have kept their prices high. The price for most petrol types used in the country has risen to over 30 crowns per litre or ($0.80) in the spring and summer months from about 25 at the beginning of the year. Skromach added that the party may ask the Economic Competition Office to review the retailers' pricing practices.

Chlorine leaks from Spolana chemical works

The Spolana Neratovice chemical works suffered a serious accident last Friday when more than 150 kg of the chlorine leaked into the air from a broken pipeline. The factory is located just 30 kilometres north of Prague. No casualties among the public were reported, but twelve firemen were injured when they tried to contain the substance. Decontamination of the plant and neighbouring areas will take several days.

The chlorine leak revived discussion about the chlorine industry, namely the production of PVC which is used for a number of products - from wrapping materials to children's' toys. Jiri Tutter from the Czech branch of Greenpeace told Radio Prague that chlorine was one of the main global pollutants and that the organisation considered Spolana a danger to the public.

Spolana had problems with dioxins in 1967 and 1968, when a major leak of dioxin seriously injured some 80 employees and caused three production lines to be closed down and sealed. Only one has been re-opened since. Dioxins accumulate in fatty tissues of living organisms and are highly poisonous and carcinogenic, and also damage reproductive functions. After the latest accident, environmentalists called on Spolana to disclose details on the factory's production technology, a call which the company seems to have accepted.