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Kim Jong Un meets South Korean officials for the first time

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met senior South Korean government officials for the first time and said it is his “firm will to vigorously advance” inter-Korean ties and pursue reunification, the North’s official news agency said on Tuesday.

A 10-member South Korean delegation led by National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong travelled to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Monday in hopes of encouraging North Korea and the United States to talk to one another.

Washington and Pyongyang have been at loggerheads for months over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes, with U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un trading insults and threatening war.

Tensions between the two Koreas eased during the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, where President Moon Jae-In hosted a high-level North Korean delegation. Kim Jong Un invited Moon to North Korea for a summit, which Moon said the two sides should work towards.

“Hearing the intention of President Moon Jae In for a summit from the special envoy of the south side, (Kim Jong Un) exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said of the meeting.

The agency did not provide details on what that agreement was but an official from the presidential Blue House in Seoul said it partially addressed the summit offer made by the North.

North Korea has been developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the United States but Pyongyang and Washington both say they want a diplomatic solution.

EASE MILITARY TENSIONS

Seoul’s delegation met Kim Jong Un, his sister Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s wife and other officials on Monday, said Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the South’s presidential office.

Kim Yo Jong attended the Winter Olympics opening ceremony last month.

The delegation will wrap up a two-day trip to Pyongyang later on Tuesday after another meeting with North Korean officials, the spokesman said.

Blue House officials could not confirm whether Kim Jong Un would be present at Tuesday’s meeting. Chung said in Seoul before leaving on Monday his team would deliver the South Korean president’s wish to bring about denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and permanent peace.

Kim Jong Un gave orders for “practical steps” regarding the letter from Moon that was delivered to him by the delegation, KCNA said without elaborating.

“He also made an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange,” the report said.

Both North Korea and the United States have said they are open to talks but the U.S. position has been that dialogue must be aimed at North Korea’s denuclearisation, something Pyongyang has rejected.

The Pentagon nevertheless said it was “cautiously optimistic” about the North-South talks, which resumed in January for the first time in two years.

North Korea has vowed never to give up what it calls an essential deterrent against U.S. hostility.

Pyongyang has not carried out any nuclear or missile tests since November. The Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, 38 North, said satellite images from last week indicated North Korea’s main nuclear reactor may be operating, meaning that it had resumed production of plutonium, presumably for its nuclear weapons programme.

Steam plumes were observed from the reactor in images from Feb. 17 and 28 and that such vapour plumes had “generally been a useful indicator of reactor operations”, 38 North said in a report on Monday.

However, the report said no cooling water discharges had been observed. That could mean the plumes were unrelated to reactor operations, or that the discharge pipeline had been extended into the nearby river in an attempt to disguise activity.

“The presence of ice melt on the river supports the conclusion that the reactor is indeed operating and that the outfall pipeline has been extended,” it said.

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The rapid growth the U.S. economy has seen is about to hit a wall

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A National Park Service worker replaces a flag at the Washington Monument which reopened today following a six month closure due to COVID-19 safety measures, in Washington U.S., July 14, 2021.

Kevin Lemarque | Reuter

The U.S. economy is expected to post another roaring growth spurt in the second quarter, before a slow and steady dose of reality starts to sink in.

Gross domestic product is projected to accelerate 9.2% for the April-to-June period, according to a FactSet survey.

In a pre-pandemic world, that would have put annualized growth at its fastest level since the second quarter of 1983. However, the current circumstances and the outsized policy response they generated make this merely the third straight quarter of GDP that sits well above the post-Great Recession trend.

Things are about to change, however.

The economy is creeping back towards normal, the open checkbook from Congress is about to get tighter, and millions of sidelined American workers will be returning to their jobs. That means a gradual reversion to the mean for an economy more used to growing closer to 2% than the much stronger levels it has turned in during the reopening.

“Growth has peaked, the economy will slow a bit in the second half of this year, then much more noticeably in the first half of 2022 as fiscal support fades,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. “The contours of growth are going to be shaped largely by fiscal policy over the next 18 months. The tailwind just blows less strongly, and may stop altogether by this time next year.”

It’s been a long road getting here, but the economy has gotten very close to its pre-pandemic self.

In fact, according to a running gauge that Jefferies keeps, overall output is at 98.6% of its “normal” level before Covid-19 turned everything upside down. The firm uses a slew of indicators to measure then versus now, and finds that while some areas such as employment and air travel are lagging, retail and housing have helped push overall activity to just below the 2019 level, at 98.6%.

“When I look holistically at household income dynamics and balance sheets, I see a very, very positive situation, very healthy fundamentals, and it’s hard to be pessimistic on the outlook,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies.

Indeed, household net worth totaled $136.9 trillion at the end of the first quarter, a 16% increase from its 2019 level, according to the Federal Reserve. At the same time, household debt payments compared to disposable personal income fell to 8.2%, a record low going back to 1980.

But much of that net worth has been driven by increases in financial assets such as stocks, and personal income has swelled due to government stimulus payments that are slowing and eventually will stop.

Demographics holding back growth

Gasoline prices at a Royal Dutch Shell Plc gas station in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Inflation combined with fading fiscal support also then will serve as a growth limit.

“The economy is facing supply constraints with residential investment likely a drag and the change in inventories remaining negative,” Bank of America U.S. economist Alexander Lin said in a note. “Looking ahead, this is likely the peak, with growth cooling in the coming quarters.”

Capital Economics forecasts a below-consensus 8% GDP figure for the second quarter, then a drop to 3.5% in the following period.

“With surging prices squeezing real incomes we suspect the pace of monthly growth will remain lackluster, setting the stage for a sharp slowdown in consumption and GDP growth in the third quarter,” wrote Paul Ashworth, chief North American economist at Capital Economics.

The pandemic is another wildcard.

Cases of the delta variant are spiking in a handful of states, and health officials worry that the U.S. could face a wave like the one hitting some European and Asian countries. Few if any economists expect another wave of lockdowns or similar constraints in the U.S., but pressure from abroad could hit domestic growth.

“Export platforms like Vietnam are being locked down now,” Brusuelas said. “Vietnam is becoming a more important cog in the global supply chain, so we are watching that closely.

Brusuelas added that the negotiations over the debt ceiling also could shake up things in the U.S. Yellen said Friday that extraordinary measures the U.S. may need to take to continuing paying its debts could hit troubles as soon as October.

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Manchester United sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £73m

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Jadon Sancho is unveiled at Manchester United’s Carrington Training Ground on July 23, 2021.

Ash Donelon | Manchester United | Getty Images

Manchester United have signed Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £73m.

Sancho, whose move to Old Trafford was agreed in principle on July 1, completed a medical earlier this month after his participation at Euro 2020.

He has signed a five-year deal at United, with an option of a further year.

The 21-year-old joins the Premier League club after four years in the Bundesliga with Dortmund, where he won the German Cup in his final season and scored 50 goals across 137 appearances.

Manchester City retain a sell-on clause for their former youth-team player, whose contract in Germany was due to run until the summer of 2023.

“I’ll always be grateful to Dortmund for giving me the opportunity to play first-team football, although I always knew that I would return to England one day,” Sancho told United’s official website.

“The chance to join Manchester United is a dream come true and I just cannot wait to perform in the Premier League.

“This is a young and exciting squad and I know, together, we can develop into something special to bring the success that the fans deserve.

“I am looking forward to working with the manager and his coaching team to further develop my game.”

United had a long-standing interest in Sancho and attempted to sign him last summer, but were put off by Dortmund’s £108m valuation.

Dortmund’s asking price for Sancho dropped to £85m by the start of this summer, with United able to negotiate a further £12m drop in the valuation.

Sancho becomes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s second signing ahead of the new season following the addition of goalkeeper Tom Heaton earlier in the transfer window.

Solskjaer added: “Jadon epitomises the type of player I want to bring to the club, he is a forward player in the best traditions of Manchester United.

“He will form an integral part of my squad for years to come and we look forward to seeing him blossom.

“His goals and assists records speak for themselves and he will also bring tremendous pace, flair and creativity to the team.”

It could be argued Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have more pressing needs in other areas. Many fans might prefer a central defender.

But Sancho has emerged as one of the world’s most exciting young players in recent years and it is easy to understand why United were so determined to finally get their man.

Manchester United will host rivals Leeds United at Old Trafford on the opening weekend of the 2021/22 Premier League season.

United face a possibly season-defining run of games in October and November, which starts with a trip to Leicester on October 16, the first showdown with Liverpool at Old Trafford on October 23, and a visit to Tottenham on October 30.

November 6 marks the first Manchester derby of the season as champions Manchester City travel to Old Trafford, before United head to Champions League winners Chelsea on November 27 before rounding off the month by hosting Arsenal on November 30.

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Farming and solar power set to combine in Netherlands-based pilot

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Drazen_ | E+ | Getty Images

Swedish energy firm Vattenfall has been given a permit to build a project in the Netherlands that plans to combine solar power with farming, in the latest example of how renewables and agriculture can potentially dovetail with one another. 

In a statement earlier this week Annemarie Schouten, Vattenfall’s head of solar development for the Netherlands, explained how the project would “alternate rows of panels with strips where various crops are grown for organic farming.”

The pilot, known as Symbizon, is slated to last four years and be located in Almere, to the east of Amsterdam. Funding has come from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Schouten said that double-sided solar panels would be used in order to ensure “sufficient light yield.” Such a setup would also enable the panels to “catch the reflected light from the soil, the crops and the adjacent rows and use it to produce solar energy.”

While plans have taken a step forward, Vattenfall has yet to confirm if the project will actually progress. A decision on this is expected by the end of 2021. If it does get the green light, construction work will start in 2022. 

A wide range of stakeholders are set to be involved if the scheme is fully realized. These include independent research organization TNO, which would develop a “solar tracking algorithm” to track energy and crop yields, among other things.

The idea of deploying solar panels on farmland has been around for many years. One strand of this is called agrivoltaics, which also goes by the name of agrophotovoltaics.

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According to Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, agrivoltaics “enables the dual use of land for harvesting agriculture and solar energy.”

The idea behind the concept traces its roots back to the early 1980s and is attributed to Adolf Goetzberger, founder of Fraunhofer ISE, and his colleague Armin Zastrow.

According to the Institute, agrivoltaic installations grew from around 5 megawatts in 2012 to approximately 2.9 gigawatts in 2018.

Solar panels can also be used to help those working in agriculture with their day-to-day activities. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, for instance, has noted that “solar technologies are becoming a viable option for both large and small-scale farmers.”

In 2020, CNBC’s “Sustainable Energy” reported on how one Zimbabwe based farmer, Cheneso Ndlovu, was using solar tech to help her grow produce.  

“We do gardening using a solar powered borehole for watering,” she said.

“We planted tomatoes on a small patch we were watering and we realized it was thriving, so we decided to grow other vegetables,” she added. “We use the water for other domestic needs like washing.”

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