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China’s first-half fiscal spending up as Beijing supports economy

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A Chinese national flag flies in front of a building under construction in the central business district of Beijing, China.

Giulia Marchi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

China’s fiscal spending increased 10.7% in the first six months from a year earlier, the finance ministry said on Tuesday, underlining the government’s bid to support the slowing economy.

Fiscal revenue rose 3.4% in the January-June period from a year earlier, Liu Jinyun, an official with the ministry said.

“In the first half, the nationwide fiscal spending growth was significantly faster than revenue growth, providing a strong support for investment in key areas,” Liu said at a briefing.

Yet fiscal spending growth in the first half cooled from the 15% pace in the first quarter, according to finance ministry data.

Data on Monday showed China’s economic growth slowed to 6.2% in the second quarter, its weakest pace in at least 27 years, as demand at home and abroad faltered in the face of mounting U.S. trade pressure.

China’s tax revenues rose only 0.9% in the first half from a year earlier, which compared with a 5.4% rise in the first quarter, the ministry said.

But non-tax revenues during the period jumped 21.4% from a year earlier.

Hao Lei, a second official at the ministry, said the central government has stepped fund transfers to local governments to help ease their spending strains, he said.

“Due to the impact of policy on tax and fee cuts, fiscal revenue growth has been slowing since the start of this year and pressures on revenue and spending have increased,” Hao told the same briefing.

In the first half, local government’s total net bond issuance reached 2.1765 trillion yuan ($316.74 billion), accounting for 70.7% of the annual quota, the ministry said.

Net local government bond issuance hit 717 billion yuan in June, the highest so far this year and accounted for a third of the first-half amount, the ministry said. But it did not give figures on local government’s issuance of special bonds.

Beijing has announced tax cuts worth nearly 2 trillion yuan and a quota of 2.15 trillion yuan for local governments to sell special bonds this year to fund key infrastructure projects.

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Two Iranians die after testing positive for coronavirus

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A worker at a factory in Nanjing sorting face masks being produced to satisfy increased demand during China’s COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, in China’s Jiangsu province.

Stringer | AFP | Getty Images

Two Iranians have died in hospital after testing positive for the new coronavirus in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom, the head of the city’s University of Medical Sciences told Mehr news agency on Wednesday.

“Two Iranians, who tested positive earlier today for new coronavirus, died of respiratory illness,” the official told Mehr.

Iran’s health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur confirmed their death on Twitter.

Iran confirmed earlier on Wednesday its first two cases of the virus, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said, shortly after reports that preliminary tests on the two had come back positive.

The health ministry said earlier that the patients had been put in isolation.

Rabiei did not give the nationality of the two people infected, but some reports suggested that they were Iranian nationals.

The death toll from the new coronavirus in mainland China passed 2,000 on Wednesday although the number of new cases fell for a second straight day, as authorities tightened already severe containment measures in the worst-hit city of Wuhan.

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Burger King is removing artificial additives from the Whopper

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Burger King announced Wednesday it is removing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives from its signature Whopper sandwich in the United States.

The Restaurant Brands International chain plans to highlight the change with a global advertising campaign that shows a photo of a moldy Whopper, supposedly 28 days old, with text that reads “the beauty of no artificial preservatives.”

The campaign comes as consumers demand more transparency about the ingredients in their food. In 2018, McDonald’s removed artificial additives from seven classic burgers, a change that included tweaking its iconic Big Mac sauce. The Chicago-based company also rolled out fresh beef Quarter Pounders, a change that saw it regain burger market share.

More than 400 U.S. restaurants are already selling Whoppers without artificial additives. The chain expects all Whoppers sold in the U.S. to follow suit by the end of the year. Most European countries are already selling their Whoppers without the artificial additives.

Burger King said more than 90% of all food ingredients at U.S. restaurants do not contain artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. No food items contain MSG or high-fructose corn syrup, both of which are common additives in the fast-food industry.

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EU launches plan to regulate A.I. aimed at Silicon Valley giants

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BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – FEBRUARY 19: Executive Vice President of the European Commission for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager (L) and the EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton (R) are talking to media in the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on February 19, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium.

Thierry Monasse

BRUSSELS – The European Union is looking at ways to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) as it ramps up its oversight of large technology firms.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, opened a 12-week period of discussion on Wednesday aimed at better understanding how to protect EU citizens from what it describes as the negative impacts of A.I. More concrete legislation is then expected in the second half of this year, in what could become its next big point of contention with companies such as Facebook and Alphabet.

“We recognize that we missed the first wave, or the first battle, which was the battle of personal data,” Thierry Breton, the EU’s commissioner for the internal market, told reporters in Brussels Wednesday. He said, however, that the “good news” is that the EU now understands that the next tussle will be over industrial data.

The EU is seen as a leader in corporate regulation, but European companies still struggle with competition from American and Chinese firms. The region’s data privacy rules, called General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and were announced in 2018, serve as a benchmark for tougher regulation in other parts of the world, including in the United States.

Overall, the EU’s aim when it comes to A.I. is to assess what sort of technologies are a risk to fundamental human rights, including in areas such as health care and transport. These will be subject to tougher requirements.

One area that the Commission is particularly concerned about is facial recognition. At the moment, the processing of biometric data in order to identify people is illegal in most cases, under data privacy laws. However, the EU is now looking at whether there should be certain exceptions.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s head of competition policy, said: “Artificial intelligence is not good or bad in itself, it all depends on why and how it is used.”

In an exclusive interview with CNBC Tuesday, Vestager said that the EU is taking a “double-sided” approach where it will enable this technology, while also ensuring it’s not harmful to EU citizens.

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers are watching and waiting to see what the EU decides on. “We encourage the EU to follow America’s lead and pursue an innovation friendly, values-based approach to A.I. regulation, one which avoids over-burdensome, one-size-fits-all policies,” Michael Kratsios, the U.S. chief technology officer told CNBC in emailed remarks.

He added that “the best way to counter authoritarian uses of A.I. is to ensure the U.S. and its allies remain leaders in innovation, advancing technology underpinned by our common values.”

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