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Alaska judge denies motion that would have paused some coronavirus small business grants

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) – A Juneau Superior Court judge has denied a preliminary injunction motion that would have paused some small business grants from being released during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The preliminary injunction centered on whether the Dunleavy administration used a legally valid process to change which small businesses are eligible for coronavirus grants.

House Bill 313 originally made small businesses that had taken any federal loans ineligible for state grants. The Department of Law later advised that businesses that had taken small federal loans could still receive state help.

Eric Forrer, a Juneau resident, challenged that process, saying the administration was using ”revisionist theories” to change the grant program that ran counter to how it was designed to operate.

In his order denying Forrer’s motion, Judge Philip Pallenburg said that HB 313 intended to give the administration some latitude to decide how the grant program is implemented.

The broader question of whether the Legislature acted constitutionally when it used a novel process to spend $1.5 billion in CARES Act funds has also largely been answered. “This case is done like a turkey three days after Thanksgiving,” said Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney appearing on behalf of Forrer.

Geldhof does not plan to appeal how the $290 million small business grant program is implemented. The broader question on the appropriation process used by the Legislature is a different matter.

Geldhof said that Pallenburg had effectively decided that it was valid for the Legislature to ratify the governor’s coronavirus funding request rather than go through a typical appropriation process. He now plans to file an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court challenging that interpretation when the trial case is formally decided.

The intention is not to block CARES Act funds being released but to clarify how the appropriation process of public funds is made validly. “I think that’s worthy of bringing to the Supreme Court and saying, ‘Let’s get an opinion on this,’” Geldhof said.

Copyright KTUU 2020. All rights reserved.



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Spice is right as Indonesian startups eye value in vanilla | Reuters | Business

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By Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian Sofa Arbiyanto had a manufacturing job in South Korea two years ago when he learned about the high price of vanilla on the global market, and decided to try his luck at growing it.

Now he has 2,000 vanilla vines on a 1,200-sq-metre (0.3-acre) farm in Blora, Central Java, started after he did some internet research and joined online groups of vanilla farmers.

“My initial view that farmers live in hardship and poverty has changed,” said the 30-year-old. “With a touch of innovation and technology, it is a promising opportunity.”

Arbiyanto is one of a growing number of millennial start-up vanilla farmers in the southeast Asian nation, which is eager to revive spice shipments to diversify its farm exports, now dominated by palm oil.

The interest in cultivating one of the world’s most valuable spices has sparked a small movement back to the land at a time when farmers have been leaving for jobs in congested cities.

The Indonesian Vanilla Farmers’ Association (PPVI) says 43% of the nearly 600 farmers it has trained are aged between 25 and 35, a demographic that is typically tech-savvy.

Many have learned farming methods from YouTube, and get tips and guidance from experienced farmers through group chats on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, said Mahdalena Lubis, the association’s spokeswoman.

PPVI’s YouTube channel has more than 13,000 subscribers and combined views of its videos exceed a million, she added.

The demand is no surprise, as vanilla beans from top exporter Madagascar were more expensive than silver last year, although prices have since fallen from highs of about $600 a kg.

After typhoons in 2017 and 2018 in the Indian Ocean island sent prices skyrocketing, buyers are looking for more sources of the spice, used in anything from cakes and cookies to sauces and perfume.

Start-up Indonesian farmers are betting on the labour-intensive beans, aware that high-quality crops can fetch them better prices, owing to the painstaking process of pollination by hand.

STRONG POTENTIAL

Indonesia is a distant second to top producer Madagascar, which provides 80% of world supply. McCormick & Co, the world’s largest spice company, is partnering with farmers in the islands of Papua and Sulawesi to secure its supply of Indonesian vanilla.

“Although Madagascar remains the gold standard as far as vanilla quality is concerned, Indonesia has strong potential to become an alternative origin, in terms of quantity and quality,” McCormick said in an emailed statement.

The coronavirus pandemic has boosted consumer demand for vanilla, as well as that from packaged food companies, it added.

Aust & Hachmann, the world’s oldest vanilla trader, estimated that Indonesia would produce about 200 tonnes of beans this year, double last year’s estimate.

In a bi-annual report, the trader said stay-at-home orders around the world had benefitted vanilla, with jumps in grocery shopping and home cooking.

Despite strong demand, shipments faced delays because of virus-related disruptions in trade, causing an annual drop of 18% for the January to May period, Indonesian trade data showed.

But that trend is unlikely to last.

“When the new normal begins and trade activities are gradually increased…vanilla exports will become one of the mainstays of trade that will be expanded,” said Kasan, a director-general in Indonesia’s trade ministry.

But vanilla prices can be volatile, making farming a risky enterprise, Kasan, who uses one name, cautioned.

Lubis, of the vanilla farmers’ group, said ensuring quality was vital to avoid mistakes of the kind that had led big buyers in the past to reject prematurely picked beans, forcing many farmers to switch crops.

“In the global market, we have to be able to compete in maintaining quality to be able to significantly increase our exports,” Lubis added.

But Mohamad Akbar Budiman, 30, is undeterred as he combines work as a civil servant in the province of Banten with an effort to revive once-abandoned cultivation of beans in his backyard.

“Growing vanilla doesn’t take much space, and it’s not difficult.”

(Editing by Martin Petty and Clarence Fernandez)



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China extends anti-dumping tariff on Indian fibre optic product | Reuters | Business

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China is extending an anti-dumping tariff on a fibre optic product made in India, the Ministry of Commerce said on Thursday.

The punitive tariff on single-mode optical fibre takes effect from Aug. 14 and lasts for five years, with tariffs ranging between 7.4% and 30.6% depending on the specific Indian manufacturers, the ministry said.

China previously slapped an anti-dumping tariff on the same Indian product for five years until mid-August of 2019 and then had a review of the case.

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Tom Hogue)



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County of Grande Prairie surveying business satisfaction

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The County of Grande Prairie is looking to once again meet with local businesses to evaluate some of the struggles and opportunities for improvement within the region. The interviews are a continuation of the Business Retention and Expansion Study which was initially conducted at the end of 2019.

Christopher King, County of Grande Prairie Economic Development Manager, says the idea, though it has had to adapt to the times, is to review the state of businesses and gauge what their plans are going forward.

“Obviously with COVID-19 we’ve handled things a little bit differently but the idea is to identify those businesses that maybe are looking at expansion opportunities, or growth opportunities, or maybe even those that are struggling a little bit and are considering downsizing or closing,” he explains.

In 2019, the survey found that roughly 98 per cent of businesses in the County were satisfied with their location as a place to do business. Factors that received the highest rates of satisfaction were the availability of appropriate work-related training, zoning, availability of property for purchase or lease, and availability of adequate housing and development/building permit process.

King says the survey didn’t come back all sunshine and roses, as many businesses shared prominent concerns regarding what they believed was sorely lacking within the County.

“Skilled labour, issues related to internet [and] cell phone reception, came out as some of the least satisfying factors of doing business in the county and Council has taken note of that,” he says.

“Communications work on fibre-optics and cell phones have been jumped up as strategic priorities for Council.”

Any findings from the 2020 study will be published by the County later in the year. Details from the survey conducted last year is also available online.



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