U.N. calls for Saudi-led coalition to re-open aid lifeline to Yemen

U.N. calls for Saudi-led coalition to re-open aid lifeline to Yemen

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations urged the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen to re-open an aid lifeline to bring imported food and medicine into Yemen, whose 7 million people are facing famine in a country that is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen said on Monday it would close all air, land and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula country to stem the flow of arms from Iran.

The Saudis and their allies say the Houthis get weapons from their arch-foe, Iran. Iran denies the charges and blames the conflict in Yemen on Riyadh.

Humanitarian operations – including U.N. aid flights – are currently “blocked” because air and sea ports in Yemen are closed, Jens Laerke of the U.N. Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told a news briefing on Tuesday.

The Saudi-led coalition has told the world body to “inform all commercial vessels at Hodeidah and Saleef ports to leave”, he said, referring to Red Sea ports controlled by the Houthis.

“We call for all air and sea ports to remain open to ensure food, fuel and medicines can enter the country,” Laerke said.

“The situation is catastrophic in Yemen, it is the worst food crisis we are looking at in the world today, 7 million people are on the brink of famine, millions of people being kept alive by our humanitarian operations,” he said.

The price of fuel jumped 60 percent “overnight” in Yemen and the price of cooking gas doubled, as long lines of cars are reported forming at petrol stations, he added.

“We hear reports this morning of prices of cooking gas and petrol for cars and so on is already spiraling out of control,” he said. “So this is an access problem of colossal dimensions right now.”

Rupert Colville, U.N. human rights spokesman, said the office would study whether the blockade amounted to “collective punishment”, banned under international law but hoped that it would be temporary.

The U.N. human rights office was deeply concerned at a series of attacks in Yemen over the past week that have killed dozens of civilians, including children, at markets and homes, he said.

These included at least nine air strikes on the Houthi-held city of Sanaa since Saturday, when a missile was fired from Yemen toward the Saudi capital of Riyadh, he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also called for medical aid to be allowed to enter Yemen to combat a cholera epidemic which has caused 908,702 suspected cases and 2,194 deaths since the outbreak began in April, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay,; editing by Larry King)

U.S. bans fresh Brazil beef imports over safety concerns

A customer (R) pays for his meat at the Municipal Market in Sao Paulo October 10, 2014. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The United States halted imports of fresh Brazilian beef on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said, after a high percentage of shipments failed to pass safety checks.

The USDA had “recurring concerns about the safety of the products intended for the American market,” after increasing tests on Brazilian beef in March, according to a statement.

The agency raised scrutiny on Brazilian beef and ready-to-eat products as a precaution following an investigation into corruption involving Brazil’s health inspectors that targeted meat companies JBS SA <JBSS3.SA> and BRF SA <BRFS3.SA>.

JBS, the world’s largest meat packer, declined to comment on the U.S. ban.

The USDA’s action threatens the reputation of meat from Brazil, the world’s top exporter of beef and poultry, even though the United States is not a top customer. It also could boost domestic sales in the United States.

“Product was already on the water and that’s not going to be allowed in,” Altin Kalo, a U.S. livestock analyst at Steiner Consulting Group, said about shipments headed to the United States from Brazil via boat.

Since March, the USDA has rejected 11 percent of Brazilian fresh beef products, compared to the rejection rate of 1 percent for shipments from the rest of the world, the agency said. The shipments, totaling about 1.9 million pounds, raised concerns about public health, animal health and sanitation, according to the USDA.

The agency said none of the rejected lots made it into the U.S. market.

The move to block Brazilian meat is a turnaround for Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who warned in March that Brazil might retaliate if the United States halted beef imports.

On Thursday, he said in a statement that “although international trade is an important part of what we do at USDA, and Brazil has long been one of our partners, my first priority is to protect American consumers.”

The U.S. suspension will remain in place until Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry “takes corrective action which the USDA finds satisfactory,” according to the agency.

A slew of global buyers, including China, Egypt and Chile, curtailed imports of Brazilian meat after Brazilian federal police unveiled an investigation into alleged corruption in the sector on March 17.

Brazilian authorities said at the time that meat companies made payments to government health officials to forego inspections and cover up health violations.

China is not expected to follow the U.S. move as it only permits imports of frozen Brazilian beef, which has different requirements to fresh meat, said analysts.

Brazil is also China’s top beef supplier, and would be difficult to replace in the short-term, said Pan Chenjun, senior animal protein analyst at Rabobank.

The United States began allowing shipments of fresh beef from Brazil last year after banning them due to concerns about foot and mouth disease in cattle.

(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago, Tatiana Bautzer in Sao Paulo and Dominique Patton in Beijing.; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Trott)

U.S. import prices moderate on cheap fuel

A woman pumps gas at a station in Falls Church, Virginia December 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) – U.S. import price increases slowed in February on cheap fuel, but there were signs of a pickup in underlying imported inflation.

The Labor Department said on Thursday import prices rose 0.2 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.6 percent increase in January. It was the third straight monthly increase.

In the 12 months through February, import prices accelerated 4.6 percent, the largest gain since February 2012, after rising 3.8 percent in January.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices ticking up 0.1 percent last month after a previously reported 0.4 percent increase in January.

Last month’s moderation in import prices is likely to be temporary amid strengthening global demand that is lifting prices for oil and other commodities.

Prices for imported fuels fell 0.7 percent last month after surging 7.2 percent in January. Import prices excluding fuels rose 0.3 percent. That was the first increase since July and followed a 0.1 percent dip the prior month.

The cost of imported food jumped 1.0 percent last month. Prices for imported capital goods were unchanged after slipping 0.1 percent in January. Imported consumer goods prices excluding automobiles increased 0.2 percent last month after a similar gain in January.

The report also showed export prices increased 0.3 percent in February after gaining 0.2 percent in January. Export prices were up 3.1 percent from a year ago. That was the biggest increase since December 2011 and followed a 2.4 percent rise in January.

Prices for agricultural exports increased 1.4 percent last month, boosted by rising vegetable prices, as well as higher prices for soybeans and corn. Agricultural export prices rose 0.1 percent in January.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)