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Beware flood-damaged cars

Consumer protection agencies are warning those shopping for used cars to stay alert as some vehicles damaged in the recent floods south of the border may appear on the Canadian market.

The agencies say vehicles caught up in hurricane Harvey and other disasters will likely be disposed of by insurers, but some may be imported into Canada and sold to unsuspecting drivers.

They say the vehicles may seem to be in perfect condition because the damage caused by flooding can take months or even years to manifest.

The Automobile Protection Association says the issues may not be flagged in a history report or come to light in an inspection.

It recommends buying from a dealership or finding out where a used vehicle comes from and steering clear of those from the areas hit by extreme weather.

The association's director, George Iny, says no cases have been reported so far, likely because any flood-related problems have not yet emerged.

"It wouldn't happen so quickly, that a consumer would become aware of that," he said.

Typically, vehicles damaged in floods make their way across the border after being sold for parts, then are cleaned up and reassembled, he said.

"They would put it on the road and it would be retailed to someone here, possibly as a U.S. vehicle, but they wouldn't tell you it was a U.S. write-off," he said.

Ontario's vehicle sales regulator and Quebec's consumer protection agency both issued warnings this month about flood-damaged vehicles from the U.S.

"Authorities in the U.S. have told us they expect about half a million vehicles to be flooded as a result of hurricane Harvey alone," said Tom Girling, director of investigations for the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council. "And they expect many of them will end up being exported — including to Canada."

Water is "insidious," said the council's director of communications, Terry O'Keefe. "It gets into everything and causes corrosion."

Over time, water damage can keep airbags from deploying, cause the car's computer to shut down or ruin electric steering systems, he said.



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WestJet goes big

WestJet Airlines Ltd. is gearing up for delivery of its first Boeing Dreamliner 787 by breaking ground on a new $50-million hangar at Calgary International Airport.

The company announced in April it had placed a firm order for 10 of the widebody jets, which will allow it to serve new destinations in Asia, South America and Europe with higher-end offerings like lie-flat seating.

The new hangar will occupy 125,000 square feet and stand eight stories tall, with two floors of office space.

WestJet says only one Dreamliner at a time will fit into the hangar, although it will be big enough to hold four Boeing 737s.

WestJet's Dreamliners are to be delivered between 2019 and 2021 and it has the option of buying another 10 between 2020 and 2024.



3.1% growth forecast

The Conference Board of Canada says it expects the economy to grow by 3.1 per cent this year, but cautioned growth will slow over the second half and into next year.

Growth is forecast to slow to two per cent in 2018 due to slower consumer spending and a decline in residential investment.

Matthew Stewart, the board's director for national forecasting, says the Canadian economy is performing well above potential and is on track to outperform most other developed economies by a sizable margin

The Conference Board outlook follows a forecast by the OECD earlier this week that predicted the Canadian economy would grow by 3.2 per cent this year, the fastest pace in the G7, but slow to 2.3 per cent next year.

The Conference Board says an improved labour market has boosted consumer optimism and supported consumption in the first half of the year.

However, it noted that with debt levels near-record highs, consumer spending will need to be better aligned with income growth going forward, while cooling home prices will contribute to slower consumer spending.



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He invented the emoji

The tiny smiley faces, hearts, knife-and-fork or clenched fist have become a global language for mobile phone messages. They are displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They star in a new Hollywood film.

The emoji is heir to a tradition of pictographic writing stretching back millennia to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the ideograms used to write Chinese and Japanese.

Despite their ubiquity, they started in 1998 with one man: A 25-year-old employee of mobile phone carrier NTT DoCoMo who created the first set of 176 in one month as he rushed to meet a deadline.

"I happened to arrive at the idea. If I hadn't done it, someone else would have," said Shigetaka Kurita, who now is a board member at Dwango Co., a Tokyo technology company.

Kurita's challenge: NTT DoCoMo's "i-mode" mobile internet service limited messages to 250 characters, which cried out for some kind of shorthand.

A message that said, "What are you doing now?" could be menacing or nosey, but adding a smiley face softened the tone.

"Digital messaging was just getting started, and so I was thinking about what was needed," said Kurita.

Following i-mode's launch in 1999, that nuance made emoji an immediate hit in Japan, where the demands of courtesy make for a complex art and a tiny mistake can prove costly. Emoji combines the Japanese for "picture," or "e'' (pronounced "eh"), and "letters," or "moji" (moh-jee).

Western players Apple and Google made emoji a global phenomenon.

"Perhaps because of the popularity of the iPhone, Apple's art style for its emojis also became extremely influential, to the point that when most people think of emoji imagery, they're thinking of Apple's take on it," said Jason Snell, a tech journalist and podcaster.

Kurita shrugs that off. The dozen-member team designing i-mode was making something for Japan long before smartphones.

"Japanese always are too ahead of our time," said Kurita, an unpretentious man with a quick smile.

In 2010, the 12-by-12-pixel designs were adopted as a global standard by the Unicode Consortiums. That means any phone or operating system that follows the standard will use the same images, making them a universal language.



CETA comes into force

Canadian companies have much greater access to one of the world's largest markets starting Thursday, as a major trade deal between Canada and the European Union enters into force.

Known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, the deal clears barriers to trade for Canada's largest trading partner after the United States.

As of Thursday, over 98 per cent of Canadian goods will be able to enter the EU without tariffs, compared with only 25 per cent a day earlier, which the federal government says will improve export opportunities for a range of Canadian producers, processors and manufacturers.

The deal not only clears the way for goods, which Canada exported $42 billion worth of last year, but also codifies access to services, which Canadian companies sold an additional $18 billion worth in 2016.

The deal will also mean Canadian companies can bid for work at all levels of the EU government procurement market, which the federal government says is worth an estimated $3.3 trillion annually.

The agreement is a two-way street though, with EU companies also gaining access and creating more competition in the Canadian market.

The federal government has been making investments to help prepare companies, including $350 million in funding announced last year to help the dairy sector get ready for the increased competition.

Overall, the trade agreement could increase bilateral trade by 20 per cent annually and boost Canada's income by $12 billion annually, according to a joint Canada-EU study.

The study suggested the economic benefit of the agreement would be equivalent to creating almost 80,000 new jobs or increasing the average Canadian household's annual income by $1,000.



Year-end deal 'impossible'

NAFTA negotiators appear to have adopted the lament of Alice in Wonderland's White Rabbit: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."

Battalions of negotiators for Canada, Mexico and the United States have been working at a breakneck pace trying to reach agreement on a revamped North American free trade pact by the end of the year but so far they have little to show for it.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer seemed to concede as much earlier this week when he offered an assessment of the progress thus far that could have come straight out of "Alice in Wonderland":

"Yeah, well, we're moving at warp speed but we don't know whether we're going to get to a conclusion, that's the problem," he told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "We're running very quickly somewhere."

Canadian government officials insist the talks are going well. But trade experts and stakeholders who've been following the negotiations closely say they've seen no progress on any of the thorny issues and no discernable headway, even on the simple things where all three countries should be in agreement.

If there's no significant progress during the third round of negotiations, starting Saturday in Ottawa, they say there's no chance a deal can be struck by year's end.

And if there is no deal early in the new year, some experts predict U.S. President Donald Trump will follow through on his threat to pull the plug on NAFTA rather than go empty-handed into primaries for mid-term congressional elections.

Ohio-based trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said he's been surprised that all the supposedly "low-hanging fruit" — issues that weren't considered controversial, like bringing the pre-internet NAFTA into the digital age — is still hanging.

"If we don't see something like the digital chapter ... some very strong, completed text on that emerge by the end of this third round, I'd say that's a very strong signal that we're not going to get this done."

Ottawa-based international trade strategist Peter Clark, who was involved in the original NAFTA and Canada-U.S. free trade negotiations, said he expects to see "some visible progress" out of the Ottawa round.

"I think there has to be because you can't keep on going and not doing anything. You have to have enough progress to keep Trump from pulling the trigger," said Clark.



S&P cuts China credit rating

The Standard & Poor's rating agency cut China's credit rating Thursday due to its rising debts, highlighting challenges faced by Communist leaders as they cope with slowing economic growth.

The downgrade added to mounting warnings about the dangers of increasing Chinese debt, which has fueled fears of a banking crisis or a drag on economic growth. Moody's Investors Service cut its own rating for China in May.

S&P lowered its rating on China's sovereign debt by one notch from AA- to A+, still among its highest ratings. The agency had given a warning sign of a possible downgrade in March 2016 when it changed China's outlook to negative.

"A prolonged period of strong credit growth has increased China's economic and financial risks," S&P said in a statement. "Although this credit growth had contributed to strong real GDP growth and higher asset prices, we believe it has also diminished financial stability to some extent."

The ratings cut, announced after Chinese financial markets closed for the day, could raise Beijing's borrowing costs slightly, but the more significant impact is on investor sentiment.



SEC reveals 2016 hack

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Wednesday that a cyber breach of a filing system may have provided the basis for illegal trading in 2016.

In a statement posted on the SEC's website, Chairman Jay Clayton said a review of the agency's cybersecurity risk profile determined that the previously detected "incident" was caused by "a software vulnerability" in its EDGAR filing system.

The statement said the software was patched quickly after the hack was uncovered in 2016, although the possibility that some may have used it to make illegal profits was only discovered last month.

The SEC revelation comes as Americans continue to grapple with the repercussions of a massive, months-long hack of Equifax, a credit reporting agency, which exposed highly sensitive personal information of 143 million people.

The SEC chairman said this breach did not result in exposing personally identifiable information.

The SEC files financial market disclosure documents through its EDGAR system, which processes over 1.7 million electronic filings in any given year according to the agency's 4,000-word statement.

Clayton's statement also mentioned that a 2014 internal review was unable to locate some agency laptops that may have contained confidential information.



Payday loan insurer bashed

An insurance company has been ordered to stop selling policies through two payday lenders and provide refunds after an investigation by B.C. regulators.

The Financial Institutions Commission says it has issued a cease and desist order against Western Life Assurance Company to stop the sale of creditor group insurance through Venue Financial Ltd. and Cashco Financial Inc.

It says the payday lenders aggressively and deceptively sold Western Life's insurance products and are prohibited from such sales involving any insurer in B.C. until the commission is satisfied their practices are conducted properly.

The commission, which partnered on an investigation with Consumer Protection BC, says legally required disclosures are not being made to consumers who aren't told they've bought the insurance or that it's a voluntary product. The joint investigation also found consumers are not given enough information, or an opportunity, to make an informed decision about whether they want or need insurance that may be sold to people who aren't eligible for coverage.

The commission says Western Life must contact everyone who's been insured through payday lenders and provide details of the insurance they bought, confirm eligibility and offer to cancel the insurance and give refunds to affected consumers.



Fox makes bid for Sky TV

The British government has referred Twenty-First Century Fox's bid for satellite broadcaster Sky to competition authorities on public interest grounds, a move that sets up a six-month investigation into Rupert Murdoch's takeover plans.

The Competition and Markets Authority said Wednesday it "will now examine how the deal would impact media plurality and broadcasting standards in the U.K."

The move was widely expected after Culture Secretary Karen Bradley told lawmakers last week she planned to refer the deal to regulators.

With Murdoch already owning the Sun and The Times newspapers, there are concerns about too much power concentrated in one company.

Murdoch's media group wants to buy the 61 per cent of Sky it doesn't already own. The takeover values Sky, which broadcasts Premier League soccer, at 18.5 billion pounds ($25 billion).



PM touts progressive trade

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took his so-called progressive trade agenda to the United States on Tuesday, arguing that worker-friendly policies are key to saving public support for free trade.

He made that case in a speech as he arrived in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, and was presented an award for global citizenship by the Atlantic Council think tank.

The prime minister noted that some critics at home have made fun of his government for pushing chapters on gender equality, indigenous rights, and labour protections as priorities for a new North American Free Trade Agreement under the argument that these things have nothing to do with trade.

But he suggested this is no laughing matter for anyone who cares about preserving trade, in an era when populist currents have threatened to topple international agreements in Europe, Asia and North America.

"Some appear to have been confused by this," Trudeau said "It's as though they expect us to do trade exactly the same way it was done by our parents, a quarter century ago."

He said trade deals have been broadly positive for the majority of citizens but if they were perfect there would be no populist backlash like the ones currently occurring, especially in former manufacturing regions slammed by offshoring and automation.

"So we need to do a better job of ensuring the benefits of trade extend to the middle class and those working hard to join the middle class — not just the wealthiest few," Trudeau said.

"In short, progressive trade is not a frill. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is a practical necessity, without which popular support for a growth agenda cannot be maintained."

He noted as an example the push for labour rights. Sources say the Canadian government hopes the new NAFTA includes stronger union protections for Mexican workers, and an end to U.S. right-to-work laws that limit the potential to strike.



Labatt to pour in $460M

Labatt Breweries of Canada says it is investing $460 million between 2017 and 2020 to enhance its operations and help boost growth.

The maker of popular brands such as Labatt Blue, Budweiser and Alexander Keith's says the figure includes $62.2 million towards brewery operations this year.

Each of Labatt's six breweries has already received at least $19 million in recent years, as it invested $546 million in capital improvements between 2011 and 2016.

The company says this investment in new technology and equipment should help it increase production of new and innovative products, as consumer tastes develop and demand is rising for different kinds of beverages.

The investments are not expected to result in new jobs or layoffs. Labatt employs more than 3,500 people in Canada and will celebrate its 170th year this fall.

Labatt — once an independent giant in Canada’s beer industry — was bought in 1995 by a Belgian group that has continued to grow by buying and merging with other companies around the world. The group, now called Anheuser-Busch InBev, last year bought the world’s second-biggest beermaker SABMiller for a combined one-third of the global beer market.

AB InBev and SABMiller own hundreds of brands, including Budweiser, Corona, Grolsch, Stella Artois and Labatt.

Labatt has been moving to buy up craft beers, including Shock Top and the 2015 purchase of Toronto's Mill Street Brewery, its sixth acquisition of a North American craft brewer since 2011. The company now operates three stand-alone craft brewers.

Labatt announced a US$350-million deal with the Mark Anthony Group to buy the Canadian rights to Mike's Hard Lemonade, Okanagan Cider and ownership of the Turning Point Brewery in British Columbia, which brews Stanley Park beers, giving the company a bigger stake in both the growing pre-mixed drinks and ciders markets, which have been growing in popularity.



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