The reports from Copenhagen are still very confusing. As I write this item just after midday Friday, the news from Copenhagen is not much clearer about the likely final outcome. The New York Times has the United States seeking to inject new momentum into talks aimed at reaching a global agreement by backing a proposal “to create an international pot of money for developing countries that could be worth more than $100 billion a year by the end of the next decade.” The BBC News also has a note of optimism with its report that China signalled concessions on monitoring of emission curbs.

Who knows what the day will bring when the world leaders take over from their environment ministers and set about trying to salvage their political reputations. I have absolutely no idea but if you like to live in hope I will mention my one experience many years ago of negotiating with Chinese bureaucrats which at least suggests that there is some hope that the story about a final Chinese willingness to compromise might be right.

It was back in those days before Chinese communism had embraced capitalism and the subject was tea not climate change. In a moment of madness I had decided to import black tea to tackle the oligopoly of Bushells, Liptons and Tuckfields et al. Carefully I had calculated the price I had to obtain supplies and frankly told the officials of the Chinese Government monopoly. After several days of discussions a considerable gap remained between the price I needed and what they said was the lowest they could go. Ah well, thanks for trying. We shook hands and flights home were booked for the next morning.

There at the airport to farewell my little team were the Chinese tea merchant negotiators who duly produced contracts ready for signature agreeing to supply tea at a price lower than I had requested.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this Chinese tactic of testing the nerve of those they negotiate with is being repeated in Stockholm.

091218gailkellyfmcover

Now I know why. At last it has become clear to me why the Gail Kelly admiration society came to such an abrupt halt. I had missed the fact that she had made the cover of the major financial magazine in her old home country of South Africa back at the end of 1977 just before she took over the reins at Westpac. According to the Financial Mail Mrs Kelly was a South African “world beater”.

Along with making the Forbes magazine’s list of the 50 most-powerful women in world business, this adulation was the kiss of death.

Investors should note and remember that making the cover of a major business magazine is a sure sign of bad things to come for the person pictured.

Conservative wings. Australia is not the only country where conservative politics has developed what can be described as science and anti-science wings. Just as Australian Liberals have their Nick Minchin and Malcolm Turnbull camps, so too do the American Republicans have their clear divisions. The “discussions” between Sarah Palin as the representative of anti-science and Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been getting every bit as vitriolic as Minchin v Turnbull.

Says the Governator of Palin: “You have to ask: what was she trying to accomplish?” said Mr Schwarzenegger. “Is she really interested in this subject or is she interested in her career and in winning the [Republican] nomination [for president]? You have to take all these things with a grain of salt.”

To which Palin responds: “Why is Governor Schwarzenegger pushing for the same sorts of policies in Copenhagen that have helped drive his state into record deficits and unemployment? Perhaps he will recall that I live in our nation’s only Arctic state and that I was among the first governors to create a sub-cabinet to deal specifically with climate change. While I and all Alaskans witness the impacts of changes in weather patterns firsthand, I have repeatedly said that we can’t primarily blame man’s activities for those changes. And while I did look for practical responses to those changes, what I didn’t do was hamstring Alaska’s job creators with burdensome regulations so that I could act “greener than thou” when talking to reporters.”

Peter Fray

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