India slows, Black Friday, Syria talks, new EU Commission
The FT's Josh de la Mare previews some of the big stories the Financial Times is watching this week, including India GDP data pointing to further slowdown, Black Friday shopping, UN attempts to continue Syria peace talks and a new European Commission
Written by Simon Greaves, Amy Kazmin, Jonathan Eley and Chloe Cornish. Produced by Josh de la Mare. Studio filmed by Nicola Stansfield and Bianca Wakeman
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Here are some of the top stories The Financial Times will be watching this week. Growth figures for India are set to show further signs of economic slowdown. Black Friday in the US and the UK will give clues on the state of the retail sector. A new European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen is expected to take office. And the latest round of talks start on a new constitution for Syria as part of a UK-backed attempt to restart the peace process.
First, on Friday the Indian government will release official data showing how the economy fared in the third quarter of 2019, and the outlook is gloomy.
Until recently, India had revelled in its status as the world's fastest growing large economy. But over the last year the economy has been slowly losing momentum as promised jobs have failed to materialise and anxious consumers have tightened their belts. The government's finances are also stretched, leaving little room for fiscal stimulus. All of this has created a vicious downward spiral as depressed demand leads to layoffs of factory workers and reduced incomes even for those who have held on to their jobs.
In the second quarter of 2019, India's economy grew at a six-year low of 5 per cent. While that may sound good for a developed economy, it's far lower than India needs to grow to absorb the estimated 12m people entering the job market each year. But many economists are predicting that the official data will show that India's economy in the third quarter grew even slower.
This week, it's Black Friday, which is seen as the start of America's Christmas shopping period. Coming one day after Thanksgiving, and one of the season's busiest shopping days it's a concept that crossed over to the UK. But retailers are starting to question the idea of expecting discounts at this time.
In the decades since Black Friday was introduced to the UK it has become as much a part of the retail calendar as the Boxing Day sales. But the era of very deep discounts on selected products in stores for one day only is over. That's partly because Black Friday is now a mostly online event, and it's spread throughout the month of November.
Discounts are often contrived. The result of special deals cooked up with suppliers months ago, rather than genuinely spontaneous reductions. That limits the damage to retailers' margins at a time of year when they should be maximising profits.
Most surveys suggest Brits will spend more on average this year, probably because Black Friday itself occurs on the 29th of the month, which is after most workers have been paid for November. But retailers still question the wisdom of training their customers to expect discounts at certain times of the year. Each year the number of retailers who do not participate in Black Friday grows. This year Primark, Next, and Marks and Spencer's are among the big names sitting it out.
Ursula von der Leyen, a German conservative who is the first woman to be president of the European Commission, and her team of commissioners are due to take up office this Sunday, after a final vote in the European Parliament at its session in Strasbourg. Elected in July, Ms von der Leyen's taking of office has been delayed by a month due to uncertainties surrounding the election of some members of her 27-strong executive team.
She said she will focus on an ambitious climate agenda to make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. Her other objectives, she says, are to strengthen democracy, preserve competitive markets in a digital age, and she has the task to map out the EU'S place between China and the US. To achieve all this, Ms von der Leyen and her team will have to be politically agile to build coalitions in a fragmented European Parliament and to overcome deep divisions between member states represented in the council.
Europe, as we see today, has evolved. Because not only do we help and support each other - of course, this is of utmost importance - but also because we expect every member of our union to step up and to meet our common standards and our common goals.
Finally, this week 150 Syrians will meet in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations for the second round of talks aimed at revamping the civil war torn country's constitution. Although downplayed by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in a rare interview recently, this constitutional committee is a showpiece of a revived UN led peace process for the Syrian civil war.
The committee's representatives are equally split three ways between members representing the regime, opposition parties, and civil society. They're tasked with proposing amendments to Syria's constitution.
Yet critics say that the authoritarian and bloody regime will not be obliged to follow any constitutional changes, and expectations going into the first round of meetings were low. However, Beirut based western diplomats say the initial talks went better than many had anticipated.
For me, the important thing has been that they have come together. They've been sitting down listening to each other, been treating each other with respect. They have been able to work professionally, and they've been able to discuss what I call painful issues. And frankly, I believe that it has gone much better than most people would have expected.
And that's what the week ahead looks like from the Financial Times in London.