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Inflation: As the global economy deflates, here is what the coming crisis looks like | Economy and Business

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Last October, during the presentation of its World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that “the global recovery is underway despite the resurgence of the pandemic.” The world’s growth was expected to be 4.9% in 2022.

In January of this year, however, the IMF’s projection for global GDP growth was lowered to 4.4%. In April, it was cut even further, leaving it at 3.6%, mostly as a result of the economic damage inflicted by the war in Ukraine.

Inflation – which already spiked at the end of 2021 due to rising employment and growing demand after the restrictions imposed by Covid-19 – has run amok to levels not seen in 40 years, mostly due to supply chain bottlenecks and the sharp rebound in energy costs. What was initially seen as a transitory situation has taken root, as the armed conflict in Ukraine stalls and second-round inflationary waves arrive.

Last year, to curb inflation by shrinking the money supply, the main central banks drew up a roadmap for the gradual withdrawal of economic stimulus, while still keeping interest rates low to give investors and borrowers breathing room in the post-pandemic years. This strategy of slowly increasing the price of money and shrinking federal balance sheets was laid to waste by Putin’s invasion. The Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank have been forced to give a sharp turn and accelerate interest rate hikes to try and stifle burgeoning inflation, by slowing the levels of borrowing and consumer spending.

In a world addicted to liquidity since the response to the 2008-9 Great Recession, a much tighter monetary policy is a heavy blow to growth prospects. In addition to rising prices and interest rates, the world will now likely have to contend with higher unemployment. However, each region has its own peculiarities. In the following reports, we analyze the situation of the world’s four major economic zones.

Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Lubmin (Germany).
Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Lubmin (Germany).Michael Sohn
EUROPEAN UNION

The euro zone walks a tightrope again

LLUÍS PELLICER

The European economy is walking along a narrow tightrope, trying to maintain its balance in the face of two tumultuous forces: rising energy prices and declining growth. Both are intensifying as the invasion of Ukraine continues.

Everything indicates that Southern Europe is preparing to shine this summer, with its coastlines well-populated after two years of restrictions. However, the recovery may skid due to a number of factors: the escalation of the war, the supply-chain bottlenecks created by China’s intense lockdowns, or the tightening of monetary policy. The European recovery fund – endowed with €800 billion until 2027- will be a necessary buffer in the coming months.

“Everything indicates that we are going to have a good summer, but in September it can change. We are going [through] a stage in which we are going to have higher prices and weaker growth,” says María Jesús Valdemoros, a lecturer in economics at the University of Navarra in northern Spain.

The main risk to the recovery is if Putin cuts off the gas supply to Europe. The European Central Bank (ECB) estimates that this would weigh on economic growth in the eurozone, so that it would grow only 1.3% in 2022 and contract by 1.7% in 2023, while inflation would increase even more than the 8% currently registered. Just a week ago, the German government was forced to raise its alert level due to the forecast of not being able to fill gas tanks by autumn. And therein lies the main fear of Frankfurt and Brussels: that Germany will enter a recession and drag down the rest of its partners.

The influential Munich-based Ifo Institute for Economic Research does not foresee that this extreme will occur, but it notes that all the blows received as a result of the war in Ukraine and the lockdowns in China are going to cost Germany 1.5% of GDP. In a normal year, the agency maintains, the country would have already entered a recession.

Faced with this situation, the ECB has debated between raising rates – despite the risk of strangling growth – or maintaining a more lax policy with the threat that prices will continue to skyrocket. For now, it has decided to raise its key interest rates by 0.25% in July and probably 0.50% in September.

For the inflation “hawks,” the Eurobank is too late, especially when the rest of the central banks have been raising rates for months. The “doves,” with the memory of the ECB’s ill-timed rate hikes that curbed recovery efforts in 2011, fear that a hasty increase will cause an economic slowdown… especially if there is yet another external blow, whether it comes from Moscow or Beijing.

As a precaution, several EU governments have acted to cushion their populations from inflation. For instance, Spain has given out bonuses for the most vulnerable workers and reduced the price of transit passes. However, international institutions, from the IMF to the European Commission, are asking for financial reserves to be rebuilt. And, with Germany at the forefront, some governments are warning about overspending.

“It is time to get out of [such] policies. Inflation is high and governments should not make it continue to grow through spending,” says Clemens Fuest, president of Ifo. “It’s a bad decision.”

Forecasts indicate that there are many risks that cloud growth. “Households are seeing their income reduced. Real wage growth has been negative for two consecutive quarters,” said Christine Lagarde, president of the ECB.

There is a possibility that the clouds will dissipate, if, say, the war in Ukraine were to end. But in the event that hostilities continue and the economic battle between Brussels and Moscow persists, it remains to be seen how high energy prices will rise, how far governments can go and when the central banks will run out of cash.

Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Federal Reserve.Kevin Dietsch (AFP)

UNITED STATES

Rising prices stop the country from reaching full employment

MIGUEL JIMÉNEZ

Job offers are obvious throughout the nation’s capital: in the windows of banks, clothing stores, supermarkets, movie theaters. It is estimated that, in the United States, there are twice as many vacancies as there are unemployed individuals. The country is nearing full employment. And yet, the economic situation has sunk the popularity of President Joe Biden and threatens his party’s control of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections. Blame it on inflation.

Prices have risen 8.6% in the past year – the biggest increase in four decades. But the daily reminder to Americans that prices are skyrocketing is the cost of fuel. Gasoline has increased in price by more than 60%. On average, it costs about $5 per gallon. There are places where it’s around $8. Furthermore, inflation has entrenched itself and spread to more and more products, from grocery aisles to hotels.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has vowed to stabilize prices, even if it comes at the cost of a recession. What he is looking for is a so-called “soft landing,” or to control inflation without the economy contracting and unemployment skyrocketing. In his last Senate appearance, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren snapped at him: “You know what’s worse than high inflation and low unemployment? It’s high inflation and a recession with millions of people out of work.”

Powell himself admits that his wiggle room for a soft landing is slim. The Federal Reserve has already made three rate hikes, the last of them being 0.75 points. This is the largest increase since 1994. By the end of 2022, the rates will be between 3% and 3.5%, and next year close to 4%, according to the Fed’s projections. The withdrawal of liquidity will slow down the economy.

Will this lead to recession? “It is not what we are looking for, but it is a possibility,” was Powell’s response before the Senate.

Last week, the IMF lowered its growth forecasts for the United States from 3.7% to 2.9% this year and from 2.3% to 1.7% for the next. It is expected that in 2024, growth will be a mere 0.8%.

“The most likely outlook is very weak growth and persistently high inflation. We see about a 40% chance of a recession next year,” says Ethan S. Harris, global economist at Bank of America Securities.

Recession or not, economic malaise is already palpable. A report published in June indicated that 36% of those who earn more than $250,000 a year (four times the median salary) live paycheck-to-paycheck. If a significant part of the most privileged echelon feels that they can barely make ends meet, it is easy to imagine how the rest of Americans are doing.

Lines in London during the latest public transit strike.
Lines in London during the latest public transit strike.Chris J. Ratcliffe (Bloomberg)
UK

The City sees dark clouds

RAFA DE MIGUEL

After the Bank of England’s (BoE) warning last May that the UK economy would enter a slight recession at the end of 2022, the hard-right of the Conservative Party demanded that the Prime Minister lower taxes. This year, public sector workers have called strikes throughout the summer to demand salary increases compatible with galloping inflation nearing double digits.

Both PM Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have been trying to contain pressure from their party and the general population, to avoid further aggravating inflation with lower taxes or exorbitant wage increases.

“What is most worrying is that this inflation has been concentrated in what could be called basic goods,” said Andrew Bailey, Governor of the BoE. “Basically, energy and food.”

This is to say that the crisis, above all, affects the poorest citizens. Although the BoE suggests that there could be a modest recovery by early 2023 – thus avoiding two consecutive quarters of GDP decline, or the technical definition of a recession – it is anticipated that the UK will see growth decline next year by 0.25%.

The average price per household for gas and electricity shot up almost €800 in April, and it will reach more than €3,000 (annually) by October. In May, the government approved a 25% windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies. Much of this tax was intended to finance single-payment subsidies to millions of households, between €400 and €1,000, to meet the exorbitant cost of living.

The BoE, like other central banks, has reacted late, but with impetus. So far this year, interest rates have already risen to 1%. Focused on combating inflation, the looming economic storms have not been reason enough for the monetary authority to relax its drastic decision. “I am aware of the harsh consequences this will have for many people, particularly those with lower incomes and little savings,” Bailey admitted after announcing the decision. It will now be harder for small and medium-sized businesses to borrow and expand, and for consumers to pay off credit cards and loans.

Johnson now faces a three-pronged problem: voters angry with the galloping rise in prices; some MPs, desperate to keep their seats, demanding lower taxes; and exhausted public accounts after two years of pandemic spending.

A woman passes a coronavirus control in Beijing on June 28.
A woman passes a coronavirus control in Beijing on June 28.THOMAS PETER (REUTERS)
CHINA

The dragon’s ailments grow

MACARENA VIDAL LIY

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s meeting with officials on May 25 was unusual because of its size—nearly 100,000 local officials participated in the video call—but also because of his frankness. The head of government acknowledged that the difficulties facing the second world power’s economy are more serious than in the worst moment of the pandemic, when it contracted for the first time in 30 years.

A lethal combination of lockdowns in some of the country’s major cities – including the closure of Shanghai, its financial heart, throughout April and much of May – the war in Ukraine and the crisis in the real estate sector left alarming numbers in April. Most analysts have downgraded their growth prospects for the Asian giant this year. Few, even within official circles, believe that the government’s objective of a GDP increase of around 5.5% for 2022 will be met. The World Bank calculates 4.3%. Other entities, such as the Swiss UBS, forecast 3%.

Consumer confidence has suffered a severe blow. In April, retail sales fell by 11.1%; in May, by 6.7%. Even the consumption of cosmetics has decreased, products that have never stopped seeing their sales grow since China entered the World Trade Organization 20 years ago. Youth unemployment stands at 18.4%, well-above the average of the European Union (13.9%) or the United States (7.8%). The entry of 10.76 million recent college graduates into the market this summer will grow that number even further.

Experts say that the massive confinements, together with constant PCR testing, are mainly responsible for this economic anemia. “The only predictable thing about China right now is its unpredictability, and that is poison for the business climate,” said Bettina Schoen-Behanzin, the VP of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, at the presentation of her institution’s annual report on the confidence of European companies in the Asian country. Sixty percent of the companies included in the report said that doing business in China had become more difficult, and 49% cited Covid among the three main reasons why.

So far, Beijing has introduced relatively modest stimulus measures, including tax breaks for small and medium-sized businesses and increased spending on infrastructure. The most recent data is beginning to show some bright spots: for instance, industrial production for May grew by 0.7%, after a 3% contraction in April. But analysts from Nomura Holdings note that although the reopening of cities “has raised optimism in the short-term, we do not see it as a change in trend, given that the Covid-zero policy will continue until the beginning of 2023.” Possible risks in the coming months are new lockdowns to stem Covid outbreaks, drastic corrections to support the weakened housing market, or problems related to the high debt of local governments.

Although performing below original forecasts, and far from repeating the driving role it played in the 2008 financial crisis, the Chinese economy will continue to grow. “China is not going to enter a recession,” says Alicia García-Herrero, chief economist for Asia at the investment bank Natixis. Neither “is it going to be a source of global recession, but it will be a source of slowdown, to which it contributes to the extent that it does not grow as much as its potential.”

García-Herrero also notes that China is helping to export inflation to the rest of the world. The Beijing government has imposed restrictions on the export of items such as fertilizers and some steel products; the subsequent shortages have triggered international price increases.

“This is an additional source of tension, given that China exports a third of the world’s intermediate goods,” she warns.

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‘There are snakes – but we attack the fires’: refugees fight flames in the Sahara | Global development

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Ahmedou Ould Boukhary knows he can get the call at any time, day or night from the local authorities in Bassikounou, a town in the south-east of Mauritania. Someone has spotted a fire in one of the villages perched on the edge of the Sahara. How soon can he and his men be there?

Boukhary leads the Brigade Anti-Feu – the Anti-Fire Brigade – a volunteer force of about 500 Malian refugees living in M’bera camp, towards the border with Mali, 11 miles (18km) from the town. When the call comes, teams of between 50 and 70 men pack themselves into the backs of pickup trucks and zoom out of the camp to deal with the blaze. Sometimes they travel up to 20 miles to put out fires.

A view from a plane of the vast expanse of Sahara close to Bassikonou and M’bera Camp where bush fires rage after the rainy season under the immense heat of the sun and the gusts of wind that spread the burning.
Malian refugees queue outside a distribution centre in M’bera camp for their allocation of food and feminine hygiene products
Two Malian refugee herdsmen watch their cattle next to a water trough in M’bera camp.
Members of the M’bera camp Brigade Anti-Feu drive to their training exercise. Before the rainy season, wildfires become a risk

With little more than axes and tree branches, the brigade helped to put out 36 fires in and around the camp since October, during the most recent dry season, which runs until June. The fires typically come after the rains, when scrubland, full of green plant life, slowly becomes a tinderbox.

Ahmedou Ould Boukhary, a founder of the 200-strong Anti-Fire Brigade who organises training for its members, at a tree nursery in the camp. A key method by which the community prevent bushfires is the creation of fire-breaks cleared of plant debris and other vegetation.

  • Ahmedou Ould Boukhary, a founder of the Anti-Fire Brigade, at a tree nursery in the camp.The brigade plants trees to replace those used for building and cooking

During a recent practice run, the trucks race into the desert. When they halt, the men jump out and start hacking at a small tree, passing its wispy branches around to use as makeshift brooms. They form a line, and start sweeping at the ground just as they would if putting out a real fire. Dust and sand billows into the hot air, which fills with the sound of excited shouts. The equipment may be modest, but branches used well are enough to stamp out many scrubland fires.

Brigade members arrive for a training exercise

“It’s a little tiring, it’s a little risky,” says Mine Hamada, one of the brigade leaders. “We have the courage to not be afraid. We’re brave – we go at midnight, we go at 1am, we go at whatever hour. We go into the bush. There are snakes, there’s everything – but we attack the wildfires.”

An influx of thousands of refugees escaping an upsurge in violence and rising insecurity in Mali since March has reduced the number of callouts this year. The hungry livestock they brought with them ate many of the shrubs and trees that would have posed a fire risk. Between October 2020 and June 2021, the teams extinguished 58 fires.

A man swings an axe cutting branchs from one of the many shrubs that litter the Sahelian landscape.
Brigade members practise a variety of different fire-fighting techniques. Some sweep, some swing and some hitting the ground aggressively with branches. In the background, a younger boy also practises. The Anti-Fire Brigade has acquired a heroic cachet. Teenagers can join once they are 18.
Members of BAF stand listening to a debrief from leader Ahmedou Ould Boukhary after the training session while dressed in long tunics and tagelmusts head scarves.
As ordered by their leader Boukhary, men walk in a diagonal line across the desert whooping and yelling as they practise a variety of fire-fighting formations

  • Clockwise from top left: a man chops long, bushy branches from a shrub – highly effective for beating back low-level fires; brigade members practise fire-fighting techniques. A younger boy also practises: the brigade has acquired a heroic cachet, and teenagers can join at 18; men practise and listen to a debriefing from Boukhary.

Founded in 2013 as an initiative between the Mauritanian NGO SOS Desert, the local authorities and the UN high commissioner for refugees, the brigade is among a number of volunteer groups that have sprung up in M’bera since the camp was established 10 years ago. The camp is home to about 80,000 Malians.

As well as putting out fires, the refugee fire brigade attempts to mitigate the risk of blazes by cutting down trees and shrubs to create firebreaks between patches of vegetation. The brigades also plant trees to replace those cut down to make homes in the camp and for cooking. These efforts are contributing towards the Great Green Wall – a massive reforestation project that aims to grow an 4,350-mile-long barrier to combat environmental degradation in the Sahel.

The men walk in a diagonal formation during their firefighting practice session, whooping and yelling

Miraculously, the brigade has only incurred one injury over the past nine years, Hamada says. Amid high winds, a man tripped and fell into a fire he was battling. His fellow firefighters were able to pull him to safety before he could be seriously hurt.

The volunteers say they take on the dangerous work, which often has them out in the field for hours at a time, because they want to protect the area in which they live. But they also do it out of gratitude – to pay back their Mauritanian hosts for the years they have spent as refugees.

“We must help les adoptants,” says Boukhary, referring to the local Mauritanians who, by accepting the Malians into their country, he suggests have “adopted” them. “We intervene to help them. Because we’re refugees on their territory. No one asked us to ‘Do this, do that’ – it’s our initiative.”

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Kiev Selling Off Country, Prioritizing Poland in This ‘Business Project’ – Russian Foreign Intel

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Previously, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service chief Sergey Naryshkin said that Warsaw and Washington were plotting to “reunite” Poland with western Ukraine, with the statement branded “false” by the Polish secret service.

The Kiev regime has, essentially, already started selling off the country, giving priority in this “business project” to Polish neighbors, the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation stated on its website.

Poland’s aspirations are being facilitated by newly-adopted legislation in Ukraine.

“The new legal framework adopted by the Rada at the end of July offers special guarantees for Polish citizens and allows the sale of Ukraine’s industrial enterprises at a 50% discount, according to the SVR website.

Ukrainian flag and Polish Eagle on the building of the Polish Embassy in Kiev. File photo. - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.05.2022

Poland Plans to Annex Western Ukraine, Former Lawmaker Claims



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The repeal of abortion in the United States leaves doctors in legal limbo | International

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On June 29, five days after the US Supreme Court struck down federal protection of abortion rights, Emily Diament, pregnant with her second daughter, was due for her 20th week checkup. Everything was going well in a pregnancy that “could not be more desired.” She will always remember it: it was Wednesday, at two o’clock in the afternoon, when the doctor told them that the fetus’s heart had stopped beating. “It was terrible. At that time, Ram [her husband] and I had to think: Where does the Supreme Court ruling leave us now? “All of this was new”, adds this 33-year-old public relations officer in an email: “a panorama full of unknowns and fears”.

The gynecologist explained the alternatives. The first, “induction,” was the least safe. It essentially means giving birth to the stillborn baby. The second, more reliable and less onerous for her, was to undergo a D&E operation, an acronym for “dilation and evacuation”. “The process is also faster,” explains Diament. The couple opted for the latter.

The couple live in New Orleans, “the best city in the world”, as Diament likes to define it. The Supreme Court ruling, which overturned the half-century precedent of 1973 by the ruling Roe v. Wade, gave power to regulate women’s reproductive health back to the States. Diament’s legislators in Louisiana, anxiously awaited the moment of a “trigger law”, ready to take effect since 2006. Three days after the ruling, a judge blocked the activation of that rule, one of the most restrictive in the country. But it was just a mirage: on July 8 abortion was outlawed in Louisiana even for rape and incest. And so it goes: after several comings and goings in the courts, the ban holds up, pending new legal battles.

Among the restrictions contemplated by the law is the veto on D&E unless the mother’s life is in danger, or the baby has already died. Diament’s case fell into the permitted categories, but her ordeal compelled her to tell her story. “After going through that process and talking to several doctors about their concerns,” she explains, “I know this happened to me at this exact time for a reason.”

Bhavik Kumar is one of those nervous doctors, pushed into legal limbo by the new rules. He is a consultant in the largest provider of abortions in the United States, Planned Parenthood, in Houston, Texas, another of the epicenters of the restrictive tsunami that hits the United States. He explains that an “induction” can last “from one to 12 or 24 hours”, carries more risks (“the same as childbirth”) and generates more hospital expenses, causing serious debt among less well-off patients. Some, however, prefer it, because “the baby comes out intact, and they can bond with it,” adds Kumar. With D&E, which uses forceps, mothers do not see the dead body.

Conversation between doctor and patient

And that is all that Kumar asks: that the matter be resolved in a conversation between doctor and patient, “without political interference.” “Since the law came into force [in Texas], the only cases in which we are allowed to intervene after six weeks is if the life of the person is in danger, or if there is no doubt that the pregnancy is not viable.”, he warns.

Kumar, like many of his colleagues, has doubts around the idea of “life in danger”. “It’s not exactly a scientific concept,” he clarifies. “Every doctor, every ER, every clinic, and every hospital may have their own theory of what that means. Now, instead of looking at the data and talking to patients to decide what’s best, doctors, hospitals and clinics have to consult with lawyers, ethics committees or administrators about what they can and can’t do. Meanwhile, they also remain in limbo. The precautions seem justified: both Texas and Louisiana threaten prison sentences of between 10 and 15 years to those who perform abortions outside the supposedly permitted limits.

A gynecologist thus defined the new dilemmas of her practice during an interview with EL PAÍS held at a reproductive health center in Des Moines (Iowa): “It’s terrible,” lamented the doctor, who asked to speak anonymously. “They make us choose between the Hippocratic Oath [the famous “Do no harm”] and the penal code.”

This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland decided to take matters into his own hands with a Justice Department lawsuit challenging a new Idaho law that, when it takes effect at the end of the month, will allow prosecutors to “indict, arrest and prosecute a doctor merely by showing that an abortion has been performed, regardless of the circumstances.” The rule thus endorses the burden of proof on doctors (that is, to prove whether the woman’s life was in danger or not, for example, or if there was incest or rape, in cases where the law contemplates those exceptions). According to Garland, who warned that it would be the first in a series of legal actions by the Biden Administration to mitigate the effects of the new state laws, that provision conflicts with a federal regulation, The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).

“D&E requires training that many physicians lack,” explains Diament. “With the new laws, it is likely that there will be doctors who prefer not to learn the technique to avoid its possible consequences. It’s not that we don’t have autonomy over our bodies, it’s that doctors can’t watch over our health either. This is not protecting life, quite the contrary. It’s completely surreal.”

“We must not forget that we are facing cases in which pregnancies are absolutely desired. First they have to accept terrible news, and then they are forced to go through a process that is very traumatic for many, and after that, a few weeks later, they have to relive the experience when the hospital bill arrives”, argues Gabriela Benazar Acosta, spokesperson from Planned Parenthood Latino, New York.

Kumar warns, for his part, that “medicine is a science with vast gray areas, no matter how hard these legislators insist on the contrary. No one better than doctors, in an empathetic dialogue with patients and their families, can know in each specific case what is the best way to act.”

These days, stories like Diament’s are emerging in the United States (“there have always existed,” says Kumar, “but now the spotlight is on them”). Stories of women who are sent home by hospitals with instructions to return when they get worse and are “really” bleeding (“And that, even when it is clear that there is no turning back,” warns the doctor). A patient in Texas whose water broke at week 18 and was advised to stay in the hospital until week 24 to keep her pregnant until then, which is when “viability” outside the womb is set to begin. Maybe then, the baby might survive (the chances, Alan Peaceman, a professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told NPR that the chances are “as close to zero as far as medicine is concerned”).

“All this means that some have to travel to other states because they do not want to wait to get even more sick,” adds Kumar. Since the Supreme Court toppled Roe, class and race are two factors that have surfaced in the debate on reproductive health in the United States. With this regressive wave, which comes after half a century in which women took for granted a protection that they are now denied, began an exodus of patients from their places of origin to States in which abortions can be performed. This has created yet another gap, between those who can afford to take vacation days, often unpaid, from their jobs and pay for the trip and the intervention, and those who simply cannot afford it. In the case of miscarriages, inevitable in between 10% and 20% of pregnancies, this different position in the wheel of social fortune can become, if things get complicated, deadly.

Translated by Xanthe Holloway.

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