WORLD BRIEFS

WORLD BRIEFS

WESTERN EUROPE

AUSTRIA

Austria will participate in the European Monetary Union from the onset, but the major political parties are aware of the need for structural change to make the country competitive commercially.

A major tax reform program is scheduled to take place in 2000. It aims to reduce non-wage costs and thus to increase the incentive to hire labor.

The government expects the reform will be revenue-neutral. Taxes on energy consumption and on real estate and property income will be raised in order to allow for cuts in non-wage costs. In addition, a 1997 retirement funds reform foresees reductions in benefits, harmonization of various programs and a penalty for those choosing early retirement.

NORTH AMERICA

UNITED STATES

According to the Census Bureau's recently released 1992 Economic Census: Characteristics of Business Owners, just 1.8 percent of all businesses listed ''international'' as the geographic area that best described their marketplace in 1992. Indeed, only 6.2 percent even listed ''national'' as their marketplace.

Not surprisingly, then, only 1.7 percent of all firms and 8.8 percent of manufacturing firms reported export sales in 1992. Among those firms exporting, about 60 percent said they had been exporting five or fewer years.

To order CBO92-1, pull down the order form from the Census Bureau Web site at http://www.census.gov/

mp/www/pub/bus/ordform3.html, or call Customer Service at: (301) 457-4100.

CENTRAL/EASTERN EUROPE

HUNGARY

Thanks to its location next to several much less developed markets, Hungary offers big opportunities for cross-border business.

Retailers have been among the fastest to move. Cross-border links with the Yugoslavia market, in particular, are highly lucrative, despite the crippled Serbian economy. Most Serbs come to buy essentials (e.g., food, fertilizer) that are in scant supply at home.

But there is also significant demand for luxury items. Expensive underwear designer Palmers (of Austria) has a shop in Hungary's southeastern town of Szeged and sales representatives say up to half its customers are Serbian.

Once Hungary joins the EU, however, Serbs, Croats and Romanians will probably find it much harder to shop in Hungary. Visa restrictions and extra payments will probably be introduced for those who live on the wrong side of the border. Tesco, the British retailer, notes, for example, that since Austria joined the EU, sales at some of its smaller stores in the Northwest have dropped by as much as 30 percent.

LATIN AMERICA-CARIBBEAN

ARGENTINA

The long-awaited labor reform bill has infuriated business.

The bill that finally landed in Congress is a far cry from what executives had expected - codification of radically liberalized work rules and easier hiring and firing. Instead, President Carlos Menem has proposed legislation that would eliminate most short-term employment contracts, which are favored by management and have grown exponentially in recent months. It also retains the role of big union federations in negotiating work contracts across industries, rather than at the company level.

Politics has forced Mr. Menem's reversal. Unions are at the heart of the ruling Partido Justicialista, or Peronist party. But they are disenchanted with him and have increasingly expressed support for his archrival and governor of Buenos Aires, Eduardo Duhalde.

AFRICA

KENYA

Exceptionally heavy and widespread rains have caused severe damage to the country's roads. For example, the main highway from the capital of Nairobi to the Port of Mombasa, Kenya's only real port, was cut for a short time by flood damage to a bridge at the town of Kambu. That increased the journey time from the normal six to eight hours to a matter of several days.

Many other bridges have been swept away or severely damaged, and roads throughout the country, already poorly maintained, have deteriorated dramatically as a result.

But there are beneficiaries of the heavy rainfall. The nation's tea growers have been producing exceptional crops at a time of significant increases in world prices. Kenya teas sold at the Mombasa auction averaged nearly $2.60 per kilogram in January, up from $1.60 per kilogram last year.

Equally important, hydroelectric power-storage dams are all full and are now capable of meeting the nation's power requirements for 11 months.

MIDDLE EAST

OMAN

The authorities are considering plans to boost air cargo services at Muscat's Seeb International Airport. The plans include a dedicated cargo village capable of handling 200,000 metric tons per year with facilities for rapid air and sea transfers.

Last year, Oman Aviation Services handled 46,000 metric tons of import and export cargo, up from 44,500 tons in 1996 and 39,000 tons in 1995. The company's cargo services manager told the local English language Oman Daily Observer that it is now operating at almost its maximum capacity.

There are some 25 scheduled carriers operating out of Seeb International Airport, with 268 flights per week.