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World’s biggest free-trade pact targets first deal in 2021

The first commercial deal under an Africa-wide free trade zone will take place Jan. 1 as outstanding talks are set to move online, the African Union said. While the African Continental Free Trade Area took effect last year, transactions that were due to start July 1 were delayed as the coronavirus set back negotiations, including on tariff concessions. The talks will be finalized through a new African Virtual Trade-Diplomacy Platform being developed as a public-private partnership between the African Union Commission and more than 20 African multinational companies, the African Union said. The trade deal is being led by the continental body. Set to be fully operational by 2030, it could be the world’s biggest free trade zone by area, with a potential market of 1.2 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of $2.5 trillion. Fifty-four of the 55 nations recognized by the African Union have signed up to joing— Eritrea is the exception — while 28 have ratified the agreement. — BLOOMBERG NEWS


Staffing woes put US car industry’s remarkable rebound at risk

On the surface, carmakers have staged a remarkable recovery toward pre-pandemic production. But within the walls of US auto plants, it was incredibly challenging to pull off and is proving difficult to sustain. Manufacturers rushed to restart assembly lines months ago because sales stayed surprisingly buoyant. Several said they restored output completely within weeks after reopening, and the industry avoided the nightmarish virus outbreaks seen at meatpacking plants. But automakers have been stretched thin by absenteeism, distancing protocols, quarantines, and supply-chain constraints. While some carmakers downplay the challenges, others acknowledge serious strain. For example, ‘‘We do not anticipate our operations to ‘return to normal’ for some time,’’ Toyota said in an e-mail. Other plants that are far from bouncing back or struggling to sustain their foot-traffic recovery include two key Ford SUV facilities, a Daimler factory that is a key source of Mercedes-Benz vehicles globally, and Kia Motors’s only US site, though automakers caution that the number of people in their plants may not necessarily correlate with production. — BLOOMBERG NEWS



Netflix’s India rival creates another TikTok competitor

Zee5, the streaming service set up by India’s biggest private television broadcaster, is starting a short-video platform as companies rush to capture space left vacant by the government’s ban on TikTok. Celebrities, influencers, and everyday people can all shoot and upload 90-second videos on the new HiPi service, said Tarun Katial, CEO of Zee5. The unit of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. is battling to defend its turf in the fight with global giants like Netflix and Walt Disney Co. India in June banned 59 Chinese apps, including ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok. Within hours, local rivals like Roposo, Chingari, and Bolo Indya notched up huge user numbers. “The HiPi launch has nothing to do with the TikTok ban in India. We were working on HiPi for the last one year,” Katial said. Zee5 is now an “entertainment super-app,” he said. The broader digital strategy will help differentiate the company’s product, together with shows in the various Indian languages that Zee5 offers, Katial said. — BLOOMBERG NEWS



Microsoft weighs buying TikTok’s UK services too, Fox reports

Microsoft Corp. is interested in buying the popular music video app TikTok’s operations in the United Kingdom, expanding beyond the US, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand units that are already under discussion, Fox Business Network reported, citing a banker it did not identify. It’s unclear whether TikTok’s Chinese parent, ByteDance Ltd., wants to sell the UK unit and if a formal offer will be made, the banker told the network. The UK government said in early August that it has no plans to block TikTok. President Trump on Friday ordered the Chinese owner of TikTok to sell its US assets. Microsoft has been in talks with ByteDance to buy TikTok operations in the first four countries with a Sept. 15 deadline for a deal. TikTok didn’t offer a comment on the UK report, Fox Business News said. — BLOOMBERG NEWS