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Finance heads from the 20 largest economies have wrapped up a two-day conference in Sydney, Australia with an agreement to implement policies that will boost world GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by two percent over five years.

An unusually brief two-page statement issued Sunday vowed to drive a return to strong, sustainable and balanced growth in the global economy.

However, the statement also expressed “deep regret” that International Monetary Fund reforms to give more say to emerging market economies had been blocked by the U.S. Congress.
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A second group of South Koreans is meeting with North Korean relatives at a reunion for families divided since the Korean War in the early 1950s.

A total of 357 South Koreans were reunited with 88 elderly relatives from the North on the second of three days of family reunions at Mount Kumgang, a resort on the North’s east coast.

The emotional reunions began with a first group of separated family members on Thursday. The 82 South Koreans and 180 North Koreans spent time getting reacquainted, exchanging gifts and sharing photos of family members that neither side even knew existed.
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(NEW YORK) — Ahh, smell that New York City air. No, seriously, go ahead.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday said the city’s air quality has hit its highest levels in 50 years, a development officials say has led to fewer deaths and hospitalizations.

“New York has the cleanest air now of any major American city,” Bloomberg said at a news conference as part of a week of climate-related events.

Bloomberg said the level of sulfur dioxide in the air has gone down by 69 percent since 2008. The level of soot pollution has gone down by 23 percent since 2007. The data comes from the city’s Community Air Survey, which measured street level air pollution at 150 locations from 2008 to 2010 and at 100 sites from 2010 to 2013.

Officials estimate the decrease in pollution has annually prevented 800 deaths and 2,000 emergency room visits and hospitalizations in the city of 8 million people. Sulfur dioxide exacerbates asthma, and soot pollution impacts on heart disease and lung disease.

Aside from smoking bans, “this better air quality prevents more deaths than any other change that’s happened in New York City in the last decade,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner.

Officials said the drops in pollution came from a combination of factors, including buildings burning lower-pollution heating oils or switching over to cleaner burning natural gas. Bloomberg said more of the city’s pollution came from buildings and their fuel use, as opposed to vehicular pollution.

New York’s pollution levels coming down “is extremely critical for public health,” said Judith Zelikoff, professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at New York University School of Medicine.

“We know that air pollution can have many adverse health outcomes,” she said, not only leading to chronic illness and death but reducing the overall quality of life for people who become limited in their time outside because of the impact on their breathing.

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s top legal body has strengthened consumer rights in the country after it revised the nation’s Consumer Protection Law on Friday, the first major overhaul in two decades.

The revisions increase consumer powers, add rules for the booming Internet shopping sector and stiffen punishments for businesses that mislead shoppers.

Chinese regulators have been cracking down on real or perceived corporate wrongdoing, with domestic and international infant formula makers and drugmakers particularly coming under the spotlight this year.

Global firms like Apple Inc and Starbucks Corp have also been getting caught in the glare, while South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, the world’s largest smartphone maker, had to apologise to Chinese customers on Thursday after a broadcast on China Central Television criticised company repair policies.

China is also trying to stimulate domestic consumer spending as it attempts to transition from an investment-led economy to a more consumption-driven model. But domestic consumers are often wary of product safety and quality, with 3.8 billion yuan (385.24 million pounds) worth of poor quality goods sold in China between 2010 and 2012, according to the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC).

‘Strengthening consumer confidence will benefit the whole nation’s economic development and boost domestic demand,’ Jia Dongming, director of the civil law working committee under China’s Standing Committee, said at a press briefing to announce the changes to the law.

The amendments to the 1993 law include increasing compensation for consumers and raising fines for retailers who violate the law, including in cases where faulty products lead to consumers being harmed or killed. Compensation rose from equalling the amount of damages to three times the amount.

China will also strengthen the role of the China Consumers’ Association, which will be able to represent groups of consumers in any wider class actions against retailers.

Officials also stressed the growing importance of protecting consumers in China’s booming online shopping sector, which has expanded rapidly with the rise of market leader Alibaba’s Taobao, Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s Yihaodian and 360Buy.com.

Internet sales have risen almost 50-fold since 2006 to hit 1.3 trillion yuan ($213.75 billion) in 2012, according to Jia, while analysts predict e-commerce will account for a fifth of total retail sales in China within five years.

The law will make it easier for consumers to return goods bought online, while sellers will bear the burden of proof in any disputes. Online retailers will also have to meet strict privacy requirements, including requesting users’ permission to use any personal data.

‘The make-up and challenges of the consumer sector has completely changed and so the law has had to adapt for the times,’ said Jia.

($1 = 6.0820 Chinese yuan)

Thanks to
Adam Jourdan for this story

(Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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