Business & Finance

The world's richest industrialized nations flirted with - but in the end couldn't agree on how to implement - a proposal to wipe out 100 percent of the foreign debt owed by the governments of poor countries. The plan was offered over the weekend by British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who chairs the Group of Seven meetings of finance ministers. Brown nonetheless hailed the discussions as historic, even though his colleagues, meeting in London, failed to narrow differences on such ideas as borrowing up to $100 billion on bond markets for a decade's worth of new aid distribution and an international tax on either aviation fuel or airfares. Those and other proposals will be analyzed further before the World Bank's spring meeting and this year's Group of Eight summit at Gleneagles, Scotland.

The tobacco industry won what's widely perceived as a major victory Friday when a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the Justice Department may not seek $280 billion in penalties from cigarette manufacturers. For months, the government has pursued the case on the basis of a 1970 civil racketeering statute, originally designed to prosecute mobsters. It had hoped to prove that the industry knew about the health dangers of smoking but hid such information from the public. Now, the government must show that the industry is still acting fraudulently or intends to in the future, legal analysts said, although the Justice Department could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Texas Pacific Group, a buyout firm that has invested heavily in Europe, made an unsolicited bid of about $1.2 billion late last week for British Vita PLC, a foam-rubber manufacturer, reported. Texas Pacific is based in Fort Worth, Texas; British Vita in Manchester, England.

The maker of Panasonic electronics announced it will cut as many as 8,000 jobs by the end of next month, all of them in Japan. Matsushita Electric, the industry's largest company, cited a goal of improving profit margins over the next two years as the costs of raw materials and fuel oil rise, the Financial Times reported. Last June, Matsushita asked some employees to retire early and said it would shift certain operations to China and Malaysia.

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