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These Burgers Are Better for the Planet, but You’d Never Know It

As the world’s population heads toward 10 billion by midcentury, experts are wrestling with how to feed the world without wrecking the planet. It’s not easy to find foods with lower environmental impact that still taste as good as the ones they are intended to replace. But chefs and environmentalists are both cheering one new menu item: the mushroom-blended burger. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

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NY’s Immigrant Taxi Drivers Despair as Taxi Industry Slumps

A financially distraught yellow cab driver from Romania recently hanged himself in his New York garage, marking the fourth suicide among city taxi drivers in as many months. In the tragedy’s aftermath, members of New York’s taxicab drivers union are renewing their calls for a cap on the number of app-based for-hire vehicles, such as Uber and Lyft, which they say are driving workers of a once-thriving industry into the ground. VOA’s Ramon Taylor reports.

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South Sudan Dispute With Mobile Firm Disrupts Service

Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese remained without mobile phone service Friday, as network operator Vivacell continued a standoff with the government over a licensing dispute.

The government cut the network’s signal to its roughly 900,000 subscribers just after midnight Tuesday, alleging that Vivacell owed tens of millions of dollars in licensing fees.

The government’s information minister, Michael Makuei, told VOA earlier this week that Vivacell previously had been exempted from taxes and licensing fees. “We want them to pay a sum of up to $66 million for their license, and up to now they are dragging their feet,” he said.

The licensing fee dispute underscores the mounting financial pressures facing the government in a country ravaged by civil war since late 2013.

Ruling party holds Vivacell stake

Pagan Amum – the former secretary general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the country’s ruling party – said Vivacell already pays for a valid license it has held for years. “There is no way Vivacell can be required to pay for another license,” he told VOA’s “South Sudan in Focus” radio program on Thursday.

Amum said that, as secretary general, he had helped negotiate the original deal with Lebanon’s Fattouch Investment Group – Vivacell’s majority owner – giving the SPLM party a minority share in the telecom firm. 

Vivacell has operated in South Sudan since 2008 under a license issued to the SPLM, Amum said. He added that, since 2012, the ruling SPLM has received $100,000 a month from Vivacell for licensing fees.

Vivacell officials went to Makuei’s office earlier this week in an attempt to negotiate, but he refused a meeting, the firm’s managing director, Jesus Antonio Ortiz Olivo, told Reuters on Wednesday. 

Makuei, in media interviews this week, has expressed a desire “to reorganize the telecommunications sector.” 

Low cellphone penetration rate

Mobile phone subscription rates have been falling in South Sudan, and telecom-sector operators “are placing themselves in survival mode and are hoping for a political settlement and a return to some degree of social stability,” the telecommunications research site BuddeComm reported in February.

BuddeCom said South Sudan has one of Africa’s lowest rates of cellphone penetration, at 21 percent, noting that recovery could bring “potentially many years of strong growth” to the sector.

South Sudan’s regulatory Communications Authority estimates the country’s entire telecom market – also served by South Africa’s MTN and Kuwait’s Zain – has fewer than 3 million subscribers, according to Reuters.

Complications for customers, clients

On Wednesday in the capital city, Juba, long lines formed at mobile phone stores where people waited to buy new subscriber identification module (SIM) cards from Vivacell competitors.

Vivacell subscriber Ever Fanusto said the sudden shutdown cut her off from friends and relatives, including those living overseas.

“I used to call my elder brother who is in America and now we have been disconnected with him,” Fanusto said. She added that it would be a challenge to retrieve her contacts’ information and load it onto a new SIM card.

In a notice published Wednesday, Vivacell informed its subscribers that the company was working with national authorities to resolve the matter and that it hoped to resume business soon in South Sudan. Otherwise, the company said it would set up “a clear mechanism” for reimbursing dealers, retailers and agents for their SIM card stocks.

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Amid Flood of Chinese Products, India Wants Fairness

Sampad Yadav, who sells electrical goods in a shop in the business hub of Gurugram on the outskirts of New Delhi, says Chinese goods such as LED lamps are popular with customers. “When people make a price comparison, and want to move towards the cheapest goods, those are usually Chinese products.”

 

As in many other countries, Chinese products such as lamps, electronics, smartphones and engineering goods from the manufacturing giant have flooded Indian markets.

 

However India has long fretted that areas in which it is strong such as generic drugs and Information Technology services, which make up some of its main exports to Western markets, remain shut out of China. That has made it difficult to bridge a ballooning trade deficit of about $50 billion between the two countries.

 

But there is optimism this could change following a meeting this week between the commerce ministers of the two countries in New Delhi.

 

“The Chinese side have agreed to work on the issue, prepare a road map to bring the trade to balanced level over a period of time,” Indian Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said after discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Zhong Shan.

 

Trade experts hope the growing tensions on trade issues between the United States and China will prompt Beijing to open up its markets more to Indian exports. “I think China is definitely under pressure now, looking into the kind of initiation which has happened against China,” says Ajay Sahai, who heads the Federation of Indian Exports Organization.

 

The meeting between the Indian and Chinese commerce ministers this week came amid efforts to deescalate tensions between the Asian neighbors following a period of rocky ties and a tense 70-day face-off between their troops in the Himalayas last year.

Despite a long-lingering boundary dispute and an often-fraught diplomatic relationship, trade ties between the Asian giants have gained significant momentum and China is now India’s largest trading partner. Bilateral trade in 2017 topped $80 billion rising by more than 20 percent over the previous yea.

 

But worryingly for New Delhi, the trade deficit remains high despite a marginal growth in Indian exports – they add up to about $16 billion versus Chinese imports into India of about $68 billion.

 

Market access a key issue

India exports mainly raw materials like iron ore, copper and cotton yarn to China. “In whatever value added exports where we are competitive, unfortunately the market is not open for us,” says Sahai.

 

However China has promised to give greater market access to Indian goods, particularly pharmaceuticals and agricultural goods such as rice, as well as service exports, according to the Indian commerce minister. “They have decided to work in a way that will address security issues from their side as well as introduce Indian companies to those who can buy these products in China,” says Prabhu.

 

New Delhi, which is trying to ramp up domestic manufacturing, is also urging China to manufacture more goods exported to India within the country.

Whether the promised actions translate into concrete outcomes remains to be seen. But exporters are hopeful. Sahai points out that China has invited Indian traders to what is being billed as the country’s first importers fair to be held in Shanghai later this year – it is being showcased as a measure to further open up China’s market.

 

The positive tenor of talks between the two countries comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to impose tariffs on Chinese imports valued at $60 billion.

 

New Delhi could also face U.S. ire on trade issues – although its exports to the United States are comparatively small, it has a high trade deficit in its favor and Washington has often complained of protectionist barriers in India. In February, Trump called out India for imposing higher duties on Harley-Davidson motorcycles than the U.S. does on Indian motorbikes.

 

Amid growing fears that global trade faces uncertain times, analysts have called on countries like India to focus on increasing trade within the region.   

 

India and China also said they will strengthen cooperation in the World Trade Organization and other multilateral and regional frameworks to maintain their common interests.

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Vietnam Stands to See Modest Wins if China, U.S. Start Trade War

A wider Sino-U.S. trade dispute would help export-reliant Vietnam compete against Chinese companies but put the country at risk of any global fallout, analysts say.

The numerous exporters in Vietnam that ship manufactured goods to the United States would save money compared with Chinese peers if not subject to American tariffs, said Dustin Daugherty, senior associate with business consultancy Dezan Shira & Associates in Ho Chi Minh City.

The U.S. government said this month it would develop a list of tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese imports. China has threatened to impose its own in response.

“Let’s say (the United States) went the more traditional route, tensions kept escalating and more tariffs are slapped on Chinese products,” Daugherty said. “In that case Vietnam’s export sector definitely benefits. We’re already seeing the U.S. being very warm to Vietnam and U.S. businesses keen on doing business with Vietnam.”

But Chinese firms hit by tariffs might flood Vietnam with raw materials for local manufacturing, while overall world market volatility caused by a Sino-U.S. trade dispute could hamper the country’s trade, said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

​A tariff-free Vietnam scenario

Vietnamese exporters would save money compared to their Chinese peers if the U.S. government placed tariffs on Chinese firms alone without touching their cross-border supply chains, Daugherty said.

The government of U.S. President Donald Trump calls China unfair in its trade practices, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative says on its website. China enjoys a $375 billion trade surplus with the United States.

Vietnam counts the United States as its top single-country export destination and it shipped $46.484 billion worth of goods to that market last year.

Vietnamese officials have carved out an investment environment since the 1980s that hinges on low costs for manufacturers. American-invested factories such as a Ford Motor plant and an Intel chip factory are among those active in Vietnam today.

Foreign investment contributed to exports worth $155.24 billion in 2017, financial services firm SSI Research in Hanoi says. Vietnam’s economy grew about 7 percent in the first quarter this year, it says.

Attractive investment

Vietnam would be a more attractive investment compared with China under higher U.S. tariffs, analysts say.

Some new investors might be formerly China-based firms hoping to flee the tariffs, said Song Seng Wun, an economist in the private banking unit of CIMB in Singapore.

China itself might offer Vietnam, along with other countries, preferential trade policies or infrastructure help to shore up trade ties, some believe. Stronger trade relations outside the United States would help China offset any tariff damage, Daugherty said.

This week China’s commerce minister pledged to relax trade rules affecting India.

​Specter of a broader trade war

U.S. import tariffs that hit China’s extensive cross-border supply chain would hurt Vietnam as a place that finishes Chinese goods for final export, Thayer said. It’s unclear whether Washington would tax Chinese firms alone or their wider supply networks.

Chinese firms already co-invest with Vietnamese partners, Song said, and supply chains for goods such as consumer electronics can net multiple countries, not just China.

More co-investment might follow if Vietnam can offer shelter from tariffs. But Sino-Vietnamese political tension over a maritime dispute risks giving Vietnamese firms a bad name at home if they work too extensively with Chinese partners.

“I would say there will be all kinds of repercussions and implications just because of the very integrated supply chain in the world these days,” Song said. “Take an Apple phone as an example. Parts from here and there are assembled in China.”

Steel, aluminum tariffs

U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs that took effect last week cover much of the world including China and Vietnam. Vietnam exported 380,000 tons of steel, worth $303 million, to the United States in 2017, domestic news website VnExpress International says.

Chinese firms hit by the range of tariffs being mulled now in Washington might boost sales to Vietnam, Thayer said. Chinese sellers of raw materials for Vietnamese exports could dump goods into Vietnam to keep up their own balance sheets as U.S. tariffs hurt them, he added.

Chinese sellers often have an economy of scale that lets them sell for less in Vietnam than local vendors do. Vietnam counts China as its top trading partner.

An escalation of Sino-U.S. trade tensions could also chill global markets or trade as a whole, some analysts fear. That fallout could slow global growth, he said.

“Disruption to trade shouldn’t affect Vietnam overall, but it’s the way the entire globe is reacting to this that I think could affect Vietnam,” he said. “Vietnam is overall heavily committed to global integration with a number of partners, so disruption along that way would have an effect.”

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Ads Pulled from Ingraham Show After She Mocked Parkland Survivor

At least three companies said Thursday they were pulling advertisements from a Fox News show hosted by conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, heeding a call from a teenage survivor of the Florida school massacre whom Ingraham mocked on Twitter.

Parkland student David Hogg, 17, tweeted a list of a dozen companies that advertise on The Ingraham Angle and urged his supporters to demand that they cancel their ads.

Hogg is a survivor of the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Since then, he and other classmates have become the faces of a new youth-led movement calling for tighter restrictions on firearms.

Hogg took aim at Ingraham’s advertisers after she taunted him Wednesday on Twitter, accusing him of whining about being rejected by four colleges to which he had applied.

On Thursday, Ingraham tweeted an apology “in the spirit of Holy Week,” saying she was sorry for any hurt or upset she had caused Hogg or any of the “brave victims” of Parkland.

“For the record, I believe my show was the first to feature David … immediately after that horrific shooting and even noted how ‘poised’ he was given the tragedy,” Ingraham tweeted, adding that Hogg was welcome back for another interview.

But her apology did not stop at least three companies from parting ways with her show. U.S. celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s pet food line Nutrish, travel website TripAdvisor and online home furnishings seller Wayfair Inc all said they were canceling their advertisements.

Wayfair

Wayfair said it supports open dialogue and debate, but “the decision of an adult to personally criticize a high school student who has lost his classmates in an unspeakable tragedy is not consistent with our values,” it said in a statement.

Nutrish

Replying to Hogg’s boycott call, Nutrish tweeted: “We are in the process of removing our ads from Laura Ingraham’s program.”

A representative for the pet food line did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

TripAdvisor

CNBC cited a TripAdvisor spokesman as saying the company does not condone “inappropriate comments” made by Ingraham that in its view “cross the line of decency.”

TripAdvisor representatives did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Ingraham’s show runs on Fox News, part of Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.

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In Cuba, Vietnam Communist Party Chief Advocates Economic Reforms

The head of Vietnam’s Communist Party advocated for the importance of market-oriented economic reforms on a two-day visit to old ally Cuba, which is struggling to liberalize its poorly Soviet-style command economy.

Vietnam and Cuba are among the last Communist-run countries in the world but Hanoi set about opening up its centralized economy in the 1980s, two decades before Havana started to do so in earnest under President Raul Castro.

Castro leaves office on April 19 after two consecutive five-year mandates without having been able to unleash in Cuba the same kind of rapid economic growth as that experienced by Vietnam. He remains head of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) until 2021.

“The market economy of its own cannot destroy socialism,” Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong said in a lecture at Havana University.

“But to build socialism with success, it is necessary to develop a market economy in an adequate and correct way.”

Hanoi had managed to lift around 30 million Vietnamese out of poverty over 20 years, Trong said.

The PCC this week admitted a slowdown in its market reforms it attributed to the complexity of the process, low engagement of the bureaucracy and mistakes in oversight.

The number of self-employed workers in the Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million residents has more than tripled to around 580,000 workers since the start of the reforms.

But the government last year froze the issuance of licenses for certain activities amid fears of rising inequality and a loss of state control. It has also backtracked on some reforms in recent years, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Trong said it was clear Cuba, like Vietnam, wanted to avoid shock therapy.

“With the clear vision of the PCC … [Cuba] will surely reach great achievements and successfully reach a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” Trong said.

Cubans complain their economy suffers two types of blockades, the internal one, namely stifling state controls, and the external one: the U.S. trade embargo.

Vietnam also suffered U.S. sanctions, but Washington lifted them more than two decades ago. Analysts say it is unlikely it will do the same for Cuba any time soon.

U.S. President Donald Trump has shifted back to hostile Cold War rhetoric and partially rolled back the detente forged with Havana by his predecessor Barack Obama.

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Utility Plans to Close Nuclear Plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania

FirstEnergy Corp. said it will shut down three nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania within the next three years, making it the latest U.S. utility to announce closings as the nuclear industry struggles to compete with electricity plants that burn plentiful and inexpensive natural gas.

The company announced the closings Wednesday and a day later appealed to the U.S. Department of Energy for help, asking that it be allowed to get more money for electricity produced by its nuclear and coal-fired plants. It said in its request that the closings of its nuclear plants could threaten the reliability of the electric grid across the East Coast.

FirstEnergy said Wednesday that it would be willing to work with both Ohio and Pennsylvania to find a way to keep the plants open, but lawmakers remain unwilling to offer a financial rescue and it appears the plants are nearing a shutdown.

The natural gas boom and increasing use of renewable energy have combined in recent years to squeeze the nation’s aging nuclear reactors, which are expensive to operate and maintain.

New York and Illinois have responded by giving out billion-dollar bailouts that will be paid by ratepayers to stop unprofitable nuclear plants from closing prematurely.

But similar proposals have met with resistance in Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as in Ohio and Pennsylvania, because such subsidies would cause utility bills to increase.

Some proponents of nuclear power say the plants are needed to maintain a diverse lineup of energy sources, arguing that while natural gas is cheap now, that might not always be the case. They also say the nuclear plants are vital to the rural towns where they’re located, providing millions of dollars in tax money for schools and local governments. 

In Ohio, where FirstEnergy is based, state lawmakers said earlier this year that there would be no more hearings on a proposal to increase electric bills to give the company’s plants an extra $180 million a year.

FirstEnergy said it plans to close its Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo in 2020, and that a year later it will shut down the Perry plant near Cleveland and its Beaver Valley operation in Pennsylvania.

“Though the plants have taken aggressive measures to cut costs, the market challenges facing these units are beyond their control,” said Don Moul, president of FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary that runs the nuclear plants.

The three plants, built in the 1970s, employ a combined 2,300 people who would be affected by the closings.

PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid covering 65 million people from Illinois east to Washington, is likely to review the impact the potential closings would have on it.

The Davis-Besse plant has had its share of operational problems since it opened four decades ago.

It was the site of the worst corrosion ever found at a U.S. reactor when inspectors discovered an acid leak that closed the plant for extensive repairs from 2002 to 2004.

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US, Canada Differ on Quick NAFTA Resolution

The Trump administration is hopeful it can reach a deal on a new North American Free Trade Agreement before the July 1 presidential election in Mexico and U.S. midterm congressional elections in November.

“I’d say I’m hopeful — I think we are making progress. I think that all three parties want to move forward. We have a short window, because of elections and things beyond our control,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told CNBC television Wednesday.

But Canada’s chief negotiator was far less optimistic.

“We have yet to see exactly what the U.S. means by an agreement in principle,” Steve Verheul told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. There are still “significant gaps,” Verheul said. “We can accomplish quite a bit between now and then, and we’ve made it clear to the U.S. that we will be prepared to negotiate at any time, any place, for as long as they are prepared to negotiate, but so far we haven’t really seen that process get going,” he said.

Officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are supposed to meet in the United States next month for the eighth round of talks, although Washington has not announced dates yet.

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Robots Pose Big Threat to Jobs in Africa, Researchers Warn

It could soon be cheaper to operate a factory of robots in the United States than employing manual labor in Africa. That’s the stark conclusion of a report from a London-based research institute, which warns that automation could have a devastating effect on developing economies unless governments invest urgently in digitalization and skills training.

The rhythmic sounds of the factory floor. At this textile plant in Rwanda, hundreds of workers sit side-by-side at sewing machines, churning out clothes that will be sold in stores across the world.

Outsourcing production by using cheap labor in the developing world has been a hallmark of the global economy for decades. But technology could be about to turn that on its head.

Research from the Overseas Development Institute focused on the example of furniture manufacturing in Africa. Karishma Banga co-authored the report.

“In the next 15 to 20 years, robots in the U.S. are actually going to become much cheaper than Kenyan labor. Particularly in the furniture manufacturing industry. So this means that around 2033, American companies will find it much more profitable to reshore production back. Which means essentially get all the jobs and production back from the developing countries to the U.S. And that obviously can have very significantly negative effects for jobs in Africa.”

As robots are getting cheaper, she says, people are getting more expensive.

“So the cost of a robot or the cost of a 3D printer, they’re declining at similar levels, around 6 percent annually. So that’s a significant decline. Whereas wages in developing countries are rising.”

There’s no doubting the challenges posed by automation to manual labor in developing countries – but some are fighting back.

The Funkidz furniture factory in Kenya breaks with the traditional mold of production. Automated saws cut perfect templates using computer-aided designs, overseen by skilled programmers and operators.

The investment is paying off, with rapid growth and expansion into Uganda and Rwanda. But Kenyan CEO Ciiru Waweru Waithaka says she can’t find the right employees.

“We have machines that sit idle because we don’t have skilled people. There are many people who need jobs, yes, we agree, but if they have no skills… I would love to employ you, but you need a skill, otherwise you cannot operate our machines. So we are urging all institutions, government, please let us take this skills gap as a crisis.”

That call is echoed by the ODI report authors – who urge African governments to use the current window of opportunity to build industrial capabilities and digital skills – before the jobs crunch hits.

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WTO Chief Sees No Sign of US Departure

There is no sign that the United States is distancing itself from the World Trade Organization, and negotiations are underway to avert a global trade war, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said in a BBC interview broadcast Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has launched a series of tariff-raising moves, upsetting allies and rivals alike.

Trump is also vetoing the appointment of WTO judges, causing a backlog in disputes and threatening to paralyze what is effectively the supreme court of trade. Some trade experts have begun asking whether Trump wants to kill the WTO, whose 164 members force each other to play by the rules.

“I have absolutely no indication that the United Sates is walking away from the WTO. Zero indication,” Azevedo said in an interview on the BBC Hardtalk program, according to excerpts released early by the BBC.

Last month, Trump called the WTO a “catastrophe” and complained the United States had only a minority of its judges.

Correction

The next day, Azevedo gently set him straight, noting that the United States had an unusually good deal, since it had always had one of the seven judges.

Asked whether the WTO should be thinking about a Plan B without the United States, Azevedo told the BBC that he had not heard anything to suggest that such a situation was in the cards.

“Every contact that I have in the U.S. administration assures me that they are engaging,” he said.

The question of whether U.S. tariffs were legal could be settled only by a WTO dispute panel, but the damage from such unilateral actions would be felt much more quickly as other countries retaliated, leading to a global trade war, he said.

“I don’t think we are there yet, but we are seeing the first movements towards it, yes,” he said.

Nobody believed it was a minor problem, including those in the U.S. administration, and people were beginning to understand how serious the situation was and what impact it could have on the global economy, Azevedo said.

“There are still negotiations ongoing. … We want to avoid the war, so everything that we can do to avoid being in that situation, we must be doing at this point,” he said.

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Trump Gets First Trade Deal as US, Korea Revise Agreement

U.S. President Donald Trump, who campaigned against economic agreements he considered unfair to America has his first trade deal.

The United States and South Korea have agreed to revise their sweeping six-year-old trade pact which was completed during the administration of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

The agreement “will significantly strengthen the economic and national security relationships between the United States and South Korea,” according to a senior administration official in Washington.

Trump had threatened to scrap the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), calling it “horrible.” But officials of his administration on Tuesday confirmed key aspects of the agreement which officials in Seoul had announced the previous day.

“When this is finalized it will be the first successful renegotiation of a trade agreement in U.S. history,” according to a senior U.S. official.

The tentative agreement between the United States and its sixth largest trading partner and a critical security ally in Asia comes at a time of fast-moving developments on the Korean peninsula.

In exchange for terms more favorable to American automakers, South Korea — the third largest steel exporter to the United States — is being exempted for recently announced heavy tariffs on steel rolled out by Trump. South Korea will also limit to about 2.7 million tons per year shipments of steel to the United States.

“This is a huge win,” a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday evening.

Trump last week also temporarily excluded other trade partners, including Canada, the European Union and Mexico from the announced import duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, which came into effect on Friday.

Under the revisions to be made the KORUS FTA, South Korea is to allow American carmakers to double to 50,000 the number of vehicles that meet U.S. safety standards to Korea annually even though they do not comply with various local standards.

“The revisions to the KORUS FTA benefit both countries as they addressed the United States’ primary concern in autos trade, opening the South Korean market to additional exports of U.S. autos,” Troy Stangarone, the senior director of congressional affairs and trade at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, tells VOA. “For South Korea, they addresses concerns in the dispute settlement process, while the overall revisions remained relatively narrow in scope. The agreement also takes a potentially contentious issue off of the table as the United States and South Korea prepare for critical talks with North Korea.”

Vehicle emissions standards will also be eased for U.S. vehicles imported from 2021 to 2025.

The Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association immediately called on Seoul to also ease environmental and safety standards for domestic vehicle manufacturers “to offer a level playing field.”

The balance is heavily in favor of South Korea. According to U.S. government statistics, Americans bought $16 billion  worth of passenger cars while such purchases made by South Koreans totaled just $1.5 billion.

The United States, under the revised deal, will also maintain tariffs on exports of South Korean pick-up trucks until 2041, an extension from the previously agreed 2021. However, no South Korean manufacturer is currently exporting such vehicles to the U.S. market.

U.S. officials also say that South Korea has agreed to recognize U.S. standards for auto parts.

“They will reduce some of the burdensome labeling requirements when it comes to auto parts,” a senior U.S. official told reporters.

The apparent settlement of the trade dispute comes before a planned meeting between the leaders of rival South and North Korea. Trump has also accepted an invitation relayed by the South from the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to meet with the U.S. president. The White House on Tuesday said planning for such a summit is still proceeding but no location or date has been decided. State Department official say they are unsure it will happen by May as previously announced.

The rival Koreas have no diplomatic relations and technically remain at war since a 1953 armistice signed by armies of China and North Korea with the United Nations Command, led by the United States.

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China at a Quandary With US Tech Firms Amid Trade Dispute

While China and the United States seem to be negotiating in an effort to avert a trade war, Washington is unlikely to relent in its determination to stop advanced technology from leaving America for China.

“I think there is a growing consensus in the United States that Chinese firms should be blocked from certain types of acquisitions of U.S. firms, of getting certain types of U.S. technology,” said AlexCapri, an international trade scholar at the National University of Singapore.

China has come up with a list of U.S. products it will target as part of a retaliatory action against Washington’s plan to raise tariffs on Chinese products. But it has been silent about restricting technology companies.

International action

The European Union already is considering a law that would scrutinize and block Chinese purchases of local firms for the purpose of acquiring new technology. China is worried any U.S. action would embolden European politicians and hasten the process of prohibiting Chinese acquisitions.

“I don’t know that is unique just in the United States. I think there are other European countries, Australia … so, I expect to see a lot more interference, a lot more blockage of acquisitions by either Chinese-owned funds or Chinese-owned tech firms that are looking to grow through acquisitions,” said Capri.

That has been evident in recent months as the U.S. put limits on China’s Huawei technology company and clamped down on Singapore-based Broadcom because it is connected with Chinese companies and can work as a conduit to supply technology information.

“Even in situations where you have tech firms that may not be flying a Chinese flag, if these companies are in fact doing business with other companies, then those acquisitions may be blocked,” Capri said.

It is this concern that led to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s announcement last week that foreign companies no longer are obliged to share their technology with local partners when they invest in China. Obligatory knowledge-sharing by foreign companies has been the bulwark of China’s technological development in past decades, and also a sore point with western companies and governments.

“China needs some foreign inputs, and to attract … high-end foreign companies,” said Xu Bin, CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) professor of finance. The country also “needs to open more in the areas where China has not been open that much,” he added.

Li’s offer also is colored by the Chinese parliament’s recent decision to remove presidential term limits, which could give President Xi Jinping perpetual rule, Xu said.

Negligible effect

For Beijing, the situation is particularly bad because it has fewer opportunities to retaliate against the U.S. tech companies like Facebook and Google (Alphabet). Twitter already faces closed doors in China.

Speaking on CNBC, Daniel Ives, head of technology at GBH Insights, said the company strongly believes that “Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google are ‘primarily insulated’ from tariff worries and a potential retaliatory trade war with China. Ultimately, the bark is much worse than the bite.”

Beijing also will find it extremely difficult to restrict foreign manufacturing companies and their partners in China, like Apple, which is using a Taiwanese company, Foxconn, to assemble products in Chinese cities. Such a move would hurt local firms and the domestic economy.

“For [Apple CEO Tim] Cook and company, given the tightly-woven integration between Apple and Foxconn in China, we believe there is minimal risk to this relationship,” said Ives. “… And the last thing China is going to do is tinker with the Apple machine and impact its significant billions [of dollars] of investments in the country and major consumer sales within China, despite fears.”

There is another dimension to Li’s seemingly generous offer. Many Chinese companies now want to protect their own intellectual property rights (IPR) as they venture into the U.S. and other countries. These firms have moved up the innovation value chain after starting with borrowed knowledge and are now capable of producing their own set of technologies.

“China positions itself at the forefront of world innovation. So China needs also to protect their own IPR,” said Lourdes Casonova, director at Cornell’s Emerging Markets Institute. “The initial fear that China had when they opened their economy long ago is not there as it was. So they need to protect their own IP.”

At the same time, Beijing is hoping for support from an unlikely quarter —  American multinationals that derive a substantial part of their revenues by doing business with China. That was evident last week during a conference attended by American CEOs in Beijing.

“Countries that embrace openness, trade, diversity are the countries that do exceptionally well; and countries that don’t, don’t,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said, adding, “The pie gets larger [when we are] working together. It’s not just a matter of carving it up between sides.”

Investment company Black Rock CEO Laurence Fink gave it a fine point.

“The world needs a strong China and a  strong U.S.,” he said. “The world does not need a public fight in which we reduce mutual opportunities.”

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Trump’s Approval Ratings Are on the Upswing

With a robust U.S. economy, polls show that President Donald Trump’s approval ratings are on the upswing, even as a majority of Americans still disapprove of his 14-month White House tenure.

A pair of polls this week — by CNN and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research — both say that 42 percent of Americans approve of his performance as president, the highest figures the news organizations have recorded in months. CNN says 54 percent of voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the presidency, while AP says 58 percent feel that way.

Real Clear Politics’ national average of several polls shows a similar result, a 53-42 negative rating for Trump.

Trump’s approval ratings, through the first months of his four-year term, have been the lowest among modern U.S. presidents recorded during seven decades of polling. But CNN noted that Trump’s current standing is only marginally lower than that recorded for President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s and President Barack Obama in 2010 in the earliest stages of their two-term presidencies.

Trump’s White House tenure has been buffeted by a marked turnover of key officials, with Trump firing both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster in recent days, and allegations of extramarital affairs in 2006 — relationships the U.S. leader has denied took place a decade before the 2016 election.

Both CNN and AP said that Trump’s brightening approval numbers are linked to the performance of the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, where voters give him a favorable assessment compared to his handling of other public issues.

The U.S. unemployment rate has held steady at 4.1 percent, wages for many workers are growing, and the Republican-approved tax cut legislation championed by Trump has added more money to workers’ paychecks.

 

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Saudi Crown Prince: OPEC, Russia Consider Long-Term Oil Pact

OPEC and Russia are working on a long-term deal to cooperate on oil supply curbs that could extend controls over world oil supplies by major exporters for

many years to come.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Reuters that Riyadh and Moscow were considering extending an alliance on oil curbs that began in January 2017 after oil prices crashed.

“We are working to shift from a year-to-year agreement to a 10-20 year agreement,” the crown prince told Reuters in an interview in New York. ”We have agreement on the big picture, but not yet on the detail.” 

Saudi Arabia recruited Russia and other producers to collaborate on oil supply curbs in 2017 after oil prices crashed and the Saudi oil minister said last week Riyadh hoped to extend that deal into 2019.

The crown prince said a flotation of 5 pct of state Saudi oil company Aramco could take place at the end of 2018 or early 2019, depending on market conditions.