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Trump Claims Saudi Arabia Will Boost Oil Production

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom will increase oil production, “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels” in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets.

Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to boost oil production “to make up the difference…Prices to (sic) high! He has agreed!”

A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on the call, but offered few details.

“During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said.

It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies.” It did not elaborate.

Oil prices have edged higher as the Trump administration has pushed allies to end all purchases of oil from Iran following the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Prices also have risen with ongoing unrest in Venezuela and fighting in Libya over control of that country’s oil infrastructure.

Last week, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel led by Saudi Arabia and non-cartel members agreed to pump 1 million barrels more crude oil per day, a move that should help contain the recent rise in global energy prices. However, summer months in the U.S. usually lead to increased demand for oil, pushing up the price of gasoline in a midterm election year. A gallon of regular gasoline sold on average in the U.S. for $2.85, up from $2.23 a gallon last year, according to AAA.

If Trump’s comments are accurate, oil analyst Phil Flynn said it could immediately knock $2 or $3 off a barrel of oil. But he said it’s unlikely that decrease could sustain itself as demand spikes, leading prices to rise by wintertime.

“We’ll need more oil down the road and there’ll be nowhere to get it,” said Flynn, of the Price Futures Group. “This leaves the world in kind of a vulnerable state.”

Trump is trying to exert maximum pressure on Iran while at the same time not upsetting potential U.S. midterm voters with higher gas prices, said Antoine Halff, a Columbia University researcher and former chief oil analyst for the International Energy Agency.

“The Trump support base is probably the part of the U.S. electorate that will be the most sensitive to an increase in U.S. gasoline prices,” Halff said.

Trump’s comments came Saturday as global financial markets were closed. Brent crude stood at $79.42 a barrel, while U.S. benchmark crude was at $74.15.

Saudi Arabia currently produces some 10 million barrels of crude oil a day. Its record is 10.72 million barrels a day. Trump’s tweet offered no timeframe for the additional 2 million barrels — whether that meant per day or per month.

However, Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser told journalists in India on Monday that the state oil company has spare capacity of 2 million barrels of oil a day. That was after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom would honor the OPEC decision to stick to a 1-million-barrel increase.

“Saudi Arabia obviously can deliver as much as the market would need, but we’re going to be respectful of the 1-million-barrel cap — and at the same time be respectful of allocating some of that to countries that deliver it,” al-Falih said then.

The Trump administration has been counting on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members to supply enough oil to offset the lost Iranian exports and prevent oil prices from rising sharply. But broadcasting its requests on Twitter with a number that stretches credibility opens a new chapter in U.S.-Saudi relations, Halff said.

“Saudis are used to U.S. requests for oil,” Halff said. “They’re not used to this kind of public messaging. I think the difficulty for them is to distinguish what is a real ask from what is public posturing.”

The administration has threatened close allies such as South Korea with sanctions if they don’t cut off Iranian imports by early November. South Korea accounted for 14 percent of Iran’s oil exports last year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

China is the largest importer of Iranian oil with 24 percent, followed by India with 18 percent. Turkey stood at 9 percent and Italy at 7 percent.

The State Department has said it expects the “vast majority” of countries will comply with the U.S. request.

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AP Fact Check: Were Tax Cuts an ‘Economic Miracle?’

Editor’s note: A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

President Donald Trump has elevated his tax cuts to an act of biblical proportions, misleadingly claiming at a White House speech Friday that they triggered an “economic miracle.”

Not quite.

Also Friday, the president’s top economics aide, Larry Kudlow, appeared on the Fox Business Network to address one of the major problems with the tax cuts — that they’ll heap more than $1 trillion onto the national debt. Kudlow falsely countered that the budget deficit was falling because of growth generated by the tax cuts. The deficit is actually rising.

A look at the statements and the fact:

TRUMP: “Six months ago, we unleashed an economic miracle by signing the biggest tax cuts and reforms … the biggest tax cuts in American history.”

THE FACTS: The president is exaggerating, if not being outright deceptive.

Rather than achieving a miracle, his tax cuts have helped stoke additional growth in an economic expansion that was already approaching its 10th year. The additional growth is largely fueled by government borrowing, as the federal deficit rises because of the tax cut. The pace of growth is expected to taper off after next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Reserve and outside analysts.

And while the $1.5 trillion worth of tax reductions over the next decade are substantial, they’re far from the largest in U.S. history as a share of the overall economy. The Trump tax cut ranks behind Ronald Reagan’s in the early 1980s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several more, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which advocates for deficit reduction.

Trump proudly went through a list of economic achievements that build on the progress begun under former President Barack Obama. The 3.8 percent unemployment rate and the historically low level of requests for jobless aid are both the result of a steady and gradual recovery from the worst economic meltdown since 1929.

Several hundred companies responded to the tax cuts by paying workers bonuses or hiking hourly wages, but any significant income growth has yet to surface in the overall economy.

The tax cuts have added on average $17 a month to people’s incomes, according to an analysis by Ernie Tedeschi, head of fiscal policy analysis at the investment firm Evercore ISI and a former Treasury Department economist. The analysis is based off consumer spending, income and inflation data released Friday.

That $17 monthly gain is helpful, but it’s far from miraculous.

​KUDLOW: “As the economy gears up, more people working, better jobs and careers, those revenues come rolling in, and the deficit, which is one of the other criticisms, is coming down, and it’s coming down rapidly.”

THE FACTS: Nope.

Since the fiscal year started in October, Treasury Department reports show the federal government has recorded a $385.4 billion deficit, a 12 percent jump from the same period in the previous year.

The Congressional Budget Office was even more blunt in a long-term assessment released Tuesday.

It estimates that the national debt — the sum of yearly deficits — will be $2.2 trillion higher in 2027 than it had previously forecast, largely a consequence of Trump’s 10 year, $1.5 trillion tax cut. The size of the debt could be even higher if provisions of the tax cut that are set to expire are, instead, renewed.

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Trump: Expect Another Tax Cut, ‘Probably in October’

U.S. President Donald Trump said he expects a second tax overhaul to be unveiled in October or a bit earlier, and he is considering cutting the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 21 percent.

In an excerpt of a Fox Business Network interview to be broadcast Sunday, Trump said: “We’re doing a phase two. We’ll be doing it probably in October, maybe a little sooner than that.”

“One of the things we’re thinking about is bringing the 21 percent down to 20, and for the most part the rest of it would go right to the middle class,” he said.

In December, Trump signed the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years, slashing the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and giving temporary tax relief to middle-class Americans.

The sweeping bill passed the Republican-controlled Congress over the opposition of Democrats, who decried it as a giveaway to the wealthy that would add $1.5 trillion to the $20 trillion national debt.

Republicans, hungry to revisit the tax issue ahead of a November midterm election showdown for control of Congress, are to unveil the outline of new tax legislation over the summer in the House of Representatives.

But more tax cuts are unlikely to succeed in the closely divided Senate, where Democrats and conservative fiscal hawks could block such a measure.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office warned this week that more tax cuts would hasten the growth of an already rapidly rising federal debt.

The debt, which equals 78 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, is on track to eclipse the 106 percent record set just after World War II in 2034.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, who presides over the chamber’s tax policy debate, said this week that new legislation would aim to make permanent tax cuts for individuals that are to expire in 2026. He expects a House vote in the autumn.

The Texas Republican made no mention of plans for an additional 1 percentage point cut in the U.S. corporate rate, which analysts say would reduce government revenues by an additional $100 billion over a decade.

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Trump Celebrates Tax Cut Law at 6-Month Mark

U.S. President Donald Trump touted the Republican tax cut plan Friday, six months after he signed it into law, saying it was strengthening the U.S. economy and helping average Americans by increasing investment, jobs and wages.

“It is my great honor to welcome you back to the White House to celebrate six months of new jobs, bigger paychecks and keeping more of your hard-earned money where it belongs: in your pocket or wherever else you want to spend it,” he said.

A recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, however, projects a gloomy fiscal outlook in the U.S., which is experiencing rising debt under the Trump administration.

The CBO report predicts the country’s debt burden will double in 30 years, exceeding even the U.S. debt load during World War II.

The tax law, officially titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was the largest overhaul of the country’s complex tax laws in three decades. It cut the corporate tax rate, which was among the highest in the industrialized world, from 35 to 21 percent. It trimmed rates for millions of individual taxpayers as well, with the biggest cuts mostly benefiting the wealthiest earners, although some taxpayers saw bigger tax bills because of various changes in the tax regulations.

The CBO report, which cautioned the high debt levels also increase chances of a fiscal crisis, projects the tax cuts could spur short-term economic growth, but it quickly would fall back to a long-term average of 1.9 percent.

While most of the rising debt is due to increasing entitlement spending and other problems that existed before Trump’s 2016 election, the report said the new tax law is contributing to the short-term debt by cutting government revenue. Spending increases approved by both Republicans and Democrats are also raising deficits.

The Republicans’ $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and $1.3 trillion in spending enacted earlier this year have already helped push the CBO’s debt projections higher through 2041, the report said.

Some analysts say the country’s fiscal health is quickly deteriorating because of higher spending for entitlement programs such as Social Security, insufficient government revenue and spiraling interest payments on debt.

“The massive deficits caused by policymakers’ recent tax and budget decisions have drastically worsened the country’s long-term finances,” said Bipartisan Policy Center economic policy director Shai Akabas. 

The Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center concluded in a June 13 report that “the new tax law will raise deficits and make the distribution of after-tax income more unequal.”

Former Federal Reserve Bank chair Janet Yellen, a Democratic appointee whom Trump replaced with Republican Jerome Powell, said Thursday that the tax cuts would probably provide only a meager boost to the growth of the U.S. economy.

“The calculations that I’ve seen and seem reasonable to me suggest that the payoff is likely to be in tenths of a percent, which in growth is a lot, but may not be what some people are hoping for,” she said.

Tariffs

Any benefits for individuals and corporations from the tax cuts may be undermined by Trump’s imposition of tariffs on foreign countries.

Tariffs have already been announced on Chinese products, foreign aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and on solar panels and washing machines and Canadian lumber and paper. Trump has also threatened tariffs on automobile imports and on other foreign products and materials.

“Tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are a tax hike on Americans and will have damaging consequences for consumers, manufacturers and workers,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican, said May 31.

The Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady of Texas, said last month that the tariffs “hurt our efforts to create good-paying jobs by selling more ‘Made in America’ products to customers in these countries.”

Retaliatory tariffs imposed by Canada, China, the EU and Mexico could hinder the ability of U.S. companies to sell products to other countries, which could in turn kill American jobs and suppress wages.

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Trade Dispute Hits China’s Yuan, Investors

After a sharp sell-off, China’s yuan and stock markets attempted a modest recovery Friday, yet investors were grappling with some of their worst losses in years as a bitter Sino-U.S. trade row threatened to ruffle the world’s second-biggest economy.

The yuan was set for its biggest monthly fall on record. Chinese stocks, on a downward spiral since late January, were also poised for their largest monthly slide since January 2016.

The downturn highlighted the anxiety among investors as Washington and Beijing showed no signs of backing down from their tariff dispute.

The worry is that an extended selloff in stocks and the yuan could spark a bout of capital outflows, putting further strain on the economy and complicating policy making as authorities put up defenses against the trade battle with the United States.

Down 3 percent in month

The yuan has shed more than 3 percent of its value against the dollar in June, its biggest fall since the market exchange rate was unified in 1994. On Friday, it fell to its lowest since mid-November 2017, but pulled up to 6.6139 per dollar by 0600 GMT for a modest bounce of about 0.16 percent on the day.

Offshore, where the yuan trades more freely, the unit was up by about a quarter of a percent, at 6.6224 per dollar.

In equities, the benchmark CSI300 Index rebounded more than 2 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index gained around 2 percent, though they were both down around 9 percent for the month. In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng Index was also up more than 1 percent.

Trump and trade

U.S. President Donald Trump has shaken the world trade order by seeking to renegotiate the terms of some of the United States’ trading relationships, in particular with China.

The U.S. is targeting $34 billion of Chinese goods for tariffs to take effect July 6, and has threatened tens of billions of dollars more for similar duties.

Chinese 10-year treasury futures for September delivery, the most traded contract, leapt 0.34 percent. A fixed income portfolio manager said the sharp rise was a result of central bank promises of “ample” liquidity.

“The central bank is expected to step up efforts to calm investors and slow the pace of the yuan depreciation that has sparked risk aversion across regional markets, including a possible reintroduction of the counter-cyclical factor,” Gao Qi, FX strategist at Scotiabank in Singapore, wrote in a note Friday.

He expected “strong resistance” at 6.70 yuan per dollar.

Hard-hit areas

Sectors and stocks that were exposed to the depreciating yuan have been hit hard this month.

Real estate was down 5.7 percent and poised for its fifth straight month of losses. The transport sector index, whose components include many leading airlines, tumbled 9.4 percent this month and was set for its steepest monthly drop since January 2016.

A trader at a regional bank in Shanghai who declined to be named said there had been some “filtering” of the midpoint fixing, which is set by the central bank each morning, in an apparent bid to keep the yuan from falling too sharply.

“It is too early to say whether the counter-cyclical factor has been revived. If market sentiment could recover by itself, there is no need to use the factor. Market still needs some time to digest,” the trader said.

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Minnesota Approves Enbridge Energy Line 3 Pipeline Project

Minnesota regulators on Thursday approved Enbridge Energy’s proposal to replace its aging Line 3 oil pipeline across the northern part of the state.

All five members of the Public Utilities Commission backed the project, though some cited heavy trepidation, and a narrow majority later approved the company’s preferred route despite opposition from American Indian tribes and climate change activists.

In discussion before the vote, several commissioners cited the deteriorating condition of the existing line , which was built in the 1960s, as a major factor in their decision.

“It’s irrefutable that that pipeline is an accident waiting to happen,” Commissioner Dan Lipschultz said ahead of the vote. “It feels like a gun to our head … All I can say is the gun is real and it’s loaded.”

Some pipeline opponents reacted angrily when it became clear commissioners would approve the project. Tania Aubid, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, stood and shouted, “You have just declared war on the Ojibwe!” Brent Murcia, of the group Youth Climate Intervenors, added: “We will not let this stand.”

Opponents argue that the pipeline risks spills in pristine areas in northern Minnesota, including where American Indians harvest wild rice. Ojibwe Indians, or Anishinaabe, consider wild rice sacred and central to their culture.

Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth, said opponents would use every regulatory means possible to stop the project — and threatened mass protests if necessary.

“They have gotten their Standing Rock,” she said, referring to protests that drew thousands of people to neighboring North Dakota to rally against the Dakota Access pipeline. 

Others welcomed Thursday’s vote, including Bob Schoneberger, founder of Minnesotans for Line 3. He said Minnesota needs the line now “and will need it even more into the future.”

After commissioners agreed the pipeline upgrade was needed, the commission voted 3-2 in favor of Enbridge’s preferred route, which departs from the existing pipeline to largely avoid two American Indian reservations currently crossed.

The approved route does clip a portion of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa’s land, and commissioners said they would adjust the route if the Fond du Lac don’t agree. Tribal leaders had reluctantly backed a route that went much farther south as the least objectionable option.

After the commission’s work is formalized in the next few weeks, opponents may file motions asking it to reconsider. After that, they can appeal the decision to the state Court of Appeals. 

Several commissioners said the overall issue posed a difficult decision. Chairwoman Nancy Lange choked up and took off her glasses to wipe her eyes as she described her reasoning for approving the project. Another commissioner, Katie Sieben, said it was “so tough because there is no good outcome.”

The pipeline currently runs from Alberta, Canada, across North Dakota and Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. Enbridge has said it needs to replace the pipeline because it’s increasingly subject to corrosion and cracking, and that it would continue to run Line 3 if regulators rejected its proposal.

Much of the debate has focused on whether Minnesota and Midwest refineries need the extra oil. Enbridge currently runs Line 3 at about half its original capacity of 760,000 barrels per day for safety reasons, and currently uses it only to carry light crude. 

The project’s opponents, including the Minnesota Department of Commerce, have argued that the refineries don’t need it because demand for oil and petroleum products will fall in the coming years as people switch to electric cars and renewable energy sources. Opposition groups also argue that much of the additional oil would eventually flow to overseas buyers.

Enbridge and its customers strongly dispute the lack of need in the region. They said Line 3’s reduced capacity is already forcing the company to severely ration space on its pipeline network, and that failure to restore its capacity would force oil shippers to rely more on trains and trucks, which are more expensive and less safe. Business and labor groups support the proposal for the jobs and economic stimulus. 

The Public Utilities Commission’s decision likely won’t be the final word in a long, contentious process that has included numerous public hearings and the filings of thousands of pages of documents since 2015. Lange said earlier this year that the dispute was likely to end up in court, regardless of what the commission decides.

Opponents have threatened a repeat of the protests on the Standing Rock Reservation against the Dakota Access pipeline, in which Enbridge owns a stake. Those protests in 2016 and 2017 resulted in sometimes violent skirmishes with law enforcement and more than 700 arrests. 

Similar concerns over the role of tar sands oil in climate change, indigenous rights and the risk of spills has fueled opposition to other pipelines out of Alberta’s oil sands region. Opponents of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline to Nebraska are still fighting that project in court. The Canadian government agreed last month to buy Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline across Canadian soil to the Pacific Coast for $4.5 billion Canadian (US$3.4 billion) to ensure completion of the company’s plan to triple the line’s capacity. 

Enbridge has already replaced the short segment of Line 3 in Wisconsin and put it into service. Construction is underway on the short segment that crosses northeastern North Dakota and on the longer section from Alberta to the U.S. border, and Enbridge plans to continue that work. Enbridge has estimated the overall cost of the project at $7.5 billion, including $2.6 billion for the U.S. segment.

 

 

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US Delegation Attends Kenya’s Inaugural Economic Summit 

A U.S. delegation traveled to Kenya on Thursday to attend the inaugural economic summit of the American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya.

About 500 delegates, including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Gilbert Kaplan, U.S. undersecretary of commerce for international trade, other high-ranking government officials from both nations and representatives from nearly 30 major U.S. corporations, gathered at the summit, which was aimed at creating partnerships between the two nations’ public and private sectors in order to foster economic growth. 

The Kenyan agenda was centered on advancing Kenyatta’s “Big Four” priorities — universal health care, manufacturing, food security and affordable housing — that he set out after his re-election to a second term last year.

American companies in attendance were looking for opportunities to expand and to increase trade and investment in Africa.

Kaplan told VOA that increasing business and economic development in Africa would benefit many Americans, which aligns with the promises of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda. 

“If we can export more and do more transactions here, do more investment here, that’s going to be incredibly helpful for the United States, for the people back home, because we’ll be making profitable ventures, and that will naturally help,” he said.

But the U.S. delegation also had a strong message for Kenya: Real, meaningful economic growth can’t happen unless Kenya commits to fighting corruption.

​’It’s got to stop’

“Corruption is undermining Kenya’s future,” said Robert Godec, U.S. ambassador to Kenya. “It’s clearly a major problem for the country. We welcome President Kenyatta’s commitment and the push recently to address this problem. Corruption is theft from the people, and it’s got to stop.”

In his speech to the delegation, Kenyatta pledged to “fight this animal called corruption and ensure that it is a beast that shall never infect or inflict future generations” of Kenyans. 

Kaplan told VOA that the U.S. government was providing support and training to the Kenyan government to help tackle corruption.

“We’ve dealt with that — the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, rule of law and international standards,” he said. “I think we can convince Kenya that following those rules is ultimately to their benefit because it brings more businessmen and women into the system and being able to be successful.” 

Part of the objective of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is to make it illegal for companies and their supervisors to influence foreign officials with personal payments or rewards.

C.D. Glin, president and chief executive of the U.S. African Development Foundation, told VOA that the U.S. government’s and private sector’s support of businesses in Africa that had ramped up under the previous administration was being continued by Trump.

For instance, the President’s Advisory Council for Doing Business in Africa, begun under the Barack Obama administration and still in force, “really is looking at Africa from a business standpoint and from an opportunity standpoint so that Africans can benefit from U.S. support, but also can support the U.S.,” Glin said.

​Major boost

Nicholas Nesbitt, chairman of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, said the increased U.S. private sector investment had been hugely beneficial for the Kenyan economy.

“We see a lot more tourism coming to Kenya, a lot more trade and a lot more business,” he said. “We’re very excited to see the numbers of American companies — small, midsize and even large corporations — looking at Kenya as a destination. It’s also a gateway to east Africa, where there are 200 million potential consumers. So, the investments, the energy, the excitement is absolutely tremendous today at this summit between American and Kenyan business.”

Six commercial deals between Kenyan and American companies were signed at the summit. Maxwell Okello, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya, called that a sign that significant economic change would be driven by private sector innovation.

“I think at the end of the day, with what we’re hearing today here, it’s really down to what the private sector wants to do from a commercial engagement,” he said. “And I believe conversations such as this is really where you spark that interest, where you create those linkages and the sort of engagement that you need. And the opportunities are there for anyone. They’re obvious.

“So, I think that various policies aside, from a commercial business engagement perspective, the sky is wide open.” 

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Threats from US Put New Pressure on Iranian Oil Importers

Importers of Iranian oil are facing pressure from the United States to find another energy source or be hit with sanctions.

The Trump administration is threatening other countries, including close allies such as South Korea, with the sanctions if they don’t cut off Iranian imports by early November, essentially erecting a global blockade around the world’s sixth-biggest petroleum producer.

South Korea accounted for 14 percent of Iran’s oil exports last year, according to the U.S. Energy Department. China is the largest importer of Iranian oil with 24 percent, followed by India with 18 percent. Turkey stood at 9 percent, and Italy at 7 percent.

A State Department official told reporters this week that the “vast majority” of countries will comply with the U.S. request. A group from the State Department and the National Security Council is delivering the president’s message in Europe. The official added that the group had not yet visited China or India.

President Donald Trump announced in May that he would pull the United States out of a 2015 agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, and would re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Previously, the administration said only that other countries should make a “significant reduction” in imports of Iranian crude to avoid U.S. sanctions.

European allies will reluctantly go along to avoid sanctions on their companies that do business in the U.S., said Jim Krane, an energy and geopolitics expert at Rice University. However, China, India and Turkey might be less likely to fully cut off Iranian imports, he said.

Antoine Halff, a researcher at Columbia University and former chief oil analyst for the International Energy Agency, said it’s not unusual for the U.S. government to seek cooperation from other importers of Iranian oil — President Barack Obama’s administration did it during a previous round of sanctions.

“The difference is that there was broad international support for the sanctions then,” while the move to restore sanctions now over Iran’s nuclear program “is a unilateral decision from the United States alone,” Halff said.

The Trump administration is counting on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members to supply enough oil to offset the lost Iranian exports and prevent oil prices from rising sharply.

The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. will be talking in a week or so “with our Middle Eastern partners to ensure that the global supply of oil is not adversely affected by these sanctions.”

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed over the weekend to boost oil production by about 600,000 barrels a day. Iran exported about 1.9 million barrels a day during the first quarter of this year, according to OPEC figures. It is the world’s seventh largest oil exporter.

“It would not be a heavy lift for OPEC to replace Iran’s contribution to world oil markets — Saudi Arabia could probably do it on its own,” Krane said. “Saudi spare capacity protects the U.S. motorist from U.S. foreign policy.”

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Trump to Tout Economic Policies at Foxconn Ground-Breaking

President Donald Trump was highlighting his economic policies Thursday by taking part in the ceremonial ground-breaking for a $10 billion Foxconn factory complex that may bring thousands of jobs to a state he barely carried in the 2016 presidential election.

But Trump’s celebration comes amid less-rosy economic news, with Harley-Davidson’s announcement it’s moving some motorcycle production overseas to avoid European Union tariffs that are a product of Trump’s escalating trade dispute with long-standing U.S. allies.

The president was irked by the Milwaukee-based company’s announcement this week and tweeted about it for three straight days, writing that any shift in production “will be the beginning of the end” for the iconic American manufacturer and even threatening retaliatory taxes.

Trump’s presence in Wisconsin was the subject of protests both in Milwaukee, where he spent a rare weeknight away from the White House, and in Mount Pleasant, where final preparations were under way for the ground-breaking.

Chants of “Hey, hey, Ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go” were heard near the Pfister Hotel, where Trump overnighted and attended a pair of closed-door campaign events before heading to the groundbreaking and tour of an existing Foxconn facility. Gov. Scott Walker and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., were among those joining the president at the fundraisers. 

About 50 people walked from a downtown park to as close as they could get to the roped-off hotel, hoping Trump hears their calls to reunite migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border after the president decide to prosecute everyone trying to enter the U.S. illegally.

As the president hobnobbed with supporters, his wife, Melania, was making her second trip in a week to the southern border to visit detention centers housing migrant children. She toured a Texas center last Thursday.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization, said the family separation issue is not unique to border communities. She said it’s also happening in the U.S. interior where deportations have increased.

“The scale of human rights violations that are being inflicted on children and families by the current administration should shake us to our core,” she said.

Protesters were also gathering near the Foxconn Technology Group campus in Mount Pleasant, about 30 miles south of Milwaukee.

Nearly 40 groups representing students, environmentalists, civil rights advocates, teachers, union workers and others have organized an event featuring dozens of speakers, a marching band, singers and musicians who plan to play ominous “Star Wars” music.

Foxconn is the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer and assembles Apple iPhones and other products for tech companies. Based in Taiwan, it chose Wisconsin after being prodded by Trump and others, including Ryan, whose district will include the plant.

The project could employ up to 13,000 people, though opponents say it is costing Wisconsin taxpayers too much.

The ceremonial groundbreaking was supposed to be evidence that the manufacturing revival fueled by Trump’s “America First” policy is well underway. But Harley-Davidson’s announcement, spurred by the trans-Atlantic tariff fight, appears to have turned that on its head.

Walker is counting on a strong economy as part of his case for re-election in November. Wisconsin’s unemployment is at record-low levels and Walker argues that the Foxconn project, the largest economic development deal in state history, shows the state is on the right track.

When the deal, reached with assistance from the White House, was signed last year, Walker said critics could “suck lemons” and “all of us in the state should be smiling, Republican and Democrat, doesn’t matter.”

A year later, opinion polls show Wisconsin voters are split on the project and the state of the economy.

Trump carried Wisconsin by less than 1 point — just under 23,000 votes. He’s underwater in popularity, with only 44 percent of respondents in last week’s Marquette University Law School poll approving of the job he’s doing, while 50 percent disapproved.

Republicans were mostly unified in support of Foxconn, saying it is a once-a-generation opportunity to transform the state’s economy. But most Democrats — including all eight of those running against Walker — are against it, arguing the potential $4.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies was too rich. If paid out — they’re tied to jobs and investment benchmarks — the incentives would be the most paid to a foreign company in U.S. history.

Should Foxconn employ 13,000 workers as envisioned, it would be the largest private-sector employer in Wisconsin.

“Foxconn’s state-of-the-art products will be made in the U.S.A. — proudly in the state of Wisconsin!” Walker tweeted Tuesday, as he tried to shift the focus away from Harley-Davidson.

 

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China Says Its Trade Practices Benefit World

China defended its trade practices Thursday as being beneficial to the world as it tries to ease pressure from the United States and Europe to abandon what they consider to be Beijing’s protectionist policies.

China’s rapid economic growth “has brought great opportunities to trading partners all over the world,” Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said at a Beijing news conference.

Wang unveiled a report highlighting reforms China has taken since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001.He said Beijing has “carried out every promise” since joining the WTO.

Wang’s defense of China’s business practices come amid threats of a trade war with the United States and arguments by Europe and Washington that China limits access to emerging industries and steals or forces other countries to hand over technology.

Trump’s threat of tariff increases on Chinese goods worth up to $450 billion reflects fears that China’s actions are a threat to America’s technological leadership.Germany and other countries have complained that Beijing prohibits purchases of Chinese assets while Chinese companies engage in a worldwide spending spree.

The dispute with Trump has allowed China, which has the world’s second largest economy, to position itself as a defender of free trade.When asked about possible U.S. plans to limit Chinese investment in its technology sectors, Wang said, “We hope countries concerned can do the right thing and adopt policies that support free trade and investment.”

The U.S. and other trading partners maintain China’s emergence in the smartphone, solar and other technology sectors means it should no longer be afforded protections it was granted as a developing country when it joined the WTO.

China has offered to cut its multi-billion trade surplus with the United States, but has refused to abolish a strategy that its Communist leaders believe is a path to increased global influence and prosperity.

China and the European Union announced this week they will form a group to update WTO rules to keep pace with global economic developments.

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Automakers Warn US Tariffs Will Cost Jobs, Hike Prices

Two major auto trade groups on Wednesday warned the Trump administration that imposing up to 25 percent tariffs on imported vehicles would cost hundreds of thousands of auto jobs, dramatically hike prices on vehicles and threaten industry spending on self-driving cars.

A coalition representing major foreign automakers including Toyota Motor Corp, Volkswagen AG, BMW AG and Hyundai Motor Co, said the tariffs would harm automakers and U.S. consumers. The administration in May launched an investigation into whether imported vehicles pose a national security threat and President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to quickly impose tariffs.

“The greatest threat to the U.S. automotive industry at this time is the possibility the administration will impose duties on imports in connection with this investigation,” wrote the Association of Global Automakers representing major foreign automakers. “Such duties would raise prices for American consumers, limit their choices, and suppress sales and U.S. production of vehicles.”

The group added: “Rather than creating jobs, these tariffs would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of American jobs producing and selling cars, SUVs, trucks and auto parts.”

On Friday, Trump threatened to impose a 20 percent tariff on all imports of EU-assembled cars. On Tuesday, Trump said tariffs are coming soon.

“We are finishing our study of Tariffs on cars from the E.U. in that they have long taken advantage of the U.S. in the form of Trade Barriers and Tariffs. In the end it will all even out — and it won’t take very long!” Trump tweeted.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Daimler AG , Toyota and others, urged the administration in separate comments filed Wednesday not to go forward.

“We believe the resulting impact of tariffs on imported vehicles and vehicle components will ultimately harm U.S. economic security and weaken our national security,” the group wrote, calling the tariffs a “mistake” and adding imposing them “could very well set a dangerous precedent that other nations could use to protect their local market from foreign competition.”

The Alliance said its analysis of 2017 auto sales data showed a 25 percent tariff on imported vehicles would result in an average price increase of $5,800, which would boost costs to American consumers by nearly $45 billion annually.

Automakers are concerned tariffs would mean less capital to spend on self-driving cars and electric vehicles.

“We are already in the midst of an intense global race to lead on electrification and automation. The increased costs associated with the proposed tariffs may result in diminishing the U.S.’ competitiveness in developing these advanced technologies,” the Alliance wrote.

Toyota said in a statement Wednesday that new tariffs “would increase the cost of every vehicle sold in the country.” The automaker said the tariffs would mean even a Toyota Camry built in Kentucky “would face $1,800 in increased costs.”

Both automotive trade groups cited a study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics that the cost to U.S. jobs from the import duties would be 195,000 jobs and could be as high as 624,000 jobs if other countries retaliate.

The German Association for Small and Medium-sized Businesses said the “pattern of rising protectionism is very likely to continue if the U.S. decide to impose tariffs on foreign automobiles and automobile parts, thus causing tremendous damage to both economies.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a state that produced nearly 1 million vehicles and 1.7 million engines built by foreign automakers last year, urged the Commerce Department not to invoke the tariffs. She said job losses from new levies could be “devastating.”

The proposed tariffs on national security grounds have been met by opposition among many Republicans in Congress.

Trump has made the tariffs a key part of his economic message and repeatedly lamented the U.S auto sector trade deficit, particularly with Germany and Japan. Some aides have suggested that the effort is a way to try to pressure Canada and Mexico into making more concessions in ongoing talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Thursday the department aimed to wrap up the probe by late July or August. The Commerce Department plans to hold two days of public comments in July on its investigation of auto imports.

The Commerce Department has asked if it should consider U.S. owned auto manufacturers differently than foreign automakers.

The Association of Global Automakers rejected that contention, saying its members’ American workers “are no less patriotic or willing to serve their country in a time of crisis than any other Americans.”

The group questioned national security as grounds to restrict auto imports. “America does not go to war in a Ford Fiesta,” they added.

The Alliance said “there is no basis to claim that auto-related imports are a threat to national security” and noted that 98 percent of U.S. auto imports came from U.S. national security allies.

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East Africa Agrees to Improve Trade, Security

Leaders in east Africa have agreed to work together to build a single railroad and highway network to enhance integration in the region. Leaders and representatives of eight countries met in Kenya Tuesday for the 14th time to discuss the northern corridor project aimed at improving trade and tightening security.

The representatives stressed the need for better movement of people, goods and services with better joint infrastructure.

Kenya got the go-ahead to continue building its standard gauge railways to the Uganda border. Kenya is about to finish the second phase of the rail line between the cities of Nairobi and Naivasha.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told his counterparts plans are under way to extend the line.

“Preliminary discussions for the funding of Naivasha and Kisumu sections are in progress and we expect to sign the framework agreement to the People’s Republic of China anytime this year,” he said.

Uganda and Rwanda are also planning to extend railway connections to the countries after Kenya completes its part.

The agenda included a way to improve a single customs territory by reducing the number of weigh bridges and police checks to speed up the delivery of goods in landlocked countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

Kenyatta said the border post between Kenya and Uganda has been effective.

“Malaba — one stop border post total time taken at the crossing has now been substantially reduced to less than seven hours for goods traveling under [a] single customs territory,” he said.

Following oil discoveries in Kenya and Uganda, the leaders agreed to come up with a joint refinery model to facilitate the exportation of petroleum products.

“The heads of state are looking at all these corridors and how they can enhance or support each other and ease the movement between their countries, both on road networks as well as railway network and all other means of transport within the region. So the northern corridor has been very important,” said Gerrishon Ikiara, an international economic affairs lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

The southern corridor network, which connects Tanzania to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi is also under construction.

Countries in the region are focusing on at least 16 infrastructure projects, with the goal of transforming their people socially and economically.

 

 

 

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Thailand Banks on Tech to End Slavery at Sea as Workers Push for Rights

Enslaved on a Thai fishing vessel for 11 years, Tun Lin saw his fellow workers lose their minds one after another, with one fisherman jumping into the sea to end his

life.

Some would start murmuring or laughing to themselves as they worked day and night in Indonesian waters on the cramped boat, often surviving on fish they caught and drinking water leaking from an onboard freezer.

“It was like a floating prison – actually, worse than prison,” the Burmese fisherman, who was sold into slavery, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Samut Sakhon, a Thai fishing hub some 40 km (25 miles) southwest of the capital Bangkok.

The 36-year-old, who was rescued in 2015 after losing four fingers and being stranded on a remote island for years without pay, is now lobbying for fishermen’s rights with the Thai and Migrant Fishers Union Group (TMFG).

Under growing consumer pressure, Thailand has introduced a raft of modern technologies since 2015 – from satellites to optical scanning and electronic payment services – to crack down on abuses in its multibillion-dollar fishing industry.

It is one of a growing number of countries using innovation to deal with modern slavery, from mobile apps in India to blockchain in Moldova, but experts warn against over-reliance on tech as a silver bullet without stronger workers’ rights.

“Technology can be a double-edged sword,” said Patima Tungpuchayakul, co-founder of the Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation, a Thai advocacy group. “It has become an excuse the government is using to justify they have done something, but in practice they don’t use it to solve the problem.”

More than half the estimated 600,000 industry workers are migrants, often from poor neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar, United Nations (U.N.) data shows.

Tracking Devices

After the European Union threatened to ban fish exports from Thailand, and the U.S. State Department said it was failing to tackle human trafficking, the Southeast Asian country toughened up its laws and increased fines for violations.

It banned the use of workers aged below 18 and ordered fishermen to be given contracts and be paid through electronic bank transfers.

Authorities ordered Thai vessels operating outside national waters to have satellite communications for workers to contact their families or report problems at sea, plus tracking devices to spot illegal fishing.

“We are serious in law enforcement regarding human trafficking and illegal labor cases,” said Weerachon Sukhontapatipak, a Thai government spokesman. “There might not be abrupt change … it will take time.”

Thailand is also rolling out an ambitious plan, using iris, facial and fingerprint scans to record fishermen’s identities to make sure they are on the boats they are registered with and help inspectors spot trafficking victims.

Rights groups meanwhile have tried to use satellites to pinpoint the location of ships that remain at sea for long periods, potentially indicating enslavement.

But human trafficking expert Benjamin Smith said using satellites to tackle slavery at sea was not easy unless there is a lead on where to track in the vast ocean.

“I think people underestimate the size of the ocean and the ability to pinpoint where something as small as a boat is,” Smith from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said. “If you have good information, intelligence, then satellite images can be good … It has to be a small part of a much bigger effort.”

Smith also highlighted difficulties prosecuting cross-border trafficking cases and maritime police funding shortages, adding that continued consumer pressure on firms to clean up their supply chains could be a potent force to help end slavery.

“That’s probably the best way you can start,” he said.

Good News

Fishermen remain at risk of forced labor and the wages of some continue to be withheld, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said in March.

To combat slavery, firms must improve workers’ lives, rather than cutting labor costs and recruiting informally to meet demand for cheaper goods, experts say.

“Smaller owners are getting squeezed, and still rely on brokers and agents, who dupe workers and keep them ignorant of their rights and conditions on the boat,” said Sunai Phasuk, a researcher with lobby group Human Rights Watch in Bangkok.

Workers are set to become more vocal with the May launch of the Fishers’ Rights Network, which aims to combat abuses, backed by the world’s largest canned tuna producer, Thai Union, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

“Without enforceable rights at the workplace and the strength that comes from being represented by a union, labor rights violations and the mistreatment will continue,” said Johnny Hansen, chairman of ITF’s fisheries section.

Thailand’s ratification this month of the ILO protocol on forced labor also offers hope. It is the first Asian country to promise to combat all forms of the crime, including trafficking, and to protect and compensate victims.

“We have … committed to changing the law to allow workers to form unions, so we can work together to solve the problems,” said Thanaporn Sriyakul, an advisor to the deputy prime minister. “But the process is long, and it will take time.”

Thailand has also pledged to ratify two other conventions on collective bargaining and the right to organize, which campaigners say would better protect seafood workers.

This would be good news for Lin’s fishermen’s group, which has helped rescue more than 60 people since 2015, but has no legal status as Thai law does not permit fisher unions, leading rights advocates to use other terms, like workers’ groups.

“There are still lots of victims, and I want to help them,” Lin said. “As fishermen who have suffered in a similar manner, we understand each other’s needs and are able to help better.”

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Warmer Waters Cut Alaska’s Prized Salmon Harvest

Warming waters have reduced the harvest of Alaska’s prized Copper River salmon to just a small fraction of last year’s harvest, Alaska biologists say.

The runs of Copper River salmon were so low that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shut down the commercial harvest last month, halting what is usually a three-month season after less than two weeks. Earlier this month, the department also shut down most of the harvest that residents along the river conduct to feed their families.

The total commercial harvest for Alaska’s marquee Copper River salmon this year after it was halted at the end of May was about 32,000 fish, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported. That compares with the department’s pre-season forecast of over 1.2 million and an average annual harvest of over 1.4 million fish in the prior decade.

State biologists blame warming in the Gulf of Alaska for the diminished run of Copper River salmon, prized for its rich flavor, high oil content and deep-red color.

The fish spend most of their lives in the ocean, and those waters were 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal, thanks to a warm and persistent North Pacific water mass that climate scientists have dubbed “the Blob,” along with other factors, said Mark Somerville, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Warmer temperatures caused the metabolism of the fish to speed up, Somerville said. “They need more food for maintenance,” he said. “At the same time, their food source was diminished.”

Other important salmon runs are also struggling, including those in the Kenai River — a world-famous sport fishing site — and along Kodiak Island. Others have had good numbers, though the returning fish are noticeably reduced in size, Somerville said.

In Alaska, where wild salmon is iconic, Copper River fish hold a special status.

Their high oil content is linked to their ultra-long migration route from the ocean to their glacier-fed spawning grounds. They are the first fresh Alaska salmon to hit the market each year. Copper River salmon have sold for $75 a pound.

Chris Bryant, executive chef for WildFin American Grill, a group of Seattle-area seafood restaurants, worries about trends for Alaska salmon beyond the Copper River.

“The fish are smaller, which makes it harder for chefs to get a good yield on it and put it on the plate,” he said.

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Initiatives Failing to Stop Indian Labor Abuses, Activists Say

International efforts to make it easier for garment workers in India to speak out against sexual harassment, dangerous working conditions and abuses are failing, campaigners said Tuesday.

The U.S.-based certifying agency Social Accountability International (SAI) and Britain’s Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) — an alliance of unions, firms and charities — are not enforcing procedures they set up to protect workers, they said.

“The organizations are violating the rules of the mechanisms they created by not taking time-bound action against complaints that come up,” said S. James Victor, director of Serene Secular Social Service Society, which works to empower garment workers.

“They are far removed from ground reality. The fact is that every day a worker continues to face workplace harassment in the spinning mills and garment factories of Tamil Nadu.”

From clothing stores to supermarkets, major brands are facing rising consumer pressure to improve conditions along their global supply chains, render them slavery-free and ensure fair wages.

Poor regulation

Many of the 1,500 mills in Tamil Nadu state — the largest hub in India’s $40 billion-a-year textile and garment industry — operate informally with poor regulation and few formal grievance mechanisms for workers, most of whom are women, campaigners say.

“Workers are being victimized, harassed, and managements are literally going after them for raising any complaint,” said Sujata Mody of the Garment and Fashion Workers Union, which has about 3,000 active members. “The issue could be about a toilet break, sick leave or sexual harassment. No complaint is tolerated or redressed.”

Following reports that girls as young as 14 were lured from rural areas to work long hours in mills and factories without contracts, and often held in company-run hostels, global rights groups have tried to improve accountability.

Manufacturers who comply with voluntary labor standards introduced by SAI receive certification, with 300 certified factories employing about 64,000 workers in south India, according to SAI senior director Rochelle Zaid.

But forced labor, sexual harassment and repression of unions is not being properly addressed, Dutch advocacy groups India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN) and the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) said last week.

After the charities complained about abuses at two SAI-certified mills, one lost its certification after a 20-month procedure but the other continued to operate, they said.

More unannounced audits

SAI is constantly upgrading its program based on feedback, has increased the number of unannounced audits and improved accountability to ensure timely response to complaints, Zaid told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.

But trade union president Mody said that workers’ committees set up to handle complaints internally do not work.

“It is only on paper,” she said. “We have at least 10 written complaints of sexual harassment pending before the Tamil Nadu government,” she added, referring to cases brought by workers in SAI-certified factories.

ICN and the U.K.-based Homeworkers Worldwide rights group also said their complaints to the ETI about forced labor in British supermarket supply chains were investigated slowly, workers were not consulted and no plan was made to address issues raised.

“When handling complaints, ETI seeks to promote engagement and reach practical collaborative solutions,” an ETI spokesman, who declined to be named, said in emailed comments.

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EU China to Promote WTO Rules Upgrade

As Washington and Beijing teeter on the brink of a possible trade war, the European Union and China have agreed to launch a working group to promote reform at the World Trade Organization. The move is part of an effort to upgrade the global trade system’s toolbox and ward off growing threats to the multilateral trade system and body.

According to a top EU official, the reform group would look at ways to modernize regulations and address the problem of state subsidies and other unfair trade practices.

How willing a participant Beijing will be in that effort is unclear as most of the EU’s proposed upgrades are connected to unfair trade measures, practices and policies that exist in China. The same concerns are driving the administration of President Donald Trump to press forward with the possible threat of heavy tariffs on some $34 billion in Chinese goods.

The Trump administration announced Monday that it is also mulling restrictions on foreign investments in technology. 

European Union Vice President Jyrki Katainen admits that the effort to try and promote reform of WTO rules will not be easy. He said it would take time and that China would have different views on priorities. 

But, Katainen added that if nothing is done, “the environment for multilateral trade will vanish.”

State media in China has portrayed Monday’s meetings with EU officials, a high-level dialogue ahead of next month’s EU-China summit, as the two teaming up to combat “unilateralism and protectionism” and promote globalization and protecting the global economy.

The European Union wants the reform effort to address issues such as industrial subsidies and unfair trade practices such as the forced transfer of technology in exchange for market access. 

“The two issues together are some of the reasons why, not the only reasons but some of the reasons why the president of the United States is taking unilateral action,” Katainen said, adding that the issue instead has to be solved in an orderly manner.

The basic idea is to update the WTO so that it is better suited to the current realities of the modern world, he said.

“The EU is not siding with any party or any country, the only thing we are siding with is rules-based trade,” Katainen said.

Chinese state media have portrayed the effort as a sign that Washington’s trade actions are creating a united front between the EU and China. A report in the Beijing-based newspaper Global Times called the joint effort to combat “unilateralism” and “protectionism” a “clear rebuttal of punitive U.S. tariffs on European and Chinese goods” and defense of the “multilateral trade system.” 

A report in the China Daily highlighted how trade frictions were bolstering closer trade ties between the EU and China. 

At the release of a survey on the business climate in China last week, the head of a top European businesses lobby noted that some companies, perhaps one or two, have already seen benefits from the ongoing trade dispute. 

Mats Harborn, president of the European Chamber of Commerce, said that it was not possible to tell if that is a trend but added that trade tensions are not good for business. 

“We don’t want companies to benefit from this trade war, we would like to see that we are all competing on a level playing field in China,” Harborn said.

In remarks following meetings with Katainen on Monday, Vice Premier Liu He did not mention the reform working group proposal for the WTO specifically. He did say that both countries agreed to pay attention to market access issues facing businesses on both sides and that they agreed to “reform the multi-lateral trade system and keep it advancing with the times.”

At a so-called “press conference” with Katainen, where journalists were not allowed to ask questions, Liu said “unilateralism and trade protectionism” was on the rise and that the European Union and China agreed to prevent such practices from impacting the world economy or dragging it into recession. 

Monday’s high-level dialogue was held in preparation for the EU-China Summit, which will be held next month on July 16-17th. During that meeting the two are looking to move forward a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment and to exchange market access offers.