Правда

Coca-Cola Hopes for Caffeine Hit as It Buys Costa Coffee Chain

Coca-Cola is hoping for a caffeine-fueled boost with the acquisition of British coffee chain Costa.

Costa is Britain’s biggest coffee company, with over 2,400 coffee shops in the U.K. and another 1,400 in more than 30 countries, including around 460 in China, its second-biggest market. Coca-Cola said Friday it will buy the Costa brand from Whitbread for 3.9 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) in cash.

The deal, expected to close in the first half of 2019, comes on the heels of Coca-Cola’s announcement earlier in August that it was buying a minority ownership stake in sports drink maker BodyArmor for an undisclosed amount. Coca-Cola’s other investments in recent years have included milk that is strained to have more protein and a push into sparkling water.

The move is Coca-Cola’s latest diversification as health-conscious consumers, at least in America, move away from traditional soda.

Rival PepsiCo, meanwhile, recently bought carbonated drink maker SodaStream, which produces machines that allow people to make fizzy drinks in their own homes.

Coca-Cola already owns the Georgia and Gold Peak coffee brands, which make bottled and canned drinks, but the purchase of Costa could allow it to compete with brands like Starbucks.

Coffee is growing by 6 percent a year, making it one of the fastest-growing beverage categories in the world, said James Quincey, Coca-Cola president & CEO.

“Hot beverages is one of the few remaining segments of the total beverage landscape where Coca-Cola does not have a global brand,” he said.

Coca-Cola has over 500 brands in its stable including Fanta, innocent smoothies and Powerade sports drinks. In 2017, it generated operating income of $9.7 billion on revenues of $35.4 billion.

Without being specific about expansion plans, Quincey said in a video posted on Coca-Cola’s website that the company would “over time” look to take Costa “to more people in more places.”

Costa doesn’t currently have a presence in North or South America, but Quincey indicated that one potential early expansion route would be to use Costa’s vending operation and grow the company’s ready-to-drink products. In addition to its shops, Costa has self-serve coffee machines in grocery stores and gas stations.

Whitbread bought Costa for 19 million pounds in 1995, when it had just 39 shops. In recent years, Whitbread has invested heavily in Costa’s expansion overseas, but had been looking to siphon off the business to generate funds for the expansion and for its other business, the budget hotel chain Premier Inn.

Then Coca-Cola got in touch with what Whitbread said was a “highly compelling” offer. The Whitbread board unanimously backed the deal.

Whitbread will use a “significant majority” of the net cash proceeds — around 3.8 billion pounds after taking into account such things as transaction costs — returning cash to shareholders. Some will be used to pay down debt and to make a contribution to the pension fund.

Doing so, Whitbread said, would “provide headroom” to further expand the Premier Inn budget hotel chain in Britain and Germany.

Whitbread’s share price soared 17 percent in early afternoon trading in London.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at London-based stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said Costa will get “lots of care and attention” from Coca-Cola.

“Its global reach should turbo-charge growth in the years to come, and hot drinks are one of the few areas of the wider beverages sector where the soft drinks giant doesn’t have a killer brand,” he said.

Правда

Canada, US Push Toward NAFTA Deal by Friday

Top NAFTA negotiators from Canada and the United States increased the pace of their negotiations Thursday to resolve final differences to meet a Friday deadline, with their Mexican counterpart on standby to rejoin the talks soon.

Despite some contentious issues still on the table, the increasingly positive tone contrasted with U.S. President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Canada in recent weeks, raising hopes that the year-long talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement will conclude soon with a trilateral deal.

“Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Bloomberg Television. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Trilateral talks were already underway at the technical level and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo was expected to soon rejoin talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, possibly later on Thursday, people familiar with the process said.

Trump said in a Bloomberg interview: “Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” Trump said. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Negotiations entered a crucial phase this week after the United States and Mexico announced a bilateral deal on Monday, paving the way for Canada to rejoin talks to modernize the 24-year-old accord that underpins over $1 trillion in annual trade.

The NAFTA deal that is taking shape would likely strengthen North America as a manufacturing base by making it more costly for automakers to import a large share of vehicle parts from outside the region. The automotive content provisions, the most contentious topic, could accelerate a shift of parts-making away from China.

A new chapter governing the digital economy, along with stronger intellectual property, labor and environmental standards could also work to the benefit of U.S. companies, helping Trump to fulfill his campaign promise of creating more American jobs.

Trump has set a Friday deadline for the three countries to reach an agreement, which would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign it before he leaves office at the end of November. Under U.S. law, Trump must wait 90 days before signing the pact.

The U.S. president has warned he could try to proceed with a deal with Mexico alone and levy tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Ottawa does not come on board, although U.S. lawmakers have said ratifying a bilateral deal would not be easy.

Dairy, dispute settlement

One sticking point for Canada is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute-resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.

Trump also wants a NAFTA deal that eliminates dairy tariffs of up to 300 percent that he argues are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for Republicans.

But any concessions to Washington by Ottawa is likely to upset Canadian dairy farmers, who have an outsized influence in Canadian politics, with their concentration in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

 “Ultimately, we’ve got huge issues that are still to be resolved,” said Jerry Dias, head of Canada’s influential Unifor labor union. “Either we’re going to be trading partners or we’re going to fight.”

Правда

Microsoft to Contractors: Give New Parents Paid Leave

Microsoft will begin requiring its contractors to offer their U.S. employees paid leave to care for a new child.

It’s common for tech firms to offer generous family leave benefits for their own software engineers and other full-time staff, but paid leave advocates say it’s still rare to require similar benefits for contracted workers such as janitors, landscapers, cafeteria crews and software consultants.

“Given its size and its reach, this is a unique and hopefully trailblazing offering,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The details

The new policy affects businesses with at least 50 U.S.-based employees that do substantial work with Microsoft that involves access to its buildings or its computing network. It doesn’t affect suppliers of goods. Contractors would have to offer at least 12 weeks of leave to those working with the Redmond, Washington-based software giant; the policy wouldn’t affect the contractors’ arrangements with other companies. Leave-takers would get 66 percent of regular pay, up to $1,000 weekly.

The policy announced Thursday rolls out over the next year as the company amends its contracts with those vendors. That may mean some of Microsoft’s costs will rise to cover the new benefits, said Dev Stahlkopf, the company’s corporate vice president and general counsel.

“That’s just fine and we think it’s well worth the price,” she said.

Microsoft doesn’t disclose how many contracted workers it uses, but it’s in the thousands.

The new policy expands on Microsoft’s 2015 policy requiring contractors to offer paid sick days and vacation.

Facebook

Other companies such as Facebook have also committed to improve contractor benefits amid unionization efforts by shuttle drivers, security guards and other contract workers trying to get by in expensive, tech-fueled regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area and around Washington’s Puget Sound.

Facebook doesn’t guarantee that contract workers receive paid parental leave, but provides a $4,000 new child benefit for new parents who don’t get leave. A much smaller California tech company, SurveyMonkey, announced a paid family leave plan for its contract workers earlier this year.

Washington state law

Microsoft said its new policy is partially inspired by a Washington state law taking effect in 2020 guaranteeing eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The state policy, signed into law last year, follows California and a handful of other states in allowing new parents to tap into a fund that all workers pay into. Washington will also require employers to help foot the bill, and will start collecting payroll deductions next January.

A federal paid parental leave plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, could rely on a similar model but has gained little traction.

“Compared to what employers are doing, the government is way behind the private sector,” said Isabel Sawhill, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has urged the White House and Congress to adopt a national policy.

Sawhill said it is “very unusual and very notable” that Microsoft is extending family leave benefits to its contract workers. Microsoft already offers more generous family leave benefits to its own employees, including up to 20 weeks fully paid leave for a birth mother.

Pushing the feds

Microsoft’s push to spread its employee benefits to a broader workforce “sends a message that something has to happen more systematically at the federal level,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Until then, she said, it’s helpful that Microsoft seems willing to pay contracting firms more to guarantee their workers’ better benefits.

“Paid family leave is expensive and they acknowledge that,” Hegewisch said. Otherwise, she said, contractors with many employees of child-bearing age could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those with older workforces.

Republican state Sen. Joe Fain, the prime sponsor of the measure that passed last year, said Microsoft’s decision was “a really powerful step forward.”

By applying the plan to contractors and vendors around the country, “it really creates a pressure for those state legislatures to make a similar decision that Washington made.”

Правда

Argentina Boosts Interest Rate to 60%; Peso Sinks

Argentina’s Central Bank on Thursday increased its benchmark interest rate to 60 percent — the world’s highest — in an effort to halt a sharp slide in the value of the peso, which plunged to a record low.

The peso fell more than 13 percent against the dollar, closing at an all-time low of 39.2 per greenback, after slipping about 7 percent the day before.

The Central Bank said in a statement that it was hiking its benchmark interest rate by 15 percentage points to 60 percent in response to the currency problems and the risk of greater impact on local inflation, which is already running at about 30 percent a year.

The tumult in the exchange market came a day after President Mauricio Macri said he was asking for an early release of some International Monetary Fund money under an $50 billion backup financing arrangement approved earlier.

Some experts said the announcement, combined with the interest rate hike, had the unintended effect of fueling the crisis of confidence.

“I think today’s interest hike announcement will do nothing but leave investors even more jittery,” said Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“I’m finding it difficult to understand why, after yesterday’s announcement about front-loading more of the IMF funding, the government thought the hike was warranted,” she said. “Hyperactivity starts to look like desperation.”

Macri has struggled to calm markets and bring confidence to Argentines who continue to lose purchasing power. Many are frustrated with layoffs, higher utility rates and a rise in poverty levels.

Many also have bad memories of the IMF and blame its free-market economic policies for contributing to the country’s worst crisis in 2001-02, when one of every five Argentines went unemployed and millions fell into poverty.

Seeing journalists filming screens showing the exchange rates in downtown Buenos Aires, Ruben Montiel, 55, burst out: “Macri is an embarrassment!”

“You can’t live like this. The prices of everything go up on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s no work, utility rates have gone through the roof … people are sleeping on the streets.”

Macri, a pro-business conservative who came into office in 2015, had promised to trim Argentina’s fiscal deficit, reduce poverty and curb inflation. He cut red tape and tried to reduce the government’s budget deficit by ordering layoffs and cutting utility subsidies, but it triggered labor unrest.

Then in December, officials announced a rise in the inflation target, which caused investors to begin doubting Macri’s commitment to taming price rises.

Meanwhile, the peso slumped against the dollar as rising U.S. interest rates lured investors to pull greenbacks out of Argentina.

That caused jitters among Argentines, who have been used to stashing away dollars as a cushion since the 2001 crisis, when banks froze deposits and put up sheet-metal barricades as thousands of protesters unsuccessfully tried to withdraw their savings. Dozens died in protests and looting in December 2001 as the economy unraveled and Argentina eventually suffered a record $100 billion debt default.

“The government will need to shuffle its cabinet and strike deals with provincial governors for next year’s budget,” said Argentine economist Marcos Buscaglia. “In the short-term, the government just needs to stop this crisis.”

Правда

Minnesota’s Hmong Farmers Drive Local Food Economy

Hmong farmers in St. Paul, Minnesota have the best advocate for their business enterprises: themselves, working together.

Originally from China, the Hmong are an Asian ethnic group that migrated to Vietnam and Laos in the 18th century. They have never had a country of their own. After the Vietnam War ended, many resettled in the U.S., giving the U.S. the largest Hmong population outside of Asia. The population in Minnesota is more than 60,000, second behind the state of California.

The Hmong, who are long time farmers, did what they knew best when they got to Minnesota. And by the late 1980’s they spearheaded the revitalization of local farmers’ markets, making them some of the most vibrant in the city.

But the Hmong also discovered that as immigrant farmers, they faced barriers in buying land, obtaining financing, accessing markets and building sustainable family businesses. They were struggling. To combat all that, a group of Hmong farmers established the non-profit Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) in 2011.

“One of the reasons HAFA was created was because Hmong farmers were experiencing so much uncertainty. They didn’t always have access to land,” HAFA co-founder Pakou Hang explained. “So when you don’t have land tenure or land certainty you can’t actually invest in organic certification, you can’t invest in perennials, which actually have higher profit margins.”

HAFA’s intent was to “advance the prosperity of Hmong American farmers through cooperative endeavors.” At the center of the association is a 63-hectare (155-acre) farm outside St. Paul where member farmers have long-term leases on two to four hectare (five to 10-acre) parcels to grow their vegetables and flowers.

How HAFA helps

On a recent Friday, Mao Moua and her husband were harvesting vegetables at their plot – for a Saturday farmer’s market.

The Mouas were among the mass exodus of Hmong people fleeing Laos for Thailand and eventually the U.S. in the 1970s. Ever since they arrived, they have been farming in Minnesota and in recent years on the HAFA membership farm.

“I like farming on the HAFA farm because this is a Hmong association,” Moua said. “There are Hmong workers who help us. They are like our hands, eyes and ears. I like there is also water, electricity and the food hub.”

She added proudly, “[I grow] corn, sweet potato, cherry, snap pea, cucumber, and a little cherry tomato. That’s all.”

HAFA’s alternative markets program is called Food Hub.

“Our Food Hub is the place where we aggregate HAFA farmers’ produce and we distribute, sell it to different institutions such as schools, co-ops, or restaurants. And then we also have a CSA program or community supported agriculture that we have about 350 currently members. They get a weekly subscription of produce,” explained Operations Manager Kou Yang.

And if any of the farmers need micro loans to buy tractors or new farming equipment, HAFA’s business development programs are there to help. But Hang said all the programs are not just for income generation.

“What we’re really interested in, what we are focused on is actually wealth creation not just intergenerational wealth but community wealth,” Hang said.

Community wealth

Today, Hmong American farmers make up more than 50 percent of all produce growers selling at area farmers’ markets.

“The Hmong growers’ participation in the farmers’ market has really revitalized the farmers’ market,” said David Kotsonas a director of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association.

The Hmong are also at the center of a Minnesota-based local foods economy that has changed the way Minnesotans eat.

“Hmong farmers are major contributors to our local food economy and to our overall economy,” Hang said. “I mean studies have shown that they produced over $250 million in sales.”

Hang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came to the U.S. with her parents in 1976.

“During the Vietnam war in Laos my father joined actually a secret army that was allied with the United States CIA. When the Vietnam War ended and the communist faction came into power in Laos they actually began to target Hmong soldiers,” she said.

Hang has big dreams for the HAFA farm which in addition to enabling farmers, conducts research and fosters community ties.

“A hive of learning. A hive of community building,” Hang described it.

Правда

Indian Currency Decree Did Little to Root Out ‘Black Money’

Nearly all of the currency removed from circulation in a surprise 2016 attempt to root out illegal hoards of cash came back into the financial system, India’s reserve bank has announced, indicating the move did little to slow the underground economy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s currency decree, which was designed to destroy the value of billions of dollars in untaxed cash stockpiles, caused an economic slowdown and months of financial chaos for tens of millions of people.

Modi announced in a November 2016 TV address that all 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee notes, then worth about $7.50 and $15, would be withdrawn immediately from circulation. The banned notes could be deposited into bank accounts but the government also said it would investigate deposits over 250,000 rupees, or about $3,700. The government eventually released new currency notes worth 500 and 2,000 rupees.

In theory, the decree meant corrupt politicians and businesspeople would suddenly find themselves sitting on billions of dollars in worthless currency, known here as “black money.”

“A few people are spreading corruption for their own benefit,” Modi said in the surprise nighttime speech announcement of the order. “There is a time when you realize that you have to bring some change in society, and this is our time.”

But even as the decree caused turmoil for those in India who have always depended on cash — the poor and middle class, and millions of small traders — the rich found ways around the currency switch. In the months after the decree, businesspeople said that even large amounts of banned currency notes could be traded on the black market, though middlemen charged heavy fees.

The reserve bank report said in its Wednesday report that 99.3 percent of the $217 billion in notes withdrawn from circulation had come back into the economy. Some officials had originally predicted that number could be as low as 60 percent.

“Frankly, I think demonetization was a mistake,” said Gurcharan Das, a writer and the former head of Proctor & Gamble in India. He said that while it did broaden the country’s tax base, it was a nightmare for the immense, cash-dependent informal economy.

“You can’t overnight change that in a country which is poor and illiterate. Therefore, for me it’s not only an economic failure but a moral failure as well,” Das said.

 

Правда

Trump OKs Tariff Relief for Three Countries

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed proclamations permitting targeted relief from steel and aluminum quotas from some countries, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

Trump, who put in place tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March, signed proclamations allowing relief from the quotas on steel from South Korea, Brazil and Argentina and on aluminum from Argentina, the department said in a statement.

“Companies can apply for product exclusions based on insufficient quantity or quality available from U.S. steel or aluminum producers,” the statement said. “In such cases, an exclusion from the quota may be granted and no tariff would be owed.”

Trump, citing national security concerns, placed tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

The tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico took effect June 1, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said May 31 that arrangements had been made with some countries to have non-tariff limits on their exports of the two metals to the United States.

Ross said the arrangement with South Korea was for a quota of 70 percent of average steel exports to the United States in the years 2015 to 2017.

The Brazilian government said at the time the U.S. quotas and tariffs on Brazil’s steel and aluminum exports were unjustified but that it remained open to negotiate a solution.

Brazilian semi-finished steel exports to the United States are subject to quotas based on the average for the three years from 2015-2017, while finished steel products will be limited to a quota of 70 percent of the average for those years.

Правда

US Economy Grows a Bit Faster Than First Thought

The U.S. economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate in April, May and June, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

The second-quarter growth figure for gross domestic product was one-tenth of a percentage point higher than initial estimates.

“The economy is in good shape,” said PNC Bank Chief Economist Gus Faucher. He wrote that this was the best “year-over-year increase in three years.”

But Faucher also said growth above 4 percent was “unsustainable” and that the economy was “set to slow somewhat in the second half of 2018,” hitting 3.4 percent growth for the whole year. He predicted U.S. economic growth would slow further in 2019 and 2020 as the “stimulus from tax cuts and spending increases fades.”

U.S. President Donald Trump cheered the news:

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, had a different take on the report.

“No amount of President Trump tweets can change the fact that real wages are declining,” he said in a statement, adding that the cost of living — particularly gas and health care costs, “thanks in large part to Republicans and the Trump administration” — is “continuing to climb.”

Wednesday’s report from the Commerce Department was a routine revision; such changes are made as more complete data become available.

Growth figures were boosted by a decline in imports, particularly petroleum, and by some temporary factors.

One of those factors was a surge in soybean exports, which were rushed at a faster-than-usual pace to beat tariffs imposed by China in retaliation for new tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese goods.

The new second-quarter figures were nearly double those of the first quarter.

Правда

Britain Seeks Ways to Continue Trading with Iran

British officials have been turning to Japan for tips on how to dodge American sanctions on Iran, according to local media.

Britain is already seeking from Washington exemptions from some U.S. sanctions, which are being re-imposed by President Donald Trump because of the U.S. withdrawal earlier this year from a controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. The British are especially keen to maintain banking links with Iran and to import Iranian oil.

According to local media, U.K. officials have been asking their Japanese counterparts how they managed in the past to sidestep some aspects of the pre-2015 sanctions regime, which allowed Tokyo to sign oil deals with Iran as well as insurance contracts without incurring U.S. penalties.

Re-imposed U.S. sanctions penalize any foreign companies that deal with Iran by barring them from doing business in America. That threat has already persuaded more than 50 Western firms to shutter their operations in Iran, including French automakers Renault and Peugeot and the French oil giant Total as well as Germany’s Deutsche Bahn railway company and Deutsche Telekom.

Seeking waivers

British ministers have publicly announced that they are hoping to secure waivers from sanctions for oil imports, tanker insurance and banking. There is particular concern, say British officials, about the position of a gas field 240 miles from Aberdeen which is jointly owned by BP and a subsidiary of Iran’s state-controlled oil company.

According to The Times newspaper, British diplomats and Treasury officials have discussed with their Japanese counterparts what options they may have of evading penalties, if British firms continue to trade with Iran. Britain’s Foreign Office hasn’t commented on the specific claims in report. But in a general statement it says: “We are working with European and other partners, to ensure Iran continues to benefit from sanctions relief through legitimate business, for as long as Iran continues to meet its nuclear commitments under the deal.”

Faltering Iranian economy

On Tuesday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was grilled by the country’s lawmakers, who for the first time in his five-year tenure called him before parliament to answer questions about the country’s faltering economy amid the tightening U.S. sanctions.

They asked him about high unemployment, rising food prices and the collapsing value of the Iranian currency. Rouhani, who overcame the opposition of hardliners in the first place to sign the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, insisted Iran would overcome the “the anti-Iranian officials in the White House.”

He added: “We are not afraid of America or the economic problems. We will overcome the troubles.” His answers didn’t reassure lawmakers, who voted to reject most of them. Earlier this month the parliament impeached the economy and labor ministers amid growing anger about the economy.

In order to try to keep open financial channels with Tehran and facilitate Iran’s oil exports, the European Union has taken steps to counter renewed U.S. sanctions, including forbidding EU citizens and firms from complying with them.

The European Commission updated a blocking statute on August 7, which bans companies from observing the sanctions — unless expressly authorized by Brussels to do so. It would allow EU firms to recover damages arising from the sanctions. But many companies say they are fearful of losing current or potential business in the U.S.

“Under these conditions it is very difficult,” according to the Director for International Relations at BusinessEurope, a lobby group, Luisa Santos. She says even small and medium-sized businesses which don’t trade with U.S. will face significant challenges because they will need financing from Western banks.

The first round of U.S. nuclear sanctions on Iran officially snapped back into place earlier this month but the more biting sanctions will be re-imposed on November 4 as Washington seeks to pummel the Iranian economy. The first phase U.S. sanctions prohibit any transactions with Iran involving dollars, gold, precious metals, aluminum, steel, commercial passenger aircraft, shipping and Iranian seaports.

 

Earlier in August, Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, cautioned there would be trade consequences for Britain, which he described as the closest U.S. ally, unless London breaks with the EU and abides by the re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

The envoy also delivered a clear ultimatum to British businesses, instructing them to stop trading with Iran or face “serious consequences.”

Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, in which Tehran agreed to nuclear curbs in return for sanctions relief, paved the way for the restoration of unilateral American economic penalties on Iran.

The U.S. administration blames Iran for fomenting instability in the Middle East and encouraging terrorism. Trump has described the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a “horrible, one sided” agreement.

U.S. officials say Iran has used the money going into the country after the 2015 deal, when sanctions were eased, not to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians but to increase spending on the military and proxy forces in the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and militants in Yemen.

Правда

US, Canada Holding Trade Talks Following US-Mexico Pact

Negotiators from Canada and the United States are holding detailed trade negotiations in Washington as they seek to work out a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The talks come after the United States and Mexico agreed to a bilateral trade deal this week while leaving the door open for Canada to join and preserve what has been a trilateral trade relationship for more than 20 years.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Tuesday for what she said were “very constructive” initial talks before more specific negotiations between the two sides on Wednesday.

Freeland said some of the details of the U.S.-Mexico agreement, particularly what she called “significant concessions” by Mexico on rules regarding automotive labor and parts origin, have given Canada optimism about the talks in Washington.

“The fact that Mexico was able to do something that I think must have been quite difficult for Mexico and make those concessions does really set the stage for some productive conversations for us here this week.”

It is unclear if the United States and Canada will resolve their long-standing disputes over duties on automobiles and dairy products that have persisted through months of NAFTA negotiations.

Freeland was also due to meet with Mexican trade officials who were still in Washington.

Final details of the U.S.-Mexico deal have yet to be worked out, but Lighthizer said he believes the tentative agreement is a win for both countries that creates more jobs for farmers and other workers.

To escape tariffs, the deal calls for 75 percent of “auto content” – parts and amenities – to be made in either the U.S. or Mexico, up from the current 62.5 percent North American content. In addition, 40 to 45 percent of the auto content must be produced by workers earning $16 or more an hour.

The average hourly pay for U.S. auto workers is more than $22 an hour, but in Mexico it is now less than $3.50 an hour. With the increase in labor costs, it likely will boost the cost of buying a vehicle.

“I think it’s going to modernize the way we do automobile trade, and I think it’s going to set the rules for the future at the highest standards in any agreement yet negotiated by any two nations for things like intellectual property, and digital trade, and financial services trade, and all of the things that we think of as the modernizing, cutting-edge places that our economy is going,” Lighthizer said.

“So this is great for business,” he said. “It’s great for labor. It has terrific labor provisions in it. Stronger and more enforceable labor provisions than have ever been in an agreement by a mile. Not even close.” 

However, lawmakers in both countries still need to approve the pact in the coming months.

Some of the agreement mirrors elements contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact that Mexico and the U.S. both agreed to, before President Donald Trump withdrew the United States. It requires Mexico to allow more collective bargaining for workers and calls for more stringent air quality and marine life protections.

The accord is set to last for six years, at which point the United States and Mexico will review it, and if both sides agree, they would extend it for 16 more years.

But the agreement does not end steel and aluminum tariffs Trump imposed on Mexico earlier this year, leading to Mexican levies on U.S. imports. 

Trade between the U.S. and Mexico totaled an estimated $615.9 billion in 2017, with the U.S. exporting $63.6 billion more in goods and services than it imported.

Правда

China Struggles to Curb Its Reliance on US Buyers, Suppliers

Faced with plunging U.S. orders, surgical glove maker Ren Jiding is hunting for new markets amid Chinese government calls to reduce reliance on the United States. But no other market can absorb the 60 percent of his sales that went to American customers last year.

“Other countries import much less than the United States,” said Ren, a co-owner of Hongyeshangqin Medical Science and Technology Co. Ltd. in the eastern city of Zibo.

From medical products to smartphone chips to soybeans, Beijing is responding to President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes by pushing companies to trade more with other countries. But there are few substitutes for the United States as an export market and source of technology for industries including telecom equipment makers that Chinese leaders are eager to develop.

Beijing has announced tariff cuts and other changes while rejecting U.S. demands to scale back plans such as “Made in China 2025,” which calls for state-led creation of Chinese champions in robotics, biotech and other fields. American leaders say those violate Beijing’s market-opening promises and might erode U.S. industrial leadership.

The response highlights the cost the ruling Communist Party is willing to pay in lost sales and jobs to stick to plans that are fueling conflict with Washington, Europe and other trading partners.

​’Fundamental’ to growth

“China sees its technology and industrial policies as fundamental to its growth,” Tianjie He of Oxford Economics said in an email. “It is thus hard to see China’s leadership committing to significant changes.”

Trump has raised duties on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, including ultrasound scanners and industrial components that Washington says benefit from improper policies. China retaliated with similar penalties.

The U.S. is poised to raise duties on $200 billion worth of imports, including the gloves made by Ren’s company. Beijing has issued a list of American goods for retaliation.

The impact on China is “small and is containable, at least for the time being,” said Vincent Chan of Credit Suisse. He said the “worst case” outlook if all threatened U.S. tariff hikes go ahead would cut China’s growth by 0.2 percentage point this year and 1.3 percent in 2019.

Chinese leaders have tried to cushion the blow to their own economy by targeting American goods its importers can get from other countries — soybeans from Brazil, gas from Russia, cars from Germany and fish from Vietnam.

Beijing has promised to use revenue from the higher tariffs to help struggling exporters and has ordered banks to lend more freely to them.

The biggest jolt so far came from Beijing’s cancellation of orders for soybeans, the biggest American export to China at $21 billion last year. That hammered farm states that voted for Trump in the 2016 election. It also pushed up prices for Chinese farmers that use soybeans for animal feed and food processors that crush them for cooking oil.

That could be a windfall for Brazil. But China already is its top market and consumes two-thirds of the global supply. Chinese total imports last year of 95 million metric tons were 50 percent more than the South American giant’s entire exports.

​Few sources

“The Chinese can talk all they want about finding other sources of soybeans,” but 80 percent come from the United States, Brazil and Argentina, said Michael Cordonnier, president of Soybean & Corn Advisor Inc., a U.S. research firm.

“If you want to import soybeans, it generally must be from one of those three countries,” Cordonnier wrote in an email.

Regulators also cut import duties on automobiles on July 1 but raised them on vehicles from the United States. That helps luxury brands that import from Germany and Japan.

Replacing markets for Chinese exporters that support tens of millions of jobs will be harder.

The United States bought $430 billion of China’s exports last year, or 20 percent of the $2.2 trillion total. The No. 2 market was the 28-nation European Union at $370 billion.

“We can’t afford to lose the U.S. market,” said David Hu, general manager of Sinohood Bags Factory Ltd. in the southeastern city of Yiwu.

Americans bought 40 percent of Hu’s canvas tote bags last year, including the most profitable customized versions with Christmas and other designs.

“What we export to Europe is lower-end products with lower prices,” said Hu. “We could explore the Indian, Vietnamese or Philippine markets. But the prices they offer would be too low.”

Chinese officials point to potential markets in the Belt and Road Initiative, a multibillion-dollar plan led by President Xi Jinping to boost trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across Asia to Europe.

That has brought a flood of contracts to Chinese state-owned builders, but complaints about costs have hurt its appeal. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia announced this month the cancellation of plans for Chinese-built projects, including a $20 billion rail line.

“There is potential for development in areas such as Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and South America. But their problems are development imbalance and economic instability,” said Li Yong, a senior fellow at the China Association of International Trade, an industry group.

​Focus on diversification

Local officials have met with exporters to exhort them to “diversify markets,” according to the state press.

Authorities in the central city of Jingzhou visited exporters to help with customs forms, financing and other details, the website China Industry and Commerce News said.

Ren, the surgical glove maker, said his 300-employee company was looking at Europe and developing countries, but demand was sluggish.

Some companies are confident of keeping their U.S. market share. That reflects the possible success of official efforts to develop higher-tech goods instead of competing on price alone.

The general manager of Yihua Electronic Equipment Co. in southern China’s Guangdong said the tariffs should not affect sales of its digital soldering guns, one-fifth of which are sold to the United States.

“With the 25 percent tariffs, ours still are cheaper than similar German- or Japanese-made products,” said the manager, who would give only his surname, Gou. “We are not producing something like shoes and clothing that could be easily replaced.”

Trump’s pressure could encourage Beijing to throw even more resources at nurturing its own technology creators.

China’s search for non-U.S. suppliers could help companies such as Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek Inc. But redesigning a phone or network gear and then gaining regulatory and customer approval can take a minimum of three to five years.

“For now,” said He of Oxford Economics, “China remains technologically dependent on the U.S.”

Правда

After Flood, Tourism in India’s Kerala Left a Muddy Mess

More than a week after the floodwater began subsiding, animal carcasses are  still floating in Kerala’s backwaters, and in places a nauseating stench rises like a wall when the wake from a passing boat breaks the surface.

These inland lagoons running parallel to the coast are one of the biggest tourist draws in India’s most southwesterly state, but the stain of death and devastation wrought by Kerala’s worst flood in a century will take longer than a season to wash away.

The quaint towns and villages scattered between the lush forests and paddy fields bordering the backwaters are now communities in despair.

Houses in low-lying areas are still submerged, roads are waterlogged and the sewage from drains have washed into channels that are too slow-moving to effectively flush out the effluent.

Sudarsanan T.K., a houseboat owner in the town of Alappuzha,  had been looking forward to the peak tourist season, but as his home disappeared under 2.5 meters (8 feet) of water his family now have to live aboard the boat he would otherwise be renting to tourists from Europe, China, Malaysia and India.

“I’ve nothing left, but this houseboat. I don’t know how I can repay my bank loan in this condition. The bank may take back my boat. I will have nothing at all then,”  Sudarsanan, a 64-year-old father of two, told Reuters.

​Some 1,500 houseboats are tied up at Alappuzha, going nowhere, with many of the owners still paying off loans taken to buy the boats.

Sudarsanan owes about $8,600 on the loan taken eight years ago to buy the boat, and he could have earned up to $7,000 by December if the deluge hadn’t washed away his hopes.

Hundreds of people perished in the flood and more than one million of Kerala’s 35 million people were forced to abandon their homes and take shelter in relief camps.

Blessed with natural beauty, fertile land and bountiful seas, Kerala has been dubbed “God’s own country” by its people, but the Marxists running the state government reckon it will need $3.57 billion to rebuild over the next two years.

“Kerala’s GDP growth may fall by 2 percent,” state Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac told Reuters, forecasting growth of 6 percent for the financial year ending next March.

Crops have been lost, the construction industry was dead for a month, and tourism, which contributes 10 percent of the state’s economy but accounts for about 25 percent of jobs creation, has been badly hit.

Festival washout

For discerning tourists looking for a more laid back Indian experience, Kerala has it all — long sandy beaches, lazy waterways, charming, historic towns like Kochi and the cool, forested hills of the Western Ghats.

Kerala doesn’t draw numbers like the northern tourist circuit, the so-called “Golden Triangle” running from New Delhi to the Taj Mahal in Agra, and Jaipur’s palaces in the desert state of Rajasthan, but it has carved out a sizable niche.

Last year, one million foreigners visited Kerala, along with 15 million domestic tourists, but state government and industry officials reckon the flood will result in losses for the tourism sector of $357 million.

The floods struck just as Kerala was gearing up for Onam,

the harvest festival which is one of the highlights of the state’s cultural calendar.

Festivities, including the spectacular Vallam Kali races involving traditional war canoes, some manned by more than 100 paddlers, were postponed.

“Kerala has lost out on one of the best seasons, as the calamity struck during the 10-day run up to Onam,” said Ranjini Nambiar, who heads a travel consultancy.

Thousands of volunteers have joined a clean-up campaign mounted by the state, and Shilendran M., an executive with the CGH Earth luxury hotel chain, expected some kind of order to be restored within the next few weeks.

“The state administration is working on a war footing,” said Shilendran, whose group has more than a dozen properties in Kerala. “We are limping back to normal.”

Hardly anywhere in the state escaped the calamity.

Ernakulam district, the biggest industrial and tourism contributor to Kerala’s economy and home to the historic city of Kochi, suffered major damage, and its busy international airport was shut for nearly two weeks.

Munnar, a hill resort overlooking the tea and cardamom plantations high in the Ghats was cut off, as bridges were washed away and landslides blocked roads.

Once every dozen years a bright purplish-blue bell-shaped flower called the Neelakurinji, blossoms on the slopes around Munnar — and this was one of those years.

The state tourism had marketed 2018 as the Kurunji year, but people in Kerala are more likely to remember the mud.

Правда

US Congress Skeptical of Trump’s Mexico Trade Deal

President Donald Trump’s trade deal with Mexico could struggle to win approval from Congress unless Canada comes on board, lawmakers from both parties said on Tuesday, saying support from Democrats would be needed to pass a purely bilateral deal.

Trump unveiled the Mexico deal on Monday and threatened to slap tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Canada did not join the revamp of the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump has long criticized.

If Trump, a Republican, tries to get the Senate to vote in favor of a bilateral deal as a replacement for NAFTA, he will face an uphill struggle to win passage, lawmakers said. Some lawmakers said only a trilateral pact would be eligible for fast-track, 51-vote Senate approval.

A bilateral deal, on the other hand, would need 60 votes and that would require some support from Democrats, who likely would be reluctant to help Trump, they said. There are now 50 Republican-held seats in the 100-member Senate.

To get fast-track Senate ratification, “the administration must also reach an agreement with Canada,” said Republican Senator Pat Toomey in a statement.

“NAFTA was a tri-party agreement only made operative with legislation enacted by Congress,” said Toomey, a member of the committee that oversees trade policy.

“Any change, such as NAFTA’s termination, would require additional legislation from Congress. Conversion into a bilateral agreement would not qualify for … ‘fast track’ procedures and would therefore require 60 votes in the Senate.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about fast track treatment for the Mexico deal. Canada’s top trade negotiator arrived in Washington on Tuesday for talks with her Mexican and U.S. counterparts, in a bid to remain part of the trade pact.

Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said a bilateral deal would face “serious legal concerns,” while he also questioned a lack of details on the terms of the Mexico pact

“I’m a little worried that this one is like North Korea. They have a nice announcement, but then we don’t see the details,” Schumer told reporters in a Capitol hallway. U.S. stock markets surged on Monday after Trump said he had reached an understanding with Mexico. On Tuesday, stocks had given up some of their early gains by the closing bell.

Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the trade committee, said: “We know very few details right now. There are real questions about whether this is even enforceable … We are far from being done on this and the fact is you cannot really move this substantively without the Canadians.”

In the House of Representatives, Democrat Bill Pascrell urged Republicans in a statement to convene a bipartisan House trade council to advise the White House.

 

Правда

Kenyatta: Kenya Wants to Boost Trade, Investment Partnership With US

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta says his country wants to increase bilateral trade with the United States and attract more U.S. investors. U.S. President Donald Trump received Kenyatta at the White House on Monday for talks that focused on trade and security. Ahead of the talks, Kenyatta told VOA African Service in an interview that his country is battling corruption and boosting security to create the right environment for foreign investment. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

Правда

Five Key Takeaways From Trump’s US-Mexico Trade Deal

The United States and Mexico agreed on Monday to a sweeping trade deal that pressures Canada to accept new terms on autos trade, dispute settlement and agriculture to keep the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the White House was ready to notify the U.S. Congress by Friday of President Donald Trump’s intent to sign the bilateral document, but that it was open to Canada joining the pact.

The 24-year-old NAFTA is a trilateral deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico that underpins $1.2 trillion in North American Trade.

Here are some of the main issues at the heart of the negotiations:

Autos Dominate

The new deal requires 75 percent of the value of a vehicle to be produced in the United States or Mexico, up from the NAFTA threshold of 62.5 percent.

The higher threshold is aimed at keeping more parts from Asia out, boosting North American automotive manufacturing and jobs. Even if more plants are built in Mexico, jobs will grow in the United States due to high levels of integration, with studies showing that U.S. parts make up 40 percent of the value of every Mexican-built car exported to the United States.

The pact also requires greater use of U.S. and Mexican steel, aluminum, glass and plastics.

The provision started out as a U.S. demand for 85 percent regional content, with 50 percent coming from U.S. factories.

That plan was vehemently opposed by Mexico, Canada and the auto industry. It later morphed into the U.S.-Mexico deal’s requirement of 40 to 45 percent of a vehicle’s value to be made in high wage areas paying at least $16 an hour, requiring significant automotive production in the United States.

Although full automotive details have not yet been released, auto industry officials say it will allow Trump the ability to impose higher national security tariffs on vehicles that do not comply with the new thresholds.

Most Mexican auto exports are in a position to comply with the new limits, the country’s economy minister said.

No Sunset

Trump backed off from an initial U.S. demand for a “sunset” clause that would kill the pact unless it was renegotiated every five years and which businesses said would stymie long term investment in the region.

Canada and Mexico were strictly opposed to the clause.

Instead, the United States and Mexico agreed to a 16-year lifespan for NAFTA, with a review every six years that can extend the pact for 16 years more, providing more business certainty.

Dispute Settlement

Mexico agreed to eliminate a settlement system for anti-dumping disputes, NAFTA’s Chapter 19.

The move, sought by the United States, puts Canada in a difficult position because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had insisted on maintaining Chapter 19 as a way to fight U.S. duties on softwood lumber, paper and other products that it views as unfair. Ottawa now has less than a week to decide to accept a deal without that provision.

A settlement system for disputes between investors and states was scaled back, now only for expropriation, favoritism for local firms and state-dominated sectors such as oil, power and infrastructure.

Agriculture, Labor

The new deal will keep tariffs on agricultural products traded between the United States and Mexico at zero and seeks to support biotech and other innovations in agriculture. It lacks a previous U.S. demand to erect trade barriers to protect seasonal U.S. fruit and vegetable growers from Mexican competition.

It contains enforceable labor provisions that require Mexico to adhere to International Labor Organization labor rights standards in an effort to drive Mexican wages higher.

Now Canada

The U.S.-Mexico NAFTA deal opens the door for Canada to immediately rejoin the talks and is a major step forward in updating the accord.

Canada, which sat out the last leg of discussions while the United States and Mexico ironed out their bilateral differences, is now pressured to agree to the new terms on auto trade and other issues to remain part of the three-nation pact.

Trump has presented this as a bilateral deal and threatened Canada with car tariffs. Some lawmakers have said that a bilateral deal would face a higher vote threshold in Congress because the NAFTA fast-track negotiating authority law calls for a trilateral agreement.

Правда

Mexico’s Next Leader: NAFTA Deal Preserves Energy ‘Sovereignty’

Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador welcomed a deal between Mexico and the United States to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that he said preserved Mexican “sovereignty” in the energy sector.

The U.S.-Mexico deal was announced by U.S. President Trump on Monday, putting pressure on Canada to agree to new terms and details that were only starting to emerge. Lopez Obrador said it was important that Canada be part of the deal.

Lopez Obrador, who is scheduled to take office on Dec. 1, said Trump “understood our position” and accepted his incoming administration’s proposals on the energy sector. The text of the new agreement has not yet been made public.

“We put the emphasis on defending national sovereignty on the energy issue and it was achieved,” Lopez Obrador told reporters after arriving in the southern state of Chiapas.

“We are satisfied because our sovereignty was saved. Mexico reserves the right to reform its constitution, its energy laws, and it was established that Mexico’s oil and natural resources belong to our nation,” he said.

Lopez Obrador opposed a constitutional change pushed through by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that opened production and exploration in the energy sector to private capital.

Mexico has already awarded more than 100 oil exploration and production contracts to private companies.

Lopez Obrador has said he would pour resources into state oil company Pemex while still respecting private sector contracts, as long as a review does not find evidence of corruption.

He is expected to slow down or stall the process of offering more contracts to private players.

Jesus Seade, Lopez Obrador’s designated chief NAFTA negotiator, participated in the latest talks between the current Mexican administration and the U.S. Trade Representative to strike the new NAFTA agreement.

Seade said on Monday that both Pena Nieto’s team and the United States had agreed to change language in a draft proposal of the NAFTA overhaul on energy that had previously been a “cut and paste” from the text of Mexico’s energy reform.

The new language still preserved the same ideas and was consistent with Pena Nieto’s reform, Seade said, adding that Lopez Obrador was not seeking to change the legal framework for private energy projects in Mexico.

While the new administration planned to increase production at Pemex, Seade told a news conference in Washington “there will be areas where cooperation with the private sector is needed.”

Правда

US, Mexico Reach New Trade Agreement

The United States and Mexico have reached a trade agreement, leaving Canada as the odd man out in efforts to revise or replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), according to U.S. President Donald Trump.

The new deal will be called the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, Trump said Monday.

“We’ll get rid of the name NAFTA, it has a bad connotation because the United States was hurt very badly by NAFTA for many years,” Trump said.

“It’s a big day for trade, it’s a big day for our country,” Trump said with reporters present, who were called to the Oval Office to watch as Trump spoke on the telephone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The Mexican leader expressed hope to “renew, modernize and update” NAFTA while Trump’s rhetoric indicated he sees that 24-year-old three-nation deal as dead.

“We’ll have a formal news conference in the not-too-distant future,” about the trade pact, Trump said to Pena Nieto.

“This is something very positive for the United States and Mexico,” Pena Nieto replied, saying he is looking forward to toasting Trump with tequila to celebrate, expressing to his American counterpart that he is “really grateful and greatly recognize and acknowledge your political will in all of this.”

 

Mexico has agreed to immediately begin purchasing as many agricultural products from the United States as possible, according to Trump.

Pena Nieto leaves office on December 1, turning over the Mexican government to his leftist successor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. That means the clock is ticking to give Mexico’s legislature enough time to ratify it before the change of administration.

Congressional notification expected

The White House is also expected to formally notify Congress by the end of this week of its intention to sign a new trade agreement within 90 days.

“It will be likely be signed at the end of November,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was also in the Oval Office, along with Mexico’s foreign and trade ministers, for the Trump-Pena Nieto phone call.

The U.S. president, since the time of his 2016 election campaign has referred to NAFTA as the worst trade deal in history and repeated especially inflammatory rhetoric about America’s southern neighbor.

Trump, who blames NAFTA for the destruction of manufacturing jobs in the United States, repeatedly threatened to abandon the trade pact with Canada and Mexico, which came into effect during the Clinton administration in 1994.

Trump has rejected other multi-national deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (another trade pact) and the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, expressing a strong preference for one-on-one negotiations on trade and other matters with countries.

Negotiations with Canada

Trump said he would call Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau soon and that the United States is open to talks with Canada if it is willing to negotiate fairly.

“I’ll be terminating the existing deal,” Trump said in reference to NAFTA.

The U.S. president also threatened America’s northern neighbor with penalties if there is no agreement.

“Frankly, a tariff on cars is the much easier way to go,” said Trump.

In Ottawa, officials are expressing resilience.

“We will only sign a new NAFTA that is good for Canada and good for the middle class,” said the Canadian foreign ministry in a statement, indicating Ottawa’s willingness to “continue to work toward a modernized NAFTA.”

“We hope that Canada can join in now,” Lighthizer subsequently told reporters during a conference call.

White House officials are denying that Monday’s announcement by the presidents of the United States and Mexico was designed to pressure the Canadians.

“Leaving Canada out of a new NAFTA would be a mistake and it is questionable whether the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has the authority under current Trade Promotion Authority legislation to conclude just a bilateral with Mexico,” a visiting scholar at the Cato Institute, Inu Manak, who focuses on trade conflicts, tells VOA News.  “What happens next is anyone’s guess, but we should keep our eyes open for the return of Canada’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, to Washington to wrap up the discussions soon.”

The three North American countries do about $1 trillion in trade among themselves annually.