Voice of America -Economy

Updated: 1 min 21 sec ago

Food Stamps, Online Grocery Shopping Are About to Mix 

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 02:59 - [CET]
Amazon and Walmart on Thursday kicked off a two-year government pilot program allowing low-income shoppers on government food assistance in New York to shop and pay for their groceries online for the first time.    ShopRite will join the two retailers on the program early next week, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.    The USDA has long required customers using electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, to pay for their purchases at the actual time and place of sale. So the move marks the first time SNAP customers can pay for their groceries online. ShopRite and Amazon are providing the service to the New York City area, and Walmart is providing the service online in upstate New York locations. The agency said the pilot will eventually expand to other areas of New York as well as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Purchase food, but not delivery The pilot program will test both online ordering and payment. SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items but will not be able to use SNAP to pay for service or delivery charges, the agency said.    ``People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food — by ordering and paying for groceries online,'' said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. ``As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance, too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.''    Perdue said he will be monitoring how the pilot program increases food access and customer service, specifically for those who have trouble visiting physical stores.   Roughly 38 million individuals receive food stamps in the U.S., according to the USDA. Nearly $52 billion, or 82% of all food stamp dollars, were spent at big box stores and grocery chains in 2017, according to the most recent USDA data.    The 2014 Farm Bill authorized the USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot program for online purchasing prior to national implementation. The USDA says the move was intended to ensure online transactions are processed safely and securely.    Seattle-based Amazon said those who qualify don't need to be Prime members to buy groceries with their benefits. They'll get free access to its AmazonFresh service, which delivers meat, dairy and fresh produce to shoppers' doorsteps. And they'll also be able to use Prime Pantry, which delivers packaged goods like cereal and canned food. Qualifying amounts However, they'll need to spend over a certain amount to qualify for free shipping: $50 at AmazonFresh and $25 at Amazon.com. The online shopping giant launched a website, amazon.com/snap, where people can check if they qualify. Amazon said it's working with the USDA to expand service to other parts of New York state.    Amazon.com Inc. was on the initial list for the government pilot program, and Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart Inc. made the list later. The world's largest retailer, however, in late 2017 had started allowing customers in limited locations to order items through its online grocery pickup service and then pay for it in person at the stores.    ``Access to convenience and to quality, fresh groceries shouldn't be dictated by how you pay,'' Walmart said. ``This pilot program is a great step forward, and we are eager to expand this to customers in other states where we already have a great online grocery.''    Walmart said that nearly 300 locations with grocery pickup in the states will be part of the USDA government program. 
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National Enquirer Being Sold to Former Newsstand Mogul 

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 02:27 - [CET]
The National Enquirer is being sold to the former head of the airport newsstand company Hudson News following a rocky year in which the tabloid was accused of burying stories that could have hurt Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.    Tabloid owner American Media said Thursday that it plans to sell the supermarket weekly to James Cohen. Financial terms were not immediately disclosed for the deal, which included two other American Media tabloids, the Globe and National Examiner.      American Media said last week that it wanted to get out of the tabloid business to focus on its other operations, which includes its teen brand and broadcast platforms. Non-prosecution agreement Federal prosecutors in Manhattan agreed last year not to prosecute American Media in exchange for the company's cooperation in a campaign finance investigation. That probe eventually led to a three-year prison term for Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for campaign violations among other charges. American Media admitted it had paid $150,000 to keep former Playboy model Karen McDougal quiet about an alleged affair with Trump to help his campaign. Trump has denied an affair.   The sale would end a longtime relationship between the Enquirer and Trump. Under the aegis of American Media CEO David Pecker, the tabloid has for years buried potentially embarrassing stories about Trump and other favored celebrities by buying the rights to them and never publishing in a practice called ``catch and kill.''    The Associated Press reported last year that Pecker kept a safe in the Enquirer's office that held documents on buried stories, including those involving Trump.  Whether James Cohen has any allegiances to Trump is not clear. While he was a registered Republican as late as 2017, according to Nexis records, he has given to both Republicans and Democrats. That included $17,300 in 2016 to an arm of the Democratic National Committee and $2,500 to the Republican National Committee in 2012. News of the sale comes two months after Amazon chief Jeff Bezos publicly accused the Enquirer of trying to blackmail him by threatening to publish explicit photos of him.  An American Media attorney denied the charge, but it threatened potentially big legal costs by upending American Media's non-prosecution agreement in the hush money case. The AP reported that federal prosecutors were looking into whether the publisher violated terms of the deal, which included a promise not to break any laws in the future. Heavy debt load The Bezos accusation comes at a difficult time for American Media. It has financed several recent acquisitions with borrowed money and has been struggling under a heavy debt load. American Media said the Cohen deal would help reduce the amount it needs to pay back, leaving it with $355 million in debt.    The Washington Post, which earlier reported the sale, said Cohen will pay $100 million in the deal. Cohen's family had run a magazine and newspaper distributor for decades before his father branched into newsstand stores in 1980s, starting with a single one at LaGuardia Airport. Before he died in 2012, the father had opened more than 600 stores.    After the death, James Cohen's niece alleged her uncle had cheated her out of her inheritance. She lost the case.    The family sold a majority stake in the chain about a decade ago. The business is now owned by Dufry, an operator of duty-free stores in which James Cohen is a major shareholder.    Cohen still owns a magazine and newspaper distributor called Hudson News Distributors. In addition, he runs a real estate developer and a publishing company, which owns Gallerie, an art and design magazine.    Cohen has reportedly been involved in American Media deals before. The New York Times reports that, in 2011, Cohen invested in the company's American edition of OK!, a British tabloid. 
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Slight US Boost Seen From New North American Trade Pact

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 00:58 - [CET]
The new North American free trade pact would modestly boost the U.S. economy, especially auto parts production, but may curb vehicle assembly and limit consumer choice in cars, a hotly anticipated analysis from the  U.S. International Trade Commission showed on Thursday.  The ITC report is a crucial step in the push for Congress to consider ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which was signed by President Donald Trump and the leaders of the other two countries last year to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.  The report estimates that annual U.S. real gross domestic product would increase by 0.35 percent, or $68.5 billion, on an annual basis compared with a NAFTA baseline, and would add 176,000 U.S. jobs, while raising U.S. exports.  The ITC's estimates are for year six of the trade deal, once it is fully implemented.  The trade deal's success or failure in Congress could be determined by how it is expected to affect the U.S. auto industry, a sector that steadily drained jobs to Mexico under NAFTA. The USMCA deal contains much tighter regional content rules, requiring that 75 percent of a vehicle's value be sourced in North America versus 62.5 percent currently, and 40 to 45  percent produced in high-wage areas, namely the United States  and Canada.  Auto industry employment would rise by 30,000 jobs for parts and engine production, but U.S. vehicle assembly would decline.  U.S. vehicle prices would rise up to 1.6 percent, causing consumption to fall by 140,000 units per year, or about 1.25 percent of 2017 sales, the report said.  The report overall was more positive than initially anticipated by economists, who said the traditional economic models used by the ITC to measure previous trade deals would result in minimal gains for the United States.  White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told Reuters that he was pleasantly surprised by the results, which used different modeling methods that he called "accurate and well done."  "Their estimate is a lot closer to what we think USMCA will do than I expected," Hassett in a telephone interview. "This is very strong argument for passing the USMCA."  Concerns not alleviated But some key Democrats were not swayed from their demands for improvements to the enforcement of new labor standards before they consider USMCA. Democrats control the U.S. House of Representatives.  Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, chairman of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, said that he had already believed the trade deal needed changes before it could be considered by the House. "Nothing in this report alleviates those concerns," he said.  Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee said, "The administration shouldn't squander the opportunity to lock in real, enforceable labor standards in Mexico."  The ITC report said Mexican union wages would rise by 17.2 percent if the labor provisions agreed to in the USMCA were enforced. Even so, Mexican factory wages would remain far below those in the United States.  Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, praised the report for highlighting benefits beyond tariff reductions.  "Many of the significant improvements in USMCA are reducing non-tariff barriers and implementing rules and fair practices that will help U.S. workers, jobs and businesses tremendously over the coming years," Grassley said in an emailed statement.    Dueling analyses The U.S. trade representative's office had prepared a separate analysis of the USMCA's automotive benefits that industry officials had described as a rosier alternative view of USMCA aimed at limiting any potential damage from the ITC report.  USTR estimated that the trade deal would create 76,000 automotive sector jobs within five years as automakers invest $34 billion in new plants to comply with the regional content rules. The total includes about $15 billion in projects already announced.  USTR officials said their analysis was based on plans disclosed by automakers to the trade agency for compliance with the new agreement's tighter rules of origin. "They have verbally committed to us that they intend to comply with the rules," a senior USTR official said. "And they have told us that this is not going to have significant upward pressure on vehicle prices."  But the ITC report said some automakers may decide not to offer vehicles that would be too expensive to bring into compliance with the deal, reducing consumer choice in the U.S. auto market.  The trade group representing Detroit automakers Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler said it viewed the USTR analysis as more accurate than the ITC's.  The ITC "underestimates the longer-term investments and increased U.S. auto parts sourcing that will be made in our sector as a result of the certainty and predictability the USMCA will deliver," Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council, said in a statement.  The USMCA deal will also lead to new access for U.S. exports of dairy, poultry and egg products to Canada and U.S. imports of sugar and sugar-containing products from Canada, the ITC said.  The ITC's forecast estimated total U.S. dairy product output would increase by $226.8 million, or 0.1 percent. U.S. agriculture and food exports overall would increase by $435 million. 
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ILO: Changing World of Work Poses New Safety, Health Risks

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 19:05 - [CET]
The U.N. labor agency says existing methods of protecting workers from accidents and disease are not good enough to deal with new occupational hazards arising from changes in the nature of work.  The International Labor Organization (ILO) is calling for revisions to address physical and psychological problems stemming from the changing job world. In a new report, ILO estimates find 2.78 million workers die from occupational accidents and work-related diseases each year. It says more than 374 million people are injured or fall ill every year through work-related accidents.  The cost to the world economy from work days lost is nearly four percent of global Gross Domestic Product. The ILO's report warns the changes and dangers posed by an increase in technology could result in a worsening of that situation.  It says new measures must be implemented to deal with the psycho-social risks, work-related stress and non-communicable diseases resulting from new forms of work. It says digitization, artificial intelligence, robotics and automatization require new monitoring methods to protect workers.   Manal Azzi, an ILO Technical Specialist on Occupational Safety and Health, says that  on the one hand, new technology is freeing workers from many dirty, dangerous jobs.  On the other, she says, the jobs can raise ethical concerns. She told VOA surveillance of workers has become more intrusive, leading them to work longer hours, a situation that may not be ethical. “Also, different monitoring systems that workers wear.  Before, you would punch in, punch out.  Now, you could wear bands on your wrist that show how many hours you are actually working in a production line. And, there is even discussion of introducing implants, where workers can be continuously surveyed on their production processes,” she said.   Azzi said a host of mental problems could be introduced by new work environments.  The report also focuses on changes in demographics.  It says employers have to adapt to the physical needs of older workers, who may need training to safely operate equipment. Another area of concern is climate change.  The ILO is positive about the green jobs being introduced.  But it says care must be taken to protect people from warmer temperatures that increase risks, including air pollution, heat stress, and newly emerging diseases. In the past, creating a safer working environment focused on the prevention of risks.  Authors of the report say the ILO today needs to anticipate the risks.  They say new skills and information about safety and health in the workplace have to be learned at an earlier age.  Before young people apply for a job, they say, they should know their rights.  The power of knowledge, they say, will help protect employees in the workplace.  
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Pakistan's Finance Minister Quits Amid Criticism

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 13:46 - [CET]
Pakistan's finance minister said Thursday he will step down amid a wave of criticism over the government's handling of a financial crisis that has sent prices soaring. Asad Umar tweeted that Prime Minister Imran Khan offered him the energy portfolio in the Cabinet but he refused. He defended Khan's leadership, calling him the "best hope" for Pakistan.   Umar's resignation came days after he returned from talks in Washington with the International Monetary Fund. Pakistan is seeking an $8 billion bailout package, but the United States, which exerts major influence over the fund, has said it should not finance the billions of dollars in loans Pakistan has taken from China as part of Beijing's "Belt and Road" infrastructure initiative.  
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US Trade Deficit Hits 8-Month Low on Weak Chinese Imports

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 20:08 - [CET]
The U.S. trade deficit fell to an eight-month low in February as imports from China plunged, temporarily providing a boost to President Donald Trump's "America First" agenda and economic growth in the first quarter. The surprise second straight monthly narrowing in the trade gap reported by the Commerce Department on Wednesday was also driven by soaring aircraft exports, which are likely to reverse after Boeing halted deliveries of its troubled 737 MAX aircraft. MAX planes have been grounded indefinitely following two deadly crashes. Economists warned the trade deficit would remain elevated regardless of whether the United States and China struck a trade deal that was to the White House's liking because of Americans' insatiable appetite for cheaper imports. Talks between Washington and China to resolve the bitter trade war have been dragging. The United States is also embroiled in conflicts with other trading partners, including the European Union, contributing to big swings in exports and imports data in recent months. "Even if trade negotiations are resolved in such a way as to reduce the bilateral trade deficit with China, one of the Trump administration's stated goals, this would likely divert trade flows to other countries and have little impact on the top-line U.S. trade deficit," said Emily Mandel, an economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The trade deficit tumbled 3.4% to $49.4 billion in February, the lowest level since June 2018. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade shortfall widening to $53.5 billion in February. The politically sensitive goods trade deficit with China - a focus of the Trump administration's protectionist trade policy - decreased 28.2% to $24.8 billion in February as imports from the world's No. 2 economy plunged 20.2%. U.S. exports to China jumped 18.2% in February. Washington last year imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods imported from China, with Beijing retaliating with duties on $110 billion worth of American products. Trump has defended the duties as necessary to protect domestic manufacturers from what he says is unfair foreign competition. Trump has delayed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. The White House argues that substantially reducing the trade deficit would lift annual economic growth by at least 3% on a sustainable basis, a feat that economists have said is impossible because of low productivity and population growth. The economy grew 2.9% in 2018. The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury debt prices rose marginally. Stocks on Wall Street fell. Growth estimates raised February's smaller trade deficit suggests the economy will probably avoid a sharp slowdown in growth that had been feared at the start of the year. The goods trade deficit declined 1.7% to an eight-month low of $72.0 billion in February. When adjusted for inflation, the overall goods trade deficit fell $1.8 billion to $81.8 billion, also the lowest since last June. Goldman Sachs raised its first quarter gross domestic product estimate by four-tenths of percentage point to a 2.1% annualized rate. The Atlanta Federal Reserve bumped up its GDP forecast to a 2.4% pace from a 2.3% rate. The economy grew at a 2.2% rate in the fourth quarter. "It sounds like pencils are being sharpened in order to revise up first-quarter GDP forecasts," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. In February, goods exports increased 1.5% to $139.5 billion. The surge in goods exports is unlikely to be sustained given slowing global economic growth. The dollar's strength last year means U.S.-manufactured goods are less competitive on foreign markets. Shipments of civilian aircraft soared by $2.2 billion in February. Exports of motor vehicles and parts increased by $0.6 billion. There was a small rise in soybean exports. Economists expect soybean exports to remain moderate because of an outbreak of swine flu that has reduced demand for soybean meal in China. In February, imports rose 0.2% to $259.1 billion. Consumer goods imports increased by $1.6 billion in February, led by a $2.1 billion rise in imports of cellphones and other household goods. Imports of industrial supplies and materials fell by $1.2 billion. Capital goods imports rose slightly, pointing to slower business spending on equipment. Crude oil imports fell to 173.7 million barrels, the lowest since March 1992, from 223.1 million barrels in January. An increase in domestic production has seen the United States become less dependent on foreign oil. "We see more potential for stronger imports in coming months, which would reestablish a trend toward wider deficits," said Andrew Hollenhorst, an economist at Citigroup in New York.  
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Long-Hidden Kafka Trove Within Reach After Series of Trials

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 12:00 - [CET]
A long-hidden trove of unpublished works by Franz Kafka could soon be revealed following a decade-long battle over his literary estate that has drawn comparisons to some of his surreal tales. A district court in Zurich upheld Israeli verdicts in the case last week, ruling that several safe deposit boxes in the Swiss city could be opened and their contents shipped to Israel’s National Library. At stake are untouched papers that could shed new light on one of literature’s darkest figures, a German-speaking Bohemian Jew from Prague whose cultural legacy has been hotly contested between Israel and Germany. What’s in the vaults? Though the exact content of the vaults remains unknown, experts have speculated the cache could include endings to some of Kafka’s major works, many of which were unfinished when they were published after his death. Israel’s Supreme Court has stripped an Israeli family of its collection of Kafka’s manuscripts, which were hidden in Israeli bank vaults and in a squalid, cat-filled Tel Aviv apartment. But the Swiss ruling would complete the acquisition of nearly all his known works, after years of lengthy legal battles over their rightful owners. Kafkaesque saga The saga could have been penned by Kafka himself, whose name has become known as an adjective to describe absurd situations involving inscrutable legal processes. Kafka was known for his tales of everyman protagonists crushed by mysterious authorities or twisted by unknown shames. In “The Trial,” for example, a bank clerk is put through excruciating court proceedings without ever being told the charges against him. “The absurdity of the trials is that it was over an estate that nobody knew what it contained. This will hopefully finally resolve these questions,” said Benjamin Balint, a research fellow at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute and the author of “Kafka’s Last Trial,” which chronicles the affair. “The legal process may be ending, but the questions of his cultural belonging and inheritance will remain with us for a very long time.” Manuscripts not burned Kafka bequeathed his writings to Max Brod, his longtime friend, editor and publisher, shortly before his death from tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 40. He instructed his protege to burn it all unread. Brod ignored his wishes and published most of what was in his possession — including the novels “The Trial,” “The Castle” and “Amerika.” Those works made the previously little-known Kafka posthumously one of the most celebrated and influential writers of the 20th century. But Brod, who smuggled some of the manuscripts to pre-state Israel when he fled the Nazis in 1938, didn’t publish everything. Upon his death in 1968, Brod left his personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, in charge of his literary estate and instructed her to transfer the Kafka papers to an academic institution. Instead, for the next four decades, Hoffe kept the papers stashed away and sold some of the items for hefty sums. In 1988, for instance, Hoffe auctioned off the original manuscript of “The Trial” at Sotheby’s in London. It went for $1.8 million to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, north of Stuttgart. When Hoffe died in 2008 at age 101, she left the collection to her two daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, both Holocaust survivors like herself, who considered Brod a father figure and his archive their rightful inheritance. Both have since also passed away, leaving Wiesler’s daughters to continue fighting for the remainder of the collection. Legitimate inheritance or cultural assets? Jeshayah Etgar, a lawyer for the daughters, downplayed the significance of the potential findings in Zurich, saying they were likely replicas of manuscripts Hoffe had already sold. Regardless, he said the ruling was the continuation of a process in which “individual property rights were trampled without any legal justification.” He said his clients legitimately inherited the works and called the state seizure of their property “disgraceful” and “first degree robbery.” Israel’s National Library claims Kafka’s papers as “cultural assets” that belong to the Jewish people. Toward the end of his life, Kafka considered leaving Prague and moving to pre-state Israel. He took Hebrew lessons with a Jerusalem native who eventually donated her pupil’s vocabulary notebook to the library. In recent years, the library also took possession of several other manuscripts the courts had ordered Hoffe’s descendants to turn over. “We welcome the judgment of the court in Switzerland, which matched all the judgments entered previously by the Israeli courts,” said David Blumberg, chairman of the Israel National Library, a nonprofit and non-governmental body. “The judgment of the Swiss court completes the preparation of the National Library of Israel to accept to entire literary estate of Max Brod, which will be properly handled and will be made available to the wider public in Israel and the world.” Other scholars question Israel’s adoption of Kafka, noting that he was conflicted about his own Judaism. The German Literature Archive, for instance, has sided with Hoffe’s heirs and aimed to purchase the collection itself, arguing the German-language writings belong in Germany. Dietmar Jaegle, an archive official, said he would not comment on the Zurich verdict as he had not yet seen it. Balint cautioned that the contents of the hidden archive may not live up to everyone’s expectations. “It is very unlikely we are going to discover an unknown Kafka masterpiece in there, but these are things of value,” Balint said, noting the fierce competition over any original Kafka material. “There is something about the uncanny aura of Kafka that is attracted to all this.”
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China’s Economic Growth Steady Amid Tariff Fight With US

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 07:05 - [CET]
China’s economic growth held steady in the latest quarter despite a tariff war with Washington, in a reassuring sign that Beijing’s efforts to reverse a slowdown might be gaining traction. The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 6.4% over a year earlier in the three months ending in March, the government reported Wednesday. That matched the previous quarter for the weakest growth since 2009. “This confirms that China’s economic growth is bottoming out and this momentum is likely to continue,” said Tai Hui of JP Morgan Asset Management in a report. Government intervention Communist leaders stepped up government spending last year and told banks to lend more after economic activity weakened, raising the risk of politically dangerous job losses. Beijing’s decision to ease credit controls aimed at reining in rising debt “is starting to yield results,” Hui said. Consumer spending, factory activity and investment all accelerated in March from the month before, the National Bureau of Statistics reported. The economy showed “growing positive factors,” a bureau statement said. ​Recovery later this year Forecasters expect Chinese growth to bottom out and start to recover later this year. They expected a recovery last year but pushed back that time line after President Donald Trump hiked tariffs on Chinese imports over complaints about Beijing’s technology ambitions. The fight between the two biggest global economies has disrupted trade in goods from soybeans medical equipment, battering exporters on both sides and rattling financial markets. The two governments say settlement talks are making progress, but penalties on billions of dollars of each other’s goods are still in place. China’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, announced an annual official growth target of 6% to 6.5% in March, down from last year’s 6.6% rate. Li warned of “rising difficulties” in the global economy and said the ruling Communist Party plans to step up deficit spending this year to shore up growth. Beijing’s stimulus measures have temporarily set back official plans to reduce reliance on debt and investment to support growth. Also in March, exports rebounded from a contraction the previous month, rising 14.2% over a year earlier. Still, exports are up only 1.4% so far this year, while imports shrank 4.8% in a sign of weak Chinese domestic demand. Auto sales fell 6.9% in March from a year ago, declining for a ninth month. But that was an improvement over the 17.5% contraction in January and February. Tariffs' effect long-lasting Economists warn that even if Washington and Beijing announce a trade settlement in the next few weeks or months, it is unlikely to resolve all the irritants that have bedeviled relations for decades. The two governments agreed Dec. 1 to postpone further penalties while they negotiate, but punitive charges already imposed on billions of dollars of goods stayed in place. Even if they make peace, the experience of other countries suggests it can take four to five years for punitive duties to “dissipate fully,” said Jamie Thompson of Capital Economics in a report last week. Chinese leaders warned previously any economic recovery will be “L-shaped,” meaning once the downturn bottomed out, growth would stay low. Credit growth accelerated in March, suggesting companies are stepping up investment and production. Total profit for China’s national-level state-owned banks, oil producers, phone carriers and other companies rose 13.1% over a year ago in the first quarter, the government reported Tuesday. Revenue rose 6.3% and investment rose 9.7%.
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Argentine Presidential Hopeful Massa Says Would Revamp IMF Deal

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 04:45 - [CET]
Argentine presidential hopeful Sergio Massa would renegotiate the country's unpopular financing deal with the International Monetary Fund if he wins office later this year, the former congressman told reporters on Tuesday. The $56 billion IMF standby financing agreement includes fiscal cuts that have enraged wide segments of the public, denting the popularity of President Mauricio Macri. "We need to find a longer-term mechanism to ensure that Argentina meets its debt obligations, " the 46-year-old Massa said in a briefing with international correspondents. Macri was forced to negotiate the IMF deal last year amid a sell-off in the peso that raised questions about Argentina's ability to pay dollar-denominated bond obligations. Many Argentines blame the IMF for policies that set the stage for the country's 2002 sovereign debt default and economic meltdown. Popular protests supported by Massa's Peronist party have gained momentum in recent weeks as the Macri administration pursues IMF-backed public utility subsidy cuts and other austerity measures aimed at erasing the primary fiscal deficit this year, a goal included in the IMF pact. Massa, who wants to unseat Macri in the October election, spoke just hours after Macri's government announced that consumer prices shot 4.7 percent higher in March alone, bringing 12-month inflation to 54.7 percent. More than three years into his first term, Macri's re-election is less than certain as his government strains to jumpstart a shrinking economy while cutting the fiscal deficit and trying to tame one of the world's highest inflation rates. Previous Argentine leader and possible October candidate Cristina Fernandez, a free-spending populist with wide support among low-income voters, has risen in the opinion polls while discontent rises over Macri's policy of cutting public utility subsidies and other austerity measures. Massa once served in Fernandez's cabinet but broke with her over what he called her top-down leadership style. He is running behind both Fernandez and Macri in the opinion polls. Argentina's economy will remain subject to shocks until clarity emerges regarding the country's October presidential election, ratings agency Moody's said this month.
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Venezuelan Scavengers Vie with Vultures for Brazilian Trash

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 04:25 - [CET]
Surrounded by vultures perched on trees awaiting their turn, Venezuelan migrants scrape out a living scavenging for metal, plastic, cardboard and food in a Brazilian border town's rubbish dump. Trapped in a wasteland limbo, they barely make enough to feed their families and cannot afford a bus ticket to get away and find regular work in Brazilian cities to the south. They blame leftist President Nicolas Maduro for mismanaging their oil-producing nation's economy and causing the deep crisis that has driven several million Venezuelans to emigrate across Latin America. "I left because I was dying of hunger. We are trying to get ahead looking through this rubbish. Every night I pray to God to take me out of here," said Rosemary Tovar, a 23-year-old mother from Caracas. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled the political and economic upheaval in their country through Pacaraima, the only road crossing to Brazil, overloading social services and causing tension in the northern border state of Roraima. More than 40,000 Venezuelans have swollen the population of state capital Boa Vista by 11 percent, Mayor Tereza Surita told Reuters. The influx has also been a headache for Brazil's new, far-right government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has so far resisted U.S. pressure to take a more forceful attitude against Maduro. About 3.7 million people have left Venezuela in recent years, mostly via its western neighbor Colombia, according to the World Bank. A dozen Venezuelans scramble to grab bags of rubbish that tumble from the Pacaraima trash truck twice a day. They then sift through the piles as fetid plumes of smoke rise from the smoldering landfill. Sometimes they scavenge at night using headlamps. "We are looking for copper and cans, and hopefully something valuable, even food," said Astrid Prado, who is eight months pregnant. "My goal is to get out of here. Nobody wants to spend their life going through garbage." Charly Sanchez, 42, arrived in Brazil a year ago and has not been able to get to Boa Vista to get his work papers so that he can find employment. "We live off this. We make enough to buy rice, maybe some sausage, but not enough to buy a ticket to Boa Vista," he said. Copper pays best, 13 reais ($3.30) a kilo, but it takes Sanchez a whole week to gather that much "wire by wire." On a lucky day he said he had found a discarded cellphone, but not today. Some spaghetti, a small jar of sugar and a bit of cooking oil was Sanchez's pickings for the day. Samuel Esteban, using a breathing mask for the smoke, stuffed cardboard into a large sack. For 50 kilos he will earn five reais, one third of the minimum monthly wage in Venezuela but just enough to buy a liter of milk in Brazil and some bread. Tovar criticized Maduro for denying that Venezuela is facing a humanitarian crisis. "He is so wrong. Look at us here in this dump," she said. "If Maduro does not leave Venezuela, I will never return there."
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Argentina Unveils New Measures to Shield Peso as Inflation Quickens

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 03:55 - [CET]
Argentina's inflation rate accelerated for the third straight month in March, the government statistics agency said on Tuesday, prompting the central bank to unveil fresh measures to temper raging inflation and protect the embattled peso currency. The recession-hit country's consumer prices rose 4.7% for the month, taking the year-to-date increase to 11.8%. Rolling 12-month inflation is running at 54.7%, the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC) said. "That's a very bad number," said Alberto Bernal, chief emerging markets strategist at XP Investments in New York, adding it would force the country's central bank to keep already-sky-high rates elevated to help protect the peso currency. Argentina has been taking measures to fight inflation since last year, when prices rose 47.6%, battering consumers' spending power and dampening President Mauricio Macri's popularity ahead of make-or-break national elections later this year. Latin America's No. 3 economy has also been hit by broader financial turmoil that has left a third of the population in poverty, forced interest rates upward and sent the beleaguered peso currency tumbling against the dollar. Argentine central bank chief Guido Sandleris said in a press conference after the data that the bank believed the pace of inflation would start to ease from April. He added the central bank would reinforce the "contractionary bias" of monetary policy, which includes freezing a non-intervention peso trading range until year-end and holding off from buying dollars to rein in the currency if it strengthens outside the range until the end of June. The bank had bought nearly $1 billion at the start of the year to help bring the currency back inside the range. The International Monetary Fund said it welcomed the central bank's announcements. "We are confident that continued efforts in this direction will help to bring inflation down in the coming months," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said in a tweet. 'Intense' Data Goldman Sachs said in a client note that the significantly larger-than-expected jump had been driven by rising prices for food, clothing, regulated tariffs and seasonal school tuition fees. The investment bank described the March data as "intense," adding that while the annual inflation figure should moderate, it would still likely end 2019 at an "extraordinarily high" 36%. Argentina's peso, one of the year's worst-performing currencies globally, fell 1.79 percent on Tuesday after recovering last week from recent record lows against the dollar. Economists polled by Argentina's central bank earlier this month sharply raised their forecast for full-year 2019 inflation to 36% from a previous estimate of 31.9%. Analysts said price rises could be starting to peak and should start to slow from next month. March was the fastest rise since October last year when prices rose 5.4%. "Only in May we will be able to see monthly inflation slowing, due to lower impact of tariffs and because it is a month with few seasonal increases," said Lorenzo Sigaut Gravina, a director at consultancy Ecolatina.
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Zimbabwe’s White Farmers Hopeful After Promise of Compensation

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 02:30 - [CET]
In Zimbabwe, white farmers whose land was taken by the government are cautiously hopeful about a promise from President Emmerson Mnangagwa to give them at least partial repayment. The promise came a few days before Zimbabwe celebrates 39 years of independence. On Sunday, state media quoted President Mnangagwa promising partial compensation for white commercial farmers whose land was seized under former president Robert Mugabe and redistributed to blacks. He said the government would pay for improvements to the land, such as buildings or dams. Ex-farmers are now submitting requests for compensation at the offices of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union. One of them is Glen Johnston, whose mother, Agnes, was displaced from her farm about 17 years ago. Since then, she has been living in Harare with her son. Johnston says he is taking the president’s promise with caution. “Basically, it looks like we’ve been promised that we have steps to be taken. So now, taking the steps, will we get the money at the end of the day? Obviously time will tell,” he said. The land seizures began in 2000 with the backing of Mugabe, who said they would correct colonial imbalances. Farm production plunged, and critics blamed the seizures for the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy. Others blamed the collapse on targeted Western sanctions imposed in 2002, in response to alleged election rigging and human rights abuses. Douglas Mahiya of the ruling ZANU-PF party does not think Zimbabwe should compensate white farmers, who in his view, took the country’s land at the point of a gun. “But we are saying that we compensate for their sweat. And when that happens, then the international world must accept Zimbabwe in the global family again economically and politically,” he said. The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union says it has received nearly 1,000 applications for compensation, which it will submit to the government. Ben Gilpin, the director of the union, says the possibility for compensation gives his members some hope ahead of Zimbabwe’s Independence Day this Thursday. “I think for many people (farmers) the last 20 independence days have come and gone without such promises being hinted at, and now the promise is that this is being dealt with seriously, so we appreciate that,” he said. Meanwhile, Mnangagwa’s government says it hopes Zimbabwe’s cold relations with the West will thaw and that the ailing economy will improve, so that Zimbabweans can fully enjoy their political independence.
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Palestinian PM Accuses US of 'Financial War'

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 02:00 - [CET]
The new Palestinian prime minister on Tuesday accused the United States of declaring "financial war" on his people and said an American peace plan purported to be in the works will be "born dead."   In his first interview with the international media since taking office over the weekend, Mohammad Shtayyeh laid out plans to get through the financial crisis he has inherited and predicted that the international community, including U.S. allies in the Arab world, would join the Palestinians in rejecting President Donald Trump's expected peace plan.   "There are no partners in Palestine for Trump. There are no Arab partners for Trump and there are no European partners for Trump," Shtayyeh said during a wide-ranging hour-long interview.   Shtayyeh, a British-educated economist, takes office at a difficult time for the Palestinians, with his government, the Palestinian Authority, mired in a dire financial crisis. The PA administers autonomous zones in the West Bank.   The Trump administration has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars of aid, including all of its support for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.   Israel has also withheld tens of millions of dollars of tax transfers to punish the Palestinians for their "martyrs' fund," a program that provides stipends to the families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed as a result of fighting with Israel.   The Israelis say the fund rewards violence, while the Palestinians say the payments are a national duty to families affected by decades of violence. Furious about the withholding, the Palestinians have in turn refused to accept partial tax transfers from Israel. Loss of Revenue   Without its key sources of revenue, the Palestinian Authority has begun paying only half salaries to tens of thousands of civil servants, reduced services and increased borrowing. In a new report being released Wednesday, the World Bank said the Palestinian deficit will grow from $400 million last year to over $1 billion this year.   "Israel is part of the financial war that has been declared upon us by the United States. The whole system is to try to push us to surrender" and agree to an unacceptable peace proposal, Shtayyeh said. "This a financial blackmail, which we reject."   Shtayyeh laid out a number of proposals for weathering the storm. He said he has imposed spending cuts by reducing perks for his Cabinet ministers.   He said he would seek to develop the Palestinian agricultural, economic and education sectors and seek ways to reduce the Palestinian economy's dependence on Israel. For example, he proposed importing fuel from neighboring Jordan, instead of from Israel, and even floating a Palestinian currency. He also said the Palestinians would seek financial backing from Arab and European donors.   Despite the tensions with Israel and the U.S., Shtayyeh said the Palestinians remain committed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war. That includes establishing a capital in east Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed and claims as part of its eternal capital. Netanyahu Electoral Victory   The two-state solution has enjoyed overwhelming international support for the past two decades. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hard-line political allies reject Palestinian independence.   Netanyahu secured another term in office in elections last week and is expected to form a new coalition with religious and nationalist parties that oppose the two-state solution. On the campaign trail, Netanyahu even raised the possibility of annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a step that could extinguish any remaining hopes for an independent Palestine.   Netanyahu has received a boost from Trump, who has given Netanyahu a number of diplomatic gifts since taking office. Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the U.S. Embassy to the holy city, slashed aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington.   In a departure from Republican and Democratic predecessors, Trump also has notably refused to endorse the two-state solution. His peace team, led by son-in-law Jared Kushner, has repeatedly pushed back the release of a peace plan it says it is preparing, and it remains unclear if or when it will be released.   Kushner's team has said little about their proposal. But their limited public statements have indicated it will call for large amounts of economic investment in the Palestinians, but given no sign that it will include their demand for independence.   Shtayyeh said that after all of the U.S. moves in favor of Israel, particularly the recognition of Jerusalem, there is nothing left to negotiate.   He said any proposal that ignores key Palestinian demands will be rejected by the international community. The European Union this week reiterated its call for peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state.   "Where are we going to have the Palestinian state?" he asked. "We are not looking for an entity. We are looking for a sovereign state."   "Palestinians are not interested in economic peace. We are interested in ending occupation," he said. "Life cannot be enjoyed under occupation."
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Brazil Announces Financial Package to Avoid Truckers' Strike

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 23:20 - [CET]
The government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced Tuesday a financial package aimed at staving off a potential truckers' strike.   Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni said the Brazilian Development Bank will be providing $128 million in credit to truckers and that the Ministry of Infrastructure will spend $514 million on improving roads.   The announcement is part of a series of recent decisions by the administration aimed at appeasing the sector.   Last month Bolsonaro announced via Twitter that he would not be renewing a contract for electronic radars saying that ``the vast majority of them only exist for the sole purpose of financial return for the state.'' An investigation by newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo found that the radars had resulted in a 21.7% reduction in fatalities on federal roads.   On Thursday, Bolsonaro canceled a planned 5.7% increase in diesel prices. The decision caused shares in Brazil's state oil company Petrobras to drop more than 13%, with many investors fearing that it could signal a more interventionist strategy by the president similar to previous governments.   Bolsonaro ran on a platform championing the freedom of the market and criticizing his predecessors from Brazil's Workers' Party for their ``incompetence.''   His decision to cancel the announced price hike received uncommon support from impeached President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party who Tweeted Sunday that ``The management of the largest Brazilian public company cannot be subjected to the short-term logic of financial speculation.''   Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, told the Associated Press Tuesday that the decision by Bolsonaro to intervene on behalf of the truckers has left investors worried.   ``From an economic perspective, the Dilma government should have been an example of what to avoid, but it is very impressive that Bolsonaro hasn't learned from her errors,'' he said.   The cost of fuel has been something that has long been contentious for truckers since the decision was made to peg its price to the international market. In the previous two governments, the administration had dictated the price of oil in order to control inflation. This strategy resulted in massive expenditures by the state. Following the economic recession, the ability of the government to subsidize the losses was no longer viable, and when the government floated the commodity with the international market it led to a disastrous combination of inflation during a recession.   A truckers' strike last year caused a national crisis that had an estimated economic impact of $7.7 billion and led to shortages of food, medicine and petrol. Nearly 70% of all goods are transported via highway. The truckers blocked roads and refused to work until their demands for a reduction in the price of oil were answered.
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Brussels Warns US Against Exposing EU Firms in Cuba to Lawsuits

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 22:34 - [CET]
The European Union has warned Washington that any move to allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign firms doing business in Cuba could lead to a World Trade Organization challenge and a cycle of counter-claims in European courts. The EU has serious concerns over the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to end the practice of suspending on a rotating six-month basis a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that would allow such suits, principally from Cuban-Americans. The comments came in a letter seen by Reuters from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and dated April 10. The two EU officials called on Washington to adhere to a 1998 agreement to grant a consistent waiver for EU companies and citizens while the bloc suspends a WTO challenge over the issue. "Failing this, the EU will be obliged to use all means at its disposal, including in cooperation with other international partners, to protect its interests," the letter said. "The EU is considering a possible launch of the WTO case." The letter also said that EU courts were empowered to allow EU companies to recover any losses caused by claims over Cuba. It said that an overwhelming majority of the 50 largest claimants, making up more than 70 percent of the value of claims, had assets in the European Union. "This could trigger a self-defeating cycle of claims that will impair the business climate, without bringing justice to holders of claims, or impacting the situation in Cuba in any positive way," the two EU officials wrote. The Trump administration announced on March 4 it would allow lawsuits by U.S. citizens against dozens of Cuban companies on Washington's blacklist. However, it stopped short of allowing legal action against foreign firms who had used property confiscated by the Cuban government since the 1959 revolution — though it left the door open to doing so in the future. Pompeo earlier this month extended to May 1 the waiver for foreign firms. Trump's move marked an intensification of U.S. pressure on Cuba and also appeared aimed at punishing Havana over its support for Venezuela's socialist president, Nicolas Maduro. The European Union said it also wanted to further democracy and human rights in Cuba and to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis in Venezuela.
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Kudlow: White House Talking to Other Possible Fed Candidates

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 18:40 - [CET]
The White House is considering other possible candidates for the board of the Federal Reserve although President Donald Trump still backs his two potential nominees, Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday. Kudlow, speaking to reporters at the White House, added that Trump's picks are still going through the nominating process for the seats on the U.S. central bank's board of governors. "We are talking to a number of candidates. We always do," he said when asked if the White House was vetting alternates for Cain and Moore, whose controversial potential nominations have raised concerns among economists as well as some of Trump's fellow Republicans. The U.S. Senate must confirm any nominees, and Republicans control the chamber with 53 seats. But four of them have said they oppose Cain, a former pizza company chief executive, effectively sinking his nomination. Neither candidate's name has been formally sent to the Senate, but Trump has pledged to do so. Economists and other critics have raised concerns about two Trump loyalists serving at what has traditionally been a nonpartisan financial entity.  
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Fearing Austerity, Lebanese Protest Ahead of Budget

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 17:22 - [CET]
The Lebanese government has yet to disclose its budget for 2019, but protesters are already in the streets fearing the "difficult and painful" reforms it is expected to announce as it tries to get spending in control and rein in public debt. Retired army officers blocked several highways with burning tires Tuesday, a preemptive warning to the government against any cuts to their pensions that might be part of its effort to reduce one of the world's heaviest public debt burdens. Though small, the protests offered a glimpse of the political minefield facing the government. The budget is seen as a critical test of its will to enact long-stalled reforms that economists say are more pressing than ever for an economy that has suffered years of low growth. State finances are strained by a bloated public sector, high debt servicing costs and hefty subsidizes spent on the power sector. "We went out today to tell them that our pensions are a red line," said Khaled Ammar, one of a number of retired officers blocking the highway south of Beirut. The budget has yet to be finalized but speculation it will include cuts to the massive public wage bill has grown since Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil hinted at such steps Saturday. "There are those who should be making people aware today that if a temporary reduction doesn't happen, then there will be no salaries for anyone," he wrote on Twitter, adding that "if we must start with the ministers and MPs, so be it." Protesters said tackling corruption should be the priority. "If the economic condition of the country has reached this difficult level ... we are not responsible for it, the politicians are," said Ammar, a father of three who served in the military for three decades. Bloated public sector Lebanese leaders have been warning of economic crisis for some time. In a February policy statement, the new government committed itself to launching fast and effective reforms that could be "difficult and painful" to avoid a worsening of economic, financial and social conditions. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said last week he was concerned about a Greek-style crisis in Lebanon while saying that government measures would prevent "economic problems." At a Paris conference last year, Lebanon promised to cut its budget deficit by 1 percent of gross domestic product a year over five years. Economists are now looking for a bigger cut because last year's deficit was bigger than expected at between 10.5%to 11% of GDP instead of a projected 8.2%. Serious reforms would help Lebanon unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged in Paris. The government last week approved a plan to overhaul the power sector — a major drain on state finances for years. Critics say the government must deliver this time, pointing to previous such plans that were never implemented. The public sector wage bill is the state's biggest outgoing, followed by servicing the public debt equal to around 150% of GDP. The wage bill went up in 2017 after increases were agreed ahead of a parliamentary election. Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at Lebanon's Byblos Bank, hopes to see the deficit brought down by 2% of GDP and says reforms should include shutting down the many obsolete government agencies. "They have to freeze hiring, freeze future salary increases, and increases in benefits, and they have to cut the number of public sector employees and restructure the way companies restructure when they are in financial difficulties," he said. "The public sector has recruited 31,000 people over the last four years — more than the entire financial sector."
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Development Bank Earmarks $4.4 Billion for Central Africa

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 17:03 - [CET]
The African Development Bank (AfDB) promised Tuesday to invest $4.4 billion (3.89 billion euros) in infrastructure in over the next seven years. The sum will help to finance 30 projects, ranging from electricity networks and transport to information technology and communication and improve cross-border trade, it said in a statement. Spending will be focused on Cameroon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Central African Republic. Growth in central Africa doubled in 2018, with GDP expanding by 2.2% against 1.1% a year earlier, according to AfDB figures. The rate is still far behind the average for sub-Saharan Africa, which was 3.5 percent.  
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Sources: Iran's Oil Exports Hit 2019 Low in April

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 17:03 - [CET]
Iran's crude oil exports have dropped in April to their lowest daily level this year, tanker data showed and industry sources said, suggesting buyers are curbing purchases before Washington clamps down further on Iranian shipments as expected next month. The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Those sanctions have already more than halved Iranian oil exports, the country's main source of revenue. Shipments are averaging below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) so far this month, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and two other companies that track such exports and declined to be identified. That's lower than at least 1.1 million bpd as estimated for March. The latest drop deepens supply losses resulting from an OPEC-led global agreement to cut oil production and U.S. sanctions on another OPEC member, Venezuela. Supported by those moves, oil prices have risen 30% this year to $71 a barrel. "Collapsing Venezuelan oil output and sanctioned Iranian exports have put a big question mark over supply," Norbert Ruecker of Swiss bank Julius Baer said. While exports could rise later in the month, the drop so far suggests Washington is making progress towards its goal of curtailing shipments to below 1 million bpd from May. The United States, seeking to avoid an increase in oil prices, granted sanctions waivers to China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea that allowed them to keep buying some Iranian crude. Those exemptions expire in May and analysts expect a new round to be less generous. The U.S. government is considering more sanctions against Iran and has the ability not to give waivers at all, a senior Trump administration official said this month. "We think there are very high chances that China and India and perhaps Turkey will receive (fresh) waivers, but with further cuts," said Sara Vakhshouri of energy consultant SVB Energy International. There is no definitive figure on how much oil Iran exported in March. Shipments have become more opaque since sanctions returned, and Iran no longer reports its production figures to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. One of the two companies that tracks shipments estimated Iran exported 1.1 million bpd of crude last month, while the other company put the number at 1.3 million bpd. Kpler, another company that tracks Iranian exports, estimated March shipments of crude and condensate at 1.29 million bpd. Still, there is general agreement that crude shipments have dropped from at least 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, the month before U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran. Tehran has vowed to keep exporting oil despite U.S. efforts to reduce its shipments eventually to zero.  
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Turkey’s Purged Workers Carve Out New Life in Kurdish Region

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 09:45 - [CET]
Thousands of state employees accused of supporting the Kurdish insurgency in their war against Turkey have lost their jobs — a mass crackdown that has forced many to make radical career changes.  The largest number of firings have occurred in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, and have included teachers, civil servants and local municipality workers.  Some of those dismissed workers are now employed at the Emekciler restaurant, founded by former court official Mustafa Ozer, who opened the restaurant with 22 of his fellow fired workers.  "Of course, it is not that simple to be sacked from your job of 23 years,” Ozer said. “Suddenly one night, your whole life’s effort is taken from you. You are being marginalized, and you are denied the bread that you bring to your home." Ozer claims his dismissal had more to do with trade union activism than his support of Kurdish insurgents, and called his firing a release in many ways. “There were daily, weekly lists of people who were sacked,” he said. “We were checking those lists every day to see if our name is on it. Every day, we had the panic. Our nerves were really stretched to the edge during this period. And eventually, our names appeared on the list, and our employment got terminated.” Ozer and his partners contributed 11,000 lira (about $2,000) to start the restaurant.  “Some of us have a master's degree. Some are two-year college graduates,” said Ozer. “Some headed departments. Some were branch chiefs. Here is my colleague, Seyhmus. He used to work at the state employment agency,” added Ozer. ​Seyhmus, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, modestly admits he has few skills to offer. "I can't really cook, but I help with the running of the place. I don’t have such talent, unfortunately,” he said. Seyhmus admits adjusting to the loss of a career in which he devoted his life was difficult, but the camaraderie he discovered at Emekciler restaurant helped.  “I am OK now because I saw the true value of friendship. We are like a family here,” he said. Many of Emekciler's customers are former colleagues. Ozer said they visit, risking trouble at work for eating at a restaurant run by fired workers.  Ankara defends the crackdown, claiming supporters of the Kurdish insurgency have deeply infiltrated the state across the region. Local and international human rights groups have sharply criticized the firings, claiming most are arbitrary with little or no evidence to justify the dismissal. The government created an appeals process, but so far, less than 5% of applicants were successful. Zeki Kanay, an academic at Diyarbakir’s Dicle University, lost his job after signing a petition calling for an end to the decades-long war with Kurdish insurgents. Kanay turned to organic farming on a small plot of land outside city walls. He works the farm with other purged workers and has not yet made a profit. But he said there are other rewards. "If we didn't have that (the farm), life would be even harder, because this system pushes you to be alone, alienated,” he said. “It (the state) tries to instill fear and break us apart. However, on the contrary, we try to get closer to each other, and that’s how we all can stand on our feet now.” ​Bishar Ilci helped Kanay set up the farm. He is working to reintroduce native seeds to the region. Ilci worked for Diyarbakir’s municipality until Mayor Gultan Kisanak of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) was removed from office and jailed, accused of supporting terrorism. “I worked in the municipality for 10 years and managed good projects,” said Ilci. “There were various social projects. My last 2.5 years in the municipality was devoted to the (Syrian) Yazidi refugees. We initiated educational projects, vegetable gardens for each family, and ran activities, especially with women. We had done serious work on farming.“ Ilci said he has little hope of getting his job back. “It feels like the state is trying to discipline us with hunger. We have to learn how to stand on our feet,” he said. “We have given a good struggle for Kurdish rights for many years in this region, and now we say, 'Why can't we do the same with the land, with animals? And why not help your people with healthy food?’”
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Electric Car Makers Woo Chinese Buyers with Range, Features

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 07:30 - [CET]
Automakers are showcasing electric SUVs and sedans with more driving range and luxury features at the Shanghai auto show, trying to appeal to Chinese buyers in their biggest market as Beijing slashes subsidies that have propelled demand.  Communist leaders wanting China to lead in electric vehicles have imposed sales targets. That requires brands to pour money into creating models to compete with gasoline-powered vehicles on price, looks and performance at a time when they are struggling with a Chinese sales slump.  General Motors, Volkswagen, China's Geely and other brands on Tuesday displayed dozens of models, from luxury SUVs to compacts priced under $10,000, at Auto Shanghai 2019. The show, the global industry's biggest marketing event of the year, opens to the public Saturday following a preview for reporters. On Monday, GM unveiled Buick's first all-electric model for China. GM says the four-door Velite 6 can travel 301 kilometers (185 miles) before the battery needs charging.  VW showed off a concept electric SUV, the whimsically named ID. ROOMZZ, designed to travel 450 kilometers (280 miles) on one charge. Features include seats that rotate 25 degrees to create a lounge-like atmosphere.  Communist leaders have promoted "new energy vehicles'' for 15 years with subsidies to developers and buyers. That, along with support including orders to state-owned utilities to blanket China with charging stations, is helping to transform the technology into a mainstream product.  "People's mindset and governmental policies are more encouraging toward e-cars than in any other country,'' said VW CEO Herbert Diess.  Electric vehicles play a key role in the ruling Communist Party's plans for government-led development of Chinese global competitors in technologies from robotics to biotech.  Those ambitions set off Beijing's tariff war with President Donald Trump. Washington, Europe and other trading partners complain Chinese subsidies to technology developers and pressure on foreign companies to share know-how violate its market-opening commitments.  Electric car subsidies end next year, replaced by sales quotas. Automakers that fall short can buy credits from competitors that exceed their targets or face possible fines.  "Most of the traditional car makers are under huge pressure to launch NEVs,'' said industry analyst John Zeng of LMC Automotive.  Last year's Chinese sales of pure-electric and hybrid sedans and SUVs soared 60% over 2017 to 1.3 million, or half the global total. At the same time, industry revenue was squeezed by a 4.1% fall in total Chinese auto sales to 23.7 million vehicles.  That skid that worsened this year. First-quarter sales fell 13.7% from a year ago.  Still, China is a top market for global automakers, giving them an incentive to go along with Beijing's electric ambitions. Total annual sales are expected eventually to reach 30 million, nearly double last year's U.S. level of 17 million.  Under Beijing's new rules, automakers must earn credits for sales of electrics equal to at least 10% of purchases this year and 12% in 2020. Longer-range vehicles can earn double credits. That means some brands can fill their quota if electrics make up as little as 5% of sales.  Also Tuesday, Nissan Motor Co. and its Chinese partner displayed the Sylphy Zero Emission, an all-electric model designed for China. Based on Nissan's Leaf, the lower-priced Sylphy went on sale in August. Mercedes Benz displayed its first all-electric model in China, the EQC 400 SUV. The Germany automaker says it can travel 400 kilometers (280 miles) on one charge and can go from zero to 100 kph (62 mph) in 5.2 seconds.  Mercedes plans to release 10 electrified models worldwide, with most built in China, according to Hubertus Troska, its board member for China.  Some Chinese rivals have been selling low-priced electrics for a decade or more.  China's BYD Auto, the biggest global electric brand by sales volume, unveiled three new pure-electric models last month. All promise ranges of more than 400 kilometers (280 miles) on one charge.  Last week, Geely Auto unveiled a sedan under its new electric brand, Geometry, with an advertised range of up to 500 kilometers (320 miles) on one charge.  Geely's parent, Geely Holding, launched a joint venture with Mercedes parent Daimler AG in March to develop electrics under the smart brand. Geely Holding is Daimler's biggest shareholder and also owns Sweden's Volvo Cars.  Beijing wants to force automakers to speed up innovation and squeeze out producers that rely too heavily on subsidies. But the technology minister acknowledged in January that China faces a difficult transition as that spending is ending.  Keeping development on track "will be a challenge,'' said Miao Wei, according to a transcript on his ministry's website.  The shift creates an opportunity for fledgling Chinese automakers that lag global rivals in gasoline technology. They have just 10% of the global market for gasoline-powered vehicles but account for 50% of electric sales.  The end of subsidies should lead to dramatic changes, said Zeng of LMC Automotive. He said longer-range, feature-rich models from global majors will replace small producers that cannot survive without subsidies.  Electric vehicles "will be much more competitive,'' said Zeng.  As the cost of batteries and other components falls, industry analysts say electrics in China could match gasoline vehicles in price and become profitable for manufacturers in less than five years.  EVs carry a higher sticker price in China than gasoline models. But industry analysts say owners who drive at least 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) a year save money in the long run, because maintenance and charging cost less. 
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Heritage Site or Home? Indigenous Thais Fight for Right to Forest

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 03:29 - [CET]
Hundreds of indigenous Karen people in Thailand face evictions from a national park that authorities wish to turn into a World Heritage Site, joining millions in a similarly precarious situation as authorities worldwide push tough conservation laws. The Kaeng Krachan is Thailand's biggest national park, sprawled over more than 2,900 square kilometers (1,120 square miles) on the border with neighboring Myanmar. Renowned for its diverse wildlife, it is also home to about 30 communities of ethnic Karen people, who have traditionally lived and farmed there — and is on a tentative list of world heritage sites. The United Nations' cultural agency (UNESCO) had referred the submission back to the Thai government in 2016, asking it to address "rights and livelihood concerns" of the Karen communities, and get their support for the nomination. The Thai government plans to respond later this year, according to campaigners. "The communities have not been consulted or reassured on their access to the forest," said Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri of advocacy group Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. "The communities are not opposed to the heritage status," he told Reuters. "They are just asking that they not be evicted, and that their land rights are secure — because if the park gets heritage status without that, there will be a great many more evictions." A spokesman for the forest department did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the U.N. human rights office (OHCHR) in Bangkok said they had recently facilitated a meeting between a rights organization working with the Karen, and Thai officials. Worldwide, more than 250,000 people were evicted from protected areas in 15 countries from 1990 to 2014, according to Washington D.C.-based advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative. In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected. 'No legal rights' Since Kaeng Krachan was declared a national park in 1981, hundreds of Karen — a hill tribe people thought to number about 1 million in Thailand — have been evicted, according to activists. Last year the country's top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land. "The security of indigenous people in Thailand is so tenuous because they have no legal rights, and no recognition of their dependence on forests," said Worawuth Tamee, an indigenous rights lawyer. "The laws have made them encroachers," he said.  A 2010 Cabinet resolution had called for recognizing the Karen people's way of life and their right to earn a livelihood the traditional way. But this has not been implemented, said Tamee. After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to "take back the forest" and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third. This has resulted in hundreds of reclamations from farmers and forest dwellers, according to research organization Mekong Region Land Governance. "It is the biggest challenge facing indigenous people," said Tamee. "Parks are not just for the enjoyment of city people and tourists. They are also the home of poor, indigenous people who have nowhere else to go."
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Mexican President Says to Return 'Stolen' Wealth to the People

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 02:55 - [CET]
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday he will create a "Robin Hood" institute to return to the people the ill-gotten wealth seized from corrupt politicians and gangsters. His administration is drawing up a bill to create an independent "Robin Hood" institute "against the corrupt" that would put confiscated goods such as real estate, jewelry and cars into the public's hands, the president told reporters. "Let's quickly return everything to the people that's been stolen," he said at his regular morning news conference. For example, the institute could assign seized homes to municipalities for schools, hospitals or elderly care centers, he said. Assets seized by the government tend to have been ransacked or require expensive upkeep, he noted. He did not estimate the value of the assets, or offer details on how they would be given back to the people. Since taking office in December, veteran leftist Lopez Obrador has rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption. Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico's wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach and drive through the capital in a white Volkswagen Jetta. Immediately upon taking office, he turned over the presidential palace to the public and put his predecessor's official plane up for sale.
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Tiger Woods' Victory in Masters a Win for Golf Business

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 02:32 - [CET]
Tiger Woods' victory at the Masters golf tournament on Sunday, his first major victory since 2008, is expected to lift sales for sponsors, broadcasters and golf courses lucky enough to host a tournament with Woods playing. The competition put the 43-year-old back on top of a sport he helped transform 25 years ago. "Tiger sells golf," says Eric Smallwood, president of Apex Marketing Group, a Michigan analytics firm. Apex found that Nike earned $22.5 million worth of brand exposure just from Woods' final round, with Nike's "Swoosh" logo splashed on his hat, shirt, pants and shoes. Nike stock was up about one percent on Monday. Tournament broadcaster CBS Corp saw a ratings bump. Based on preliminary data, the final round of Sunday's tournament was the highest-rated morning golf broadcast since 1986, when CBS started collecting that data. The tournament, which is usually broadcast in the afternoon, was rescheduled to the morning because of weather. CBS has the rights to the PGA Championship in May and expects prices for advertising time that is still available to rise as a result of Woods' Masters victory, according to a source familiar with the matter. The golf demographic is wealthier and better-educated than other sports fans, so TV ratings are valued more highly because  hey're more apt to turn into sales, even of big-ticket items, said Neal Pilson, president of Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports. "Historically, events where Tiger Woods is on leaderboards on Sunday generated 30 to 40 percent higher ratings in the United States for those tournaments," Pilson said. Makings of a comeback Woods was a 20-year-old prodigy when he turned pro in 1996. Less than a year later he was ranked No. 1 in the world. He struck lucrative endorsement deals — including a five-year, $40 million deal with Nike — and golf experienced a surge in popularity. Then Woods' personal life collapsed and with it, his brand. In 2009, after the news of multiple infidelities, he lost endorsement deals with companies like AT&T and Accenture. Other sponsors, such as Procter & Gamble's Gillette and Berkshire Hathaway's NetJets, kept their contracts with Woods but stopped using him in marketing. Four back surgeries later, Woods continued to suffer professionally and in the public eye. In 2017 police arrested him for driving under the influence; he pleaded guilty to reckless driving and entered a program for first-time offenders. In 2018, Woods began a professional comeback that culminated at Sunday's Masters. After his victory, Nike, which stood behind Woods throughout his darker years, posted an ad on its website titled "Tiger Woods: Same Dream." "In sports you have heroes, villains and underdogs," said Benjamin Hordell, founder of digital marketing and advertising firm DXagency. "Tiger has lived all of it. That's amazing from a storytelling perspective. People will root against him, but they're watching." On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would award Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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Myanmar Land Law Threatens to Criminalize Existing Land-owners

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 23:26 - [CET]
In Myanmar, decades of conflict and displacement have left swathes of land abandoned and undocumented, especially in the ethnic regions. In 2012, the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Lands Management law was enacted, classifying about one third of Myanmar’s land as such - and instructing land dwellers to register the land they were occupying or using to obtain a 30 year permit. Last months’ deadline to obtain the permit has passed, leaving thousands of land dwellers at risk. Steve Sandford reports.
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Turkey’s Purged Workers Carve Out New Life in Kurdish Region

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 23:26 - [CET]
Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast is the center of a decade's long Kurdish insurgency by the PKK. Across the region, in a security crackdown, tens of thousands of people have been fired from their state jobs, accused of supporting the insurgents. For many that means a radical career change, Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir, Turkey.
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Turkey: Buying Russian Defense System Should Not Trigger US Sanctions

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 23:18 - [CET]
Turkey's purchase of a Russian air defense missile system should not trigger U.S. sanctions because Ankara is not an adversary of Washington and remains committed to the NATO alliance, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Monday. Speaking at a U.S.-Turkey conference in Washington amid rising tensions between the two NATO allies over Ankara's plan to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, Akar adopted a relatively conciliatory tone and urged to resolve issues via dialogue. "Turkey is clearly not an adversary of the United States," Akar said and added that, therefore, its procurement of the S-400 system should not be considered within the scope of U.S. sanctions designed to target America's enemies. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that Washington had told Ankara it could face retribution for buying the S-400s under a sanctions law known as Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CATSAA). "This procurement decision does not signify a change in Turkey's course. I'd like to reiterate strongly that there is no change in Turkey's commitment to NATO," Akar said. The disagreement over the F-35 is the latest of a series of diplomatic disputes between the United States and Turkey including Turkish demands that the United States extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, differences over Middle East policy and the war in Syria, and sanctions on Iran. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has refused to back down from Ankara's planned purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the United States has said would compromise the security of F-35 aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin.  Turkey has said it will take delivery of the S-400s in July. In early April, the United States halted delivery of equipment related to the stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey, marking the first concrete U.S. step to potentially blocking the delivery of the jet to the NATO ally. Akar said Turkey was puzzled by the move and expected U.S. and other partners in the program to fulfill their obligations. "We firmly believe that linking the S-400 to the F-35 project is unfortunate. ... We are one of the investors and partners and not just a buyer. We have invested over $1 billion ... and fulfilled all our obligations," he said. Akar repeated Turkey's offer to hold technical talks with the United States to address "technical concerns" over the S-400 purchase. Turkey is also assessing a renewed offer from the United States to buy Patriot missile defense systems, Akar added. "Recently, we received the restated offer for the Patriots. This offer is now on the table, we are studying it carefully," he said.
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US Airlines Face Too Many Travelers, Too Few Planes in 737 MAX Summer Dilemma

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 22:52 - [CET]
Normally, U.S. airlines compete to sell tickets and fill seats during the peak summer travel season. But operators of the grounded Boeing 737 MAX are facing a different problem: scarce planes and booming demand. The grounding of Boeing Co's fuel-efficient, single-aisle workhorse after two fatal crashes is biting into U.S. airlines' Northern Hemisphere spring and summer schedules, threatening to disarm them in their seasonal war for profits. "The revenue is right in front of them. They can see it, but they can't meet it," said Mike Trevino, spokesman for Southwest Airlines Pilots Association and an aviation industry veteran. Southwest Airlines Co, the world's largest MAX operator, and American Airlines Group Inc with 34 and 24 MAX jetliners respectively, have removed the aircraft from their flying schedules into August. United Airlines said Monday it would remove its 14 MAX jets through early July. Southwest's decision will lead to 160 cancellations of some 4,200 daily flights between June 8 and Aug. 5, while American's removal through Aug. 19 means about 115 daily cancellations, or 1.5 percent of its summer flying schedule each day. Low-cost carrier Southwest, which unlike its rivals only flies Boeing 737s, had estimated $150 million in lost revenue between Feb. 20 and March 31 alone due to MAX cancellations and other factors. Airlines have said it is too soon to estimate the impact of the MAX grounding beyond the first quarter, but the extended cancellations signal that they do not expect a quick return of Boeing's fast-selling jetliner. The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March following a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash just five months after a Lion Air crash in Indonesia. All on board both planes were killed. Boeing is under pressure to deliver an upgrade on software that is under scrutiny in both crashes and convince global regulators that the plane is safe to fly again, a process expected to take at least 90 days. Peak travel months  The timing of a prolonged grounding could not be worse for Northern Hemisphere carriers. Planes run fullest during June, July and August, when airlines earn the most revenue per available seat mile, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In a letter to employees and customers Sunday, American Airlines' top executives said they believed the MAX would be recertified "soon" but wanted to provide their customers reliability and confidence during "the busiest travel period of the year." American was cancelling about 90 flights per day through early June, but runs more flights and has less fleet flexibility in the peak summer travel months. "We're not denying that it's going to be a challenge for us," American spokesman Ross Feinstein said. "That is why if we have to extend cancellations based on aircraft availability we will do so as far in advance as possible." A decline in seat capacity could mean higher last-minute summer fares, particularly for business class travelers, aviation consultants and analysts said. United has largely avoided cancellations by servicing MAX routes with larger 777 or 787 aircraft, but the airline president, Scott Kirby, warned last week that the strategy was costing it money and could not go on forever. "We've used spare aircraft and other creative solutions to help our customers, who had been scheduled to travel on one of our 14 MAX aircraft, get where they are going. But, it's harder to make those changes at the peak of the busy summer travel season," United said Monday. Deliveries frozen Overall the MAX represents just 5 percent of Southwest's total fleet and even less for American and United, but the strain on fleets increases as additional MAX deliveries remain frozen. Southwest has 41 MAX jets pending delivery for 2019, while American has 16 and United 14. They are each working with Boeing and regulators to ensure the aircraft's safety before flying it with customers and employees. Meanwhile, operators have added a flight or two to other aircrafts' daily schedules and deferred some nonessential maintenance work. Some airlines are also weighing extending aircraft leases and bringing back idled planes, but with unclear MAX timing, no option is clear-cut or cheap, consultants said. United is due to publish first-quarter results on April 16, followed by Southwest on April 25 and American on April 26.  
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New Air Bridge Reflects Iran's Growing Influence in Venezuela

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 22:30 - [CET]
Analysts see this month's re-opening of an air link between Tehran and Caracas as the latest evidence of Iran's growing role alongside Russia and Cuba in bolstering the multilayered security apparatus keeping Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in power. Mahan Air, a private airline sanctioned by the United States for its links with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), initiated flights between Tehran and Caracas last week, according to Iranian civil aviation officials who announced the initiation of the air route when a Mahan airliner landed in Caracas on April 8. "Unless Iran has suddenly become a source of tourists, this is another reason why the regime of Maduro has become a threat to the security of the U.S.," tweeted Senator Marco Rubio, who has major input into the Trump administration’s Latin American policy. Spokesmen for Iran’s civil aviation organization have told the official Mehr news agency that the Mahan airliner carried high-level foreign ministry officials and airline executives. IRGC Quds Force officers have worked with diplomatic cover at Iran’s large embassy in Caracas, providing intelligence and other assistance to the Venezuelan government, according to Pentagon reports. The United States imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, which the State Department designated as a terrorist organization last week. France and Germany banned the airline’s flights earlier this year, accusing it of transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other regional war zones. Iran operated regular flights between Teheran and Caracas with stopovers in Syria’s capital Damascus about 10 years ago, when the two governments were exchanging state visits and signing a series of cooperation agreements. The flights were suspended after the U.S. voiced suspicions about passengers and cargo being offloaded at a special VIP section of Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar airport with no customs or immigration checks. Iran joined Russia, Cuba and Turkey in declaring support for Maduro after President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. recognition from his government and threw his weight behind parliamentary leader Juan Guaido in February. The U.S. administration has toughened sanctions and threatened to intervene militarily to topple the Maduro administration. Venezuela and Iran have joint military ventures including the manufacture of munitions and surveillance drones, according to Venezuela’s ex-defense minister Raul Baduel. Opposition sources say Iran has also negotiated mining concessions to tap Venezuelan uranium deposits and that some samples were flown from Caracas to Teheran by way of Damascus in 2010. The administration of President George W. Bush formed a special unit to investigate Iran’s activities in Venezuela, according to it’s director David Asher, who told the U.S. Congress that President Barack Obama disbanded his team for fear that its findings could jeopardize negotiations to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. According to U.S. intelligence agencies, top officials of Maduro’s regime have close connections with Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries. Hezbollah enjoys Iranian support and is fighting in Syria’s civil war on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. Maduro’s former vice president Tareck El Aissami is under U.S. indictment for funding Hezbollah with proceeds from a Venezuela-based drug trafficking ring. He met in Syria last week with Assad, according to Venezuelan state media, which quoted him as saying there were “similarities” between the conflicts in Syria and Venezuela. El Aissami played a key role in dismantling a coup plot against Maduro last year when he ordered the arrest of almost 100 army officers. He has also organized paramilitary “colectivos” to silence the opposition, arming them with Iranian-made 5.56-mm compact versions of the Russian AK-47. A Venezuelan colectivo leader of Lebanese origin, Ghazi Nasr al Din, ran a paramilitary training and recruitment center out of a gym in downtown Caracas. He is on the FBI terrorism watch list for “facilitating the travel of Hezbollah members to and from Venezuela.” He has also traveled as a diplomat to Syria and Iran. “!ran is playing a far larger role in designing Venezuela’s security structure than is commonly known,” says James Humire, a Washington-based policy analyst and author who lectures on Latin America. At a recent U.S. Congressional hearing, Humire presented a list of over 2,000 Venezuelan passports issued to suspected members of Hezbollah, Hamas and other Iranian-supported Islamist groups Retired Venezuelan National Guard brigadier Marco Ferreira has told VOA that some of the passports were issued when he worked at the interior ministry’s immigration office under the supervision of Cuban security advisors. He said one reason for establishing the Iranian air link was to facilitate the movement of suspect nationals from Middle Eastern countries. Rear Adm. Touraj Hassani Moghadam, Iran's deputy head of naval operations, told the Meher news agency in December that the navy wants to send a flotilla equipped with “special helicopters” on a five-month mission to Venezuela.
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PM: Greece Gains Economic 'Freedom' by Repaying IMF Loans Earlier

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 21:59 - [CET]
Repaying earlier expensive International Monetary Fund loans is a significant step for Greece which will create favorable conditions for its economy, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday, promising more relief measures. "We are gaining points of [economic] freedom," Tsipras said during an interview with Greece's Antenna television. Greece this week plans to file a request to the euro zone's bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), seeking its consent for the early repayment of the loans, sources told Reuters earlier Monday. The country emerged from its third international bailout since 2010 in August last year. During the live interview, Tsipras also said his administration would not lower a tax-free threshold, a measure which has been agreed with international lenders and is supposed to take effect next year to broaden the country's tax base. "The tax free [threshold] will not be reduced as long as Syriza is in government," Tsipras said, referring to his left-wing party in power since 2015. Elections are due later this year and the leftist leader ruled out an election earlier than that, vowing his government would see through its full term of 4 years. Greece is expected to meet its fiscal targets again this year and any outperformance will be distributed to the public, Tsipras said. "After the [Easter] holidays I will meet with the minister of finance to consider what we can offer, not as a pre-election gift but as permanent relief measures because the Greek economy is faring better."
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Canada Hits Venezuelan Government With More Sanctions

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 19:55 - [CET]
Canada is imposing more sanctions on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who it blames for the country's deteriorating political and economic situation. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday announced sanctions against 43 high-ranking Venezuelan officials, including regional governors, and said they were implicated in the undermining of democratic institutions.  Canada had already sanctioned 70 other people linked to Maduro's government.   The sanctions include asset freezes and ban Canadians from any financial dealings with targeted individuals. Canada, the United States and about 50 other countries support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who says he is the interim president and that Maduro must resign. Maduro says he is the target of a coup plot by the U.S., which has also imposed oil and other sanctions on Venezuelan entities and individuals.
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US Agency Plans to Invest in Businesses That Empower African Women

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 19:00 - [CET]
A U.S. government agency says it plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in businesses that empower women in Africa. President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and the acting head of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), David Bohigian, announced the initiative Monday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they are part of a U.S. government delegation. A statement from OPIC says the “2X Africa” initiative aims to mobilize $1 billion and directly invest $350 million in companies and funds “owned by women, led by women," or by "providing a good or service that intentionally empowers women on the continent.” The statement said that on Sunday, Bohigian signed a “letter of interest” with an Ethiopian company called Muya to help support the company through OPIC financing. Muya, owned by fasion designer Sara Abera, produces household products and was the first Ethiopian company to obtain membership in the World Fair Trade Organization. Ivanka Trump visited Muya on Sunday after she arrived in Addis Ababa for a summit on African women's economic inclusion and empowerment. She is in the East African country to promote a $50 million initiative enacted by her father in February that is aimed at encouraging women's employment in developing countries. "Fundamentally, we believe that investing in women is a smart development policy and it is a smart business," Trump said after sampling coffee at a traditional Ethiopian ceremony. "It's also in our security interest, because women, when we're empowered, foster peace and stability." Trump also laid a wreath at an Ethiopian Orthodox church to honor the victims of last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed all 157 people on board. It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants. Ivanka Trump is also scheduled to meet with Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed before going on to Ivory Coast, where she will attend a meeting on economic opportunities for women in West Africa. She is also scheduled to make an appearance at a World Bank policy summit.      
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Warren Has New Plan for Fossil Fuel Leasing on Public Lands

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 18:33 - [CET]
Elizabeth Warren is vowing to prohibit new fossil fuel leasing on public lands if she’s elected president, one of several new energy proposals she rolled out on Monday before a campaign swing in two Western states. Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, already has launched more than a half-dozen new proposals since entering the Democratic primary , outpacing her many rivals in a calculated bid to lead 2020′s ideas race. Her latest addition to her policy agenda aims to reverse the significant climb in drilling on public lands under President Donald Trump while also fleshing out her approach to climate change, a key issue for her party’s liberal base. Besides an executive order barring new fossil fuel leases on public lands on shore and offshore, Warren said Monday that she would work toward boosting U.S. electricity generation from renewable sources offshore or on public lands. Her plan also includes free entry to national parks, the reinstatement of Obama-era environmental policies Trump rolled back and the creation of a service program to help maintain public lands. “Any serious effort to address climate change must include public lands — fossil fuel extraction in these areas is responsible for nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” Warren wrote in a Monday blog post announcing her proposals. Warren is set to discuss the public lands policies this week during campaign stops in South Carolina, Colorado and Utah. Her proposals, particularly the bid to end new fossil fuel leasing on public lands, are likely to draw plaudits from environmental groups while running afoul of the oil and gas industry, which has benefited from millions of acres of public land offered for lease since Trump took office. Advocacy groups had urged then-President Barack Obama to halt new leases on federal land without success. However, the Trump administration’s plans for new offshore drilling have sparked legal challenges of their own, including one affecting tests on the Atlantic coast that’s backed by the Republican attorney general of South Carolina. Warren’s bid for a dramatic increase in renewable electricity generation on public land and offshore is a major turnabout from current policy. She acknowledged in her blog post that her goal is “nearly ten times what we are currently generating” but billed it as achievable. Among Warren’s other policy rollouts this year are proposals to tax the nation’s wealthiest people and tax corporations with profits greater than $100 million , a universal child care plan and proposals designed to decrease consolidation in the tech industry and the agriculture industry.
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Row With US energy Trader Worsens Haiti's Fuel Crisis

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 15:36 - [CET]
A dispute between Haiti and a U.S. energy trading firm is leading to long blackouts and fuel shortages in the Caribbean nation, feeding anger at President Jovenel Moise’s government following the collapse of a supply deal with Venezuela last year. The capital Port-au-Prince’s fragile power grid was dealt a blow when Novum Energy Trading Corp suspended shipments in February, leaving residents without electricity for days and many gas stations with no fuel at the pumps. Novum says the government owes it $40 million in overdue payments for fuel. Haitian officials did not reply to requests for comment. The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, Haiti long relied on fuel shipments from nearby OPEC member Venezuela, which offered cheap financing to several Caribbean nations to buy its gasoline, diesel and other products through a program called Petrocaribe. But the scheme fell apart last year due to economic turmoil in Venezuela, forcing Haiti - a nation of 11 million people - to return to international markets. Novum, which has supplied Haiti with fuel for more than four years, stepped up its shipments as the Petrocaribe deal unravelled. Novum said it supplied 80 percent of Haiti’s gasoline and diesel needs last year. On Feb. 27, Novum anchored a vessel carrying 150,000 barrels of gasoline off Port-au-Prince until the payment dispute could be resolved. The cargo was equivalent to roughly half of Haiti’s monthly consumption of gasoline, according to industry experts. After more than a month waiting, Novum on April 4 said the situation was “untenable” and sent the vessel to Jamaica to take on provisions. Youri Chevry, mayor of Port-au-Prince, a sprawling city of more than 2.6 million people, said electricity and gasoline shortages had grown worse over the past month as Haiti waited for the shipment. “It’s a very bad situation ... It has a lot of repercussions,” he said. Chris Scott, Novum’s chief financial officer, said the vessel would not dock until the government could pay. He said Novum had taken such measures “fairly regularly” since mid-2018 as Haiti started to fall behind on payments after the Petrocaribe program collapsed. “They need to pay in order for us to be able to discharge,” Scott said. A government official, who asked not to be identified, said fuel distribution companies in Haiti had not paid the government for gasoline and diesel it purchased on their behalf from Novum. That in turn meant the government could not pay the U.S. company for the fuel. The official said other companies were still supplying Haiti with fuel. He did not provide details. The scarcity of fuel and growing economic problems has put basic necessities increasingly out of reach for many Haitians, despite a $229 million loan program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached last month. “I’m barely surviving,” said 40-year-old Amos, one of scores of hawkers selling black market gasoline on a busy street in the capital. On bad day, he earns little more than 50 cents. “It’s going to be difficult to see change in this country.” Protests Protesters have for months agitated to remove Moise, a former businessman who took office in February 2017. They blame him for inflation running at around 17 percent, the depreciation of the gourde currency, and for not investigating alleged misuse of Petrocaribe funds by public officials. Between Feb. 7 and Feb. 27, the protests claimed at least 26 lives and injured more than 77 people, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, though the situation has calmed since then. Moise has refused to step aside, saying in February he would not hand power to the leaders of violent protests. He pledged his government would take steps to address people’s grievances. Corruption is a perennial concern in Haiti. The nation ranked 166 from 183 countries in Transparency International’s global survey of perceptions of corruption last year - only Venezuela had a worse ranking in the Western Hemisphere. International pressure has grown for an investigation. In a March 20 letter, 104 member of the U.S. Congress asked President Donald Trump’s government to support investigations into Petrocaribe in Haiti, pointing to the alleged misuse of $2 billion in low-interest loans under the scheme. At the height of the Petrocaribe program, Venezuelan fuel covered nearly 70 percent of Haiti’s needs. Venezuela provided long-term financing for the oil on flexible terms, with a maximum 2 percent interest rate and a two-year grace period. Petrocaribe included a fund for infrastructure and social projects in member countries. By April 2018, Venezuela was no longer exporting fuel to Haiti, according to documents from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA seen by Reuters. After the program lapsed, Haitian energy companies lacked the hard U.S. currency to be able to buy fuel on international markets, said an executive at one firm, who asked not to be identified. Andre Michel, an opposition leader looking into the alleged corruption surrounding Petrocaribe, said it was difficult to estimate how much was stolen but the signs of misused of funds appeared compelling. “No serious projects have been completed: no hospitals, no campus for students, no roads, no housing projects,” he said. An oft-heard lament on the streets of Port-au-Prince is that while politicians pilfer billions, Haitians go hungry. Roads in the city are potholed and the vestiges of a deadly 2010 earthquake can still be seen at practically every corner. Destine Legagneur, a small business owner, whose shop is a stone’s throw from the presidential palace, said Haitians would be scarred by the Petrocaribe scheme for years to come. “That money is going to have to be paid to Venezuela one way or another,” he said. “If it’s not me, it’s my kids that are going to have to pay.”
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Trump: Boeing Should Fix, then Re-brand Max Jets

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 14:44 - [CET]
President Donald Trump is offering some unsolicited advice to Boeing, manufacturer of the troubled 737 Max jet. Trump tweeted Monday that if he were in charge of Boeing, he would "FIX" the plane, "add some additional great features, & REBRAND the plane with a new name." He adds: "No product has suffered like this one."   Trump — who brands his hotels, golf courses and buildings with the Trump name — tweeted sarcastically, "what the hell do I know about branding, maybe nothing (but I did become President!)."   Airlines and countries around the world have grounded the Boeing 737 Max or banned it from airspace after an Ethiopian Airlines crash last month. A crash involving the same model happened off Indonesia in October.   Trump once owned a short-lived airline: Trump Shuttle.    
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Ivanka Trump In Africa For Women's Economic Summit

Sun, 04/14/2019 - 12:47 - [CET]
Ivanka Trump arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Sunday for a summit on African women's economic inclusion and empowerment. In addition to attending the summit, the daughter of the U.S. president, who is also an advisor to her father, will meet with female workers in the coffee industry, and tour a female-run textile facility. President Donald Trump signed a National Security Presidential Memorandum in February, establishing the Women's Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative. W-GDP says it hopes to "reach 50 million women by 2025, through the work of the the United States Government and its partners." It was not immediately clear if the controversy that surrounds the U.S. president will follow his daughter to Africa. The president has not been kind in his remarks about Africa and its migrants. "I don't think people will have a good feeling" said Ethiopian journalist Sisay Woubshet, about the president's daughter visit to the Continent. Marakle Tesfaye, an activist, said, however, "I think she's coming genuinely to empower women and it's good that she's coming because she will push forward our agenda." Trump is also scheduled to an make an appearance at a World Bank policy summit.
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Why Cryptocurrency Is Gaining in Philippines Despite 2018 Bitcoin Crash

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 19:04 - [CET]
Cryptocurrency exchanges are growing in the Philippines, despite a downturn last year in the value of the virtual currencies, due to growing popular demand and lenience among regulators. Authorities in the developing Southeast Asian country have permitted at least 29 exchanges of cryptocurrency following three that the central bank said it approved this week, according to domestic media reports.  That count, which is high for Asia, follows a total of 10 exchanges permitted by the central bank. The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority in the archipelago's far north has issued 19 additional permits, the zone's website said in October.  These exchanges feed into the development of a fast-growing financial technology, or fintech, sector in the Philippines, said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist with Banco de Oro UniBank in Metro Manila. "Fintech appears to be very advanced in the Philippines," he said. Consumers, he said, "eventually look at the mobility of having it in mobile wallets, [which] gives them flexibility to use money." Uses for cryptocurrency Cryptocurrency, most notably its standard bearer Bitcoin, became an investment vehicle in much of the world about a decade ago. But a 70% drop in Bitcoin prices last year weakened enthusiasm for crypto overall.  ​Filipinos generally pick more traditional investments such as equities, Ravelas said, but young companies are eyeing cryptocurrency to raise capital, a process called initial coin offerings. Seven in 10 Filipinos have no bank account, he added, so virtual currency gives those consumers a new option for making payments. That population would be able to jump on a currency source that's open to anyone and transparent because of its online transaction ledger called the blockchain. Government support The central bank governor may see the cryptocurrency trade as part of his bigger plan to advance the country's electronic payment systems, analysts say. Cryptocurrency "probably goes toward those efforts at facilitating electronic payments. I think that's the key point," said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody's Sovereign Risk Group in Singapore. The 2016 National Payment Systems Act, among others, "bolsters the central bank's capacity to foster the efficiency of payment systems as pipelines of funds in the financial market," the authority's governor Benjamin Diokno said in a speech last month. The central bank and Securities and Exchange Commission are "working towards regulating cryptocurrencies to protect the Filipino people," domestic Bitcoin and blockchain news website Bitpinas said in November. "This is a positive step towards adoption as this move will give users security and confidence in dealing with it." Said de Guzman: "A certain segment of the population is certainly very technically sophisticated."  First mover advantage? The Philippines, though later than much of East Asia in picking up cryptocurrency, would eventually stand out if regulators embrace rather than restrict it. China and South Korea have placed curbs on certain types of crypto trade. Both banned initial coin offerings in 2017, and China ordered the closure of cryptocurrency exchanges as part of that move. South Korea has at least 21 exchanges. ​Japan is widely seen as Asia's most liberal place for cryptocurrency. That country, which has let 17 exchanges fully register, overtook China in 2017 as the biggest Bitcoin market in the world with 58 percent of the global volume. Japan declared Bitcoin legal tender in 2017. The Philippines in its current groove should take a "first mover advantage," said Kenneth Ameduri, financial analyst and CEO of the crypto-specialized news website Crush the Street in the United States. "I think the Philippines understand that it's going to be a very big deal to be involved with cryptocurrency, because it's going to happen no matter what, and if they're the ones to treat this capital best, the capital is going to flow there and the other jurisdictions are just going to completely miss out," Ameduri said. The Philippines might eventually look harder at the role of cryptocurrency in falsifying tax payments and paying for illegal drugs, de Guzman said. Taxation and drugs are already sticky issues without crypto. Exchanges contacted for this report declined comment.
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Malaysia Pulls About-Face Ahead of China's Belt and Road Forum

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 17:47 - [CET]
In a twist, China has announced that it has persuaded Malaysia to resume a canceled rail project worth $10.7 billion. The sudden about-face by Kuala Lumpur, which had earlier rejected the Chinese-funded project, will be a big boost for China ahead of a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing later this month, say analysts. China is hosting its second annual Belt and Road Forum from April 25 to 27 in Beijing. The event is likely to include the heads of state and governments of 40 different countries and officials from 60 others as Beijing tries to win more support for the trillion-dollar infrastructure and investment plan known as the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. In recent months, the initiative has faced tough challenges as Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia canceled or reduced the size of previously negotiated deals. Although Malaysia is back on board, it has forced China to accept a 30 percent reduction in the price of the project. The reworked deal with Malaysia highlights how China is trying to face up to widespread criticism about the financing costs of its projects and concerns expressed by experts and government leaders around the world that the projects are nothing but diplomacy debt traps. “I think China is trying to make changes. But it is trying to do too much too quickly and with too much skepticism facing it. No wonder it's having a torrid time,” said Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King's College London. Analysts said it is likely that the forum will be mostly about optics, but some real deals could be finalized. Given the heavy criticism about the projects, there will be high expectations from participants, which Beijing has said will include 40 heads of states and governments.   "They will presumably want something more than mere protocol. Even the promise of deals is better than none at all,” Brown said. Analysts add that, despite the criticism of the plan, which has been loud at times, the BRI has been able to attract dozens of foreign governments and has been backed by institutions like the World Bank because it is offering to build much-needed infrastructure and help foot the cost. “The reason so many countries are interested in BRI is because China is offering something no one else is and there is genuine demand for what BRI represents,” said Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. Still, it has not been easy for Chinese leaders to wade through the skepticism and sometimes strong opposition to the program from the United States' and China’s neighbor, India. Critics see BRI as China’s attempt to impose financial imperialism on economically weak but strategically located countries. Many have also raised questions because of the lack of transparency surrounding the projects. Recently however, there have been signs China is modifying the program to suit the needs of its customers, particularly those like Malaysia and Italy, which are not as desperately in need of Beijing’s financial largesse and deep pockets. Italy recently joined the BRI bandwagon after visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping provided the kind of assurances Rome sought. “Chinese regulators realize they need to be pragmatic if these projects are to be successful, especially where there is local pushback on political and societal levels,” said Andrew Polk, partner at Beijing-based consultancy firm Trivium China. There are still serious questions about the kind of changes that Beijing is ready to make. Some analysts believe that China might offer better financial terms and stop its practice of flooding foreign projects with Chinese workers; however, they say Beijing is unlikely to make changes in crucial areas like the transparency of deals and Chinese companies involved in overseas projects. “Beijing could make the terms of deals public, which would be a major signal of change, but no indications of that happening soon,” said Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Greater transparency would constrain Beijing’s ability to funnel cash through BRI projects to its friends in high places,” he said. There have been problems even in places where Chinese projects have proven to be successful in terms of implementation. For instance, Chinese companies have ensured the commercial success of the Greek port city of Piraeus. “But its political impact is mixed. Greeks might welcome Chinese investment, but they don’t want China’s environmental or labor practices,” Hillman said. The U.S. recently described BRI as a “vanity project” and announced it would not send a high-level delegation to the forum. Analysts are wondering if the U.S. will stay away from the meeting altogether. “The U.S. has made its position clear. It opposes the BRI. Attendance under the current circumstances with the trade war unresolved would be odd,” Brown said. Haenle said he believes the U.S. should engage with the BRI along with its friends and partners. “The U.S. is right to point out the flaws in the Belt and Road Initiative, but if it wishes to see them corrected, it must also put forward its own alternatives and refrain from knee-jerk reactions,” he said.
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Blackouts Threaten Death Blow to Venezuela's Industrial Survivors

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 16:22 - [CET]
The latest power outage started another tough week for factory owner Antonello Lorusso in the city of Valencia, once Venezuela's industrial powerhouse. For the past month, unprecedented nationwide blackouts paralyzed the factory and the rest of the country, cutting off power, water and cell service to millions of Venezuelans. Lorusso's packaging plant, Distribuidora Marina, had already struggled through years of hyperinflation, vanishing client orders, and a flight of employees. Now the situation was worse. For the whole month of March, Lorusso said, his company produced only its single daily capacity: 100 tonnes of packaged sugar and grains. When Reuters visited on April 8, he was using a generator to keep one of his dozen packaging machines working to fulfill the single order he had received. Power had been on for a few hours, but was too weak to run the machines. "There is no information, we don't know if the blackouts will continue or not," said Lorusso, who has owned the factory for over 30 years. He said the plant had just a day's worth of power over the previous week. Power has been intermittent since early March, when the first major blackout plunged Venezuela into a week of darkness. Electricity experts and the opposition have called the government incompetent at maintaining the national grid. President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition and the U.S. government of sabotage. Venezuela's industry has collapsed during six years of recession that have halved the size of the economy. What is left is largely outside of the capital Caracas, the only big city that Maduro's government has excluded from a power rationing plan intended to restrict the load on the system. In Valencia, a few multinational companies like Nestle and Ford Motor Co cling on. But the number of companies based there has fallen to a tenth of the 5,000 there were two decades ago, when Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez became president, according to the regional business association. 'The game is over' The government said on April 4 that the power rationing plan meant Valencia would spend at most 3 hours a day without electricity, but a dozen executives and workers there said outages were still lasting over 10 hours. Generators are costly and can only power a fraction of a business's operations, they said. Many factories have shut down. "The game is over. Companies are entering a state of despair due to their inviability," said an executive of a food company with factories in Valencia, speaking on condition of anonymity. Industrial companies this year are operating below 25 percent of capacity, according to industry group Conindustria. It estimated companies lost about $220 million during the days in March without power, and would lose $100 million more in April. Nestle's factory, which produces baby food, halted during the first blackout in early March and operations again froze two weeks later, with employees sent home until May, according to Rafael Garcia, a union leader at the plant. He blamed the most recent stoppage on very low sales of baby food which cost almost a dollar per package, or about what a person on minimum wage earns in a week. "My greatest worry is the closure of the factory," said Garcia, as he sat at a bus stop on Valencia's Henry Ford avenue, in the city's industrial outskirts where warehouses sit empty and streets are covered in weeds. Nestle did not respond to emails seeking comment. Ford's plant along the avenue was working at a bare minimum for several months, union leaders said. In December, the carmaker began offering buyouts to staff after it received no orders for 2019, they said. Ford, in December, said it had "no plans to leave the country." The outages have idled more than just factories. In the countryside, lack of power has prevented farmers from pumping water to irrigate fields. Since January, farmers have sown 17,500 hectares of crops, a third of the area seeded last year, and they fear losing the harvest due to the lack of water, according to agricultural associations. In the central state of Cojedes, several rice growers have already lost their crops, farmers said. "In the rural areas, the blackouts last longer," said Jose Luis Perez, spokesman for a rice producers federation. Producers of cheese, beef, cured meats and lettuce told Reuters orders had dropped by half in March as buyers worried the food would perish once their freezers lost power in the next blackout. Back in Valencia, Lorusso was preparing his factory for the new era of scarce power. He has converted one unused truck in his parking lot into a water tank. He plans to sell another to buy a second generator. "We've spent years getting used to things. Then we were dealt this hard blow, and now we're trying to find ways to cope," he said.
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US-China Trade War Prompts Some US Farmers to Switch Crops

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 14:00 - [CET]
Although the skies are gray and the fields are bare, even before the first seed is planted in the fertile soil later this spring, farmer Evan Hultine knows corn is king this year. In fact, corn is the only crop you’ll see in his fields. “No beans this year for us,” Hultine told VOA while working on his planter. “After about three months of the trade war, it was pretty clear that the president had long-terms goals in mind and at the time, my dad and I had talked, and we were way more comfortable with our ability to produce high-yield corn,” he said. Corn and soybeans typically bring in the largest amount of profit for U.S. farmers each year. While many rotate planting the crops season to season as a way to improve the soil, the ongoing U.S. trade dispute with China is affecting routine decisions for farmers as they prepare to head to the fields for spring planting. “It’s definitely influencing the way we do things on the farm,” Hultine said. ​Tumultuous year His decision to avoid soybeans altogether comes after a tumultuous year for the crop’s prices, affected mostly by the trade dispute and resulting tariffs China imposed on the commodity in retaliation to U.S. tariffs on imported Chinese steel and aluminum. “We lost anywhere from about $1.50 to $2 a bushel, depending on the day,” he explained. Fortunately, Hultine was able to sell about 60% of his soybean crop before prices plunged, but the rest had to be sold for far less. Hultine said the financial assistance from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Market Facilitation Program helped reduce those losses somewhat, but he doesn’t expect the program to continue this year. ​Uncertainty persists Now, as trade talks between the U.S. and China continue without an agreement, so does the uncertainty. “You are watching the futures market price for soybeans fluctuate based on the latest news of whether or not we’re making progress,” said Michael Doherty, a senior economist and policy analyst with the Illinois Farm Bureau. “Is it real that we are going to get back to a normal trading relationship with the Chinese? “Businesses do not like uncertainty. You are trying to plan for the future. Farmers can do some things to mitigate a situation in which the market is not what it used to be and the market has changed … but they need to know what that change is,” Doherty said. “The sooner we get to a point of certainty about what we are dealing with and how long it’s going to last, the sooner businesses such as farmers can make concrete adjustments.” A record amount of soybeans still waiting to be sold is making it even more difficult for farmers, he said. “We have more beans in storage right now than we ever had in the history of the United States. We are sitting on a mountain of soybeans,” Doherty explained. “How long is it going to take us to unwind that? We have well over a billion bushels (more than 27 million metric tons) of soybeans in the United States and we are selling it far less rapidly and in smaller volumes than we normally would at this point of the year, and so that’s weighing the market simply to just have the gigantic inventory of soybeans.” Even though Hultine managed to market most of his soybeans, some of his grain bins are still full of last year’s corn. Skipping soybeans He admits the decision to skip the beans isn’t an easy one. “It takes so much more capital to raise an acre (a bit less than half a hectare) of corn than it does an acre of beans, so we had to borrow more money, and interest rates are rising, which makes borrowing even more of a challenge and an issue, and you know input prices to produce are fluctuating with oil prices,” he added. Increased costs to raise crops for farmers means a potential decrease in overall profits. Hultine said it’s “definitely tight. Margins are pretty thin.” While the USDA forecasts a modest increase in overall farm incomes this year, Doherty, the Illinois Farm Bureau economist, isn’t as optimistic. “I would expect that we will have one of the worst farm income years we’ve had out of the last five or six years is what we’re looking at in 2019,” he said. Hultine is hoping that everything else he can’t control, such as the weather, works in his favor so his decision to only plant corn isn’t one he’ll regret. “We’ll see. Time will tell,” he adds.
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Some US Farmers Ditch Soybeans Amid Trade War with China

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 13:45 - [CET]
Corn and soybeans are the most profitable crops for American farmers each year. While many rotate these two crops season to season, the ongoing trade dispute with China is affecting even routine decisions for farmers as they head to the fields this spring to plant. VOA's Kane Farabaugh has more from the Midwest state of Illinois.
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Venezuela Leadership Issue Still Blocking IMF, World Bank Aid

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 03:50 - [CET]
International Monetary Fund and World Bank shareholders are still undecided on whether to recognize Venezuelan opposition chief Juan Guaido as the country's leader, the institutions said on Thursday. The heads of the IMF and World Bank both said they are preparing to move quickly to help ease Venezuela's worsening humanitarian crisis, but the leadership question is standing in the way. "It is for our members to indicate which authority they are recognizing diplomatically so we can then follow through," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a press conference at the start of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington. "It is in progress as we speak, from quite a few members. As soon as that happens, we will follow up." More than 50 countries, including the United States and Venezuela's largest neighbors, have recognized Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, as the South American nation's leader. Russia and others dismiss that claim and recognize Nicolas Maduro, long-time president and heir to the late Hugo Chavez, as the legitimate head of state.  A simple majority of member votes could decide who the official delegate from a country to the IMF is and a call for such a vote would have to come from the IMF's leadership. So far, there have been no announcements in that regard. Based on the countries which have publicly supported Guaido or Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, and their voting weighting inside the World Bank and the IMF, Guaido's representative could get more than half the votes according to a Reuters tally. Public support from a government for Guaido does no necessarily mean that country would vote for his representative at the IMF, and even a slight majority would not necessarily move the traditionally consensus-driven bank to act. The United States has by far the highest percentage of voting power both at the World Bank and the IMF for any single member, with nearly 16% of the vote at both institutions. The Inter-American Development Bank last month recognized Guaido appointee Ricardo Hausmann as Venezuela's representative. 'Deep concern' David Malpass, who started as the World Bank's new head on Tuesday, told a press conference that Venezuela is "something of deep concern" to the World Bank. "The World Bank will be deeply involved and we are preparing for that, but the situation is still troublesome on the ground," Malpass said. Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis marked by widespread food and medicine shortages and crippling inflation. An estimated 3 million Venezuelans have left the oil-rich OPEC country since 2015. The United States is trying to isolate Maduro's government on various fronts, including through the use of strict economic sanctions that have squeezed Venezuela's finances. On Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on the United Nations to revoke the U.N. credentials of Maduro’s government and recognize Guaido as Venezuela's leader.
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Walmart Responds to Bezos with Tweet Asking Amazon to Pay Taxes

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 03:20 - [CET]
Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos on Thursday challenged retailers to hike their minimum wages to $16 an hour, prompting a comeback from Walmart Inc which asked its rivals to pay taxes. "Today I challenge our top retail competitors (you know who you are!) to match our employee benefits and our $15 minimum wage," the billionaire entrepreneur said in a letter to shareholders. "Do it! Better yet, go to $16 and throw the gauntlet back at us." The online retailer raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour for U.S. employees from November, giving in to critics of poor pay and working conditions at the company. Some critics have said the hike was insufficient and note that Amazon paid zero U.S. federal income tax on more than $11 billion in profits before taxes in 2018, and received a $129 million tax rebate from the federal government. Walmart's executive vice president of corporate affairs, Dan Bartlett, responded to Bezos by tweeting, "Hey retail competitors out there (you know who you are) how about paying your taxes?" Walmart, which has raised its minimum wage twice since 2015, pays an entry wage of $11 per hour. CEO Doug McMillon has said Walmart's average U.S. hourly wage is $17.50 including bonuses based on store performance, and excluding health care benefits. The two retailers, which are fierce rivals, rarely go after one another other publicly. Amazon's wage hike came as U.S. unemployment was at a near two-decade low, with retailers and shippers competing for hundreds of thousands of workers for the all-important holiday shopping season. Bezos said in his letter that the wage hike has benefited more than 250,000 Amazon employees and over 100,000 seasonal employees who worked during the last holiday season at Amazon sites in the United States. Amazon's third-party sales in 2018 accounted for 58 percent of total sales, up from 56 percent in 2017, Bezos said. Amazon has said that it pays all the required taxes in every country where it operates, including $2.6 billion in corporate tax and reporting $3.4 billion in tax expense over the last three years. "Corporate tax is based on profits, not revenues, and our profits remain modest given retail is a highly competitive, low-margin business," according to recent Amazon statements.  
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Disney Announces Price , Date of New Streaming Service

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 03:04 - [CET]
Walt Disney Co on Thursday said its new family-friendly streaming service will cost $7 monthly or $70 annually with a slate of exclusive TV shows and movies from some of the world's most popular entertainment franchises in a bid to challenge the digital dominance of Netflix. The ad-free monthly subscription called Disney+ is set to launch on Nov. 12 and in every major global market over time, the company said. In addition to Disney films and TV shows, it will feature programming from the Marvel superhero universe, the "Star Wars" galaxy, "Toy Story" creator Pixar animation and the National Geographic channel. The company said it has struck deals with Roku Inc and Sony Corp to distribute Disney+ on streaming devices and console gaming systems and expects it to be widely available on smart televisions, tablets, and other outlets by launch. Disney kicked off its presentation to Wall Street analysts at its Burbank, California, headquarters on Thursday with a video that demonstrated the breadth of its portfolio, showing clips from dozens of classic TV shows and movies from "Frozen" and "The Lion King" to "Avatar" and "The Sound of Music." Executives said they see opportunities to take its ESPN+ sport streaming video service to Latin America and are looking into international expansion of its Hulu streaming video business, which offers movies and shows targeted to adults. The entertainment giant is trying to transform itself from a cable television powerhouse into a leader of streaming media. Chief Executive Bob Iger in February called streaming the company's "No. 1 priority." Wall Street has pinned high hopes on the new service, which analysts expect would cost about $7.50 monthly and lure about 7.2 million U.S. subscribers in 2020 and 13.66 million by 2021, according to a poll of analysts conducted by Reuters. The digital push is Disney's response to cord-cutting, the dropping of cable service that has hit its ESPN sports network and other channels, and the rise of Netflix Inc. The Silicon Valley upstart has amassed 139 million customers worldwide since it began streaming 12 years ago. The Mouse House, as Disney is known, will join the market at a time when audiences are facing a host of choices, and monthly bills, for digital entertainment. Apple Inc, AT&T Inc's WarnerMedia and others plan new streaming services. To bolster its potential digital portfolio, Disney recently purchased film and TV assets from Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox and gained prized properties such as "Avatar." In a January regulatory filing, Disney reported losses of more than $1 billion for streaming-related investments in Hulu and technology company BAMtech. Disney had been supplying new movies such as "Black Panther" and "Beauty and the Beast" to Netflix after their runs in theaters but ended that arrangement this year to feed its own streaming ambitions. The company estimated it is foregoing $150 million in licensing revenue this fiscal year by saving programming for its own platforms. The Disney+ programming will draw in part from Disney's deep library of classic family films. It also will include exclusive original content such as a live-action "Star Wars" series called "The Mandalorian," a show focused on Marvel movie villain Loki, and animated "Monsters at Work," inspired by hit Pixar movie "Monsters Inc." Some new Disney movies, such as a "Lady and the Tramp" remake, will go directly to the Disney+ app. Other new releases will appear on Disney+ after their run in theaters and after the cycle out of the home video sales window, executives have said.
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Uber Reports 91 Million Users but Slowing Growth

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 01:25 - [CET]
Uber Technologies Inc. has 91 million users, but growth is slowing and it may never make a profit, the ride-hailing company said Thursday in its initial public offering filing.  The document gave the first comprehensive financial picture of the company, which was started in 2009 after its founders struggled to get a cab on a snowy night.  The filing underscores the rapid growth of Uber's business in the last three years but also how a string of public scandals and increased competition from rivals have weighed on its plans to attract and retain riders.  $3B loss from operations The disclosure also highlighted how far Uber remains from turning a profit, with the company cautioning it expects operating expenses to "increase significantly in the foreseeable future" and it "may not achieve profitability." Uber lost $3.03 billion in 2018 from operations, excluding one-off gains.  The S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revealed Uber had 91 million average monthly active users on its platforms, which include ride-hailing and Uber Eats, at the end of 2018. This was up 33.8 percent from 2017, but growth slowed from 51 percent a year earlier.  Uber in 2018 had revenue of $11.3 billion, up around 42 percent over 2017, again below the 106 percent growth in the prior year.  Uber set a placeholder amount of $1 billion but did not specify the size of the IPO. Reuters reported this week that Uber plans to sell around $10 billion worth of stock at a valuation of between $90 billion and $100 billion. Investment bankers had previously told Uber it could be worth as much as $120 billion.  Uber will follow Lyft Inc. in going public. Shares in its smaller rival closed at $61.01 on Thursday, 15 percent below its IPO price set late last month, a development that has sent chilling signals to other tech startups looking to go public.  Adverse events After making the public filing, Uber will begin a series of investor presentations, called a road show, which Reuters has reported will start the week of April 29. The company is on track to price its IPO and begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange in early May. Uber faces questions about how it will navigate any transition toward self-driving vehicles, a technology seen as potentially dramatically lowering costs but also as possibly disrupting its business model. One advantage Uber will likely seek to play up to investors is that it is the largest player in many of the markets in which it operates. Analysts consider building scale crucial for Uber's business model to become profitable. In addition to answering questions about the company's finances, Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi will be tasked with convincing investors that he has successfully changed the culture and business practices after a series of embarrassing scandals over the last two years. Those have included sexual harassment allegations, a massive data breach that was concealed from regulators, use of illicit software to evade authorities and allegations of bribery overseas. Khosrowshahi joined Uber in 2017 from Expedia Inc. to replace company co-founder Travis Kalanick, who was ousted as CEO.  Uber said in its filing its ridesharing position in the United States and Canada was "significantly impacted by adverse publicity events" and that its position in many markets has been threatened by discounts from other ride-hailing companies.  A #DeleteUber campaign surged on social media in 2017 after a public relations crisis, which Uber said in its filing meant hundreds of thousands of consumers stopped using its platform within days. 
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Ecuador's Hunter-gatherers in Court Over Oil Drilling in Amazon 

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 00:10 - [CET]
Hunter-gatherers in the Amazon sought in court on Thursday to stop Ecuador's government from auctioning their land to oil companies, as tension mounts over the future of the rainforest.  In a lawsuit seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation — which could set a precedent for other tribes opposed to drilling — the Waorani said the government did not properly consult them in 2012 over plans to auction their land to oil companies.  "We live on these lands and we want to continue to live there in harmony. We will defend them. Our fight is that our rights are respected," said Nemonte Nenquimo, a leader of the 2,000-strong Waorani.  "Our fight is not just a fight about oil. This is a fight about different ways of living — one that protects life and one that destroys life," said Nenquimo, from Pastaza province in the eastern Amazon.  Ecuador's energy and environment ministries, the respondents in the case, and the nation's hydrocarbons secretary were not immediately available to comment.  When President Lenin Moreno met Waorani leaders last year to hear their concerns, he said it was important to have a dialog and reach a consenus.  Tensions have simmered between indigenous communities and oil companies in Ecuador since Texaco — now Chevron — began operations in the Amazon in the 1960s.     ​Key step Ecuador is pushing to open up more rainforest and develop its oil and gas reserves in the hope of improving its sluggish economy and cutting its high fiscal deficit and foreign debt.  The constitution gives the government the right to develop energy projects and extract minerals on any land, regardless of who owns it, but requires that communities are consulted first and are properly informed about any projects and their impact.  Laws to regulate the consultation process have yet to be introduced, although the court case could push the government to do this, said Brian Parker, a lawyer with campaign group Amazon Frontlines, which is supporting the Waorani.  "The lawsuit is to ensure that the processes enshrined in the constitution are carried through to guarantee the Waorani rights to prior consultation and their rights to territory," said Parker, who is based in Ecuador.  "The fact that the Waoroni have a chance in court to be able to plead their case is in itself a very important step," he said, adding that a court victory would provide an "invaluable precedent" for other indigenous Amazonian tribes.  The government announced last year that it had divided swaths of forest up into blocs for auction, one of which — bloc 22 — covers the Waorani's ancestral lands, raising the specter of pollution and an end to their way of life.  ​Present for hearing Hundreds of Waorani and other indigenous peoples arrived in Ecuador's eastern city of Puyo to witness the court hearing, which is expected to include several days of oral testimony from Waorani leaders, with a decision in the next few weeks.  Ecuadorians voted last year to give broad backing to limits on oil production and mining in environmentally sensitive areas, among other issues.  In two landmark cases in 2018, local courts sided with indigenous communities who said the government had failed to inform them before designating their land for mineral exploitation.  The Costa Rica based Inter-American Court of Human Rights also ruled in 2012 that Ecuador had violated its Sarayaku Amazonian community's right to prior consultation before drillers started exploration on their lands in the late 1990s. 
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Lack of Higher Education Hinders Unemployed US Youth

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 20:03 - [CET]
One group in the United States who is not enjoying the low national unemployment rate is 18- to 24-year-old young adults who lack higher education, according to a new report. For them, the unemployment rate is 17 percent, according to recent research by the Brookings Institution. By comparison, the unemployment rate for the general population was 3.8 percent in March. “In theory, the path to employment providing financial security in adulthood is simple: finish high school, enroll in and complete college or training that is affordable and a good fit, gain some work experience along the way, and launch a career,” wrote Brookings’ Martha Ross and Natalie Holmes in their report. “Meet the millions of young adults who are out of work.” The report characterized the younger unemployed as bilingual Karina, 19, who graduated high school recently and is considering continuing her studies; single-mom Monica, 23; Juan, 20, who attends community college and has worked seasonal jobs; 19-year-old Stephanie who left state university after a year because of financial concerns; Matt, 24, who has an associate's degree but who lost his job at a car dealership when the business closed; and Amy, 22, who has a bachelor's and volunteers as a tutor. Ross and Holmes described the young unemployed in relation to education: 18 to 21 year olds with a high school diploma or less (37% of total out of work youth) 22 to 24 year olds with a high school diploma or less (25%) 18 to 21 year olds with at least some education beyond high school (17%) 22 to 24 year olds with at least some education beyond high school (15%) 22 to 24 year olds with bachelor’s degrees (6%)   In the first group, three-quarters live with their parents or grandparents “in modest circumstances,” sharing a median family income of $40,000. “They have limited connection to the work world, as only 30 percent worked in the past year, and less than half (45 percent) are looking for work. Relatively small shares are in school (8 percent) or have children (11 percent).” Nearly 40 percent live below the poverty line. Seventy percent had a high school diploma. The second group “are the least likely of all the groups to live with their parents (57 percent), and the most likely to have children (24 percent).” Their median family income of $36,000, the lowest among the groups, put 43 percent of them below the poverty line. One-third worked in the past year, less than half were looking for work, and only 2 percent were enrolled. Sixty-six percent had a high school diploma. In the third group, more than 90 percent have some college but no degree. (Of these unemployed, 8 percent have an associate or bachelor’s degree.) Fifty-one percent are in school, and 72 percent seek work. Nearly half (43 percent) worked in the past year. Three out of four live with parents or grandparents with low to moderate incomes, almost 30 percent live below the poverty line with a median family income of $54,000. Ninety-two percent had some college. In the fourth group, about one in four earned an associate or bachelor’s degree, but two-thirds of them live with parents or grandparents in a household with a median family income of $52,000. They are the second most likely of the groups to be in school (27 percent), to have children (16 percent), to be seeking work (62 percent), and to have worked in the past year (44 percent). One in three live below the poverty line. Seventy-nine percent had some college, 14 percent had an associate degree, and 8 percent had a bachelor’s degree. Among the fifth and last group, nearly half (47 percent) worked in the past year, and 58 percent are looking for work. Two-thirds live with their parents who have a median family income of $92,000, considerably higher than other groups. Only one in four lives below the poverty line, however, which could reflect that they are early in their career, when earnings are typically lower, or perhaps a deeper level of disadvantage. All in that group had attained a bachelor's degree. English ability among all groups was not a persistent problem, Brookings reported, with 9 percent of the 2.3 million young people out of work reporting limited English skills. Hispanics dominated the groups of lower education out of work. Whites dominated the higher education out of work groups. The gender split was not wide in any group.   “This path does not appear to work equally well for all, particularly in light of the effects of the Great Recession and the declining rates of employment among teens and young adults since about 2000,” the authors wrote.    
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Sources: OPEC Could Raise Oil Output if Prices Increase, Shortages Mount

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 18:16 - [CET]
OPEC could raise oil output from July if Venezuelan and Iranian supply drops further and prices keep rallying, because extending production cuts with Russia and other allies could overtighten the market, sources familiar with the matter said. Venezuelan crude production has dropped below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) because of U.S. sanctions. Iranian supply could fall further after May if, as many expect, Washington tightens its sanctions against Tehran. The combined supply cuts have helped to drive a 32 percent rally in crude prices this year to nearly $72 a barrel, prompting pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump for OPEC to ease its market-supporting efforts. OPEC has been saying the curbs must remain, but that stance is now softening. "If there was a big drop in supply and oil went up to $85, that's something we don't want to see, so we may have to increase output," one OPEC source said. The market outlook remains unclear and much depends on how far Washington tightens the screw on Iran and Venezuela before OPEC's June meeting, the source added. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers, an alliance known as OPEC+, are reducing output by 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1 for six months. They meet on June 25-26 to decide whether to extend the pact. A Russian official indicated this week that Moscow wanted to pump more, in comments that a Russian energy source said were aimed at preparing the market for the end of output curbs. However, President Vladimir Putin seemingly softened that stance. A second OPEC source said producers "might" pump more if output dropped further from Iran and Venezuela and oil went above $80 by June. If this happened, any increase would be smaller than 1.2 million bpd, the source said. A third OPEC source raised the prospect of amending the deal in June while still extending the pact, citing declines in Iranian and Venezuelan production plus volatility in Libyan supply. "I expect an extension for a further period, but maybe there will be some adjustment," this source said. In 2018 OPEC+ decided to increase output at its mid-year meeting, only to return to production cuts in 2019. Output drops Output declines in OPEC because of the supply pact, plus the sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, have exceeded expectations. Venezuela pumped 960,000 bpd in March, down almost 500,000 bpd from February, OPEC said in a report on Wednesday. The report pointed to a slightly under-supplied market in 2019 if OPEC kept pumping at March's level. The International Energy Agency on Thursday reported an even lower figure for Venezuela's March output and said the country's production is likely to fall further this month. Adding to the impact of the involuntary declines, top exporter Saudi Arabia has cut production by more than it agreed under the global pact. A fourth OPEC source said there were talks about ideas such as whether OPEC should continue with the cuts alone, a deal extension of only three months to keep Russia on board or pumping more if prices rise further. "An increase is on the table, yes, if prices went to $80 and higher," this OPEC source said. "It all depends on where prices are by the end of May and June." Saudi Arabia can add more oil to the market without adjusting production quotas since the kingdom's output in March was some 500,000 bpd below its OPEC target, the source added. Russia is also ready to boost supplies. "Russia has started talks about an oil production rise as it can hardly follow the OPEC+ deal," said another Russian energy source. "The companies are struggling to curb production."
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Global Wine Output Recovered in 2018 From 60-Year Low

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 17:11 - [CET]
Global wine output rose to near-record highs in 2018 after a sharp rebound from a poor harvest the previous year, though consumption stopped growing, the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) said on Thursday. After a 60-year low in 2017, when production was dented by extreme weather in Europe, including drought and storms, world output rose 17 percent last year to 292.3 million hectoliters (mhl), the OIV said. The growth was driven by steep rises in Italy, France and Spain — three of the world's major producers — which all recorded output at least 13 percent above their five-year averages. The figures confirmed an initial trend projected by the Paris-based OIV in October last year. A hectoliter amounts to 100 liters, or the equivalent of 133 standard wine bottles. Wine output, excluding juice and new wine, also jumped in the Southern hemisphere last year, with rises of 22.8 pct in Argentina to 14.5 mhl and 35.9 pct in Chile to 12.9 mhl. OIV estimated that worldwide consumption was stable in 2018 at 246 mhl, compared with 246.7 mhl in 2017. The slight drop could be linked to the decline in production the previous year, it said, adding that consumption estimates were tentative due to limited data. Mainland China recorded the largest fall in consumption among the world's top 20 largest wine consumers, with a 6.6 percent decline on year to 18 mhl, according to OIV, without detailing the reasons for the fall. In Britain, consumption fell 3.1 percent to 12.3 mhl. French exporters estimate that wine and spirit exports to China tumbled 14.4 percent in 2018 after growth of 24.5 percent a year earlier. In contrast, Russian demand jumped 6.9 percent last year to 11.9 mhl. The global wine trade rose sightly in volume to 108 mhl as a rise in volumes exported from the southern hemisphere helped compensate for smaller shipments from historical European leaders, OIV said. On the other hand, nearly all European exporters saw better exports in value in 2018 as opposed to their southern hemisphere counterparts and the United States. Overall global exports rose 1.2 percent in value last year to 31.3 billion euros ($35.25 billion), the OIV said. France was still the main exporter in value, with wine shipments totaling 9.3 billion euros in 2018, up 2.8 percent on the previous year, OIV said.
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Judge Threatens to Stop Carnival Ships From Docking in US

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 15:51 - [CET]
A federal judge has threatened to temporarily block Carnival Corp. from docking cruise ships at ports in the United States as punishment for a possible probation violation. The Miami Herald reports U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said Wednesday that she'll make a decision in June, and she wants company chairman Micky Arison and president Donald Arnold to attend that hearing.   "The people at the top are treating this as a gnat," Seitz said. "If I could, I would give all the members of the executive committee a visit to the detention center for a couple of days. It's amazing how that helps people come to focus on reality."   Miami-based Carnival has been on probation for two years as part of a $40 million settlement for illegally dumping oil into the ocean from its Princess Cruises ships and lying about the scheme, according to court filings.   Despite this, prosecutors say ships have dumped grey water into Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park, prepared ships in advance of court-ordered audits to avoid unfavorable findings, falsified records and dumped plastic garbage into the ocean. The company has acknowledged these incidents in court filings.   In a statement after the hearing, Carnival said "It appears there were some mischaracterizations made by others to the court. We intend to fully address the issues raised at today's court conference."   Carnival's Chief Communications Officer Roger Frizzell said "our environmental responsibility has been and continues to be a top priority for the company."   The five-year probation began in April 2017 and requires a third-party auditor to inspect ships belonging to Carnival and its subsidiaries. Carnival owns nine cruise brands and has 102 ships.   The court filings say that during 2017 Carnival had a program in place to prepare ships in advance of the audits to avoid negative findings. Seitz ordered the company to stop in December 2017, and it stopped. But federal prosecutors said the practice continued in 2018.   Prosecutors said internal emails shared among Carnival's subsidiaries discussed the practice. An email from Carnival's German-based cruise line AIDA Cruises said, "It would be really important to go onboard on August 12 for one week in order to have time to manage issues before the audits and avoid findings."   They said a similar email from Carnival's Seattle-based Holland America Line mentioned "prevent audit findings" as a goal in early 2018.   The court filings said the monitor found that Carnival and its subsidiaries repeatedly falsified records, as recently as September 2018, when an engineer on Holland America's Westerdam ship falsified maintenance records to make it appear he had cleaned and tested equipment when he had not. The same ship, according to court filings, dumped 26,000 gallons of grey water into Glacier Bay National Park in September 2018.   Monitors also found that the Carnival Elation ship dumped plastic garbage overboard during an audit in December. The plastic wasn't being separated from food, court filings said.   The judge on Wednesday mentioned a 45-minute presentation she received as a guest onboard Carnival Corp.'s ultra-luxury cruise line Seabourn about how plastic straws are damaging the marine environment.   "I was thinking to myself, 'I'm impressed,'" she said, "Obviously they talk the talk, but they aren't walking the walk."    
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2020 Candidate Warren Proposes New Tax on Corporate Profits

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 15:42 - [CET]
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is proposing a new tax on corporate profits that's designed to prevent business giants from taking advantage of the existing tax code to effectively pay a zero rate. The 7 percent tax on corporate profits above $100 million is the latest in a series of ambitious policy proposals from the Massachusetts senator. It's in line with her broader push to rein in such industries as the financial sector and technology firms.   Warren's campaign estimates the proposal would hit roughly 1,200 firms and would raise about $1 trillion over 10 years. She hasn't specified what that money would pay for.   Warren on Thursday touted the tax as a way to boost smaller businesses and aid competition with behemoths that may currently pay lower effective tax rates.    
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US Consumer Prices Rise Solidly, But Underlying Trend Tame

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 22:08 - [CET]
U.S. consumer prices increased by the most in 14 months in March, but the underlying inflation trend remained benign amid slowing domestic and global economic growth. The mixed report from the Labor Department on Wednesday was broadly supportive of the Federal Reserve's decision last month to suspended its three-year campaign to raise interest rates. The U.S. central bank dropped projections for any rate hikes this year after lifting borrowing costs four times in 2018. Minutes of the Fed's March 19-20 meeting, published on Wednesday, showed most policymakers viewed price pressures as "muted," but expected inflation to rise to or near the central bank's 2 percent target. The Fed's preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures price index excluding food and energy is currently at 1.8 percent. "For the most part, inflation remains tame," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. "The Fed effectively went on vacation and is likely to stay there for quite a few more months." The Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent, boosted by increases in the costs of food, gasoline and rents. That was the biggest advance since January 2018 and followed a 0.2 percent gain in February. In the 12 months through March, the CPI increased 1.9 percent. The CPI gained 1.5 percent in February, which was the smallest rise since September 2016. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI climbing 0.3 percent in March and accelerating 1.8 percent year-on-year. Stripping out the volatile food and energy components, the CPI nudged up 0.1 percent, matching February's gain. The so-called core CPI was held down by a 1.9 percent plunge in apparel prices, the largest drop since January 1949. The government last month introduced a new method and data to calculate apparel prices. Apparel prices, which had increased for two straight months, trimmed the core CPI by 0.07 percentage point in March. Many economists expected a reversal in April. "The new price collection methodology for apparel incorporates corporate data from one unidentified department store to complement prior survey-based collection," said Kathy Bostjancic, head of U.S. Macro Investor Services at Oxford Economics in New York. "The new methodology appears more likely to show large monthly declines due to the lifecycle of apparel." Low inflation expectations In the 12 months through March, the core CPI increased 2.0 percent, the smallest advance since February 2018. The core CPI rose 2.1 percent year-on-year in February. The dollar was trading slightly lower against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury prices rose. Stocks on Wall Street were mostly higher. Inflation has remained muted, with wage growth increasing moderately despite tightening labor market conditions. Minutes of the March policy meeting showed some Fed officials believed the benign price pressures could be the result of low inflation expectations and also an indication the labor market was likely not as tight as implied by measures of resource utilization. "The minutes reinforce our view that rates are on hold for the foreseeable future, though this could shift if the economy and or inflation surprise to the up or down sides," said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. A 3.5 percent jump in energy prices in March accounted for about 60 percent of the increase in the CPI last month. Gasoline prices surged 6.5 percent, the biggest gain since September 2017, after rising 1.5 percent in February. Food prices gained 0.3 percent after accelerating 0.4 percent in February. Food consumed at home increased 0.4 percent. Consumers also paid more for rent. Owners' equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would pay to rent or receive from renting a home, increased 0.3 percent in March after a similar gain in February. Healthcare costs rebounded 0.3 percent after slipping 0.2 percent in February. There were increases in the costs of prescription medication and hospital services. The cost of new vehicles rebounded 0.4 percent after declining 0.2 percent in February. But there were decreases in the prices of used motor vehicles and trucks, airline fares and motor vehicle insurance.
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Mexico Slams US Border Slowdown as 'Very Bad Idea'

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 18:57 - [CET]
Mexico's foreign minister on Wednesday criticized hold-ups in the flow of goods and people at the U.S-Mexico border, and said he planned to discuss the matter with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials later in the day. After days of traffic delays at sections of the border that have alarmed businesses, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the disruptions were raising costs for supply chains in both countries. "Slowing down the flow of people and goods at the northern border is a very bad idea," Ebrard said in a post on Twitter, using unusually frank language on an issue that has caused constant friction between Mexico and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Ebrard said his ministry would get in contact on Wednesday with the new leaders of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The department's former secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who had overseen Trump's bitterly contested immigration policies during her tenure, stepped down at the weekend. The border slowdowns have occurred after Trump late last month threatened to close the frontier if Mexico did not halt a surge in undocumented migrants reaching the United States. On Monday, a judge in San Francisco said the Trump administration's policy of sending some asylum seekers to Mexico while their claims worked through a backlogged immigration court system was not authorized by U.S. law. The White House said on Tuesday it would appeal the ruling and that its policy was part of a "cooperative program extensively negotiated with the government of Mexico.” However, in a sign of ongoing tensions over the issue, Mexico's foreign ministry noted afterwards that the return of the migrants was a "unilateral" measure with which it did not agree but was allowing on a "temporary" basis. On Wednesday morning, only one of six lanes for commercial vehicles was open at the Bridge of the Americas border crossing between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, according to online data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  
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'The Stakes Are Too High': Christian Faithful Take up Climate Protest

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 12:43 - [CET]
Cloaked in black and carrying white buckets filled with artificial blood, the group filed in silence to the entrance of London's Downing Street, behind a troupe of child and teen activists. Ringing a bell as they walked, the 45 adults -- all participants in Extinction Rebellion, a protest movement seeking rapid action to curb global warming -- formed an arc facing the British prime minister's residence and poured out their buckets, turning the surrounding road into a sea of red. The liquid, they said, symbolized "the blood of our children," on the hands of politicians who have failed to act on climate change and stem its impacts, from worsening floods and droughts to growing poverty and water and food shortages. Among those at the protest in March were three members of Christian Climate Action, a small group of retirees and students who say their religious faith is compelling them to take an increasingly active role in trying to stop climate change. Climate change "is leading to a social collapse. We need to respond in more caring and collective ways," said Phil Kingston, 83, a Catholic church member from Bristol who took a train to London to participate in the Downing Street demonstration. As climate change protests pick up in London and around the world, they are drawing an increasingly broad range of protesters, from students following in the footsteps of 16-year-old Swedish "school strike" leader Greta Thunberg to grandparents concerned about the growing risks their grandchildren face. Religious groups -- from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and other faiths -- are among those joining the protests, out of concern, in some cases, about the moral and spiritual implications of human-driven climate change. Christian Climate Action took shape about six years ago, initially with just a handful of active members from a range of Christian denominations, said Ruth Jarman, 55, one of the group's original members. But as it has become involved with Extinction Rebellion -- an emerging movement that uses nonviolent protest to demand action on climate change -- interest in the Christian action group is growing, especially among younger generations, members say. "Finding Extinction Rebellion really fitted in with our values so well. It's very clear on using nonviolence, being motivated by values of love and care rather than anger," said Jarman, who lives in Hartley Wintney in Hampshire. Since November, Christian Climate Action activists have disrupted traffic, spray-painted government buildings with political messages and the Extinction Rebellion hourglass symbol, blockaded entrances -- and prayed for action, Jarman said. An Anglican parishioner, she has been arrested five times for those protests -- a risk not all Christians are willing to take, she admitted. But "for me, it's the first verse of the Bible that hits home: If God created all that is, what does it mean for us to be destroying it?" she asked. "For us to be participating in its destruction is sacrilegious -- not something believing Christians should be doing." Faith in action Faith groups, in Britain and around the world, have taken a growing role in pushing action on climate change, with some churches, mosques and temples pulling their investments out of fossil fuels, championing efforts to cut food waste and raising awareness about climate risks. Last July, the Church of England's governing body, the General Synod, voted to disinvest by 2023 from fossil fuel companies that fail to meet the aims of the Paris climate agreement. Under that 2015 deal, world governments agreed to hold global average temperature hikes to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius. Because faith groups around the world control trillions of dollars in assets, such pledges can help drive action in companies that fear losing investment, or push much-needed cash to greener investments. Experts say religions, which connect with people's emotions and personal lives, could help mobilize them in the fight against climate change where facts and politics have failed. Kingston, of Christian Climate Action, points to Laudato Si - Pope Francis' 2015 papal encyclical that called on the world to unite against climate change impacts, particularly on the poor and powerless - as one of his motivations for taking action. Most members of Christian Climate Action have a history of campaigning against climate change by writing letters to politicians, doing charity work or walking in marches, Jarman said. But over time, they saw their efforts produce little action -- one reason the group has stepped up its tactics, she said. "As Christians, we should be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary to serve and protect God's creation," Jarman said. Father Martin Newell, 51, a Catholic priest who works with the Congregation of the Passion, a religious order devoted to serving vulnerable communities, has been committed to activist causes for decades, having previously advocated against nuclear arms and weapons trading. These days, however, Newell -- who lives at Birmingham's Austin Smith House, a shelter for refugees and asylum seekers -- is also working with the Christian Climate Action. "I realized when someone asked what keeps me up at night [that] I was having nightmares about climate change," he said. When the group asked Newell, who has been arrested many times as part of protests, how to get started taking a more active role in climate campaigning, "I thought this is maybe an answer to my prayer," he said. The priest has since educated members of the group on how to effectively use civil disobedience tactics and has become an active member of the group. In late February, Christian Climate Action held a training session in London that featured everything from prayer and discussions about what the Bible says about non-violent action to practice with protest tactics, according to a flier for the event. At such events, 83-year-old Kingston said he has "gained much clarity about the nuances of non-violent direct action," including how to best interact with the police and other authorities. "Being respectful in word and deed to all persons is the essential component," he said. Disapproval Not all of the Christian Climate Action protesters have had the support of their churches, and some say they have faced strong disapproval. Kingston's priest, for instance, was "rather horrified" when the parishioner was sent to court in 2016 for criminal damage, stemming from a protest during which Jarman and Newell were also arrested and fined, Kingston said. The activists had targeted the Department of Energy and Climate Change building in London, to point out that the U.K. government's action at home on climate change didn't match its rhetoric at talks leading up to the 2015 Paris Agreement. "We painted whitewash -- it's from the Bible, it comes from Jesus talking about hypocrisy -- on the building, and we painted in black paint, 'Department for Extreme Climate Change,'" Jarman said. "Then we kneeled down on the pavement and prayed, and got arrested." Kingston subsequently was banned him "from any kind of public face with the parish" by his priest at the time, the activist said. But he has pushed ahead, contacting other parishioners through his private email and becoming increasingly public with his views. "I don't care -- the stakes are too high. The church should be much more upfront and brave," he said. The protester said he began seeing climate change as a serious threat when his first grandchild was born nearly two decades ago. He realized that "my grandchildren and all their generations in front of them ... are voiceless" despite being likely to face climate change's worst impacts, he said. "It's a justice issue. The upcoming generations need life, and we are creating tremendous suffering" by destabilizing the planet's climate, he said. He said having older protesters working alongside young activists in the Extinction Rebellion protests has its particular benefits. "What we've realised is neither the corporations nor the government want to arrest us," he said. "We are a liability in terms of health." The activists say their protests aim to achieve a few things in particular: big cuts in Britain's climate-changing emissions, more honesty from politicians about climate threats, and the creation of a formal parliamentary "Citizen's Assembly" to discuss needed changes to climate policy and advise the government. The assembly is crucial in order to "do what is right rather than what is politically acceptable," Jarman said. But the protest movement is having a secondary effect as well, Jarman said, in bringing together people who might not otherwise have met and joined forces. Mothiur Rahman, a legal strategist who works with Extinction Rebellion, for instance, said protesters who are members of faith groups have asked their churches to house out-of-town participants arriving to take part in a new round of protests set to begin April 15. "One church has given their support and will have their doors open for us to sleep over in, and I am speaking to a mosque as well," Rahman added. Newell said he thinks faith-based protesters have found a solid welcome among more traditional environmental activists, and have a role to play as climate protests grow. "The people who started Extinction Rebellion, and environmentalists, tend to be more secular. But they understand faith and trusting God and are open to people joining them," the priest said. "We appreciate them and they appreciate us," he said.  
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Fishermen Turn to Maps as India's Coasts Cleared for Tourism, Industry

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 06:10 - [CET]
After generations of trawling the same waters, the fishermen on the coast of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India know where to cast a net or park a boat without resorting to signs or GPS maps. But their customary rights over this common space - a right won by families who have fished it for centuries - are under threat as the demands of modern life threaten age-old livelihoods and their once fertile habitat. First, families' land and precious sea access was usurped by factories and ports. Now, their rights are under fresh attack by a newly amended Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) law. "Governments have treated the coastline as an empty space that economic actors can take over, forgetting that it is common property of coastal villages, towns and cities," said Kanchi Kohli, a researcher at think tank Center for Policy Research. "The changes to the law negate the socio-ecological uniqueness of this space and opens it up to mindless real estate development, mass-scale tourism and industry," she said. R.L. Srinivasan, who lives in Kaatukuppam - one of half a dozen villages by Ennore Creek near the city of Chennai - is typical of the fishermen under threat. The Ennore Creek is drained by two seasonal rivers that empty into the Bay of Bengal through a network of canals, wetlands, salt marshes and mangroves, where villagers once harvested salt, caught crabs and filled their nets with fish. Home to about 300,000 people, the area was protected by state and federal coastal zone laws, which banned construction, reclamation or alteration of the course of the water bodies. But as Chennai expanded and industries fled the city, the state greenlighted ports, coal-powered thermal plants, and petroleum and chemicals factories, which destroyed the salt pans, polluted the water and killed the fish and the crabs. "The Creek has been our life, our livelihood for generations," said Srinivasan. "Yet for the government, it is just land that can be used as an industrial zone and a dumping ground. The lives and livelihoods of the fishers do not matter," he said. Millions at risk It is a scene playing out in thousands of coastal settlements dotting India's 7,500-kilometer- (4,660 mile-) shoreline, from remote rural hamlets to bustling urban colonies. With reduced no-development zones, and laxer rules for real estate and commercial projects, the new CRZ opens up common-use spaces such as beaches, salt marshes, and boat parking areas for tourism and industry, according to analysts. More than 4 million people in India are estimated to make a living from fishing and related activities. They are often among the nation's earliest inhabitants, yet have few formal rights over the land or the water on which they depend. Amid urbanization and industrialization, India's coasts have become dumping grounds for sewage, garbage and factory waste, even as they fight the rising threat of erosion and flooding. The Congress party-led government sought to protect the fishing community and preserve their ecology by enacting the CRZ law in 2011. But several states diluted it, so as to promote tourism and industry and generate jobs. In 2014, a new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a review of the CRZ. Despite protests from coast dwellers and environmentalists, a cut in the no-development zones was announced in January, allowing eco-tourism and waste treatment in sensitive areas. The government says the law was amended to "conserve and protect the unique environment of coastal stretches and marine areas, besides livelihood security to the fisher communities and other local communities in coastal areas." But life is about to get much harder for Srinivasan and his fellow anglers, said Pooja Kumar at the advocacy Coastal Resource Center in Chennai. "Coastal communities are hanging by a thread," she said. "The communities have fished and lived in these areas for generations, but with no record of their common spaces, their fishing grounds, they are extremely vulnerable." Mapping Their one hope may be the modern mapping methods they once shunned. The Coastal Resource Center began mapping coastal villages in Tamil Nadu about five years ago, using handheld GPS devices to mark common spaces - including where fishermen parked their boats and dried the catch - then plotting the spots on a map. These maps are then sent to district and state officials for their approval, so they can be integrated into official maps under the coastal zone management plan. Kumar and her colleagues have mapped about 75 of Tamil Nadu's 650 coastal villages so far. Not all their maps have been integrated with official survey maps, but they have been used to resolve disputes between fishing communities, and helped stop the construction of a road that would have passed through a coastal settlement, she said. "The mapping gives the community a sense of confidence and security. They are seen as people with rights, rather than as encroachers," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "There is an urgent need to map the coastal commons. It is the most effective tool for assertion of the community rights." Of some 677 ongoing Indian land conflicts documented by research organization Land Conflict Watch, nearly a third involve commons, including forests, grazing lands and coasts. But with no legal protection for the coastal commons, mapping them and having the states recognize them will still not protect them under the new CRZ notification, said Kohli. The Congress party, in a manifesto released ahead of a general election starting on April 11, has vowed to reverse the dilutions of the CRZ, and preserve the coasts without affecting the livelihoods of fishing communities. That may be Kaatukuppam's only hope, after the state in 2017 released a map that did not show most of Ennore Creek. In its place stood land earmarked for a petrochemical park. "We have seen the crabs disappear, the fish disappear. We had never seen a river disappear," Srinivasan said. "But it is not just us who are suffering; people should realize this sort of development hurts everyone."
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US Agents Smash Billion-Dollar Health Care Fraud Scheme

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 05:10 - [CET]
U.S. federal agents have smashed a worldwide medical care scheme that defrauded U.S. taxpayers of more than $1 billion. The Justice Department said Tuesday 24 people have been charged, including doctors, telemarketers and the heads of companies that provide back, wrist and knee braces. "This Department of Justice will not tolerate medical professionals and executives who look to line their pockets by cheating our health care programs," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said Tuesday. The extensive and complex scheme stretched from the U.S. to call centers in the Philippines and across Latin America. Telemarketers would phone patients offering them free medical braces. When call centers verified that the patients were covered by Medicare, they were transferred to telemedicine companies, where doctors -- who never examined the patients -- would prescribe the braces even if there was no medical reason to have one. The medical equipment companies would bill the government and kickback a portion of the funds to the others in the scam. The fraud was detected last year when a number of Medicare beneficiaries smelled what sounded like a scam and called a government hotline. The FBI, Health and Human Services, and Internal Revenue Service investigated. "The breadth of this nationwide conspiracy should be frightening to all who rely on some form of health care,” IRS investigations chief Don Fort said. "The conspiracy ... details broad corruption, massive amounts of greed and systemic flaws in our health care system that were exploited by the defendants."
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Trump to Seek to Stop States From Delaying Energy Projects

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 04:30 - [CET]
President Donald Trump will issue two executive orders in the heart of the Texas energy hub on Wednesday seeking to speed gas, coal and oil projects delayed by coastal states as he looks to build support ahead of next year's election. Trump's orders will direct his Environmental Protection Agency to change a part of the U.S. clean water law that has allowed states, on the basis of environmental reasons, to delay projects such as pipelines to carry natural gas to New England and coal export terminals on the West Coast. Trump will issue the orders at a training center for union members in the petroleum industry in Houston, an event sandwiched between fundraising events in Texas for the 2020 campaign. "Outdated federal guidance and regulations issued by the EPA have caused confusion and uncertainty leading to project delays, lost jobs and reduced economic performance," a senior administration official told reporters in a conference call. "We are not trying to take away power from the states, but we are trying to make sure that state actions comply with the statutory intent of the law." An environmentalist decried the planned orders. "Trump can try to rewrite regulations in favor of Big Oil, but he can't stop people power and our movement," said May Boeve, the head of 350.org. The orders will direct the EPA to review and update guidance issued during the administration of President Barack Obama on the so-called 401 provision of the Clean Water Act. The measure required companies to get certifications from states before building interstate pipelines approved by the federal government. New York state used it to block pipelines that would send natural gas to New England, forcing the region at times to import liquefied natural gas from countries including Russia. In 2017, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat and 2020 candidate for president, denied a water permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminal, a coal export facility that would have expanded the ability of companies to send western coal to Asian markets. 'Energy Dominance' The executive orders are part of the Trump administration's policy of "energy dominance" to increase oil, gas and coal production, but forcing the EPA changes will take time. The official said the agency would have to follow normal procedures, including a comment period, and that projects already tied up in litigation "are obviously a much longer-term issue." One of the orders will direct the transportation secretary to propose allowing liquefied natural gas, a liquid form of the fuel, to be shipped in approved rail cars, a change that could increase its flow between terminals and markets. The executive orders could also speed projects in Texas. Energy investors vying for permits to build oil export terminals along the Gulf Coast say they have worked closely with Trump officials in a bid to speed regulatory reviews of facilities capable of loading supertankers. U.S. and state agencies overseeing permit applications have taken too long to approve projects, the investors said, adding they were worried their projects would miss the most profitable years of the U.S. crude export boom. Four energy groups led by Trafigura AG, Carlyle Group, Enterprise Products Partners LP and Enbridge have applied to build terminals in Texas.
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Top Senate Democrat Says Trump's Fed Picks Unqualified   

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 01:45 - [CET]
Rob Garver contributed to this report The top Senate Democrat says President Donald Trump's picks to fill two vacant seats on the Federal Reserve Board are unqualified for the job. Trump has nominated former pizza chain boss Herman Cain and conservative economic commentator Stephen Moore for the Fed — posts that need Senate confirmation. Both are strong Trump supporters. "I don't see the qualifications of Cain or Moore fitting in with the mission of the Fed, which is to conduct monetary policy and not be political," Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. Cain is best known as the former CEO of the Godfather's Pizza chain and a failed 2012 Republican presidential candidate. He had several top positions at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. But local Fed boards do not set monetary policy and do not have the global impact that the main Federal Reserve has. Stephen Moore was a Trump campaign economic adviser and is a TV commentator and columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Opponents to their nominations say they could compromise the Fed's credibility as an independent policymaking body that responds only to economic trends, not politics. Chief White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNN television that Cain and Moore are both "very smart people" and said Trump has "every right to put people on the Federal Reserve board ... who share his philosophy." But Cain has faced charges of sexual harassment, which he denies, and Moore owes more than $75,000 in back taxes. He was once found in contempt of court for failing to pay $300,000 in alimony and child support. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has not commented on the qualifications of either man, only saying "We're going to look at whoever the president sends up."
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Boeing Records Zero New MAX Orders Following Global Groundings

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 22:48 - [CET]
Boeing's orders and deliveries sank in the first quarter, with zero new orders for the 737 MAX following a worldwide grounding in March in the wake of two fatal plane crashes. The groundings forced Boeing to freeze deliveries of the MAX, which had been its fastest-selling jetliner until a March 10 crash on Ethiopian Airlines that killed all 157 onboard, just five months after a similar crash on Lion Air that killed all 189 passengers and crew. Total orders, an indication of future demand, fell to 95 aircraft in the first quarter from 180 a year earlier, suggesting a wait-and-watch approach for airlines as Boeing rides out the worst crisis in its history. Still, Boeing is ahead of its European rival Airbus, which last week said it had won 62 gross orders during the first three months of 2019 but some 120 cancellations left it with a negative net order. Chicago-based Boeing's first-quarter 737 deliveries tumbled about 33 percent, pushing total aircraft deliveries down 19 percent to 149 from a year earlier. Boeing delivered just 11 MAX in March before the suspension. Deliveries are financially important because that is when planemakers receive the bulk of money from airlines' purchases. It is still unclear when the MAX jets will fly again, with global regulators including China saying they would join a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration panel to review the aircraft's safety. "A fix and removal of the grounding prior to September 2019 could be perceived positively," Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu said, noting that fresh scrutiny of the certification process could potentially filter into Boeing's 777X program. Boeing's shares, which have lost about 13% since the crash, were down 1.66 percent at $368.32 in afternoon trading. Goldman Sachs said it does not expect Boeing to deliver any MAXs in the second quarter and said it was difficult to expect MAX orders at the upcoming Paris Air Show in June. The latest variant of Boeing's 737 family, which makes up the bulk of its narrow-body production, has been viewed as the likely workhorse for global airlines for decades and central to Boeing's long-running battle against Airbus. Boeing said last week it would cut monthly 737 MAX production by 20 percent starting mid-April, without giving an end-date. The company had been ramping up MAX deliveries before the grounding, with the planes accounting for nearly half of its deliveries in the last few months. There were more than 300 MAX jetliners in operation at the time of the fatal Lion Air crash last October, and about 4,600 more on order.
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US Penalizes British Bank $1B in Iranian Trade Sanctions Case   

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 22:30 - [CET]
Britain's Standard Charter Bank has agreed to more than $1 billion in fines and forfeited assets to the U.S. and New York state for violating U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran. Federal and state prosecutors said Tuesday that between 2007 and 2011, the global financial institution processed about 9,500 financial transactions worth about $240 million through U.S. financial institutions to benefit Iranian entities. In addition, U.S. authorities said an unnamed former bank employee in the United Arab Emirates pleaded guilty in Washington to conspiring to defraud the U.S. and to violate the trade sanctions. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said the case "sends a clear message to financial institutions and their employees: If you circumvent U.S. sanctions against rogue states like Iran — or assist those who do — you will pay a steep price." He said that "when a global bank processes transactions through the U.S. financial system, its compliance program must be up to the task of detecting and preventing sanctions violations. And when it is not, banks have an obligation to identify, report and remediate any shortcomings." Jessie Liu, a prosecutor in Washington, said the bank, the unnamed former employee and Mahmoud Reza Elyassi, an Iranian national and former bank customer in Dubai, "undermined the integrity of our financial system and harmed our national security by deliberately providing Iranians with coveted access to the U.S. economy."  Elyassi has been charged with two criminal counts linked to the conspiracy. The indictment in the case said Elyassi and his co-conspirators used general trading companies in the UAE as fronts for a money exchange business in Iran. 
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US Agriculture Secretary: Talks With China to Cut Ethanol Tariffs 'Positive'

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 21:44 - [CET]
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday that talks with China about reducing Beijing's tariff on U.S. ethanol products were "positive" but cautioned the discussions were not yet over. "There have been conversations with China on reducing that tariff on ethanol, which would obviously be good for our domestic corn industry," he told reporters. "While things look positive, it's never over till it's over with the Chinese." Beijing last summer imposed retaliatory tariffs of up to 70 percent on U.S. ethanol shipments, which made exports to the key market uneconomical. The United States and China have been embroiled in a tit-for-tat tariff battle since July 2018, roiling global financial markets and supply chains, and costing both of the world's two largest economies billions of dollars. U.S. officials are pressing China to make changes to address longstanding concerns over industrial subsidies, technology transfer and intellectual property rights. The two sides wrapped up the latest round of talks in Washington late last week and will be resuming discussions this week remotely. Perdue also added that he wanted the Environmental Protection Agency to more tightly control its use of small refinery waivers that exempt plants from their obligation to blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol under the Renewable Fuel Standard, and had discussed the matter with EPA chief Andrew Wheeler.  
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China, EU Agree to Strengthen Trade Relationship

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 18:59 - [CET]
China and the European Union agreed Tuesday to strengthen their trade relationship, pledging to work toward making it easier for foreign investors to get access to China, the world's second biggest economy. In a joint statement, the two sides said they committed to widening market access and eliminating discriminatory requirements for foreign companies and agreed that businesses should not be forced to transfer their technology — issues that foreign investors in China have long complained about.   EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang discussed the issues at their summit before claiming a breakthrough in their trade relationship. "Negotiations have been difficult but ultimately fruitful," Tusk said." We managed to agree a joint statement which sets the direction for our partnership based on reciprocity." The stakes at the annual summit were high, with two-way trade between the EU and China worth around 575 billion euros ($648 billion) annually. The EU is China's biggest trading partner, while for the EU, only the United States is bigger. The EU and China also said they reaffirmed the "rules based multilateral trading system" with the World Trade Organization at its core and plan to intensify discussions aimed at beefing up international rules on industrial subsidies.   China wants a bigger role in the WTO and other international organizations like the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. But China's ample financial support for state-owned companies has been the target of Western trade officials. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has in the past called out China for "unfair trade practices" including government subsidies intended to give its companies a competitive advantage. The summit statement shows "China is willing to make some concessions and that's important," said Mikko Huotari, deputy director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a Berlin-based think tank. The promises don't mean China will quickly transform from a state-led economy into a market driven one, but "it's about getting back on track with regard to reform promises and ambitions that the Chinese themselves have expressed," he said.   The leaders discussed China's policy of forcing foreign companies to turn over intellectual property as a condition for access to its big and growing market — an issue that Washington has also made a centerpiece of its trade dispute with Beijing. In their closing statement, they said: "Both sides agree that there should not be forced transfer of technology." The EU in December stepped up a WTO legal challenge filed in 2018 against China's forced tech transfers, calling it a major issue affecting European companies. Li strongly denied that Beijing is behind industrial espionage, saying the government has never called on Chinese companies to infringe intellectual property rights or steal trade secrets. The EU's executive Commission said last month in a strategy report that China was a "systemic rival" which preserves its domestic markets for national champions while placing "onerous requirements" on EU companies doing business there. Li said after the summit that will change. "We will not treat EU companies, especially those registered in China, with discriminatory policy, including solely foreign-owned companies in China," he said. "And likewise Chinese companies should not be discriminated against in their operation in the European Union." The summit comes two weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during a visit to Paris to work with European leaders to seek fairer trade rules.  
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First Female Boss Vows to Shake Up Bangladesh's Fashion Factories

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 17:07 - [CET]
The first woman to head one of Bangladesh’s biggest garment associations said on Tuesday she would boost female leadership as most factory workers were women, amid scrutiny over safety. Rubana Huq, 55, is managing director of Mohammadi Group, which owns a string of factories supplying brands like H&M and Primark in Bangladesh, the world’s second largest garment exporter, employing 4 million people. “I believe that in an industry where more than 80 percent of the workers are women, they should be given a greater chance to voice their interests,” said Huq, the new president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “Today, the workforce is largely women but people in the managerial levels are mostly men. That needs to change.” In Bangladesh’s 4,500 factories, women have traditionally had to negotiate with male managers over pay, workplace safety and respect on the job, a fact Huq wants to change. Her election comes at a time when Bangladesh’s Supreme Court is deciding whether to shut down a factory inspection mechanism which was set up by European fashion labels after the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, killing 1,100 people. Huq said that manufacturers needed to strengthen their own monitoring mechanisms to help the government take over from the Bangladesh Accord - signed by about 200 major brands. The textile magnate, who was elected unopposed, said her decision to represent manufacturers and exporters was a natural extension of her two-decade career in the industry, where she is one of a handful of senior female executives. “As a woman there is always a hiccup and always a mindset to change,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Dhaka. “But I’m here now and, being a woman, I believe my attitude towards the challenges faced by women workers will be different and more empathetic.” Huq said she planned to educate women workers to secure their futures and step up to mid-managerial levels in factories. “I would like to have a gender-based leadership program that ensures more women are empowered to take on these roles,” said Huq, who is also an award-winning poet and columnist. She dismissed allegations of labor abuse in the industry as “isolated, negative practices”. “The fact that 80 percent of our women are freely working and contributing to the economy is a much bigger narrative,” she said. Labor rights campaigners said that while Huq had broken through the glass ceiling for women, her loyalties - as head of Mohammadi Group - were more to businesses than workers. “Her election is good but I am not sure how much impact she will have in an organization that is still dominated by men,” said Nazma Akter, a former child worker and founder of Awaj Foundation, which campaigns for labor rights. “I wish she would look at issues of living wages, health of workers, maternity benefits and violence in factories.”
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IMF Forecast: Global Growth Will Weaken This Year to 3.3%

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 16:27 - [CET]
The International Monetary Fund is downgrading its outlook for growth in the United States, Europe, Japan and the overall global economy and points to heightened trade tensions as a key reason. The IMF expects the world economy to grow 3.3 percent this year, down from 3.6 percent in 2018. That would match 2016 for the weakest year since 2009. In its previous forecast in January, the IMF had predicted that international growth would reach 3.5 percent this year.   For the United States, IMF economists downgraded their growth forecast for this year to 2.3 percent from 2.9 percent in 2018.   The IMF's "World Economic Outlook" comes on the eve of meetings in Washington this week of the fund and its sister lending organization, the World Bank.   In Europe, the IMF expects the 19 countries that use the euro currency to expand 1.3 percent collectively in 2019, weaker than last year's 1.8 percent growth or in any year since 2013.   Japan is expected to eke out 1 percent growth this year, up from 0.8% in 2018 but slightly down from the fund's earlier forecast.   The IMF foresees the Chinese economy growing 6.3 percent this year, down from 6.6 percent in 2018. But the fund's latest 2019 outlook was a slight upgrade from the 6.2 percent growth it had forecast for China in January.   China's prospects brightened, the fund said, after President Donald Trump decided to suspend a planned increase in tariffs on $200 billion worth of U.S.-bound Chinese exports.   Still, the fund is expressing worries about tensions between the world's two biggest economies, which have traded tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of products in a fight over China's aggressive push to supplant American technological supremacy. The prospect of Britain's messy departure from the European Union also weighs on the global economy.   The IMF expects growth in world trade to drop to 3.4 percent this year — a sharp slowdown from the 4 percent it had expected in January and from 3.8 percent trade growth in 2018.    
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US Wants to Put Tariffs on $11B in EU Goods

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 15:04 - [CET]
The United States wants to put tariffs on $11.2 billion worth of EU goods — from airplanes to Gouda cheese and olives — to offset what it says are unfair European subsidies for plane maker Airbus. While the size of the tariffs is small compared with the hundreds of billions the U.S. and China are taxing in their trade war, it suggests a breakdown in talks with the European Union over trade at a time when the economy is already slowing sharply. The U.S. and EU have been negotiating since last year about how to avoid tariffs that President Donald Trump has wanted to impose to reduce a trade deficit with countries like Germany. But experts warn that tariffs lead to higher consumer prices in countries that impose them and can hurt overall economic growth. The U.S. Trade Representative's office released late Monday a list of EU products it would tax in anticipation of a ruling by the World Trade Organization this summer. The U.S. had in 2004 complained to the WTO, which sets the rules for trade and settles disputes, that the EU was providing unfair support to Airbus. The WTO ruled in May last year that the EU had in fact provided some illegal subsidies to Airbus, hurting U.S. manufacturer Boeing. The U.S. expects the WTO will say this summer that it can take countermeasures to offset the EU subsidies. It will now start a consultation with industry representatives on the list of EU goods it wants to tax so that it can have a ready list. “The EU has taken advantage of the U.S. on trade for many years. It will soon stop!” Trump tweeted Tuesday. The U.S. move, while following international trade rules, appears to reflect broader U.S. frustration at the slow pace of talks on trade with the EU. Trump in June last year imposed tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on imported aluminum from the EU in a move that seems aimed at helping the U.S. industry but has also raised costs for many businesses that import these products. The EU responded with tariffs on about 2.8 billion euros' worth ($3.4 billion) of U.S. steel, agricultural and other products, from Harley Davidson bikes to orange juice. The U.S. and EU have since July been in talks to scale back the tariffs, with Trump holding out the bigger threat of slapping tariffs on European cars — a huge industry in the region — should the negotiations not yield a result. U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed frustration at the slow pace of the talks. The EU responded Tuesday to the U.S.'s latest call for new tariffs by noting that it was based on its own estimate, not anything it had been awarded by the WTO. It also said the EU is preparing its own retaliation based on a separate WTO case, in which U.S.-based Boeing was found to have received illegal support from the state of Washington. It did not say how big that retaliation might be. The U.S. attempt to tax Airbus jets comes just as Boeing is facing broad challenges over the global grounding of its 737 Max airliners amid concerns that technical problems could have contributed to two crashes in five months. Tariffs on European airplanes could in theory help Boeing and hurt Airbus, whose shares were down 1.7% on Tuesday on a day when stock markets were mostly higher. The U.S. announcement also comes as China's prime minister meets top European Union officials to discuss thorny issues, including trade.  
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Winners Outnumber Losers as Massachusetts Goes Green

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 13:16 - [CET]
It’s minus eight degrees Celsius on a late winter morning in western Massachusetts. But electrician Ed Martell is on the job, helping build an 8,000-panel solar farm outside the town of Wales, 110 kilometers southwest of Boston.  Martell says solar installations have been going nonstop for the past several years.  "I thought it was going to be a flash in the pan a couple years ago," he told VOA. "I've seen solar keep going and going and going." Although sunshine is not the first image that comes to mind in connection with Massachusetts, policy decisions have propelled the state to third place nationwide in solar jobs, behind sunny California and Florida, which is known as the Sunshine State.  Martell says the industry has been growing at a time when there has not been much other work for electricians.  "If it wasn't for solar, there would have been a two-year period when I wouldn't have worked at all," he added. "So, yes, it's very good for us." Greenhouse gases As the planet heats up, experts say the world needs to stop burning the fossil fuels that have powered civilization for centuries and switch to energy sources that do not release greenhouse gases that drive up the Earth’s temperature and produce weather extremes.  The transition will not be easy. There will be winners and losers, economists say.  The smokestack and the rusting remains of the 1960s-turquoise turbine are the last identifiable remains of the Mount Tom Station coal-fired power plant located 145 kilometers west of Boston in Holyoke, Mass.  Former maintenance engineer Clancy Kaye kept the plant running for more than 30 years.  But between expensive environmental upgrades, the plunging price of natural gas, and concerns from neighborhood groups about climate change and air pollution, the plant's owners pulled the plug in 2014.  They then built one of the largest solar farms with battery storage in New England just down the street. Eighty people worked at Mount Tom at its peak. When it finally closed in 2014, the number was down to 28. Some of them retired. The company offered a generous severance package, Kaye said. But about a dozen employees had to take other jobs with 30 percent to 50 percent pay cuts and fewer benefits.  "It's been really a very rude awakening for many people who used to make some very good money. And some very highly skilled people," Kaye said. As coal-fired plants close across the country, he added, "the good jobs — and I mean good paying, good benefits, good pension — those jobs are virtually all going away for your average middle-class person." More than half of the 530 coal-fired power plants that were running in 2010 have shut down or plan to by 2030, according to the Sierra Club, an Oakland, California-based environmental group. There have been losses in Massachusetts. Winners in state policy But experts say the state's policies to fight climate change have created more winners.  While Congress and the White House have feuded for years about what, if anything, to do, Republican and Democratic leaders in the Bay State have taken innovative steps to reduce greenhouse gases. In 2008, Massachusetts was among the first U.S. states to set a greenhouse gas reduction target. By mid-century, the state aims to have cut emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels.  Accompanying legislation requires utilities to buy increasing amounts of renewable energy and charges power companies for carbon pollution. The state created aggressive programs to promote energy efficiency. "Some detractors did say that this is going to turn the economy upside down, this is going to cost people more," said Mark Sylvia, former Massachusetts energy resources commissioner.  "But in fact," he said, "it did the exact opposite." With a clear signal from the government, the market responded. Clean energy is now a $13 billion industry in Massachusetts. Its workforce has grown 84 percent since 2010. The sector now employs more than 110,000 workers, three percent of the state's workforce. In Washington, the climate debate is polarized between Democrats calling for an end to fossil fuels and Republicans saying these proposals will destroy jobs, when they acknowledge the problem at all. Only recently did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky acknowledge that human activities are responsible for climate change.  Climate policy But Massachusetts' Republican Gov. Charlie Baker took over from a Democrat, Deval Patrick, and held firm on climate policy.  "In Massachusetts, climate change is not a partisan issue," Baker told the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in February.  "While we sometimes disagree on specific policies," he added, "we understand the science and know the impacts are real because we're experiencing them firsthand."  Baker noted that since he took office in 2015, the state has suffered damage from record snowfall, record storm flooding and record drought. Rising temperatures have hurt the state's winter sports industry and fisheries.  “While many of these challenges are not new, they are more frequent and more damaging than ever," he said.  Baker's position on climate change has evolved since his unsuccessful 2010 run for governor. At that time, he told The Boston Globe newspaper he was "not smart enough to believe that I know" whether humans were responsible for global warming. But in his testimony, he called for a federal target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, a proposal congressional Republicans have repeatedly rejected.  He noted that since the state set its target in 2008, "far from being an economic burden, we have seen close to a 70 percent increase over 1990 levels" in the state economy.  Baker recently rolled out an updated incentive program for solar power and is planning major offshore wind installations that are expected to create 3,600 local jobs.  And to pursue the jobs of the future, the state has provided more than $2 million in loans and grants to Greentown Labs, a business incubator for startups working on clean technologies.  The growth will not help everyone, however.  In the power generation business, "if you want to know where the jobs are, take an aerial view of the parking lot," said Donnie Colston, head of the utility department at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  A coal plant may have 150 to 200 cars in the lot, Colston said.  Workers But a solar farm? No parking lot.  "We have members that will clean them, they'll maintain them, they'll make sure that they're running properly," Colston said. "But that's not a full-time job." Environmentalists pushing to close coal-fired power plants are sympathetic to the threat of lost jobs. From freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to local Sierra Club chapters, activists are calling for a "just transition" for displaced workers in fossil fuel industries — job retraining and other measures to cushion the blow. But the workers don't want to hear it.  "They want you to have a soft landing and a just transition," said Kaye, the former Mount Tom coal plant worker, "but they have the saw in their hand that's cutting the branch that you're sitting on." Massachusetts closed its last coal-fired power plant in 2017. While the transition has been hard on many of his colleagues, Kaye is not bitter. He started a pool installation company that's expanding.  He said he always knew the plant wasn't helping the environment. And change happens.  "We used to say coal is king, King Coal. But it's just not that way anymore," he said. "And all in all, I think that's probably a good thing."
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Does Fighting Climate Change Mean Wrecking the Economy?

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 12:38 - [CET]
Climate change is among the most politically divisive issues in Washington. Some Democrats are backing a Green New Deal to transform the entire energy system in a decade. Republicans say these proposals would wreck the economy. While the federal government is at a stalemate, some states are taking action. VOA's Steve Baragona went to Massachusetts, where the clean-energy workforce is growing.
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Assertive EU to Face Resistant China at Trade-Focused Summit

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 10:08 - [CET]
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and EU institution leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday for an annual EU-China summit set to be overshadowed by differences over trade and investment. After years of offering free access to its markets, the European Union has said it is losing patience with Beijing over the pace of liberalizing reforms. It also has growing concerns over state-led Chinese companies' dominance of some EU markets and acquisitions of strategic industries. Like the United States, many EU countries want to crack down on industrial subsidies and forced technology transfers, although prefer dialogue to the trade war Washington has triggered. The European Commission set out a 10-point action plan last month, seeing scope for greater cooperation in fields such as climate change, but demanding greater reciprocity, such as access for EU firms to Chinese public tenders. "The old narrative is absolutely obsolete," Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told Reuters. Beijing and Brussels have been wrestling for weeks over the text of a joint declaration to be presented as the fruit of Tuesday's summit between Li and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council chief Donald Tusk. "China aims to have a feel-good summit, whereas we aim to have a meaningful summit, with a meaningful outcome," Peter Berz, acting Asia director at the Commission's trade section, told the European Parliament last week. EU diplomats said on Monday negotiators had made some progress, but were still short of an agreed text. Talks would continue until the summit, due to start at 1 p.m. China points to a new foreign investment law due to take effect at the start of 2020. It includes provisions to ban forced technology transfers and ensure foreign companies have access to public tenders. EU officials say the law lacks detail and question how effective it will be in reality in protecting foreign firms. Li wrote in a German newspaper on Monday that China wanted to work with the European Union on issues including trade and denied Beijing was trying to split the bloc by investing in eastern European states. 
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More Indonesians Join Cases Against Boeing After CEO Apology

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 06:30 - [CET]
More families of victims of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia are suing Boeing after its chief executive apologized and said a software update for the MAX 8 jet would prevent further disasters. Family members and lawyers said Monday that CEO Dennis Muilenburg's comment last week related to an automated flight system was an admission that helps their cases. The anti-stall system is suspected as a cause of the Lion Air crash in October and an Ethiopian Airlines crash in March that also involved a MAX 8 jet. The two crashes killed a total of 346 people. Preliminary reports into both crashes found that faulty sensor readings erroneously triggered the anti-stall system that pushed the plane's nose down. Pilots of each plane struggled in vain to regain control. Families of 11 Lion Air victims said at a news conference organized by Jakarta law firm Kailimang & Ponto that they are joining dozens of other Indonesian families in filing lawsuits against Boeing. "Boeing's CEO explicitly apologized to 346 passenger families,'' said Merdian Agustin, whose husband died in the crash. "We hope this is good momentum to have compensation rights.'' Agustin, the mother of three children, said that she and dozens of other families have not received 1.2 billion rupiah ($85,000) compensation they are entitled to in Indonesia because they refused to sign a "release and discharge'' document that extinguishes their right to sue Lion Air, Boeing or their subsidiaries. "We refused to sign such a document containing statements that are treating our loved ones like lost baggage,'' Agustin said. "It's ridiculous and hurts us.'' Boeing acknowledged that the sensor malfunctioned and Muilenburg said last week that a new software update would prevent future incidents. "It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk,'' Muilenburg said in a video statement. "We own it, and we know how to do it.'' Lawyer Michael Indrajana said that since the crash, families in Indonesia have faced a complicated and painful process against Boeing and Lion Air in their battle to get compensation. He said the Boeing CEO's statement shows the airline is now acknowledging responsibility. "No amount of money can bring their loved ones back,'' he said. "We want to fight for the orphans, so they have the opportunity to get a better future.'' Boeing said last week that it will cut production of its troubled 737 Max airliner this month, underscoring the growing financial risk it faces the longer that its best-selling plane remains grounded after the two crashes. The company said that starting in mid-April it will cut production of the plane to 42 from 52 per month so it can focus its attention on fixing the flight-control software that has been implicated in the crashes. The move was not a complete surprise. Boeing had already suspended deliveries of the Max last month after regulators around the world grounded the jet. Boeing also announced it is creating a special board committee to review airplane design and development. The announcement to cut production comes after Boeing acknowledged that a second software issue has emerged that needs fixing on the Max -- a discovery that explained why the aircraft maker had pushed back its ambitious schedule for getting the planes back in the air.
Newsitem placed in category: ECONOMY AND FINANCE

China: BRI Investments Boost Pakistan Economic Structure

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 05:30 - [CET]
China and Pakistan say their ongoing multibillion-dollar infrastructure development cooperation program under Beijing’s global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has entered the next stage after achieving initial targets, dismissing reports the project increased Islamabad’s debt burden rather than boosting economic growth.  Officials in the neighboring countries, traditionally strong allies, say 22 "early harvest" projects, launched five years ago under what is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), have been completed with an unprecedented Chinese investment of $19 billion.  It has built new roads, power plants and operationaliZed the deep-water strategic Arabian Sea commercial port of Gwadar, which overlooks some of the world’s busiest oil and gas shipping lanes and is celebrated as the gateway to CPEC. Responding to skeptics Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, while responding to skeptics Monday, defended the corridor as "an important pilot program" under BRI, saying it has created tens of thousands of local jobs in addition to meeting the power demand of nearly nine million households in Pakistan. "Of all current CPEC projects, only less than 20 percent are financed with Chinese loans, while the rest are all funded by direct investments or grants from China. Far from adding to Pakistan's burden, the CPEC actually strengthened the local economic structure," Lu explained at his regular news conference in Beijing.  "Leveraging international financing to carry out major projects, as a common practice across the world, is an effective tool for developing countries in particular to overcome the funding bottleneck and boost growth," the Chinese spokesman stressed. CPEC will ultimately give landlocked western Chinese regions the shortest and a more secure route to international markets through Gwadar port.  Islamabad acknowledges the corridor investment has improved transportation networks and effectively resolved years of crippling power crisis facing the country. Pakistani officials reject as misplaced concerns the current foreign debt crisis stems from the project.  "CPEC is great opportunity for Pakistan. CPEC connects us to China which is one of the biggest markets … and CPEC route will connect China and Pakistan located at strategic position of world," Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan told a recent international conference. ​Groundbreaking Khan traveled to Gwadar a week ago, where he performed groundbreaking for several new infrastructure development projects, including an international airport in the coastal city, marking the start of the new phase of CPEC.  The airport, which will have a 12,000-meter runway, will be completed in three years with a Chinese financial grant of $250 million. It will be capable of handling aircraft such as an Airbus A-380, linking the once sleepy town of Gwadar to some of the world’s major destinations.  Saudi Arabia also announced in February plans to build a $10 billion refinery and petrochemical complex in the city. Pakistani and Chinese officials admit CPEC is behind schedule. They cited problems such as legal and administrative procedural delays in their respective countries and the recent political transition in Pakistan that brought Khan’s party to power last August. But those issues have been settled now, they say. The "Chinese say they can easily and quickly deliver loans, but financial grants require to go through a time-consuming legal process, that’s why the work on Gwadar airport could not be started in time," a Pakistani official told VOA.  The newly launched phase of "broadening and expanding” CPEC projects, officials say, will see the construction of nine industrial zones across Pakistan with the help of Chinese financial and technical assistance that will boost bilateral industrial cooperation between the two countries.  Some industries to relocate China plans to relocate some of its industries by transferring technology to the new industrial zones to help Islamabad increase its exports to overcome its massive trade deficit and shore up cash reserves. "CPEC has gained momentum and efforts would be made to continue the same pace in the future," said Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar, the Pakistani minister for Planning, Development and Reform who is overseeing the project. Officials said the groundbreaking of construction of the first industrial zone at Rashakai, in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is expected before Prime Minister Khan travels to China later this month for bilateral meetings and to attend the second BRI summit along with 40 foreign leaders in Beijing. The launching of Rashakai will mark the "implementation stage of the Pakistan-China Industrial Cooperation,” said Minister Bakhtyar. Beijing has extended a loan of more than $4 billion during the current financial year at an interest rate of 2 percent to help Islamabad boost its depleting foreign cash reserves. The Chinese government has recently pledged an additional grant of $1 billion for education, health, vocational training, drinking water and poverty alleviation projects in Pakistan. While Beijing and Islamabad have traditionally maintained close defense ties, both the counties say their deepening economic cooperation in recent years has cemented the overall relationship. 
Newsitem placed in category: ECONOMY AND FINANCE


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