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White House, Business Groups Make Push on Trade Pact

The White House and business groups are stepping up efforts to win congressional approval for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade accord. But prospects are uncertain given that Republicans are at odds with some aspects of the plan and Democrats are in no hurry to secure a political victory for the president.

President Donald Trump will meet with GOP lawmakers Tuesday to try to kick-start the process for rounding up votes on Capitol Hill. Supporters in Congress and business groups say they have a narrow window to push it through, given that lawmakers tend to avoid tough trade votes during election season.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., the chairman of the House subcommittee that has jurisdiction over trade, said the pact needs adjustments to be “worthy of support.”

Some Republican lawmakers also have concerns. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, maintains that the president should lift steel and aluminum tariffs on products brought in from Canada and Mexico as a first step to getting the trade agreement through Congress.

Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, told lawmakers during a recent congressional hearing that if they don’t pass the trade agreement, the United States will have “no credibility at all” with future trading partners, including China.

“There is no trade program in the United States if we don’t pass USMCA. There just isn’t one,” Lighthizer said.

The White House’s legislative affairs team has talked to more than 290 members of Congress and staff over the past two months to push the deal. But the administration knows that making changes in the agreement to win over lawmakers could jeopardize support for the pact from Canada and Mexico.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told reporters recently that many in her state’s agricultural community are “still with the president, but if we don’t get the trade deals done, they could turn quickly.”

She said, “We need to start wrapping this baby up.”

​The trade deal is designed to supplant the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994 and gradually eliminated tariffs on goods produced and traded within North America.

U.S. trade with its NAFTA partners has more than tripled since the agreement took effect, and more rapidly than trade with the rest of the world.

But Trump has called NAFTA a disaster for the United States. The new pact his administration negotiated is meant to increase manufacturing in the United States. Trump is warning that if lawmakers don’t approve the pact, the U.S. may revert to what he has described as “pre-NAFTA.”

Blumenauer is looking to make changes to the agreement in four areas: enhancing environmental and labor protections, ensuring enforcement of the agreement, and taking on protections for pharmaceutical companies that he believes drive up drug costs for consumers.

“I don’t think anyone wants to blow it up, but there is interest in strengthening it,” Blumenauer said.

Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, the ranking Republican on the trade subcommittee, said he believes the vast majority of Republicans will end up voting for the agreement. He’s tried to assure Democratic colleagues that Republicans were “open-minded to try and get some things done” to address their concerns.

“You put a lot of jobs at risk if this blows up,” Buchanan said.

Vanessa Sciarra, a vice president at the National Foreign Trade Council, said it’s too soon to tell how the vote will shake out.

Sciarra said one thing lawmakers don’t want to see is Trump make good on a threat to withdraw from NAFTA if he can’t get Congress to ratify the pact.

“Never has NAFTA been so popular,” Sciarra said.

Canadian officials have been lobbying the U.S. to end Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs and have suggested that approval by Canada’s Parliament could be conditioned upon them being lifted. David MacNaughton, Ottawa’s ambassador to Washington, has said it will be a tough sell to pass if the tariffs are still in place.

Dan Ujczo, a trade lawyer and Canada-U.S. specialist in Columbus, Ohio, said the trade deal could pass “relatively quickly” once the tariffs are removed.

In Mexico, the administration of then-President Enrique Pena Nieto spearheaded Mexico’s negotiations, but representatives of current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador were deeply involved in the talks to ensure an agreement that both the outgoing and incoming administrations could live with.

Allies of Lopez Obrador, who took office Dec. 1, enjoy a large majority in the Mexican Senate, so passage of the agreement would seemingly go smoothly.

Kenneth Smith Ramos, who was chief negotiator for Pena Nieto’s government and now works as an international trade consultant at Mexico City-based AGON, said Mexican enthusiasm for the deal could dim though if there are significant new demands on labor, pharmaceuticals, the environment or other issues.

“We made some important concessions,” he said, adding that if “the U.S. still wants more, then that starts to unbalance the agreement and there may be a growing opposition in Mexico.”

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Hong Kong Ex-Official Patrick Ho Jailed 3 Years for Bribery

Hong Kong’s former home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi Ping was jailed for three years Monday for a scheme to bribe African officials to boost a top Chinese energy company that was part of Beijing’s global Belt and Road initiative.

Ho, 69, who worked for the controversial energy conglomerate CEFC China Energy, was sentenced by a New York judge after being convicted in December on seven charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering for bribes.

He was accused of paying off top officials in Uganda and Chad to support the Shanghai conglomerate’s projects in their countries.

Some of the deals were arranged in the halls of the United Nations, leading to the U.S. arrest in November 2017 of Ho and a co-conspirator, former Senegalese top diplomat Cheikh Gadio.

The two men allegedly offered a $2 million bribe to Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, “to obtain valuable oil rights,” and a $500,000 bribe to an account designated by Sam Kutesa, the minister of foreign affairs of Uganda, who had recently completed his term as the President of the U.N. General Assembly, according to the charges.

“Patrick Ho schemed to bribe the leaders of Chad and Uganda in order to secure unfair business advantages for the Chinese energy company he served,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. “Foreign corruption undermines the fairness of international markets, erodes the public’s faith in its leaders, and is deeply unfair to the people and businesses that play by the rules.”

CEFC was an upstart company that quickly grew to be worth tens of billions of dollars despite a murky track record.

It was considered to be a vital player in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One Belt One Road plan to build commercial networks around the world.

CEFC was led by Ye Jianying, an ostensibly well-connected businessman who built a network of global contacts, and notably was able to meet with members of then-vice president Joe Biden’s family and a former CIA director.

But after Ho was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2017, CEFC’s business began to crumble.

Last year, Ye disappeared and is now believed to be held by Chinese authorities for unspecified charges.

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Airbus Wins China Order for 300 Jets as Xi Visits France

Airbus signed a deal worth tens of billions of dollars on Monday to sell 300 aircraft to China as part of a trade package coinciding with a visit to Europe by Chinese President Xi Jinping and matching a China record held by rival Boeing.

The deal between Airbus and China’s state buying agency, China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, which regularly coordinates headline-grabbing deals during diplomatic visits, will include 290 A320-family jets and 10 A350 wide-body jets.

French officials said the deal was worth some 30 billion euros at catalogue prices. Planemakers usually grant significant discounts.

The larger-than-expected order, which matches an order for 300 Boeing planes when U.S. Donald Trump visited Beijing in 2017, follows a year-long vacuum of purchases in which China failed to place significant orders amid global trade tensions.

It also comes as the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX has left uncertainty over Boeing’s immediate hopes for a major jet order as the result of any warming of U.S.-China trade ties.

There was no evidence of any direct connection between the Airbus deal and Sino-U.S. tensions or Boeing fleet problems, but China watchers say Beijing has a history of sending diplomatic signals or playing off suppliers through state aircraft deals.

“The conclusion of a big (aviation) contract … is an important step forward and an excellent signal in the current context,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a joint address with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The United States and China are edging towards a possible deal to ease a months-long tariff row and a deal involving as many as 200-300 Boeing jets had until recently been expected as part of the possible rapprochement.

Long-term relationship

China was also the first to ground the newest version of Boeing’s workhorse 737 model earlier this month following a deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash, touching off a series of regulatory actions worldwide.

Asked if negotiations had accelerated as a result of the Boeing grounding or other issues, Airbus planemaking chief and designated chief executive Guillaume Faury told reporters, “This is a long-term relationship with our Chinese partners that evolves over time; it is a strong sign of confidence.”

China has become a key hunting ground for Airbus and its leading rival Boeing, thanks to surging travel demand.

But whether Airbus or Boeing is involved, analysts say diplomatic deals frequently contain a mixture of new demand, repeats of older orders and credits against future deals, meaning the immediate impact is not always clear.

The outlook has also been complicated by Beijing’s desire to grow its own industrial champions and, more recently for Boeing, the U.S.-China trade war.

French President Macron unexpectedly failed to clinch an Airbus order for 184 planes during a trip to China in early 2018 and the two sides have been working to salvage it.

Industry sources have said the year’s delay in Airbus negotiations, as well as a buying freeze during the U.S. tariff row, created latent demand for jets to feed China’s growth.

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Chairman of India’s Ailing Jet Airways Resigns

The chairman of India’s private Jet Airways has quit amid mounting financial woes which have forced it to suspend 14 international routes and ground more than 80 planes.

A statement by the airline says its board on Monday accepted the resignations of Chairman Naresh Goyal, his wife and a nominee of Gulf carrier Etihad Airways from the board. It said Goyal will also cease to be chairman.

Goyal has been trying to obtain new funding from Etihad Airways, which holds a 24 percent stake in the airline, which was founded 27 years ago.

The statement said the airline will receive 15 billion rupees ($217 million) in immediate funding under a recovery plan formulated by its creditors.

 

 

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EU Fines Nike for Blocking Cross-border Sales of Soccer Merchandise

U.S. sportswear maker Nike was hit with a 12.5 million euro ($14.14 million) fine on Monday for blocking cross-border sales of soccer merchandise of some of Europe’s best-known clubs, the latest EU sanction against such restrictions.

The European Commission said Nike’s illegal practices occurred between 2004 to 2017 and related to licensed merchandise for FC Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, Inter Milan, AS Roma and the French Football Federation.

The European Union case focused on Nike’s role as a licensor for making and distributing licensed merchandise featuring a soccer club’s brands and not its own trademarks.

The sanction came after a two-year investigation triggered by a sector inquiry into e-commerce in the 28-country bloc. The EU wants to boost online trade and economic growth.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Nike’s actions deprived soccer fans in other countries of the opportunity to buy their clubs’ merchandise such as mugs, bags, bed sheets, stationery and toys.

“Nike prevented many of its licensees from selling these branded products in a different country leading to less choice and higher prices for consumers,” she said in a statement.

Nike’s practices included clauses in contracts prohibiting out-of-territory sales by licensees and threats to end agreements if licensees ignored the clauses. Its fine was cut by 40 percent after it cooperated with the EU enforcer.

($1 = 0.8839 euros)

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How US States Are Richer Than Some Foreign Nations

The United States is an economic powerhouse.

As the largest economy in the world, the U.S. produced $20.5 trillion worth of goods and services — known as its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — in 2018. That’s impressive when you consider that the total GDP for the entire world was about $80 trillion in 2017.

In fact, every U.S. state has a GDP that makes it as powerful, economically, as a foreign nation.

California is the state with the highest GDP in the country. Its $2.97 trillion economy is on par with Britain, which has a GDP of $2.81 trillion. The UK needed 14.5 million workers — 75 percent more than California used — to produce the same economic output. On its own, California is the fifth-largest economy in the world.

The GDP of Texas ($1.78 trillion) is equivalent to the economy of Canada ($1.73 trillion), while New York’s GDP ($1.70 trillion) matches up to South Korea ($1.66 trillion).

Even the smaller U.S. states can hold their own. Wyoming, the smallest U.S. state population-wise, with fewer than 600,000 residents, has a GDP of $41 billion, which is about the same as Jordan’s, a country of 9 million people.

Mark J. Perry, an economics and finance professor at the University of Michigan, and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, used data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Monetary Fund for his analysis comparing the GDP’s of U.S. states to entire countries.

He says those numbers are a testament to the “world-class productivity of the American workforce,” and a reminder of “how much wealth, output and prosperity is being created every day in the largest economic engine there has ever been in human history.”

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US Government Posts $234 Billion Deficit in February

The U.S. federal government posted a $234 billion budget deficit in February, according to data released Friday by the Treasury Department.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a $227 billion deficit for the month.

The Treasury said federal spending in February was $401 billion, up 8 percent from the same month in 2018, while receipts were $167 billion, up 7 percent compared to February 2018.

The deficit for the fiscal year to date was $544 billion, compared with $391 billion in the comparable period the year earlier.

When adjusted for calendar effects, the deficit was $547 billion for the fiscal year to date versus $439 billion in the comparable prior period.

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GM Announces Jobs, Electric Vehicle After Trump Criticism

Less than a week after a series of critical tweets from the president over an Ohio plant closure, General Motors is announcing plans to add 400 jobs and build a new electric vehicle at a factory north of Detroit.

The company says it will spend $300 million at its plant in Orion Township, Michigan, to manufacture a Chevrolet vehicle based on the battery-powered Bolt.

GM wouldn’t say when the new workers will start or when the new vehicle will go on sale, nor would it say if the workers will be new hires or come from a pool of laid-off workers from the planned closings of four U.S. factories by January.

The company also announced plans Friday to spend about another $1.4 billion at U.S. factories with 300 more jobs but did not release a time frame or details.

The moves come after last weekend’s string of venomous tweets by President Donald Trump condemning GM for shutting its small-car factory in Lordstown, Ohio, east of Cleveland. During the weekend, Trump demanded that GM reopen the plant or sell it, criticized the local union leader and expressed frustration with CEO Mary Barra.

GM spokesman Dan Flores would not answer questions about Trump but said the investment has been in the works for weeks. Indeed, GM has said it planned to build more vehicles off the underpinnings of the Bolt, which can go an estimated 238 miles on a single electric charge. The company has promised to introduce 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023.

In November, GM announced plans to shut the four U.S. factories and one in Canada. About 3,300 workers in the U.S. would lose their jobs, as well as 2,600 in Canada. Another 8,000 white-collar workers were targeted for layoff. The company said the moves are necessary to stay financially healthy as GM faces large capital expenditures to shift to electric and autonomous vehicles.

Plants slated for closure include Lordstown; Detroit-Hamtramck, Michigan; Warren, Michigan; White Marsh, Maryland, near Baltimore and Oshawa, Ontario near Toronto. The factories largely make cars or components for them, and cars aren’t selling well these days with a dramatic consumer shift to trucks and SUVs. With the closures, GM is canceling multiple car models due to slumping sales, including the Chevrolet Volt plug-in gas-electric hybrid.

GM has said it can place about 2,700 of the laid-off U.S. workers at other factories, but it’s unclear how many will uproot and take those positions. More than 1,100 have already transferred, and others are retiring.

The United Auto Workers has sued GM over the closings, which still must be negotiated with the union.

Trump’s latest GM tweet on Monday said GM should: “Close a plant in China or Mexico, where you invested so heavily pre-Trump,” and “Bring jobs home!”

Ohio and the area around the Lordstown plant are important to Trump’s 2020 re-election bid. The state helped push him to victory in 2016, and Trump has focused on Lordstown, seldom mentioning the other U.S. factories that GM is slated to close.

Barra has said that she sees no further layoffs or plant closures through the end of 2020.

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Malaysian Leader in Pakistan to Sign $900M in Investment Deals 

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrived Thursday in Pakistan on an official three-day visit, where his high-powered delegation is expected to finalize investment deals worth nearly $900 million, officials said. 

 

The Malaysian leader will also be the chief guest at the Pakistan Day military parade Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced. 

 

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on commerce told reporters that business leaders accompanying Mahathir would sign three memorandums of understanding on Friday covering up to $900 million worth of investments in information technology and telecom sectors.  

The adviser, Razak Dawood, said the deals with Malaysia would also provide Pakistan a new opening toward membership in the Association of South East Asian Nations. He said Malaysian businessmen had also indicated they would like to invest in other sectors, including energy and textiles, to help Pakistan improve its exports. 

 

Officials said that Malaysia’s Proton carmaker signed an agreement late last year with a Pakistani partner to set up an assembly plant in the southern city of Karachi that would be its first facility in South Asia. Khan and his Malaysian counterpart are expected to officiate at a symbolic groundbreaking of the Proton plant Friday.

Looking for investors

Since taking office last August, Khan has approached nations that have warm relations with Pakistan, including China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Malaysia, to bring investment and financial deposits to help reduce a widening current account deficit and shore up foreign reserves.  

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have deposited or are in the process of depositing $6 billion in loans in recent months. The two countries have also agreed to allow Islamabad to import oil on deferred payments. China is expected to deposit more than $2 billion in the next few days. 

 

Beijing has invested more than $19 billion over the past six years in energy and infrastructure projects under what is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as part of its global Belt and Road Initiative. 

 

Last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visited Islamabad and signed investment agreements worth $20 billion, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the southwestern port city of Gwadar. 

 

Pakistani officials say they are also close to securing a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package reportedly of up to $12 billion.

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