China steps up rhetoric to defend trade, hit back at Donald Trump

Workers at a steel mill in Cangzhou, China. US President Donald Trump’s plans for steel and aluminium tariffs are at the heart of a deepening rift between the two trading giants. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 March 2018

China steps up rhetoric to defend trade, hit back at Donald Trump

BEIJING: The US has flouted trade rules with an inquiry into intellectual property and China will defend its interests, Vice Premier Liu He told US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a telephone call on Saturday, according to Chinese state media.
The call between Mnuchin and Liu, a confidante of President Xi Jinping, was the highest-level contact between the two governments since US President Donald Trump announced plans for tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese goods on Thursday.
The deepening rift has sent a chill through financial markets and the corporate world as investors predicted dire consequences for the global economy should trade barriers start going up.
Several US chief executives attending a high-profile forum in Beijing on Saturday, including BlackRock Inc’s Larry Fink and Apple Inc’s Tim Cook, urged restraint.
In his call with Mnuchin, Liu, a Harvard-trained economist, said China still hoped both sides would remain “rational” and work together to keep trade relations stable, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
US officials said an eight-month probe under the 1974 US Trade Act has found that China engages in unfair trade practices by forcing American investors to turn over key technologies to Chinese firms.
However, the investigation report “violates international trade rules and is beneficial to neither Chinese interests, US interests nor global interests,” Xinhua cited Liu as saying.
In a statement on its website, the office of the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said it had filed a request — at the direction of Trump — for consultations with China at the World Trade Organization to address “discriminatory technology licensing agreements.”
China’s commerce ministry expressed regret at the filing on Saturday, and said China had taken strong measures to protect the legal rights and interests of both domestic and foreign owners of intellectual property.
During a visit to Washington in early March, Liu had requested Washington set up a new economic dialogue mechanism, identify a point person on China issues, and deliver a list of demands.
The Trump administration responded by telling China to immediately shave $100 billion off its record $375 billion trade surplus with the US.
Beijing told Washington that US export restrictions on some high-tech products are to blame.
“China has already prepared, and has the strength, to defend its national interests,” Liu said on Saturday.
Firing off a warning shot, China on Friday declared plans to levy additional duties on up to $3 billion of US imports in response to US tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed after a separate US probe.
Zhang Zhaoxiang, senior vice president of China Minmetals Corp, said that while the state-owned mining group’s steel exports to the US are tiny, the impact could come indirectly.
“China’s direct exports to the US are not big. But there will
be some impact due to our exports via the US or indirect exports,” Zhang told reporters on the sidelines of the China Development Forum in Beijing on Saturday.
China’s state-run Global Times said Beijing was only just beginning to look at means to retaliate.
“We believe it is only part of China’s countermeasures, and soybeans and other US farm products will be targeted,” the widely read tabloid said in a Saturday editorial.
Wei Jianguo, vice chairman of thew Beijing-based think tank China Center for International Economic Exchanges, told China Daily that Beijing could impose tariffs on more US products, and is considering a second and even third list of targets.
Possible items include aircraft and chips, Wei, a former vice commerce minister, told the news-paper, adding that tourism could be a possible target.
The commerce ministry’s response had so far been “relatively weak,” respected former Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei said at the forum.
US farm groups have long feared that China, which imports more than third of all US soybeans, could slow purchases of agricultural products, heaping more pain on the struggling US farm sector.
US agricultural exports to China stood at $19.6 billion last year, with soybean shipments accounting for $12.4 billion.
Chinese penalties on US soybeans will especially hurt Iowa, a state that backed Trump in the 2016 presidential elections.
Boeing jets have also been often cited as a potential target by China.
China and the US had benefitted by globalization, Blackrock’s Larry Fink said at the forum.
“I believe that a dialogue — and maybe some adjustments in trade and trade policy — can be in order. It does not need to be done publicly; it can be done privately,” he said.
Apple’s Tim Cook called for “calm heads” amid the dispute.
The sparring has cast a spotlight on hardware makers such as Apple, which assemble most of their products in China for export to other countries.
Electrical goods and tech are the largest US import item from China.
Some economists said higher US tariffs will lead to higher costs and ultimately hurt US consumers, while restrictions on Chinese investments could take away jobs in America.
“I don’t think local governments in the US and President Trump hope to see US workers losing their jobs,” Sun Yongcai, general manager at Chinese railway firm CRRS Corp, which has two US plants, said at the forum.
— Reuters
Workers at a steel mill in Cangzhou, China. US President Donald Trump’s plans for steel and aluminum tariffs are at the heart of a deepening rift between the two trading giants.


Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

Updated 47 min 29 sec ago

Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

  • Insurer says it made a generous offer on April 12
  • Crew of Ever Given remains on board ship

RIYADH: The insurance company for the Ever Given, which blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week in March, said it was disappointed by the court order to detain the vessel until $900 million compensation is paid after it had already made a generous offer to settle the claim.

The offer to the Suez Canal Authority was made in cooperation with the Japanese company that owns the ship on April 12th, Al Arabiya reported. However, the ship, its cargo and crew are being held until an agreement is reached, said the insurance company, UK Protection and Indemnity Club.

The Economic Court in Ismailia, Egypt, approved a request submitted by the Suez Canal Authority on Monday, to seize on the ship until $900 million is paid to cover the cost of freeing the ship and the disruption to traffic on the canal.

The insurer described the figure as “huge” and unjustified and said it is working with all concerned parties to ensure the release of the ship, its cargo and 25-person crew.

The Ever Given, currently in the Great Bitter Lake region, will move to Port Said for further examination, the insurance company said.


Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

Updated 54 min 46 sec ago

Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

  • Replacing lights will cut power consumption by 70%

RIYADH: The National Energy Efficiency Services Company (NESCO) will replace 74,000 traditional “sodium” lamps with other smart systems (LED) lights, in 8 municipalities of the Riyadh region.

Agreements between NESCO, also known as Tarshid, and municipalities were signed on Wednesday, SPA reported.

The LEDs will reduce power consumption by more than 70 percent, avoiding more than 48,000 metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to planting 810,000 trees.

The agreements aim to set unified standards for street lighting at the international level, in accordance with the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO).

Tarshid has completed 12 previous agreements with the region’s municipalities, and will soon sign 27 agreements to include the remaining 47 municipalities, CEO Walid bin Abdullah Al-Ghariri said.


Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

  • Cities served will include Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Dammam

RIYADH: Saudi Public Transport Authority has launched business centers in 15 cities across the Kingdom, to provide licensing and customer support services.
The cities include Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, Dammam and Al-Ahsa, as well as Qassim, Tabuk, Hail, Arar, Al-Jouf, Al-Baha, Asir, Najran and Jizan, SPA reported.
The Authority seeks to enhance the logistics sector in the Kingdom in line with Vision 2030 goals, said General Supervisor of Operations at the Public Transport Authority Fahad Albadah.
The business centers will allow clients to implement multiple services through the digital package provided by the Naql gateway, Albadah said.


Saudi inflation slows to 4.9% in March as VAT effect lingers

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi inflation slows to 4.9% in March as VAT effect lingers

  • Saudi inflation jumped to 6.1% after VAT was increased last July
  • Food and beverages were the biggest contributors to inflation in March

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s annual inflation rate fell marginally in March as last July’s increase in value-added tax (VAT) continued to assert an effect on prices.

The consumer price index rose an annual 4.9 percent in March, compared with a 5.2 percent increase in February, the General Authority of Statistics (GASTAT) said in a statement on Thursday.

The inflation rate jumped to 6.1 percent in July 2020 from 0.5 percent in June as the VAT rate was increased from 5 percent to 15 percent and has mainly been drifting lower since.

The biggest contributors to March’s reading were food and beverage prices, which increased 10.2 percent from a year earlier, driven by a 12 percent increase in the cost of meat and 10.9 percent higher prices for vegetables, GASTAT said.

Transport costs rose 10.5% as vehicle prices rose 9.6%, while tobacco gained 13.1 percent and communication added 13.2 percent.

The cost of education fell 9.5 percent year over year, while housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels declined 2.7 percent, driven by a 3.9% drop in housing rentals.

Saudi Arabia’s acting information minister said in November last year the kingdom could review its VAT increase once the coronavirus pandemic ends. Analysts at Al Rajhi Capital predicted the higher VAT rate would generate SR28 billion ($7.5 billion) in 2020 and SR88 billion in 2021 if maintained.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia and the UAE became the first two countries in the Arabian Gulf to introduce VAT.


Amazon conciliatory as US eyes regulation

Updated 16 April 2021

Amazon conciliatory as US eyes regulation

  • Founder Jeff Bezos tells investors his e-commerce empire needs a better “vision” for its workers
  • Before stepping down as CEO, he laid out a new goal for the company to be “Earth’s best employer”

SAN FRANCISCO, USA: US tech giant Amazon on Thursday sounded conciliatory notes as the US government considers stricter regulatory measures against America’s largest digital platforms.
Founder Jeff Bezos told investors his e-commerce empire needs a better “vision” for its workers, just days after an effort to create the company’s first labor union was defeated.
Some Amazon executives had fired off snappy comments at various politicians who supported the labor campaign, but their chief executive took a more circumspect approach to the anti-union victory at its plant in Bessemer, Alabama.
“Does your chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer?” Bezos asked rhetorically in an annual letter to shareholders.
“No, he doesn’t. I think we need to do a better job for our employees.”
In the letter, which was his final before stepping down as chief executive, Bezos laid out a new goal for the company to be “Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work.”
“Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success,” Bezos said.
The vote count in the contentious unionization drive at the warehouse in the southern state of Alabama last week showed a wide majority of workers rejecting the move.
“Bezos’s admission today demonstrates that what we have been saying about workplace conditions is correct,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union that vied to represent Amazon workers.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. (AP/file photo)

“But his admission won’t change anything, workers need a union — not just another Amazon public relations effort in damage control.”
Bezos rejected news reports that he said unfairly portray Amazon workers as “desperate souls and treated as robots.”
“That’s not accurate,” Bezos said.
“They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work.”
Unions and political leaders have argued that Amazon employees face constant pressure and monitoring, with little job protection, highlighting the need for collective bargaining.
Amazon has held firm that most of its workers don’t want or need a union and that the company already provides more than most other employers, with a minimum $15 hourly wage and other benefits.
Bezos had already shown deference to political momentum, announcing support for an increase in corporate taxes sought by US President Joe Biden to help finance a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Bezos embraced the move just days after Biden singled out Amazon for avoiding federal income taxes while proposing to boost the corporate tax rate to 28 percent.
“We support the Biden administration’s focus on making bold investments in American infrastructure,” Bezos said.
“We recognize this investment will require concessions from all sides — both on the specifics of what’s included as well as how it gets paid for (we’re supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate).”
Amazon has been the target of critics for years who claim it pays little or no corporate taxes. The company has defended its policies, saying that its investments offset taxes as intended by the tax code.
Last month, Biden cited a 2019 study showing 91 Fortune 500 companies, “the biggest companies in the world, including Amazon... pay not a single, solitary penny of federal income tax,” adding, “that is just wrong.”
Bezos’s support for raising corporate taxes was echoed Thursday by the Chamber of Progress, a self-described “center-left” tech industry coalition whose roster of members includes Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter.
“Many tech industry leaders view corporate taxes as a patriotic duty and a wise investment in a well-functioning society,” chamber chief Adam Kovacevich said in message posted online.
“President Biden’s proposal to raise corporate tax rates to make major investments in infrastructure is a tradeoff that many in the tech industry can support.”
Meanwhile, political will to regulate Internet giants whose power has grown dramatically during the pandemic has seemed to increase.
US House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline said Thursday that a 16-month investigation makes it clear that Congress must act.
“Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook each hold monopoly power over significant sectors of our economy,” Cicilline said in a statement.
“This monopoly moment must end.”

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