Trump, EU chief set to meet in Davos as US digital tariffs loom

US President Donald Trump is likely to meet with EU leader, Ursula von der Leyen, in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum. (AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Trump, EU chief set to meet in Davos as US digital tariffs loom

  • Pair have previously sparred over NATO spending, with Iran high on agenda

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump is expected to meet with EU leader Ursula von der Leyen in Davos, Switzerland, next week, three sources said on Friday, as tensions mount over tariff threats, and the US president faces an impeachment trial at home.

Just days after Trump scored big victories by inking a partial trade deal with China and passing a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement, he will travel to the World Economic Forum where he is expected to discuss deepening trade disputes with the European Commission president.

The White House and the European Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Among the raft of trade issues dividing the allies, Washington’s most immediate concern is France’s plan to impose a 3 percent digital services tax, which the US government believes would harm US technology giants like Google and Amazon, with a host of other countries poised to follow suit.

In retaliation, the US trade representative last month threatened to impose a 100 percent tariff on champagne, handbags, cheese and other goods and services. Trade experts say those tariffs could hit as soon as late January, given the lack of progress in negotiations.

“Things are not really going anywhere,” said a European official, despite frequent talks between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and top US trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer. “The US is not really ready to compromise in terms of having some sort of digital services tax.”

FASTFACT

Among the major trade issues is France’s plan to impose a 3 percent digital services tax, which the US government believes would harm US technology giants like Google and Amazon.

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan ended a round of talks with senior US officials in Washington on Thursday, saying that negotiations were off to a “good start” but there was more work to do.

Iran will also be high on the agenda, after the UK, France and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear pact, following Tehran’s decision to begin scaling back compliance.

The pact offered Iran sanctions relief, but Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, saying he wanted a tougher deal.

Tensions in the region heightened after the US killed powerful military commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, canceled plans to attend the forum.

Trump and von der Leyen, Germany’s former defense minister, previously sparred over Berlin’s failure to reach NATO’s 2 percent defense spending target.

In December 2016, von der Leyen defended her shocked reaction to Trump’s election, saying, “I am not a political machine, but a human being ... and I heard exactly what he said during the campaign, also as a woman.” 


NMC Health removes CEO amid investigation of UAE firm’s finances

Updated 27 February 2020

NMC Health removes CEO amid investigation of UAE firm’s finances

  • Chief Executive Prasanth Manghat was dismissed with immediate effect
  • Chief Operating Officer Michael Davis was appointed as interim CEO

NMC Health has removed Chief Executive Prasanth Manghat with immediate effect and granted its finance chief extended sick leave, as more details emerge from an investigation into the UAE health care firm’s finances.
Abu-Dhabi based NMC said after Wednesday’s market close that it had appointed Chief Operating Officer Michael Davis as interim CEO to succeed Manghat and said Chief Financial Officer Prashanth Shenoy had been placed on longer leave.
Manghat had been with NMC for about 10 years in various roles, including deputy CEO and CFO, and had seen the company through its 2012 listing on the London Stock Exchange.
The moves are the latest blow for the firm whose shares have lost about two thirds of their value since US-based short-seller Muddy Waters late last year questioned its financial statements.
NMC had said at the time that the report was “false and misleading,” but had opened its own investigation into company finances. The review is being led by Louis Freeh, who was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States from 1993 to mid-2001.
NMC on Wednesday said the investigation committee had identified supply chain financing arrangements that were entered into by the company and “which are understood to have been used” by entities controlled by founder BR Shetty and former vice-chair Khaleefa Butti Omair Yousif Ahmed Al Muhairi.
Reuters was unable to reach Manghat, Shetty and Muhairi for comment outside business hours on NMC’s latest statement.
The company, which operates clinics and hospitals, specialized maternity and fertility clinics, and long-term care homes in 19 countries, said the committee was reviewing a drawdown of its facilities that had not been disclosed or approved by the board.
Its shares closed 6.6% higher before Wednesday’s statement.
NMC also said it had suspended a member of its treasury team over possible discrepancies in its bank statements and ledger entries, and said it would be unable to publish its annual results till at least the end of April.
Indian billionaire Shetty resigned as NMC’s co-chairman this month, after British regulators said they were looking into NMC following a disclosure that he had misstated the size of his stake.
Shetty had said this month that his NMC shareholdings were under a legal review looking into a large portion of his shares signed to two of NMC’s top investors in 2017, while some of his other stock had been pledged as security against loans.