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.” 


China says it has sold nearly four billion masks abroad

Updated 05 April 2020

China says it has sold nearly four billion masks abroad

  • Beijing has encouraged factories to increase production of medical supplies
  • China has also exported 37.5 million pieces of protective clothing, 16,000 ventilators and 2.84 million COVID-19 testing kits since March 1
BEIJING: China has sold nearly four billion masks to foreign countries since March, officials said Sunday, as they tried to stem widespread fears over the quality of medical exports.
Despite Chinese cases dwindling, Beijing has encouraged factories to increase production of medical supplies as the pandemic kills over 60,000 globally and parts of the world face a protective equipment shortage.
China has exported 3.86 billion masks, 37.5 million pieces of protective clothing, 16,000 ventilators and 2.84 million COVID-19 testing kits since March 1, customs official Jin Hai said, with orders to more than 50 countries.
She added the country’s medical supply exports were valued at $1.4 billion.
However numerous nations — including the Netherlands, the Philippines, Croatia, Turkey and Spain — have complained about substandard or faulty medical products shipped from China.
Last week, the Dutch government recalled 600,000 masks out of a Chinese shipment of 1.3 million that did not meet quality standards.
China said the manufacturer “stated clearly that (the masks) are non-surgical.”
Spain also rejected thousands of rapid test kits sent by an unauthorized Chinese company after it found that they were unreliable last week.
Chinese officials hit back on Sunday at media reports over defective medical supplies, saying that they “did not reflect the full facts.”
“In reality there are various factors, such as China having different standards and different usage habits to other countries. Even improper use can lead to doubts over quality,” said Jiang Fan, an official with the Ministry of Commerce.
The comments echoed remarks from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, who over the past week has repeatedly urged Western media not to “politicize” or “hype up” the issue.
Earlier this week, Beijing tightened regulations for exported coronavirus medical equipment, requiring products to fulfil both domestic licensing standards and that of their destination countries.
China has also increased its production capacity of COVID-19 testing kits to over 4 million a day, said Zhang Qi, an official with the National Medical Products Administration.