After 17 years, truce nears in US-Europe jet subsidy war

An Airbus A350 flies over a Boeing flag while landing after a flying display during the 51st Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport near Paris. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 June 2021

After 17 years, truce nears in US-Europe jet subsidy war

  • A deal to pause the world’s largest corporate trade dispute would help US planemaker Boeing and Europe’s Airbus , while granting relief to dozens of other industries affected by tit-for-tat tariffs that were suspended in March

PARIS: The United States and Europe are expected to announce a five-year suspension of tariffs in their 17-year-old dispute over aircraft subsidies on Tuesday, allowing them to focus on the threat posed by China’s nascent commercial aircraft industry, people familiar with the matter said.
A deal to pause the world’s largest corporate trade dispute would help US planemaker Boeing and Europe’s Airbus , while granting relief to dozens of other industries affected by tit-for-tat tariffs that were suspended in March. They face a renewed trade war within weeks if there is no progress.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed the dispute in her first face-to-face meeting with EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s US-EU summit, where China will also be a key topic. Tai travels to Britain on Wednesday.
The European Commission, which oversees EU trade policy, and the United States had vowed to find a solution by July 11 when the currently suspended transatlantic tariffs are due to resume.
Officials had targeted a permanent solution through a pair of treaties — one between the United States and European Union, the original parties, and another between Washington and London following Britain’s exit from the EU — on new ground rules for aerospace.
But reaching a detailed accord has proven complex, given nearly two decades of legal wrangling and thousands of pages of documents, said one source briefed on the talks.
A standstill agreement would push back the resumption of tariffs by years at a time when US President Joe Biden has vowed to reset relations with European partners after four tumultuous years under former President Donald Trump.
Freezing the conflict over jet subsides, some of which have been rescinded or wound down, would give both sides more time to focus on broader agendas such as concerns over China’s state-driven economic model, several of the sources said.
The tariffs on $11.5 billion of goods were progressively imposed from 2019 after the United States and EU both won partial victories at the World Trade Organization over claims of unfair aid for Boeing and Airbus.
The dispute has dragged on since 2004 when the United States withdrew from a 1992 aircraft subsidy pact and took the EU to the WTO, claiming Airbus had managed to equal Boeing’s share of the jet market thanks in part to subsidized government loans.
The EU counter-sued over what it termed unfair R&D support and subsidized tax incentives for Boeing.
In recent months, top European, British and US officials have engaged in intense discussions to settle the dispute and focus on other challenges, including China.
Tai told Reuters in May she was optimistic about reaching a deal with Brussels, adding that the two sides needed to look at “the bigger question” of China’s ambitions to become a global player in the commercial aircraft industry.
The US has floated a joint review of aerospace funding in non-market economies like China, two of the people said.
One of the sources said the two sides had agreed to increase information-sharing, but gave no further details.
“There’s no question that the rise of China’s aircraft industry is ... on everybody’s proverbial radar,” US Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Marjorie Chorlins told reporters on Monday, noting what she described as China’s “heavy subsidization” of its industries.
She said settling the dispute would provide “a tremendous boost of goodwill” for broader US-European ties.
Brussels and Washington remain at odds over steel and aluminum tariffs, but are expected at Tuesday’s summit to set a Dec. 1 deadline to end punitive tariffs related to the dispute, according to a draft communique seen by Reuters.
Like the United States, the EU has sparred with Beijing on trade and security this year. But its 27 nations could struggle to agree a common front on topics like aerospace.
In April, for example, Hungary blocked an EU statement criticizing China’s new Hong Kong security law, sparking a row over the right of member states to veto EU foreign policy.
The Chinese embassy in Washington had no immediate comment.
None of the parties agreed to comment on the talks.
In a potentially key breakthrough, the United States had watered down opposition to the principle of future public loans for Airbus and removed its demand for compensation.
But its insistence on advance notice of any future public loans had triggered concerns among EU officials, who rejected giving Washington any veto power, people familiar with the talks said.
Even more critical is the benchmark to be used when deciding whether the interest on any future loans is market-compatible.
Under the 1992 subsidy pact, one third of a project could be financed by direct government support such as loans and cleared indirect R&D support up to 4 percent of a company’s revenue.
One option is to revisit that framework with market rules replacing subsidy quotas and a new cap on indirect R&D support.
Brexit has also complicated negotiations.
Britain and the United States came close to striking an aerospace agreement in December that could have forced the hand of Brussels in its own talks with Washington.
Britain’s ability to negotiate trade deals independently of the EU is central to its new “global Britain” stance. But its flexibility on Airbus is cramped by its role as one of four core nations involved in the planemaker, pre-dating its EU accession.
Airbus, which has 14,000 staff in Britain, has made plain work could shift abroad if the UK turns its back on aerospace.


Lebanon sells cheapest Big Mac in the world as currency collapses

Updated 17 min 10 sec ago

Lebanon sells cheapest Big Mac in the world as currency collapses

  • Lebanese pound is 70 percent undervalued according to the Big Mac Index
  • A split is emerging between those paid in Lebanese pounds and those in dollars

RIYADH: Lebanon is home to the world’s cheapest Big Mac after the pound slumped in value, leaving it more than 70 percent undervalued against the US dollar, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.

At 29,904 Lebanese pounds, a Big Mac is not cheap for those being paid in local currency, but with an exchange rate of 17,800 to the dollar, it costs just $1.68 for tourists and those lucky enough to get paid in dollars.

The slump in the Lebanese pound is exacerbating and accelerating inflation on a basic basket of goods, such as rice, sugar and flour, on a daily basis, said Lebanese economic analyst Bassel Al-Khatib.

Most people are paid in the local currency in Lebanon, where the national minimum wage stands at 675,000 Lebanese pounds per month, which was once worth almost $450 at the official exchange rate, but today barely fetches $30 on the black market, according to the Crisis Observatory at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

The Observatory said the cost of food has soared by 700 percent over the past two years, and this increase had picked up pace to 50 percent in the past few weeks alone.

Most Lebanese people are getting poorer on a daily basis, pushing some of them to sell their gold, cars and even furniture to survive, while others wait for US dollar transfers from their relatives abroad, or wait for civil society aid, Al-Khatib told Arab News.

This is all reflected in Lebanese social media, which is flooded with donation requests for new-born baby milk and medications that are not available anymore in the markets or are sold for extremely high prices. There are also numerous donation requests for people in need of food.

At the same time, others are sharing their expensive restaurant bills, such as Babel Baher who spent 5 million Lebanese pounds on a meal and posted the cheque on Facebook.

“$250 is almost nothing for someone coming from abroad,” a Facebook user called Rania wrote under the post. “This is a very cheap bill for someone who has US dollars and this dinner is not expensive at all compared to abroad.”

Al Khatib said that those paid in US dollars are living an affordable life with only $300 out of their salaries while before they needed $3,000 to have the same quality of life.

“The patchwork policies to support some commodities is not helping as all commodities that are subsidized are smuggled, ” said Al Khatib.

The country’s mismanagement with no plan or economic vision to save Lebanon from its worsening crisis, led us here, and there are no positive prospects as long as there are no radical solutions in the country, he said.


PIF-backed Lucid Motors makes trading debut on Nasdaq

Updated 26 July 2021

PIF-backed Lucid Motors makes trading debut on Nasdaq

  • will make itsLucid to make trading debut on New York’s Nasdaq Global Select Market on Monday
  • Lucid merged with special purpose acquisition vehicle Churchill Capital Corp. IV

RIYADH: Lucid Motors, the Californian electric vehicle (EV) carmaker majority-owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), will make its trading debut on New York’s Nasdaq Global Select Market on Monday.

Listed under the new ticker symbol “LCID”, the listing came about following the merger of Lucid and Churchill Capital Corp. IV — a special purpose acquisition company — on July 23. The EV firm will begin trading by ringing the Nasdaq opening bell on July 26.

The deal will help Lucid raise $4.4 billion, which will be used to fast track its production growth plans. The firm has over 11,000 paid reservations for its Lucid Air vehicle, which is on scheduled to start deliveries in the second half of this year.

“We are on track to meet our projected deliveries for the next two years, and we look forward to delighting our customers around the world with the best electric vehicles ever created,” Peter Rawlinson, CEO and CTO of Lucid Group, said in a press statement.

Michael S. Klein, chairman and CEO of Churchill Capital Corp. IV, said ahead of the merger: “Lucid has industry-leading technology, clear demand for its products, and is on track to deliver revenue-generating cars to customers in the second half of this year. We are excited to support Lucid’s transition into a public company and confident in its ability to address unmet needs in the automotive industry, which is moving toward electrification at a rapid pace and on a global scale.”

PIF announced its investment in Lucid Motors in Sept. 2018. The Lucid Motors CEO told Arab News in January that his team were scrutinizing possible locations in Saudi Arabia to open retail outlets — what Lucid calls “studios” — for their luxury EVs.

“We are already looking,” he said. “My retail team just returned from a scouting trip in the Kingdom, and that is very much on the road there. Hopefully, we can get a retail outlet there right at the tail end of 2021, probably early 2022.”

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia stands to record a profit of nearly $20 billion on the back of its investment in Lucid.

PIF will own over 60 percent of the company, which is expected to have a market capitalization of about $36 billion.

Lucid’s expected market capitalization is nearly twice the valuation of Nissan Motor Co. and about two-thirds that of Ford Motor Co., which delivered more than 4 million cars last year. Lucid has yet to sell any cars.

Looking at the market for EVs, a report by the Pew Research Center found that 7 percent of respondents said they currently owned an electric or hybrid vehicle, and 39 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to buy an EV when they next came to purchase.

Interest has grown, with 1.8 million EVs registered in the US in 2020, more than three times as many as four years ago, according to the International Energy Agency.

While the US accounts for 17 percent of the world’s 10.2 million EVs, China is the biggest market, with 44 percent of all cars and Europe following with 31 percent.


Saudi Arabia to introduce insurance on domestic labor contracts in 2022

Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi Arabia to introduce insurance on domestic labor contracts in 2022

  • Move aims to increase attractiveness of Saudi labor market
  • Recruiters must carry the cost of insuring contracts for first two years

RIYADH: Saudi Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development is expected to start implementing insurance on the domestic labor contract early in 2022 in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA), Al Eqtisadia paper reported.

This decision guarantees the rights and benefits of the employer and the worker, including compensating the employer for the expense of bringing in a replacement domestic worker in the event of death, inability to work, or suffering from chronic or critical diseases, according to the ministry.

The move aims to increase the attractiveness of the Saudi labor market, improve the contractual relationship between workers and employers, and reduce risks in the domestic labor recruitment market, helping to cut costs.

“Recruitment companies and agencies used to provide a 3-month trial period for the worker, compensating families for any potential damage, but once the trial period ends, the two parties are not protected, causing lot of losses to Saudi families,” Saudi development and localization specialist Saleh Al-Anzi told Arab news.

“The insurance contract protects both the worker and the employer,” he said.

The insurance will be technically linked to the mediation contract for the recruitment of domestic workers through the Musaned platform, and the ministry will issue the implementation mechanism later in cooperation with the relevant authorities, including SAMA and the Ministry of Interior, sources familiar with the matter told the paper.

Recruitment companies must carry the cost of insuring the contracts of domestic workers they bring into the country for the first two years, the Saudi Council of Ministers decreed in May.


Saudi car rental facilities to issue e-contracts starting July 25

Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi car rental facilities to issue e-contracts starting July 25

  • Car rental facilities to issue all car rental contracts on the Naql portal

RIYADH: The Saudi Transport General Authority (TGA) started implementing the first phase of the unified electronic contract for car rental starting July 25, TGA announced on its Twitter account.
The unified electronic contract obliges car rental facilities to issue all car rental contracts on the Naql portal through the rental contracts service.
This service will enable the licensed establishments to issue a unified contract with complete statutory requirements and clauses, and will contribute to preserving the rights of the lessor and the lessee, enhancing the confidence in the services provided, and raising the level of quality of services, TGA said.
The unified electronic car contract will reduce disputes and the burden on the relevant authorities and will stimulate investment in the sector, according to the TGA.
TGA launched its Distinguished Transport Partner program in May to strengthen public-private partnerships in the sector.


Saudi PIF invests in Indian healthtech platform

Updated 26 July 2021

Saudi PIF invests in Indian healthtech platform

  • Healthifyme raises $75 million in Series C funding round
  • Khosla Ventures, LeapFrog Investment, HealthQuad and Unilever Ventures also invested in the round

RIYADH: The Saudi Public Investment Fund has invested in India-based healthtech Healthifyme’s $75 million Series C funding round, led by Khosla Ventures and LeapFrog Investment, Livemint reported.
HealthQuad and Unilever Ventures also participated in the round, along with existing investors Chiratae Ventures, Inventus Capital and Sistema Asia Capital, taking total investment in the startup to $100 million.
PIF assets have grown to about SR1.6 trillion ($426.6 billion) and it aims to expand this to SR4 trillion by the end of 2025, Deputy Governor Yazeed Al-Hamid said earlier this month.
The sovereign wealth fund aims to boost its local investments to account for 75-80 percent of the total, he said.
The Saudi sovereign fund has established 35 strategic companies since 2018, it announced on its Twitter account, on Sunday.
The companies are working to promote private sector growth and the diversification of the Kingdom’s economy, by launching new sectors and creating 366,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The Kingdom’s sovereign fund aims to generate approximately 1.8 million direct and indirect jobs by 2025.
The fund is focused on 13 strategic sectors including service utilities, renewable energy, aviation and defense, vehicles, transport and logistics, minerals and mining, financial services, health care, communications, media and technology, food and agriculture, and others.