US to Proceed With Mexico Trade Pact, Keep Talking to Canada

U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress on Friday of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico after talks with Canada broke up earlier in the day with no immediate deal to revamp the tri-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said U.S. officials would resume talks with their Canadian counterparts next Wednesday with the aim of getting a deal all three nations could sign.

All three countries have stressed the importance of NAFTA, which governs billions of dollars in regional trade, and a bilateral deal announced by the United States and Mexico on Monday paved the way for Canada to rejoin the talks this week.

But by Friday the mood had soured, partly on Trump’s off-the-record remarks made to Bloomberg News that any trade deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He later confirmed the comments, which the Toronto Star first reported.

“At least Canada knows where I stand,” he later said on Twitter.

Ottawa has stood firm against signing “just any deal.” 

​’Making progress’

But at a news conference Friday afternoon, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed confidence that Canada could reach agreement with the United States on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact if there was “goodwill and flexibility on all sides.”

“We continue to work very hard and we are making progress. We’re not there yet,” Freeland told reporters.

“We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach,” she added. “With goodwill and flexibility on all sides, I know we can get there.”

The Canadian dollar weakened to C$1.3081 to the U.S. dollar after The Wall Street Journal first reported that the talks had ended Friday with no agreement. Canadian stocks remained 0.5 percent lower.

Global equities were also down following the hawkish turn in Trump’s comments on trade.

Lighthizer has refused to budge despite repeated efforts by Freeland to offer some dairy concessions to maintain the Chapter 19 independent trade dispute resolution mechanism in NAFTA, The Globe and Mail reported Friday.

However, a spokeswoman for USTR said Canada had made no concessions on agriculture, which includes dairy, but added that negotiations continued.

The United States wants to eliminate Chapter 19, the mechanism that has hindered it from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to cut the mechanism. For Ottawa, Chapter 19 is a red line.

Trump argues Canada’s hefty dairy tariffs are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for his Republican Party.

But dairy farmers have great political clout in Canada too, and concessions could hurt the ruling Liberals ahead of a 2019 federal election.

At a speech in North Carolina on Friday, Trump took another swipe at Canada. “I love Canada, but they’ve taken advantage of our country for many years,” he said.

Coca-Cola Hopes for Caffeine Hit as It Buys Costa Coffee Chain

Coca-Cola is hoping for a caffeine-fueled boost with the acquisition of British coffee chain Costa.

Costa is Britain’s biggest coffee company, with over 2,400 coffee shops in the U.K. and another 1,400 in more than 30 countries, including around 460 in China, its second-biggest market. Coca-Cola said Friday it will buy the Costa brand from Whitbread for 3.9 billion pounds ($5.1 billion) in cash.

The deal, expected to close in the first half of 2019, comes on the heels of Coca-Cola’s announcement earlier in August that it was buying a minority ownership stake in sports drink maker BodyArmor for an undisclosed amount. Coca-Cola’s other investments in recent years have included milk that is strained to have more protein and a push into sparkling water.

The move is Coca-Cola’s latest diversification as health-conscious consumers, at least in America, move away from traditional soda.

Rival PepsiCo, meanwhile, recently bought carbonated drink maker SodaStream, which produces machines that allow people to make fizzy drinks in their own homes.

Coca-Cola already owns the Georgia and Gold Peak coffee brands, which make bottled and canned drinks, but the purchase of Costa could allow it to compete with brands like Starbucks.

Coffee is growing by 6 percent a year, making it one of the fastest-growing beverage categories in the world, said James Quincey, Coca-Cola president & CEO.

“Hot beverages is one of the few remaining segments of the total beverage landscape where Coca-Cola does not have a global brand,” he said.

Coca-Cola has over 500 brands in its stable including Fanta, innocent smoothies and Powerade sports drinks. In 2017, it generated operating income of $9.7 billion on revenues of $35.4 billion.

Without being specific about expansion plans, Quincey said in a video posted on Coca-Cola’s website that the company would “over time” look to take Costa “to more people in more places.”

Costa doesn’t currently have a presence in North or South America, but Quincey indicated that one potential early expansion route would be to use Costa’s vending operation and grow the company’s ready-to-drink products. In addition to its shops, Costa has self-serve coffee machines in grocery stores and gas stations.

Whitbread bought Costa for 19 million pounds in 1995, when it had just 39 shops. In recent years, Whitbread has invested heavily in Costa’s expansion overseas, but had been looking to siphon off the business to generate funds for the expansion and for its other business, the budget hotel chain Premier Inn.

Then Coca-Cola got in touch with what Whitbread said was a “highly compelling” offer. The Whitbread board unanimously backed the deal.

Whitbread will use a “significant majority” of the net cash proceeds — around 3.8 billion pounds after taking into account such things as transaction costs — returning cash to shareholders. Some will be used to pay down debt and to make a contribution to the pension fund.

Doing so, Whitbread said, would “provide headroom” to further expand the Premier Inn budget hotel chain in Britain and Germany.

Whitbread’s share price soared 17 percent in early afternoon trading in London.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at London-based stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said Costa will get “lots of care and attention” from Coca-Cola.

“Its global reach should turbo-charge growth in the years to come, and hot drinks are one of the few areas of the wider beverages sector where the soft drinks giant doesn’t have a killer brand,” he said.

US Ports Fear Tariffs Could Reduce Ship Traffic, Jobs

Ports and ground terminals in nearly every state handle goods that are now or will likely soon be covered by import tariffs. Port executives worry that this could mean a slowdown in shipping that would have ripple effects on truckers and others whose jobs depend on trade.

The Associated Press analyzed government data and found that from the West Coast to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, at least 10 percent of imports at many ports could face new tariffs if President Donald Trump’s proposals take full effect.

Since March, the U.S. has applied new tariffs of up to 25 percent on nearly $85 billion worth of steel and aluminum and various Chinese products, mostly goods used in manufacturing.

Trump said in a recent tweet, “Tariffs are working big time.” He has argued that the tariffs will help protect American workers and force U.S. trading partners to change rules that the president insists are unfair to the United States.

In New Orleans, port officials say a tariff-related drop in shipments is real, not merely a forecast. Steel imports there have declined more than 25 percent from a year ago, according to the port’s chief commercial officer, Robert Landry.

The port is scouting for other commodities it can import. But expectations appear to be low.

“In our business, steel is the ideal commodity,” Landry said. “It’s big, it’s heavy, we charge by the ton so it pays well. You never find anything that pays as well as steel does.”

The port of Milwaukee imports steel from Europe and ships out agricultural products from the Midwest. Steel imports haven’t dropped yet because they are under long-term contracts, said the port director, Adam Schlicht. But there has been “an almost immediate halt” in outbound shipments of corn because of retaliatory duties imposed by the European Union on American products.

Much of the corn, he said, “is just staying in silos. They are filled to the brim.”

Many other ports have been humming along and even enjoyed an unexpected bump in imports during June and July as U.S. businesses moved up orders to ship before the new tariffs took effect. That started with manufacturing goods and is now spreading to retail items for back-to-school and Christmas.

“Some of my retail customers are forward-shipping the best they can to offset proposed tariffs,” says Peter Schneider, executive vice president of T.G.S. Transportation, a trucking company in Fresno, California.

Port officials were encouraged by this week’s announcement that the United States and Mexico had reached a preliminary agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, hoping it might lead to reduced trade barriers. Canada’s participation in any new deal to replace NAFTA, though, remains a major question mark.

The port officials continue to worry, though, that Trump will make good on a plan to expand tariffs to an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports — a list that includes fish and other foods, furniture, carpets, tires, rain jackets and hundreds of additional items. Tariffs would make those items costlier in the United States. And if Americans buy fewer of those goods, it would likely lead to fewer container ships steaming into U.S. ports.

The impact will be felt keenly at West Coast ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, relying on information from his port officials, said his port — the biggest in the United States — could suffer a 20 percent drop in volume if the additional $200 billion in tariffs are imposed against Chinese goods.

Jock O’Connell, an economist in California who studies trade, said he doubts a downturn would be so severe — that would match the slump that accompanied the global recession of 2008 — “but we will see a definite impact.”

Here are some of the key findings from the AP analysis:

–  U.S. tariffs will cover goods that are imported at more than 250 seaports, airports and ground terminals in 48 states.

  • At 18 of 43 customs districts — including those representing ports around Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans and Houston — at least 10 percent of their total import value could be covered by new tariffs if all Trump’s proposals take effect.

  • Retaliatory duties by China and other countries cover $27 billion in U.S. exports.

Eugene Seroka, executive director of the Los Angeles port, worries that “if tariffs make it too expensive to import, there will be an impact on jobs.”

Seroka and others don’t expect layoffs on the docks. Union longshoremen — whose average pay last year on the West Coast was $163,000, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, which negotiates for the ports — often have contract provisions ensuring that they are paid even if there’s no work. And there are fewer of them than there were a few decades ago because the advent of shipping containers has reduced the need for people on the docks.

Dwayne Boudreaux, an International Longshoremen’s Association official in Louisiana, said, though, that his stevedores are handling about 10 percent less steel from Japan because of the new tariffs.

“We don’t think it’s going to [get] worse,” he said. But, he added, “who knows — that could change from the next press conference.”

The impact might be greater on truck drivers and warehouse workers. Fewer will be needed, according to O’Connell.

Many drivers who deliver shipping containers from the dock to warehouses are independents contracted by trucking companies, and they don’t get paid if there is nothing to haul. Some might leave the profession, said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association in Long Beach, California.

“It’s hard to retain drivers,” he said. “If we don’t have work for those drivers, we’re worried they will leave for some other segment of the trucking business or go into another business, like construction.”

Less shipping means less revenue for the ports — something that could limit their ability to pay for expansion and improvement projects, according to Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities. He said U.S. ports are in the midst of a planned $155 billion in infrastructure spending from 2016 through 2020.

The current trade war was foreshadowed in January by steep U.S. tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. It exploded with the U.S. tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Then came two rounds of duties targeting about $50 billion in imports from China — punishment against that country for pressuring U.S. companies to transfer technology and intellectual property to Chinese companies.

Along the way, China, the European Union, Turkey, Canada and Mexico imposed retaliatory duties on U.S. goods including farm products and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

This week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office finished six days of hearings on a plan to hit another $200 billion in Chinese imports with 10 percent duties. Trump has said that if China continues to retaliate he could eventually add tariffs on $450 billion in Chinese goods, nearly 90 percent of that country’s 2017 exports to the U.S.

Trade wars are usually temporary. President George W. Bush abandoned his steel tariffs after less than two years.

Milwaukee’s port director worries, however, that damage from the current trade dispute could linger. Canada is increasing corn exports to Europe, and Brazil is trying to pick up the slack in soybean exports to China.

“Others are already picking up that business,” Schlicht said.

«Укрзалізниця» знижує вартість проїзду в пасажирських поїздах із 1 вересня

«Укрзалізниця» оголосила, що з 1 вересня знижує вартість проїзду в пасажирських поїздах далекого сполучення, що курсують територією України. Перевізник пояснює це тим, що в перший день осені вступає в дію нижчий коефіцієнт індексації до тарифів на перевезення пасажирів у внутрішньому сполученні.

«Наприклад, вартість проїзду 31 серпня за маршрутом Київ – Львів у вагоні купе поїзда № 141 коштує 347,92 гривні, а на наступну п’ятницю аналогічний квиток коштуватиме 333,92 гривні, у вагоні купе поїзда № 29 Київ – Ужгород коштує 728,19 гривні, а коштуватиме 696,39 гривні», – інформує «Укрзалізниця» і анонсує, що з жовтня діятиме ще нижчий коефіцієнт.

У період з 1 червня по 31 серпня діяв календарний період з коефіцієнтом 1,07, з 1 вересня він становитиме 1,02, з 1 жовтня – 0,93. Міністерство інфраструктури України від 20 квітня 2018 року визначило 13 різних календарних періодів, які впливають на вартість проїзду. Також на ціну квитка впливає і день тижня, у який пасажир розпочинає подорож.

Canada, US Push Toward NAFTA Deal by Friday

Top NAFTA negotiators from Canada and the United States increased the pace of their negotiations Thursday to resolve final differences to meet a Friday deadline, with their Mexican counterpart on standby to rejoin the talks soon.

Despite some contentious issues still on the table, the increasingly positive tone contrasted with U.S. President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Canada in recent weeks, raising hopes that the year-long talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement will conclude soon with a trilateral deal.

“Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” U.S. President Donald Trump told Bloomberg Television. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Trilateral talks were already underway at the technical level and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo was expected to soon rejoin talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, possibly later on Thursday, people familiar with the process said.

Trump said in a Bloomberg interview: “Canada’s going to make a deal at some point. It may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time,” Trump said. “I think we’re close to a deal.”

Negotiations entered a crucial phase this week after the United States and Mexico announced a bilateral deal on Monday, paving the way for Canada to rejoin talks to modernize the 24-year-old accord that underpins over $1 trillion in annual trade.

The NAFTA deal that is taking shape would likely strengthen North America as a manufacturing base by making it more costly for automakers to import a large share of vehicle parts from outside the region. The automotive content provisions, the most contentious topic, could accelerate a shift of parts-making away from China.

A new chapter governing the digital economy, along with stronger intellectual property, labor and environmental standards could also work to the benefit of U.S. companies, helping Trump to fulfill his campaign promise of creating more American jobs.

Trump has set a Friday deadline for the three countries to reach an agreement, which would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign it before he leaves office at the end of November. Under U.S. law, Trump must wait 90 days before signing the pact.

The U.S. president has warned he could try to proceed with a deal with Mexico alone and levy tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Ottawa does not come on board, although U.S. lawmakers have said ratifying a bilateral deal would not be easy.

Dairy, dispute settlement

One sticking point for Canada is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute-resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.

Trump also wants a NAFTA deal that eliminates dairy tariffs of up to 300 percent that he argues are hurting U.S. farmers, an important political base for Republicans.

But any concessions to Washington by Ottawa is likely to upset Canadian dairy farmers, who have an outsized influence in Canadian politics, with their concentration in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

 “Ultimately, we’ve got huge issues that are still to be resolved,” said Jerry Dias, head of Canada’s influential Unifor labor union. “Either we’re going to be trading partners or we’re going to fight.”

Microsoft to Contractors: Give New Parents Paid Leave

Microsoft will begin requiring its contractors to offer their U.S. employees paid leave to care for a new child.

It’s common for tech firms to offer generous family leave benefits for their own software engineers and other full-time staff, but paid leave advocates say it’s still rare to require similar benefits for contracted workers such as janitors, landscapers, cafeteria crews and software consultants.

“Given its size and its reach, this is a unique and hopefully trailblazing offering,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

The details

The new policy affects businesses with at least 50 U.S.-based employees that do substantial work with Microsoft that involves access to its buildings or its computing network. It doesn’t affect suppliers of goods. Contractors would have to offer at least 12 weeks of leave to those working with the Redmond, Washington-based software giant; the policy wouldn’t affect the contractors’ arrangements with other companies. Leave-takers would get 66 percent of regular pay, up to $1,000 weekly.

The policy announced Thursday rolls out over the next year as the company amends its contracts with those vendors. That may mean some of Microsoft’s costs will rise to cover the new benefits, said Dev Stahlkopf, the company’s corporate vice president and general counsel.

“That’s just fine and we think it’s well worth the price,” she said.

Microsoft doesn’t disclose how many contracted workers it uses, but it’s in the thousands.

The new policy expands on Microsoft’s 2015 policy requiring contractors to offer paid sick days and vacation.

Facebook

Other companies such as Facebook have also committed to improve contractor benefits amid unionization efforts by shuttle drivers, security guards and other contract workers trying to get by in expensive, tech-fueled regions such as the San Francisco Bay Area and around Washington’s Puget Sound.

Facebook doesn’t guarantee that contract workers receive paid parental leave, but provides a $4,000 new child benefit for new parents who don’t get leave. A much smaller California tech company, SurveyMonkey, announced a paid family leave plan for its contract workers earlier this year.

Washington state law

Microsoft said its new policy is partially inspired by a Washington state law taking effect in 2020 guaranteeing eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child. The state policy, signed into law last year, follows California and a handful of other states in allowing new parents to tap into a fund that all workers pay into. Washington will also require employers to help foot the bill, and will start collecting payroll deductions next January.

A federal paid parental leave plan proposed by President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, could rely on a similar model but has gained little traction.

“Compared to what employers are doing, the government is way behind the private sector,” said Isabel Sawhill, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has urged the White House and Congress to adopt a national policy.

Sawhill said it is “very unusual and very notable” that Microsoft is extending family leave benefits to its contract workers. Microsoft already offers more generous family leave benefits to its own employees, including up to 20 weeks fully paid leave for a birth mother.

Pushing the feds

Microsoft’s push to spread its employee benefits to a broader workforce “sends a message that something has to happen more systematically at the federal level,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Until then, she said, it’s helpful that Microsoft seems willing to pay contracting firms more to guarantee their workers’ better benefits.

“Paid family leave is expensive and they acknowledge that,” Hegewisch said. Otherwise, she said, contractors with many employees of child-bearing age could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those with older workforces.

Republican state Sen. Joe Fain, the prime sponsor of the measure that passed last year, said Microsoft’s decision was “a really powerful step forward.”

By applying the plan to contractors and vendors around the country, “it really creates a pressure for those state legislatures to make a similar decision that Washington made.”

Argentina Boosts Interest Rate to 60%; Peso Sinks

Argentina’s Central Bank on Thursday increased its benchmark interest rate to 60 percent — the world’s highest — in an effort to halt a sharp slide in the value of the peso, which plunged to a record low.

The peso fell more than 13 percent against the dollar, closing at an all-time low of 39.2 per greenback, after slipping about 7 percent the day before.

The Central Bank said in a statement that it was hiking its benchmark interest rate by 15 percentage points to 60 percent in response to the currency problems and the risk of greater impact on local inflation, which is already running at about 30 percent a year.

The tumult in the exchange market came a day after President Mauricio Macri said he was asking for an early release of some International Monetary Fund money under an $50 billion backup financing arrangement approved earlier.

Some experts said the announcement, combined with the interest rate hike, had the unintended effect of fueling the crisis of confidence.

“I think today’s interest hike announcement will do nothing but leave investors even more jittery,” said Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“I’m finding it difficult to understand why, after yesterday’s announcement about front-loading more of the IMF funding, the government thought the hike was warranted,” she said. “Hyperactivity starts to look like desperation.”

Macri has struggled to calm markets and bring confidence to Argentines who continue to lose purchasing power. Many are frustrated with layoffs, higher utility rates and a rise in poverty levels.

Many also have bad memories of the IMF and blame its free-market economic policies for contributing to the country’s worst crisis in 2001-02, when one of every five Argentines went unemployed and millions fell into poverty.

Seeing journalists filming screens showing the exchange rates in downtown Buenos Aires, Ruben Montiel, 55, burst out: “Macri is an embarrassment!”

“You can’t live like this. The prices of everything go up on a daily basis,” he said. “There’s no work, utility rates have gone through the roof … people are sleeping on the streets.”

Macri, a pro-business conservative who came into office in 2015, had promised to trim Argentina’s fiscal deficit, reduce poverty and curb inflation. He cut red tape and tried to reduce the government’s budget deficit by ordering layoffs and cutting utility subsidies, but it triggered labor unrest.

Then in December, officials announced a rise in the inflation target, which caused investors to begin doubting Macri’s commitment to taming price rises.

Meanwhile, the peso slumped against the dollar as rising U.S. interest rates lured investors to pull greenbacks out of Argentina.

That caused jitters among Argentines, who have been used to stashing away dollars as a cushion since the 2001 crisis, when banks froze deposits and put up sheet-metal barricades as thousands of protesters unsuccessfully tried to withdraw their savings. Dozens died in protests and looting in December 2001 as the economy unraveled and Argentina eventually suffered a record $100 billion debt default.

“The government will need to shuffle its cabinet and strike deals with provincial governors for next year’s budget,” said Argentine economist Marcos Buscaglia. “In the short-term, the government just needs to stop this crisis.”

Trump Cancels Pay Raise Federal Workers Were Due in January

President Donald Trump informed Congress on Thursday that he was canceling pay raises due in January for most civilian federal employees, citing budget constraints. But the workers still could see a slightly smaller boost in their pay under a proposal lawmakers are considering.

Trump said he was axing a 2.1 percent across-the-board raise for most workers as well as locality pay increases averaging 25.7 percent and costing $25 billion.

“We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course,” said Trump, who last year signed a package of tax cuts that is forecast to expand the deficit by about $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Trump cited the “significant” cost of employing federal workers as justification for denying the pay increases, and called for federal worker pay to be based on performance and structured toward recruiting, retaining and rewarding “high-performing” workers and “those with critical skill sets.”

His announcement came as the country heads into the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Democrats sound off

The Democratic Party immediately criticized the announcement, citing the tax cuts Trump signed into law last December. The law provided steep tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and more modest reductions for middle- and low-income individuals and families.

“Trump has delivered yet another slap in the face to American workers,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

Under the law, the 2.1 percent raise takes effect automatically unless the president and Congress act to change it. Congress is currently debating a proposal for a slightly lower, 1.9 percent across-the-board raise to be included in a government funding bill that would require Trump’s signature to keep most government functions operating past September.

Unions representing the 2 million-member federal workforce urged Congress to pass the 1.9 percent pay raise.

“President Trump’s plan to freeze wages for these patriotic workers next year ignores the fact that they are worse off today financially than they were at the start of the decade,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal workers.

“They have already endured years of little to no increases and their paychecks cannot stretch any further as education, health care costs, gas and other goods continue to get more expensive,” added Tim Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Cox said federal worker pay and benefits have been cut by more than $200 billion since 2011, and workers are currently earning 5 percent less than they did at the start of the decade.

Higher deficit estimates

In July, the Trump administration sharply revised upward its deficit estimates compared to the estimates in the budget proposal it sent Congress in February. The worsening deficit reflects the impact of the $1.5 trillion, 10-year tax cuts, as well as increased spending for the military and domestic programs that Congress approved earlier this year.

The administration’s July budget update projected a deficit of $890 million for the fiscal year that ends September 30, up from the February estimate of $873 billion. The $890 billion deficit projection represents a 34 percent increase from the $666 billion deficit the government recorded in 2017.

For 2019, the administration is projecting the deficit will again top $1 trillion and stay at that level for the next three years.

The only other period when the federal government ran deficits above $1 trillion was the four years from 2009 through 2012, when the government used tax cuts and increased spending to combat the 2008 fiscal crisis and the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who represents many federal workers, blamed what he said was Trump’s mismanagement of the federal government.

“His tax bill exploded the deficit, and now he is trying to balance the budget,” Connolly said.

Польська компанія веде чергові переговори про постачання газу в Україну – ЗМІ

«Польська нафтогазова компанія» (PGNiG) бере участь у чергових переговорах щодо постачання газу в Україну. Про це повідомив заступник голови PGNiG Мацей Возняк, передає «Польське радіо».

Повідомляється, що компанія PGNiG в першому півріччі поточного року надала Україні майже 220 мільйонів кубометрів газу.

«Це трішки менше, ніж торік, але ми сподівалися більшої турбулентності після рішення Стокгольмського арбітражу між «Газпромом» і «Нафтогазом». До кінця року ми очікуємо стабілізації і домовляємося про чергові контракти на постачання газу», – сказав представник компанії.

Як повідомляє польський портал Money.pl, обсяг реалізації газу PGNiG в Україну в 2017 році становив більш ніж 700 мільйонів кубометрів на рік.

Читайте також: 1000 днів без російського газу: що це означає для України?

З кінця листопада 2015 року Україна не імпортує газ із Росії.

Поставки газу з Європи в Україну здійснюються за трьома напрямками: з Польщі, Угорщини та Словаччини.

28 лютого 2018 року компанія НАК «Нафтогаз України» повідомила про перемогу в Стокгольмському арбітражі над російським газовим монополістом, компанією «Газпромом» у суперечці щодо компенсації за недопоставлені «Газпромом» обсяги газу для транзиту. «Газпром» заявив про незгоду з рішенням Стокгольмського арбітражу.

1 березня у компанії «Укртрансгаз» заявили про низький тиск у магістральних газопроводах на вході в українську ГТС і додали, що падіння тиску на вході системи ускладнює його транзит і споживання.

Вже вранці 2 березня польська компанія PGNiG почала постачати газ «Нафтогазу України».

Нацбанк припинив падіння гривні, продавши 50 мільйонів доларів на міжбанку

Національний банк України 30 серпня відреагував на продовження знецінення гривні на міжбанківському валютному ринку, повідомляє сайт «Мінфін». Опівдні регулятор оголосив про намір продати до 50 мільйонів доларів, у підсумку продана сума склала 49,4 мільйона доларів за мінімальною ціною 28 гривень 27 копійок.

Це дозволило припинити падіння гривні, яке на піку сягало 28 гривень 30 копійок (купівля) – 28 гривень 33 копійок (продаж).

Перед закриттям міжбанку котирування опустилися до рівня інтервенції НБУ – 28 гривень 25 копійок (купівля) – 28 гривень 29 копійок (продаж).

Нацбанк встановив на 31 серпня курс 28 гривень 28 копійок за долар, це на 16 копійок більше за курс, встановлений на день раніше.

Росія мала найбільші обсяги прямих інвестицій в Україну в першому півріччі – Держстат

Росія мала найбільші обсяги прямих інвестицій в Україну в період від січня до червня 2018 року, повідомляє Державна служба статистики України.

Загальна сума російських інвестицій до України становила 436 мільйонів доларів США (34,6%). На другому місці – Кіпр (219 мільйонів доларів), на третьому – Нідерланди (207,7 мільйона доларів).

До переліку найбільших країн-інвесторів також увійшли Австрія (58,7 мільйона доларів), Польща (54,1 мільйона), Франція (46,9 мільйона) та Велика Британія (43,4 мільйона).

Найбільший обсяг інвестицій спрямований на фінансову та страхову діяльність (750,5 мільйона доларів).

Trump OKs Tariff Relief for Three Countries

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed proclamations permitting targeted relief from steel and aluminum quotas from some countries, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

Trump, who put in place tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March, signed proclamations allowing relief from the quotas on steel from South Korea, Brazil and Argentina and on aluminum from Argentina, the department said in a statement.

“Companies can apply for product exclusions based on insufficient quantity or quality available from U.S. steel or aluminum producers,” the statement said. “In such cases, an exclusion from the quota may be granted and no tariff would be owed.”

Trump, citing national security concerns, placed tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

The tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico took effect June 1, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said May 31 that arrangements had been made with some countries to have non-tariff limits on their exports of the two metals to the United States.

Ross said the arrangement with South Korea was for a quota of 70 percent of average steel exports to the United States in the years 2015 to 2017.

The Brazilian government said at the time the U.S. quotas and tariffs on Brazil’s steel and aluminum exports were unjustified but that it remained open to negotiate a solution.

Brazilian semi-finished steel exports to the United States are subject to quotas based on the average for the three years from 2015-2017, while finished steel products will be limited to a quota of 70 percent of the average for those years.

Trump, Trudeau Upbeat About Prospects for NAFTA Deal by Friday

The leaders of the United States and Canada expressed optimism on Wednesday that they could reach new NAFTA deal by a Friday deadline as negotiators prepared to talk through the night, although Canada warned that a number of tricky issues remained.

Under pressure, Canada rejoined the talks to modernize the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement after Mexico and the United States announced a bilateral deal on Monday. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said late on Wednesday that talks were at “a very intense moment” but said there was “a lot of good will” between Canadian and U.S. negotiators.

“Our officials are meeting now and will be meeting until very late tonight. Possibly they’ll be meeting all night long,” Freeland said. She and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had agreed to review progress early on Thursday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has set a Friday deadline for the three countries to reach an in-principle agreement, which would allow Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign it before he leaves office at the end of November. Under U.S. law, Trump must wait 90 days before signing the pact.

Trump has warned he could try to proceed with a deal with Mexico alone and levy tariffs on Canadian-made cars if Ottawa does not come on board, although U.S. lawmakers have said ratifying a bilateral deal would not be easy.

“They (Canada) want to be part of the deal, and we gave until Friday and I think we’re probably on track. We’ll see what happens, but in any event, things are working out very well.” Trump told reporters at the White House.

The upbeat tone contrasted with Trump’s harsh criticism of Canada in recent weeks, railing on Twitter against Canada’s high dairy tariffs that he said were “killing our Agriculture!”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he thought the Friday deadline could be met.

“We recognize that there is a possibility of getting there by Friday, but it is only a possibility, because it will hinge on whether or not there is ultimately a good deal for Canada,” he said at a news conference in northern Ontario on Wednesday.

“No NAFTA deal is better than a bad NAFTA deal.”

 Freeland, who is Canada’s lead negotiator, was sidelined from the talks for more than two months, and will be under pressure to accept the terms the United States and Mexico worked out.

She declined comment on the issues still in play, but said on Tuesday that Mexico’s concessions on auto rules of origin and labor rights had been a breakthrough.

Ottawa is also ready to make concessions on Canada’s protected dairy market in a bid to save a dispute-settlement system, The Globe and Mail reported late on Tuesday.

Sticking points

One of the issues for Canada in the revised deal is the U.S. effort to dump the Chapter 19 dispute resolution mechanism that hinders the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism.

To save that mechanism, Ottawa plans to change one rule that effectively blocked American farmers from exporting ultra-filtered milk, an ingredient in cheesemaking, to Canada, the Globe and Mail reported, citing sources.

Trudeau repeated on Wednesday that he will defend Canada’s dairy industry.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Trump administration’s own anti-dumping duties on Canadian paper, used in books and newsprint, were thrown out by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The independent panel ruled that about $1.21 billion in such paper imports from Canada were not harming U.S. producers.

Other hurdles to a NAFTA deal include intellectual property rights and extensions of copyright protections to 75 years from 50, a higher threshold than Canada has previously supported.

Some see the tight time-frame as a challenge.

“There’s nothing here that is not doable for Canada,” said Brian Kingston, vice president for international affairs at The Business Council of Canada.

“We’ve got the best negotiators in the world, but they can only stay awake so many hours of every day.”

Germany, Seeking Independence From US, Pushes Cybersecurity Research

Germany announced a new agency on Wednesday to fund research on cybersecurity and to end its reliance on digital technologies from the United States, China and other countries.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters that Germany needed new tools to become a top player in cybersecurity and shore up European security and independence.

“It is our joint goal for Germany to take a leading role in cybersecurity on an international level,” Seehofer told a news conference with Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “We have to acknowledge we’re lagging behind, and when one is lagging, one needs completely new approaches.”

The agency is a joint interior and defense ministry project.

Germany, like many other countries, faces a daily barrage of cyberattacks on its government and industry computer networks.

However, the opposition Greens criticized the project. “This agency wouldn’t increase our information technology security, but further endanger it,” said Greens lawmaker Konstantin von Notz.

The agency’s work on offensive capabilities would undermine Germany’s diplomatic efforts to limit the use of cyberweapons internationally, he said. “As a state based on the rule of law, we can only lose a cyberpolitics arms race with states like China, North Korea or Russia,” he added, calling for “scarce resources” to be focused on hardening vulnerable systems.

Germany and other European countries also worry about their dependence on U.S. technologies. This follows revelations in 2012 by U.S. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden of a massive spying network, as well as the U.S. Patriot Act which gave the U.S. government broad powers to compel companies to provide data.

“As a federal government we cannot stand idly by when the use of sensitive technology with high security relevance are controlled by other governments. We must secure and expand such key technologies of our digital infrastructure,” Seehofer said.

Virtual Reality: Digital Medicine to Combat Pain

More than 100 hospitals across the United States are using virtual reality or VR, as a form of therapy for patients to help manage symptoms such as pain and anxiety. An increasing number of countries worldwide are taking an interest in VR and doctors are starting to develop international guidelines on how to apply and validate VR in healthcare. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles, where one hospital is leading the effort in using VR as digital medicine.

US Economy Grows a Bit Faster Than First Thought

The U.S. economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate in April, May and June, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

The second-quarter growth figure for gross domestic product was one-tenth of a percentage point higher than initial estimates.

“The economy is in good shape,” said PNC Bank Chief Economist Gus Faucher. He wrote that this was the best “year-over-year increase in three years.”

But Faucher also said growth above 4 percent was “unsustainable” and that the economy was “set to slow somewhat in the second half of 2018,” hitting 3.4 percent growth for the whole year. He predicted U.S. economic growth would slow further in 2019 and 2020 as the “stimulus from tax cuts and spending increases fades.”

U.S. President Donald Trump cheered the news:

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, had a different take on the report.

“No amount of President Trump tweets can change the fact that real wages are declining,” he said in a statement, adding that the cost of living — particularly gas and health care costs, “thanks in large part to Republicans and the Trump administration” — is “continuing to climb.”

Wednesday’s report from the Commerce Department was a routine revision; such changes are made as more complete data become available.

Growth figures were boosted by a decline in imports, particularly petroleum, and by some temporary factors.

One of those factors was a surge in soybean exports, which were rushed at a faster-than-usual pace to beat tariffs imposed by China in retaliation for new tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese goods.

The new second-quarter figures were nearly double those of the first quarter.

Rights Groups Urge no Censored Google Search for China

More than a dozen human rights groups have sent a letter to Google urging the company not to offer censored internet search in China, amid reports it is planning to again provide the service in the giant market.

 

The joint letter dated Tuesday calls on CEO Sundar Pichai to explain what Google is doing to safeguard users from the Chinese government’s censorship and surveillance.

 

It describes the censored search engine service, codenamed “Dragonfly,” as representing “an alarming capitulation by Google on human rights.”

 

“The Chinese government extensively violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy; by accommodating the Chinese authorities’ repression of dissent, Google would be actively participating in those violations for millions of internet users in China,” the letter says.

 

In a statement, Google said it has “been investing for many years to help Chinese users, from developing Android, through mobile apps such as Google Translate and Files Go, and our developer tools. But our work on search has been exploratory, and we are not close to launching a search product in China.”

 

The expression of concern by the rights groups follows a letter earlier this month signed by more than a thousand Google employees protesting the company’s secretive plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship. The letter called on executives to review ethics and transparency at the company.

 

Google had previously complied with censorship controls starting in 2006 as it sought a toehold in the booming Chinese economy. But it exited the Chinese search market in 2010 under unrelenting pressure from human rights groups and some shareholders to leave.

 

The letter, signed by groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders, said China’s controls over the internet have only strengthened since then amid an overall crackdown on civil liberties and freedom of expression.

 

“It is difficult to see how Google would currently be able to relaunch a search engine service in China in a way that would be compatible with the company’s human rights responsibilities under international standards, or its own commitments,” the letter said.

 

According to online news site The Intercept, Google created a custom Android app that will automatically filter out sites blocked by China’s so-called “Great Firewall.”

 

Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in the Soviet Union in 1973 and lived there until age 6 when his family fled. He has said his experience with a repressive regime shaped his and the company’s views.

 

However, Pichai, who became CEO in 2015 when Google became part of parent Alphabet, has said he wants Google to be in China serving Chinese users.

 

In December, Google announced it was opening an artificial intelligence lab in Beijing, and in June, Google invested $550 million in JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce platform that is second only to Alibaba in the country. The companies said they would collaborate on retail solutions around the world without mentioning China, where Google services including Gmail and YouTube are blocked.

 

Britain Seeks Ways to Continue Trading with Iran

British officials have been turning to Japan for tips on how to dodge American sanctions on Iran, according to local media.

Britain is already seeking from Washington exemptions from some U.S. sanctions, which are being re-imposed by President Donald Trump because of the U.S. withdrawal earlier this year from a controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. The British are especially keen to maintain banking links with Iran and to import Iranian oil.

According to local media, U.K. officials have been asking their Japanese counterparts how they managed in the past to sidestep some aspects of the pre-2015 sanctions regime, which allowed Tokyo to sign oil deals with Iran as well as insurance contracts without incurring U.S. penalties.

Re-imposed U.S. sanctions penalize any foreign companies that deal with Iran by barring them from doing business in America. That threat has already persuaded more than 50 Western firms to shutter their operations in Iran, including French automakers Renault and Peugeot and the French oil giant Total as well as Germany’s Deutsche Bahn railway company and Deutsche Telekom.

Seeking waivers

British ministers have publicly announced that they are hoping to secure waivers from sanctions for oil imports, tanker insurance and banking. There is particular concern, say British officials, about the position of a gas field 240 miles from Aberdeen which is jointly owned by BP and a subsidiary of Iran’s state-controlled oil company.

According to The Times newspaper, British diplomats and Treasury officials have discussed with their Japanese counterparts what options they may have of evading penalties, if British firms continue to trade with Iran. Britain’s Foreign Office hasn’t commented on the specific claims in report. But in a general statement it says: “We are working with European and other partners, to ensure Iran continues to benefit from sanctions relief through legitimate business, for as long as Iran continues to meet its nuclear commitments under the deal.”

Faltering Iranian economy

On Tuesday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was grilled by the country’s lawmakers, who for the first time in his five-year tenure called him before parliament to answer questions about the country’s faltering economy amid the tightening U.S. sanctions.

They asked him about high unemployment, rising food prices and the collapsing value of the Iranian currency. Rouhani, who overcame the opposition of hardliners in the first place to sign the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, insisted Iran would overcome the “the anti-Iranian officials in the White House.”

He added: “We are not afraid of America or the economic problems. We will overcome the troubles.” His answers didn’t reassure lawmakers, who voted to reject most of them. Earlier this month the parliament impeached the economy and labor ministers amid growing anger about the economy.

In order to try to keep open financial channels with Tehran and facilitate Iran’s oil exports, the European Union has taken steps to counter renewed U.S. sanctions, including forbidding EU citizens and firms from complying with them.

The European Commission updated a blocking statute on August 7, which bans companies from observing the sanctions — unless expressly authorized by Brussels to do so. It would allow EU firms to recover damages arising from the sanctions. But many companies say they are fearful of losing current or potential business in the U.S.

“Under these conditions it is very difficult,” according to the Director for International Relations at BusinessEurope, a lobby group, Luisa Santos. She says even small and medium-sized businesses which don’t trade with U.S. will face significant challenges because they will need financing from Western banks.

The first round of U.S. nuclear sanctions on Iran officially snapped back into place earlier this month but the more biting sanctions will be re-imposed on November 4 as Washington seeks to pummel the Iranian economy. The first phase U.S. sanctions prohibit any transactions with Iran involving dollars, gold, precious metals, aluminum, steel, commercial passenger aircraft, shipping and Iranian seaports.

 

Earlier in August, Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, cautioned there would be trade consequences for Britain, which he described as the closest U.S. ally, unless London breaks with the EU and abides by the re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

The envoy also delivered a clear ultimatum to British businesses, instructing them to stop trading with Iran or face “serious consequences.”

Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, in which Tehran agreed to nuclear curbs in return for sanctions relief, paved the way for the restoration of unilateral American economic penalties on Iran.

The U.S. administration blames Iran for fomenting instability in the Middle East and encouraging terrorism. Trump has described the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a “horrible, one sided” agreement.

U.S. officials say Iran has used the money going into the country after the 2015 deal, when sanctions were eased, not to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians but to increase spending on the military and proxy forces in the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and militants in Yemen.

58,6% опитаних бізнесменів не помітили зниження корупції на митниці – Європейська бізнес-асоціація

Майже 60% митних експертів з компаній, які входять до Європейської бізнес-асоціації, не помітили зниження корупції – про це свідчать дані опитування, яке ЄБА опублікувала 28 серпня.

Дослідження охоплює період з січня по серпень 2018 року. На основі відповідей підприємців автори вивели Митний індекс – оцінку якості сервісів на митниці. Цього року вона склала 2,91 бали, тоді як у другому півріччі 2017 року становила 3,05 балів, а на початку 2017-го – 2,9.

Так, за висновками дослідників ЄБА:

58,6% опитаних не помітили зміни в рівні корупції на митниці
20,7% вважають, що вона дещо зменшилась
10,3% – що істотно зменшилась
6,9% – що рівень корупції дещо виріс
3,4% – що виріс істотно

При цьому більшість – 44,8% опитаних – скоріше задоволені або цілком задоволені роботою митниці.

Читайте також: «Прикордонники запобігли вивезенню з України старовинної книги – ДПС​»

Говорячи про основні труднощі, пов’язані з проходженням митниці, експерти називають недосконалість системи проходження фітосанітарного, екологічного, радіологічного контролю, а також недоліки в роботі «Єдиного Вікна». 8,6% опитаних не користуються ним взагалі, хоча 37,7% тих, що користуються, цілком задоволені його роботою.

«Бізнес-спільнота сподівається, що питання вдасться врегулювати максимально оперативно і вже осінню буде прийнято законопроект №7010 щодо «єдиного вікна». Адже його ключова мета – зменшити час митного оформлення товарів та зробити митний контроль більш ефективним», – заявляють в Європейській бізнес-асоціації.

Про запровадження системи «єдиного вікна» уряд оголосив ще в 2016 році. В липні 2018 року Верховна Рада ухвалила відповідний законопроект, проте президент Петро Порошенко повернув його до парламенту на доопрацювання.

ДФС заявляє, що боротьба з контрабандою у 2018 році принесла до бюджету 50 млрд гривень

Боротьба з контрабандою протягом перших семи місяців 2018 року принесла до державного бюджету додатково понад 50 мільярдів гривень, повідомив в.о. голови Державної фіскальної служби Мирослав Продан.

За його словами, загалом за цей період ДФС передала до бюджету 395 мільярдів гривень, що на 15% більше, ніж за аналогічний період минулого року.

Він додав, що 216 мільярдів гривень, або додатково майже 19%, спрямовано від податкових платежів, та понад 10% – від митного напрямку.

US, Canada Holding Trade Talks Following US-Mexico Pact

Negotiators from Canada and the United States are holding detailed trade negotiations in Washington as they seek to work out a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The talks come after the United States and Mexico agreed to a bilateral trade deal this week while leaving the door open for Canada to join and preserve what has been a trilateral trade relationship for more than 20 years.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Tuesday for what she said were “very constructive” initial talks before more specific negotiations between the two sides on Wednesday.

Freeland said some of the details of the U.S.-Mexico agreement, particularly what she called “significant concessions” by Mexico on rules regarding automotive labor and parts origin, have given Canada optimism about the talks in Washington.

“The fact that Mexico was able to do something that I think must have been quite difficult for Mexico and make those concessions does really set the stage for some productive conversations for us here this week.”

It is unclear if the United States and Canada will resolve their long-standing disputes over duties on automobiles and dairy products that have persisted through months of NAFTA negotiations.

Freeland was also due to meet with Mexican trade officials who were still in Washington.

Final details of the U.S.-Mexico deal have yet to be worked out, but Lighthizer said he believes the tentative agreement is a win for both countries that creates more jobs for farmers and other workers.

To escape tariffs, the deal calls for 75 percent of “auto content” – parts and amenities – to be made in either the U.S. or Mexico, up from the current 62.5 percent North American content. In addition, 40 to 45 percent of the auto content must be produced by workers earning $16 or more an hour.

The average hourly pay for U.S. auto workers is more than $22 an hour, but in Mexico it is now less than $3.50 an hour. With the increase in labor costs, it likely will boost the cost of buying a vehicle.

“I think it’s going to modernize the way we do automobile trade, and I think it’s going to set the rules for the future at the highest standards in any agreement yet negotiated by any two nations for things like intellectual property, and digital trade, and financial services trade, and all of the things that we think of as the modernizing, cutting-edge places that our economy is going,” Lighthizer said.

“So this is great for business,” he said. “It’s great for labor. It has terrific labor provisions in it. Stronger and more enforceable labor provisions than have ever been in an agreement by a mile. Not even close.” 

However, lawmakers in both countries still need to approve the pact in the coming months.

Some of the agreement mirrors elements contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact that Mexico and the U.S. both agreed to, before President Donald Trump withdrew the United States. It requires Mexico to allow more collective bargaining for workers and calls for more stringent air quality and marine life protections.

The accord is set to last for six years, at which point the United States and Mexico will review it, and if both sides agree, they would extend it for 16 more years.

But the agreement does not end steel and aluminum tariffs Trump imposed on Mexico earlier this year, leading to Mexican levies on U.S. imports. 

Trade between the U.S. and Mexico totaled an estimated $615.9 billion in 2017, with the U.S. exporting $63.6 billion more in goods and services than it imported.

Trudeau Promises Effort to Reach Trade Agreement With US

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his country will negotiate new trade terms with the United States, but will only accept a deal that serves Canada’s interests. Speaking after the United States reached a tentative deal with Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Trudeau said negotiators have made some progress. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to increase U.S. tariffs on Canada’s auto imports if a deal is not reached. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

Cameroon Gaming Stars Train New Generation of Business Superheroes

Off a dusty path in the capital city, flanked by chickens roosting in the grass, one of Cameroon’s most successful digital startups is capitalizing on its success to foster a new generation of entrepreneurs.

Founded in 2013, Kiro’o Games has grown to become Central Africa’s first major video games studio. It draws on African mythology rather than Hollywood for inspiration, as in its fantasy role-playing game “Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.”

Today, Kiro’o’s online educational platform Rebuntu, launched in June last year, trains young Cameroonians to navigate obstacles in real-life business.

“Our generation has the duty to bring something really new that will finally generate growth,” said Olivier Madiba, founder and chief executive officer of Kiro’o.

Subscribers pay 10,000 Central African francs ($17.50) to access a digital training manual, featuring cartoons and advice on how to find good projects, hire the right staff and secure investor funding.

They can also seek online and in-person mentoring from Kiro’o staff.

In volatile Central Africa, better known for conflict, disease and poverty, training locals to set up international companies may seem like mission impossible.

Unlike neighboring states, Cameroon has been relatively stable for decades, but is blighted by high youth unemployment.

Many young people with professional education are forced to take up lower-skilled jobs such as farming, driving taxis and running market stalls.

But Kiro’o digital communications head William Fankam believes there is another way: create your own work.

“We are wall-breakers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that the gaming team is determined not to let the region’s challenges halt their progress.

The company has broken down barriers in education, with its game designers managing to acquire expertise despite a lack of specialized training in Cameroon.

And it has also overcome the obstacle of financing, Fankam said, developing its own model to raise funds from investors.

The entrepreneurs’ training program aims to share Kiro’o’s pioneering approach with others, he added.

That may seem counter-intuitive in a competitive environment, but in Cameroon, there is a need to stimulate a dynamic and creative business community, he said.

“We realized we can’t evolve alone,” he said. “We want to create an ecosystem where we’ll have many startups with different services which would have an impact on the Cameroonian economy, and wider in Africa.”

In just over a year, about 1,000 Cameroonians have signed up for the training.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has paid inscription fees for more than 800 of them, who are looking to set up technology-focused businesses.

‘Impossible Dream’

Kenneth Fabo, who runs JeWash, a home dry-cleaning and ironing service in Douala and Yaounde, said the program is helping him devise a crowdfunding strategy to grow his business.

“They taught us a certain method that helped us prepare to fund-raise effectively,” he said, describing how he received training to ensure the business is managed transparently and responsibly in a way that reassures investors.

Kiro’o Games – despite its unique selling point as an African company producing culturally relevant video games – struggled to raise money at the start, said Madiba.

“All conventional investors, the banks, the businesses, rejected our project,” said Madiba, whose childhood ambition was to make computer games. “So we decided to invent our own fundraising process.”

Through a combination of tactics including YouTube videos, a campaign on creative funding platform Kickstarter and tapping non-conventional backers like the Cameroonian diaspora, the group went on to raise 130 million francs ($227,000) from nearly 90 international investors – “a dream that everyone told us was impossible,” said Madiba.

Arielle Kitio Tsamo, founder of CAYSTI, an initiative that trains youth in technology, and winner of the 2018 Norbert Segard Foundation prize for African innovation, said her company had benefited from the Kiro’o support.

“They helped us structure our business model,” she said, adding the scheme also connected her with government partners.

Business Against Poverty

Efforts to motivate entrepreneurs and share knowledge are vital in Cameroon, where the education system does not provide such training, said Steve Tchoumba, business development manager at ActivSpaces, an incubator and accelerator for tech startups.

It provides temporary office space, as well as business coaching and links with mentors and investors, and has also set up partnerships with schools and universities.

“We want to motivate youth to consider entrepreneurship – and specifically technological entrepreneurship – as a potential way of poverty alleviation,” said Tchoumba.

“For every company that is created, there is income for the country, there’s employment for the youth,” he said.

Tchoumba particularly hopes to foster social businesses that can bring wider benefits to local communities.

Multinational companies are also showing interest in West Africa’s startup scene.

Since 2017, Google has been running Launchpad Accelerator Africa, a training program for promising startups. In June, it began accepting applications from Cameroon, Senegal and Ivory Coast, among others.

Despite promising developments, many of the African incubators that have sprung up in the past five years have limited resources, World Bank private-sector specialist Alexandre Laure noted in a blog earlier this year.

Challenges include a lack of basic business necessities, such as a reliable power supply, with sub-Saharan Africa having the world’s lowest household electrification rate.

Kiro’o’s Madiba admits dealing with power cuts and other fundamental problems is tough, but says the group’s resilience has spurred it on to greater things.

“When we started we were just passionate — but at a certain point we became a symbol of something, and we didn’t anticipate this,” he said, referring to the frequent emails he receives from Cameroonians struggling to set up a business.

Many tell him they do not give up because Kiro’o shows that success is possible.

“It’s not only a job — you are building a legacy,” said Madiba.

($1 = 572.4500 CFA francs)

Oprah, John Legend Voice ‘Madagascar’ Director’s VR Passion Project

It’s been around for decades, but, unlike regular 3D, virtual reality (VR) has yet to make a big impact in the movie industry, something a maker of Hollywood animations believes can change – if the films are good enough.

Eric Darnell, who co-wrote and directed the “Madagascar” movies, showed his own VR film at the Venice Film Festival this week, “Crow: The Legend,” in which the viewer is immersed in the story of a mythical bird that has to fly to the sun to bring back warmth to the Earth.

With a voice cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, John Legend and “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu, “Crow” is hardly an amateur affair, but Darnell’s Baobab Studios will be giving the movie away rather than selling it, as a way to generate interest in the medium.

“I don’t expect it’s going to be today or six months even,” he said of when VR might go mainstream.

“The technology has to get better, headsets have to get cheaper, the content has to get better and that’s at least as important as anything else,” Darnell told Reuters. “It’s a chicken and an egg thing. You can make all the great headsets you can but if there’s not great content … what’s the point?”

Darnell said he was attracted to VR after becoming “a little bit stale” making regular animation.

“When I put a VR headset on, it just blew me away and it reminded me of the first time I saw computer animation back in the early 80s … (That) launched a whole career for me and so when I put that headset on it reminded me of what I felt like

back then.”

In “Crow”, based on a native American legend, the viewer wears a VR helmet and hand-controllers to join the bird on its adventure, using the hands to send waves of virtual energy to help it on its way.

“I think the way we are really going to get there is by putting the viewer inside the story,” Darnell said. “Not just playing a story for them, putting them inside the story so that other characters recognize that the viewer is there and that it means something to them, that you are in their world.”

The Venice Film Festival runs from Aug. 29 to Sept 8.

Instagram: Users Can Now Evaluate Authenticity of Accounts

Photo-sharing app Instagram’s more than 1 billion users will now be able to evaluate the authenticity of accounts, weeks after parent Facebook Inc rolled out similar measures in a bid to weed out fake accounts on its social media platform.

Instagram said on Tuesday it will launch the “About This Account” feature that will allow users to see the advertisements an account is running, the country where the account is located, username changes in the past year as well as other details.

“Keeping people with bad intentions off our platform is incredibly important … that means trying to make sure the people you follow and the accounts you interact with are who they say they are, and stopping bad actors before they cause harm,” Instagram co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Mike Krieger said.

Instagram also said it will allow the use of third-party apps such as DUO Mobile and Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication to help users securely log in to their accounts.

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security on top of usernames and passwords by prompting users for information they have access to.

Earlier this month, Facebook introduced this feature for users who managed pages with a large U.S. following, seeking to make it harder to administer a page using a fake or compromised account.

These features will be broadly available in the coming weeks, the photo-sharing app said in a blog post.

Starting Tuesday, Instagram will allow accounts with a large reach to request verification through a feature within the app, it said.

US Trade Chief: Both US, Mexico Winners in New Pact

The tentative new U.S. trade deal with Mexico is a win for both countries, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer believes, creating more jobs for workers and farmers alike.

Final details have yet to be worked out in the trade deal announced Monday, and Canada could join it yet in a broad revision of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.  But some of the specific terms in the U.S.-Mexican agreement are aimed at boosting the manufacture of cars in the two countries to curb the import of vehicles from Asia, especially from China.

To escape tariffs, the deal calls for 75 percent of “auto content” – parts and amenities – to be made in either the U.S. or Mexico, up from the current 62.5 percent North American content.  In addition, wages for some auto workers in Mexico are likely to climb sharply, with the agreement decreeing that 40 to 45 percent of the auto content must be produced by workers earning $16 or more an hour.

The average hourly pay for U.S. auto workers is more than $22 an hour, but in Mexico it is now less than $3.50 an hour.  With the increase in labor costs, it likely will boost the cost of buying a vehicle.

“I think it’s going to modernize the way we do automobile trade, and I think it’s going to set the rules for the future at the highest standards in any agreement yet negotiated by any two nations for things like intellectual property, and digital trade, and financial services trade, and all of the things that we think of as the modernizing, cutting-edge places that our economy is going,” Lighthizer said.

“So this is great for business,” he said.  “It’s great for labor.  It has terrific labor provisions in it.  Stronger and more enforceable labor provisions than have ever been in an agreement by a mile.  Not even close.”  

However, lawmakers in both countries still need to approve the pact in the coming months.

Some of the agreement mirrors elements contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact that Mexico and the U.S. both agreed to, before President Donald Trump withdrew the United States.  It requires Mexico to allow more collective bargaining for workers and calls for more stringent air quality and marine life protections.

The accord is set to last for six years, at which point the United States and Mexico will review it, and if both sides agree, they would extend it for 16 more years.

But the agreement does not end steel and aluminum tariffs Trump imposed on Mexico earlier this year, leading to Mexican levies on U.S. imports.  

Trade between the U.S. and Mexico totaled an estimated $615.9 billion in 2017, with the U.S. exporting $63.6 billion more in goods and services than it imported.

Trump spoke Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about trade negotiations between the two countries.  Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland headed to Washington to open new trade talks with Lighthizer, but it was uncertain whether the two countries could quickly resolve long-standing disputes over duties on autos and dairy products that for months have kept them from a NAFTA revision.  

 

 

US, Canada Set for Talks to Revise NAFTA

With a deal with Mexico out of the way, U.S. trade officials are due to resume talks with Canada on Tuesday to try to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement as a trilateral accord.

After months of intense negotiations, the United States and Mexico announced an agreement Monday on a thorough overhaul of the 25-year-old free trade pact but President Donald Trump suggested he could cut Ottawa out.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed in a phone call with Trump on Monday the aim was to reach a new NAFTA deal.

The leaders “had a constructive conversation” on NAFTA, and “look forward to having their teams engage this week with a view to a successful conclusion of negotiations,” Trudeau’s office said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland interrupted a trip to Europe to rush back to Washington to begin talks with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

But it remains unclear when the trade officials will begin their discussions or whether the first meeting will happen Tuesday after all.

Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto and President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador both said NAFTA should remain a trilateral deal.

The outlines of a NAFTA 2.0 are now on paper, including provisions on auto trade, tougher worker protections and a provision to review the deal every six years.

“It’s a really good deal for both countries,” President Trump said in announcing the agreement from the Oval Office.

Negotiators have worked for a year to update and rewrite NAFTA but in the last five weeks Washington and Mexico City held talks to resolve their bilateral issues, especially on the auto industry rules, without Ottawa.

Trump stressed that he could go ahead without Ottawa in the new agreement.

“We could have a separate deal or we could put it in the same deal,” Trump said.

He indicated he would take a tough line with Canada on autos and dairy tariffs, long a source of tension between the neighboring countries.

Time pressure

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow reiterated that point on Tuesday, saying the United States would not accept continued steep tariffs on dairy exports.

“There’s a word that Canada has trouble with — it’s M-I-L-K,” Kudlow said on Fox News.

The Canadian government effectively sets production quotas and the price of milk, which ends up costing consumers a bit more but provides farmers with a stable income.

The system has been in place since the 1970s and has survived several attempts to undo it — as well as the prohibitive tariffs that limit foreign imports.

However, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration was keen to get Canada on board quickly.

“The US market and Canadian markets are very intertwined,” Mnuchin said on CNBC. “It’s important for them to get this deal and it’s important for us to get this deal.”

There is some urgency as the United States seems eager to have the issue resolved before the November midterm elections, and Pena Nieto wants to sign it before handing the reins over to Lopez Obrador on December 1.

But Canada may not feel the pressure to hurry, especially at the expense of a good deal.

Trudeau’s government also faces political pressure with elections due in a year, which could make him wary of being seen as capitulating to Trump, especially on the sensitive dairy supply management system.

Freeland’s spokesman Adam Austen said in a statement Canada would “only sign a new NAFTA that is good for Canada and good for the middle class. Canada’s signature is required.”

Mexican officials have insisted all along that the NAFTA must be a trilateral deal, but also acknowledged that either way their country would have free trade commitments with both nations.

Lighthizer said the administration would notify Congress by Friday of the new agreement, which would allow the required 90 days’ notice to get the pact signed by December 1.

However, legislators and former US trade officials say the White House does not have the authority to replace NAFTA with a two-nation trade agreement, and must have the text of the treaty ready by September 30.

Not a sunset clause

The Canadian team could be more amenable to the talks now that the United States has backed away from a controversial and strenuously-opposed provision to require the three nations to renegotiate NAFTA after five years.

Instead, senior US officials told reporters the agreement had been extended for 16 years but would be reviewed every six years.

“It’s an alternative to sunset which we think works,” another senior official said.

A key element of the U.S.-Mexico talks has been content requirements for autos produced in the region in order to qualify for duty-free NAFTA treatment, which Mexico agreed to increase to 75 percent from 62.5 percent.

The two sides also agreed that 40-45 percent of vehicles must be made at “high wage” factories where workers receive $16 an hour, something that could deter off-shoring US auto manufacturing to Mexico.

 

 

 

As Tesla Deals With Internal Woes, Rivals Make Their Move

While Tesla grapples with internal issues like production delays, a sometimes-erratic CEO and a recent about-face on whether to go private, its rivals are moving aggressively into the luxury electric vehicle space.

In the next few days, German competitors Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the luxury arm of Volkswagen, are both showing off production-ready electric sport-utility vehicles aimed at Tesla’s Model X.

Meanwhile Jaguar Land Rover offers the I-Pace electric SUV while further out, Porsche is taking on Tesla’s Model S high performance luxury car with the Taycan, expected to reach the market in late 2019.

The established carmakers have multiple motives. They need zero driving emissions vehicles to meet tougher greenhouse gas limits coming into effect in Europe in 2021. Diesel is in the doghouse. And China, a major market, is pushing hard for more electrics.

But the new models will also aim to win back some of the luxury customers drawn away by Tesla’s electric vehicles at a time when the company is consumed by multiple distractions . Its CEO, Elon Musk, took to Twitter on Aug. 7 to abruptly announce he had secured funding to take his company private, only to turn around 17 days later to say that Tesla would remain public . The electric carmaker is also facing financial pressure, with a $230 million debt payment that’s due in November on top of the $920 million that must be paid off three months later. And it has only recently hit production targets for its Model 3 mass-market vehicle.

In the meantime, its rivals — who had emphasized diesel and hybrids — are finally rolling out the leading edge of what they say will be a slew of all-electric models. Their latest offerings are “the vanguard” of more to come, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

“By 2020, Tesla must stabilize itself or be overtaken,” he said.

The new entrants challenge what has been one of Tesla’s key selling points: range. The EQC sport utility crossover from Daimler AG’s luxury brand Mercedes, for instance, should go up to 500 kilometers (300 miles) on a single charge. That’s comparable to Tesla’s SUV, the Model X, which has a range of up to 295 miles. The EQC, to be unveiled outside of Stockholm on Sept. 4, is the first in the Mercedes EQ sub-brand that bundles the company’s efforts in electric, connected and autonomous driving. Media representatives didn’t provide a price ahead of the unveiling.

Volkswagen’s Audi will show off its e-tron in San Francisco on Sept. 17. It offers more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) on a single charge. The company says the e-tron should be able to use high-speed charger facilities — if they’re available — to charge in less than 30 minutes. The German price will be around 80,000 euros ($93,000) and it should go on sale near the end of the year in Europe, and next year in the U.S.

The Porsche Taycan will also pose a stiff challenge to Tesla’s Model S in terms of range: Porsche claims it can load enough power for 400 kilometers (248 miles) in just 15 or 20 minutes. The company hasn’t announced a price. The I-Pace, whose price starts at $69,500 before local and federal incentives, offers 292 miles (470 kilometers) under the tougher European Union standard. The Model S, meanwhile, has a range of up to 335 miles.

The starting price for Tesla’s Model X is around $80,700 while the Model S is around $74,500.

Not that Tesla is standing still while the competition laps it. Musk has said the company intends to develop a Model Y, a small SUV to be unveiled in the first half of next year — a growing sales category that other carmakers have been piling into as fast as they can.

But Tesla’s ambitions go way beyond the luxury electric vehicle market. That’s the whole point of the Model 3, which is aimed at the mass market with a starting price of $35,000 and an EPA range of 310 miles. But there, too, the company must go head to head with rivals. They include the BMW i3 with a starting price of $44,500 and an EPA range of 114 miles; the Nissan Leaf with a starting price of $30,000 and an EPA range of 151 miles; and the Chevrolet Bolt with a starting price of $37,495 and an EPA range of 238 miles. Nissan promises a longer range version of the Leaf for 2019 and in 2020, Volkswagen plans to launch a compact version of its all-electric ID lineup.

Tesla’s Supercharger network has a big advantage over competitors. The company’s website says it has 1,332 fast-charging stations with 10,901 charging units worldwide. Electric cars made by other manufacturers can’t use Tesla stations and public and private charging stations are sporadic. European carmakers are rolling out their own fast-charging highway network through a joint venture, but only a few stations are up and running.

Chris Hopson, manager of North American light vehicle forecasting for IHS Markit, said that established manufacturers are going electric not just in response to Tesla, “but because of a whole host of other things, with Tesla in mind.” New electrics serve “not just to alleviate some of sales going to Tesla but to also to grab hold of the ongoing trend globally toward electric vehicles.”

The electric push also comes in the wake of Volkswagen’s 2015 diesel scandal. The company’s illegal rigging of vehicles to cheat on emissions testing helped turn consumers off diesels. Falling diesel sales numbers make it harder for European car makers to meet lower fleet emissions requirements coming into force in the EU in 2021.

China is also pushing for more electric vehicles through regulation, requiring carmakers to ensure 10 percent of their fleets are electrics in 2019. Regulations limit foreign brands to about 4 percent of the market, with Tesla owning half that. Other carmakers such as BMW, Ford and GM work with local partners.

Analysts James J. Albertine and Derek J. Glynn said they do not see competition as a threat to Tesla, “but a validation of electric vehicle technology that will grow the global electric vehicle demand pie, of which Tesla is likely to maintain a significant share.”

Уперше з січня: офіційний курс нацвалюти щодо долара став вищим за 28 гривень

НБУ вперше із січня встановив офіційний курс національної валюти щодо американської на рівні понад 28 гривень за долар. На 29 серпня курс становитиме 28 гривень 5 копійок за долар.

Це на 17 копійок більше, ніж показник на 28 серпня.

Згідно з повідомленнями учасників валютного ринку, регулятор встиг у розпал попиту на валюту продати долар за курсом 28 гривень 10 копійок без офіційного оголошення аукціону. Згодом свої значні обсяги запропонували експортери, і торги на міжбанківському валютному ринку завершилися на нижчому рівні – попит на рівні 27 гривень 99 копійок за долар, пропозиція – 28 гривень 3 копійки.

Київська влада просить у Кабміну субвенцію для укладання нового договору з «Нафтогазом» – КМДА

Київська міська державна адміністрація просить Кабінет міністрів виділити субвенцію у розмірі 729 мільйонів гривень для укладання нового договору з «Нафтогазом» про постачання газу, повідомив заступник голови КМДА Петро Пантелеєв.

За його словами, напрацьований спільно з НАК алгоритм про правонаступництво комунальним підприємством «Київтеплоенерго» боргів компанії «Київенерго» передбачає списання штрафу, а також балансування заборгованості споживачів перед «Київенерго» та боргів енергокомпанії перед «Нафтогазом».

«Також є зобов’язання держави перед «Київенерго» за компенсацію різниці у тарифах у минулих періодах – 729 мільйонів гривень. Погашення державою своїх боргів дасть змогу вирішити питання балансування боргів та списання штрафних санкцій», – пояснив заступник голови КМДА.

Вирішення цього питання, яке Кабмін має розглянути на засіданні 29 серпня, дасть можливість відновити газопостачання та гаряче водопостачання у Києві, а також підготуватися до опалювального сезону, зазначають в КМДА.

«Якщо рішення Кабміну буде ухвалене, то планова дата укладення договору з «Нафтогазом» – 15-16 вересня», – сказав П.Пантелеєв.

Читайте також: Київ майже вдвічі переплатить за газ – «Нафтогаз України»

Раніше КМДА погодилась успадкувати заборгованість «Київенерго» перед Нафтогазом та повідомила про те, що підпише з компанією мирову угоду.

19 липня Господарський суд Києва ухвалив рішення не перекладати борги компанії Ріната Ахметова «Київенерго» за спожитий газ перед НАК «Нафтогаз України» на новостворене комунальне підприємство «Київтеплоенерго». У «Київенерго» заявляли про намір оскаржити це рішення.

З 1 травня 2018 року теплові мережі та котельні Києва перейшли від компанії «Київенерго» мільярдера Ріната Ахметова в управління комунального підприємства «Київтеплоенерго».

Наприкінці травня влада Києва повідомила, що «Нафтогаз» відмовляється укладати договір на поставку газу з «Київтеплоенерго» через борги попереднього оператора «Київенерго» (загальна сума заборгованості становить близько 5 мільярдів гривень). У відповідь на це Київрада ухвалила рішення, згідно з яким боргові зобов’язання «Київенерго» не підлягають передачі «Київтеплоенерго».

«Нафтогаз» у свою чергу заявив, що готовий укласти договір на поставку газу одразу після вирішення питання правонаступництва заборгованості.

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