Washington, Aug 3 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump celebrated a new agreement Friday that is projected to increase beef exports to the European Union by more than $270 million a year once it is fully in place.
Trump portrayed the agreement as standing up for farmers and ranchers. Producers have been hurt by retaliatory tariffs that China imposed after Trump imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products.
The signing of the agreement comes the day after Trump increased pressure on China to reach a trade deal by saying he will impose 10% tariffs Sept. 1 on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports he hasn't already taxed.
"Opening markets for our farmers is about more than just an industry. It's about a way of life," Trump said at the White House before the U.S. trade representative and an EU official signed the agreement.
The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, announced in June that it had reached an agreement with the U.S. to allow more hormone-free U.S. beef onto the European market. The EU continues to impose bans and restrictions on meat produced using hormones.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he hoped the European Union would approve the agreement quickly.
The EU has been concerned about the prospect that Trump will slap tariffs on foreign-made cars and parts. In May, Trump said he agreed that imports of foreign cars and parts were harming the American auto industry and threatening national security. But he delayed for six months any decision on applying tariffs as a remedy.
Trump told reporters upon leaving the White House for a weekend in New Jersey that "auto tariffs are never off the table."
"The EU has tremendous barriers to us, but we just broke the first barrier," he said. "And maybe we broke it because of the fact that if I don't get what we want, I put on auto tariffs. Because it's all about the automobile and it's all about the tariffs."
United Nations, Aug 3 (AP/UNB) — China is ready to talk to the United States about their escalating trade war but "if they want to fight we will fight" and it will not be a fight for China alone but for an open international economy, Beijing's new U.N. ambassador said Friday.
Zhang Jun told reporters that U.S. sanctions and increasing tariffs hurt China and the world, but they are also "not in the long-term interest of the United States," where consumers will be paying higher prices.
His comments followed President Donald Trump's tweets Thursday escalating the trade war with an announcement that on Sept. 1 the U.S. will impose 10 percent tariffs on all Chinese imports that haven't already been hit with tariffs of 25 percent. China responded Friday that it will take "necessary countermeasures" if Trump follows through.
Zhang called Trump's latest tariff threat "an irrational, irresponsible act" and reiterated that if the U.S. goes ahead on Sept. 1 "we definitely will take whatever necessary countermeasures to protect our fundamental rights." He wouldn't give any details but stressed that China will also be fighting "for free trade, for an open, non-discriminatory and reliable multilateral trading system."
In the wide-ranging and rare meeting with reporters by a Chinese ambassador, Zhang said Beijing will "stand firmly with the United Nations" at this difficult moment when the world faces instability and many uncertainties. China will also continue promoting peace through diplomatic and political dialogue and will "work hard in defending interests of developing countries," he said.
On a key global issue, Zhang said sanctions against North Korea should be eased at an "appropriate time" to encourage progress in talks between Washington and Pyongyang, "but we are still consulting with each other and we have not made any final position."
Russia and China have previously called for easing of sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, but the Trump administration has repeatedly said sanctions must remain in place until the country gives up its nuclear weapons.
"What we think is true is that you cannot simply ask DPRK to do as much as possible while you maintain the sanctions against DPRK," Zhang said. "That definitely is not helpful."
On other issues, the ambassador said China will never allow any interference in its internal affairs, especially on issues related to the western Xinjiang region which has a large Muslim population, Tibet where the Dalai Lama has called for genuine autonomy, and Hong Kong where pro-democracy protests have been taking place since early June.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lashed out at China's human rights record, saying last month that Beijing was responsible for the "stain of the century" of rights abuses, citing the detention of an estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities who are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Officials in Xinjiang said Tuesday that most people detained in the area's contentious re-education centers have been moved out and have signed "work contracts" with local companies, but those assertions have been challenged by accounts from Uighurs and Kazakhs who say their relatives remain missing.
Pompeo urged countries in the region earlier Friday to shun China until it reforms its practices and cited the Hong Kong protests as an example of how authoritarian rule can threaten economies. "The current unrest in Hong Kong clearly shows that the will and the voice of the governed will always be heard," he said.
Zhang said the Hong Kong protests are "turning out to be chaotic and violent and we should no longer allow ... these reprehensible behaviors" that he said hurt the interests of international investors and visitors from other countries.
China backs the actions taken by Hong Kong authorities and its residents should understand that "the foundation of the one country, two systems principle is one country," he said.
Zhang was also asked about Friday's end to the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the U.S. and Russia blame each other for tearing up.
U.S. officials have argued that not only is Russia violating the treaty and developing prohibited weapons, but that China also is making similar non-compliant weapons, leaving the U.S. alone in complying with the pact. Trump has also expressed a desire to negotiate a trilateral arms control deal covering the U.S., Russia and China.
Zhang expressed "regret" at the U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, saying that "making China an excuse for the withdrawing by the United States is not acceptable."
As for being a party to a new disarmament agreement, Zhang said China is not at the same level as the U.S. and Russia, which have the largest nuclear arsenals. "So how can you put China together with the two," he asked.
Frankfurt, Aug 1 (AP/UNB) — Luxury automaker BMW said Thursday that net profit fell 29% to 1.48 billion euros ($1.63 billion) in the second quarter from a year earlier, as profits were reduced by higher spending on revamping factories and on new technologies such as battery-only cars and smartphone-based services.
BMW spent 1.4 billion euros ($1.5 billion) on research and development in the quarter, and invested 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in new plants to modernize production and prepare for new models. It also saw higher production costs from an increasing proportion of electric vehicles and higher raw materials prices. The company said it was able to increase its share in the key China market despite a shrinking overall market there.
The company and the auto industry as a whole are facing a double challenge: make money selling conventional cars while sinking billions into new technologies such as battery-powered and autonomous cars, and new services that don't necessarily involve car ownership such as car-sharing and ride-hailing apps.
The industry is also facing headwinds from the U.S.-China trade conflict and from slower auto sales in China, the world's biggest auto market. Tougher European Union limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, are forcing carmakers to develop electric cars even though battery-only vehicles are only a small fraction of current industry sales due to higher prices and concerns about battery range. China is also pushing carmakers to include more electric and hybrid vehicles.
BMW, which is based in Munich, said that sales numbers and revenue increased in the April-June period despite declining global markets and that it was sticking with its profit forecast for the year. Sales rose 1.5% to 647,500 vehicles, helped by its BMW Brilliance joint venture in China. Revenues rose 2.9% to 25.7 billion euros ($28.37 billion).
BMW's operating profit margin on vehicles was 6.5% for the quarter, down from 8.6% a year ago but leaving the company on target to achieve its forecast of 4.5% to 6.5% for the full year, a figure that was lowered by inclusion of a 1.4 billion euro set aside for European Union anti-trust proceedings in the first quarter. Profitability remains below BMW's long-term strategic aim for 8-10%. Chief financial officer Nicolas Peter declined during a conference call with reporters to give a forecast for when the company might return to that level.
CEO Harald Krueger said that the company was "on course to meet our targets for the full year." He said the company was consistently leveraging "new technologies to successfully master the enormous challenges facing our industry during this phase of transformation." Krueger is leaving his post on Aug. 16 and will be succeeded by production chief Oliver Zipse.
BMW shares were 0.8 percent higher at 67.39 euros in midday trading in Europe.
Los Angeles, Aug 1 (AP/UNB) — A Chinese billionaire has been charged in Los Angeles in a complex scheme to avoid $1.8 billion in aluminum tariffs, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Zhongtian Liu, the founder of China Zhongwang Holdings Limited, and the aluminum company he previously headed, were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and international money laundering.
The charges come as the U.S. and China try to reach a trade agreement aimed at ending a tariff war.
Liu, 55, schemed to import aluminum in the shape of pallets, which would avoid 2011 customs duties up to 400% that were not imposed on finished merchandise, prosecutors said.
The pallets, however, were three to four times heavier than typical aluminum pallets, and were sold to U.S.-based companies controlled by Liu and stockpiled at Southern California warehouses.
The scheme created the false impression that demand was high for the company's product and artificially inflated sales volume in annual reports, prosecutors said.
"This indictment outlines the unscrupulous and anti-competitive practices of a corrupt businessman who defrauded the United States out of $1.8 billion in tariffs due on Chinese imports," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. "Moreover, the bogus sales of hundreds of millions of dollars of aluminum artificially inflated the value of a publicly traded company, putting at risk investors around the world."
The scheme largely took place from 2011 to 2014, though it is ongoing, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have sought to seize the warehouses where the aluminum was stored and more than 275,000 aluminum objects in the shape of pallets.
Liu and two co-defendants charged in the scheme are not in custody and are believed to be out of the U.S., prosecutors said.
Neither Liu nor the company has an attorney that prosecutors are aware of, spokesman Thom Mrozek said.
Messages seeking comment from China Zhongwang, a publicly traded company based in Liaoyang, were not immediately returned.
London, Aug 1 (AP/UNB) — New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday finished his rocky debut tour of the U.K. in Northern Ireland, where he faces a doubly difficult challenge of restoring the collapsed Belfast government and finding a solution for the Irish border after Brexit.
Since he took office a week ago, Johnson has been touring England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but it has not been a triumphal parade. After facing protests and political opposition in Scotland and Wales, Johnson met Wednesday with the leaders of Northern Ireland's five main political parties in hopes of kick-starting efforts to restore the suspended Belfast administration.
Northern Ireland's 1.8 million people have been without a functioning administration for 2 1/2 years, ever since the Catholic-Protestant power-sharing government collapsed over a botched green-energy project. The rift soon widened to broader cultural and political issues separating Northern Ireland's British unionists and Irish nationalists.
Johnson said he would "do everything I can to help that get up and running again, because I think that's profoundly in the interests of people here, of all the citizens here in Northern Ireland."
But a breakthrough did not look imminent. Opponents say Johnson can't play a constructive role in Northern Ireland because his Conservative government relies on support from the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest of Northern Ireland's pro-British parties. Without the votes of the DUP's 10 lawmakers in London, Johnson's minority government would collapse.
Critics say that gives the pro-Brexit DUP an oversized influence with the British government, unsettling the delicate balance of power in Northern Ireland.
Mary Lou McDonald, leader of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, accused Johnson of being the DUP's "gofer."
"He tells us he will act with absolute impartiality. We have told him that nobody believes that," she said.
Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union has strained the bonds among the four nations that make up the U.K. A majority of voters in England and Wales backed leaving in the referendum, while those in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.
Scotland's nationalist government wants to hold a vote on independence from the U.K. if Scotland is dragged out of the EU against its will. Similarly, nationalists in Northern Ireland argue there should be a referendum on unification with the Irish republic if there is a damaging no-deal Brexit.
Johnson insists the U.K. will leave the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal. Economists say a no-deal Brexit would be economically damaging for the whole U.K. and politically destabilizing for Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. to share a land border with the bloc.
The British government said Wednesday that it is setting aside more than 2 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) to prepare for leaving the EU. Treasury chief Sajid Javid said the additional Brexit funds would go to hiring 500 border officers, stockpiling essential medicines and other areas such as public information.
The government plans to spend 1.1 billion pounds immediately. That comes on top of billions spent before Britain's originally scheduled departure date of March 29.
DUP leader Arlene Foster played down the risk of a no-deal Brexit, saying Johnson is "focused on finding a deal and we're here to help him find that deal."
She said Brexit must be carried out "in a way that does no damage either to the U.K., the Republic of Ireland — our neighbors — or the wider European Union."
A divorce agreement between the U.K. and the EU has foundered largely because of the complex issue of the 300-mile (550 kilometer) border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. An invisible border is crucial to the regional economy and underpins the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
Both Britain and the EU have promised there will be no hard border after Brexit, but they disagree about how to avoid it.
The EU and Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, came up with a solution known as the backstop — an insurance policy to guarantee an open border if no other solution can be found. But British Brexit-backers loathe the backstop because it locks Britain into EU trade rules to avoid customs checks, something they say will stop the U.K. from striking new trade deals.
Johnson is refusing to hold new talks with EU leaders unless they agree to scrap the backstop and sent Europe adviser David Frost to Brussels on Wednesday to deliver that message.
Johnson's office said Frost would tell EU officials that "we will work energetically for a deal but the backstop must be abolished. If we are not able to reach an agreement, then we will, of course, have to leave the EU without a deal."
The bloc is equally adamant that Brexit deal won't be reopened and the backstop must stay.
The stalemate has sent the pound plunging to its lowest levels in more than two years, as economists warn a no-deal Brexit would disrupt trade and send Britain into a deep recession.
The currency was trading around $1.22 Wednesday, up slightly from a day earlier but still its lowest level since March 2017.
Business confidence has also been battered. Britain's auto trade body said Wednesday that investment in the industry effectively stopped in the first half of this year amid no-deal fears.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said companies made just 90 million pounds ($110 million) of new investments between January and June, compared with an average annual total of 2.7 billion pounds. Car production dropped 20.1% in the first half of 2019.
"The fear of no deal is causing investors to sit on their hands," said chief executive Mike Hawes.
On his tour of the U.K., Johnson was booed by protesters in both the Scottish city of Edinburgh and the Welsh city of Cardiff. He was also accused of playing "Russian roulette" with the agriculture industry by Welsh farmers who face high tariffs on their exports to Europe if there is a no-deal Brexit.
A variety of protesters greeted Johnson Wednesday in Northern Ireland, including border residents, steelworkers at a Belfast shipyard threatened with closure and anti-Brexit demonstrators.
After the meetings, Nichola Mallon, deputy leader of the Irish nationalist SDLP party, said Johnson "gave us bluff and bluster around Brexit."
"We went into this meeting concerned that he would have a limited understanding of the complexities and the fragility of this place and those concerns have been confirmed," she said.