Category Archives: Business

economy and business news

US Sues to Stop AT&T’s Takeover of Time Warner

The U.S. Justice Department is suing to stop AT&T’s multi-billion dollar bid to take over another communications giant, Time Warner, calling it illegal and likening it to extortion.

“The $108 billion acquisition would substantially lessen competition, resulting in higher prices and less innovation for millions of Americans,” a Justice Department statement said Monday.

“The combined company would use its control over Time Warner’s valuable and highly popular networks to hinder its rivals by forcing them to pay hundreds of millions of dollars more per year for the right to distribute those networks.”

CNN, HBO top Time Warner products

Time Warner’s products include CNN, HBO, TNT, The Cartoon Network, and Cinemax — these networks broadcast highly popular newscasts, movies, comedy and drama series, and sports.

AT&T and its subsidiary DirectTV distribute these programs, as well as others, thorough cable and satellite.

The Justice Department decries the possibility of AT&T not just controlling television productions, but also the means of bringing them into people’s homes.

In its lawsuit, it threw AT&T’s words right back at the communications giant, noting that AT&T recognizes that distributors with control over the shows “have the incentive and ability to use … that control as a weapon to hinder competition.”

It also cited a DirectTV statement saying distributors can withhold programs from their rivals and “use such threats to demand higher prices and more favorable terms.”

Assured transaction would be approved

AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson told reporters the Justice Department’s lawsuit “stretches the reach of anti-trust law to the breaking point.”

He said the “best legal minds in the country” assured AT&T that the transaction would be approved and said the government is discarding decades of legal precedent.

AT&T and Time Warner are not direct competitors, and AT&T says government regulators have routinely approved such mergers.

President Donald Trump has made no secret of his contempt for one of Time Warner’s crown jewels — CNN, the Cable News Network — because of his perception of CNN being a liberal biased provider of “fake news,” including direct attacks against his administration.

Trump vowed during last year’s presidential campaign to block the merger.

Stephenson called the matter “the elephant in the room,” saying he said he “frankly does not know” if the White House disdain for CNN is at the heart of the Justice Department lawsuit.

But he said a proposal that Time Warner sell-off CNN as part of a settlement with the Trump Justice Department would be a “non-starter.”

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Technology Companies, Retailers Send US Stock Indexes Higher

U.S. stocks are higher Monday as technology and industrial companies, banks and retailers all make modest gains. Drugmakers and other health care companies are trading lower. Companies that make opioid pain medications are down sharply after the government released a much higher estimate of the costs of the ongoing addiction crisis.

Keeping score

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index picked up 5 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,584 as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 94 points, or 0.4 percent, to 23,452. The Nasdaq composite advanced 7 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,789. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks edged up 6 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,499.

Tech tie-up

Chipmaker Marvell Technology Group said it will buy competitor Cavium for $6 billion in the latest deal in the semiconductor industry. Cavium climbed $7.48, or 9.9 percent, to $83.31 and it is up 22 percent over the last two weeks on reports Marvell would make a bid. Marvell rose $1.02, or 5 percent, to $21.31.

Other technology companies climbed as well. IBM added $2.01, or 1.3 percent, to $150.98 and Applied Materials picked up $1.12, or 2 percent, to $57.61. Cisco Systems gained 55 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $36.45.

Retail rising again

Retailers continued to move higher. They climbed last week following solid quarterly reports from Wal-Mart, Gap and Ross Stores. That’s given investors hope that shoppers are ready to spend more money. Home improvement retailer Home Depot rose $2.68, or 1.6 percent, to $170.42 and clothing company PVH rose $2.90, or 2.2 percent, to $136.02. Sporting goods retailer Hibbett Sports, after a 15-percent surge Friday, added $1.85, or 10.8 percent, to $18.95.

General electric slide

Industrial companies rose, as 3M gained $2.56, or 1.1 percent, to $231.92 and Boeing added $2.39 to $264.65.

General Electric missed out on those gains as investors continued to wonder about the company’s direction. On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal said that directors with energy and financial backgrounds, as well as GE’s two longest-tenured directors, are likely to leave the board as it shifts its focus away from those industries. The company said earlier this month that it will reduce the number of directors to 12 from the current 18.

GE lost 24 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $17.97.

Drugmaker downturn

A White House group said the opioid drug epidemic cost the U.S. $504 billion in 2016, far larger than other recent estimates, and companies that make those pain medications traded sharply lower.

Last year a separate estimate said the crisis cost the country $78.5 billion in 2013, including lost productivity and health care and criminal justice spending. The Council of Economic Advisers said the new figure reflects the worsening crisis and that earlier figures didn’t calculate deaths or include the use of illegal drugs.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries fell 77 cents, or 5.6 percent, to $13.07 and Allergan gave up $3.78, or 2.2 percent, to $171.10. Endo International lost 26 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $7.28. Insys Therapeutics shed 20 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $6.18. Executives including Insys’ founder and its former CEO have been charged with offering kickbacks to doctors to get them to prescribe its fentanyl spray Subsys. Its stock traded above $40 in mid-2015.

Merck-y future?

Merck stumbled after Genentech, a unit of Swiss drugmaker Roche, reported positive results from a study of its drug Tecentriq as a primary treatment for lung cancer. Genentech said patients who were given Tecentriq as part of their treatment regimen were less likely to die or see their cancer get worse.

The results could affect sales of Merck’s drug Keytruda and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo. Merck fell $1.10, or 2 percent, to $54.10 and Bristol-Myers Squibb lost 66 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $60.63.

Energy

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 50 cents to $56.05 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, dropped 67 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $62.05 a barrel in London.

Currencies

The dollar rose to 112.64 yen from 112.13 yen late Friday. The euro slipped to $1.1737 from $1.1796 after a group of German political parties couldn’t agree to form a government, which might mean new elections are on the way. A weaker euro is good for companies that export a lot of products, and the German DAX was up 0.7 percent while France’s CAC 40 rose 0.5 percent. The FTSE 100 in Britain added 0.2 percent. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index lost 0.6 percent and South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index added 0.2 percent.

Bonds

Bond prices edged lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.37 percent from 2.35 percent.

Metals

Gold slumped $21.20, or 1.6 percent, to $1,275.30 an ounce. Silver sank 53 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $16.84 an ounce. Copper gained 3 cents to $3.09 a pound.

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Yellen to Leave Fed Board When New Leader Sworn In

Fed Chair Janet Yellen says she will leave the U.S. central bank’s board when her successor is sworn in early next year.

Jerome Powell was chosen by President Donald Trump to head the Federal Reserve when Yellen’s term expires. Powell must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before he can take office, but analysts say his approach to managing interest rates is similar to Yellen’s. She is credited with managing the economy in ways that boosted recovery from the 2007 recession and cut unemployment in half.

In her resignation letter to Trump, Yellen said she is “gratified that the financial system is much stronger than a decade ago.” She also noted “substantial improvement in the economy since the crisis.”

Yellen is the first woman to lead the Fed, and was a member of its board of governors before taking the leadership role. Her term on the board does not officially expire until 2024, and she could have stayed on if she wished to do so.

Candidate Trump criticized Yellen during his campaign, but praised her work after he became president.

Yellen has served as vice chair of the Fed, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and head of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. She has researched and taught economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Amsterdam, Paris Picked to Host EU Agencies After Brexit

The European Union went back to its roots Monday by picking cities from two of its founding nations — France and the Netherlands — to host key agencies that will have move once Britain leaves the bloc in 2019.

During voting so tight they were both decided by a lucky draw, EU members except Britain chose Amsterdam over Italy’s Milan as the new home of the European Medicines Agency and Paris over Dublin to host the European Banking Authority. Both currently are located in London.

“We needed to draw lots in both cases,” Estonian EU Affairs Minister Matti Maasikas, who chaired the meeting and in both cases made the decisive selection from a big transparent bowl.

Frankfurt, home of the European Central Bank, surprisingly failed to become one of the two finalists competing for the banking agency.

The relocations made necessary by the referendum to take Britain out of the EU are expected to cost the country over 1,000 jobs directly and more in secondary employment.

The outcomes of the votes also left newer EU member states in eastern and southern Europe with some bitterness. Several had hoped to be tapped for a lucrative prize that would be a sign the bloc was truly committed to outreach.

Some 890 top jobs will leave Britain for Amsterdam with the European Medicines Agency, giving the Dutch a welcome economic boost and more prestige. The EMA is responsible for the evaluation, supervision and monitoring of medicines. The Paris-bound European Banking Authority, which has around 180 staff members, monitors the regulation and supervision of Europe’s banking sector.

After a heated battle for the medicines agency, Amsterdam and Milan both had 13 votes Monday. That left Estonia, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, to break the tie with a draw from the bowl. Copenhagen finished third, ahead of Slovakian capital Bratislava in the vote involving EU nations excluding Britain. One country abstained in the vote.

“A solid bid that was defeated only by a draw. What a mockery,” Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Twitter.

Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra was elated.

“It is a fantastic result,” he said. “It shows that we can deal with the impact of Brexit”

The European Medicines Agency has less than 17 months to complete the move, but Amsterdam was considered ideally suited because of its location, the building it had on offer and other facilities.

Even though rules were set up to make it a fair decision, the process turned into a deeply political contest.

Zijlstra said that “in the end, it is a very strategic game of chess.”

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White House: Opioid Crisis Cost US Economy $504 Billion in 2015

Opioid drug abuse, which has ravaged parts of the United States in recent years, cost the economy as much as $504 billion in 2015, White House economists said in a report made public on Sunday.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) said the toll from the opioid crisis represented 2.8 percent of gross domestic product that year.

President Donald Trump last month declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. While Republican lawmakers said that was an important step in fighting opioid abuse, some critics, including Democrats, said the move was meaningless without additional funding.

The report could be used by the Trump White House to urge Republicans in Congress – who historically have opposed increasing government spending – to provide more funding for fighting the opioid crisis by arguing that the economic losses far outweigh the cost of additional government funding.

Using a combination of statistical models, the CEA said the lost economic output stemming from 33,000 opioid-related deaths in 2015 could be between $221 billion and $431 billion, depending on the methodology used.

In addition, the report looked at the cost of non-fatal opioid usage, estimating a total of $72 billion for 2.4 million people with opioid addictions in 2015. Those costs included medical treatment, criminal justice system expenses and the decreased economic productivity of addicts.

The CEA said its estimate was larger than those of some prior studies because it took a broad look at the value of lives lost to overdoses. The CEA also said its methodology incorporated an adjustment to reflect the fact that opioids were underreported on death certificates.

“The crisis has worsened, especially in terms of overdose deaths which have doubled in the past ten years,” the CEA said.

“While previous studies have focused exclusively on prescription opioids, we consider illicit opioids including heroin as well.”

Opioids, primarily prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, are fueling the drug overdoses. More than 100 Americans die daily from related overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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With Little Movement, NAFTA Talks Said to Run Risk of Stalemate

Talks to update the North American Free Trade Agreement appeared to be in danger of grinding toward a stalemate amid complaints of U.S. negotiators’ inflexibility, people familiar with the process said on Sunday.

The United States, Canada and Mexico are holding the fifth of seven planned rounds of talks to modernize NAFTA, which U.S. President Donald Trump blames for job losses and big trade deficits for his country.

Time is running short to reach a deal before the March 2018 start of Mexico’s presidential elections, and lack of progress in the current round could put the schedule at risk.

“The talks are really not going anywhere,” Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the largest Canadian private-sector union, told reporters after meeting with Canada’s chief negotiator on Sunday. “As long as the United States is taking the position they are, this is a colossal waste of time,” said Dias, who is advising the government and regularly meets the Canadian team.

Hanging over the negotiations is the very real threat that Trump could make good on a threat to scrap NAFTA.

Canada and Mexico object to a number of demands the U.S. side unveiled during the fourth round last month, including for a five-year sunset clause that would force frequent renegotiation of the trade pact, far more stringent automotive content rules and radical changes to dispute settlement mechanisms.

Calls for greater US flexibility

“Our internal view as of this morning is that if any progress is to be made, the United States needs to show some flexibility and a willingness to do a deal,” said a Canadian source with knowledge of the talks.

“We are seeing no signs of flexibility now,” added the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. However, a NAFTA country official familiar with the talks said Canada had not yet submitted any counterproposals to the U.S. demands.

Dias said the United States was showing some signs of flexibility over its sunset clause proposal after Mexican officials floated a plan for a “rigorous evaluation” of the trade pact, but without an automatic expiration.

U.S. negotiating objectives that were updated on Friday appeared to accommodate the Mexican proposal, saying the revised NAFTA should “provide a mechanism for ensuring that the Parties assess the benefits of the Agreement on a periodic basis.”

Canada and Mexico are also unhappy about U.S. demands that half the content of North American-built autos come from the United States, coupled with a much higher 85 percent North American content threshold. Officials are due to discuss the issue from Sunday through the end of the fifth round on Tuesday, Flavio Volpe, president of the Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said there was little chance of making substantial progress on autos in Mexico City, as the U.S. demands were still not fully understood.

“I don’t expect a heavy negotiation here,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the talks.

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Britain to Submit ‘Brexit Bill’ Proposal Before December EU Meeting

Britain will submit its proposals on how to settle its financial obligations to the European Union before an EU Council meeting next month, finance minister Philip Hammond said on Sunday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was told on Friday that there was more work to be done to unlock Brexit talks, as the European Union repeated an early December deadline for her to move on the divorce bill.

“We will make our proposals to the European Union in time for the council,” Hammond told the BBC.

Last week, May met fellow leaders on the sidelines of an EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, to try to break the deadlock over how much Britain will pay on leaving the bloc in 16 months.

 

She signaled again that she would increase an initial offer that is estimated at some 20 billion euros ($24 billion), about a third of what Brussels wants.

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European Cities Battle Fiercely for Top Agencies Leaving UK

Brexit is still well over year away but two European cities on Monday will already be celebrating Britain’s departure from the European Union.

 

Two major EU agencies now in London — the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority — must move to a new EU city because Britain is leaving the bloc. The two prizes are being hotly fought over by most of the EU’s other 27 nations.

 

Despite all the rigid rules and conditions the bloc imposed to try to make it a fair, objective decision, the process has turned into a deeply political beauty contest — part Olympic host city bidding, part Eurovision Song Contest.

 

It will culminate in a secret vote Monday at EU headquarters in Brussels that some say could be tainted by vote trading.

 

The move involves tens of millions in annual funding, about 1,000 top jobs with many more indirectly linked, prestige around the world and plenty of bragging rights for whichever leader can bring home the agencies.

 

“I will throw my full weight behind this,” French President Emmanuel Macron said when he visited Lille, which is seeking to host the EMA once Britain leaves in the EU in March 2019. “Now is the final rush.”

 

At an EU summit Friday in Goteborg, Sweden, leaders were lobbying each other to get support for their bids.

 

The EMA is responsible for the scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines in the EU. It has around 890 staff and hosts more than 500 scientific meetings every year, attracting about 36,000 experts.

 

The EBA, which has around 180 staff, monitors the regulation and supervision of Europe’s banking sector.

 

With bids coming in from everywhere — from the newest member states to the EU’s founding nations — who gets what agency will also give an indication of EU’s future outlook.

 

The EU was created as club of six founding nations some 60 years ago, so it’s logical that a great many key EU institutions are still in nations like Germany, France and Belgium. But as the bloc kept expanded east and south into the 21st century, these new member states see a prime opportunity now to claim one of these cherished EU headquarters, which cover everything from food safety to judicial cooperation to fisheries policy.

 

Romania and Bulgaria were the last to join the EU in 2007 and have no headquarters. Both now want the EMA — as does the tiny island nation of Malta.

 

“We deserve this. Because as we all know, Romania is an EU member with rights and obligations equal with all the rest of the member states,” said Rodica Nassar of Romania’s Healthcare Ministry.

 

But personnel at the EMA and EBA are highly skilled professionals, and many could be reluctant to move their careers and families from London to less prestigious locations.

 

“You have to imagine, for example, for the banking authority, which relies on basically 200 very high-level experts in banking regulatory matters to move to another place,” said Karel Lannoo of the CEPS think tank. “First of all, to motivate these people to move elsewhere. And then if you don’t manage to motivate these people, to find competent experts in another city.”

 

As the vote nears, Milan and Bratislava are the favorites to win the EMA, with Frankfurt, and perhaps Dublin, leading the way for the EBA.

 

 

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Post-Harvey Houston: Years Until Recovery, Plenty of Costs Unknown

When the heaviest rain of tropical storm Harvey had passed, Kathryn Clark’s west Houston neighborhood had escaped the worst. Then the dams were opened — a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent upstream flooding and potential dam failures by releasing water into Buffalo Bayou, just a few hundred feet from the end of Clark’s street.

When she and her husband returned to survey the damage later that week, they entered their two-story home by kayak in roughly three feet of water. In the kitchen, a snake slithered past.

Nothing like that had happened in the nearly 11 years the Clarks have lived there; it got Kathryn thinking about their long-term plans, including whether to rebuild.

“What if they decide to open the dams again?” she asked. “But if you don’t rebuild, you just walk away, and that is a big loss.”

The Clarks ultimately opted to reconstruct, a process that will take another half-year before they can move back in. Elsewhere in the city, the waiting will be longer.

​A sprawling concrete jungle

In early November, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters that Texas will need more than $61 billion in federal aid, to help fund a reconstruction plan that he said would curtail damage from future coastal storms. However, he added, there will be more requests: “This is not a closed book.”

Hurricane Harvey, the costliest storm in U.S. history, will affect Houston for months, and years. Apart from tens of thousands of ongoing home rebuilding projects, civil construction is in the evaluation phase.

“With Katrina, it actually took them 12 years before FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] made their final payment to the city of New Orleans,” said Jeff Nielsen, executive vice president of the Houston Contractors Association. “That’s how long it takes to really test and figure out where all the repairs and where all the damage occurred.”

Houston covers a landmass of 1,600 square kilometers, compared to New Orleans’ 900, and is much more densely populated. The impermeable concrete jungle experienced major runoff during the storm, and that translates to high civil construction costs in roads, bridges, water, sewage and utility lines that are difficult to determine.

WATCH: Post-Harvey Houston: Years Until Recovery, Unknown Costs

Nielsen explains to VOA the immensity of the task. 

“You may be driving down the road one day and, all of a sudden — boom — there is a 10-foot sinkhole underneath the road because there is a water line or a sewer line or a storm sewer line that runs underneath that road.

“There is no way to tell that that’s happening without going through and testing each and every line,” Nielsen said.

​Waiting, waiting

Rob Hellyer, owner of Premier Remodeling & Construction, says Houston has seen an uptick in inquiries for both flood and nonflood-related projects — good for business, but a challenge for clients.

“A lot of those people come to the realization that ‘If we want to get our project done in the next two or three years, we better get somebody lined up quick,’” Hellyer told VOA.

But industrywide, much of the workforce is dealing with flooding issues of their own, while simultaneously attempting to earn a living.

“It really has disbursed that labor pool that we have been using for all these years,” Hellyer said.

Labor shortages in construction-related jobs have long been a challenge despite competitive wages, according to Nielsen, who describes his field — civil construction — as less-than-glamorous.

“Outside, it’s hot. What could be more fun than pouring hot asphalt on a road?” he asked.

Networking barriers

With construction costs up and waiting periods long, the hands-on rebuilding effort is typically attractive for some lower-wage immigrant communities.

Among the city’s sizable Vietnamese population, though, that’s not exactly the case, said Jannette Diep, executive director of Boat People SOS Houston office (BPSOS), a community organization serving the area’s diaspora population.

“[Vietnamese construction workers] face not only a language barrier but that networking piece, because they’re not intertwined with a lot of the rules and regulations,” Diep said. “‘Well, how do I do the bid; what’s the process?’”

Overwhelmed with paperwork and often discouraged by limited communication skills in English, Diep says many within the industry opt to work only from within their own communities, despite more widespread opportunities across Greater Houston.

The same barriers apply to the Asian diaspora’s individual post-recovery efforts. BPSOS-Houston, according to Diep, remains focused on short-term needs — food, clothing, cleaning supplies — and expects the longer-term recovery to take two to three years, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods.

Love thy neighbor

Loc Ngo, a mother of seven and grandmother from Vietnam, has lived in Houston for 40 years, but speaks little English. In Fatima Village, a tightly knit single-street community of mobile homes — comprising 33 Vietnamese families — she hardly has to.

“They came to fix the home and it cost $11,000, but they’re not finished yet,” she explained, through her son’s translation. “The washer, dryer and refrigerator — I still haven’t bought them yet, and two beds!”

Across the street, the three-generation Le family levels heaps of dirt across a barren lot that’s lined by spare pipes and cinderblocks. They plan to install a new mobile home.

At the front end of the road is the village’s single-story church, baby blue and white, like the sky — the site of services, weddings, funerals and community gatherings.

Victor Ngo, a hardwood floor installer, typically organizes church events. But for now, his attention is turned to completing reconstruction of the altar and securing donations to replace 30 ruined benches.

“At first I had to spend two months to fix up my house, and now I finished my house, and I [have started] to fix up this church,” Ngo said. “So basically, I don’t go out there to work and make money. Not yet.”

In the village, made up largely of elders, Ngo stresses the importance of staying close to home to help with rebuilding, translation, and paperwork, at least for a while longer.

“We stick together as a community to survive,” he said.

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Some Republicans Nervous NAFTA Talks Could Fail

Pro-trade Republicans in the U.S. Congress are growing worried that U.S. President Donald Trump may try to quit the NAFTA free trade deal entirely rather than negotiate a compromise that preserves its core benefits.

As a fifth round of talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement kicked off in Mexico on Friday, several Republicans interviewed by Reuters expressed concerns that tough U.S. demands, including a five-year sunset clause and a U.S.-specific content rule, will sink the talks and lead to the deal’s collapse.

Business groups have warned of dire economic consequences, including millions of jobs lost as Mexican and Canadian tariffs snap back to their early 1990s levels.

“I think the administration is playing a pretty dangerous game with this sunset provision,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from eastern Pennsylvania.

He said putting NAFTA under threat of extinction every five years would make it difficult for companies in his district, ranging from chocolate giant Hershey Co to small family owned manufacturing firms, to invest in supply chains and manage global operations.

Hershey operates candy plants in Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico.

Lawmakers’ letter

Nearly 75 House of Representatives members signed a letter this week opposing U.S. proposals on automotive rules of origin, which would require 50 percent U.S. content in NAFTA-built vehicles and 85 percent regional content.

They warned that this would “eliminate the competitive advantages” that NAFTA brings to U.S. automakers or lead to a collapse of the trade pact.

Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who has long been a supporter of free trade deals, said he disagreed with the Trump approach of “trying to beat someone” in the NAFTA talks. Texas is the largest U.S. exporting state with nearly half of its $231 billion in exports last year headed to Mexico and Canada, according to Commerce Department data.

“We need to offer Mexico a fair deal. If we want them to take our cattle, we need to take their avocados,” Sessions said.

Still, congressional apprehension about Trump’s stance is far from unanimous. The signers were largely Republicans, with no Democrats from auto-intensive states such as Michigan and Ohio signing.

Democratic support

Some pro-labor Democrats have actually expressed support for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s tough approach.

“Some of those demands are in tune,” said Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee.

“We don’t want to blow it up, Republicans don’t want to blow it up. But we want substantial changes in the labor, the environmental, the currency, on how you come to an agreement when there’s a dispute, and on problems of origin.”

Farm state Republicans are especially concerned that a collapse of NAFTA would lead to the loss of crucial export markets in Mexico and Canada for corn, beef and other products.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Lighthizer in a recent meeting agreed that a withdrawal from NAFTA would be hard on U.S. agriculture, which has largely benefited from the trade pact.

U.S. agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico quintupled to about $41 billion in 2016 from about $9 billion in 1993, the year before NAFTA went into effect, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.

Grassley said, however, that Lighthizer’s approach was “taking everybody to the brink on these talks.”

Other Republicans are taking a wait-and-see approach to the talks.

Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma said he was willing to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt” on NAFTA talks, adding that farmers and ranchers in his rural district were strong Trump supporters in the 2016 election.

“The president’s a practical fellow. When push comes to shove, he understands the base,” Lucas said.

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