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In Harvey-hit County, Some in GOP Newly Confront the Climate

The church was empty, except for the piano too heavy for one man to move. It had been 21 days since the greatest storm Wayne Christopher had ever seen dumped a year’s worth of rain on his town, drowning this church where he was baptized, met his high school sweetheart and later married her.

 

He had piled the ruined pews out on the curb, next to water-logged hymnals and molding Sunday school lesson plans and chunks of drywall that used to be a mural of Noah’s Ark. Now he tilted his head up to take in the mountain of rubble, and Christopher, an evangelical Christian and a conservative Republican, considered what caused this destruction: that the violent act of nature had been made worse by acts of man.

 

“I think the Lord put us over the care of his creation, and when we pollute like we do, destroy the land, there’s consequences to that,” he said. “It might not catch up with us just right now, but it’s gonna catch up. Like a wound that needs to be healed.”

 

Jefferson County, Texas, is among the low-lying coastal areas of America that could lose the most as the ice caps melt and the seas warm and rise. At the same time, it is more economically dependent on the petroleum industry and its emissions-spewing refineries than any other place in the U.S. Residents seemed to choose between the two last November, abandoning a four-decade-old pattern of voting Democratic in presidential elections to support Donald Trump.

 

Then came Hurricane Harvey. Now some conservatives here are newly confronting some of the most polarizing questions in American political discourse: What role do humans play in global warming and the worsening of storms like Harvey? And what should they expect their leaders — including the climate-skeptic president they helped elect — to do about the problem now?

Answers are hard to come by in a place where refineries stand like cityscapes. Nearly 5,000 people work in the petroleum industry. Some have described the chemical stink in the air as “the smell of money” — it means paychecks, paid mortgages and meals.

 

Christopher, like most people in Jefferson County, believed that global warming was real before the storm hit. Post-Harvey, surrounded by debris stretching for block after block, he thinks the president’s outright rejection of the scientific consensus is no longer good enough.

 

But how do you help the climate without hurting those who depend on climate-polluting industries?

 

“It’s a Catch-22 kind of thing,” he said. “Do you want to build your economy, or do you want to save the world?”

 


 

“Steroids for storms” is how Andrew Dessler explains the role global warming plays in extreme weather. Climate change didn’t create Hurricane Harvey or Irma or Maria. But Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, and most scientists agree that warming and rising seas likely amplify storms that form naturally, feeding more water and more intensity as they plow toward land.

 

“It will be 60 inches of rain this time, maybe 80 inches next time,” Dessler said of Harvey’s record-setting rainfall for any single storm in U.S. history.

As a private citizen and candidate, Trump often referred to climate change as a hoax, and since taking office he and his administration have worked aggressively to undo policies designed to mitigate the damage. He announced his intention to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, a global accord of 195 nations to reduce carbon emissions, and his administration has dismantled environmental regulations and erased climate change data from government websites. This month, his Environmental Protection Agency administrator promised to kill an effort to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.

 

Anthony Leiserowitz, a Yale University researcher, traces the politicization of the climate to 1997, when then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore brokered a commitment on the world stage to reduce greenhouse gases. The political parties have cleaved further apart ever since, and climate change denial reached a fever pitch as the Tea Party remade the GOP during President Barack Obama’s first term.

 

Americans tend to view the issue through their already established red-versus-blue lens, Leiserowitz said. But while there are fractions on each extreme, the majority still fall somewhere along a scale in the middle.

 

A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds that 63 percent of Americans think climate change is happening and that the government should address it, and that two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling the issue. Most Americans also think weather disasters are getting more severe, and believe global warming is a factor.

 

As the downpour from Hurricane Harvey stretched into its second day, with no end in sight, Joe Evans watched from the window of his home in the Jefferson County seat of Beaumont, and an unexpected sense of guilt overcame him: “What have we been doing to the planet for all of these years?”

Evans, a Republican, once ran unsuccessfully for local office. He ignored climate change, as he thought Republicans were supposed to do, but Harvey’s deluge left him wondering why. When he was young, discussions of the ozone layer were uncontroversial; now they’re likely to end in pitched political debate.

 

“I think it’s one of those games that politicians play with us,” he said, “to once again make us choose a side.”

 

Evans voted for Trump, but he’s frustrated with what he describes as the “conservative echo chamber” that dismisses climate change instead of trying to find a way to apply conservative principles to simultaneously saving the Earth and the economy. Even today, some Republicans in the county complain about Gore and the hypocrisy they see in elite liberals who jet around the world, carbon emissions trailing behind them, to push climate policies on blue-collar workers trying to keep refinery jobs so they can feed their families.

 

Evans isn’t sure if the disastrous run of weather will cause climate change to become a bigger priority for residents here, or if as memories fade talk of this issue will, too.

 

“I haven’t put so much thought into it that I want to go mobilize a bunch of people and march on Washington,” he said. “But it made me think enough about it that I won’t actively take part in denying it. We can’t do that anymore.”

 


 

Most in Texas didn’t believe climate change existed when Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, began evangelizing about the issue years ago. Now studies estimate that 69 percent of Texans believe that the climate is changing, and 52 percent believe that has been caused by human activity. Most resistance she hears now is not with the science itself but over proposed solutions that mean government intrusion and regulation.

Jefferson County’s refineries produce 10 percent of the gasoline in the United States, 20 percent of diesel and half of the fuel used to fly commercial planes, said County Judge Jeff Branick, a Democrat who voted for Trump and then switched his party affiliation to Republican, in part because of his disagreement with the Democratic Party’s climate policies.

 

Branick doesn’t deny that climate change exists, but he calls himself a cheerleader for the petroleum industry and believes environmental policies are “job killers.”

 

John Sterman, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, said addressing climate change will invariably lead to gradual job losses in the fossil fuels industry. But communities have lost a dominant industry before, and those able to diversify can prosper. Jefferson County could look to the renewable energy industry, with jobs that require many of the skills refinery workers have, he said. Texas already produces more wind power than any other state.

 

Angela Lopez’s husband works in a refinery, so she understands the worry of the economic cost of addressing global warming. But her county is nicknamed “cancer alley” for its high levels of disease that residents have long attributed to living in the shadow of one of the largest concentrations of refineries in the world.

 

“It’s our livelihood, but it’s killing us,” Lopez said, standing in what used to be her dining room. Now her house in Beaumont is down to the studs. As Harvey’s floodwaters rose, she tried to save what she could. She piled the dresser drawers on the bed and perched the leather couch up on the coffee table. It did no good. The water didn’t stop until it reached the eaves, and the Lopezes lost everything they own.

 

Just about all of her relatives are conservatives, and indeed the political divides in the county run deep: Even as most of the communities along the Gulf Coast turned red years ago, Jefferson County clung to its Democratic roots. The county is ethnically diverse — 41 percent white, 34 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic — with a historically strong union workforce. Trump won Jefferson by just 419 votes.

 

“To come up with real solutions, you have to be honest with yourself about what causes something to happen,” Lopez said. “It’s not just because some storm came, it was bad and unprecedented. It was unprecedented for a reason, so we have to acknowledge that and start working toward being better. And part of that conversation should be climate change.”

On a porch outside another ruined house nearby, two neighbors who both lost everything to Harvey started having that conversation.

 

Gene Jones, a truck driver who didn’t vote, asked Wilton Johnson, a Trump supporter, if he thought climate change intensified the storm.

 

“I don’t think so, no,” Johnson said.

 

“You don’t? You don’t think about the chemical plants and the hot weather? You don’t think that has anything to do with it?”

 

“I can understand people believing that,” Johnson replied. But he blames natural weather cycles for upending their lives so completely.

 

Jones now lives in a camper in his driveway; Johnson’s father has been sleeping in a recliner in his yard to ward off looters.

 

Johnson feels like he’s gone through the stages of grief. At first, as he fled his home, he denied how devastating the storm might be. Then he got angry, when he realized nothing could be saved — not the family photos or the 100-year-old Bible that fell apart in his hands. He grew depressed and now, finally, he thinks he’s come to accept this new reality as something that just happened because nature is not always kind, and never has been.

 

And he remains unshaken in his support for Trump’s environmental agenda.

 

“We need to be responsible human beings to the Earth, but at the same time we shouldn’t sacrifice the financial freedoms,” he said. “What good is a great environment if we’re poor and living like cavemen? And vice versa, I understand the other side of that: What’s great about living in luxury when you can’t go outside?

 

“I just don’t think we should look at two storms and say, ‘We’re ruining the Earth! Shut the plants down!'”

 


 

When Wayne Christopher was a boy in Jefferson County, it got so hot he remembers frying eggs on the sidewalk. It has always been hot here, and there have always been hurricanes.

 

But it seems to him that something is different now. There is a palpable intensity in the air, in the haze that hangs over the interstate. The region has warmed about two degrees in his lifetime, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and annual rainfall has increased by about 7 inches on average. Christopher counts the number of times a beach road he’s driven on all his life has had to be rebuilt because the ocean overtook it.

 

“The sea keeps moving in — water rising, land disappearing or eroding or whatever you want to call it — it’s happening,” said Christopher, who is 66 now and retired after toiling more than 40 years for the railroad. “I think Mother Nature can come back, but there’s a point to where, if we just keep on and keep on, I don’t know if she can come back.”

 

He thinks the president he helped put in office should do something: take the threat seriously, research before he talks or tweets, not dismiss established science as a hoax because acknowledging it’s real would mean acknowledging that something must be done.

 

But like many others here, Christopher is not pushing to stick with the Paris climate agreement or other global coalitions because he’s not sure it’s fair that the United States should invest in clean energy when other countries that pollute might not. He worries that could cause more job losses to overseas factories, put a squeeze on the middle class and forfeit a slice of American sovereignty.

 

His wife, who also supported Trump, cocked her head as she thought about that sentiment.

 

“I can see the pros, I can see the cons,” Polly Christopher said. “But if you were to simplify it to your children, and they say, ‘Well, everybody else is doing it, if I do it what difference is it going to make?’ you would just get on them and say, ‘You’ve got to do the right thing. Right is right, and wrong’s wrong.'”

 

For weeks, the couple have been gutting Memorial Baptist Church, a place they consider their home. The congregation dwindled over time to about 45, mostly older people, and it was so hard to make ends meet the church canceled a $19,000-a-year flood insurance policy just two months before Harvey hit. Now it could cost some $1 million to rebuild, meaning the church may never be rebuilt at all.

 

So when Christopher’s granddaughter came by to help, found the piano in the otherwise empty sanctuary, sat down and started to play, he was overcome with a sense of grief.

 

“In my head I was thinking the whole time, this could be the last time that piano is played inside the auditorium,” he said. Then she started to sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound …”

 

“It did something to me,” he said.

 

Both he and his wife believe President Trump has a responsibility to look at the destruction Harvey left them with and act accordingly.

 

“He’s got a business mind. Whatever it takes to make money, that’s what he’s going to do to make America great again,” Christopher said, and that’s why he voted for Trump. “But it does make me wonder if he looks at global warming as a real harm. Because you can make all the money in the world here. But if you don’t have a world, what good is it going to do you?”

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Populism Again Casts Shadow Over Booming Eurozone Economy

For months, the outlook for the eurozone economy has brightened thanks to a series of electoral defeats for populist parties in key states like France. Now, following votes in Germany and Austria and the uncertainty over the Spanish region of Catalonia, concerns are growing again about the potential impact of euroskeptic politics.

The euro has edged lower in recent weeks despite data showing that the eurozone economy is enjoying one of its strongest periods of growth since the global financial crisis exploded a decade ago. On Monday, it was down 0.3 percent at $1.1785, having been above $1.20 at the end of August for the first time in two years.

 

One of the reasons relates to the electoral success of populist forces, first in Germany in late-September when the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany received almost 13 percent of the vote and won representation into the country’s parliament for the first time. Though the center-right Christian Democrats came out on top, the authority of Chancellor Angela Merkel was somewhat undermined by AfD’s relative success and she has still to forge a new coalition.

 

The populist tide was further evidenced in Sunday’s Austrian election, which saw the right-wing Freedom Party come second with around 27 percent of the vote — enough to possibly become part of a government led by the People’s Party and its 31-year-old leader, Sebastian Kurz.

 

The impact of a coalition involving a party that has sought to downplay the country’s Nazi past could hinder efforts to further integrate the economies of the 19 countries that use the euro, as advocated for by new French President Emmanuel Macron.

 

“Even though Austria is highly integrated and depends on the eurozone’s structure and openness, a new Austrian government will make the eurozone’s life harder, trying to push through self-interests,” ING economist Inga Fechner said.

 

Also of potential concern to the unity of the eurozone is the uncertainty surrounding Catalonia following its disputed independence referendum earlier this month. On Monday, there was still a lack of clarity as to whether the region’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, has declared independence following the vote that Madrid has deemed illegal.

 

The Spanish government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has repeatedly said it’s not willing to negotiate with Puigdemont if independence is on the table, or accept any form of international mediation. The government has threatened to activate Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, which could see Madrid take temporary control of some parts of Catalonia’s self-government.

 

All these signs of populism come at a time when the European economy is enjoying one of its most sustained upswings for a decade. A run of economic indicators have shown that the recovery, especially among those countries that use the euro currency, has been gaining momentum through 2017. The recovery, which has also seen unemployment come off highs, has prompted speculation that the European Central Bank will start to ease back on some of its emergency stimulus measures in the coming months.

 

Many economists ascribe the improving economic backdrop to the defeat of populist politicians earlier this year, notably in France where National Front leader Marine Le Pen lost overwhelmingly in the presidential runoff against Macron. Her defeat come a few weeks after Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party fared worse than anticipated in Dutch elections.

 

At the start of this year, the rise of populism was considered by many economists as the gravest cloud hanging over Europe’s economic future, especially as worries over Greece had abated. The Brexit vote in Britain in the summer of 2016 had shown how vulnerable the region could be to populist movements. The great fear for those overseeing the euro currency is that a party may come into government seeking to get out of the single currency and revert to the country’s original currency.

 

What’s occurred in the past few weeks is evidence that those populist forces are not done yet.

 

Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at BNY Mellon, said “it would make sense for the euro to weaken if concerns about populism in the eurozone re-emerged.”

 

The next potential worry is Italy, where elections have to be held by May 2018. The country has for years grown more slowly than other developed economies and there are concerns that a party seeking to blame the country’s problems on the euro could make headway in the elections, potentially triggering more volatility for a currency that’s spent years dodging crises. In August, former premier Silvio Berlusconi floated the idea of a parallel currency being introduced in Italy.

 

 

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IMF: Global Economy Healthy, Still Needs Low Interest Rates

The world economy is the healthiest it’s been in years but could still use a little help from low-interest rates and higher government spending from countries that can afford it, the International Monetary Fund says. 

 

“There was a strong consensus that the global outlook is strengthening,” said Agustin Carstens, governor of the Bank of Mexico and outgoing chair of the IMF’s policy committee. “This does not mean we are declaring victory just yet.” 

 

The 189-member IMF and its sister agency, the World Bank, wrapped up three days of meetings Saturday. 

Broad recovery, risks

The IMF expects the global economy to grow 3.6 percent this year, up from 3.2 percent in 2016. And three-quarters of the global economy is growing, making this the broadest recovery in a decade. 

 

But IMF and World Bank officials pointed to risks that could derail global growth. Geopolitical risks are rising, including a confrontation between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The income gap between rich and poor is growing, fueling political discontent with the free trade and global cooperation that the IMF and World Bank promote. 

 

So in a communique Saturday, the IMF’s policy committee called on world central banks to protect the fragile global recovery by keeping interest rates down in countries where inflation is too low and economies are performing below potential. 

 

IMF officials have also urged some countries with healthy finances, such as Germany and South Korea, to make investments that will spur growth. 

 

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde appealed to countries to enact reforms that will make their economies more efficient and spread prosperity to those who have been left behind. Specifically, Lagarde argued that countries could improve their economies and reduce inequality by putting more women to work, improving their access to credit and narrowing their pay gap with men. 

On Saturday, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, appeared with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to launch a World Bank initiative to support women entrepreneurs. The World Bank fund has raised $350 million, which is designed to allow the World Bank to deploy at least $1 billion in capital to finance women-owned businesses. 

 

Ivanka Trump told the audience that she wanted to “spend a lot of time offering any value that I can as a mentor.” 

 

Adjusting to Trump

The World Bank and IMF delegates are still adjusting to the Trump administration, which is skeptical of international organizations and contemptuous of free trade agreements. This week, the United States pulled out of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency. It is has balked at providing additional capital to the World Bank unless the anti-poverty agency rethinks the way it distributes loans. It has scrapped an Asia-Pacific trade deal and is threatening to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. 

 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he carried in his pocket a list of all the G-20 nations and the size of the trade balances the United States has with each of those nations. With most of the G-20 countries, the United States is running a trade deficit.

 

In a speech Saturday to the IMF policy group, Mnuchin said he wanted to see the IMF be a more “forceful advocate” for strong global growth by taking a harder look at countries that abuse world trade rules. 

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Winemaker Vows to Rebuild After Losing Battle With Wildfire

Throughout Northern California, where wildfires have raged for almost a week, killing at least 36 people and destroying about 6,000 buildings, residents are taking stock of what they have and what they have lost.

Many are feeling lucky to have survived with their lives. The fire’s path of destruction lacked rhyme or reason, destroying an entire winery in one case but leaving patio furniture outside the tasting room untouched.

Pierre Birebent, who has been a winemaker at the Signorello Estate for the past 20 years, said he feels lucky.

WATCH: Winemakers Vow to Rebuild Destroyed Winery

When the fire came to his winery on the Silverado Trail, the main artery of Napa’s Wine Country, Birebent grabbed a hose and tried to fight the flames himself. One of the winery’s owners, who was in the residence above the winery, had fled after alerting the staff to the fire.

Birebent lost the battle to save the winery, the tasting room, an office and the residence. 

“It was like fighting a giant,” he said.

​Damage unknown

It’s too early to know the extent of the damage to Northern California’s wine industry. Fires still burn around the hillsides, and pickers hurry to get the grapes off the vine before they are damaged by smoke, a condition known as “smoke taint.”

At Signorello, employees reported for work Friday, their first chance to see the damage.

Ray Signorello, the winery proprietor, went into Napa to rent temporary office space. He planned to keep the business going and rebuild.

“We can continue somewhat business as usual,” Signorello said.

“Our house is gone,” said Jo Dayoan, allocation director at the winery. “Our soul is not. We are family.”

Much to be thankful for

For Birebent, there are many things to be thankful for, among them, the 30-year-old vineyards, which didn’t burn.

“This is very important because it takes five years to plant the vineyard to get the first crop,” Birebent said.

Also spared by the fire was a warehouse where Signorello stored its 2016 vintage, as well as the last of the 2017 cabernet sauvignon grapes, which had been harvested just days before the fire and sat fermenting in 14 tanks at the edge of the parking lot.

But whether the wine inside the tanks is drinkable remains to be seen. Workers cleared leaves and ash from the outside of the tanks.

The wine from each of the tanks will be tasted and tested at a laboratory. The tanks hold 80 percent of the winery’s 2017 reds, which Birebent said was worth millions.

“It was so hot, we don’t know if the wine is still good or no,” he said.

As they take stock of the damage, the winemaker and the staff here are thinking about rebuilding, even as others continue to face wildfire dangers. The winery workers say they are lucky even as they stand in its ruins.

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Global Economy: Growth Gathering Momentum, but Where’s the Inflation?

The euro zone economy may be building up an impressive head of steam that shows no signs of cooling, but what policymakers at the European Central Bank really want – higher inflation – is still largely absent.

Industrial output in the bloc rose faster than anyone polled by Reuters expected in August, according to data on Thursday which followed a slew of forecast-beating releases and after the International Monetary Fund upgraded its outlook for global growth.

“Although the industrial sector only accounts for a quarter of GDP it has been the euro zone’s most cyclical sector historically, and so is an important indicator of the economy’s wider health,” said Christian Jaccarini at CEBR.

“With the economy gathering momentum, the European Central Bank should feel confident about starting to taper its asset purchase program at the beginning of next year.”

The economy is performing stronger than at any time since the global financial crisis so speculation the ECB will soon begin scaling back its massive stimulus program has been rife.

Policymakers at the Bank will announce on Oct. 26 a six-month extension to its asset purchase program but will cut how much it buys each month to 40 billion euros from January, a September Reuters poll predicted.  

Five people with direct knowledge of discussions told Reuters the ECB is homing in on extending its stimulus for nine months at the next meeting while scaling it back.

Yet the ECB’s key focus is inflation and numbers due on Tuesday will probably confirm prices only rose 1.5 percent in September on a year ago, still a lot weaker than the just below 2 percent rate-setters would like.

According to Reuters polls taken throughout 2017, which have been correct about how low it would remain this year, inflation won’t hit that ECB target for years.

“There is likely to be only a limited pick-up in inflationary pressures, meaning that interest rate hikes can be kept on hold until 2019 – later than markets seem to expect,” economists at Capital Economics wrote.

British dilemma

Across the Atlantic, U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers have already begun tightening but had a prolonged debate about the prospects of a pickup in inflation and slowing the path of future interest rate rises if it did not, according to minutes of the central bank’s last policy meeting.

“Many participants expressed concern that the low inflation readings this year might reflect… the influence of developments that could prove more persistent, and it was noted that some patience in removing policy accommodation while assessing trends in inflation was warranted,” the Fed said in the minutes.

Britain, however, has the opposite problem.

Since the vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union, the pound has lost around 13 percent of its value against the dollar, driving up the costs of imports and caused inflation to run well above the 2 percent the Bank of England would like it at.

In the referendum’s aftermath the Bank cut 25 basis points from borrowing costs, taking them to a record low 0.25 percent, hoping to stave off a predicted economic meltdown after the leave vote.

That meltdown never happened and Britain’s economy was one of the best performers last year although growth has since slowed sharply.

Still, at its November meeting the BoE will raise interest rates for the first time in a decade, according to economists in a recent Reuters poll taken after a barrage of hawkish rhetoric from BoE policymakers. However, most of them also said raising rates now would be a policy mistake.  

“On the strength of the MPC’s rhetoric and current market expectations, we continue to look for a November hike. But this assumes no significant downside surprises in the inflation and wage data next week,” said Allan Monks at JPMorgan.

“If the MPC is minded to back out of tightening in November – in response to the data or the Brexit process – we would expect at least some hint of this in any commentary between now and the next meeting on Nov. 2.”

Britain’s economy shows little sign of breaking out of its lethargy and it is “extraordinary” the BoE is considering raising interest rates, the British Chambers of Commerce said on Friday.

“We’d caution against an earlier than required tightening in monetary policy, which could hit both business and consumer confidence and weaken overall UK growth,” said Suren Thiru, BCC head of economics.

Divorce talks have this week ended in deadlock over a British refusal to clarify how much it will pay on leaving, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.

But EU leaders could hand beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May an olive branch in Brexit negotiations next week by launching their own internal preparations for a transition to a new relationship with Britain, giving her some hope.

 

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China’s Imports From North Korea Fall Nearly 38 Percent in September

China’s imports from North Korea fell 37.9 percent in September from a year earlier, marking the seventh consecutive month of decline, the customs office said Friday.

China-U.S. ties have been strained by President Donald Trump’s criticism of China’s trade practices and by demands that Beijing do more to pressure North Korea over Pyongyan’s nuclear and missile programmes.

China’s exports to North Korea in September dropped 6.7 percent from a year ago, a spokesman for the General Administration of Customs told a briefing, adding no seafood imports from North Korea were recorded last month.

China’s imports from North Korea fell 16.7 percent on-year to $1.48 billion in Jannuary-September, while exports to North Korea rose 20.9 percent to $2.55 billion in the same period.

That created a trade surplus with North Korea at $1.07 billion in the first nine months of this year.

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California Wildfires Threaten Wine Country’s Lifeblood: Tourism

The wildfires burning through Northern California are sending visitors packing, threatening the $2 billion-plus spent annually by tourists on wine tours, fine food, limousine rides and much more, business leaders said.

At the Inn on First bed and breakfast in the famous wine town of Napa, co-owner Jamie Cherry was encouraging callers to postpone rather than cancel visits, as wildfires burned largely unchecked across the region.

“People are canceling as far as November already,” Cherry said. “It’s going to be devastating in terms of financial loss for everybody.”

The fast-moving fires have killed at least 26 people and left hundreds missing in an area less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco.

With hundreds of wineries, expensive restaurants and bucolic rolling scenery, the wine country of Sonoma and Napa counties is a major draw for visitors. Limousines and buses clog parking lots at weekends as visitors sip Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons in towns known for their mix of rural and cosmopolitan vibes.

Now, with at least 13 burned wineries, shuttered tasting rooms and thick smoke in the air from nearly two dozen fires that have charred more than 190,000 acres across the state, it is unclear how quickly the region can lure back tourists.

‘We’d go back’

Napa Valley welcomed 3.5 million visitors last year, with overnight guests spending on average $402 per day, according to Visit Napa Valley, the region’s tourism marketing group.

“There is a good amount of infrastructure that has burned down, homes have burned down, wineries have burned. There are restaurants that are not going to open quickly,” said Clay Gregory of Visit Napa Valley.

On Thursday, tasting rooms remained closed and the famous Napa Valley Wine Train, which ferries tourists through the vineyards, said it planned to reopen Sunday.

Dozens of limousines and tour buses, their polish dulled by a film of ash, sat in a parking lot and warehouse on the outskirts of Napa. The company’s owner, Michael Graham, said the business had just hit peak demand of 100 reservations a day, but since the fires that had slumped to two.

Graham remains hopeful, however, citing tourism’s quick recovery after the 6.0 earthquake that hit Napa in 2014: “People were out wine-tasting the same day.”

Graham said the region was still largely intact, with vast swathes of countryside untouched by fire.

“It’s just smoky. As soon as they get this contained it will be back to business as usual,” he said.

Others agreed the effect of the fires on tourism would be short-lived.

Roseanne Rosen has fond memories of the trip with her husband to wine country that she just finished ahead of the fires. The couple from Kansas City has been coming for the last decade and has no plans to abandon that tradition.

“It’s one of our favorite destinations and I don’t see that changing,” Rosen said by telephone. “Once people are open and ready for business, we’d go back in an instant.”

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Peru’s Cabinet Seeks New Legislative Powers on Economy From Congress

The government of Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said Thursday that it will request special powers to legislate economic policies from the opposition-ruled Congress, after growth slowed sharply during his first year in office.

During a presentation in Congress, Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz said her cabinet wants to legislate policies aimed at consolidating an incipient economic recovery and making Peru a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a wealthy-country think tank.

In Peru, Congress traditionally grants legislative powers to the executive branch at the start of a president’s term, and it is rare for a prime minister to seek them so far into an administration – underscoring ongoing worries about the economy.

Growth in Peru, one of the region’s most robust economies, faltered early this year after a corruption scandal halted public work projects and severe flooding destroyed billions of dollars in infrastructure.

The government and central bank now expect the economy to grow by about 2.8 percent this year thanks to better prices for Peru’s key copper exports, down from 3.9 percent last year.

Araoz said the economy should expand by at least 4 percent in coming years.

It was unclear whether the opposition would grant the government its request for new legislative powers following a political crisis in September that ended with Congress ousting Kuczynski’s former cabinet.

Kuczynski appointed a more socially conservative cabinet led by Araoz that won initial praise from the right-wing populist party Popular Force, which has an absolute majority in Congress.

But Congress must approve the new cabinet with a vote of confidence scheduled for Thursday.

Araoz said that she would present the request for legislative powers in coming days.

Congress gave Kuczynski legislative authority on economic policies in September 2016, which his government used to pass laws aimed at reducing and expediting bureaucratic permits.

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