Category Archives: Business

economy and business news

Amazon Delivers Profits, a $20 Prime Hike, NFL Games

Amazon.com Inc. more than doubled its profit Thursday and predicted strong spring results as the world’s biggest online retailer raised the price for U.S. Prime subscribers, added U.S. football games and touted its cloud services for business.

The results showed the broad strength of the company, which has been expanding far beyond shipping packages, the business that has drawn the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The forecast beat expectations on Wall Street, sending shares up 7 percent to a new record in afterhours trade and adding $8 billion to the net worth of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and largest shareholder.

Seattle-based Amazon is winning business from older, big box rivals by delivering virtually any product to customers at a low cost, and at times faster than it takes to buy goods from a physical store. It is expanding across industries, too, striking a $130 million deal to stream Thursday night games for the U.S. National Football League online and working to ship groceries to doorsteps from Whole Foods stores nationwide.

Sales jumped 43 percent to $51.0 billion in the quarter, topping estimates of $49.8 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

Prime now $119

Prime, Amazon’s loyalty club that includes fast shipping, video streaming and other benefits, has been key to Amazon’s strategy. Its more than 100 million members globally spend above average on Amazon.

The company announced Thursday it will increase the yearly price of Prime to $119 from $99 for U.S. members this spring.

The fee hike is expected to add a windfall to Amazon’s subscription revenue, already up 60 percent in the first quarter at $3.1 billion.

“We do feel it’s still the best deal in retail,” Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s chief financial officer, said on a call with analysts. He said the number of items Prime members can get within two days had grown fivefold since the last price increase four years ago.

Advertising and the cloud

Despite the surge in shopping, Olsavsky gave credit for Amazon’s $1.6 billion profit last quarter to two younger businesses: advertising and Amazon Web Services.

Revenue from third-party sellers paying to promote their products on Amazon.com was an unusually large bright spot during the quarter, with sales in the category, which includes some other items, growing 139 percent to $2.03 billion. This included $560 million from an accounting change.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), which handles data and computing for large enterprises in the cloud, won new business and saw its profit margin expand. It posted a 49 percent rise in sales from a year earlier to $5.44 billion, beating estimates.

Amazon remains the biggest in the space by revenue, and its stock trades at a significant premium to cloud-computing rival Microsoft Corp.

Amazon’s shares have also outperformed the S&P 500, rising 30 percent this year as of Thursday’s market close, compared with the S&P’s less than 1 percent decline.

More workers, spending

Notorious for running on a low profit margin, Amazon has still reaped rewards for shareholders as it has bet on new services like voice-controlled computing and has expanded across continents and industries.

Global headcount was up 60 percent from a year earlier at 563,100 full-time and part-time employees, thanks to a hiring spree and an influx of workers from Whole Foods Market.

The company plans to increase its video content spending this year, Amazon’s Olsavsky said, with a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings” in the works. The third quarter will also see extra spending to prepare for the busy holiday season.

Amazon is working with JPMorgan Chase & Co and Berkshire Hathaway Inc to determine how to cut health costs for hundreds of thousands of their employees.

And it is expanding its retail footprint outside the United States, particularly in India. Amazon’s international operating loss grew 29 percent to $622 million in the first quarter.

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Amazon Delivers Profits, a $20 Prime Hike, NFL Games

Amazon.com Inc. more than doubled its profit Thursday and predicted strong spring results as the world’s biggest online retailer raised the price for U.S. Prime subscribers, added U.S. football games and touted its cloud services for business.

The results showed the broad strength of the company, which has been expanding far beyond shipping packages, the business that has drawn the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump.

The forecast beat expectations on Wall Street, sending shares up 7 percent to a new record in afterhours trade and adding $8 billion to the net worth of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and largest shareholder.

Seattle-based Amazon is winning business from older, big box rivals by delivering virtually any product to customers at a low cost, and at times faster than it takes to buy goods from a physical store. It is expanding across industries, too, striking a $130 million deal to stream Thursday night games for the U.S. National Football League online and working to ship groceries to doorsteps from Whole Foods stores nationwide.

Sales jumped 43 percent to $51.0 billion in the quarter, topping estimates of $49.8 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

Prime now $119

Prime, Amazon’s loyalty club that includes fast shipping, video streaming and other benefits, has been key to Amazon’s strategy. Its more than 100 million members globally spend above average on Amazon.

The company announced Thursday it will increase the yearly price of Prime to $119 from $99 for U.S. members this spring.

The fee hike is expected to add a windfall to Amazon’s subscription revenue, already up 60 percent in the first quarter at $3.1 billion.

“We do feel it’s still the best deal in retail,” Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s chief financial officer, said on a call with analysts. He said the number of items Prime members can get within two days had grown fivefold since the last price increase four years ago.

Advertising and the cloud

Despite the surge in shopping, Olsavsky gave credit for Amazon’s $1.6 billion profit last quarter to two younger businesses: advertising and Amazon Web Services.

Revenue from third-party sellers paying to promote their products on Amazon.com was an unusually large bright spot during the quarter, with sales in the category, which includes some other items, growing 139 percent to $2.03 billion. This included $560 million from an accounting change.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), which handles data and computing for large enterprises in the cloud, won new business and saw its profit margin expand. It posted a 49 percent rise in sales from a year earlier to $5.44 billion, beating estimates.

Amazon remains the biggest in the space by revenue, and its stock trades at a significant premium to cloud-computing rival Microsoft Corp.

Amazon’s shares have also outperformed the S&P 500, rising 30 percent this year as of Thursday’s market close, compared with the S&P’s less than 1 percent decline.

More workers, spending

Notorious for running on a low profit margin, Amazon has still reaped rewards for shareholders as it has bet on new services like voice-controlled computing and has expanded across continents and industries.

Global headcount was up 60 percent from a year earlier at 563,100 full-time and part-time employees, thanks to a hiring spree and an influx of workers from Whole Foods Market.

The company plans to increase its video content spending this year, Amazon’s Olsavsky said, with a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings” in the works. The third quarter will also see extra spending to prepare for the busy holiday season.

Amazon is working with JPMorgan Chase & Co and Berkshire Hathaway Inc to determine how to cut health costs for hundreds of thousands of their employees.

And it is expanding its retail footprint outside the United States, particularly in India. Amazon’s international operating loss grew 29 percent to $622 million in the first quarter.

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Mexico Economy Minister Says NAFTA Revamp Talks ‘Not Easy’

Much remains to be done before a new North American Free Trade Agreement is reached, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Thursday, tempering hopes for a quick deal as ministers met in Washington for a third successive day.

Negotiators from the United States, Mexico and Canada have been working constantly for weeks to clinch a deal, but major differences remain on contentious topics such as autos content.

Complicating matters, the Trump administration has threatened to impose sanctions on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum on May 1 if not enough progress has been made on NAFTA.

President Donald Trump, who came into office in January 2017 decrying NAFTA and other international trade deals as unfair to the United States, has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the agreement with Canada and Mexico, which took effect in 1994.

“It is going, it’s going, but not easy — too many things, too many issues to tackle,” Guajardo told reporters after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Now under way for eight months, the talks to revamp the accord underpinning $1.2 trillion in trade entered a more intensive phase after the last formal round of negotiations ended in March with ministers vowing to push for a deal.

Lighthizer is due to visit China next week, and when asked if a deal was possible before the USTR left, Guajardo said: “It will depend on our abilities and creativity. We are trying to do our best, but there are still a lot of things pending.”

Although Washington is keen for an agreement soon to avoid clashing with a July 1 Mexican presidential election, the three NAFTA members remain locked in talks to agree on new rules governing minimum content requirements for the auto industry.

Still, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland rejected the notion that discussion of the so-called rules of origin for the automotive sector was holding up the process.

“I would very much disagree with the characterization of the autos conversation as being log-jammed,” she said as she entered the USTR offices. “This is a week when very good, significant progress is being made on rules of origin for the car sector.”

Freeland said she would skip a planned visit to a NATO summit in Brussels on Friday, and vowed to stay in Washington for “as long as it takes.” Guajardo, too, said he was ready to remain in Washington this week for more talks.

Disagreements

The three sides are also trying to settle disagreements over U.S. demands to change how trade disputes are handled, to restrict access to agricultural markets and to include a clause that would allow a country to quit NAFTA after five years.

Bosco de la Vega, head of Mexico’s National Agricultural Council, the main farm lobby, said he believed the three would be able to reach an agreement on agricultural access.

But the auto sector rules were still contentious, he added.

“It’s the most important issue there,” he said, adding that he had earmarked May 10 as the deadline for a quick deal.

Separately, Canada on Thursday unveiled details of how it plans to prevent the smuggling of cheap steel and aluminum into the North American market in a bid to avoid the U.S. tariffs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced the plan last month, said Ottawa would hire 40 new trade officers to probe complaints, including those related to steel and aluminum.

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Mexico Economy Minister Says NAFTA Revamp Talks ‘Not Easy’

Much remains to be done before a new North American Free Trade Agreement is reached, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Thursday, tempering hopes for a quick deal as ministers met in Washington for a third successive day.

Negotiators from the United States, Mexico and Canada have been working constantly for weeks to clinch a deal, but major differences remain on contentious topics such as autos content.

Complicating matters, the Trump administration has threatened to impose sanctions on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum on May 1 if not enough progress has been made on NAFTA.

President Donald Trump, who came into office in January 2017 decrying NAFTA and other international trade deals as unfair to the United States, has repeatedly threatened to walk away from the agreement with Canada and Mexico, which took effect in 1994.

“It is going, it’s going, but not easy — too many things, too many issues to tackle,” Guajardo told reporters after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Now under way for eight months, the talks to revamp the accord underpinning $1.2 trillion in trade entered a more intensive phase after the last formal round of negotiations ended in March with ministers vowing to push for a deal.

Lighthizer is due to visit China next week, and when asked if a deal was possible before the USTR left, Guajardo said: “It will depend on our abilities and creativity. We are trying to do our best, but there are still a lot of things pending.”

Although Washington is keen for an agreement soon to avoid clashing with a July 1 Mexican presidential election, the three NAFTA members remain locked in talks to agree on new rules governing minimum content requirements for the auto industry.

Still, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland rejected the notion that discussion of the so-called rules of origin for the automotive sector was holding up the process.

“I would very much disagree with the characterization of the autos conversation as being log-jammed,” she said as she entered the USTR offices. “This is a week when very good, significant progress is being made on rules of origin for the car sector.”

Freeland said she would skip a planned visit to a NATO summit in Brussels on Friday, and vowed to stay in Washington for “as long as it takes.” Guajardo, too, said he was ready to remain in Washington this week for more talks.

Disagreements

The three sides are also trying to settle disagreements over U.S. demands to change how trade disputes are handled, to restrict access to agricultural markets and to include a clause that would allow a country to quit NAFTA after five years.

Bosco de la Vega, head of Mexico’s National Agricultural Council, the main farm lobby, said he believed the three would be able to reach an agreement on agricultural access.

But the auto sector rules were still contentious, he added.

“It’s the most important issue there,” he said, adding that he had earmarked May 10 as the deadline for a quick deal.

Separately, Canada on Thursday unveiled details of how it plans to prevent the smuggling of cheap steel and aluminum into the North American market in a bid to avoid the U.S. tariffs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who announced the plan last month, said Ottawa would hire 40 new trade officers to probe complaints, including those related to steel and aluminum.

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Kenya Economy Seen Rebounding After Election Slowdown

Kenya’s economy is expected to rebound to 5.8 percent growth in 2018 after electoral uncertainty and drought cut last year’s expansion to the lowest level in more than five years, Finance Minister Henry Rotich said Wednesday.

The economy will benefit from increased investment in key areas like manufacturing, farming, housing and health care, he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta won re-election in November in a second vote after the first in August was annulled by the Supreme Court citing irregularities. Around 100 people, mainly opposition supporters, were killed mainly by police during the prolonged election season.

“Despite the slowdown in 2017 our outlook is bright,” Rotich said at the launch of the annual economic survey. “We expect growth to recover to 5.8 percent in 2018, and over the medium term the growth is projected to increase by more than 7 percent.”

Growth slowed to 4.9 percent last year from a revised 5.9 percent in 2016, the statistics office said.

Kenya’s diversified economy is better able to withstand shocks like the commodity price drop that started in 2014 and hit oil-producing African countries such as Nigeria and Angola.

But its economy was hobbled by a severe drought in the first quarter of last year that was followed by poor rainfall.

The services sector including tourism grew strongly last year and that helped to offset the slowdown in farming and manufacturing, said Zachary Mwangi, director general of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Tourism is vital for hard currency and jobs and grew 14.7 percent while earnings surged 20 percent, he said.

In contrast, growth in the agriculture sector, which accounts for close to a third of overall output, slid to 1.6 percent in 2017 from 5.1 percent the year before.

The government says manufacturing is a priority due to its potential to create jobs, and it grew at 0.2 percent last year from 2.7 percent the year before.

Production of cement, sugar and processed milk slid as firms reeled from the impact of the election and high costs.

Rotich said the projected economic rebound is supported by favorable economic fundamentals including inflation, which has dropped to about 4 percent this year.

“The ongoing investments in infrastructure, improved business and factory confidence, and strong private consumption are expected to support growth,” he said.

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Kenya Economy Seen Rebounding After Election Slowdown

Kenya’s economy is expected to rebound to 5.8 percent growth in 2018 after electoral uncertainty and drought cut last year’s expansion to the lowest level in more than five years, Finance Minister Henry Rotich said Wednesday.

The economy will benefit from increased investment in key areas like manufacturing, farming, housing and health care, he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta won re-election in November in a second vote after the first in August was annulled by the Supreme Court citing irregularities. Around 100 people, mainly opposition supporters, were killed mainly by police during the prolonged election season.

“Despite the slowdown in 2017 our outlook is bright,” Rotich said at the launch of the annual economic survey. “We expect growth to recover to 5.8 percent in 2018, and over the medium term the growth is projected to increase by more than 7 percent.”

Growth slowed to 4.9 percent last year from a revised 5.9 percent in 2016, the statistics office said.

Kenya’s diversified economy is better able to withstand shocks like the commodity price drop that started in 2014 and hit oil-producing African countries such as Nigeria and Angola.

But its economy was hobbled by a severe drought in the first quarter of last year that was followed by poor rainfall.

The services sector including tourism grew strongly last year and that helped to offset the slowdown in farming and manufacturing, said Zachary Mwangi, director general of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Tourism is vital for hard currency and jobs and grew 14.7 percent while earnings surged 20 percent, he said.

In contrast, growth in the agriculture sector, which accounts for close to a third of overall output, slid to 1.6 percent in 2017 from 5.1 percent the year before.

The government says manufacturing is a priority due to its potential to create jobs, and it grew at 0.2 percent last year from 2.7 percent the year before.

Production of cement, sugar and processed milk slid as firms reeled from the impact of the election and high costs.

Rotich said the projected economic rebound is supported by favorable economic fundamentals including inflation, which has dropped to about 4 percent this year.

“The ongoing investments in infrastructure, improved business and factory confidence, and strong private consumption are expected to support growth,” he said.

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US Pecan Growers Seek to Break Out of the Pie Shell

The humble pecan is being rebranded as more than just pie.

 

Pecan growers and suppliers are hoping to sell U.S. consumers on the virtues of North America’s only native nut as a hedge against a potential trade war with China, the pecan’s largest export market.

 

The pecan industry is also trying to crack the fast-growing snack-food industry.

 

The retail value for packaged nuts, seeds and trail mix in the U.S. alone was $5.7 billion in 2012, and is forecast to rise to $7.5 billion by 2022, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

 

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American Pecan Council, formed in the wake of a new federal marketing order that allows the industry to band together and assess fees for research and promotion, is a half-century in the making, said Jim Anthony, 80, the owner of a 14,000-acre pecan farm near Granbury, Texas.

 

Anthony said that regional rivalries and turf wars across the 15-state pecan belt — stretching from the Carolinas to California — made such a union impossible until recently, when demand for pecans exploded in Asian markets.

Until 2007, most U.S. pecans were consumed domestically, according to Daniel Zedan, president of Nature’s Finest Foods, a marketing group. By 2009, China was buying about a third of the U.S. crop.

 

The pecan is the only tree nut indigenous to North America, growers say. Sixteenth-century Spanish explore Cabeza de Vaca wrote about tasting the nut during his encounters with Native American tribes in South Texas. The name is French explorers’ phonetic spelling of the native word “pakan,” meaning hard-shelled nut.

 

Facing growing competition from pecan producers in South Africa, Mexico and Australia, U.S. producers are also riding the wave of the Trump administration’s policies to promote American-made goods.

 

Most American kids grow up with peanut butter but peanuts probably originated in South America. Almonds are native to Asia and pistachios to the Middle East. The pecan council is funding academic research to show that their nuts are just as nutritious.

 

The council on Wednesday will debut a new logo: “American Pecans: The Original Supernut.”

Rodney Myers, who manages operations at Anthony’s pecan farm, credits the pecan’s growing cachet in China and elsewhere in Asia with its association to rustic Americana — “the oilfield, cowboys, the Wild West — they associate all these things with the North American nut,” he said.

 

China earlier this month released a list of American products that could face tariffs in retaliation for proposed U.S. tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Fresh and dried nuts — including the pecan — could be slapped with a 15-percent tariff, according to the list. To counter that risk, the pecan council is using some of the $8 million in production-based assessments it’s collected since the marketing order was passed to promote the versatility of the tree nut beyond pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

 

While Chinese demand pushed up prices it also drove away American consumers. By January 2013, prices had dropped 50 percent from their peak in 2011, according to Zedan.

U.S. growers and processers were finally able in 2016 to pass a marketing order to better control pecan production and prices.

 

Authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, federal marketing orders help producers and handlers standardize packaging, impose quality control and fund research, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees 28 other fruit, vegetable and specialty marketing orders, in addition to the pecan order.

 

Critics charge that the orders interfere with the price signals of a free, unfettered private market.

 

“What you’ve created instead is a government-sanctioned cartel,” said Daren Bakst, an agricultural policy researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

 

Before the almond industry passed its own federal marketing order in 1950, fewer almonds than pecans were sold, according to pecan council chair Mike Adams, who cultivates 600 acres of pecan trees near Caldwell, Texas. Now, while almonds appear in everything from cereal to milk substitutes, Adams calls the pecan “the forgotten nut.”

 

“We’re so excited to have an identity, to break out of the pie shell,” said Molly Willis, a member of the council who owns an 80-acre pecan farm in Albany, Georgia, a supplement to her husband’s family’s peanut-processing business.

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US Pecan Growers Seek to Break Out of the Pie Shell

The humble pecan is being rebranded as more than just pie.

 

Pecan growers and suppliers are hoping to sell U.S. consumers on the virtues of North America’s only native nut as a hedge against a potential trade war with China, the pecan’s largest export market.

 

The pecan industry is also trying to crack the fast-growing snack-food industry.

 

The retail value for packaged nuts, seeds and trail mix in the U.S. alone was $5.7 billion in 2012, and is forecast to rise to $7.5 billion by 2022, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

 

The Fort Worth, Texas-based American Pecan Council, formed in the wake of a new federal marketing order that allows the industry to band together and assess fees for research and promotion, is a half-century in the making, said Jim Anthony, 80, the owner of a 14,000-acre pecan farm near Granbury, Texas.

 

Anthony said that regional rivalries and turf wars across the 15-state pecan belt — stretching from the Carolinas to California — made such a union impossible until recently, when demand for pecans exploded in Asian markets.

Until 2007, most U.S. pecans were consumed domestically, according to Daniel Zedan, president of Nature’s Finest Foods, a marketing group. By 2009, China was buying about a third of the U.S. crop.

 

The pecan is the only tree nut indigenous to North America, growers say. Sixteenth-century Spanish explore Cabeza de Vaca wrote about tasting the nut during his encounters with Native American tribes in South Texas. The name is French explorers’ phonetic spelling of the native word “pakan,” meaning hard-shelled nut.

 

Facing growing competition from pecan producers in South Africa, Mexico and Australia, U.S. producers are also riding the wave of the Trump administration’s policies to promote American-made goods.

 

Most American kids grow up with peanut butter but peanuts probably originated in South America. Almonds are native to Asia and pistachios to the Middle East. The pecan council is funding academic research to show that their nuts are just as nutritious.

 

The council on Wednesday will debut a new logo: “American Pecans: The Original Supernut.”

Rodney Myers, who manages operations at Anthony’s pecan farm, credits the pecan’s growing cachet in China and elsewhere in Asia with its association to rustic Americana — “the oilfield, cowboys, the Wild West — they associate all these things with the North American nut,” he said.

 

China earlier this month released a list of American products that could face tariffs in retaliation for proposed U.S. tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Fresh and dried nuts — including the pecan — could be slapped with a 15-percent tariff, according to the list. To counter that risk, the pecan council is using some of the $8 million in production-based assessments it’s collected since the marketing order was passed to promote the versatility of the tree nut beyond pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

 

While Chinese demand pushed up prices it also drove away American consumers. By January 2013, prices had dropped 50 percent from their peak in 2011, according to Zedan.

U.S. growers and processers were finally able in 2016 to pass a marketing order to better control pecan production and prices.

 

Authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, federal marketing orders help producers and handlers standardize packaging, impose quality control and fund research, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees 28 other fruit, vegetable and specialty marketing orders, in addition to the pecan order.

 

Critics charge that the orders interfere with the price signals of a free, unfettered private market.

 

“What you’ve created instead is a government-sanctioned cartel,” said Daren Bakst, an agricultural policy researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

 

Before the almond industry passed its own federal marketing order in 1950, fewer almonds than pecans were sold, according to pecan council chair Mike Adams, who cultivates 600 acres of pecan trees near Caldwell, Texas. Now, while almonds appear in everything from cereal to milk substitutes, Adams calls the pecan “the forgotten nut.”

 

“We’re so excited to have an identity, to break out of the pie shell,” said Molly Willis, a member of the council who owns an 80-acre pecan farm in Albany, Georgia, a supplement to her husband’s family’s peanut-processing business.

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US-China Trade Fight Reaches Top American Court in Antitrust Case

President Donald Trump’s trade fight with China moved inside the white marble walls of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, where lawyers for both countries faced off over whether Chinese companies can be held liable for violating U.S. antitrust laws.

The nine justices heard arguments in an appeal by two American companies of a lower court ruling that threw out claims of price fixing against two Chinese vitamin C manufacturers based on submissions by China’s government explaining that nation’s regulations.

The arguments provided both countries an opportunity to air their differences over an aspect of their trade relationship.

The Supreme Court took the unusual step on April 13 of granting China the ability to present arguments even though it is not an official party in the case. Typically, only the U.S. government is reserved that privilege.

The world’s two economic superpowers are engaged in an escalating trade fight. The United States, accusing China of unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property, has threatened to impose tariffs on up to $150 billion of Chinese industrial and other imports. China has threatened comparable retaliation against U.S. exports if Washington pushes ahead with the tariffs.

None of the heated rhetoric over tariffs trickled into Tuesday’s arguments, which remained respectful. The lawyer representing China, Carter Phillips, urged the justices to defer to China’s explanation about Chinese regulations. A U.S. Justice Department lawyer said that such deference comes with limits.

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US-China Trade Fight Reaches Top American Court in Antitrust Case

President Donald Trump’s trade fight with China moved inside the white marble walls of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, where lawyers for both countries faced off over whether Chinese companies can be held liable for violating U.S. antitrust laws.

The nine justices heard arguments in an appeal by two American companies of a lower court ruling that threw out claims of price fixing against two Chinese vitamin C manufacturers based on submissions by China’s government explaining that nation’s regulations.

The arguments provided both countries an opportunity to air their differences over an aspect of their trade relationship.

The Supreme Court took the unusual step on April 13 of granting China the ability to present arguments even though it is not an official party in the case. Typically, only the U.S. government is reserved that privilege.

The world’s two economic superpowers are engaged in an escalating trade fight. The United States, accusing China of unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property, has threatened to impose tariffs on up to $150 billion of Chinese industrial and other imports. China has threatened comparable retaliation against U.S. exports if Washington pushes ahead with the tariffs.

None of the heated rhetoric over tariffs trickled into Tuesday’s arguments, which remained respectful. The lawyer representing China, Carter Phillips, urged the justices to defer to China’s explanation about Chinese regulations. A U.S. Justice Department lawyer said that such deference comes with limits.

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