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Trump Planning Tariffs on European Steel, Aluminum

President Donald Trump’s administration is planning to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum imports after failing to win concessions from the European Union, a move that could provoke retaliatory tariffs and inflame trans-Atlantic trade tensions.

The tariffs are likely to go into effect on the EU with an announcement by Friday’s deadline, according to two people familiar with the discussions. The administration’s plans could change if the two sides are able to reach a last-minute agreement, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Trump announced in March the United States would slap a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, citing national security interests. But he granted an exemption to the EU and other U.S. allies; that reprieve expires Friday.

​Europe bracing

Europe has been bracing for the U.S. to place the restrictions even as top European officials have held last-ditch talks in Paris with American trade officials to try to avert the tariffs.

“Realistically, I do not think we can hope” to avoid either U.S. tariffs or quotas on steel and aluminum, said Cecilia Malmstrom, the European Union’s trade commissioner. Even if the U.S. were to agree to waive the tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, Malmstrom said, “I expect them nonetheless to want to impose some sort of cap on EU exports.”

European officials said they expected the U.S. to announce its final decision Thursday. The people familiar with the talks said Trump could make an announcement as early as Thursday.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross attended meetings at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris on Wednesday, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer joins discussions in Paris on Thursday.

The U.S. plan has raised the threat of retaliation from Europe and fears of a global trade war — a prospect that is weighing on investor confidence and could hinder the global economic upturn.

If the U.S. moves forward with its tariffs, the EU has threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. orange juice, peanut butter and other goods in return. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire pledged that the European response would be “united and firm.”

Limits on cars

Besides the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, the Trump administration is also investigating possible limits on foreign cars in the name of national security.

“Unilateral responses and threats over trade war will solve nothing of the serious imbalances in the world trade. Nothing,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in an impassioned speech at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.

In a clear reference to Trump, Macron added: “These solutions might bring symbolic satisfaction in the short term. … One can think about making voters happy by saying, ‘I have a victory, I’ll change the rules, you’ll see.’”

But Macron said those “who waged bilateral trade wars … saw an increase in prices and an increase in unemployment.”

Tariffs on steel imports to the U.S. can help local producers of the metal by making foreign products more expensive. But they can also increase costs more broadly for U.S. manufacturers who cannot source all their steel locally and need to import the raw material. That hurts the companies and can lead to more expensive consumer prices, economists say.

Ross criticized the EU for its tough negotiating position.

“There can be negotiations with or without tariffs in place. There are plenty of tariffs the EU has on us. It’s not that we can’t talk just because there’s tariffs,” he said. He noted that “China has not used that as an excuse not to negotiate.”

But German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier insisted the Europeans were being “constructive” and were ready to negotiate special trade arrangements, notably for liquefied natural gas and industrial goods, including cars.

WTO reforms

Macron also proposed to start negotiations between the U.S., the EU, China and Japan to reshape the World Trade Organization to better regulate trade. Discussions could then be expanded to include other countries to agree on changes by the end of the year.

Ross expressed concern that the Geneva-based World Trade Organization and other organizations are too rigid and slow to adapt to changes in global business.

“We would operate within (multilateral) frameworks if we were convinced that people would move quickly,” he said.

Ross and Lighthizer seemed like the odd men out at this week’s gathering at the OECD, an international economic agency that includes the U.S. as a prominent member.

The agency issued a report Wednesday saying “the threat of trade restrictions has begun to adversely affect confidence” and tariffs “would negatively influence investment and jobs.”

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AP Fact Check: Trump Overstates Progress on Opioids

President Donald Trump is overstating progress against the opioid epidemic, claiming “the numbers are way down” despite an increase of opioid-related deaths and overdoses in his first year in office.

A look at his comments during a political rally in Nashville on Tuesday night:

TRUMP: “We got $6 billion for opioid and getting rid of that scourge that’s taking over our country. And the numbers are way down. We’re getting the word out — bad. Bad stuff. You go to the hospital, you have a broken arm, you come out, you’re a drug addict with this crap. It’s way down. We’re doing a good job with it. But we got $6 billion to help us with opioid.”

THE FACTS: Opioid prescriptions are down; deaths and other indicators of the epidemic are up, according to the latest statistics, from 2017. And those developments have nothing to do with the $6 billion approved by Congress because that money is for this year and next.

Trump didn’t specify what numbers he was talking about. But according to data released in April, prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the U.S. fell almost 9 percent last year, the largest drop in 25 years. The total dosage of opioid prescriptions filled in 2017 declined by 12 percent because more prescriptions were for a shorter duration, fewer new patients started on them and high-dose prescriptions dropped. The numbers are from health data firm IQVIA’s Institute for Human Data Science.

But legal prescriptions are only one front of the epidemic. 

Drug overdose deaths involving opioids rose to about 46,000 for the 12-month period ended October 2017, up about 15 percent from October 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers are preliminary because of continuing cause-of-death investigations later in the reporting period. They could go higher.

Other measures from the CDC also point to increasing severity of the problem last year.

For example, emergency department visits for overdoses of opioids — prescription pain medications, heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl — rose 30 percent in the U.S. from July 2016 to September 2017. Overdoses shot up 70 percent in the Midwest in that time while increasing by 54 percent in large cities in 16 states.

“Getting rid of that scourge” is the intent, but the numbers don’t show it fading.

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US Judge Dismisses Kaspersky Suits to Overturn Government Ban

A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday dismissed two lawsuits by Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab that sought to overturn bans on the use of the security software maker’s products in U.S. government networks.

The company said it would seek to appeal the decision, which leaves in place prohibitions included in a funding bill passed by Congress and an order from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The bans were issued last year in response to allegations by U.S. officials that the company’s software could enable Russian espionage and threaten national security.

“These actions were the product of unconstitutional agency and legislative processes and unfairly targeted the company without any meaningful fact finding,” Kaspersky said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington said Kaspersky had failed to show that Congress violated constitutional prohibitions on legislation that “determines guilt and inflicts punishment” without the protections of a judicial trial.

She also dismissed the effort to overturn the DHS ban for lack of standing. Kaspersky Lab and its founder, Eugene Kaspersky, have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said the company would not help any government with cyber espionage.

The company filed the lawsuits as part of a campaign to refute allegations that it was vulnerable to Kremlin influence, which had prompted the U.S. government bans on its products.

That effort includes plans to open a data center in Switzerland, where the company will analyze suspicious files uncovered on the computers of its tens of millions of customers in the United States and Europe.

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US Judge Dismisses Kaspersky Suits to Overturn Government Ban

A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday dismissed two lawsuits by Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab that sought to overturn bans on the use of the security software maker’s products in U.S. government networks.

The company said it would seek to appeal the decision, which leaves in place prohibitions included in a funding bill passed by Congress and an order from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The bans were issued last year in response to allegations by U.S. officials that the company’s software could enable Russian espionage and threaten national security.

“These actions were the product of unconstitutional agency and legislative processes and unfairly targeted the company without any meaningful fact finding,” Kaspersky said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington said Kaspersky had failed to show that Congress violated constitutional prohibitions on legislation that “determines guilt and inflicts punishment” without the protections of a judicial trial.

She also dismissed the effort to overturn the DHS ban for lack of standing. Kaspersky Lab and its founder, Eugene Kaspersky, have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said the company would not help any government with cyber espionage.

The company filed the lawsuits as part of a campaign to refute allegations that it was vulnerable to Kremlin influence, which had prompted the U.S. government bans on its products.

That effort includes plans to open a data center in Switzerland, where the company will analyze suspicious files uncovered on the computers of its tens of millions of customers in the United States and Europe.

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Malaysia Moves to Rebalance Relationship With China

Malaysia and China are looking to re-balance ties as the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad seeks to renegotiate billions of dollars of Chinese backed infrastructure spending, with the goal of reducing the country’s national debt.

China is Malaysia’s leading foreign direct investor at over $3.38 billion, ahead of the U.S., Japan and Singapore, with major infrastructure deals negotiated during the previous government of Najib Razak.

The main contract is a $14 billion (55 billion ringgit) East Coast Rail Link, as well as manufacturing, real estate and sovereign wealth fund bonds.

Carl Thayer, a professor of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales, says Malaysia is seeking to move beyond anti-Chinese rhetoric that had been an undercurrent of the May 9 national polls.

Thayer said during the campaign Chinese investment in Malaysia was an issue, amid concerns Malaysia was excessively indebted to China.

“But Prime Minister Mahathir since the election has basically declared that the existing agreements will stand — that’s with any country. But there will be a review of these agreements with China. And the key project there seems to be the east coast rail line which is seen as a ‘white elephant’, costing a lot of money and not really delivering,” he said.

The East Coast Rail line is a key portion of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) infrastructure into South East Asia covering 688 kilometers connecting the South China Sea with the Thai Border.

The new government says the fresh negotiations are a bid to reduce the national debt burden, put at $251.32 billion (one trillion ringgit ) or 80 percent of national output (GDP).

Prime Minister Mahathir sees a need to reassess the projects and the Chinese investment strategy generally, especially depending on imported Chinese labor and technicians.

“We need to find out what benefit there is to us. To find out firstly the train is not going to be viable; secondly, its not benefiting Malaysia as much as we would like to see,” Mahthir told VOA.

“We don’t want to have a huge number of immigrants in Malaysia. Some of the Chinese companies have done that; that is not foreign direct investment,” he said.

WATCH: Mahathir Seeks to Implement Reforms

He said such projects as the rail link need to be scaled back in order to reduce the cost to renegotiate the loans and ensuring greater Malaysian participation.

“I think we will be able to convince [China] that some restructuring of the terms of the borrowing and the projects and all that will have to be done in order to reduce spending, in order to reduce the loans that we took from foreign countries,” Mahathir said.

In media reports Mahathir said he planned to scrap a 350 kilometer bullet train line from Singapore to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The project, valued at around $20 billion, had attracted bidding interest from China, Japan and South Korea.

But Mahathir said this project “would be dropped” as it was unnecessary” and would “not earn a single cent.”

University of New South Wales’ Thayer expects China will be pragmatic in dealings with the new government.

“It’s got massive investments in Malaysia it would want to protect. China would roll with the punches and take the long view. Eventually that Malaysia — as I indicated — all the fundamentals are there to continue the relationship.”

“Trade is managed in Malaysia’s favor; substantial growing Chinese investment building infrastructure projects, some of which are needed, others maybe excessive, renewing, renegotiating the balance in that relationship, but not lurching to the U.S. camp,” Thayer said.

Both Mahathir and wealthy Malaysian businessman Robert Kouk, who sits on a powerful advisory panel to the Malaysian government, recently met China’s ambassador to Malaysia, Bai Tian. Mahathir later said Malaysia’s “strong ties with China will continue to flourish.”

James Chin, director of the South East Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, says China’s Malaysian investments are also key to China’s regional strategic goals.

“Part of the reason China is such a big player in Malaysia is due to the geopolitical realities facing China. People do not realize that Malaysia is the only country in South East Asia that surrounds the South China Sea,” Chin said.

China has established disputed claims over much of the South China Sea.

But Bridget Walsh, based at the John Cabot University in Italy, said eventually Malaysia-China ties will return to a steady course.

“China is the regional global power in terms of economic issues, especially in South East Asia, and it is going to play a very big role and Malaysia is looking for new economic drivers,” Walsh said.

Walsh said outside infrastructure projects, China will look to other economic areas to continue a role in Malaysia’s economy. “And I think there are people in the system that understand that,” she said.

David Boyle contributed to this report.

 

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Malaysia Moves to Rebalance Relationship With China

Malaysia and China are looking to re-balance ties as the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad seeks to renegotiate billions of dollars of Chinese backed infrastructure spending, with the goal of reducing the country’s national debt.

China is Malaysia’s leading foreign direct investor at over $3.38 billion, ahead of the U.S., Japan and Singapore, with major infrastructure deals negotiated during the previous government of Najib Razak.

The main contract is a $14 billion (55 billion ringgit) East Coast Rail Link, as well as manufacturing, real estate and sovereign wealth fund bonds.

Carl Thayer, a professor of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales, says Malaysia is seeking to move beyond anti-Chinese rhetoric that had been an undercurrent of the May 9 national polls.

Thayer said during the campaign Chinese investment in Malaysia was an issue, amid concerns Malaysia was excessively indebted to China.

“But Prime Minister Mahathir since the election has basically declared that the existing agreements will stand — that’s with any country. But there will be a review of these agreements with China. And the key project there seems to be the east coast rail line which is seen as a ‘white elephant’, costing a lot of money and not really delivering,” he said.

The East Coast Rail line is a key portion of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) infrastructure into South East Asia covering 688 kilometers connecting the South China Sea with the Thai Border.

The new government says the fresh negotiations are a bid to reduce the national debt burden, put at $251.32 billion (one trillion ringgit ) or 80 percent of national output (GDP).

Prime Minister Mahathir sees a need to reassess the projects and the Chinese investment strategy generally, especially depending on imported Chinese labor and technicians.

“We need to find out what benefit there is to us. To find out firstly the train is not going to be viable; secondly, its not benefiting Malaysia as much as we would like to see,” Mahthir told VOA.

“We don’t want to have a huge number of immigrants in Malaysia. Some of the Chinese companies have done that; that is not foreign direct investment,” he said.

WATCH: Mahathir Seeks to Implement Reforms

He said such projects as the rail link need to be scaled back in order to reduce the cost to renegotiate the loans and ensuring greater Malaysian participation.

“I think we will be able to convince [China] that some restructuring of the terms of the borrowing and the projects and all that will have to be done in order to reduce spending, in order to reduce the loans that we took from foreign countries,” Mahathir said.

In media reports Mahathir said he planned to scrap a 350 kilometer bullet train line from Singapore to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The project, valued at around $20 billion, had attracted bidding interest from China, Japan and South Korea.

But Mahathir said this project “would be dropped” as it was unnecessary” and would “not earn a single cent.”

University of New South Wales’ Thayer expects China will be pragmatic in dealings with the new government.

“It’s got massive investments in Malaysia it would want to protect. China would roll with the punches and take the long view. Eventually that Malaysia — as I indicated — all the fundamentals are there to continue the relationship.”

“Trade is managed in Malaysia’s favor; substantial growing Chinese investment building infrastructure projects, some of which are needed, others maybe excessive, renewing, renegotiating the balance in that relationship, but not lurching to the U.S. camp,” Thayer said.

Both Mahathir and wealthy Malaysian businessman Robert Kouk, who sits on a powerful advisory panel to the Malaysian government, recently met China’s ambassador to Malaysia, Bai Tian. Mahathir later said Malaysia’s “strong ties with China will continue to flourish.”

James Chin, director of the South East Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, says China’s Malaysian investments are also key to China’s regional strategic goals.

“Part of the reason China is such a big player in Malaysia is due to the geopolitical realities facing China. People do not realize that Malaysia is the only country in South East Asia that surrounds the South China Sea,” Chin said.

China has established disputed claims over much of the South China Sea.

But Bridget Walsh, based at the John Cabot University in Italy, said eventually Malaysia-China ties will return to a steady course.

“China is the regional global power in terms of economic issues, especially in South East Asia, and it is going to play a very big role and Malaysia is looking for new economic drivers,” Walsh said.

Walsh said outside infrastructure projects, China will look to other economic areas to continue a role in Malaysia’s economy. “And I think there are people in the system that understand that,” she said.

David Boyle contributed to this report.

 

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Trump Gives Terminal Patients ‘Right to Try’ Experimental Drugs

U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation Wednesday to give patients with deadly diseases the “right to try” experimental drugs that might extend their lives.

At a White House signing ceremony, Trump called the measure a “fundamental freedom” for people with life-threatening conditions to use medications that have shown promise in initial testing but not been approved by U.S. regulators for sale to the public.

The bill cleared Congress last week after a spirited debate in which Republicans said it could give hope to thousands of people looking to save their lives, while many Democrats opposed to it said it would give patients false hope.

Trump had voiced support for the legislation at his State of the Union address in January, saying that the terminally ill should not have to leave the U.S. in search of an experimental drug in another country. 

Patients will be able to take advantage of the provision only if they have exhausted their treatment options using drugs already approved by U.S. regulators. They then will be able to use drugs the Food and Drug Administration has yet to declare as safe.

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Ivanka Trump Quits Conference Call After Inquiry About Her China Business Interests

U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump abruptly left a White House conference call Tuesday evening after reporters asked about her business interests in China.

The White House intended for reporters to ask questions about her role in “White House Sports and Fitness Day,” however, as is customary on such calls, reporters instead took the opportunity to ask Trump about other issues in the news.

The Chinese government granted the Ivanka Trump brand seven trademark approvals in May, which have revived questions over whether foreign governments are trying to curry favor with the administration through Trump family businesses.

During Tuesday’s Q&A session, the first question was from a reporter who asked her to address trademarks being awarded to her brand in China.

After a long silence, the host of the conference call, White House assistant press secretary Ninio Fetalvo, told the reporter: “You can refer those questions to the press office.”

After the exchange, Fetalvo told reporters the first daughter has “stepped out for another meeting,” despite telling them at the beginning of the call that Trump “will stay for a few questions before heading to another meeting.”

In May, Trump received seven trademark approvals from the Chinese government on various items, including bath mats, wallpaper, textiles and baby blankets.

In the past three months, according to media reports, China has granted Trump’s fashion brand a total of 13 trademarks, and her company has received provisional approval for another eight trademarks.

U.S. government officials are prohibited from using their public office for private gain, which is why Trump stepped away from her day-to-day role in the company. But she continues to receive profits from the business, according to ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Critics have raised concerns over the timing of the Chinese approvals, and whether they influenced the administration’s controversial decision to spare Chinese telecommunications company ZTE from penalties that China said would put it out of business.

In April, the U.S. Commerce Department found that ZTE failed to comply with an agreement reached after ZTE was caught breaching U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

This is not the first time President Trump and his family’s business connections in China have raised issues of conflict of interests by critics. Last year, Ivanka Trump’s sister-in-law, Nicole Kushner Meyer, told a group of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing to consider investing $500,000 in a New Jersey luxury apartment building being built by the Kushner companies and it would help them secure an investor visa to immigrate to the United States.

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Ross: US-EU Trade Deal Could be Reached

 

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Wednesday a U.S.-European Union trade deal could still be reached even if the United States imposes tariffs on EU steel and aluminum imports.

EU and U.S. officials are holding last-minute negotiations two days before U.S. President Donald Trump decides to apply tariffs on Europe.

The threat of tariffs has increased prospects of retaliation and a global trade war that could hinder the global economy.

“There can be negotiations with or without tariffs in place,” Ross said at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. “There are plenty of tariffs the EU has on us. It’s not that we can’t talk just because there’s tariffs.”

The Trump administration is also exploring possible limits on foreign auto imports, citing national security. 

The EU wants exemptions on steel and aluminum tariffs, which Trump hopes will benefit the U.S., or impose tariffs on U.S. peanut butter, orange juice and other products.

In a speech at the OECD, French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe should stand its ground in the face of unilateral actions and warned against trade wars.

“Unilateral responses and threats over trade wars will solve nothing of the serious imbalances in world trade. Nothing,” he proclaimed.

In an apparent reference to Trump’s proposed tariffs, Macron said, “These solutions might bring symbolic satisfaction in the short term. …. One can think about making voters happy by saying, ‘I have a victory. I’ll change the rules. You’ll see.’” 

Macron also called on the EU, the U.S., China and Japan to draft a World Trade Organization reform plan for the G-20 summit in Argentina later this year.

“The new rules must meet the current challenges of world trade: massive state subsidies creating distortions of global markets, intellectual property, social rights and climate protection,” he said. 

But Macron’s multilateral approach has produced limited results to date, as Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal, and is threatening to disrupt trade relations between China, the EU and other economic powers.

 

 

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