Turkish Steel Makers Eye Exports to West Africa Amid US Tariff Setbacks

Turkish steel makers are looking to expand in West Africa and other emerging markets in response to tariffs and planned quotas which threaten their sales to the United States and the European Union, a senior sector official said.

Namik Ekinci, board chairman for the Turkish Steel Exporters Association (TSEA), told Reuters that Turkey was looking to boost its trade with West Africa and sub-Saharan countries, where there is demand for the less capital-intensive steel products that Turkey mainly exports.

“Looking at the product types these countries consume, it’s products that we have the capability to produce like rebar and pipes. Therefore, these countries are markets where we have a chance,” Ekinci said.

“This is why the market we are working with in the first stage is West Africa,” he said, adding that the Caribbean, South America and Southeast Asia were the next targets.

According to TSEA data, more capital-intensive products, used in the automotive and white goods sectors, account for a quarter of Turkey’s steel production, while products like rebar and pipes account for 53 percent.

The world’s eighth biggest steel producer, Turkey ranks second in global exports of rebar, figures from the World Steel Association show.

In a move that ignited fears of a global trade war, U.S. President Donald Trump in March imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports, leading to a 56 percent slump in Turkey’s exports to the United States between January and May.

In early July European Union countries also voted in favor of a combination of quota and tariffs to prevent a surge of steel imports into the bloc that could follow the U.S. levies.

In order to tackle the U.S. tariffs and protectionist measures, Ekinci said Turkey wanted to increase its effectiveness in other emerging markets “as the United States and the European Union adopt measures to make trade harder.”

He said a union of Turkish exporters would jointly start a new firm to penetrate the target markets through time charter shipments, aiming to increase Turkey’s market share in West Africa from below 5 percent to 15 percent by cutting shipping costs.

The project is expected to cut transport costs of steel exported to West Africa to around $30 per tonne, from nearly $100, making it significantly more competitive, Ekinci said.


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Iran Currency Hits New Lows Before New US Sanctions Take Effect

Iran’s currency hit new lows with just under a week before new U.S. economic sanctions are due to take effect on August 4, despite the appointment of a new central bank governor and a new economic team.

Arab and Iranian media reported the Iranian riyal hit a new low of 111,000 to the dollar Sunday, a bad omen for newly appointed Central Bank head Abdolnasser Hemmati.

Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri announced the new economic program Sunday as the newly-appointed central bank chief took office.

The Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Hemmati as saying “enemies are trying to destroy the country’s assets and create disappointment to the public through [the new U.S. economic] sanctions.”

Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani Sadr, however, told VOA economic and military inside the regime are trying to profit from the situation in order to seize power.

He suggested that the powerful Revolutionary Guard,  which controls much of the Iranian economy, is trying to pressure Rouhani to stop him from negotiating with U.S. President Donald Trump.

He said these elements are threatening to push the dollar even lower in order to stop an eventual normalization of relations with Washington. But he argued that the value of the riyal is “mostly hypothetical, since there isn’t really a lot of trading going on.”

He said the powerful “militaro-economic mafia,” as he called it, is trying to gain the upper hand on Rouhani by creating economic turbulence as a warning not to negotiate with Washington.

Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, told the body Monday Iran needs to modernize its economy. He spoke of building what he called a “resistance economy” in order to counter U.S. sanctions. The country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei first used the term “resistance economy” to describe Tehran’s attitude toward new U.S. sanctions.

Iran analyst Gary Sick of Columbia University said Iran “has been going through a very, very difficult period for some time,” and that it has structural problems not related to the U.S. sanctions:

“There are serious problems in their management of natural resources and their dealings with what, in effect, are environmental problems, which have been badly handled over a matter of decades and are just coming to a head right now,” he told VOA.

Sick mentioned that entire regions have dried up due to poor water management and that the building of dams has compounded the problem in some places.

He said Iranians in various regions have been protesting due to the water situation, which is unrelated to the new U.S. economic sanctions.

But he added that the situation “has of course been exacerbated by the threat of U.S. sanctions going into effect, and it isn’t surprising that Iran’s currency is being impacted, because people don’t really know what is going to happen next.”


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Pompeo to Announce US Economic Initiatives in ‘Indo-Pacific’

Building on President Donald Trump’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy,   U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will announce a series of investment initiatives in Asia on Monday focusing on digital economy, energy and infrastructure.

The announcement, to be made at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum in Washington, comes at a time when trade frictions with China have given U.S. trade diplomacy a sharper edge.

“The Indo-Pacific is an absolute priority of U.S. policymakers in the executive branch and in Congress,” Brian Hook, Pompeo’s senior policy advisor, told journalists in a conference call.

Countries in the region have been worried by Trump’s “America first” policy, withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, and pursuit of a trade conflict with China that threatens to disrupt regional supply chains.

The United States’ first outlined its strategy to develop the Indo-Pacific economy at an Asia-Pacific summit last year.

“Indo-Pacific” has become known in diplomatic circles as shorthand for a broader and democratic-led region in place of “Asia-Pacific,” which from some perspectives had authoritarian China too firmly at its center.

The Chamber of Commerce said on its website that the Indo-Pacific could account for half the world’s economy within decades, but needed investment of nearly $26 trillion in order to fulfill its potential.

The new U.S. initiatives and funding would be focused on digital economy, energy and infrastructure, Hook said, without giving any figures on investment amounts.

Aside from Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will also attend the forum, along with officials from Japan, Australia, Singapore, India and Indonesia.

China’s way, US way

Hook said the United States approach to development of the region was not aiming to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which comprises of mostly state-led infrastructure projects linking Asia, parts of Africa and Europe.

“It is a made in China, made for China initiative,” he said.

“Our way of doing things is to keep the government’s role very modest and it’s focused on helping businesses do what they do best.”

Critics of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to recreate the ancient Silk Road, say it is more about spreading Chinese influence and hooking countries on massive debts.

Beijing says it is simply a development project that any country is welcome to join.

Hook said Washington “welcomed” Chinese contributions to regional development, but it wanted China to adhere to international standards on transparency, the rule of law and sustainable financing.

“We know that America’s model of economic engagement is the healthiest for nations in the region. It’s high-quality, it’s transparent and it is financially sustainable,” Hook said.


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NASA Marks 60 Years Since Legal Inception

America’s dream of space exploration took its first official step 60 years ago Sunday when President Dwight Eisenhower signed a law authorizing the formation of NASA – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Although humanity had been staring at the stars and wondering since they were living in caves, it took the Cold War to fire man into space.

The world was stunned when the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, launched Sputnik — the first man-made object to orbit the Earth.

The United States was humiliated at being caught short — not just technologically, but militarily.

Eisenhower ordered government scientists to not only match the Soviets in space, but beat them.

NASA and its various projects — Mercury, Gemini and Apollo — became part of the language.

Just 11 years after Eisenhower authorized NASA, American astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Six year later, an Apollo spacecraft linked with a Soviet Soyuz in orbit, turning rivalry into friendship and cooperation.

NASA followed that triumph with the space shuttle, Mars landers and contributions to the International Space Station. A manned mission to Mars is part of NASA’s future plans.

Last month, President Donald Trump called for the formation of a “space force” to be the sixth U.S. military branch.

NASA officially celebrates its 60th anniversary on October 1 – the day the agency formally opened for business.

 


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White House Economic Adviser Sees Sustainable US Growth

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Sunday he believes the 4.1 percent growth the U.S. recorded in the last three months is sustainable in the coming months despite skepticism expressed by independent economists.

“There’s just a lot of good things going on,” Kudlow told CNN.  He said President Donald Trump “deserves a victory lap,” with “low tax rates, rolling back regulations, opening up energy, for example. Trade reform I think is already paying off. The fundamentals of the economy look really good.”

He said “business investment spending is really booming. That’s a productivity creator. That’s a job creator. That’s a wage creator for ordinary mainstream folks, terribly important.”

Kudlow said the five calendar quarters occurring fully during Trump’s 18-month presidency have now been recorded with average economic growth of 2.9 percent for the world’s largest economy.

“I don’t see why we can’t run this for several quarters,” Kudlow said.

As the 4.1 percent growth rate for the April-to-June period was announced Friday, Trump boasted that the U.S. was on track to hit its highest annual growth rate in its gross domestic product in 13 years and predicted that as the country reaches new trade deals with other countries, the U.S. would exceed its second quarter advance.

“These numbers are very, very sustainable,” he said. “This isn’t a one-time shot.”

On Sunday, Trump said on Twitter, “The biggest and best results coming out of the good GDP report was that the quarterly Trade Deficit has been reduced by $52 Billion and, of course, the historically low unemployment numbers, especially for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Women.”

Skeptics less upbeat

Some independent economists, however, voiced skepticism that the $18.6 trillion annual U.S. economy would continue to advance at the same pace as the last three months.

Some forecasters said the gains in recent months were mostly, although not totally, the result of temporary factors, such as the initial boost from tax cuts Trump supported that took effect earlier this year. Most analysts say that for all of 2018 the U.S. could reach 3 percent growth, which would be the best since a 3.5 percent gain in 2005, but not again hit the annual 4.1 percent growth rate recorded last quarter.

“We believe quarter two will represent a growth peak as the boost from tax cuts fades, global growth moderates, inflation rises, the Fed tightens monetary policy and trade protectionism looms over the economy,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said, “The second quarter was a strong quarter, but it was juiced up by the tax cuts and higher government spending.”

In the U.S., consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, with Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics, saying that such spending accounted for the robust second quarter.

“Consumers were really on a tear,” he said. “So to grow at 4 [percent] probably tells you people were spending the tax cuts that they enjoyed back in January, but that’s extremely unlikely to happen again.”

 


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G-20 Ag Ministers Slam Protectionism, Pledge WTO Reforms

Agriculture ministers from the G-20 countries criticized protectionism in a joint statement Saturday and vowed to reform World Trade Organization (WTO)

rules, but did not detail what steps they would take to improve the food trade system.

In the statement, they said they were “concerned about the increasing use of protectionist nontariff trade measures, inconsistently with WTO rules.”

The ministers from countries including the United States and China, in Buenos Aires for the G-20 meeting of agriculture ministers, said in the statement they had affirmed their commitment not to adopt “unnecessary obstacles” to trade, and affirmed their rights and obligations under WTO agreements.

The meeting came amid rising trade tensions that have rocked agricultural markets. China and other top U.S. trade partners have placed retaliatory tariffs on American farmers after the Trump administration put duties on Chinese goods as well as steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

U.S. growers are expected to take an estimated $11 billion hit due to China’s retaliatory tariffs. Last week, the Trump administration said it would pay up to $12 billion to help farmers weather the trade war.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the meeting that Trump’s plan would include between $7 billion and $8 billion in direct cash relief that U.S. farmers could see as early as late September.

Despite the payments, the measures are “not going to make farmers whole,” Perdue said.

Citing the Trump administration’s relief measures, German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said farmers “don’t need aid, [they] need trade.”

“We had a very frank discussion about the fact that we don’t want unilateral protectionist measures,” Kloeckner said in a news conference after the meeting.

The ministers, whose countries represent 60 percent of the world’s agricultural land and 80 percent of food and agricultural commodities trade, did not specify which measures they were referring to in the statement. Asked for details, Kloeckner said the ministers did not want to “criticize a single

country.”

“We all know what happens if a single person or country doesn’t adhere to WTO rules, trying to get a benefit for themselves through protectionism,” she said. “This will usually lead to retaliatory tariffs.”

In the statement, the ministers said they agreed to continue reforming the WTO’s agricultural trade rules.

“Independent of all the news there was surrounding [the meeting], we managed to reach a unanimous consensus,” Argentine Agriculture Minister Luis Miguel Etchevehere said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker struck a surprise deal on Wednesday that ended the risk of further escalating trade tensions between the two powers.

After the meeting, Trump said the European Union would buy “a lot” of U.S. soybeans.

Earlier, Kloeckner told Reuters that the trade relationship between the United States and the European Union was improving, but that there was no guarantee the bloc would import the quantity of soybeans that Washington expects.


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UK Lawmakers Urge Tougher Facebook Rules

The U.K. government should increase oversight of social media like Facebook and election campaigns to protect democracy in the digital age, a parliamentary committee has recommended in a scathing report on fake news, data misuse and interference by Russia.

The interim report by the House of Commons’ media committee, to be released Sunday, said democracy is facing a crisis because the combination of data analysis and social media allows campaigns to target voters with messages of hate without their consent.

Tech giants like Facebook, which operate in a largely unregulated environment, are complicit because they haven’t done enough to protect personal information and remove harmful content, the committee said.

“The light of transparency must be allowed to shine on their operations and they must be made responsible, and liable, for the way in which harmful and misleading content is shared on their sites,” committee Chairman Damian Collins said in a statement.

The copy of the study was leaked Friday by Dominic Cummings, director of the official campaign group backing Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Social media companies are under scrutiny worldwide following allegations that political consultant Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The committee is also investigating the impact of fake news distributed via social media sites.

Collins ripped Facebook for allowing Russian agencies to use its platform to spread disinformation and influence elections.

“I believe what we have discovered so far is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding that more work needed to be done to expose how fake accounts target people during elections. “The ever-increasing sophistication of these campaigns, which will soon be helped by developments in augmented reality technology, make this an urgent necessity.”

The committee recommended that the British government increase the power of the Information Commissioner’s Office to regulate social media sites, update electoral laws to reflect modern campaign techniques and increase the transparency of political advertising on social media.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to address the issue in a so-called White Paper to be released in the fall. She signaled her unease last year, accusing Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake news to sow discord in the West.

The committee began its work in January 2017, interviewing 61 witnesses during 20 hearings that took on an investigatory tone not normally found in such forums in the House of Commons.

The report criticized Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg for failing to appear before the panel and said his stand-ins were “unwilling or unable to give full answers to the committee’s questions.”

One of the committee’s recommendations is that the era of light-touch regulation for social media must end.

Social media companies can no longer avoid oversight by describing themselves as platforms, because they use technology to filter and shape the information users see. Nor are they publishers, since that model traditionally commissions and pays for content.

“We recommend that a new category of tech company is formulated, which tightens tech companies’ liabilities, and which is not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher,” the report said. “We anticipate that the government will put forward these proposals in its White Paper later this year.”

The committee also said that the Information Commissioner’s Office needed more money so it could hire technical experts to be the “sheriff in the Wild West of the internet.” The funds would come from a levy on the tech companies, much in the same way as the banks pay for the upkeep of the Financial Conduct Authority.

“Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions,” the committee said.


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AP Fact Check: Trump Falsely Claims Historic Turnaround

President Donald Trump falsely claimed he’s pulled off “an economic turnaround of historic proportions.”

Speaking at the White House Friday after the government reported that the economy grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter, Trump declared that the gains were sustainable and would only accelerate. Few economists outside the administration agree with this claim.

His remarks followed events Thursday in Iowa and Illinois, where Trump falsely repeated a claim that the U.S. economy is the best “we’ve ever had” and incorrectly asserted that Canada’s trade market is “totally closed.”

 

WATCH: Trump Says Economy Numbers Sustainable, But Experts Doubtful

A look at the claims:

Historic turnaround

TRUMP: “We’ve accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions.” — remarks Friday at the White House.

THE FACTS: Trump didn’t inherit a fixer-upper economy.

The U.S. economy just entered its 10th year of growth, a recovery that began under President Barack Obama, who inherited the Great Recession. The data show that the falling unemployment rate and gains in home values reflect the duration of the recovery, rather than any major changes made since 2017 by the Trump administration.

While Trump praised the 4.1 percent annual growth rate in the second quarter, it exceeded that level four times during the Obama presidency. But quarterly figures are volatile and strength in one quarter can be reversed in the next. While Obama never achieved the 3 percent annual growth that Trump hopes to see, he came close. The economy grew 2.9 percent in 2015.

The economy faces two significant structural drags that could keep growth closer to 2 percent than 3 percent: an aging population, which means fewer people are working and more are retired, and weak productivity growth, which means that those who are working aren’t increasing their output as quickly as in the past.

Both of those factors are largely beyond Trump’s control.

Trade deficit

TRUMP: “One of the biggest wins in the report, and it is, indeed a big one, is that the trade deficit — very dear to my heart because we’ve been ripped off by the world — has dropped.”

THE FACTS: Trump is correct that a lower trade deficit helped growth in the April-June quarter, but it’s not necessarily for a positive reason.

The president has been floating plans to slap import taxes on hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign goods, which has led to the risk of retaliatory tariffs by foreign companies on U.S. goods.

This threat of an escalating trade war has led many companies to increase their levels of trade before any tariffs hit, causing the temporary boost in exports being celebrated by Trump.

Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, said the result is that the gains from trade in the second quarter will not be repeated.

​Best economy ever

TRUMP: “We’re having the best economy we’ve ever had in the history of our country.” — remarks in Granite City, Illinois.

THE FACTS: Even allowing for Trump’s tendency to exaggerate, this overstates things.

The unemployment rate is near a 40-year low and growth is solid, but by many measures the current economy trails other periods in U.S. history. Average hourly pay, before adjusting for inflation, is rising around a 2.5 percent annual rate, below the 4 percent level reached in the late 1990s when the unemployment rate was as low as it is now.

Pay was growing even faster in the late 1960s, when the jobless rate remained below 4 percent for nearly four years. And economic growth topped 4 percent for three full years from 1998 through 2000, an annual rate it hasn’t touched since.

Canada market closed

TRUMP: “The Canadians, you have a totally closed market … they have a 375 percent tax on dairy products, other than that it’s wonderful to deal. And we have a very big deficit with Canada, a trade deficit.” — remarks in Peosta, Iowa.

THE FACTS: No, it’s not totally closed. Because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada’s market is almost totally open to the United States. Each country has a few products that are still largely protected, such as dairy in Canada and sugar in the United States.

Trump also repeated his claim that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, but that is true only in goods. When services are included, such as insurance, tourism, and engineering, the U.S. had a $2.8 billion surplus with Canada last year.


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New Speed Record at SpaceX Pod Competition

A sleek futuristic train that travels through a special tunnel and covers the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes. This was the dream of Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX in 2013. And every year he’s getting closer to making that dream a reality. Late July was marked by the third annual Hyperloop pod competition in Los Angeles; a competition that has once again set a new speed record. Genia Dulot has the story.


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Trump Says Economy Numbers Sustainable, But Experts Doubtful

Friday’s positive numbers on the U.S. economic growth are “very, very sustainable,” according to U.S. President Donald Trump. His comments came after figures showed U.S. GDP growth hit 4.1 percent in the second quarter. The question is whether that growth is sustainable, as VOA’s Bill Gallo reports from the White House.


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