Brazil’s Farmers Dump Sugar for Soy as Trade War Boosts Chinese Demand

Last year, Brazilian farmer Gustavo Lopes sized up his sugar cane plantation against his soybean fields.

He looked at global trends, including rising U.S.-China trade tensions and a stubborn sugar-market glut. Then he tore up the last of his cane fields and ditched a decades-old supply contract with a local sugar mill.

Lopes planted soybeans across his 1,600-hectare (4,000-acre) farm in Sao Paulo state – a bet that paid off earlier this month when Chinese buyers loaded up on South American soy after Beijing imposed tariffs on U.S. beans. The farmer got his highest price ever for soybeans.

“It was unusual for this time of year,” Lopes said in an interview at his farm, where he’s prepping to plant another soy crop in September. “It’s got to be a result of Chinese demand.”

Shifting trade flows are redefining the Brazilian landscape, spurring more farmers to align their crops with Chinese appetites. The nation’s soy plantings have expanded by 2 million hectares in two years – an area the size of New Jersey – while land used for cane shrank by nearly 400,000 hectares, according to government data.

China’s growing demand for meat has supercharged soy imports for animal feed. The Asian nation paid $20.3 billion last year for 53.8 million tons of soybeans from Brazil, nearly half its output — and up from 22.8 million tons in 2012.

A new 25 percent Chinese tariff on U.S. soybeans — a retaliation for U.S. levies by President Donald Trump — is expected to boost Brazil’s soy exports to an all-time record this year.

Brazilian soybean exports to China rose to nearly 36 million tons in the first half of 2018, up 6 percent from a year ago.

In July, they surged 46 percent from the same month a year earlier to 10.2 million tons.

Brazil’s grains boom has it rivaling United States as the world’s top soy producer this year, after outpacing U.S. exports over the past five years.

All that soy is eating into Brazil’s sugarcane belt, which is reeling from sugar prices near multi-year lows. Chinese sugar tariffs have weighed on the global market for the sweetener as developed nations continue to cut back consumption.

“We lost 3,000 hectares of cane area to grains in the last two years,” said Roberto de Rezende Barbosa, chief executive of Nova América, one of the largest cane growers in Brazil, managing 110,000 hectares.

Rezende said he had seen farmers migrating from sugarcane into grains in nearly every state where both crops are viable.

Shuttered Sugar Mills

The crop swap is catching on quickly with farmers, threatening the survival of cane mills they once supplied.

About 60 cane mills have closed in the past five years in Brazil’s center-south cane region. About 270 that remain open must fight harder than ever to secure cane supplies.

Agroconsult, an agribusiness consultancy, said it has received requests from mills to calculate the premium they will have to pay producers to keep them from switching to grains.

Douglas Duarte, a director at the Londra mill in Itaí — which used to lease part of the Lopes farm — said he has plans to add 500,000 tons of capacity at the mill but has yet to line up enough cane supplies.

With so many farmers focused on grain, Duarte has worked to sign leases with families who are not interested in actively managing their land.

“In places where the owners have expertise with grains — the equipment and everything — then you can’t compete,” he said.

In some places, the closing of cane mills has also discouraged planting.

Farmer Antonio de Morais Ribeiro Neto gave up planting cane last year after the closure of the sugar mill that he supplied, called Usina Maracaju. Biosev SA, the Brazilian sugar arm of global commodities trader Louis Dreyfus, shut it down in a cost-cutting move.

So Riberio replaced 400 hectares of cane with soybeans, adding to the 2,000 hectares of soy he already had planted. As he watched the U.S.-China trade war escalate, he bought two new grain silos, more soybean-planting machinery and a new harvester.

‘Betting Big’

Plenty of sugar mills, which often grow part of the cane they process, have realized they cannot fight the soy boom and decided to plant their own soybeans as part of a crop rotation strategy.

Cane fields typically need to be replanted after five or six years, and mills are using the renovation window to produce soybeans.

“In the past, those areas subject to renovation would be left fallow until the following year,” said Victor Campanelli, who has exploited the niche.

His firm, Agro Pastoril Paschoal Campanelli, manages the planning, inputs and equipment for sugar mills’ one-off soy crops, sharing in the profits.

While the grains bonanza has many farmers flush with cash, some are wary about relying so much on one crop and one massive importer.

“This Chinese demand has attracted all the farmers,” said Marcos Cesar Brunozzi, who switched part of his land from sugar to grains in the state of Minas Gerais. “I hope the whole situation doesn’t change suddenly, because we are betting big.”

Lopes has no regrets about tearing up his cane fields.

Last year, his sugar cane yielded a net profit of 480 reais per hectare — compared to 2,600 reais per hectare for his soy fields.

“I know it won’t always be that way,” he said. “But still, it’s a huge difference.”


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Brazil’s Farmers Dump Sugar for Soy as Trade War Boosts Chinese Demand

Last year, Brazilian farmer Gustavo Lopes sized up his sugar cane plantation against his soybean fields.

He looked at global trends, including rising U.S.-China trade tensions and a stubborn sugar-market glut. Then he tore up the last of his cane fields and ditched a decades-old supply contract with a local sugar mill.

Lopes planted soybeans across his 1,600-hectare (4,000-acre) farm in Sao Paulo state – a bet that paid off earlier this month when Chinese buyers loaded up on South American soy after Beijing imposed tariffs on U.S. beans. The farmer got his highest price ever for soybeans.

“It was unusual for this time of year,” Lopes said in an interview at his farm, where he’s prepping to plant another soy crop in September. “It’s got to be a result of Chinese demand.”

Shifting trade flows are redefining the Brazilian landscape, spurring more farmers to align their crops with Chinese appetites. The nation’s soy plantings have expanded by 2 million hectares in two years – an area the size of New Jersey – while land used for cane shrank by nearly 400,000 hectares, according to government data.

China’s growing demand for meat has supercharged soy imports for animal feed. The Asian nation paid $20.3 billion last year for 53.8 million tons of soybeans from Brazil, nearly half its output — and up from 22.8 million tons in 2012.

A new 25 percent Chinese tariff on U.S. soybeans — a retaliation for U.S. levies by President Donald Trump — is expected to boost Brazil’s soy exports to an all-time record this year.

Brazilian soybean exports to China rose to nearly 36 million tons in the first half of 2018, up 6 percent from a year ago.

In July, they surged 46 percent from the same month a year earlier to 10.2 million tons.

Brazil’s grains boom has it rivaling United States as the world’s top soy producer this year, after outpacing U.S. exports over the past five years.

All that soy is eating into Brazil’s sugarcane belt, which is reeling from sugar prices near multi-year lows. Chinese sugar tariffs have weighed on the global market for the sweetener as developed nations continue to cut back consumption.

“We lost 3,000 hectares of cane area to grains in the last two years,” said Roberto de Rezende Barbosa, chief executive of Nova América, one of the largest cane growers in Brazil, managing 110,000 hectares.

Rezende said he had seen farmers migrating from sugarcane into grains in nearly every state where both crops are viable.

Shuttered Sugar Mills

The crop swap is catching on quickly with farmers, threatening the survival of cane mills they once supplied.

About 60 cane mills have closed in the past five years in Brazil’s center-south cane region. About 270 that remain open must fight harder than ever to secure cane supplies.

Agroconsult, an agribusiness consultancy, said it has received requests from mills to calculate the premium they will have to pay producers to keep them from switching to grains.

Douglas Duarte, a director at the Londra mill in Itaí — which used to lease part of the Lopes farm — said he has plans to add 500,000 tons of capacity at the mill but has yet to line up enough cane supplies.

With so many farmers focused on grain, Duarte has worked to sign leases with families who are not interested in actively managing their land.

“In places where the owners have expertise with grains — the equipment and everything — then you can’t compete,” he said.

In some places, the closing of cane mills has also discouraged planting.

Farmer Antonio de Morais Ribeiro Neto gave up planting cane last year after the closure of the sugar mill that he supplied, called Usina Maracaju. Biosev SA, the Brazilian sugar arm of global commodities trader Louis Dreyfus, shut it down in a cost-cutting move.

So Riberio replaced 400 hectares of cane with soybeans, adding to the 2,000 hectares of soy he already had planted. As he watched the U.S.-China trade war escalate, he bought two new grain silos, more soybean-planting machinery and a new harvester.

‘Betting Big’

Plenty of sugar mills, which often grow part of the cane they process, have realized they cannot fight the soy boom and decided to plant their own soybeans as part of a crop rotation strategy.

Cane fields typically need to be replanted after five or six years, and mills are using the renovation window to produce soybeans.

“In the past, those areas subject to renovation would be left fallow until the following year,” said Victor Campanelli, who has exploited the niche.

His firm, Agro Pastoril Paschoal Campanelli, manages the planning, inputs and equipment for sugar mills’ one-off soy crops, sharing in the profits.

While the grains bonanza has many farmers flush with cash, some are wary about relying so much on one crop and one massive importer.

“This Chinese demand has attracted all the farmers,” said Marcos Cesar Brunozzi, who switched part of his land from sugar to grains in the state of Minas Gerais. “I hope the whole situation doesn’t change suddenly, because we are betting big.”

Lopes has no regrets about tearing up his cane fields.

Last year, his sugar cane yielded a net profit of 480 reais per hectare — compared to 2,600 reais per hectare for his soy fields.

“I know it won’t always be that way,” he said. “But still, it’s a huge difference.”


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Cubans Cheer as Internet Goes Nationwide for Day

Cuba’s government said it provided free internet to the Communist-run island’s more than 5 million cellphone users on Tuesday, in an eight-hour test before it launches sales of the service.

Cuba is one of the Western Hemisphere’s least connected countries. State-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA announced the trial, with Tuesday marking the first time internet services were available nationwide.

There are hundreds of WiFi hotspots in Cuba but virtually no home penetration.

Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, considered the country’s social media pioneer, raved that she had directly sent a tweet from her mobile. In another tweet, she called the test a “citizen’s victory.”

On the streets of Havana, mobile users said they were happy about the day of free internet, even as some complained that connectivity was notably slower than usual.

“This is marvelous news because we can talk with family abroad without going to specific WiFi spots, there is more intimacy,” said taxi driver Andres Peraza.

Forty percent of Cubans have relatives living abroad.

Leinier Valdez, one of a group of young people trying to connect, said, “this is great. Its better and more so when you can connect for free.”

Hotspots currently charge about $1 an hour although monthly wages in Cuba average just $30.

The government has not yet said how much most Cubans would pay for mobile internet, or when exactly sales of the service will begin. But ETECSA is already charging companies and embassies $45 a month for four gigabytes.

Analysts have said broader Web access will ultimately weaken government control over what information reaches people in a country where the state has a monopoly on the media.

Whether because of a lack of cash, a long-running U.S. trade embargo or concerns about the flow of information, Cuba has lagged far behind most countries in Web access. Until 2013, internet was largely only available to the public at tourist hotels on the island.

But the government has since made boosting connectivity a priority, introducing cybercafes and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots and slowly starting to hook up homes to the Web.

Long before he took office from Raul Castro in April, 58-year-old President Miguel Diaz-Canel championed the cause.

“We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online,” he told parliament in July, adding that Cubans could thus “counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content” on the internet.

 


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Cubans Cheer as Internet Goes Nationwide for Day

Cuba’s government said it provided free internet to the Communist-run island’s more than 5 million cellphone users on Tuesday, in an eight-hour test before it launches sales of the service.

Cuba is one of the Western Hemisphere’s least connected countries. State-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA announced the trial, with Tuesday marking the first time internet services were available nationwide.

There are hundreds of WiFi hotspots in Cuba but virtually no home penetration.

Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, considered the country’s social media pioneer, raved that she had directly sent a tweet from her mobile. In another tweet, she called the test a “citizen’s victory.”

On the streets of Havana, mobile users said they were happy about the day of free internet, even as some complained that connectivity was notably slower than usual.

“This is marvelous news because we can talk with family abroad without going to specific WiFi spots, there is more intimacy,” said taxi driver Andres Peraza.

Forty percent of Cubans have relatives living abroad.

Leinier Valdez, one of a group of young people trying to connect, said, “this is great. Its better and more so when you can connect for free.”

Hotspots currently charge about $1 an hour although monthly wages in Cuba average just $30.

The government has not yet said how much most Cubans would pay for mobile internet, or when exactly sales of the service will begin. But ETECSA is already charging companies and embassies $45 a month for four gigabytes.

Analysts have said broader Web access will ultimately weaken government control over what information reaches people in a country where the state has a monopoly on the media.

Whether because of a lack of cash, a long-running U.S. trade embargo or concerns about the flow of information, Cuba has lagged far behind most countries in Web access. Until 2013, internet was largely only available to the public at tourist hotels on the island.

But the government has since made boosting connectivity a priority, introducing cybercafes and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots and slowly starting to hook up homes to the Web.

Long before he took office from Raul Castro in April, 58-year-old President Miguel Diaz-Canel championed the cause.

“We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online,” he told parliament in July, adding that Cubans could thus “counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content” on the internet.

 


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Tesla Appoints Independent Directors to Weigh Any Deal

Tesla’s board named a special committee of three directors on Tuesday to evaluate possibly taking the electric carmaker private, although it said it had yet to see a firm offer from the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk.

The Silicon Valley billionaire last week said on Twitter he wants to take Tesla private at $420 a share, valuing it at $72 billion, and that funding was “secured.”

That earlier tweet triggered investor lawsuits and an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission into the accuracy of his statement, according to multiple media reports.

Musk on Monday gave his most detailed vision of how a take-private deal could work, but shares ended flat, indicating investor skepticism.

The shares were last down 1 percent at $352.88 on Tuesday.

Musk said Monday he had held talks with a Saudi sovereign fund on a buyout that would take Tesla off the Nasdaq exchange – an extraordinary move for what is now the United States’ most valuable automaker. Tesla has a market capitalization of $60 billion, bigger than Detroit rivals General Motors Co or Ford Motor Co, who produce far more cars.

The company said in the statement the special committee has the authority to take any action on behalf of the board to evaluate and negotiate a potential transaction and alternatives to any transaction proposed by Musk.

Tuesday’s announcement means three members of Tesla’s board will now weigh whether it is advisable – or even feasible – to pursue what could be the biggest-ever go-private deal, and they are doing so before receiving a formal proposal from the CEO.

“The special committee has not yet received a formal proposal from Mr. Musk regarding any Going Private Transaction,” the company said in a public filing with U.S. securities regulators, the first it has made since Musk’s tweets last week.

Asked about the outcome of the special committee, analyst Chaim Siegel at Elazar Advisors said, “This is not easy. Anything is possible from pulling something together to nothing. I hope nothing – so the stock can trade and benefit from the earnings inflection,” he said, referring to a promise by Musk the company would turn profitable later this year.

A blogging, tweeting CEO

Musk has yet to convince Wall Street analysts and investors that he can find the billions needed to complete the deal. Tesla’s handling of Musk’s proposal and its failure to promptly file a formal disclosure, meanwhile, have raised governance concerns and sparked questions about how companies use social media.

Musk first tweeted he planned to go private and that funding was “secured” last week, sending Tesla shares soaring 11 percent, but investors have appeared skeptical about the details he has provided since.

He blogged on Monday that recent talks with a Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave him confidence funding was nailed down, but that he was still talking with the fund and other investors. He tweeted later he was working with Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Silver Lake as financial advisers, though a source said the private equity firm was working in an unpaid, informal capacity and also not discussing participating as an investor.

Goldman had not been formally tapped as a financial adviser by Musk when he revealed plans last week to take the automaker private and said he had secured the funding for the transaction, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

Goldman did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

“Despite Elon Musk’s frustration with being a public company, I think there are more advantages to remaining public,” said CFRA analyst Efraim Levy, citing cheaper access to capital and media exposure due to interest in a public company.

Three-member panel

Tesla said the committee consists only of independent directors: Brad Buss, Robyn Denholm and Linda Johnson Rice.

But corporate governance and shareholder voting advisers Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services said they do not consider Buss an independent director, due to his connections to a solar panel business the company bought two years ago.

Buss was chief financial officer of solar panel installer SolarCity for two years before retiring when Tesla paid $2.6 billion for the sales and installation firm in 2016. It was Tesla’s last big deal and was criticized by some on Wall Street because the company, founded by two of Musk’s cousins, had seen its business shrink before the takeover.

Denholm, the first woman on Tesla’s board, is chief operations officer of telecom firm Telstra and the ex-CFO of network gear maker Juniper Networks.

Rice, the first African-American and second woman to join the board, is CEO of Johnson Publishing Company and Chairman Emeritus of EBONY Media Holdings, the parent of EBONY and Jet brands, according to Tesla’s website.

Tesla’s other board members include Musk; his brother Kimbal Musk; Twenty-First Century Fox’s CEO James Murdoch; Antonio Gracias, founder of Valor Equity Partners; and Ira Ehrenpreis, founder of venture capital firm DBL Partners.

One director, Steve Jurvetson, is currently on leave of absence following allegations of sexual harassment.

Tesla’s board said on Aug. 8 that Musk had held talks with the directors in the previous week on taking the company private.

Latham and Watkins LLP has been retained by the committee as its legal counsel. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati will be legal counsel for Tesla itself.

 


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Erdogan Wants Boycott of US Electronics

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Tuesday to boycott U.S. electronic goods in response to what he says is a targeted economic war being waged against Turkey by the United States.

The diplomatic dispute between the two countries has helped spark an economic crisis in Turkey and push its currency, the lira, to record lows.

“If they have the iPhone, there is Samsung elsewhere. In our own country we have Vestel,” Erdogan said.

He has called on people to exchange their U.S. dollars for lira in order to shore up the currency.

The lira has plunged 40 percent this year and saw drops of 16 percent Friday and another seven percent on Monday. It stabilized Tuesday with a rise of about five percent.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Turkish business groups called on the government to institute tighter monetary policy in order to combat the currency crisis. They also said Turkey should work to resolve the situation with the United States diplomatically while also improving relations with another major trading partner, the European Union.

The Turkish central bank has pledged to take “all necessary measures” to stabilize the country’s economy to make sure the banks have all the money they need. But world stock traders were dismayed the bank did not raise interest rates, which is what many economists believe is necessary to ease the crisis.

U.S. President Donald Trump doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports last Friday, in part a response to Turkey refusing to release an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, whom Turkey accuses of espionage and has detained under house arrest pending his trial. Trump has called the preacher’s detention a “total disgrace.”

Brunson’s lawyer filed a new appeal Tuesday asking for the court to release the pastor from his house arrest and lift his travel ban.

If convicted, Brunson faces a prison term of 35 years.


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Survey: Vienna Tops Melbourne as World’s Most Liveable City

Vienna has dislodged Melbourne for the first time at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index, strengthening the Austrian capital’s claim to being the world’s most pleasant city to live in.

The two metropolises have been neck and neck in the annual survey of 140 urban centers for years, with Melbourne clinching the title for the past seven editions. This year, a downgraded threat of militant attacks in western Europe as well as the city’s low crime rate helped nudge Vienna into first place.

Vienna regularly tops a larger ranking of cities by quality of life compiled by consulting firm Mercer. It is the first time it has topped the EIU survey, which began in its current form in 2004.

At the other end of the table, Damascus retained last place, followed by the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, and Lagos in Nigeria.

The survey does not include several of the world’s most dangerous capitals, such as Baghdad and Kabul.

“While in the past couple of years cities in Europe were affected by the spreading perceived threat of terrorism in the region, which caused heightened security measures, the past year has seen a return to normalcy,” the EIU said in a statement about the report published on Tuesday.

“A long-running contender to the title, Vienna has succeeded in displacing Melbourne from the top spot due to increases in the Austrian capital’s stability category ratings,” it said, referring to one of the index’s five headline components.

Vienna and Melbourne scored maximum points in the healthcare, education and infrastructure categories. But while Melbourne extended its lead in the culture and environment component, that was outweighed by Vienna’s improved stability ranking.

Osaka, Calgary and Sydney completed the top five in the survey, which the EIU says tends to favor medium-sized cities in wealthy countries, often with relatively low population densities. Much larger and more crowded cities tend to have higher crime rates and more strained infrastructure, it said.

London for instance ranks 48th.

Vienna, once the capital of a large empire rather than today’s small Alpine republic, has yet to match its pre-World War I population of 2.1 million. Its many green spaces include lakes with popular beaches and vineyards with sweeping views of the capital. Public transport is cheap and efficient.

In addition to the generally improved security outlook for western Europe, Vienna benefited from its low crime rate, the survey’s editor Roxana Slavcheva said.

“One of the sub-categories that Vienna does really well in is the prevalence of petty crime … It’s proven to be one of the safest cities in Europe,” she said.


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Maduro: Venezuela Gasoline Prices Should Rise to International Levels

Venezuela’s heavily subsidized domestic gasoline prices should rise to international levels to avoid billions of dollars in annual losses due to fuel smuggling, President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised address on Monday.

“Gasoline must be sold at an international price to stop smuggling to Colombia and the Caribbean,” Maduro said in a televised address.

Venezuela, like most oil-producing countries, has for decades subsidized fuel as a benefit to consumers. But its fuel prices have remained nearly flat for years despite hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund has projected would reach 1,000,000 percent this year.

That means that for the price of a cup of coffee, a driver can now fill the tank of a small SUV nearly 9,000 times.

Recently, the average price of a coffee with milk was 2.2 million bolivars, or about 50 cents, local media has reported.

Smugglers do brisk business reselling fuel in neighboring countries.

Maduro said the government would still provide “direct subsidies” to citizens holding the “fatherland card,” a state-issued identification card that the government uses to provide bonuses and track use of social services.

He said the subsidy was only available to those who registered their cars in a vehicle census being conducted by the state.


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Mexico’s Lopez Obrador Pledges More Than $11B for Refineries

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday his administration will invest more than $11 billion to boost refining capacity in order to curb growing fuel imports.

Lopez Obrador, who will take office on Dec. 1, told reporters his government plans to invest $2.6 billion to modernize existing domestic refineries owned and operated by national oil company Pemex, and spend another $8.4 billion to build a new one within three years.

The $8.4-billion figure is higher than a $6 billion estimate provided by a key energy advisor during the campaign.

Lopez Obrador, set to become Mexico’s first leftist president in decades, did not detail how the projects would be financed or whether private capital would be involved, but he has often said he will not raise taxes or grow government debt.

Mexico is among Latin America’s largest crude exporters, but is also the biggest importer of U.S. refined products. The country’s next president has pledged to lift refining capacity, which he says has declined due to corruption and neglect.

Pemex, formally known as Petroleos Mexicanos, has six domestic refineries with a total processing capacity of some 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd), but the facilities are only operating at about 40 percent of capacity so far this year.

Meanwhile, gasoline and diesel imports have sky-rocketed in recent months amid planned and unplanned refinery stoppages.

Pemex has posted losses in its refining division for years but Lopez Obrador aims to boost crude processing enough to halt imports within three years.

Lopez Obrador also said he plans to invest another $4 billion to drill new onshore and shallow-water oil wells in the states of Veracruz, Tabasco and Chiapas.

Pemex production has consistently declined in recent years to fall below 2 million bpd after hitting peak output of 3.4 million bpd in 2004.

President Enrique Pena Nieto passed a reform to open up Mexico’s state-run energy industry to private producers, which has led to a series of competitive auctions that have awarded more than 100 oil exploration and production contracts.

Lopez Obrador has said he will respect those contracts as long as an ongoing review does not find signs of corruption. He is widely expected to slow down the process of offering more contracts to private players.

($1 = 19.1100 Mexican pesos)


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World’s First Commercial 3D-Printed Concrete Homes Planned

The world will soon have its first batch of commercially available 3D-printed concrete homes. A consortium of the Dutch municipality of Eindhoven, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), and three private firms has joined forces to build five of these unique homes in the hub city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.


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