Silicon Valley Carefully Navigates US-China High Tech Cold War

Silicon Valley has long been a power center of American innovation. Now that high-tech is also becoming a focus of tensions between the U.S. and China, companies based here are trying to understand how they fit in. VOA’s Michelle Quinn speaks with the head of the U.S. Defense Department’s local outpost who sees the tech industry as key to U.S. national security.


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Trump ‘Honored’ to Provide US Farmers with $16 Billion in Aid 

President Donald Trump says he is “honored” to give U.S. farmers hurt by the trade war with China another $16 billion in aid. 

Flanked by potato growers, ranchers and dairymen in the White House, Trump said Thursday the aid “will help keep our cherished farms thriving and make clear that no country has a veto on America’s economic and national security.”

Trump added that trade has been “very unfair” to the farmers who he says support him politically.

This is the second multibillion-dollar bailout the Trump administration has provided to U.S. farmers who have seen Chinese markets for their products dry up because of tariffs China imposed on U.S. goods to retaliate for U.S. tariffs on Chinese products. The White House gave farmers $12 billion last year.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says farmers should see the first installment of the new $16 billion in aid in July or August. Perdue said he doubts if the United States and China can reach a trade deal by then.

Most of the money will go to farmers who grow and sell such crops as soybeans, corn, peanuts and wheat. Money will also be set aside to buy excess products from the farmers and send them to schools and food banks.

“I can’t recall a president more concerned about farmer well-being. We are working hard to assess trade damages and this package ensures farmers will not bear the brunt,” Perdue said.

While Trump said Thursday that many farmers told him he is “doing the right thing,” some trade experts call the bailout a political ploy and say farmers are more concerned about winning back the lost Chinese market.


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Canada, Europe to Choose When 737 MAX Is Safe as Regulators Meet

In a potential challenge to U.S.-led efforts to build consensus on the Boeing Co 737 MAX flying again, Canada and Europe said on Wednesday they would bring back the grounded aircraft on their own terms if their specific concerns are not addressed.

Global regulators will meet in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday where the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration hopes to reach an international consensus on how to move forward with the MAX, U.S. officials told Reuters.

The plane was grounded worldwide in March following a fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash just months after a similar Lion Air disaster in Indonesia which together killed 346 people.

Global airlines that had rushed to buy the fuel-efficient, longer-range aircraft have since canceled flights and scrambled to cover routes that were previously flown by the MAX.

“From our point of view, if we all work together and we all reach the same aim, fine. If we don’t, we’ll choose our own time to decide when the planes are safe to fly again,” Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau told Reuters in an interview.

“The number one focus for us is that we in Canada must be satisfied. It doesn’t matter what others do. So if we are not perfectly synchronized with certain other countries that’s how it going to be,” Garneau said.

Regulators are expected to discuss Boeing’s proposed software fix and new pilot training that are both key to re-starting flights. Boeing has not yet formally submitted its proposals to the FAA.

A spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency said on Wednesday that it would complete an additional independent design review of the plane once the FAA approves Boeing’s proposed changes and establishes “adequate training of Boeing MAX flight crews.”

Foreign regulators have already signaled disagreements over measures to end the grounding, with Garneau calling in April for pilots to receive simulator training for the MAX, rather than computer courses, going a step beyond FAA-backed proposals.

Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell told Congress last week the FAA is working closely with other civil aviation authorities “to address specific concerns related to the 737 MAX.”

United Airlines Chief Executive Oscar Munoz said on Wednesday that FAA approval is only the first step, with public and employee confidence key to deciding when to fly its 14 MAX jets again.


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UK, Japan Mobile Operators Suspend Huawei 5G Phone Launches

British and Japanese mobile phone companies said Wednesday they’re putting on hold plans to sell new devices from Huawei, in the latest fallout from U.S. tech restrictions aimed at the Chinese company.

Britain’s EE and Vodafone and Japan’s KDDI and Y! Mobile said they are pausing the launch of Huawei smartphones, including some that can be used on next generation mobile networks, amid uncertainty about devices from the world’s No. 2 smartphone maker.

The U.S. government last week restricted technology sales to Chinese telecom gear suppliers because of alleged security risks, though telecom carriers got a 90-day grace period to let them find other suppliers. The sales ban is part of a broader trade war between Washington and Beijing.

British mobile chip designer Arm said separately it was complying with the U.S. rules, after the BBC reported it was suspending business with Huawei — a move that could hobble the Chinese tech company’s ability to produce chips for new devices.

Vodafone said in a statement that it’s “pausing pre-orders” for the Mate 20X, Huawei’s first phone for 5G networks, as “a temporary measure while uncertainty exists regarding new Huawei 5G devices.”

EE CEO Marc Allera said sales would not resume until it gets “the information and confidence and the long-term security” that customers will be supported over the device’s lifetime. The company was also set to sell the Mate 20X followed by Huawei’s Mate X folding handset.

EE said it’s working with Huawei and Google, which makes the Android mobile operating systems to make sure it “can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance.”  

The Trump administration’s order last week cuts Huawei’s access to American chips and Google, which makes the Android operating system and services for its smartphones.

Y! Mobile, owned by Japanese technology company Softbank, said sales of the Huawei P30 lite, set for May 24, have been delayed, and advance orders were canceled.

SoftBank spokesman Hiroyuki Mizukami said the company wants its “customers to feel safe using our products.”

KDDI also indefinitely delayed its sales, initially set for late May.

It’s unclear when, or if, the companies will lift the sales freezes.

British carriers plan this year to roll out 5G services while Japan will follow in 2020. Fifth generation mobile networks will enable superfast downloads and pave the way for new innovations like connected cars and remote medicine.

Arm, which is also owned by Softbank and designs mobile microprocessors that power most of the world’s smartphones and tablets, said it “is complying with all of the latest regulations set forth by the U.S. government.”

The company told employees to halt all business deals with Huawei, the BBC reported, citing a company memo that said its designs contained “U.S. origin technology.”

In response to the report on Arm, Huawei said it recognizes that some of its partners are under pressure as a result of “politically motivated decisions” but that it’s “confident this regrettable situation can be resolved.”

 


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Britain’s May Faces Calls to Resign After Revised Brexit Plan Unveiled

British lawmakers are denouncing Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest proposal to withdraw from the European Union (EU) amid growing demands from her own Conservative Party for her resignation.

May said on Tuesday a bill she plans to present to Parliament next month would include a provision to vote on whether to hold a second referendum to leave the EU, a key demand of many opposition lawmakers.

May also offered closer trading arrangements with the EU as another incentive in what she called a “last chance” opportunity to finalize a Brexit deal.

Speaking before the House of Commons on Wednesday, May implored lawmakers to support her bill, warning a rejection would lead to “division and deadlock.”

May said her withdrawal bill would be disclosed Friday so that lawmakers would have time to study it.

Legislators previously spurned May’s exit deal three times and her latest attempt to win support faces an uphill fight. She plans to ask lawmakers to vote on the bill again during the week of June 3.

Members of May’s own Conservative Party accused her of relenting to pro-EU demands while opposition Labour Party lawmakers rejected her latest plan as too little too late.

On Tuesday, May said after Parliament votes on the measure, she will establish a timetable for her departure as leader of the Conservative Party and as prime minister.

A growing number of Conservative Party members, however, are pressing her to cancel the vote and step down sooner.

May is likely to face even more pressure when the results of this week’s European Parliament elections are released, as the Conservative Party is expected to suffer heavy losses.

The election will be held in Britain on Thursday, but the results won’t be announced until all European countries have finished voting late Sunday.

British citizens voted in a referendum to leave the EU three years ago and the country was scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, but the 28-nation bloc extended the deadline until October 31.

 

 


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Jamie Oliver’s British Restaurant Chain Collapses

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain in Britain has filed for bankruptcy protection, closing 22 of its 25 eateries and leaving some 1,000 people out of work.

The remaining outlets, two Jamie’s Italian restaurants and a Jamie’s Diner at Gatwick Airport outside London, will stay open, the financial firm KPMG, which will oversee the process, said in a statement Tuesday.

Oliver said on Twitter he was “devastated that our much-loved UK restaurants have gone into administration,” a form of bankruptcy protection, and thanked people “who have put their hearts and souls into this business over the years.”

​Oliver gained fame as “The Naked Chef” on television, which aired in dozens of countries, after premiering in Britain some 20 years ago.  The television success was followed by a number of cookbooks. The restaurant chain included Jamie’s Italian, Jamie Oliver’s Diner and Barbecoa steakhouses.

Five branches of the Australian arm of Jamie’s Italian have also been sold and another put into administration.

Oliver’s restaurants started to lose revenue in 2016. Business got so bad for the restaurant group that Oliver injected millions of dollars of his own money in an effort to turn the tide. 

“The current trading environment for companies across the casual dining sector is as tough as I’ve ever seen,” Will Wright, an administrator at KPMG, said in a statement. “The directors at Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group have worked tirelessly to stabilize the business against a backdrop of rising costs and brittle consumer confidence.”

Other British chains have also had to close outlets.  Earlier this year, cafe chain Patisserie Valerie was forced to close 70 outlets, at the cost of 920 jobs.

Celebrity chefs in the U.S. have also fallen on hard times. Thomas Keller closed Bouchon in Beverly Hills in 2017, saying it couldn’t remain profitable. That same year, Guy Fieri closed Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar in New York’s Times Square and Daniel Boulud closed DBGB Kitchen and Bar in New York, saying it didn’t get enough business during the week.


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Bloomberg: US May Pay $2 Per Bushel for Soybeans to Help Farmers

The Trump administration is considering payments of $2 per bushel for soybeans, 63 cents per bushel for wheat and 4 cents per bushel for corn as part of a package of up to $20 billion to offset U.S. farmers’ losses from the trade war with China, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

Caitlin Eannello, spokeswoman for the National Association of Wheat Growers, said that 63 cents per bushel for wheat is the number the organization has been hearing for the next round of U.S. trade aid. “That is the number that we’ve been hearing, she told Reuters.

Those payments would exceed the rates paid last year to farmers in a similar aid package.

President Donald Trump earlier this month directed the Department of Agriculture to work on a new aid plan for farmers as Washington and Beijing intensified their 10-month-old trade war by raising tariffs on each other’s goods.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week said the new aid package was likely to be $15 billion to $20 billion, exceeding the up to $12 billion in aid rolled out last year to farmers. Most of it was likely to be direct payments, sources told Reuters.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said the details of the aid package would be released soon, without commenting on the reported payment rates. One lobbyist source said the plan was likely to be announced this week.

The USDA spokeswoman added that the aid was designed to avoid skewing planting decisions. “Farmers should continue to make their planting and production decisions with the current market signals in mind, rather than some expectation of what a trade mitigation program might or might not look like,” she said in emailed comments to Reuters.

However, the aid was seen encouraging more soy planting at a time when supplies are already at record-high levels.

“That [proposed $2 bean payout] is a pretty enticing carrot, and that tells me that they [farmers] are going to try to get as many bean acres in as possible, at the expense of corn,” said Matt Connelly, analyst at the Hightower Report in Chicago.

“The reason is beans [futures] went south is, they saw that $2 a bushel, and that will entice them to plant beans until the July 4th weekend.”

Chicago Board of Trade soybean futures turned lower on the report on worries that farmers would plant more of the crop. Top importer China continues to shun U.S. soybeans.

The administration last year paid $1.65 per bushel for soybeans, 14 cents per bushel for wheat and 1 cent per bushel for corn.

Negotiations between the United States and China have soured dramatically since early May, when Chinese officials sought major changes to the text of a proposed deal that the Trump administration says had been largely agreed.

The dispute between the world’s two largest economies has cost billions, roiled global supply chains and rattled financial markets. American farmers, who helped carry Trump to his surprise 2016 election win, have been among the hardest hit.

Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, said growers of other commodities were also to receive payments in this year’s aid package, but it did not provide rates. It said the plan could change as Trump could make adjustments.

The Trump administration wants any trade deal with China to include purchases of more than $1.2 trillion worth of American products, including agricultural commodities and industrial goods.


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Portugal’s Economy Rebounds, Though Problems Persist

The Portuguese economy is resisting the prevailing gloom in Europe.

Activity remained strong, with GDP rising by 0.5% in the first quarter, or 1.8% at an annual rate, compared with 1.2% in the euro zone, forecasts Brussels.

Following the trend of 2018, Portugal’s good economic health comes mainly from private consumption fueled by rising wages and employment dynamics. The preliminary data, says the national statistics institute, “reflect a significant acceleration in investment.”

The government deficit has fallen from 7.2% of GDP to 0.5% of GDP since 2014, and the unemployment rate from a peak of 17.9% in early 2013, to about 6% currently.

“The tourism sector has been the largest driver of the export recovery in Portugal,” Ben Westmore, the head of the Portugal desk in the Economics Department of the OECD, confirmed to VOA.

These numbers make Portugal the darling of international financial institutions. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, praised Portugal’s economic recovery recently in Lisbon. “Portugal and the Portuguese people deserve huge credit for their efforts, for which they should be proud,” Lagarde said.

Low wages

Despite the spectacular recovery and the fall of unemployment, a sense of precariousness and low wages are everywhere in Portugal. The minimum wage is only $669 (€600) per month — a number that has not prompted the return of many young adults, who left during the crisis. Between 2008 and 2014, 120,000 people left Portugal per year. Twenty percent were highly skilled workers, according to professor Joao Miguel Trancoso Lopes.

This sociologist undertook a study and interviewed many of them to understand their motivations to stay abroad or come back in their country.

“They do not feel Portugal is full of opportunities. The low wages are a real hurdle for them. They look for better jobs, outside of the country. Unlike the previous generations, the young Portuguese leaving abroad do not dream of returning home,” he explained to VOA.

This professor used to be paid $3,345 (€3,000) per month before the crisis. Today, he earns $2,901.99 (€2,600) per month. The health care system is another sector that was heavily targeted for budget cuts during the crisis.

Bruno Maia is a neurologist in Lisbon. He acknowledges the current government took some measures to lift the burden, such as hiring of doctors and nurses.

“The damages made to our health care system are so pronounced that these new jobs do not compensate what was lost during the crisis. It is not enough. Problems are accumulating and we are struggling,” he underscores to VOA. For example, Maia says non-emergency procedures, like an MRI, could take up a year to be performed in Portugal.

Besides these issues, Antonio Costa, the Socialist prime minister who vowed in 2015 to overturn austerity, remains popular in Portugal. His party and its allies likely will win the coming European elections on May 26.

“Euroskepticism, which grew a lot during the crisis, it is not as important today. We do not expect a defeat as the Socialist Party is popular in Portugal,” Andre Freire, a political science professor at Lisbon University Institute, told VOA.

Portugal has 21 seats at the European Parliament.


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US Shoe Industry Protests Possible Tariffs on Chinese Imports

More than 170 American shoe manufacturers and retailers, including such well-known athletic shoe brands as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to exempt footwear from any further tariffs he imposes on imported goods from China.

The lobby for the shoe industry, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, told Trump in a letter that his proposed 25 percent tariff on shoes imported from China “would be catastrophic for our consumers, our companies and the American economy as a whole.” The industry imported $11.4 billion worth of shoes from China last year, although some manufacturers have been shifting production elsewhere, especially to Vietnam and Cambodia.

It said the proposed tariffs on shoes made in China could cost U.S. consumers more than $7 billion annually on top of existing levies.

“There should be no misunderstanding that U.S. consumers pay for tariffs on products that are imported,” the 173 companies said, rejecting Trump’s frequent erroneous statement that China pays the tariffs and that the money goes directly to the U.S. Treasury.

Trump has been engaged in a string of reciprocal tariff increases with China on imported goods arriving in each other’s ports as the world’s two biggest economies have tried for months — unsuccessfully so far — to negotiate a new trade pact.

After Trump imposed new 25 percent taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese products earlier this month, he also set in motion plans to impose a new round of levies on virtually all Chinese imports, another $300 billion worth of goods, including shoe imports, clothing and electronics.

The U.S. leader said that if American companies did not like the tariffs on Chinese imports, they could move their production inside the United States or to another country whose manufactured products are not taxed when they are sent to the U.S. But the footwear lobby rejected Trump’s suggestion.

“Footwear is a very capital-intensive industry, with years of planning required to make sourcing decisions, and companies cannot simply move factories to adjust to these changes,” the industry told Trump.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has published a list of products that would be covered by the expanded tariffs and set a hearing for June 17.


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