Category Archives: Uncategorized

Happy drink in sad times: champagne-makers gather pandemic harvest

BETHON, France (Reuters) – Winemakers in France’s Champagne region are this week gathering a bumper grape harvest, but there is a bitter aftertaste: the slump in demand for bubbly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means some of the harvest will go to waste.


“We make the wine of happiness, and when people are sad, like during the lockdown, sales of champagne tend to collapse,” said Vincent Leglantier, a 34-year-old wine grower in Bethon, about 120 km (75 miles) east of Paris.

At the Brun de Neuville vineyard collective, to which Leglantier belongs, teams of pickers in baseball caps worked their way along rows of vines, collecting grapes by hand. Most are migrant workers from eastern Europe who come every harvest season.

But this year is different. Sales are sharply down because weddings and parties — drivers of demand for champagne — are being cancelled around the world.

In response, French champagne producers decided this month to put a cap on the amount of grapes they send for processing into wine.

They took the decision because a glut of the drink in cellars and on wholesalers’ shelves would drive down prices and tarnish the aura of luxury and exclusivity that the industry has spent years building up.

But the cap – limiting the amount of grapes that can be harvested from a hectare to 8,000 kg — means that anything over that figure must be left to rot.

The quota is one fifth less than last year’s harvest and this year, because of hot sunny weather that growers ascribe to climate change, the yield in many vineyards is even more bountiful than usual.

“You could say it’s maybe the best of the bad deals we could have reached,” Damien Champy, head of the Brun de Neuville vineyard cooperative, said of the quota as he stood in the cellar where bottles of champagne are left to mature.

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US wins end of EU lobster tariffs in mini trade deal

The European Union has agreed to eliminate tariffs on US lobster, a key priority of President Donald Trump.


In exchange, the US will halve import taxes on some $160m (£122m) worth of European goods, including cigarette lighters and certain crystal glassware.

The agreement is the first tariff reduction the two economic heavyweights have agreed in more than two decades.

Mr Trump had threatened higher tariffs on European cars if the EU did not end the lobster duties.

In June, he ordered aid for US lobstermen, whose exports have suffered in part due to deteriorating trade relations.

China slapped tariffs on the crustacean as part of the US-China trade dispute, while in the EU market, the industry has lost ground to competitors from Canada, after the country signed a 2017 free trade agreement eliminating Europe’s 8% lobster tariffs.

The new US agreement, which would drop the lobster tariffs for five years, still needs approval from EU governments and the European Parliament.

‘Improving relations’

The US and EU remain at odds on numerous trade issues, including tariffs Mr Trump imposed on foreign steel and aluminium, European taxes on tech giants and subsidies for Boeing and Airbus, which have led to tariffs on $7.5bn worth of European goods.

A wider trade deal, which the two sides started discussing last year, has remained out of reach.

“As part of improving EU-US relations, this mutually beneficial agreement will bring positive results to the economies of both the United States and the European Union. We intend for this package of tariff reductions to mark just the beginning of a process that will lead to additional agreements that create more free, fair, and reciprocal transatlantic trade,” US Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said in a joint announcement.

In 2017, the US exported more than $111m worth of lobster to the EU. Many of the shipments came from the state of Maine, a political battleground for Republicans and Democrats.

The state narrowly supported Mr Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, but is represented in the Senate by Republican Susan Collins, who is facing a tough re-election fight.

A request by the US for a deal on lobsters had been rejected by the EU last year, with Brussels insisting on a broader package, but more recently the two sides have shown signs of trying to reduce tensions.

Earlier this month, the US refrained from a rise in tariffs it had threatened over European subsidies for Airbus.

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Global firms expected to sue UK for coronavirus losses

Dispute settlement clauses in trade agreements open way for investors to demand compensation for lockdowns


Governments around the world – including the UK – face a wave of lawsuits from foreign companies who complain that their profits have been hit by the pandemic.

Webinars and presentations shared with clients reveal that leading global law firms anticipate governments around the world will soon face claims over their response to the Covid-19 crisis. The actions are being brought under investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses which are embedded in trade and investment agreements and allow foreign investors and firms to sue other countries’ governments.

The claims are heard in highly secretive ad hoc tribunals before a panel of three judges. Often it is not apparent that a case is being brought until the panel sits.

The law firm Alston & Bird used a recent webinar to predict that the UK will be sued over Sadiq Khan’s decision to close Crossrail construction sites during the pandemic. The decision was at odds with the government’s policy of allowing sites to operate throughout lockdown, an inconsistency that they say opens up the way for a legal challenge.

Law firm Reed Smith has predicted that measures taken by governments to deal with the crisis are affecting investments “directly and significantly and could give rise to substantial claims”.

And Ropes & Gray has issued an alert advising clients to consider actions brought under investment treaties as “a powerful tool to recover or prevent loss resulting from Covid-19-related government actions”.

There are particular concerns about claims being brought against governments in the developing world.

More than 600 civil society groups in 90 countries have written an open letter sounding the alarm. Signatories include Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), SumOfUs and Global Justice Now. They warn at a “time when government resources are stretched to the limit in responding to the crisis, public money should not be diverted from saving lives, jobs and livelihoods into paying ISDS awards or legal fees to fight a claim”.

And they predict that a spate of cases now could result in a “regulatory chilling effect, in which governments water down, postpone or withdraw actions to tackle the pandemic for fear they will be sued”.

Countries including El Salvador and Bolivia have allowed citizens to delay payments for services such as water and electricity. Law firm Hogan Lovells has issued a client alert suggesting that foreign-owned utility companies could sue for lost revenue in such cases.

“Clearly, companies shouldn’t sue countries over emergency measures to save lives in a global pandemic, and we shouldn’t sign trade agreements that let them,” said Sondhya Gupta, UK campaign manager at SumOfUs. “We know lower-income countries are struggling most to contain the virus. The threat of rich corporations bullying them out of badly needed public funds to ‘compensate’ them for profit losses will further hamper efforts to fight the virus and add to the burden on future generations.”

Jean Blaylock, campaigns and policy manager at Global Justice Now, said the corporate courts which heard the claims often made awards far higher than those made by national courts. Of the more than 1,000 ISDS cases known to have been brought before the pandemic, 13 resulted in awards or settlements of more than US$1bn.

By the end of 2018, a raft of governments around the world had been ordered, or had agreed, to pay investors in publicly known ISDS cases a total of $88bn.

But there are now concerns Covid-19 will spark a claims bonanza which will benefit major law firms both bringing and defending the claims. “We have already heard of the threat of a case in Peru where the government there ordered toll roads to stop collecting tolls,” Blaylock said. “The government was worried that the act of taking money could be a way of spreading the pandemic.”

Blaylock added: “Why would a corporation sue? It seems so unreasonable, yet when you read the material from the law firms, to them it’s completely normal and they are expecting this to happen. They recognise there are incredibly valid public health needs, but they also understand that these courts are designed only to look at the interests of investors.”

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Supply chain disruptions, sanctions threaten school shortage of 5 million laptops

The three biggest computer companies in the world — Lenovo, HP and Dell — have told U.S. school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops due to supply chain disruptions and sanctions on China, according to an AP investigation.


Why it matters: With many districts choosing fully remote or hybrid learning models, many fear the shortfall and delays of up to several months in receiving orders of the computers could exacerbate inequities in the classroom.

Between the lines: In some cases, the problem has been made worse by the Trump administration’s sanctions on Chinese suppliers, which have affected the manufacturer of several models of Lenovo laptops.

  • In a letter to customers, the company said the ban will add several weeks to the delays, AP reports. The company has a backlog of more than 3 million Chromebooks.
  • The sanctions affect companies implicated in forced labor and human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang, which has been the target of demographic genocide carried out by the Chinese government.

The big picture: Some of the nation’s largest school districts are still waiting on orders of laptops or hotspots, including Los Angeles; Clark County, Nevada; Wake County, North Carolina; Houston; Palm Beach, Florida; and Hawaii.

  • The Denver school district, the largest in Colorado, is waiting on some 12,500 Lenovo Chromebooks it ordered in April and May. It will be about 3,000 devices short when school starts Wednesday.

What they’re saying:

  • Matt Bartenhagen, IT director for Williston Public Schools in North Dakota, told AP: “It’s a tough one because I’m not condoning child slave labor for computers, but can we not hurt more children in the process? They were supposed to be delivered in July. Then August. Then late August. The current shipping estimate is ‘hopefully’ by the end of the year.”
  • Tom Baumgarten, superintendent of the Morongo Unified School District in California, said, “This is going to be like asking an artist to paint a picture without paint. You can’t have a kid do distance learning without a computer.”

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FDA creates first-ever medical supply shortage list including masks, swabs and ventilators

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Friday that it has created its first list of medical supplies that are facing a shortage just hours after President Trump touted the administration’s production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other devices.


In an effort to prevent stockpiling or hoarding of supplies, the list does not reveal the product manufacturers, but lists that ventilators, respirators, masks, surgical gowns, gloves and sterile swabs are on short supply.

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the list is meant to help the industry prevent supply disruption in the midst of the pandemic.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, the federal government has taken great strides to meet the nation’s critical medical supply needs, and at this time, all requests have been filled or are being filled, while additional requests from states are minimal,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement.

“The FDA provided a device shortage list as part of the implementation of section 506J of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, signed into law as part of the CARES Act. Under section 506J, manufacturers of certain devices must notify the FDA of an interruption or permanent discontinuance in manufacturing,” the statement continued. “The shortage list was never intended to indicate there is a shortage of PPE or equipment to support patients, but allows for transparency to the public and stakeholders about devices.”

The new list comes as cases of COVID-19 see spikes nationwide and record-breaking counts are reported weekly in different states.

This week the U.S. saw its deadliest day in months as more than 1,500 died of the coronavirus on Wednesday, with the total deaths as of Friday topping 168,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. In total, there are more than 5.2 million coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Earlier at a press briefing on Friday, Trump praised the work to increase the Strategic National Stockpile’s supply of some of the products that made the FDA list.

“We have tripled the number of N95 masks on hand to over 40 million, tripled the number of gowns to over 15 million and quadrupled the number of ventilators to 69,000,” Trump said.

PPE supply shortages were commonly reported at the start of the virus, but lockdown efforts and the administration’s use of the Defense Production Act led to a slowdown of hospitalizations and an increase in crucial supplies. Still, some rural hospitals and other health care groups have said they have struggled to keep key supplies in stock.

In early July, a top nurses union warned that the start of new outbreaks could mean more shortages like the ones seen at the start of the pandemic.

“We’re five months into this and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” Deborah Burger, president of National Nurses United, said at the time. “I think overall, production, distribution and access has improved … the fear is that we will become complacent.”

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How Marco Rubio runs Trump’s Latin America policy

The Florida senator plays an outsize role in the region — and he makes little secret of it.


WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump took office, he passed down one key instruction on how to handle Latin America: Make Marco Rubio happy.

Rubio, a Florida Republican and son of Cuban immigrants, had already built his political brand around vocal criticism of the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, and to what he viewed as the Democrats’ policy of appeasement in the region.

Trump didn’t have much to say about Latin America, but he knew two things: He wanted to keep immigrants and asylum-seekers out of the United States, and he had to win Florida in 2020. And he viewed staying in the good graces of Rubio, whose hardline stances have made him popular among Cuban and Venezuelan exiles and their descendants in and around Miami, as key to the latter.

Nearly four years later, Rubio’s influence goes well beyond his formal job title of Florida senator. Empowered by Trump, he’s now widely known in Washington — and in Latin American capitals from Buenos Aires to Havana — as a major force behind the president’s policies in the region.

Rubio has effectively become secretary of State for Latin America, according to interviews with more than a dozen former White House and State Department officials and current Republican lawmakers, aides and analysts. The administration has learned to seek his blessing on key hires related to the region, and the president routinely solicits his input on new policy initiatives.

Rubio rejects labels like “virtual secretary of State for Latin America,” an appellation bestowed on him last year by the New York Times. “That implies we don’t have a secretary of State and that’s not accurate,” he told POLITICO in an interview. “If people mean it as a compliment, I don’t mean to turn them off on it. But it’s not like the people I’m working with or providing advice to need to be convinced to do these things.” He describes his own role in humbler terms — to offer advice and “nudge us in one direction or another” in hiring and policy decisions, as he put it.

But with influence has come criticism. Rubio has become too powerful, his critics say — ruthless in his efforts to control messaging and push out anyone with a role in Latin America policy who could be perceived as soft on Cuba or Venezuela, while too narrow in his focus on only a few countries in a region of more than 650 million people.

Rubio’s influence has “distorted policy,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank focused on Latin America, who criticized top officials’ “singular focus” on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. “But this obsession with the three dictatorships doesn’t mean you ignore everything else that is going on in the region,” he added.

Inside the administration, officials face a continual dilemma over just how much deference to pay the Florida senator. “Rubio is either advantageous to you or an obstructor. Which do you choose?” said a former administration official focused on Latin America.

From the early days of the Trump administration, Rubio has had a direct line to the president when it comes to Cuba and Venezuela — and occasionally Nicaragua, two former administration officials said.

In February 2017, he organized a meeting between Trump and Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuelan opposition politician and then-political prisoner Leopoldo López, at the White House. The president did not inform National Security Council aides of the meeting and they did not find out until after it took place, according to two former administration officials. Trump tweeted out a photo of the encounter, marking Rubio as a voice who could not be ignored.

“We knew early on that on Latin America policy Trump wasn’t taking cues from career officials. He was taking cues from harder-line Cuba folks in Miami,” a former State official said.

During peak times in Trump’s crackdown on Cuba and Venezuela’s governments, Rubio was briefed by the National Security Council at least once a week. And State officials have long been advised — including under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — to always be quick in responding to inquiries from the Florida senator’s office.

“You’d never want Marco Rubio to find out like everyone else” about a policy rollout, a former administration official said.

In phone calls, Trump has often solicited Rubio’s views on National Security Council proposals related to Latin America, former administration officials said. On multiple occasions, Rubio came directly to NSC staffers with feedback on live policy options related to Cuba and Venezuela that they had not discussed with him or his staff directly. The president, they assumed, had shared the information with Rubio in their private conversations.

Rubio is also close with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, dating back to their days in Congress; Pompeo even endorsed Rubio during his run for president in 2016. The vice president has often heeded Rubio’s calls for certain action on Cuba and Venezuela. In 2018, at Rubio’s request, Pence used his speech at the Summit of the Americas in Peru to offer up the United States as the host country for the next one, which will take place in 2021, former administration officials said. (Pence’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the Summit request or their relationship.)

Rubio argues he’s simply providing guidance on issues the Trump administration already considers a priority, like increasing sanctions on Venezuelan officials and industries and rolling back Obama-era policy on Cuba.

“It’s not like the people I’m working with or providing advice to need to be convinced. Their instincts are there, their hearts are there and their minds are there,” Rubio said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, another prominent Florida Republican voice on Latin America, gave Trump full credit for his administration’s work on Venezuela and Cuba. “It’s not either of us. It’s not the secretary of State. It’s him,” Diaz-Balart said. “Senator Rubio and I are very fortunate that the president listens to us and calls us in on these issues.”

But other Rubio allies say he held the administration to a hard line. “Rubio is seen in Cuba as the main person that opposes the Castro regime in the United States and the person that has the ear of the president,” said Tomás Regalado, a former mayor of Miami and former head of Radio and TV Marti, the U.S.-funded broadcast network aimed at countering Cuba’s state-run media. “If there was a moment when anybody in the administration said it’s time to give a second look to what we’re doing on Cuba, Rubio stopped that,” said Regalado, who was recommended by Rubio for the TV Marti post.

Some Latin America analysts say it’s natural administration officials would come to Rubio for guidance given that the Florida senator, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, is one of, if not the, lawmaker with the most knowledge on the region.

But they point out that Rubio rarely, if ever, talks about Latin American countries that aren’t Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua. For example, he has never met with Mexican Ambassador Martha Bárcena, the Mexican Embassy confirmed, despite Mexico being the U.S.’ southern neighbor and largest trading partner in 2019. In July, Rubio did not offer any kind of statement or tweet when Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador traveled to Washington — his first trip out of Mexico in years — to meet with Trump at the White House.

“He’s not making foreign policy. It’s Florida electoral politics, and yes, he’s successful in Florida. But frankly it’s a dereliction of his duty as chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee to ignore the majority of the region,” a conservative Latin America analyst said.

Rubio also made clear when López Obrador was elected in July 2018 that he had “serious philosophical differences” with the Mexican populist, but added that “Mexico is an important partner of the United States.” Last year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on U.S. policy in Mexico and Central America; Rubio did not attend.

Multiple people involved in U.S.-Mexico relations said they have not seen Rubio express an interest in the bilateral relationship, instead letting the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the president’s aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner lead on the issue.

Instead, Rubio has only gotten involved in U.S.-Mexico affairs when it relates to Florida, multiple aides and analysts said. Rubio and other Florida lawmakers have been pushing the Trump administration to address concerns from state growers that Mexico is harming them by selling seasonal produce to the U.S. at unfair prices. The administration is set to hold a virtual hearing with Florida producers next month.

A person close to Rubio pushed back: “The narrative is false.” Rubio has held a subcommittee hearing on the U.S.-Mexico relationship, worked closely with the Trump administration during negotiations for the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal and raised concerns over human rights, organized crimes and drug trafficking with the administration, the person said. The subcommittee hearing took place in March 2017, however, and several people involved in the USMCA negotiations said Rubio was rarely involved in the negotiations other than on the issue of seasonal produce.

Personnel is policy

To maneuver his allies into top positions, Rubio has pushed out officials and aides who did not share his views on Cuba and Venezuela.

In 2018, after a failed effort to install him at the State Department, he successfully placed his longtime friend Mauricio Claver-Carone into the White House as head of the Western Hemisphere Affairs at the NSC. Claver-Carone, who previously worked on Trump’s transition team and led a political action committee that worked to preserve the U.S. embargo on Cuba, was an outspoken opponent of the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

“Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s ‘talking for the sake of talking’ is proving only to be a useful distraction in this country and the world that is allowing the Castro regime to strengthen its political and economic grip over the Cuban people and their future,” Claver-Carone wrote in a piece for HuffPosst in 2016.

In June, Claver-Carone, who is considered by former administration officials, Rubio allies and Latin American analysts to have moved much decision-making power on Cuba and Venezuela policy from State to the NSC, was nominated to run the Inter-American Development Bank.

Rubio also recommended Carlos Trujillo, another Cuban American who was formerly an attorney in Miami, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States in 2018, aides and Rubio allies said. Trujillo, who multiple Latin America analysts call “Little Marco,” is now on track to be confirmed as the assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, the top Latin America position at the State Department.

In early 2019, Rubio demanded that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch replace Caleb McCarry, who had led Western Hemisphere affairs for the committee for six years, so he could put in his own former staffer for the role, three people familiar with the situation said.

The sources described how McCarry, who served as a Cuba transition coordinator under George W. Bush, had spent his time in the committee caught in Rubio’s crosshairs due to his role in helping carry out former chairman Sen. Bob Corker’s policies, which were often at odds with Rubio’s approach. Corker visited Cuba and had a more measured approach to sanctions.

One of the major tensions, the people familiar with McCarry’s departure said, stemmed from McCarry’s role in brokering the release of Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen who was held in a Venezuelan prison for nearly two years without trial. Corker, with the help of McCarry, met in person with Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s socialist leader, to make it happen.

McCarry now serves as a counselor to the CEO of the International Development Finance Corporation, a much lower profile job.

Rubio also pushed to ensure Francisco “Paco” Palmieri would not get confirmed for any position in the Trump administration, multiple people familiar said.

Palmieri served as acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, the top State job on the region, for almost two years after being embraced by Tillerson when he took over the department in January 2017.

He soon found himself caught between the secretary of State and Rubio, who clashed at Tillerson’s confirmation hearing. A former State official said Tillerson used Palmieri as a “blocking agent” since Rubio wanted his own pick in that role — Claver-Carone.

Palmieri, given his decades of experience in the Foreign Service, was perceived by Rubio as a “deep stater,” according to aides and former officials. Rubio also faulted Palmieri for not doing enough to tackle the mysterious sonic attacks that made U.S. diplomats ill in Cuba, and shared all those concerns with Pompeo’s staff.

Palmieri was ultimately nominated to serve as ambassador to Honduras, but the nomination was tabled in 2019 by the Trump administration at Rubio’s request, multiple people familiar said. He is now a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University.

And while Palmieri was in the acting role, Rubio could not get the State Department to support Claver-Carone for the permanent job, former officials said. The administration settled on Kimberly Breier, a longtime career official at State, as a compromise choice; she assumed the role in late 2018 with Kushner’s blessing, multiple people familiar with the situation said, and worked directly with Kushner on U.S.-Mexico issues.

But Rubio ultimately prevailed. Breier resigned 10 months into the job, clearing the way for Trujillo’s nomination.

At Trujillo’s confirmation hearing last month, Rubio praised him for working with allies at the OAS to coordinate sanctions against members of the Venezuelan regime.

“I know it took a lot of old-fashioned diplomatic work behind the scenes with our partner nations in the region. And I think, it’s in no small part, due to you,” Rubio said. “I’m excited and very supportive of your nomination.”

Rubio’s office does not deny the Florida senator’s involvement in pushing out officials to make room for his picks. “Senator Rubio believes personnel is policy and he’ll continue to use his role in the Senate to advance U.S. policy,” a spokesperson said.

But critics of his approach say he has far been more successful in bending the U.S government to his way of thinking than in effecting change in Cuba and Venezuela.

One person who seems to have grown skeptical of the strategy is Trump, who recently floated the idea of meeting with Maduro — only to swiftly walk it back after an outcry on the right.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special representative for Venezuela and a Rubio ally, defended the administration’s attempts to oust the regime in Caracas. “We have said from the beginning that we have one thing to discuss with Maduro, and that is the details of his departure,” Abrams said.

As for Cuba, where there are few signs that Trump’s return to pressure has yielded the desired result, Rubio asks for patience.

“I never told anyone that you would do this and within 12 days this all comes falling down,” Rubio said. “But there will come a moment, I can’t tell you when that day is, but it won’t be in 30 years… there will be a moment in which it will become apparent that Cuba needs to change direction.”

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Japan, Britain to protect encryption keys in trade pact: report

Japan and Britain have agreed not to force their companies to disclose algorithms or set up local data servers, as part of talks aimed at a bilateral trade deal, the Nikkei said on Saturday.


A Japan-Britain agreement on advanced digital standards would pave the way for creating an international framework to protect intellectual property and the free flow of data, the business daily reported, without citing sources.

The two nations hope to clinch a deal before Britain’s transition out of the European Union concludes at the year end, to avoid any gaps in bilateral trade arrangements.

Under the bilateral deal, the two governments would not force their companies to hand over encryption keys, which are used to protect proprietary corporate technology and information, the Nikkei said.

The two nations are expected to agree not to force companies to set up servers and other related facilities within their borders and to protect the free flow of data, the report said.

A Japanese government official declined to comment, as the talks are ongoing. A call to the British embassy in Tokyo went unanswered.

Although Britain will be covered by the Japan-EU economic agreement until the end of the year, Tokyo hopes to complete the bilateral trade deal before that, as it would need legal checks by the government before being submitted to parliament, which could meet in coming months, a Japanese negotiator said this month.

In the trade talks, Tokyo wants to secure at least as favorable automobile tariffs as it has in its existing EU trade pact, the negotiator told Reuters.

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China to raise issues surrounding WeChat, TikTok in trade talks with U.S.: Bloomberg

(Reuters) – Trade negotiators from the United States and China will discuss the implementation of the phase one trade deal in the coming days, with China likely to bring up issues surrounding TikTok and WeChat, Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday, citing sources.



Agricultural purchases and the dollar-yuan exchange rate will also be among the topics to be discussed in the virtual meeting that may take place as early as this week, though a date has not been finalized, according to the report

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled bans on U.S. transactions with the China-based owners of messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok.

The report comes a day after White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that the U.S.-China trade deal was in “fine” shape, despite recent tensions between the two countries over Hong Kong, the handling of the coronavirus outbreak, data security and trade tariffs.

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Reps. García, Schakowsky, and 107 Members of Congress Urge Mexican President López Obrador to Drop Charges Against Activist and Protect Labor Rights

Today Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and 107 Members of Congress sent a letter to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urging him to ensure Mexican state governments drop politically motivated charges against labor lawyer Susana Prieto Terrazas.


The letter also urges Mexico to ensure states comply with the labor rights guaranteed by the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”).

The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, implemented on July 1 of this year, requires each of its signatory countries to respect workers’ rights. Last year, Mexico passed labor law reforms that strengthen collective bargaining and independent unions in the country.

Susana Prieto Terrazas, a Mexican labor rights activist, was imprisoned in June by the state government of Tamaulipas after years of organizing along the US-Mexico border. She was released on conditions that prevent her from continuing labor advocacy and require her to move to the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where the government has issued a warrant for her arrest.

“To protect workers’ rights in the United States, we must defend the rights of workers around the world and in Mexico. I’m sending a letter with more than 100 colleagues to call on Mexican President López Obrador to ensure that Mexico respects workers’ rights and ends its political persecution of labor activist Susana Prieto Terrazas,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García. “American legislators cannot stay silent while corporate interests and corrupt politicians undermine the law to extract profits at the expense of working people. When the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement passed Congress, we were told it would protect workers’ rights and labor standards in the US and Mexico. But if state governments in Mexico can willfully violate basic labor rights provided by Mexican law and affirmed by the USMCA, these protections are meaningless.”

“Mexico must live up to its obligations under the USMCA and enforce labor laws completely and uniformly throughout the country,” Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky said. “Anything less than this is unacceptable, will render these labor protections meaningless, and will require action by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the U.S. as well as my counterparts in Mexico to strengthen workers’ protections across North America.”

The rights of workers across North America must be enforced, including in Mexico, said Congressman Joaquin Castro, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has new labor provisions to guarantee worker’s rights to organize for better conditions and higher wages, and must be respected. The United States Congress needs to ensure our trading partners live up to their commitments to expand the rights of workers.”

A PDF of the letter can be found here.

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Surgical gowns cost my hospital 40 cents before the pandemic. Now they’re $9.

Hospitals have had to turn to domestic suppliers for masks and other equipment, putting them in greater financial jeopardy.


More than 16.5 million people around the world have been infected by the coronavirus, and the numbers continue to rise steadily. The pandemic has severely disrupted almost every aspect of the global economy, including the global supply chain. Across the world, factories have shut down or slowed production; countries have restricted exports and imports; and transportation has slowed or halted.

While this turmoil has affected many industries, America’s health care system has been hit especially hard. Over the past two decades, US health care has come to rely heavily on international suppliers, especially in China, for thousands of essential products, from surgical gowns to syringes. In fact, as of 2019, the US was the largest importer of medical goods — including of personal protective products — in the world.

Over the past few months as the pandemic raged, most US hospitals and health systems have responded by turning to domestic suppliers. They are more reliable given the difficulties with transportation and trade, which have become worse since the pandemic began.

This trend is likely to continue, as hospitals and health care systems try to ensure that they have a steady supply of essential products.

But this new domestic strategy has a particular disadvantage: In general, it is much more expensive. And this puts hospitals — and, potentially, their patients — in greater financial jeopardy.

Higher domestic prices are likely due to a combination of the increased costs of manufacturing in the US, as well as the booming demand that has outpaced supply. For example, in December, Johns Hopkins Medicine, where I oversee the supply chain, was paying 40 cents for a gown from our supplier in China. We are now paying $9 per gown from a domestic supplier. That’s more than 20 times the former price — all at a time when we need more gowns than ever. This change has the potential to significantly increase health care costs and will only add to the existing strain on health care providers, health insurers, and consumers.

Right now, increased supply costs may not seem like the most important health care issue we face. And it’s not. The immediate task of saving lives obviously takes precedence over all other concerns.

But to save lives, we need personal protective equipment, we need tubing, we need gowns. And we also need to be able to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of our institutions. Without a reliable, affordable supply of a range of products, we can’t properly care for our patients, both those with Covid-19 and those with other health problems.

How the medical supply crisis got so bad

The current supply problems began in January. With the initial coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan and the realization that it would likely spread globally, hospitals around the world began to stock up on supplies, which decreased their availability. Beyond the overall turmoil brought on by the pandemic, China took additional steps to protect itself that further obstructed the supply chain.

In February, to ensure that the country had adequate domestic supply, the Chinese government took over the production and distribution of medical products. China was not the only country to do this, but because it is a leading global supplier of so many health care products — personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, medical devices, antibiotics, and pharmaceutical ingredients, to name a few — the decision had major consequences. In 2019 alone, China supplied a quarter of the entire globe’s face masks.

According to the Congressional Research Service, which earlier this year published a report on US imports of medical supplies, China exported in 2019 nearly $21 billion in pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and health care products to the US. There are no figures yet for 2020, but health care imports from China will almost certainly drop significantly.

For some products, US reliance on China was particularly high. Last year, the US imported $1.9 billion in PPE from China, about 30 percent of our total PPE imports.

China’s response is understandable; it was dealing with a significant disease outbreak. But in the US, this move kicked off shortages of PPE, as well as some medicines, and other important health care products — shortages from which we haven’t yet recovered.

Can we fix the supply problem before the pandemic ends?

China seems to have its outbreak relatively under control, and it has now somewhat eased limits on exports of medical supplies. This is good news, but the steps so far will not meet the overall increased demand.

The pandemic will continue to wreak havoc with logistics, creating bottlenecks that have slowed the movement of supplies. Pandemic restrictions, in particular physical distancing, slow down almost every part of the process, especially production. And some of our suppliers tell us that they are starting to see shortages in the raw materials they need for production, such as the material typically used to make isolation gowns. So it’s likely that health care providers will continue to rely more on domestic suppliers.

There are some benefits to this turn to US supplies. The route from factory to bedside is more stable, and providers are helping to support US workers and the US economy.

But at the same time, the higher costs are putting pressure on health care; even before the pandemic, most providers were striving to cut budgets. Those pressures will only grow: The pandemic has increased costs at many hospitals (see: the huge increase in the costs of medical gowns), while also reducing revenue due to the enormous number of appointments and elective procedures (which usually generate a substantial amount of a health care systems’ income) that have been canceled and postponed.

So what can we do? I don’t have all the answers, and to be honest, I don’t think anyone does. The first step is to raise awareness of the problem.

On the ground, a potential solution is to return to reusable supplies. Over the past two decades, most hospitals replaced many reusable products with disposables. Johns Hopkins, and I suspect many other systems, will reconsider that choice. And we can do more to conserve supplies, using them carefully and only when necessary.

Federal and state governments can help by ensuring that domestic product manufacturers aren’t unfairly raising prices, as has apparently occurred in some places. They could also provide financial and logistical support to health care providers so they can better manage higher supply costs.

As this situation continues to evolve, the health care system and its partners will need to develop creative solutions to help ensure that hospitals can continue to afford to keep everyone safe.

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