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Report: Asia-Pacific Factories Lead in Using Digital Technology

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She may not be the warmest waitress, but she serves a nice, hot cup of “Joe” at a café on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

Though this robotic barista is still getting help from her human counterpart, she is a signal that Asia is ahead of the curve in embracing new technologies ahead of the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

A recent report from PwC Global, a professional services firm, studied 1,155 manufacturing businesses based on how much they were embracing and incorporating innovations in technology, from drones to 3-D printing.

Across the board, companies in the Asia-Pacific region scored higher than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

In Thailand, for instance, manufacturing companies have widely adopted new technologies to transform their operations.

“Many are using robots to assemble products at their factories to rely less on human labor, reduce costs, and boost overall efficiency,” said Vilaiporn Taweelappontong, consulting lead partner at PwC Thailand.

​ASEAN catches up

The report graded firms based on questions about the kinds of tools they were introducing into their workplaces. For example, manufacturers were asked if they made use of virtual reality; 44 percent in the Asia Pacific said they did compared with 34 percent in the United States and 19 percent in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

The regional group Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reports that small and medium enterprises are using new technology to catch up to bigger rivals.

“Digitization is enabling SMEs across ASEAN to participate in cross-border trade, allowing them to grow and scale their businesses while reducing costs,” said Bidhan Roy, a general manager at Cisco Systems Pte Ltd.

​Benefits of youth

Observers say the Asia-Pacific region benefits from its youth.

The relatively young population means people are amenable to different work environments and business operations, as well as having a keen interest in using new technology.

Another advantage? The region’s economies are also somewhat young, with many just opening up to global trade in the last two decades. In addition its underdeveloped infrastructure has the ability to adapt for future needs, like public transit or drone deliveries.

“Asian companies have the advantage of setting up robust digital operations from essentially a blank slate in terms of factory automation, workforce, and even organizational IT [information technology] networks as a whole,” the PwC report said.

Baby steps

But more is needed to make these companies successful.

Cisco Systems’ Roy noted that small and medium firms “are at varying stages of maturity in terms of digital adoption” and could use collaboration with governments and corporations.

PwC Thailand’s Vilaiporn agreed on the benefit of collaboration.

“Thailand 4.0 will only be successful if both the government and private sectors understand their roles in fostering investment and focusing on research and development, as well as equipping the workforce with necessary skill sets and capabilities,” he said.

The “4.0” refers to the latest industrial revolution, which goes beyond mechanization and automation. It entails business processes becoming more efficient through a comprehensive application of technology, from smart devices to machine learning.

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50 Years After Concorde, US Start-Up Eyes Supersonic Future

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Luxury air travel faster than the speed of sound: A US start-up is aiming to revive commercial supersonic flight 50 years after the ill-fated Concorde first took to the skies.

Blake Scholl, the former Amazon staffer who co-founded Boom Supersonic, delivered the pledge this week in front of a fully-restored Concorde jet at the Brooklands aviation and motor museum in Weybridge, southwest of London.

The company aims to manufacture a prototype 55-seater business jet next year but its plans have been met with scepticism in some quarters.

“The story of Concorde is the story of a journey started but not completed — and we want to pick up on it,” Scholl said at an event that coincided with the nearby Farnborough Airshow.

“Today … the world is more linked than it’s ever been before and the need for improved human connection has never been greater.

“At Boom, we are inspired at what was accomplished half a century ago,” he added, speaking in front of a former British Airways Concorde.

Boom Supersonic’s early backers include Richard Branson and Japan Airlines, and other players are eyeing the same segment.

Speaking to AFP at Farnborough on Wednesday, Scholl indicated that the air tickets could be beyond the reach of some.

“What we’ve been able to do thanks to advances in aerodynamics and materials and engines is offer a high speed flight for the same price you pay in business class today,” he said. 

He said this works out to around $5,000 (4,300 euros) round-trip across the Atlantic.

“Now I know that might sounds like a lot, because it is, but it’s actually the same price you pay for a lay flat bed on airlines today,” he said.

‘Baby Boom’

Boom Supersonic’s aircraft, dubbed Baby Boom, is expected by the company to fly for the first time next year.

The company is making its debut at Farnborough and hopes to produce its new-generation jets in the mid-2020s or later, with the aim of slashing journey times by half.

The proposed aircraft has a maximum flying range of 8,334 kilometres (5,167 miles) at a speed of Mach 2.2 or 2,335 kilometres per hour.

If it takes off, it would be the first supersonic passenger aircraft since Concorde took its final flight in 2003.

The Concorde was retired following an accident in 2000 in which a Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris, killing 113 people.

“The one accident that did happen on Concord actually happened on the runway,” Scholl told AFP on Wednesday.

“It had nothing to do with high-speed flight so there’s no actual barrier to creating a highly safe, efficient supersonic airplane and we have super high standards for safety.

“We’ll be going through the same safety testing process that every other aircraft goes through and the FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration) and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) will not let our airplane fly unless we pass a very high safety bar.”Some analysts meanwhile remain sceptical over the push back into supersonic, with consumer demand booming for cheap low-cost carriers.

“Supersonic is not what passengers or airlines want right now,” said Strategic Aero analyst Saj Ahmad.

Ahmad said supersonic jets were “very unattractive” because of high start-up development costs, considerations about noise pollution and high prices as well as limited capacity.

‘Untried and untested’

Independent air transport consultant John Strickland noted supersonic travel was unproven commercially.

“If there is an economic downturn or something happens where the market for business class traffic drains away, then you have nothing else left to do with that aircraft,” Strickland said.

“I think it’s going to be some time before we see whether it can establish a large viable market … in the way that Concorde never managed to do.”

These concerns have not stopped interest from other players.

US aerospace giant Boeing had last month unveiled its “hypersonic” airliner concept, which it hopes will fly at Mach 5 — or five times the speed of sound — when it arrives on the scene in 20 to 30 years.

And in April, NASA inked a deal for US giant Lockheed Martin to develop a supersonic “X-plane.”

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Elon Musk Apologizes for Comments About Cave Rescue Diver

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Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has apologized for calling a British diver involved in the Thailand cave rescue a pedophile, saying he spoke in anger but was wrong to do so.

There was no immediate public reaction from diver Vern Unsworth to Musk’s latest tweets.

Musk’s initial tweet calling Unsworth a “pedo” was a response to a TV interview Unsworth gave. In it, he said Musk and SpaceX engineers orchestrated a “PR stunt” by sending a small submarine to help divers rescue the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave. Unsworth said the submarine, which wasn’t used, wouldn’t have worked anyway.

“My words were spoken in anger after Mr. Unsworth said several untruths …” Musk tweeted.

“Nonetheless, his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

Musk’s Sunday tweet, later deleted, had sent investors away from Tesla stock, which fell nearly 3 percent Monday but recovered 4.1 percent Tuesday. Unsworth told CNN earlier this week that he was considering legal action. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In his latest tweets, Musk said the mini-sub was “built as an act of kindness & according to specifications from the dive team leader.”

Musk has 22.3 million followers and his active social media presence has sometimes worked well for Tesla. The company has said in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it doesn’t need to advertise because it gets so much free media attention.

But straying away from defending his companies into personal insult brought Musk some unfavorable attention at a time when Tesla, worth more than $52 billion, is deep in debt and struggling for profitability. 

In northern Thailand on Wednesday, the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach answered questions from journalists, their first meeting with the media since their rescues last week. Doctors said all are healthy.

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Trump’s Top Economic Adviser Accuses China’s President of Delaying Trade Deal

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser accused Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday of stalling efforts to resolve a growing trade dispute with the U.S.

White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said he believed lower-level Chinese officials want to end tariffs the world two largest economic powers have imposed on each other, but that Xi has refused to amend China’s technology transfer and other trade policies.

“So far as we know, President Xi, at the moment, does not want to make a deal,” Kudlow said in an interview on CNBC. “I think Xi is holding the game up,” Kudlow said, and added, “The ball is in his court.”

Kudlow said China could end U.S. tariffs “this afternoon” if it took measures that include cutting tariff and non-tariff barriers to imports. The U.S. has also called on Beijing to end the “theft” of intellectual property and allow full foreign ownership of companies operating in China.

Kudlow also said he expects European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to make a trade offer when he meets with Trump at the White House next week.

Trump has demanded that the EU cut its 10 percent tariffs in auto imports at a time when his administration is conducting a national security study that could result in a 25 percent U.S. tariff on imported vehicles.

A 25 percent tariff would have a significant financial impact on European and Japanese automakers, and while Juncker has said he would make an trade offer to Trump next week, he did not offer details.

Earlier this month, Trump imposed 25 percent tariffs on Chinese goods valued at $34 billion, with another $16 billion set to take effect in the near future. Trump has also announced 10 percent tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese products that could be imposed as early as next month.

Beijing retaliated to the first tariffs by placing duties on the same dollar amount of American imports, and has vowed to counter any further U.S. actions.

Trump imposed the tariffs after an Office of the U.S. Trade Representative investigation concluded China was violating intellectual property rules and forcing U.S. companies operating in China to hand over technology secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

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China Looks to Stronger EU Trade Ties Against Threat of US Tariffs

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China bolstered ties with the European Union this week with more large markets in the pipeline to keep its exports healthy as the United States levies import tariffs, analysts say.

 

At the 20th China-EU leaders’ meeting Monday in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country stands ready to promote bilateral economic development. Premier Li Keqiang noted at the summit China had recently cut import tariffs on autos, medicine and consumer goods from the EU.

 

The 28-member European Union, including some of the world’s wealthiest countries, received $437 billion in exports with China last year, which accounted for 20 percent of the bloc’s total shipments from overseas.

 

Officials in Beijing have also pledged to ease trade friction with India this year.

 

“The EU is the second largest trading partner to China,” said Felix Yang, an analyst with the financial advisory firm Kapronasia in Shanghai. “While Trump’s tariffs hit the prospects of the Chinese economy, the EU is becoming a more important market for China.”

 

A reserve in case of trade war

 

China and the United States have headed toward what economists call a “trade war” for much of the year. U.S. President Donald Trump believes China trades unfairly, giving it a $375 billion trade surplus in 2017.

 

This month Trump approved import tariffs of 25 percent on more than 800 Chinese products. The taxes, already in effect, hit Chinese goods worth about $34 billion. Trump has threatened tariffs on goods worth another $450 billion, and China’s commerce ministry said it would make a “necessary counterattack.”

China counts the United States as its No. 1 trading partner, but major markets such as the EU, India and Southeast Asia are high on the list. The summit on Monday with EU leaders should help China solidify EU trade, economists say.

 

“You have to explore opportunities to grow your next largest set of trading partners, and this is where it’s really all about,” said Song Seng Wun, an economist with the private banking unit of CIMB in Singapore. “In case the trade fight with the U.S. were to escalate, it’s good your trading relationship with your remaining partners can improve and hopefully over time pick up some of the slack.”

 

China will need Europe to buy technology that the United States might sell if relations were better, said Liang Kuo-yuan, president of Taipei-based think tank Polaris Research Institute. The threat of a trade war now “slows” China’s acquisition of tech for R&D, he said.

 

“If they can’t develop their own, they would still look for Western technology,” Liang said. “At that point, the EU becomes a major source. If the route to Europe hasn’t been blocked, then the slowdown wouldn’t be so slow.”

 

The European Union will avoid a trade war, European Council President Donald Tusk said after the summit. But the bloc that has its own trade deficit with China advocates new global trade rules and World Trade Organization reforms.

 

Europe, like the United States, worries about China’s protection of technology and other intellectual property rights. In April the EU brought a case to the World Trade Organization against Chinese legislation that it said “undermines the intellectual property rights” of European companies.

The EU wants to “bravely and responsibly reform the rules-based international order,” Tusk was quoted saying on the EU’s website. “This is why I am calling on our Chinese hosts… to jointly start this process from a reform of the WTO.”

 

China voiced support for the WTO reforms at the Monday summit, the European side said in a statement.

 

India and Southeast Asia

 

China’s commerce minister said in April his country would keep working with India to ease trade differences caused by market access issues — resulting in a deficit for India.

Southeast Asia might be next for lighter treatment, Song said. China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations are finishing talks on a 16-nation Regional Cooperation Economic Framework, a trade pact that some see as an antidote to the Trans Pacific Partnership deal that Trump exited in 2017.

 

Eventually other countries may join China in facing the United States as many expect trade problems, said Zhao Xijun, associate dean of the School of Finance at Renmin University of China. A tariff battle with China could spill into other parts of Asia, and Trump has rattled other countries with an “America First” policy that’s often regarded abroad as protectionist.

 

China’s trade ties with Japan, South Korea, India and Southeast Asia will “continuously be promoted,” Zhao said. Those countries link to the same supply chain with its own “rules” that cannot be broken by a single country, he said.

 

“It’s not such a simple matter,” Zhao said. “The supply chain has its own rules. It’s not something the American government can break because it says it wants to break it.”

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Trade Pain: US Small Companies Hit by Import, Export Tariffs

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Time and effort have gone down the drain for Steve Gould, who is scrambling to find new customers for his gin, whiskey and other spirits since the United States has taken a tough stance on trade issues.

Before the European Union retaliated against new U.S. tariffs with taxes of its own, Gould expected revenue from the EU at his Golden Moon Distillery in Colorado to reach $250,000 or $350,000 this year. Now he’s concerned that European exports will total just $25,000. Golden Moon already saw an effect when then-candidate Donald Trump made trade an issue during the 2016 campaign. Gould lost one of his Mexican importers and an investor, as overseas demand for small-distiller spirits was growing.

“We’ve lost years of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars in building relationships with offshore markets,” says Gould, who’s hoping to find new customers in countries like Japan. 

President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade policies are taking a toll on small U.S. manufacturers. The president has imposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports from most of the world, including Europe, Mexico and Canada, driving up costs for companies that rely on those metals. And he has slapped 25 percent taxes on $34 billion in Chinese imports in a separate trade dispute, targeting mostly machinery and industrial components so far. Trump’s tariffs have drawn retaliation from around the world. China is taxing American soybeans, among other things; the European Union has hit Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Kentucky bourbon; Canada has imposed tariffs on a range of products — from U.S. steel to dishwasher detergent.

More businesses could be feeling the pain as the trade disputes escalate — the administration on Tuesday threatened to impose 10 percent tariffs on thousands of Chinese products including fish, apples and burglar alarms. And China responded with a tariff threat of its own, although it didn’t say what U.S. exports would be targeted.

Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to tariffs because they lack the financial resources larger companies have to absorb higher costs. Large companies can move production overseas — as Harley-Davidson recently announced it would do to escape 25 percent retaliatory tariffs in Europe. But “if you’re a small firm, it’s much harder to do that; you don’t have an international network of production locations,” says Lee Branstetter, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

Shifting manufacturing away from items that use components that are being taxed is also harder since small businesses tend to make fewer products, he says. And if tariffs make it too expensive to export to their current markets, small companies may not be able to afford the effort of finding new ones.

Small-business owners have been growing more confident over the past year as the economy has been strong, and they’ve been hiring at a steady if not robust pace. But those hurt by tariffs are can lose their optimism and appetite for growth within a few months.

“They have narrow profit margins and it’s a tax,” says Kent Jones, an economics professor at Babson College. “That lowers their profit margins and increases the possibility of layoffs and even bankruptcies.”

Yacht company

Bertram Yachts is one company finding it trickier to maneuver. The U.S. has put a 25 percent tariff on hundreds of boat parts imported from China, where most marine components are made. And European countries have imposed a 25 percent tariff on U.S.-made boats. Last year, Bertram exported about a third of its boats, with half going to Europe.

“We have been squeezed on both sides,” says Peter Truslow, CEO of the Tampa, Florida-based boat maker.

Truslow doesn’t know how the tariffs will affect the company’s sales and profits, but dealers he’s spoken to in Europe have already gotten cancellations on boats that run into the millions of dollars. Bertram plans to try to build up its strong U.S. business and seek more customers in countries that aren’t involved in trade disputes with the U.S., including Japan and Australia.

Still, the company’s growth and job creation stand to slow. “It’s probably going to be more about a reduction in hiring than it is about layoffs,” Truslow says.

The ripples are being felt across the industry, says Tom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association trade group. He estimates there are about 1,000 manufacturers, almost all small or mid-size businesses, and says some parts can only be bought from China.

Metal fabrication

Matt Barton’s metal fabrication company, which makes custom replacement parts for farm equipment, outdoor signs and people who race hot rods, is paying its suppliers up to 20 percent more for metals than it did a year ago.

Prices had soared as much as 40 percent months ago amid expectations of U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel. They have since steadied, but are expected to remain high for three to six months. Barton’s Pittsboro, Indiana-based company, The Hero Lab, is absorbing part of the increases. Some racing customers are still delaying orders.

“What they budgeted to cost $1,000 now is now $1,200 or $1,500,” Barton says. “They’re pushing their orders back four to six weeks, waiting for a few more paychecks to come in.”

Cheese maker

Jeff Schwager’s cheese company, Sartori, is selling products to Mexico at break-even prices because of that nation’s retaliatory 25 percent tariff. Twelve percent of the Plymouth, Wisconsin-based company’s revenue comes from exports, which is the fastest-growing segment of the business.

Sartori and its Mexican importer are each absorbing half the costs of the tariff. Schwager, the CEO, doesn’t see leaving the Mexican market as an option.

“If you lose space on the grocery store shelf, or you’re taken out of recipes in restaurants, that takes years to get back,” he says. He hopes the trade dispute can be resolved and tariffs rolled back.

Flatware maker

But some small manufacturers believe they can benefit from a trade dispute. Greg Owens, president of flatware maker Sherrill Manufacturing, says if his competitors in China are hit by U.S. tariffs, he could see revenue increase.

“They would have to raise the retail price, which would allow us to raise our prices,” says Owens, whose company is located in Sherrill, New York. In turn, Owens says, that would allow “long overdue” raises for workers and upgrades to capital equipment.

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Solar Power Seen as Tool Against Extremism in Sahel

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Grinding poverty and climate change are pushing communities in West

Africa’s Sahel region into the arms of extremist groups like Boko Haram, but providing people with clean energy could help slow that trend, said a top international official.

Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, set up by the United Nations, learned on a trip to Niger this month how women and girls are being recruited by Islamist militants who offer them work, food and other essentials.

Kyte, who serves as the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative on energy access, said Boko Haram “is moving into the provision of basic social services.”

At the same time, in impoverished Niger, recurring and more intense drought “is absolutely punishing,” she said. 

The Islamist group is based in northeast Nigeria but active in other West African states.

Kyte said villagers need better ways to grow crops to feed their families and boost incomes to make them less susceptible to the extremists targeting them.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, who visited Niger with Kyte, last week spelled out the links between climate change stresses and regional insecurity in remarks to the U.N. Security Council.

In rural Niger, where only about 1 percent of people have access to electric power, supplying cheap and green energy — mainly from the sun — could make a difference, Kyte said.

Irrigation, cold storage

For example, solar pumps could drive simple, efficient irrigation systems, and installing small-scale local grids could power cold storage, enabling villagers to process their crops and earn more money, she noted.

“It just became very, very clear that without energy, there’s no way to improve incomes — without energy, it’s going to be difficult to bring productivity into the rural economy,” Kyte said in an interview from New York after the visit,

organized by the United Nations and the African Union.

In addition, equipping hospitals and clinics with solar systems in both cities and rural areas could reduce patient infections and increase the number of operations for common problems like fistula by supplying reliable power, Kyte said.

Solar energy could be a way to “beat back and build the resilience of a community to climate change, but also beat back violent extremism,” while “lifting up women and girls whose situation there is just dire,” she added.

Kyte urged government donors and international development banks to think about how access to clean, modern energy enables people to get sufficient food and medical treatment, and earn a decent living.

In a place like Niger, having electricity can be a decisive factor in whether people leave their homes and head north to Europe seeking a better life, she added.

It can also reduce the financial need for poor families to marry their daughters off early.

“This is about using aid money and development finance … to start building a different value proposition for these people that is something that will allow them to stay where they come from, and would allow girls to be part of that economic future,” she said.

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Universal Music Group to Open Nigeria Division

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Vivendi’s Universal Music Group (UMG) will launch a new division in Nigeria as part of efforts by the world’s largest music label to expand into Africa’s most populous nation and the wider region.

The music entertainment group said on Tuesday its new strategic division, Universal Music Nigeria, will operate from Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos.

Nigerian music, much like its Nollywood film industry, is popular across much of Africa. Nigerian music artists have popularized the Afrobeat musical genre and gone on to sign record deals, sell out concerts and work with international artists to increase the global reach of African music.

Music revenue in Nigeria – mostly derived from sales of mobile phone ringtones – grew 9 percent in 2016, year-on-year, to reach $39 million and is expected to rise to $73 million by 2021, auditing firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) said last year.

Sipho Dlamini, Managing Director of Universal Music South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa said that the Nigeria division will focus on developing artists and musicians from West Africa countries, particularly Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia.

“Our Nigeria team will support, nurture, and help develop artists, while creating opportunities for new talent from the region to reach the widest possible audience,” said Dlamini.

UMG said the new division will work alongside the label’s existing operations in Ivory Coast and Morocco.

Universal Music Nigeria also plans to open a recording studio in Lagos, which would be the label’s second fully purposed studio in Africa alongside another in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nigeria’s music industry faces an array of challenges ranging from the lack of proper legal structures, to piracy and difficulties in distributing and monetizing content.

The country’s arts, entertainment and recreation sector contributed 0.29 percent to real GDP in the first quarter of this year, the statistics office said.

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Venezuela Pleads Guilty in US to Role in PDVSA Bribe Scheme

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A former official at a Venezuelan state-run electric company pleaded guilty on Monday to U.S. charges that he participated in a scheme to solicit bribes in exchange for helping vendors win favorable treatment from state oil company PDVSA.

Luis Carlos De Leon Perez, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and to conspiring to commit money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department said.

He became the 12th person to plead guilty as part of a larger investigation by the Justice Department into bribery at Petroleos de Venezuela SA that became public with the arrest of two Venezuelan businessmen in December 2015.

The two men were Roberto Rincon, who was president of Tradequip Services & Marine, and Abraham Jose Shiera Bastidas, the manager of Vertix Instrumentos. Both pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiring to pay bribes to secure energy contracts.

De Leon is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 24. His lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

De Leon was arrested in October 2017 in Spain and was extradited to the United States after being indicted along with four other former Venezuelan officials on charges they solicited bribes to help vendors win favorable treatment from

PDVSA.

An indictment said that from 2011 to 2013 the five Venezuelans sought bribes and kickbacks from vendors to help them secure PDVSA contracts and gain priority over other vendors for outstanding invoices during its liquidity crisis.

Prosecutors said De Leon was among a group of PDVSA officials and people outside the company with influence at it who solicited bribes from Rincon and Shiera. De Leon worked with those men to then launder the bribe money, prosecutors said.

De Leon also sought bribes from the owners of other energy companies and directed some of that money to PDVSA officials in order help those businesses out, prosecutors said.

Among the people indicted with De Leon was Cesar David Rincon Godoy, a former general manager at PDVSA’s procurement unit Bariven. He pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Others charged included Nervis Villalobos, a former Venezuelan vice minister of energy; Rafael Reiter, who worked as PDVSA’s head of security and loss prevention; and Alejandro Isturiz Chiesa, who was an assistant to Bariven’s president.

Villalobos and Reiter were, like De Leon, arrested in Spain, where they remain pending extradition, the Justice Department said. Isturiz remains at large.

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US Launches Five WTO Challenges to Retaliatory Tariffs

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The United States launched five separate World Trade Organization dispute actions on Monday challenging retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey following U.S. duties on steel and aluminum.

The retaliatory tariffs on up to a combined $28.5 billion worth of U.S. exports are illegal under WTO rules, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.

“These tariffs appear to breach each WTO member’s commitments under the WTO Agreement,” he said. “The United States will take all necessary actions to protect our interests, and we urge our trading partners to work constructively with us on the problems created by massive and persistent excess capacity in the steel and aluminum sectors.”

Lighthizer’s office has maintained that the tariffs the United States has imposed on imports of steel and aluminum are acceptable under WTO rules because they were imposed on the grounds of a national security exception.

Mexico said it would defend its retaliatory measures, saying the imposition of U.S. tariffs was “unjustified.”

“The purchases the United States makes of steel and aluminum from Mexico do not represent a threat to the national security,” Mexico’s Economy Ministry said in a statement.

“On the contrary, the solid trade relationship between Mexico and the U.S. has created an integrated regional market where steel and aluminum products contribute to the competitiveness of the region in various strategic sectors, such as automotive, aerospace, electrical and electronic,” the ministry added.

Lighthizer said last month that retaliation had no legal basis because the EU and other trading partners were making false assertions that the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs are illegal “safeguard” actions intended to protect U.S. producers.

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Activists: Thousands of Congolese Threatened by National Park Oil Plans

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Democratic Republic of Congo’s plan to drill for oil in national parks could leave thousands of farmers and fishermen who rely on the land in a struggle to survive, rights groups said Monday.

The central African country announced last month that it was taking steps toward declassifying parts of Virunga and Salonga national parks, both recognized as world heritage sites by the United Nations, to allow for oil exploration.

The parks, which together cover an area about the size of Switzerland, are among the world’s largest tropical rainforest reserves and home to rare species including forest elephants.

Allowing drilling in the parks would cause a loss of biodiversity, release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and pollute water that thousands of local people use for fishing and farming, according to several rights groups.

Congolese state spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters that the government will study the potential impact of oil drilling on local communities before they proceed.

The government has previously defended its right to authorize drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of environmental considerations, such as protecting animals and plants, in the two national parks.

“There are lake-shore communities, especially in Virunga, that are very dependent on fishing and on the park’s integrity,” said Pete Jones of environmental advocacy group Global Witness.

“That really needs to be taken into account and doesn’t seem to be part of the debate that’s happening, which is a shame,” he told Reuters.

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also said it is concerned about the impact of oil drilling on at least 50,000 people who benefit from the fishing industry in Virunga, and tens of thousands more who farm on the outskirts of the parks.

“The risks of pollution are clear and present. The fishing industry would suffer considerably if it gets to that point,” said Juan Seve, WWF country director in Congo.

The oil industry would be unlikely to create local jobs since specialists would be brought in from abroad, he added.

The U.N.’s cultural agency UNESCO has previously said that oil exploration should not be conducted at world heritage sites.

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China’s Economic Growth Cools Amid Trade Tensions

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China’s economic growth slowed in the quarter ending in June, adding to challenges for Beijing amid a mounting tariff battle with Washington.

The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 6.7 percent, down from the previous quarter’s 6.8 percent, the government reported Monday.

Even before the dispute with Washington erupted, forecasters expected growth to cool after Beijing started tightening controls on bank lending last year to rein in surging debt.

Economic activity is expected to decline further as global demand for Chinese exports weakens and lending controls weigh on construction and investment, major contributors to growth.

Beijing has responded to previous downturns by flooding the state-dominated economy with credit. But that has swelled debt so high that global rating agencies have cut China’s government credit rating.

Chinese leaders are in the midst of a marathon effort to encourage self-sustaining growth driven by domestic consumption and reduce reliance on exports and investment. 

Consumer spending is rising more slowly than planned, leaving economic growth dependent on debt-supported investment.

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Trump’s Advice to Britain’s May: ‘Sue the EU’

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U.S. President Donald Trump advised British Prime Minister Theresa May to sue the European Union instead of negotiating with the bloc, as part of her Brexit strategy.

 

“He told me I should sue the EU,” May told BBC television. “Sue the EU. Not go into negotiations — sue them.”

Her revelation about how Trump advised her ended several days of speculation about what advice the U.S. leader had offered the prime minister.

Trump said last week in an interview with The Sun newspaper that he had given May advice, but she did not follow it. The president told the newspaper ahead of his meeting with May that she “didn’t listen” to him.

“I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me. She wanted to go a different route,” Trump said.

Trump did not reveal what advice he offered May in a press conference with her Friday. Instead, he said, “I think she found it too brutal.”

He added, “I could fully understand why she thought it was tough. And maybe someday she’ll do that. If they don’t make the right deal, she may do what I suggested, but it’s not an easy thing.”

May also told the BBC that the president had advised her not to walk away from the negotiations “because then you’re stuck.”

For the past few months, British politics have been obscured by squabbling, irritability and bravado about how, when and on what terms Britain will exit the European Union, and what the country’s relationship will be with its largest trading partner after Brexit.

Britons narrowly voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016.