Trump to Sign Executive Orders Targeting Trade Abuses

President Donald Trump talked tough on trade on the campaign trail, vowing to renegotiate a slew of major deals and to label China a currency manipulator on “Day One.”

Now his administration appears to be taking a more cautious approach.

 

On Friday, the president will sign a pair of executive orders aimed at cracking down on trade abuses, according to top administration officials. The first calls for the completion of a large-scale report to identify “every form of trade abuse and every non-reciprocal practice that now contributes to the U.S. trade deficit,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

 

Officials will have 90 days to produce a country-by-country, product-by-product report that will serve as the basis of future decision-making by the administration on trade-related issues, Ross told reporters at a Thursday night briefing.

 

“It will demonstrate the administration’s intention not to hip-shoot, not to do anything casual, not to do anything abruptly, but to take a very measured and analytical approach, both to analyzing the problem and therefore to developing the solutions for it,” he said.

 

While Trump has long argued that trade deficits imperil U.S. workers, Ross cautioned that they aren’t necessarily all bad. In some cases, for instance, the U.S. simply can’t produce enough of a product to meet domestic demand. In others, foreign countries may make products substantially cheaper or better than in the U.S. Deficits in trade can also mean that foreign countries and entities are investing in U.S. assets.

 

Still, Ross argued, the U.S. has the lowest tariff rates of any developed country. The report, he said, will examine whether deficits are being driven by things like cheating, specific trade obligations, lax enforcement and World Trade Organization rules.

 

Ross said the report would not focus extensively on currency manipulation, which is under the purview of the U.S. Treasury Department, despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

 

The second order will focus on stepping up the collection of anti-dumping and countervailing duties, which are levied against foreign governments that subsidize products so they can be sold below cost.

 

Peter Navarro, director of the White House National Trade Council, said the U.S. is leaving billions of dollars on the table as a result of lax enforcement of commitments in trade pacts. The order will establish more effective bonding requirements, among other measures.

 

The orders come a week before the president is scheduled to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for talks at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

 

Trump tweeted Thursday evening that his first meeting with the Chinese leader would “be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits … and job losses.”

 

“American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives,” he wrote. The U.S. deficit with China was $347 billion last year.

 

But Navarro insisted the orders had nothing to do with the visit or sending a message to China.

 

“Nothing we’re saying tonight is about China. Let’s not make this a China story. This is a story about trade abuses, this is a story about an under-collection of duties,” he said, later adding: “We’re not here for tweets.”

 

The U.S. trade deficit totaled $502.3 billion last year, a slight increase from 2015, according to the Commerce Department. The trade gap rose to its highest level since 2012 last year, though the imbalance remains below its 2006 high, shortly before the Great Recession struck.

 

Trump has portrayed trade deficits as strangling economic growth and devastating factory jobs at home. Research last year by academic economists, including David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that China’s emergence hurt some communities and they have yet to fully recover.

 

But foreign trade has also helped reduce prices for clothing, cars and furniture, among other items. This has created savings for U.S. consumers.

 

While economists concede the benefits of trade can be uneven, they argue the job losses that Trump blames on trade pacts can largely be attributed to automation. A study released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that robots account for up to 670,000 lost factory jobs between 1990 and 2007.

 

Both exports abroad and imports into the United States fell in 2016, but exports declined by a greater sum in part due to a stronger dollar making American-made goods and services more expensive overseas.

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California Desert Super Bloom Attracts Tens of Thousands

Rain-fed wildflowers have been sprouting from California’s desert sands after lying dormant for years — producing a spectacular display that has drawn record crowds and traffic jams to tiny towns like Borrego Springs.

 

An estimated 150,000 people in the past month have converged on this town of about 3,500, roughly 85 miles (135 kilometers) northeast of San Diego, for the so-called super bloom. 

 

Wildflowers are springing up in different landscapes across the state and the western United States thanks to a wet winter. In the Antelope Valley, an arid plateau northeast of Los Angeles, blazing orange poppies are lighting up the ground. 

What is a super bloom?

 

But a “super bloom” is a term for when a mass amount of desert plants bloom at one time. In California, that happens about once in a decade in a given area. It has been occurring less frequently with the drought. Last year, the right amount of rainfall and warm temperatures produced carpets of flowers in Death Valley. 

 

So far this year, the natural show has been concentrated in the 640,000-acre (1,000-square-mile) Anza Borrego State Park that abuts Borrego Springs. 

 

It is expected to roll along through May, with different species blooming at different elevations and in different areas of the park. Anza Borrego is California’s largest state park with hundreds of species of plants, including desert lilies, blazing stars and the flaming tall, spiny Ocotillo.

 

‘Flowergeddon’

Deputies were brought in to handle the traffic jams as Borrego Springs saw its population triple in a single day. 

 

On one particularly packed weekend in mid-March, motorists were stuck in traffic for five hours, restaurants ran out of food, and some visitors relieved themselves in the fields. Officials have since set up an army of Port-A-Pottys, and eateries have stocked up. The craze has been dubbed “Flowergeddon.” 

 

Locals call those who view the tiny wildflowers from their cars “flower peepers.” Thousands of others have left their vehicles to traipse across the desert and analyze the array of delicate yellow, orange, purple and magenta blooms up close in the park. Many carting cameras have taken care to step around the plants.

 

Tour groups from as far as Japan and Hong Kong have flown in to catch the display before it fades away with the rising temperatures. 

Rare sightings tracked

 

Wildflower enthusiasts worldwide track the blooms online and arrive for rare sightings like this year’s Bigelow’s Monkey flower, some of which have grown to 8 inches (203 millimeters) in height. The National Park Service has even pitched in with a 24-hour wildflower hotline to find the best spots at the state park.

 

“We’ve seen everything from people in normal hiking attire to people in designer flip-flops to women in sundresses and strappy heels hike out there to get their picture. When I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh no. Please don’t go out there with those shoes on,’” laughed Linda Haddock, head of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce.

 

On a recent day, a young woman sat among knee-high desert sunflowers and shot selfies against the backdrop of yellow blooms that looked almost neon in contrast to the brown landscape. A mother jumped in the air as her daughter snapped her photo among yellow brittlebushes. 

Blooms draw insects, birds 

The blooms are attracting hungry sphinx moth caterpillars that munch through acres. The caterpillars in turn are attracting droves of Swainson hawks on their annual 6,000-mile (9,656-kilometer) migration from Argentina.

 

“It’s an amazing burst in the cycle of life in the desert that has come because of a freakish event like a super bloom,” Haddock said. “It’s exciting. This is going to be so huge for our economy.”

 

Desert super blooms always draw crowds, but lifetime residents said they’ve never seen the natural wonder attract tens of thousands like this time. The park is about a two-hour drive from San Diego and three hours from Los Angeles. 

A lot of rain, a lot of blooms

 

This year’s display has been especially stunning, experts say. The region received 6½ inches (165 millimeters) of rain from December to February, followed by almost two weeks of 90-degree temperatures, setting the conditions for the super bloom. Five years of drought made the seeds ready to pop. 

 

Humans also helped. Park staff, volunteers and female prisoners have been removing the Saharan Mustard plant, an invasive species believed brought to California in the 1920s with another plant, the date palm. Saharan Mustard stole the thunder of another super bloom six years ago, said Jim Dice, research manager at the Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center.

 

“It completely took over the usual wildflower fields and starved out the wildflowers so what we had were giant fields of ugly mustard plant,” Dice said. “That galvanized the community, which depends on tourism largely brought in during the good wildflower years.”

 

Lia Wathen, a 35-year-old investigator in San Diego, took a Monday off from work so she wouldn’t miss the desert flowers.

 

“Any single color that you can think of, you’re going to find it right here,” said Wathen, walking with her Maltese dogs, Romeo and Roxy, before stopping to examine a magenta bloom on a spikey Cholla cactus.

 

Sandra Reel and her husband drove hundreds of miles out of their way when they heard about the super bloom. 

 

“It is absolutely phenomenal to see this many blooming desert plants all at the same time,” she said. “I think it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” 

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Уряд проаналізує запровадження абонплати за газ – Гройсман

Уряд планує проаналізувати процес розщеплення плати за газ та змоделює формулу, за якою формуються платіжки. Про це прем’єр-міністр України Володимир Гройсман заявив 31 березня на зустрічі з представниками регіональних засобів інформації.

«Згідно з ухваленим законом про ринок газу та згідно з Кодексом транспортних мереж, нам з 1 квітня треба розмежувати ціну газу та вартість його транспортування і постачання. І це, власне, призвело до зменшення ціни газу на 800 гривень. Фактично відбулося розщеплення. Наразі я хочу подивитися на структуру платежу», – сказав Володимир Гройсман.

За його словами, розщеплення платежу жодним чином не позначиться на отримувачах субсидій.

Національна комісія, що здійснює державне регулювання у сферах енергетики та комунальних послуг, наприкінці березня затвердила щомісячну абонплату за газ, яка стягуватиметься з 1 квітня.

Відтепер українці щомісяця платитимуть певну суму, яка не залежатиме від споживання газу. Абонплата вираховуватиметься залежно від приєднаної потужності (газового лічильника) кожного споживача.

Відповідно до рішення НКРЕКП кожен споживач платитиме за газ як за товар (4942 гривні за тисячу кубометрів плюс гранична торгівельна націнка газопостачальної компанії, яка становить 3,2%), окремо нараховується плата за користування приєднаними потужностями. Витрати «Укртрансгазу» на транспортування газу складатимуть 23% тарифу.

У НКРЕКП стверджують, що «методологія, за якою визначено тарифи, розроблена з урахуванням досвіду країн ЄС та погоджена з усіма зацікавленими органами виконавчої влади».

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Cargo Vessels Evade Detection, Raising Fears of Huge Trafficking Operations

Hundreds of ships are switching off their tracking devices and taking unexplained routes, raising concern the trafficking of arms, migrants and drugs is going undetected.

Ninety percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea. Every vessel has an identification number administered by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization or IMO. But crews are able to change the digital identity of their ship, making it possible to conceal previous journeys.

The Israeli firm Windward has developed software to track the changes. Its CEO, Ami Daniel, showed VOA several examples of suspicious shipping activity, including one vessel that changed its entire identity in the middle of a voyage from a Chinese port to North Korea.

“It’s intentionally changing all of identification numbers. Also its name, and its size, and its flag and its owner. Everything that’s recognizable in its digital footprint. This is obviously someone who is trying to circumvent sanctions [on North Korea],” says Daniel.

Transfers at sea

In a joint investigation with the Times of London newspaper, Windward showed that in January and February more than 1,000 cargo transfers took place at sea. Security experts fear traffickers are transporting drugs, weapons, and even people.

Suspicious activity can be highlighted by comparing a vessel’s journey with all its previous voyages. In mid-January a Cyprus-flagged ship designed to carry fish deviated from its usual route between West Africa and northern Europe to visit Ukraine, deactivating its tracking system on several occasions.

“It’s leaving Ukraine, transiting all through the Bosphorus Straits into Europe, then drifting off Malta,” explains Daniel, as the Windward system plots the route of the reefer [refrigerated] vessel on the screen. “On the way it turns off transmission a few times … then it comes into this place east of Gibraltar. This area is known for ship-to-ship transfers and smuggling, because of the proximity to North Africa.”

Under global regulations all vessels must report their last port of call when arriving in a new port.

“But as you can understand, when it does ship-to-ship transfers here, it doesn’t actually call into any port, right, because it’s the middle of the ocean. So it’s finding a way to bypass what it already has to report to the authorities,” Daniel said.

Finally the vessel sails to a remote Scottish island called Islay, but again it anchors around 400 meters off a tiny deserted bay. The specific purpose of this voyage hasn’t yet been identified.

Lack of political will

Daniel shows another example of a vessel leaving the Libyan port of Tobruk before drifting just off the Greek island of Crete, raising suspicions that it is involved in people smuggling.

But he says using information like this to investigate suspicious shipping activities requires political will as well as technological advances.

“Regulation, coordination, legislation. And then proof in the court of law. And not all of this necessarily exists. The high seas, which means 200 nautical miles onwards by definition, are not regulated right now. The U.N. is still working on it.”

Meanwhile the scale of smuggling around the United States’ coastline was underlined this month, as the Coast Guard intercepted 660 kilos of cocaine off the coast of Florida, with a street value of an estimated $420 million.

 

 

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White House Defends Plan to Eliminate Obama-era Internet Privacy Rules

The White House on Thursday defended a bill recently passed by Congress to repeal Obama-era internet privacy protections, saying the move was meant to create a fair playing field for telecommunication companies.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer, during a Thursday news briefing, reiterated President Donald Trump’s support for the plan to repeal a rule forbidding internet service providers from collecting personal data on users.

Spicer said the Obama administration’s rules reclassified internet service providers as common carriers, similar to hotels and other retail stores, treating them unfairly compared with edge providers, like Google and Facebook.

Repealing the rules, he said, will “allow service providers to be treated fairly and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be reviewed on a level playing field.”

Critics of the repeal bill say it could put the internet browsing histories of private citizens up for sale to the highest bidder.

“Apparently [House Republicans] see no problem with cable and phone companies snooping on your private medical and financial information, your religious activities or your sex life,” said Craig Aaron, president and CEO of net neutrality group Free Press Action Fund. “They voted to take away the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of Americans just so a few giant companies could pad their already considerable profits.”

Win for telecoms

Repealing the rules, which were instituted just prior to last year’s presidential election by the Federal Communications Commission but hadn’t yet taken effect, could be seen as a win for major telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T, which can use the consumer data to target digital ads more effectively.

The companies have said the privacy rules put them at a disadvantage compared with websites like Facebook and Google, which aren’t normally regulated by the FCC and weren’t affected by the rules.

Spicer called the rules “federal overreach” instituted by “bureaucrats in Washington to take the interests of one group of companies over the interests of others, picking winners and losers.”

“[Trump] will continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth,” Spicer said.

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Long Now Foundation Thinks 10,000 Years Ahead

In a cave in a mountain in western Texas, the Long Now Foundation is building a clock – a big clock, 150 meters tall. The clock will tick only once each year, go bong once a century, and once a millennium, it will send out a cuckoo. Its creators plan for it to last at least 10,000 years.

But they’re not doing it just to build a better clock.

“The goal of the Long Now Foundation,” explains its Executive Director Alexander Rose, “is fundamentally to foster long term responsibility and to think about the future in much deeper terms.”

He calls the enormous, slow-ticking timepiece an icon of long-term thinking, one of many projects Long Now has launched on that scale.

“There’s certain problems such as climate change, or education or things like that that can only be solved if you’re thinking on a multi-generational or even longer time frame,” he said.

 

Ferrets and mammoths

One of those long-term projects is an effort to save the black-footed ferret. This endangered, New World weasel is vulnerable to the old-world disease known as plague.

The Long Now’s Revive and Restore project is exploring how to genetically modify the ferret’s DNA to resist plague.

Rose says that Revive and Restore is also looking for ways to bring back the woolly mammoth. 

“We’re sitting on the cusp of one of the very first times in human history where we can do that. That project has been pulling together different scientists as well as ecologists to figure out not only what species we could do but what we should do to help the environment.”

Disappearing languages are another Long Now priority. This century, thousands of rare human languages may disappear. The Long Now is partnering with linguists and native speakers to preserve these languages on line. The foundation also has created language “decoder rings.” Each of these palm-sized disks, made from long-lasting nickel, holds miniaturized language pages for over 1,000 languages.

University of Colorado archives director Heather Ryan has assisted what’s called the Rosetta Project. She says the Rosetta Disks are a great thought experiment for long-term thinking. And if we ever lose our on-line experts, she says, they may also be practical.

“Looking 10,000 years into the future, somebody could come across and . . . pick up the fact that there’s information etched on here. We can then find clues to all the languages of human civilization over time,” Ryan said.

In the here and now

To foster long-term responsibility, the Long Now Foundation sponsors talks and podcasts with visionaries, such as Dr. Larry Brilliant. The physician and epidemiologist is a former hippie and current philanthropist, who helped the World Health Organization eradicate smallpox.

Audience members say hearing these long-term thinkers gets them thinking about their future. One teenage boy announces, “Eventually, I want to make a difference in the world.” A man in the crowd observes, “We have to have a long-term view in order to have a long term life.”

 

As for pessimists who wonder, what’s the point of thinking 10,000 years ahead, when the world might not survive another 10 months, another member of the audience answers with a laugh, “Makes you wonder, but you’ve always got to keep your eye on the future or else you’ll be stuck. And you can’t get anything done if you’re stuck.”

By helping people care, dream and do, the Long Now Foundation plans to make the world a better place for a long time to come.

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