Jamie Oliver’s British Restaurant Chain Collapses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portugal’s Economy Rebounds, Though Problems Persist

The Portuguese economy is resisting the prevailing gloom in Europe.

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

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

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

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

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

Low wages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portugal has 21 seats at the European Parliament.

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US Shoe Industry Protests Possible Tariffs on Chinese Imports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sources: Turkey to Reduce US Import Tariffs This Week

Turkey’s Trade Ministry will implement a reciprocal reduction in tariffs on U.S. imports after the United States halved tariffs on Turkish steel imports last week, two Turkish sources said on Tuesday.

The White House last week terminated Turkey’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GTS) program, in a move Turkey said contradicted trade goals, but also halved some of the tariffs it had raised last August amid a diplomatic row between the NATO allies.

The sources said the reciprocal reduction will halve tariffs on some U.S. imports, including passenger cars, alcoholic drinks, tobacco, cosmetics and PVC. The lowered tariffs will take effect with a presidential decree this week, the sources said.

 

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AP Explains: US Sanctions on Huawei Bite, But Who Gets Hurt?

Trump administration sanctions against Huawei have begun to bite even though their dimensions remain unclear. U.S. companies that supply the Chinese tech powerhouse with computer chips saw their stock prices slump Monday, and Huawei faces decimated smartphone sales with the anticipated loss of Google’s popular software and services. 

The U.S. move escalates trade-war tensions with Beijing, but also risks making China more self-sufficient over time.

Here’s a look at what’s behind the dispute and what it means.

What’s this about?

Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department said it would place Huawei on the so-called Entity List, effectively barring U.S. firms from selling it technology without government approval. 

Google said it would continue to support existing Huawei smartphones but future devices will not have its flagship apps and services, including maps, Gmail and search. Only basic services would be available, making Huawei phones less desirable. Separately, Huawei is the world’s leading provider of networking equipment, but it relies on U.S. components including computer chips. About a third of Huawei’s suppliers are American. 

Why punish Huawei?

The U.S. defense and intelligence communities have long accused Huawei of being an untrustworthy agent of Beijing’s repressive rulers — though without providing evidence. The U.S. government’s sanctions are widely seen as a means of pressuring reluctant allies in Europe to exclude Huawei equipment from their next-generation wireless networks. Washington says it’s a question of national security and punishment of Huawei for skirting sanctions against Iran, but the backdrop is a struggle for economic and technological dominance. 

The politics of President Donald Trump’s escalating tit-for-tat trade war have co-opted a longstanding policy goal of stemming state-backed Chinese cyber theft of trade and military secrets. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that the sanctions on Huawei have nothing to do with the trade war and could be revoked if Huawei’s behavior were to change.

​The sanctions’ bite

Analysts predict consumers will abandon Huawei for other smartphone makers if Huawei can only use a stripped-down version of Android. Huawei, now the No. 2 smartphone supplier, could fall behind Apple to third place. Google could seek exemptions, but would not comment on whether it planned to do so.

Who uses Huawei anyway?

While most consumers in the U.S. don’t even know how to pronounce Huawei (it’s “HWA-way”), its brand is well known in most of the rest of the world, where people have been buying its smartphones in droves.

Huawei stealthily became an industry star by plowing into new markets, developing a lineup of phones that offer affordable options for low-income households and luxury models that are siphoning upper-crust sales from Apple and Samsung in China and Europe. About 13 percent of its phones are now sold in Europe, estimates Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann.

That formula helped Huawei establish itself as the world’s second-largest seller of smartphones during the first three months of this year, according to the research firm IDC. Huawei shipped 59 million smartphones in the January-March period, nearly 23 million more than Apple.

Ripple effects

The U.S. ban could have unwelcome ripple effects in the U.S., given how much technology Huawei buys from U.S. companies, especially from makers of the microprocessors that go into smartphones, computers, internet networking gear and other gadgetry.

The list of chip companies expected to be hit hardest includes Micron Technologies, Qualcomm, Qorvo and Skyworks Solutions, which all have listed Huawei as a major customer in their annual reports. Others likely to suffer are Xilinx, Broadcom and Texas Instruments, according to industry analysts.

Being cut off from Huawei will also compound the pain the chip sector is already experiencing from the Trump administration’s rising China tariffs.

The Commerce Department on Monday announced an expected grace period of 90 days or more, easing the immediate hit on U.S. suppliers. It can extend that stay, and also has the option of issuing exemptions for especially hard-hit companies.

Much could depend on whether countries including France, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands continue to refuse to completely exclude Huawei equipment from their wireless networks.

The grace period allows U.S. providers to alert Huawei to security vulnerabilities and engage the Chinese company in research on standards for next-generation 5G wireless networks.

It also gives operators of U.S. rural broadband networks that use Huawei routers time to switch them out.

​Could this backfire?

Huawei is already the biggest global supplier of networking equipment, and is now likely to move toward making all components domestically. China already has a policy seeking technological independence by 2025.

U.S. tech companies, facing a drop in sales, could respond with layoffs. More than 52,000 technology jobs in the U.S. are directly tied to China exports, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association, a trade group also known as CompTIA.

What about harm to Google?

Google may lose some licensing fees and opportunities to show ads on Huawei phones, but it still will probably be a financial hiccup for Google and its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., which is expected to generate $160 billion in revenue this year. 

The Apple effect

In theory, Huawei’s losses could translate into gains for both Samsung and Apple at a time both of those companies are trying to reverse a sharp decline in smartphone sales.

But Apple also stands to be hurt if China decides to target it in retaliation. Apple is particularly vulnerable because most iPhones are assembled in China. The Chinese government, for example could block crucial shipments to the factories assembling iPhones or take other measures that disrupt the supply chain.

Any retaliatory move from China could come on top of a looming increase on tariffs by the U.S. that would hit the iPhone, forcing Apple to raise prices or reduce profits.

What’s more, the escalating trade war may trigger a backlash among Chinese consumers against U.S. products, including the iPhone. 

“Beijing could stoke nationalist sentiment over the treatment of Huawei, which could result in protests against major U.S.technology brands,” CompTIA warned. 

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