Canada Wants to See Flexibility in NAFTA Talks With US

Canada said on Wednesday that it would need to see movement from the United States if the two sides are to reach a deal on renewing NAFTA, which Washington insists must be finished by the end of the month.

Although the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and its allies are increasing pressure on Canada to make the concessions they say are needed for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear he also wanted to see flexibility.

“We’re interested in what could be a good deal for Canada but we’re going to need to see a certain amount of movement in order to get there and that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

Shortly afterwards, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for their fourth set of talks in four weeks with the two sides still disagreeing on major issues.

Trump has already wrapped up a side deal with Mexico and is threatening to exclude Canada if necessary. Canadian officials say they do not believe the U.S. Congress would agree to turn NAFTA into a bilateral treaty.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said it would be extremely complicated, if not impossible, for the administration to pull off a Mexico-only agreement.

“If Canada doesn’t come into the deal there is no deal,” Donohue told a media breakfast in Washington.

Donohue said he believed that if the administration wanted to end the current NAFTA, such a move would be subject to a vote in Congress, which would be difficult to get.

The Chamber, the most influential U.S. business lobby, wants NAFTA to be renegotiated as a tri-lateral agreement, citing how highly integrated the three member nations’ economies have become since the pact came into force in 1994.

Negotiators are arguing over cultural protections, dispute resolution, and a U.S. demand for more access to Canada’s protected dairy market. Sources say Ottawa has made clear it is prepared to make concessions, which would anger the influential dairy lobby.

“For American farmers the Canadian market is a drop in the bucket. For us it’s our livelihood,” Dairy Farmers of Canada vice president David Wiens told reporters in Ottawa. Concessions in past trade deals had already hurt Canadian farmers, he said.

“The dairy sector cannot be negatively impacted again by a new trade agreement,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

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Kenya’s Finance Minister Cuts Spending, Money Transfer Taxes to Rise

Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich has cut the government’s spending budget by 55.1 billion shillings ($546.90 million), or 1.8 percent, for the fiscal year from July this year, a Treasury document showed on Wednesday.

The government is facing a tough balancing act after a public outcry over a new 16 percent value added tax on all petroleum products forced President Uhuru Kenyatta to suggest to parliament to keep the VAT and cut if by half.

In the document detailing the new spending estimates, Rotich said the budget had to be adjusted because of the amendments to tax measures brought by lawmakers when they first debated it and passed it last month.

The proposed halving of the VAT rate on fuel has left the government with a funding shortfall, hence the cuts in spending.

Parliament will vote on a raft of proposals, including the 1.8 percent cut on spending, in a special sitting on Thursday.

Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by 6 percent this year, recovering from a drought, slowdown in lending and election-related worries that cut growth in 2017, but investors and the IMF have expressed concerns over growing public debt.

While the next election is still four years away, the government’s economic policies are chafing with citizens angered by increasing costs of living. Fuel dealers protested when the VAT on fuel kicked in this month and citizen groups have gone to court to try to block new or higher taxes.

Separate documents sent by Kenyatta to parliament ahead of Thursday’s sitting underscored the debate in government over how to boost revenues without hurting the poor.

His government has to reduce a gaping fiscal deficit while boosting spending on priority areas such as healthcare and affordable housing.

In order to balance the government’s books after the reduction of the fuel tax, he is trying to reinstate several tax measures struck out by parliament, including a 2 percentage hike on excise duty for mobile phone money transfers to 12 percent.

Kenya’s biggest mobile phone operator Safaricom said in June it was opposed to any tax rise on mobile phone-based transfers, arguing that it would mainly hurt the poor, most of whom do not have bank accounts and rely on services such as its M-Pesa platform.

The president also asked parliament to double the excise duty on the fees charged by banks, money transfer services, and other financial institutions to 20 percent.

Parliament in August threw out an earlier version of proposed fees on bank transfers, a so-called “Robin Hood” tax of 0.05 percent on transfers of more than 500,000 shillings.

The president has not yet signed the budget due to the dispute over the planned tax hikes. Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and its allies have a comfortable majority in parliament.

The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry this month said the government should widen the tax base. It also urged the state to cut expenditure, reduce wastage of public funds and deal with corruption, which some studies have found lose the government about a third of its annual budget.

 

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Amazon’s Use of Merchant Data Under EU Microscope

EU regulators are quizzing merchants and others on U.S. online retailer Amazon’s use of their data to discover whether there is a need for action, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday.

The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager came as the world’s largest online retailer faces calls for more regulatory intervention and even its potential break-up because of its sheer size.

Vestager said the issue was about a company hosting merchants on its site and at the same time competing with these same retailers by using their data for its own sales.

“We are gathering information on the issue and we have sent quite a number of questionnaires to market participants in order to understand this issue in full,” Vestager told a news conference.

“These are very early days and we haven’t formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture.”

Seattle-based Amazon had no immediate comment.

Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules.

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Report: Cryptocurrency Exchanges at Risk of Manipulation

Several cryptocurrency exchanges are plagued by poor market surveillance, pervasive conflicts of interest and lack sufficient customer protections, the New York Attorney General’s office said in a report published on Tuesday.

The study found that online platforms where virtual currencies such as bitcoin can be bought and sold by individuals operate with lower safeguards than traditional financial markets, are vulnerable to market manipulation and put customer funds at risk.

“As our report details, many virtual currency platforms lack the necessary policies and procedures to ensure the fairness, integrity, and security of their exchanges,” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement.

As a result of the findings, the attorney general asked New York’s Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) to review whether three exchanges might be operating unlawfully in the state.

The attorney general’s office launched its Virtual Markets Integrity Initiative in April 2018, asking 13 platforms to voluntarily share information about their practices.

Four platforms did not participate, claiming they did not allow trades from within New York State. The Attorney General’s office investigated whether the platforms did operate in the state, and has referred three – Binance, Kraken and Gate.io – to NYDFS. The three platforms could not immediately be reached for comment.

U.S. and international regulators have begun clamping down on malpractices in the cryptocurrency market over the past year as trading in the nascent asset class boomed.

Two Wall Street regulators last week announced a series of actions, including levying fines, against companies involved with cryptocurrencies, while a New York federal judge ruled a case could proceed in which U.S. securities law was being used to prosecute fraud cases involving cryptocurrency offerings.

The attorney general’s report detailed how some of these platforms conduct overlapping lines of business that present “serious conflicts of interest,” including trading for their own account on their own venues. Some platforms also issue their own virtual currencies or charge companies to list their tokens.

The study also found that “trading platforms lack a consistent and transparent approach to independently auditing the virtual currency purportedly in their possession”, making it “difficult or impossible” to confirm that the exchanges are responsibly holding customer accounts.

Although some platforms police their markets for trading abuses, others do not, the report found.

“Platforms lack robust real-time and historical market surveillance capabilities, like those found in traditional trading venues, to identify and stop suspicious trading patterns,” the report said.

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Argentina’s Fernandez: ‘Dig Up My Home But You Won’t Find Illicit Funds’

Argentina’s ex-President Cristina Fernandez said on Tuesday that she never received corrupt payments and challenged investigators to scour her home region of Patagonia if they believed she had hidden cash, a day after she was indicted on graft charges.

Using her immunity as a senator to refuse to answer any questions, Fernandez handed a written statement to the federal judge investigating a sprawling bribery scandal that has ensnared dozens of former officials and construction company executives. The statement was published on her party’s website.

“They can dig up all of Patagonia, but they will never find anything because I never received any illicit money,” the statement said, citing official allegations that cash was kept in underground vaults at Fernandez’s private residence or hidden in containers in the southern Argentina countryside.

Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio said in the indictment that officials had found empty vaults under the house, but no money.

Fernandez, president from 2007 through 2015, is accused of heading a network in which officials in her administration accepted bribes from construction companies in exchange for public works contracts.

Known as the “notebooks” scandal, the allegations arose in August after a local newspaper published diaries kept by a former government chauffeur, who said his notes documented hundreds of millions of dollars delivered to the offices of Fernandez and her late husband and presidential predecessor Nestor Kirchner.

“There is no evidence that links me to this alleged network,” Fernandez’s statement said.

Fernandez was previously indicted on corruption charges in 2016 after her former public works secretary was caught trying to hide bags of cash in a convent.

Fernandez’s current position as a senator grants her immunity from arrest, but not from investigation.

The probe has implications for next year’s presidential election. President Mauricio Macri is expected to run for a second term in October 2019, and his arch political rival Fernandez is among his possible challengers from the country’s Peronist movement. But the scandal is expected to limit her chances.

Some 85 percent of Argentines expect corruption to “decrease substantially within the next five years,” a recent survey by the International Federation of Accountants said.

“The optics do not look good for Fernandez’s re-election prospects,” said Jose Arnoletto, President of the Argentine Federation of Professional Economic Scientists.

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