Even With Trade Deal, US Tariffs on China Could Remain

U.S. tariffs on China are likely to remain in place for a while, even if a trade deal is reached, President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday. 

 

“The deal is coming along nicely,” the president said about the trade talks with Beijing, noting U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would be heading to China within days to continue discussions.  

  

“We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars right now in tariff money, and for a period of time that will stay,” Trump said.

The president’s remarks indicated that Washington’s tariffs could stay in place until U.S. officials are convinced the Chinese are adhering to the terms of the agreement. 

 

“They’ve had a lot of problems living by certain deals,” the president noted on the White House South Lawn just before boarding the Marine One helicopter.   

China might accept a deal in which most of the U.S. tariffs are rolled back, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow David Dollar, but he said he expected President Xi Jinping would not accept any pact in which no tariffs were lifted. 

 

“It’s very hard for the Chinese president to agree to a deal that’s so clearly asymmetric. Chinese people are so active on the internet and social media, and President Xi will hear about it from the people if he makes a deal that looks bad for China,” Dollar told VOA.  

  

Tit-for-tat tariffs imposed last year ignited fears of a trade war between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, which annually trade more than a half-trillion dollars’ worth of goods.  

 

The value of Chinese products sold in the United States far outweighs the value of those sent to China, and that deficit alone represents about 80 percent of America’s overall trade gap in goods. 

A pillar of the Trump presidency has been reducing that huge gap by negotiating bilateral trade deals and rebuilding the U.S. manufacturing base.

Trump traveled Wednesday to an area in Ohio where General Motors is set to shutter a car assembly plant, affecting about 1,500 jobs and undercutting the president’s manufacturing revival message.  

 

“What’s going on with General Motors?” Trump asked during a speech. “Get that plant open or sell it to somebody and they’ll open it. Everybody wants it.”  

 

“Intervening to try to keep one factory open isn’t going to do much for the economy” at a time when manufacturing is declining as a share of the overall job market, said Dollar, of the Brookings Institution. “It’s a bad precedent for politicians to intervene like that.”  

 

A resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Claude Barfield, agrees presidents should not intervene in individual corporate decisions.  

 

“The president is woefully ignorant about trade and this part of the economy. He thinks it does help. I don’t think it does at all help,” Barfield, a former consultant to the office of the U.S. trade representative, told VOA.  

The closure of the GM plant in Lordstown, according to a Cleveland State University study, will result in a total loss of 7,700 jobs in the region, including supply chain and consumer services employment tied to the auto plant, cutting 10 percent of the gross regional product in the greater Youngstown area. 

 

Trump, in his remarks on Wednesday, placed some of the blame on the United Auto Workers, the union representing the GM workers.  

 

“Your union leaders aren’t on our side,” Trump declared. “They could have kept General Motors” operating the Lordstown plant.  

Trump spoke at a facility in Lima that makes the M1 Abrams tank for the U.S. Army, about 300 kilometers from the idled auto factory.  

 

“You better love me. I kept this place open,” Trump told workers at the General Dynamics facility, which was nearly closed six years ago after Army officials told Congress they did not need the additional tanks.  

Ohio, which Trump won in the 2016 election by 8 percentage points, again will be a key battleground state in next year’s presidential election. 

 

Polls in the Buckeye State, where the president relies on a strong base of working-class voters, show his approval rating slipping. 

 

Trade and tariffs are “not even the core issue about retaining the manufacturing jobs in this region,” University of Akron associate professor Mahesh Srinivasan, who is director of the school’s Institute of Global Business, told VOA. 

 

Srinivasan said the focus by the Trump administration should not be so much on trade agreements as on “the inevitable march of automation and technology that has displaced workers from traditional jobs. The need of the hour is doubling down with even more emphasis on worker training and education to prepare the workforce for tomorrow’s jobs.”  

 

Tariffs on imported automobiles — as are being contemplated by the White House — “would be counterproductive, like we have seen with steel tariffs,” said Srinivasan, who was part of former President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership task force. “It could attract retaliatory tariffs that will negatively impact numerous automobile manufacturers in Ohio and other Midwestern states, which today are supplying to automobile manufacturers globally.”  

  

Some trade analysts agree that Trump’s metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico have hurt American manufacturing, including making U.S. auto plants less competitive.  

 

Patsy Widakuswara and Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this report. 

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BMW Warns Profits Will Fall Due to Costs, Trade Uncertainty

German automaker BMW said Wednesday that profits in 2019 would be “well below” last year’s and that it planned to cut 12 billion euros ($13.6 billion) in costs by the end of 2022 to offset spending on new technology.

The company said profits would be eroded by higher raw materials prices, the costs of compliance with tougher emissions requirements and unfavorable shifts in currency exchange rates.

The Munich-based automaker also faces increased uncertainty due to international trade conflicts that could lead to higher tariffs.

The company forecast a profit margin of 6 to 8 percent for its automotive business, short of the long-term strategic target of 8 to 10 percent, which it said still “remains the ambition” for the company given “a stable business environment.”

BMW said it had no plans for layoffs even as it outlined cost saving measures that include dropping half of its engine variants as it seeks to reduce product complexity. The BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce brands are to get a single sales division.

Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter said that given the headwinds to earnings, “we began to introduce countermeasures at an early stage and have taken a number of far-reaching decisions.”

The company said the measures were needed “to offset the ongoing high level of upfront expenditure required to embrace the mobility of the future.”

BMW shares were down 4.9 percent to 72.02 euros in Frankfurt.

Automakers around the world have faced heavy up-front costs for new technologies expected to change how people get from one place to another in the next decade. Those include electric cars and renting cars through smartphone apps. Yet the returns from such investments remain uncertain and auto companies face competition from tech firms such as Uber and Waymo.

BMW made 7.2 billion euros ($8.2 billion) in net profit last year, down 17 percent from 2017, when it booked a gain of $1 billion from U.S. tax changes. The company faced headwinds from increased tariffs on vehicles exported to China from the United States. It also suffered from turmoil on the German auto market when companies faced bottlenecks getting cars certified for new emissions rules.

BMW faces uncertainty from U.S.-China trade tensions that could result in new tariffs if talks do not result in an agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump has also threatened to impose auto import tariffs that would hit EU automakers, but has held off for now. BMW could also suffer disruption if Britain leaves the European Union without a negotiated departure agreement to address trade issues.

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Trump Linking Huawei, China Trade Roils Justice Department

President Donald Trump shocked some last month when he suggested that the criminal charges against Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, might be used as leverage in his administration’s ongoing trade talks with China.

 

“We’re going to be discussing all of that during the course of the next couple of weeks,” Trump told reporters at the White House Feb. 22 in response to a question about Meng’s case.  “We’ll be talking to the U.S. attorneys. We’ll be talking to the attorney general. We’ll be making that decision. Right now, it’s not something we’ve discussed.”

 

The president’s apparent willingness to possibly barter away the prosecution of Huawei and one of its executives in exchange for a favorable trade deal with China alarmed legal experts who say it could lead to pushback at the Justice Department. 

“If the White House told the Department of Justice that it wanted Justice to dismiss altogether the case against Huawei and Ms. Meng, I’d expect there to be mighty objections and resistance to that,” said David Laufman, who served as a senior national security official at the Justice Department until last year and is now in private practice. 

Ron Cheng, a former federal prosecutor who was the Justice Department’s sole resident envoy in Beijing, said it would be highly unusual for the criminal case against Meng to be affected by the trade talks. “There are a number of concerns about the precedent something like that would establish,” said Cheng, now a partner at the O’Melveny & Myers law firm.

The Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against Meng, Huawei and several subsidiaries on Jan. 29 for violating U.S. sanctions on Iran and stealing U.S. intellectual property, nearly two months after Meng was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities. 

The indictments exacerbated tensions with China, which called the case against Meng “political persecution.” That prompted Trump’s overture.

Trump, who prides himself on his negotiating skills, could well have been bluffing in hopes of enticing the Chinese into a trade agreement.But a quid pro quo deal as part of the trade talks is not without precedent.

Last year, Trump ordered the Commerce Department to lift a ban imposed on ZTE Corporation, Huawei’s smaller rival.  ZTE had violated the terms of an agreement with the department to settle charges that it had exported U.S. goods to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.   

In Huawei’s case, the extent of Trump’s personal involvement and the nature of any talks between the White House and the Justice Department about the company’s fate remain unclear.  After Meng’s arrest in December, a spokesman for National Security Adviser John Bolton said that neither Bolton nor Trump had been told about her detention in advance. Trump later said the White House had talked to the Justice Department about the Huawei case  

 

Senior Justice Department officials have sought to tamp down talk of any linkage between the Huawei case and the ongoing trade talks with China. Asked about the issue after the Justice Department unsealed the indictments in January, then acting attorney general Matt Whitaker said, “We do our cases independent from the federal government writ large because that’s the way the criminal system has to be.”

 

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to say whether the White House had engaged the department in any discussions about Huawei since Trump’s latest comments.   The company has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought in New York and Seattle. Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorneys for those cities said the cases are proceeding.  

The charges against Huawei come as the Trump administration has stepped up a global campaign against the telecom behemoth, warning that the company founded by a former People’s Liberation Army official poses a national security threat and urging allies to keep it out of their 5-G networks. While Australia and New Zealand have imposed a ban, other U.S. allies have demurred.  

With business operations in more than 170 countries and annual revenues of $108 billion, Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecom equipment. Last year, the multinational company beat Apple to become the No. 2 manufacturer of smartphones and tablets in the world.

In national security related criminal cases, it is not uncommon for the Justice Department to notify the White House about impending law enforcement actions.This allows officials to deescalate conflict if necessary or weigh in on the timing of an announcement.  “It’s not to give the White House prior approval authority or veto authority,” Laufman said. 

Some experts see the real possibility that the White House crosses the line and intervenes in the criminal case.  Short of calling for a dismissal of the case, the White House could press the Justice Department to devise a resolution that would afford the agency a measure of vindication without appearing to let the company or Meng off the hook.

Such a resolution could involve Huawei admitting responsibility, paying a hefty fine, and agreeing to a stringent compliance regime and other conditions, according to Laufman. 

“But I think even there, that will likely engender concern throughout the Justice Department,” Laufman said.

 

That is how ZTE settled charges of violating U.S. sanctions. In 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty and paid $430 million for exporting U.S. goods and technology to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. 

The company later admitted to violating the terms of its settlement with the Commerce Department and faced near collapse after the department responded by forbidding U.S. companies from selling it crucial components. 

After Trump intervened, the Commerce Department lifted its ban, but not without imposing what it called the most “stringent compliance measures.”   

The Huawei case could well be settled under similar terms. But there is a hitch.  Because she faces criminal charges, Meng would have to appear in a U.S. court to enter a plea.  

“The only way to resolve a case like this with some sort of a formal disposition is to come to the United States,” Cheng said. 

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Venezuelans Find Ways to Cope with Inflation and Hunger

Francibel Contreras brings her three malnourished children to a soup kitchen in the dangerous hillside Caracas slum of Petare where they scoop in spoonfuls of rice and scrambled eggs in what could be their only meal of the day.

 

Part of the tragedy of daily life in socialist Venezuela can be glimpsed in this small volunteer soup kitchen in the heart of one of Latin America’s biggest slums, which helps dozens of children as well as unemployed mothers who can no longer feed them.

 

Some Venezuelans manage to endure the nation’s economic meltdown by clinging to the shrinking number of well-paid jobs or by receiving some of the hundreds of millions of dollars sent home by friends and relatives abroad — a quantity that has swollen in recent years as millions of Venezuelans have fled.

 

But a growing percentage of people across the country, especially in slums like Petare, are struggling to cope.

 

Contreras’s husband, Jorge Flores, used to have a small stand at a local market selling things like bananas and yucca, eggs and lunchmeat — trying to scrape out a profit in a place where hyperinflation often made his wholesale costs double from day to day. Then he was robbed at gunpoint by a local gang. And his brother crashed the motorcycle he used to supply his stand.

So Flores abandoned the market stall and looked for other work. He does some plumbing jobs and the family has turned its living room into a barbershop, sheltered beneath a corrugated metal roof held down by loose bricks and planks. It’s decorated with origami-like stars that the family has made out Venezuela’s colorful but rapidly depreciating bolivar bills.

 

“Our currency is worthless,” Contreras said. “These days, I prefer trading a bag of flour for a manicure or a haircut.”

 

The scarcity of milk, medicine and other basics — along with routine violence —  has eroded support for socialist President Nicolas Maduro even in poor neighborhoods like Petare that once were his strongholds. Maduro says there’s an opposition-led plot to oust him from power and says U.S. economic sanctions and local opposition sabotage are responsible for the meltdown.

 

Various local polls show he retains support from roughly a fifth of the population, many of them ideological stalwarts, government-connected insiders or poor voters dependent on government handouts, including the so-called CLAP boxes of oil, flour, rice, pasta, canned tuna and other goods that arrive several times a year.

 

Contreras’ family of four gets those boxes, but it’s not enough to get by on for long. For months, they’ve been relying on the soup kitchen launched by opposition politicians as the main source of protein for their children. On a recent day, her 7-year-old son Jorbeicker played a pickup soccer game in the hilly, dusty streets in front of her home, while her husband practiced styling his mother’s hair.

 

“I’m barely getting by,” Flores said, scissors in hand.

 

The four-day power outage that brought most of Venezuela to a halt this month added to Flores’ misery. He wasn’t able to use the electric clippers needed to give customers the sort of trims they demand.

 

“It hit us in a big way,” he said. “You absolutely need the clippers.”

The couple estimates the power outage cost the family the equivalent of $11 in missed haircuts — a significant sum in a country where the minimum wage amounts to $6 a month, even if most people supplement that figure by working side jobs and pooling resources with friends and neighbors.

Contreras and Flores charge 2,500 bolivars — about 70 U.S. cents — for a trim. A government-subsidized kilogram of flour can cost almost three times that, and Contreras says that lines for the rationed goods can be endless and she sometimes comes back empty-handed. She also said she feels unsafe in the lines. Dozens of people have been killed in gang crossfires over the years, and some have been crushed to death when lines of shoppers turned into stampedes of desperate looters.

 

Next-door neighbor Dugleidi Salcedo sent her 4-year-old daughter to live with an aunt in the city of Maracay, two hours away, because she could no longer feed her. “My boys cry,” the single mother of four said. “But they resist more than her when I tell them that there’s no food.”

After walking back from the soup kitchen, she opened the rusty door to her home of scraped, mint-colored walls. Inside, her 11-year-old son Daniel, who was born partially paralyzed and with developmental disabilities, lay on a stained couch while flies flew over his twisted, uncovered legs.

 

When she took the lid off a plastic container to show her last bag of flour, a cockroach crawled out, making her jump back and scream.

 

“This is so tough,” she said. “I don’t have a job. I don’t have any money.”

 

Salcedo used to sell baked goods and juices to neighbors from the window of her kitchen. Then, her fridge broke down and she couldn’t find the money to fix it.

 

These days, she relies on the kindness of neighbors, or asks a friend who owns a small food shop for credit while she waits for loans from family members in other parts of Venezuela.

 

“This country has never been as bad,” the 28-year-old said. “Just buying some rice or flour is something so hard, so expensive, and often, they don’t even have any.”

 

A few days later, thieves broke into the soup kitchen and stole food. Then, a fire broke out in the slum, burning 17 homes to the ground. It was caused by candles that were apparently being used for light after a power outage — an almost everyday occurrence in many parts of Venezuela. Opposition lawmaker Manuela Bolivar, whose Nodriza Project runs the soup kitchen, said that when firefighters arrived, they lacked water and had to put out the blaze with dirt.

 

“It’s a social earthquake,” Bolivar said. “They lose their homes. They’re left in the open air. The soup kitchen was robbed. It’s so many adversities: It’s the infections, the lack of water and food.”

At an outdoor market a short distance from Petare in the middle-class district of Los Dos Caminos, Carmen Gimenez shopped for carrots and other vegetables for a stew. When her 14-year-old daughter Camila asked if they could take some other products, she told her that they would have to stick to the basics.

 

Although she has a job at a bank, she still struggles to make ends meet.

 

“It doesn’t matter where you live. The need is the same,” said Gimenez, 43.

 

“The poor, the rich, and the middle class — we’re all suffering somehow because the government has leveled us all downwards,” she adds with anger. “How did they dominate us? Through the stomach.”

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In End of 20th Century Fox, a New Era Dawns for Hollywood

The Fox Studio backlot, first built in 1926 on a Culver City ranch in Los Angeles, was enormous. Before much of it was sold off in the 1960s, it was four times the size of its current, and still huge, 53 acres.

 

Shirley Temple’s bungalow still sits on the lot, as does the piano where John Williams composed, among other things, the score to “Star Wars.” A waiter in the commissary might tell you where Marilyn Monroe once regularly sat.

 

When the Walt Disney Co.’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox is completed at 12:02 a.m. Wednesday, the storied lot — the birthplace of CinemaScope, “The Sound of Music” and “Titanic” — will no longer house one of the six major studios. It will become the headquarters for Rupert Murdoch’s new Fox Corp., (he is keeping Fox News and Fox Broadcasting) and Fox’s film operations, now a Disney label, will stay on for now as renters under a seven-year lease agreement.

 

The history of Hollywood is littered with changes of studio ownership; even Fox Film Corporation founder William Fox, amid the Depression, lost control of the studio that still bears his name. But the demise of 20th Century Fox as a standalone studio is an epochal event in Hollywood, one that casts long shadows over a movie industry grappling with new digital competitors from Silicon Valley and facing the possibility of further contraction. After more than eight decades of supremacy, the Big Six are down one.

 

“It’s a sad day for students of film history and I think it’s potentially a sad day for audiences too,” said Tom Rothman, former chairman of Fox and the current chief of Sony Pictures. “There will just be less diversity in the marketplace.”

 

Disney’s acquisition has endless repercussions but it’s predicated largely on positioning Disney — already the market-leader in Hollywood — for the future. Disney, girding for battle with Netflix, Apple and Amazon, needs more content for its coming streaming platform, Disney+, and it wants control of its content across platforms.

“The pace of disruption has only hastened,” Disney chief Robert A. Iger said when the deal was first announced. “This will allow us to greatly accelerate our director-to-consumer strategy.”

 

The Magic Kingdom will add 20th Century Fox alongside labels like Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm. But film production at Fox, which has in recent years released 12-17 films a year, is expected to wane. Due to duplication with Disney staff, layoffs will be in the thousands.

 

Disney will also take over FX, NatGeo and a controlling stake in Hulu, which has more than 20 million customers. It will gain control of some of the largest franchises in movies, including “Avatar,” “Alien” and “The Planet of the Apes.” Fox’s television studios also net Disney the likes of “Modern Family,” “This Is Us” and “The Simpsons.” Homer, meet Mickey.

 

Some parts of Fox, like the John Landgraf-led FX and Fox Searchlight, the specialty label overseen by Stephen Gilula and Nancy Utley, are expected to be kept largely intact. Searchlight, the regular Oscar contender behind films such as “12 Years a Slave,” “The Shape of Water” and “The Favourite,” could yield Disney something it’s never had before: a best picture winner at the Academy Awards.

 

Nowhere is the culture clash between the companies more apparent than in “Deadpool,” Fox’s gleefully profane R-rated superhero. While Spider-Man still resides with Sony, Disney now adds Deadpool, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four to its bench of Marvel characters. How they will all fit with Disney’s PG-13 mission remains to be seen, though Iger last month suggested in a conference call with investors that there may be room for an R-rated Marvel brand as long as audiences know what’s coming.

 

The question of how or if Disney will inherit Fox’s edginess matters because Fox has long built itself on big bets and technological gambits. It was the first studio built for sound. It was nearly bankrupted by the big-budget Elizabeth Taylor epic “Cleopatra.” It backed Cameron’s seemingly-ill-fated “Titanic,” as well as Ang Lee’s “The Life of Pi” and the Oscar-winning hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

 

“We were a studio of risk and innovation,” says Rothman, who also founded Fox Searchlight. “It was a very daring place, creatively. That’s what the movies should be.”

 

But will the more button-down Disney have the stomach for such movies? “Deadpool” creator Robert Liefeld, for example, has said Fox’s plans for an X-Force movie have been tabled, a “victim of the merger.”

 

Some were surprised regulators gave the deal relatively quick approval. The Department of Justice approved the acquisition in about six months, about four times less than the time it took investigating AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. The New York Times editorial page suggested the deal benefited from President Trump’s relationship with Murdoch.

 

“Disney will have probably north of 40 percent market share in the U.S. That’s one area where a deal does suggest that the market influence is going to be outsized,” says Tuna Amobi, a media and entertainment analyst with investment firm CFRA. “Having one studio control that much is unprecedented. And it could increase from there given the pipeline that we see.”

Disney is about to have more influence on the movies Americans and the rest of the world see than any company ever has. Last year, it had 26 percent of the U.S. market with just 10 movies which together grossed more than $3 billion domestically and $7.3 billion worldwide. Fox usually counts for about 12 percent of market share.

 

Fewer studios could potentially mean fewer movies. That’s a concern for both consumers and theater owners, many of whom already rely heavily on Disney blockbusters to sell tickets and popcorn.

 

“Certainly, consolidation poses a challenge in some respects to the supply of movies,” says John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Organization of Theater Owners. “The fewer suppliers you have, the chances are we’re going to get fewer movies from those suppliers.”

 

But Fithian believes other companies are stepping into the breach, and he holds out hope that Netflix might eventually embrace more robust theatrical release. More importantly, Fox was bought by a company in Disney that is, as Fithian said, “the biggest supporter of the theatrical window.”

 

Still, Disney has been willing to throw its weight around. Ahead of the release of “The Last Jedi,” the studio insisted on more onerous terms from some theater owners, including a higher percentage of ticket sales.

 

More experimentation in distribution is coming. Later this year, WarnerMedia, whose Warner Bros. is regularly second in market share to Disney, will launch its own streaming platform. Apple is ramping up movie production. Amazon Studios is promising bigger, more attention-getting projects.

 

Ahead of a blizzard of new streaming options, Fox — and a giant piece of film history — will fade into an ever-expanding Disney world. Film historian Michael Troyan, author of “20th Century Fox: A Century of Entertainment,” has studied enough of Hollywood’s past to know that relentless change is an innate part of the business.

 

“It’s sad when any historical empire like that comes to end,” says Michael Troyan. “You can record in other places but when you’re on a lot like Fox, you feel the gravitas, you feel the history.”

 

Rothman says he will pause for a “wistful moment” Wednesday, but he believes consolidation doesn’t mean obsolescence.

 

“I don’t think it remotely arguers the end of the glories of the film business overall,” says Rothman. “I believe there remains eternal appetite for original, vibrant, creative theatrical storytelling.”

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High-Stakes Boeing Inquiry Hinges on Ethiopia Black Box Secrets

The investigation into the final minutes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 turned on Tuesday to the secrets in the cockpit voice recorder as Boeing and a shaken global aviation industry hung on the outcome.

The voices of Captain Yared Getachew and First Officer Ahmednur Mohammed could reveal what led to the March 10 crash of the Boeing 737 MAX that has worrying parallels with another disaster involving the same model off Indonesia in October.

The twin disasters killed 346 people.

Black box data was downloaded in France but only Ethiopian experts leading the probe have heard the dialogue between Getachew, 29, and Mohammed, 25. The data was back in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, sources familiar with the probe told Reuters.

Experts believe a new automated system in Boeing’s flagship MAX fleet — intended to stop stalling by dipping the nose — may have played a role in both crashes, with pilots unable to override it as their jets plunged downwards.

Both came down just minutes after take-off after erratic flight patterns and loss of control reported by the pilots.

However, every accident is a unique chain of human and technical factors, experts say.

The prestige of Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s most successful companies, and Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker and a massive U.S. exporter, is at stake.

Awkward questions for industry

Lawmakers and safety experts are questioning how thoroughly regulators vetted the MAX model and how well pilots were trained on new features. For now, regulators have grounded the existing fleet of more than 300 MAX aircraft and deliveries of nearly

5,000 more — worth well over $500 billion — are on hold.

Pressure on the Chicago-headquartered company has grown with news that federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Transportation are scrutinizing how carefully the MAX model was developed, two people briefed on the matter said.

The U.S. Justice Department was looking at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Boeing, one of the people said. And a federal grand jury last week issued at least one subpoena to an entity involved in the plane’s development. The rest of the world is watching anxiously.

The European Union’s aviation agency EASA promised its own deep look at Boeing’s software updates and failure modes.

“We will not allow the aircraft to fly if we have not found acceptable answers to all our questions,” its executive director Patrick Ky told an EU parliament committee hearing.

“Whatever the FAA does. OK? This is a personal guarantee that I make in front of you.”

Canada said it would independently certify the MAX in future, rather than accepting FAA validation, and would also send a team to help U.S. authorities evaluate proposed design changes.

In the hope of getting its MAX line back into the air soon, Boeing said it will roll out a software update and revise pilot training. In the case of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, it has raised questions about whether crew used the correct procedures.

The MAX, which offers cost savings of about 15 percent on fuel, was developed for service from 2017 after the successful launch by its main rival of the Airbus A320neo.

Argus Research cut Boeing stock to “hold” from “buy”, giving the planemaker at least its fourth downgrade since the crash, Refinitiv data showed. Its shares, however, were enjoying a rare respite on Tuesday, up 1.6 pct to $378 and cutting losses since the crash to under 11 pct.

Global ramifications

In the hot seat over its certification of the MAX without demanding additional training and its closeness to Boeing, the FAA has said it is “absolutely” confident in its vetting.

The crisis has put pressure on airline companies.

Norwegian Airlines has already said it will seek compensation after grounding its MAX aircraft.

Various firms are reconsidering Boeing orders, and some are revising financial forecasts given they now cannot count on maintenance and fuel savings factored in from the MAX.

Illustrating the hoops airlines were jumping through, Air Canada said it intends to keep its MAX aircraft grounded until at least July 1, would accelerate intake of recently acquired Airbus A321 planes, and had hired other carriers to provide extra capacity meantime.

Beyond the corporate ramifications, anguished relatives are still waiting to find out what happened.

Many have visited the crash site in a charred field to seek some closure, but there is anger at the slow pace of information and all they have been given for funerals is earth.

“I’m just so terribly sad. I had to leave here without the body of my dead brother,” said Abdulmajid Shariff, a Yemeni relative who headed home disappointed on Tuesday.

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Warner Bros.’ Chief Tsujihara Steps Down Following Scandal

Warner Bros. chief Kevin Tsujihara, one of the highest ranking Hollywood executives to be felled by sexual misconduct allegations, stepped down from the studio Monday following claims that he promised roles to an actress with whom he was having an affair.

WarnerMedia chief executive John Stankey announced Tsujihara’s exit as chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros., saying his departure was in the studio’s “best interest.”

 

“Kevin has contributed greatly to the studio’s success over the past 25 years and for that we thank him,” said Stankey. “Kevin acknowledges that his mistakes are inconsistent with the company’s leadership expectations and could impact the company’s ability to execute going forward.”

 

Earlier this month, WarnerMedia launched an investigation after a March 6 Hollywood Reporter story detailed text messages between Tsujihara and British actress Charlotte Kirk going back to 2013. The messages suggested a quid pro quo sexual relationship between the aspiring actress and the studio head in which he made promises that he’d introduce her to influential executives and she’d be considered for roles in movies and television.

 

In a memo to Warner Bros. staff on Monday, Tsujihara said he was departing “after lengthy introspection, and discussions with John Stankey over the past week.”

 

“It has become clear that my continued leadership could be a distraction and an obstacle to the company’s continued success,” said Tsujihara. “The hard work of everyone within our organization is truly admirable, and I won’t let media attention on my past detract from all the great work the team is doing.”

 

Tsujihara’s attorney, Bert H. Deixler, earlier stated that Tsujihara “had no direct role in the hiring of this actress.” He declined further comment Monday.

 

Tsujihara, who has headed the Burbank, California, studio since 2013, earlier pledged to fully cooperate with the studio’s investigation and apologized to Warner Bros. staff for “mistakes in my personal life that have caused pain and embarrassment to the people I love the most.”

 

The scandal unfolded just as Warner Bros. was restructuring on the heels of AT&T’s takeover of WarnerMedia, previously known as Time Warner. Tsujihara’s role had just been expanded on Feb. 28 to include global kids and family entertainment including oversight of Adult Swim and the Cartoon Network.

Kirk appeared in Warner Bros.’ “How to Be Single” in 2016 and “Ocean’s 8” in 2018. She has denied any inappropriate behavior on the part of Tsujihara or two other executives, Brett Ratner and James Packer, who she communicated with. “Mr. Tsujihara never promised me anything,” Kirk said in an earlier statement.

 

But the details of the leaked text messages between Tsujihara and Kirk immediately put his future at Warner Bros. in jeopardy. Kirk wrote in one 2015 message to him: “Are u going to help me like u said u would?” Tsujhara responded, “Richard will be reaching out to u tonight,” referring to Richard Brener, president of Warner Bros.’ New Line label.

 

Other exchanges suggested the kind of give-and-take of Hollywood’s “casting couch” culture. Kirk was introduced to Tsujihara by James Packer, the Australian billionaire. Warner Bros. was then finalizing a $450-million co-financing deal with Packer and Brett Ratner, the director-producer. In a message to Ratner, Kirk said she was “used as icing on the cake.”

 

WarnerMedia, the studio’s parent company, said Monday that its internal investigation into the situation, carried out by a third-party law firm, will continue.

 

Tsujihara’s exit follows other high-profile executive departures in the post-Harvey Weinstein (hash)MeToo era. CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves was pushed out after numerous women accused him of sexual harassment. Walt Disney Animation chief John Lasseter was ousted after he acknowledged missteps in his behavior with employees.

 

The 54-year-old Tsujihara, the first executive of Asian descent to head a major Hollywood studio, presided over a largely positive Warner Bros. era with little fanfare. A former home video and video game executive at the company, Tsujihara focused on franchise creation, some of which have worked, some of which haven’t.

 

After poor marks from fans and critics, the studio’s DC Comics films have recently been retooled and found their footing in hits like “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman.” Other franchises — like “The Lego Movie” and the “Harry Potter” spinoff “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” — have seen diminishing returns on their latest incarnations. The studio has also fostered its connection with filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) and Bradley Cooper (whose “A Star Is Born” was Warner Bros.’ top Oscar contender). Warner Bros. last year amassed $5.6 billion in global ticket sales, its best haul ever.

 

The studio will now begin a search for a new chief as it also prepares to launch a streaming service designed to compete with Netflix.

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