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India, US agree to hold comprehensive talks to address trade issues

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India and the US have agreed to hold official-level comprehensive talks to address trade and economic issues, days after President Donald Trump accused New Delhi of charging 100 per cent tariff on some of the US’ goods.

The decision in this regard was taken during a series of meetings visiting Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu had with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“We will now work together to expand (bilateral) trade, Prabhu told a group of Indian reporters here yesterday at the conclusion of his two-day trip to the US.

India will send an official team to work out the details and initiate a comprehensive negotiation on all issues concerning trade and economic relationship between the two countries. “The team will come within the next few days,” Prabhu said.

Acknowledging that both sides have trade and tariff issues with each other, the minister said officials would hold talks on all of them.

President Trump, in a press conference in Canada’s Quebec City where he attended the G7 summit, took a swipe at India along with the world’s other top economies and accused New Delhi of charging 100 per cent tariff on some of the US’ goods, as he threatened to cut trade ties with countries who are robbing America.

Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Singh Sarna said New Delhi has written to the US on steel and aluminum tariff.

A full-fledged case has been made by India for waiver of steel and aluminum tariffs, he added. “It has been a very positive engagement.”

In addition to Ross and Lighthizer, Prabhu held talks with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. He also met two powerful Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner – the two co-chairs of the Senate India caucus.

“The meetings were held in a friendly and cordial atmosphere, with appreciation for each other’s points of view. Discussions centered around bilateral trade and commercial relations between the two countries and focused on finding the way forward to address concerns of both sides,” the Indian Embassy said in a readout of the meetings.

“In this context, it was agreed that Indian and US officials would meet at a senior level at an early date to discuss various issues of interest to both sides and carry forward the discussions in a positive, constructive and result oriented manner,” it said.

During his two-day visit to Washington DC, Prabhu addressed business and industry leaders in meetings organised by US-India Business Council (USIBC) and US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) and held meetings with other stakeholders.

“It’s a great time to join hands with each other. And that’s the realisation within the (Trump) administration as well. Therefore, we have really decided to move on. As you know, we always hear the trade disputes between US and India, but when I had meeting with the USTR, with the Commerce Secretary, with Agriculture Secretary, with Senators, it is very clear that we must move on, keep the issues behind, Prabhu told industry leaders at a reception hosted by USIBC in association with the FICCI and Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

In his interaction with industry leaders at an event organised by the USISPF, Prabhu spoke about the improvements that have been made in the trade relationship, including trade deficit reduction.

Every great partnership has areas of agreement and disagreement. I’m hopeful that the US investment corridor is only going to grow, and I’m confident that we will be able to bridge our gaps, Prabhu noted.

The industry interaction included senior officials from leading US companies such as: Boston Scientific, FedEx, Walmart, Abbott, UTC, Honeywell, PhRMA, MoneyGram International, Lockheed Martin, Koch Industries, Amway, Uber, 21st Century Fox, and Medtronic.

Noting that India and the US have an important strategic relationship and shared goals, USIBC president Nisha Desai Biswal said the council is a constructive partner in achieving the full potential of the US-India commercial opportunity.

The USIBC roundtable organised in association with the CII comprised of US and Indian industry giants from the energy, aerospace, ICT, life sciences and defence sectors who reiterated India’s position as a critical market while also raising issues facing their companies such as data localization and price controls, as well as public procurement and operational hurdles.

In engaging with critical stakeholders, Prabhu highlighted the ongoing policy reforms being pursued by India to improve its business climate and remove bureaucratic hurdles.

Prabhu noted that India will soon release its new Industrial Policy, aimed at transforming India into a modern, flourishing, economic powerhouse.

During the interaction, he emphasized the importance of a dispute redressal mechanism, and resolving such issues together in a way that does not derail but rather strengthens bilateral ties.

Under Trump, trade dispute between India and the US has increased, with his administration asking New Delhi to lower its trade barriers and open up its market.

Trump has repeatedly raked up the issue of India imposing high import duty on the iconic Harley-Davidson motorcycles and threatened to increase the import tariff on “thousands and thousands” of Indian motorcycles to the US.

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British PM faces defeat in historic Brexit deal vote

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Theresa May

London | British Prime Minister Theresa May faces crushing defeat in a historic vote in parliament on Tuesday over the Brexit deal she has struck with the European Union, leaving the world’s fifth biggest economy in limbo.

With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over what should happen next and the only suspense over the vote is the scale of May’s defeat.

The British leader’s last-minute appeals to MPs appear to have fallen on deaf ears and how much she loses by could determine whether she tries again, loses office, delays Brexit — or if Britain even leaves the EU at all.

“When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house… and ask: did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union,” May asked MPs on the eve of the vote, expected after 1900 GMT.

Opposition to the deal forced May to postpone the vote in December in the hope of winning concessions from Brussels.

EU leaders have offered only a series of clarifications but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Strasbourg on Tuesday raised the possibility of further talks while ruling out a full re-negotiation of the text.

“Everything has been done in recent weeks and months to signal our interest in a positive decision,” Maas said.

“However, I am sceptical that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened once again,” he said.

The vote is the climax of over two years of intense national debate after the shock Brexit referendum of 2016 — a result mostly pro-Remain MPs have struggled with.

Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers oppose the agreement for different reasons and many fear it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Pro- and anti-Brexit campaigners rallied outside parliament ahead of the vote. One placard read “EU Membership is the Best Deal”, another said: “No Deal? No Problem!” Uncertainty over Brexit has hit the British economy hard.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders lobby group warned MPs that Britain crashing out of the EU would be “catastrophic”.

Financial markets will also be watching the result closely, with several currency trading companies roping in extra staff for the vote and at least one putting a cap on trades to avoid excessive currency movements.

“Today’s vote is a foregone conclusion so sterling is unlikely to move significantly,” said Rebecca O’Keeffe, an analyst with online trader Interactive Investor.

“The fireworks will happen after today — when it is clear what happens next,” she said, predicting that a decision not to leave the EU would send sterling shooting up while a no-deal Brexit would send it down to record lows.

Rather than heal the divisions exposed by the Brexit referendum, the vote has reignited them. Pro-European MPs campaigning to force a second vote say they have faced death threats.

Brexit supporters have also voiced growing frustration with what they see as parliamentary blockage of their democratic vote.

Criticism of the deal is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership which could take several years.

Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Northern Irish party on whom May relies for her Commons majority, told the BBC his party would not be forced into backing the deal by fears over the border.

“We fought (against) a terrorist campaign (in order) to stay part of the United Kingdom,” he said, evoking Northern Ireland’s past conflict.

“We are not going to allow bureaucrats in Brussels to separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom.” His boss Arlene Foster stressed “we cannot accept the backstop…it does violence to the union.” Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said May must call an election if she loses on Tuesday and has threatened to hold a confidence vote in her government if she does not.

In the event of a defeat, the government must set out what happens next by Monday at the latest.

Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that whatever the outcome May could ask to delay Brexit.

But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.

The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period to provide continuity until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London.

Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever 46 years of ties with its nearest neighbours with no agreement to ease the blow. (AFP) KUN

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Trade negotiations with China going well: Trump

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Washington | The United States is doing very well in trade negotiations with China, President Donald Trump said on Friday.

We have a massive trade negotiation going on with China. President Xi is very much involved; so am I. We’re dealing at the highest levels and we’re doing very well. We’re doing very well, Trump told reporters during a Rose Garden news conference.

“In the meantime, we’ve taken in billions and billions of dollars in tariffs from China, and from others. Our steel industry has come roaring back, and that makes me very happy, he said.

Top officials from United States and China are currently involved in trade negotiations. In November, Trump and Xi met in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Argentina.

We are doing very well. China is paying us tremendous tariffs. We’re getting billions and billions of dollars of money pouring into the Treasury of the United States, which, in history, we’ve never gotten from China. As you know, it’s been very unfair, he said.

Trump said he had a fantastic meeting with President Xi and they both like and respect each other.

One of the things that came out of that meeting was fentanyl. As you know, almost all of it comes from China. And he’s going to now criminalise the making of fentanyl, he said.

I think that could have a tremendous — and I thanked President Xi very much, he added.

Trump said his meeting with Xi in Argentina was supposed to last for about 45 minutes, but it ended up being almost four hours.

It was a great meeting. We’ll see what happens. You never know with a deal, he said.

China, he told reporters is not doing well now in economy. We are doing very well. But we’re taking in billions and billions of dollars, and I hope we’re going to make a deal with China. If we don’t, they’re paying us tens of billions of dollars’ worth of tariffs. It’s not the worst thing in the world, he said.

I think we will make a deal with China. I really think they want to. I think they sort of have to. I think we’re going to have a great relationship. I think that President Xi and myself have a great relationship. Also, North Korea. We’re doing very well with North Korea, and that’s based on relationship also, he said.

Responding to a question on Apple’s recent announcement, Trump said that the American phone manufacturer would be fine.

Don’t forget this: Apple makes their product in China. I told Tim Cook, who’s a friend of mine, who I like a lot: Make your product in the United States. Build those big, beautiful plants that go on for miles, it seems. Build those plants in the United States.”

“I like that even better, he said.

“Apple makes its product in China. China is the biggest beneficiary of Apple, more than us, because they build their product mostly in China. But now he’s investing USD 350 billion because of what we did with taxes and the incentives that we created. In the United States, he’s going to build a campus, and lots of other places, Trump said.

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Poll-bound Bangladesh shuts down high speed internet services, restores it 10 hrs later

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Bangladesh; Internet

Dhaka | The high-speed internet services were suspended for several hours in Bangladesh after mobile operators shut down their 3G and 4G services late Thursday following orders from the country’s telecom regulator ahead of Sunday’s general election.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) issued order around 10 pm on Thursday asking the country’s four mobile operators to slow down the internet by shutting down 3G and 4G services, two days ahead of the 11th national election, mobile operators were quoted as saying by the bdnews24.com.

The high-speed 3G and 4G internet services were restored on Friday morning, after a 10-hour blackout.

The BTRC through an e-mail asked the four mobile operators to restore the 3G and 4G services around 7:30 am (on Friday) without mentioning details, the Daily Star reported quoting unnamed officials of the mobile operators.

Bangladesh is going to polls on Sunday. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the 71-year-old daughter of the country’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is seeking re-election for a record fourth term, while her rival Khalida Zia, the 73-year-old widow of military dictator Ziaur Rahman, who is reportedly partially paralysed, faces an uncertain future in a Dhaka jail.

Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has alleged that thousands of its activists have been arrested in a nationwide crackdown during the campaign.

As of November, over 6 crore people are using the 3G and 4G mobile internet services in Bangladesh.

Only 2G internet would be available now, according to an e-mail sent to mobile operators by the BTRC’s engineering and operations department on Thursday.

The decision must be in effect until further notice, it said.

On Wednesday, the BTRC in a meeting with the International Internet Gateway representatives said social media sites, especially Facebook, would be blocked (to prevent the spread of fake news and propaganda messages from spreading on social media and video-sharing sites) if needed, the report said.

Earlier, Bangladesh’s Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed had said that they would consider completely blocking mobile internet during the polls.

On Monday, the EC asked the BTRC to prepare to block 3G and 4G services and social media sites for three days, including December 30, the report said.

During the demonstrations for safe roads in August, the BTRC slowed down internet speed for almost 24 hours, it added.

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