India, Top Buyer of US Almonds, Hits Back With Higher Duties

India, the world’s biggest buyer of U.S. almonds, raised import duties on the commodity by 20 percent, a government order said, joining the European Union and China in retaliating against President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes on steel and aluminum.

New Delhi, incensed by Washington’s refusal to exempt it from the new tariffs, also imposed a 120 percent duty on the import of walnuts in the strongest action yet against the United States.

The move to increase tariffs from Aug. 4 will also cover a slew of other farm, steel and iron products.

It came a day after the European Union said it would begin charging 25 percent import duties on a range of U.S. products on Friday, in response to the new U.S. tariffs.

India is by far the largest buyer of U.S. almonds, purchasing over half of all U.S. almond shipments in 2017. A kilogram of shelled almonds will attract duty of as much as 120 rupees ($1.76) instead of the current 100 rupees, the Commerce Ministry said.

Last month, New Delhi sought an exemption from the new U.S. tariffs, saying its steel and aluminum exports were small in relation to other suppliers. But its request was ignored, prompting India to launch a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

“India’s tariff retaliation is within the discipline of trade tariffs of the World Trade Organization,” said steel secretary Aruna Sharma.

Trade differences between India and the United States have been rising since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. Bilateral trade rose to $115 billion in 2016, but the Trump administration wants to reduce its $31 billion deficit with India, and is pressing New Delhi to ease trade barriers.

Earlier this year, Trump called out India for its duties on Harley-Davidson motorbikes, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to cut the import duty to 50 percent from 75 percent for the high-end bikes.

But that has not satisfied Trump, who pointed to zero duties for Indian bikes sold in the United States and said he would push for a “reciprocal tax” against countries, including U.S. allies, that levy tariffs on American products.

In the tariff rates issued late on Wednesday, the commerce ministry named some varieties of almonds, apples, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts and artemia that would carry higher import taxes. Most of these are purchased from the United States.

Walnuts have gone from 100 percent duty to 120 percent, the government note said.

India also raised duties on some grades of iron and steel products. In May it had given a list of products to the WTO that it said could incur higher tariffs.

An official from the steel ministry said at the time that the new tariffs were intended to show displeasure at the U.S. action.

“It is an appropriate signal. I am hopeful that all of this (trade war) will die down. In my view this is not in the interest of the global economy,” said Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of the Indian government’s policy thinktank Niti Aayog.

Rising trade tensions between the United States and some major economies have threatened to derail global growth.

Officials from India and the United States are expected to hold talks on June 26-27 to discuss trade issues, local daily Times of India reported on Thursday citing Press Trust of India.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday announced a preliminary finding that imports of large-diameter welded pipe from China, India, South Korea and Turkey were subsidized by those countries, and said it was imposing preliminary duties that could top 500 percent.

In a separate trade dispute, Trump threatened on Monday to hit $200 billion of Chinese imports with 10 percent tariffs if Beijing retaliates against his previous announcement to target $50 billion in imports. The United States has accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, a charge Beijing denies. ($1 = 68.1700 Indian rupees)

 

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For Tanzanian Farmers, Grain Harvest Is in the Bag

Maize farmers are preparing as the harvest season approaches in Tanzania’s Kondoa District.  The weather has been good and most farmers here expect bumper yields.

Amina Hussein, a mother of four in Mnenia village, is testing a new way to store her harvest.

 

“In the past, we used to store our produce in normal bags, we would buy them three times a year because we faced the risk of losing harvests to pest infestation,” Hussein said.  “But since the introduction of this new technology, using the hermetic storage bags, we are not incurring huge costs anymore to buy chemicals to preserve the maize.”

 

The bags keep grain dry and fresh, and keep bugs and mold out.

 

Amina, who is the chairperson of a local farmers’ association, says she used to spend precious cash on pesticides to preserve her maize.  The new bags cut that cost.

 

Grain Losses

 

About 85 percent of Tanzania’s population lives in rural areas and relies on agriculture for a living.  Small-hold farmers constitute the majority of the population.

 

Here, post-harvest losses are a major concern, especially for grains, which form the base for nutrition and income for Tanzania’s rural communities.

 

Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates that small farmers lose between 15 percent and 40 percent of their harvests each year to mold, mildew, bugs, rats and other causes, says Eliabu Philemon Ndossi, a senior program officer at the ministry.

 

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste globally every year.  That’s about a third of the food produced for human consumption around the world.

 

And post-harvest loss reduces the income of small-hold farmers by 15 percent.

 

Food Security

 

Researchers from the University of Zurich and their partners are looking to cut those losses.  Their project in Tanzania is looking at ways to help farmers keep more of their grain.

 

It’s a collaborative effort bringing together government agencies, businesses and international development organizations.

 

More than 1,000 small-scale farmers in two regions in central Tanzania are involved in the project, which in part uses air-tight and water-tight storage bags instead of normal plastic or cloth bags.

 

The study is conducted within a larger project that Swiss development agency Helvetas runs to help increase farm income.

 

But reducing losses is more than an issue of farmers’ income, says Rakesh Munankami, a project manager at Helvetas.

 

“If we can reduce post-harvest loss, there wouldn’t be any problem with the food security.  This study is important because we would like to see what’s the impact at the broader level, how does it affect the price volatility of the crop as well as how does it affect the food security of the smallholder farmers,” he said.

 

And the study has proven a success.  Initial findings show that improved on-farm storage sharply cut the number of food insecure households, said Michael Brander, one of the lead researchers from the University of Zurich.

 

“We are now one year into the study and the most astonishing finding so far is that we see that the number of people that go hungry has reduced by one third,” he said.  “That’s especially astonishing because the intervention has worked very fast.”

 

Munanakami says he thinks the results can be replicated elsewhere.  And the project’s partners hope that will encourage policy makers and aid organizations focus on preventing harvest losses.

 

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Intel CEO Resigns After Probe Into Relationship With Employee

Intel Corp Chief Executive Brian Krzanich resigned on Thursday after a probe found his consensual relationship with an employee violated company policy.

The head of the largest U.S. chipmaker is the latest in a line of powerful men in business and politics to lose their jobs or resign over relationships viewed as inappropriate, a phenomenon highlighted by the #MeToo movement.

“An ongoing investigation by internal and external counsel has confirmed a violation of Intel’s non-fraternization policy, which applies to all managers,” Intel said in a statement.

The board named Chief Financial Officer Robert Swan as interim CEO and said it has begun a search for a permanent CEO, including both internal and external candidates.

Intel declined to give any further information about the probe. Intel shares fell 1.5 percent in early trade.

Wall Street took Krzanich’s unexpected departure in stride.

“Although we respect Krzanich’s efforts in redirecting Intel’s strategy from a computer-centric to a data-centric company, we view Intel as a process-driven company with a deep bench of CEO candidates that can continue to drive the corporate strategy,” said Kevin Cassidy, an analyst at Stifel.

Krzanich, 58, was appointed Intel CEO in May 2013, and was in charge of moving the company’s focus to growing data centers from personal computers. Intel shares more than doubled during his tenure.

He was recently credited with containing the fallout from the disclosure of some security flaws in the company’s chips that could allow hackers to steal data from computers, although his sale of some Intel stock before the flaws were disclosed to investors attracted some criticism.

“There are no new payments as part of his departure,” a source familiar with the company told Reuters.

Temporary replacement Swan has been Intel’s CFO since October 2016 and previously spent nine years as CFO of eBay Inc.

Intel on Thursday raised its second-quarter revenue and profit forecast, saying it expects quarterly revenue of about $16.9 billion and adjusted profit of about 99 cents per share, up from a previous forecast of $16.3 billion in revenue and adjusted earnings per share of 85 cents.

Analysts on average were expecting revenue of $16.29 billion and adjusted profit of 85 cents per share.

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Instagram Announces Video Expansion

Social media app Instagram announced Wednesday that it would be increasing its time limit for videos posted on its platform from one minute to 10 minutes, as part of a general expansion of the app’s video capabilities.

The photo-sharing app also announced it would be launching a stand-alone app called IGTV to host these long-form videos. The app will be available this week, according to technology website, The Verge.

“When you watch longer video, you need a different context,” Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told The Verge. “We really wanted to separate those two, so you could choose which adventure you wanted to go down.”

The longer videos will also be available through a tab in the original Instagram application. Accounts with wide audiences will be able to post videos of up to an hour.

The update comes as Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion — is looking to compete with fellow video platform YouTube for young users.

Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. Since then, the video-sharing website has ballooned to a user base of 1.8 billion, becoming a platform for aspiring content creators looking to strike it big.

Systrom told The Associated Press he hoped his app would gain similar success with the IGTV update. At a release event for the app Wednesday, the company announced IGTV now had over 1 billion users.

The IGTV app will function similar to television. Videos will begin playing as soon as the user opens the app and will fill be full-screen vertically — contrasting with YouTube, which requires users to turn their phones horizontally for full-screen capabilities.

Facebook announced Tuesday it would be launching a series of interactive shows on its own video outlet, Facebook Watch.

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New Credit Rating Speaks of Vietnam’s Complicated Makeover

A decent rating from Fitch this month has Vietnam riding high on the small victory, despite some of the less favorable economic trends connected to this first-of-its-kind rating.

The state monopoly Vietnam Electricity, or EVN, clinched a “BB” score June 6 from Fitch Ratings, which until then had never officially assessed the credit of a non-financial company owned by the Hanoi government. That prompted a cross-section of officials in the southeast Asian country to gush about the promise in store for one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

“This positive rating enables EVN to issue international bonds, diversify our financing sources, and reassure domestic and foreign institutional investors,” said Dinh Quang Tri, the acting CEO of EVN. “We are now on a stronger footing to deliver more reliable electricity to Vietnam.”

The ebullience, however, is tempered by two questions: Will this be enough for investors to trust EVN? And how much should government become involved in business?

Renewable energy

EVN underscores the mixed sentiments that analysts express about Vietnam, a communist country transitioning to capitalism. The fact that the government runs EVN contributed to Fitch’s confidence in its report card.

“We believe the company can secure adequate funding in light of its position as an entity closely linked to the sovereign,” it said in a media release.

Yet businesses want even more promises from the government. Vietnam has spent years courting investment in renewable power, for example, but with limited success. That is in part because businesses that generate wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources can sell it only to EVN, and they are afraid of losing money if the company does not buy their electricity.

For renewables, “there is no provision for any form of government guarantee, assurance, or support to enhance the creditworthiness of EVN as the sole off-taker/purchaser,” corporate law firm Baker McKenzie said in a September report.

State vs. free market

Some would like to see more government involvement in general, especially to bail out companies in trouble. Others would like to see less involvement, as evidenced in the push for Vietnam to privatize further by selling stakes in its many state-owned enterprises. The country has not settled on a balance between the free market and the government.

Hanoi used to give iron-clad pledges that it would pay up in case of default at one of its state firms or public works projects. The government is doing that less often now because it is moving away from a centrally-planned economy, as well as reducing its sovereign debt.

Public anxiety mounted in recent years as Vietnam approached its debt ceiling of 65 percent of gross domestic product, though the country has made progress in reining in the debt.

That means EVN must tread lightly. Now that the power company has a Fitch Rating, it is eyeing international bonds to borrow money from investors around the world.

Going through this financing process is “helping EVN benefit from the discipline that comes with access to capital markets,” said Jordan Schwartz, who is the director of the World Bank group overseeing infrastructure, guarantees, and public-private partnerships.

The World Bank gave EVN funds and technical assistance to prepare for the Fitch assessment. Its credit rating shows how tightly EVN’s fate correlates with that of the government. Electricity prices, for example, will have to increase for the utility to make profits and improve its rating. Big increases, however, require approval from Hanoi, which also wants to keep power affordable for citizens.

The correlation is even blunter in Fitch’s analysis. The overall credit rating for Vietnam’s government itself also is BB. If that improves, so could the score for EVN, Fitch said, “provided EVN’s linkages with the state do not deteriorate significantly.”

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European Business Lobby Presses China to Stop Dragging Feet on Reform

As the United States and China teeter on the brink of an all out trade war and tit-for-tat tariffs loom, a European businesses lobby is urging Beijing to stop dragging its feet on reforms and using unfair trade policies to pamper Chinese companies.

 

Each year, foreign trade groups in China roll out a laundry list of concerns about market access, regulatory hurdles and other policies that tilt the playing field in the world’s second largest economy.

 

This year, for the first time ever, the European Chamber of Commerce’s annual survey of the business climate found that 61 percent of its 532 company members saw their Chinese counterparts as equally or more innovative.

Increased spending on research and development, targeted acquisitions of foreign high-tech firms and growing demand for innovative products from consumers were helping driving that shift, the chamber said.

 

The high response is significant. Policies linked to innovation and competition are a key part of the intensifying US — China trade debate and concerns of foreign companies operating here.

 

European Chamber President Mats Harborn said that as Chinese companies become stronger and more competitive, it is time for Beijing to “remove the training wheels.”

 

“It’s time for China to lift or reduce the pampering of its own enterprises and expose them to even more open and fair competition for them to develop into the champions that China wants them to be,” Harborn said.

 

Currently, Chinese companies account for 115 of the Fortune 500 list of global enterprises. The Chinese government claims that of the world’s 260 “unicorns” — start up companies valued at more than a billion dollars — more than 160 are from China.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered an address at the World Economic Forum in Davos early last year, China has repeatedly pledged to further open up the country’s economy.

 

According to the group’s survey of its members 52 % said that the government’s promises of opening up had yet to be realized. And looking forward, 46 percent said they thought the number of regulatory obstacles would increase over the next five years.

 

Harborn said that time is running out for China and 2018 has to be the year that it delivers on its promises.

 

“Dragging the feet on delivering on promises that have been made in China will cause reactions around the world,” Harborn said.

 

The United States response to that has led to reactions such as the $50 billion, and more recently $200 billion, in possible tariffs that Washington could levy on Chinese goods.

 

“We don’t agree with that action but it is the result of what we have warned about earlier,” he said.

Washington and European companies alike have long voiced concern about trade policies in China that protect domestic companies and State Owned Enterprises through subsidies, regulatory barriers and unequal treatment.

 

The Trump administration has alleged that Beijing is stealing American intellectual property and forcing technology transfers. Beijing denies that is the case.

 

Still, the European chamber’s survey found that about one in five of its companies “felt compelled to hand over technology in exchange for market access,” despite Chinese government assurances to the contrary.

 

According to the survey, 19 percent said they felt compelled to transfer technology.

Harborn said that while the percentage may seem small, the value it represents is much larger. Numbers were even higher among companies in the aerospace and aviation sector (36 percent), civil engineering and construction (33 percent) and automakers (27 percent).

 

“And no foreign company going to Europe has to even consider the issue of giving up technology for market access,” Harborn said.

 

Reciprocal treatment is a key concern from companies in China, regardless of whether they are from Europe and America. It is also a key aim of Washington’s trade dispute with Beijing and effort to make trade fairer.

 

But as the rhetoric in the U.S.-China trade dispute has heated up, some analysts argue that the focus has shifted too heavily to reciprocal and damaging tariffs. Actions that risk hurting not only the United States and China, but the global economy as well.

 

Harborn said confrontation through tariffs is not the most efficient way to get reforms and opening up that companies have been asking China to deliver.

 

“We are afraid that when you are exerting pressure this way [through threats of tariffs] that China keeps its aces up its sleeve and is presenting what is needed to defuse the tension at the time and is not addressing the fundamental and broader issues,” Harborn said.

 

Besides, he add, reforms are not only important for foreign companies but China’s own economic development as well.

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