US Charges 22 Chinese Importers with Smuggling Counterfeit Goods into US

A federal court in New York has charged 22 Chinese importers with smuggling nearly half-a-billion dollars in counterfeit goods into the United States from China.

The fake products include such popular luxury items as Louis Vuitton bags, Michael Kors wallets, and Chanel perfume.

Twenty-one of the defendants were arrested Thursday.

U.S. attorneys say the suspects allegedly smuggled the China-made counterfeit goods in large shipping containers disguised as legitimate products and brought them into ports in New York and New Jersey.

The defendants apparently intended to sell the fake products across the United States with a street value of nearly $500 million.

Along with smuggling and trafficking in counterfeit goods, the suspects are also charged with money laundering and immigration fraud.

“The illegal smuggling of counterfeit goods poses a real threat to honest business,” assistant attorney general Brian Benczkowski said. “The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who seek to exploit our borders by smuggling counterfeit goods for sale on the black market.”



Russia Calls Latest US Sanctions on Companies in Russia, China, and Singapore ‘Useless’

Russia says the latest U.S. sanctions imposed on Russian, Chinese, and Singaporean companies are “destructive” and “useless.”  

The U.S. penalized the three companies Wednesday, accusing them of helping North Korea avoid international sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday the new U.S. sanctions come when “joint international efforts” are needed toward a settlement in North Korea. Moscow said the sanctions could undermine denuclearization talks.

The U.S. has accused a Chinese trading company and its affiliate in Singapore of falsifying documents aimed at easing illegal shipments of alcohol and cigarettes into North Korea. The companies are said to have earned more than $1 billion.

A Russian company was also sanctioned for providing port services to North Korean-flagged ships engaged in illegal oil shipments.

The sanctions freeze any assets the companies may have in the United States and bars Americans from doing business with them.



In US Dispute, A Few Turks Destroy iPhones in Online Posts

A small number of Turks are responding to their president’s call to boycott American electronic goods by posting videos in which they smash iPhones with bats, hammers and other blunt instruments.

In one video , a man collects iPhones from several youths squatting in front of a Turkish flag, lays the devices on the ground and pounds them with a sledgehammer. “For the motherland!” he says at one point.


In another video, a boy pours a plastic bottle of Coca Cola into a toilet in a show of repugnance for U.S. goods.


American products remain widely used in Turkey, which is locked in a dispute with Washington over an American pastor being tried in a Turkish court and other issues. The two countries have also imposed tariffs on each other’s goods.



Experts: Cyberattacks Growing Increasingly Sophisticated

The rise of information sharing in the digital age has made it easier to disseminate knowledge, but it also brings with it heightened risks: from hackers stealing our information, to launching cyberwarfare and even potentially weaponizing legitimate platforms. This week on “Plugged In,” VOA Contributor Greta Van Susteren explores these challenges and how they are impacting global cybersecurity. VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff has more.



Mexico Unsure If It Will Finish NAFTA Talks with US in Aug.

Mexico’s economy minister on Wednesday said that Mexico and the United States may not meet an August goal to finish bilateral talks to revamp the NAFTA trade deal, which is beset by disagreements over automobile trade rules and other issues.

Top Mexican officials started their fourth week of talks with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington over a new North American Free Trade Agreement.

Asked if the August goal was still viable, Guajardo said, “That is why we are here. We are fully engaged. We don’t know if there will be a successful conclusion.”

The U.S.-Mexico talks resumed in July, without Canada, after negotiations involving all three members of the $1.2 trillion trade bloc stalled in June.

Guajardo said on Wednesday that he had spoken with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on the telephone and was “hopeful” Canada could soon hold trilateral NAFTA talks with the United States and Mexico.

Guajardo was joined by Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s chief NAFTA negotiator Kenneth Smith, and Jesus Seade, the designated chief trade negotiator of incoming Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Smith said Mexico and the United States were “working well” on the most difficult issues.

Mexico and Washington have been discussing rules for the automotive sector, which has been a major point of contention between the two countries.

The United States has sought tougher rules on what percentage of a vehicle’s components need to be built in the NAFTA region to avoid tariffs, as well as demanding that a certain number of cars and trucks be made in factories paying at least $16 an hour.

New sticking points emerged last week over President Donald Trump’s threat to impose steep automotive tariffs.

Guajardo said the teams had not yet touched the issue of a U.S. proposed sunset clause that would kill NAFTA after five years if it is not renegotiated again. Both Mexico and Canada have said they reject the measure.



Five ‘Crazy Rich Asian’ Ways to Splash Your Cash in Singapore

Singapore is the setting for new Hollywood movie ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ – an adaptation of a best-selling novel that explores the insatiable consumerism of new money and old-world opulence in a continent producing more billionaires than anywhere else.

While the low-tax financial hub is often called a playground for the rich, Singapore’s wealthy tend to live a more conservative, low-key life than Hong Kong’s showy socialites or Macau’s high-rollers.

In step with the film’s release in the United States on Wednesday and ahead of its release in the city-state next week, here are five ways to spend your cash in Singapore.

1. Orchid-shaped supercars

Cars in Singapore are some of the most expensive in the world, owing to huge government taxes aimed at limiting their number in the tiny island-state.

That doesn’t stop the super-rich – Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini are commonly sighted. When a Singaporean character in Kevin Kwan’s book, Goh Peik Lin, moves to America to study she immediately buys a Porsche saying they are “such a bargain.”

For the super-rich patriot, Singapore-based firm Vanda Electrics has designed an electric supercar – Dendrobium. Its roof and doors open in sync to resemble the orchid that is native to Singapore and after which the vehicle is named.

A show car, built by the technology arm of the Williams Formula One team, was unveiled last year. It was originally estimated to cost around 3 million euros ($3.44 million) before tax, although Vanda Electrics advised the final price will likely be lower.

2. Yachts with submarines

Yachts are an affordable alternative to such supercars.

“Impulse buys of luxury items such as yachts are becoming more common” said Phill Gregory, the Singapore head of yacht dealers Simpson Marine, who sell everything from sports boats to super yachts costing tens of millions of dollars.

Gregory said Singapore-based clients have some of the most sophisticated tastes and an eye for style: sometimes he flies them to Europe to deck out their yacht with luxury furniture from the artisans of Milan or world-famous Carrara marble straight from the quarries in Tuscany.

Others have more unusual requests. These include a bespoke ‘beach club style’ lounge area set underneath a shimmering swimming pool, helipads or even a space to park a small submarine or sea-plane.

3. 999 roses

The iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel – which resembles a giant surfboard perched on three tall columns – features prominently in the film’s trailer.

The hotel features the invitation-only Chairman’s suite – the largest in Singapore – which has its own gym, hair salon, and karaoke room, and according to some media reports costs over $15,000 a night. There is no publicly available price.

The likes of former British soccer star David Beckham and Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan have stayed at the hotel.

George Roe, director of hotel operations at Marina Bay Sands, said he has had some unusual requests from his guests including organizing the delivery of 999 roses to a residential address in Singapore as a surprise.

4. Rare beef

“You do realize Singapore is the most food obsessed country on the planet?,” Nick Young, the very well-heeled protagonist of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ tells his girlfriend Rachel Chu ahead of their trip to the city-state.

Even hawker stalls hold Michelin stars in Singapore but there’s no shortage of places for the super-rich to get their fix.

The restaurant CUT by Wolfgang Puck is the only one in Singapore to offer Hokkaido snow beef – which is even scarcer than Kobe beef – through an exclusive arrangement with a private reserve in Japan.

Only two cattle are harvested from the reserve every month, with CUT receiving about 20-30 steaks a month – a chunk of which goes to regulars who visit the restaurant every time it comes on the menu, said general manager Paul Joseph. The current price is S$330 ($240) for a modest 170 gram serving.

5. Gold tea

Forget wearing gold – in Singapore you can drink it. 

Boutique Singaporean tea company TWG Tea claims to sell one of the world’s most expensive teas – a white tea plated with 24-karat gold which retails at S$19,000 ($14,000) a kilo.

The Grand Golden Yin Zhen is described as a “glimpse of the divine in a teacup”, and the gold is said to have anti-oxidant properties that revitalize and rejuvenate the skin.



In Chinese Port City, Japan’s Toyota Lays Foundation to Ramp Up Sales

Toyota is likely to make 120,000 more cars a year in the Chinese port city  of Tianjin as part of a medium-term strategy that’s gathering pace as China-Japan ties improve, said four company insiders with knowledge of the matter.

The Japanese auto maker’s plan to boost annual production capacity by about a quarter in the port city will lay the foundation to increase sales in China to two million vehicles per year, a jump of over 50 percent, the four sources said.

The Tianjin expansion signals Toyota’s willingness to start adding significant manufacturing capacity in China with the possibility of one or two new assembly plants in the world’s biggest auto market, the sources said. Car imports could also increase, they said.

The move comes at a time when China’s trade outlook with the United States appears fraught and uncertain.

Toyota plans to significantly expand its sales networks and focus more on electric car technologies as part of the strategy, the sources said, declining to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to the media.

Toyota sold 1.29 million vehicles in China last year and while sales are projected at 1.4 million this year, “capacity constraints” have restricted stronger growth, the sources said.

Over 500,000 vehicles a year

Toyota’s manufacturing hub in Tianjin currently has the capacity to produce 510,000 vehicles a year, while Toyota as a whole, between two joint ventures, has overall capacity to churn out 1.16 million vehicles a year.

Manufacturing capacity numbers provided by automakers are called straight-time capacity without overtime. With overtime, a given assembly plant can produce 20 to 30 percent more than its capacity.

According to two Tianjin government websites last week, Toyota has been given regulatory approval by the municipal government’s Development and Reform Commission to pursue its expansion.

The two websites — including the official website for the Tianjin development district where Toyota’s production hub is based — said the Japanese automaker plans to expand its Tianjin base to be able to manufacture 10,000 all-electric battery cars and 110,000 so-called plug-in electric hybrids annually. It wasn’t immediately clear when Toyota will be able to start producing those additional cars.

A Beijing-based Toyota spokesman declined to comment. The Tianjin facilities, which produces cars such as the Toyota Corolla and Vios cars, are owned and operated by one of Toyota’s joint ventures in China.

The venture with FAW in Tianjin plans to invest 1.76 billion yuan ($257 million) for the expansion, according to the two Tianjin websites.

Historical backlash 

China is sometimes a market difficult to operate for Japanese companies because of historical reasons.

In 2012, cars sold by Toyota and other Japanese automakers were battered when protests erupted across China after diplomatic spats over disputed islets known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.

Since then, Toyota has emphasised steady growth rather than taking on risky expansion projects.

According to the four sources, Toyota’s attitude towards China began changing markedly after an official visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May.

During the visit, Li toured Toyota’s facilities on the northern island of Hokkaido, and was escorted by Toyota’s family scion and chief executive Akio Toyoda.

Toyoda has since sought to boost his company’s presence in China, a vision that had culminated in an active effort to identify specific ways to do just that, according to the four sources.

They said aside from boosting capacity, Toyota is also looking at the possibility to significantly expand its distribution networks for the mainstream Toyota and premium Lexus brands.

Timing is perfect for Toyota

It wasn’t immediately clear how significant a distribution network expansion Toyota is planning for both brands. Currently, Toyota has more than 1,300 stores for the Toyota brand and nearly 190 for its Lexus luxury cars.

The timing for the China expansion couldn’t be better. Earlier this year, Toyota was able to finally launch a couple of much anticipated, potentially high-volume subcompact sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) — two China-market versions of the Toyota C-HR crossover SUV which hit showrooms in the United States last year.

The C-HR variants are relatively small crossover SUVs that other manufacturers, most notably Japan’s Honda, have leveraged to grow sales rapidly and sell more cars in China than its much bigger rival Toyota. Honda sold 1.44 million vehicles in China last year.

Benefit for Lexus

Lexus is also deemed likely to benefit from a windfall from growing trade tensions between China and the United States.

In retaliation for U.S. trade actions, China raised tariffs on automobiles imported from the United States in early July to 40 percent, which, among other things, has forced Tesla, BMW, as well as Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz to raise prices on certain U.S. — built vehicles, such as the hot-selling BMW X5 and X6 crossover sport-utility vehicles.

One likely consequence for those brands is a sales fall, a profit squeeze, or both.

By contrast, all Lexus cars Toyota sells in China are brought in from Japan and benefit from a much lower tariff rate of 15 percent levied on non-U.S. produced car imports.