American business meets its new master
Harpers, By Barry C. Lynn, November 2015
It’s May Day, and a rambunctious crowd of well-dressed people, many carrying blue and yellow parasols, has pushed into a Ford dealership just north of Chongqing, China. Mist from a car wash catches the sun, and I watch a man in a striped shirt poke at the gleaming engine of a midsize Mondeo while his wife sits in the driver’s seat and turns the wheel. Overhead, a giant banner of a Mustang painted Communist Party red ripples in the spring breeze.
At the showroom door, I am greeted by three saleswomen who smile and stare, clearly shocked to see a Westerner. Finally, a manager leads me over to a young man, the resident expert in English. Other than the Ford logo and the corporate mantra of the moment, go further, the front of his card is entirely in Mandarin. He carefully pronounces his name for me: Yi Xuanbo. Then he leads me past a potted rubber plant to a small aluminum table and hands me a paper cup of tea.
Yi places a luxurious brochure on the table and flips to a picture of a silver Mondeo hovering over the Manhattan skyline. He then turns to a page extolling the interior and the sound system — in English, the accompanying text describes the car as “a sensory palace.” Yi tells me how much a basic Mondeo costs before taxes: 179,800 yuan, or about $28,000. I ask him whether he owns a Ford and he shakes his head, but with a smile. “I think maybe next year, I can buy one, too.”
Business Insider: China is making a new 5-Year Plan — and it’ll decide the fate of the global economy
BBC, August 1
Negotiators from 12 Pacific nations have finished a week of talks without agreement on a regional trade deal.
But the US trade representative Michael Froman said ministers were more confident than ever that a deal on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership was within reach.
He said it would support jobs and economic growth.
Among the sticking points were issues relating to the automobile sector and access to dairy markets.
No date has been set for the next round of talks.
BBC, June 10
Africa’s largest free-trade zone is to be created, covering 26 countries in an area from Cape Town in the south to Cairo in the north.
The deal, signed in Egypt, is intended to ease the movement of goods across member countries which represent more than half the continent’s GDP.
Since the end of colonial rule, governments have been discussing ways to boost intra-African trade.
Three existing trade blocs – the Southern African Development Community (Sadc); the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) – are to to be united into a single new zone.
The pact – known as the The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) – will then be officially unveiled at the upcoming summit of the African Union this weekend in South Africa.
Huffington Post, By Akbar Shahid Ahmed, Ryan Grim & Laura Barron-Lopez, May 26
Washington – On Friday night, in an impressive display of dysfunction, the U.S. Senate approved a controversial trade bill with a provision that the White House, Senate leadership and the author of the language himself wanted taken out.
The provision, which bars countries that engage in slavery from being part of major trade deals with the U.S., was written by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). At the insistence of the White House, Menendez agreed to modify his language to say that as long as a country is taking “concrete” steps toward reducing human trafficking and forced labor, it can be part of a trade deal. Under the original language, the country that would be excluded from the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership pact is Malaysia.
But because the Senate is the Senate, it was unable to swap out the original language for the modification. (The chamber needed unanimous consent to make the legislative move, and an unknown senator or senators objected.) So the trade promotion authority bill that passed Friday includes the strong anti-slavery language, which the House will now work to take out to ensure that Malaysia (and, potentially, other countries in the future) can be part of the deal.
Observers are left with a deeper question: Why, in the year 2015, is the White House teaming up with Republican leaders essentially to defend the practice of slavery?
But Malaysia also borders what is effectively China’s jugular vein: the Strait of Malacca.
Via Naked Capitalism: America’s First Black President Throwing Slaves Under the Bus on TPP
Naked Capitalism, By Lambert Strether, April 20
There are many excellent arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), two of which — local zoning over-rides, and loss of national sovereignty — I’ll briefly review as stepping stones to the main topic of the post: Absolutist Capitalism, for which I make two claims:
1) The TPP implies a form of absolute rule, a tyranny as James Madison would have understood the term, and
2) The TPP enshrines capitalization as a principle of jurisprudence.
Zoning over-rides and lost of national sovereignty may seem controversial to the political class, but these two last points may seem controversial even to NC readers. However, I hope to show both points follow easily from the arguments with which we are already familiar. Both flow from the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, of which I will now give two examples. more
MoJo Explicator: Here’s What You Need to Know About the Trade Deal Dividing the Left
The Nation, By George Zornick, April 14
As legislation to fast-track congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership gets ready to finally make its debut in Congress this week, a top Democratic member of the House announced he would oppose the bill.
Representative Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, wrote in a letter to Representative Sandy Levin, the ranking member of the House Ways & Means Committee, that he would oppose fast-track authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority or TPA. The letter was obtained by The Nation and its authenticity was confirmed by an aide to Van Hollen.
Van Hollen opposed a previous iteration of fast-track legislation last year, as did most other top Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But so far, many of those Democrats (including Van Hollen) had not yet announced a position on the new TPA legislation being hammered out by Senators Ron Wyden, Orrin Hatch, and Representative Paul Ryan. (Levin opted out of those talks, and believes Congress should see at least the outline of a trade deal before taking up legislation to fast-track its approval.) Pelosi still remains publicly undecided.
If Van Hollen—a visible member of the Democratic caucus and ranking member of a major committee—ultimately supported the Wyden-Hatch-Ryan bill, it would have been a signal that House Democrats were ready to go along with the Obama administration’s trade agenda. But in his letter, Van Hollen wrote “it is clear that many [of my concerns] will not be included in a revised TPA.”
Hullabaloo: “Fast Track” For TPP To Be Introduced This Week
Down With Tyranny!: A Vote in April on Fast Track & TPP?
Counterpunch, By William D. Hartung, April 3-5
With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.
The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
Bloomberg Business, By Joe Carroll, Javier Blas, & Rakteem Katakey, April 8
Royal Dutch Shell Plc agreed to buy BG Group Plc for about 47 billion pounds ($70 billion) in cash and shares, the oil and gas industry’s biggest deal in at least a decade.
The acquisition is the most significant response yet to the slump in oil prices and could set in motion a series of mergers as the largest energy companies look to cut costs and restore profits.
The merged company, led by Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden, will boast a market value twice the size of BP Plc and surpass Chevron Corp. Shell, struggling to rebound from its worst production performance in 17 years, will swell its oil and natural gas reserves by 28 percent with the combination and inherit a management team that carved out a unique niche in liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
Shell, which helped pioneer the process of liquefying gas for shipment aboard tankers decades ago, and rivals such as Chevron are betting LNG will play an increasing role in emerging economies seeking alternatives to dirtier energy sources such as coal.
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Wired, By Vince Beiser, March 26
The killers rolled slowly down the narrow alley, three men jammed onto a single motorcycle. It was a little after 11 am on July 31, 2013, the sun beating down on the low, modest residential buildings lining a back street in the Indian farming village of Raipur. Faint smells of cooking spices, dust, and sewage seasoned the air. The men stopped the bike in front of the orange door of a two-story brick-and-plaster house. Two of them dismounted, eased open the unlocked door, and slipped into the darkened bedroom on the other side. White kerchiefs covered their lower faces. One of them carried a pistol.
Inside the bedroom Paleram Chauhan, a 52-year-old farmer, was napping after an early lunch. In the next room, his wife and daughter-in-law were cleaning up while Paleram’s son played with his own 3-year-old boy.
Gunshots thundered through the house. Preeti Chauhan, Paleram’s daughter-in-law, rushed into Paleram’s room, her husband, Ravindra, right behind her. Through the open door, they saw the killers jump back on their bike and roar away.
Gallic nation threatens to blow Europe’s Franco-German axis apart, warns former Italian prime minister.
The Telegraph, By Szu Ping Chan, March 21
France has become Europe’s “big problem”, according to the former prime minister of Italy, who warned that anti-Brussels sentiment and the rise of populist parties in the Gallic nation threatened to blow the bloc’s Franco-German axis apart.
Mario Monti – who was dubbed “Super Mario” for saving the country from collapse at the height of the eurozone debt crisis – said France’s “unease” with the single currency had already created tensions between Europe’s two largest economies.
“In the last few years we have seen France receding in terms of actual economic performance, in terms of complying with all the European rules, and above all in terms of its domestic public opinion – which is turning more and more against Europe,” he told The Telegraph.
US statement says of UK membership that it is ‘worried about a trend of constant accommodation’ of China, in a rare public breach in the special relationship.
The Guardian, By Nicholas Watt, Paul Lewis & Tania Branigan, March 12
The White House has issued a pointed statement declaring it hopes and expects the UK will use its influence to ensure that high standards of governance are upheld in a new Chinese-led investment bank that Britain is to join.
In a rare public breach in the special relationship, the White House signalled its unease at Britain’s decision to become a founder member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) by raising concerns about whether the new body would meet the standards of the World Bank.
The $50bn (£33.5bn) bank, which is designed to provide infrastructure funds to the Asia-Pacific region, is viewed with great suspicion by Washington officials, who see it as a rival to the World Bank. They believe Beijing will use the bank to extend its soft power in the region.
The White House statement reads: “This is the UK’s sovereign decision. We hope and expect that the UK will use its voice to push for adoption of high standards.”
Reuters, By Krista Hughes, March 4
Washington – The United States expects a global deal to cut customs red tape and streamline import procedures to come into force this year, a senior trade official said on Wednesday.
Mark Linscott, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for World Trade Organization and Multilateral Affairs, said Washington was “pretty confident” the deal agreed in Bali in 2013 would be up and running by year-end.
“It’s quite realistic to expect that the trade facilitation agreement [wikipedia: The “Bali Package”, WTO: Trade Facilitation] can come into force by the end of the year,” he told a Washington International Trade Association event.
Virginia Brown, director of trade and regulatory reforms at USAID, said the aid agency was ready to work with countries on implementation steps, which in many cases require lawmakers’ approval. “Our bread and butter is drafting that legislation and getting it through the legislative process,” she said.
The Canadian Press, By Alexander Panetta, February 24
Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama made good Tuesday on a threat to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing the two sides in the long-running controversy to a rare point of agreement: their battle is far from over.
”The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.
”We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built — not even close.”
Even the White House concurred that the issue is far from settled. It pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a step in a long, winding process — not a final destination.
The president cast the veto as a matter of procedural principle. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the bill he was scrapping had improperly tried to usurp presidential authority.
Al Jazeera investigates ties between Louisiana and the Chinese government in a proposed $1.85 billion methanol plant.
Al Jazeera, By Massoud Hayoun, January 26
This article is part one of a three-part series on China’s role in redeveloping southern Louisiana called China’s Louisiana Purchase.
St. James Parish, LA — A prominent Chinese tycoon and politician — whose natural gas company has a dubious environmental and labor rights record that recently started coming under fire in the Chinese press — is parking assets in a multibillion dollar methanol plant in a Louisiana town. And he appears to be doing it with help from the administration of likely GOP 2016 presidential ticket contender Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Not many locals in a predominantly black neighborhood of St. James Parish — halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — know that Wang Jinshu, the Communist Party Secretary for the northeastern Chinese village of Yuhuang and a former delegate to the National People’s Congress, is the man at the helm of a $1.85 billion methanol plant to be built in their town over the next two years with a $9.5 million incentive package from the state. The details of the project are unclear, residents say, largely because they were not told about the project until local officials, amid discussions with state officials and Chinese diplomats, decided to move forward with the project in July 2014.
“We never had a town hall meeting pretending to get our opinion prior to them doing it,” said Lawrence “Palo” Ambrose, a 74-year-old black Vietnam War veteran who works at a nearby church. “They didn’t make us part of the discussion.”
The ugly ramifications of the Trade in Services Act (TiSA)
Wolf Street, By Don Quijones, December 25
Much has been written, at least in the alternative media, about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), two multilateral trade treaties being negotiated between the representatives of dozens of national governments and armies of corporate lawyers and lobbyists (on which you can read more here, here and here). However, much less is known about the decidedly more secretive Trade in Services Act (TiSA), which involves more countries than either of the other two.
At least until now, that is. Thanks to a leaked document jointly published by the Associated Whistleblowing Press and Filtrala, the potential ramifications of the treaty being hashed out behind hermetically sealed doors in Geneva are finally seeping out into the public arena.