Trump Accuses China and Russia of Manipulating Their Currencies

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday it is unacceptable that Russia and China are devaluating their currencies, days after the Treasury Department declined to label these countries as currency manipulators in its latest report.  

Amid a possible new round of sanctions against Russia and a simmering trade war with China, Trump tweeted Monday morning, “Russia and China are playing the Currency Devaluation game as the U.S. keeps raising interest rates. Not acceptable!

In general, when a country artificially devaluates its currency, its exports become cheaper and more competitive in the global marketplace. 

During his presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly accused China of lowering the value of its currency and vowed to formally label China as a currency manipulator, but so far has failed to do so.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the administration is closely watching China’s currency practices. “That’s something that the Treasury Department is watching very closely and we’re continuing to monitor it,” she said Monday.

In a semiannual report titled “Macroeconomic and Foreign Exchange Policies of Major Trading Partners of the United States” released last Friday, the Treasury Department did not designate China as a currency manipulator, but put it as one of the six countries on a monitoring list. The other five countries on the list are Japan, Korea, India, Germany, and Switzerland. Russia is not on the monitoring list.  The Chinese currency, the renminbi, has appreciated over 3 percent against the dollar since the beginning of this year, after strengthening by over 6 percent in 2017.

Brad Setser,a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Treasury Department official said in an interview with VOA he does not think it is an accurate complaint that  Russia and China are playing the currency game.  

“The Russian ruble was actually quite stable before the sanctions on Russia were intensified. It’s quite clear the volatility in the ruble is a function of the intensification of U.S. sanctions, a sign that the sanctions are biting,” he explained. 

Setser said over the past several months, the Chinese yuan has actually appreciated, and China has not been intervening heavily. 

“There are plenty of things to criticize China for on trade, but right now, there’s no real basis for criticizing China on currency,” he noted.

In the past three years, the Federal Reserve raised interest rate six times to a range between 1.5 percent and 1.75 percent, and said they expect to raise the rate two or three more times this year.

Usually, when a country raises its interest rates, the value of its currency rises, making its exports more expensive and less competitive.  However, higher U.S. interest rates have not raised the value of the dollar. 

“The interesting puzzle that the market has been pondering for the past several months is that the dollar has actually weakened even as the U.S. has raised rates, and even as U.S. passed legislation to expand the fiscal deficit,” Setser said.   

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Economic Analysis at the Treasury Department Setser stressed the United States should not label China as a currency manipulator at this moment.

“It would undermine the United States’ credibility to name China at a point in time when there is no plausible case that China is managing its exchange rate in a way that is adverse to the U.S. interest,” he said. 


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Ramaphosa Team to Seek $8 Billion Investment for South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed a team of business and finance experts on Monday to hunt the globe for 100 billion rand ($8 billion) in investment to boost the ailing economy.

The team of economic envoys includes two former finance ministers — Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan, who now holds the state firms portfolio — as well as a former top banker.

Ramaphosa became president in February after winning the leadership of the ruling African National Congress last year on promises to revive the economy and crack down on corruption.

Monday’s appointments to the team also include economist Trudi Makhaya, who becomes special economic adviser to the president, former Treasury Director General Lungisa Fuzile, ex-Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and former Standard Bank chief executive Jacko Maree.

“These are people with valuable experience in the world of business, investment and finance and they have extensive networks across a number of major markets,” said Ramaphosa before leaving Johannesburg for a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.

Ramaphosa said the envoys would travel to Europe, Asia and across Africa to build an “investment book” to help plug a substantial shortfall of foreign and local direct investment.

“We are modest because we want to overachieve,” Ramaphosa said, explaining why the government was targeting 100 billion rand rather than a much larger sum.

Political and policy uncertainty damaged investment and business confidence during nine-year presidency of Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, when South Africa’s credit rating was slashed to junk by two of the top three agencies and economic growth slowed to a crawl.

The tide has begun to turn under Ramaphosa, with Moody’s last month keeping the country at investment grade and changing the outlook to stable from negative.

The economic outlook has also improved, with the World Bank raising its 2018 growth forecast to 1.4 percent this month from 1.1 percent forecast in September, a touch below the Treasury’s projection of 1.5 percent.

Ramaphosa has sacked or demoted a number of ministers allied to his scandal-ridden predecessor, and reinstated Nhlanhla Nene as finance Minister after Zuma fired him in 2015.


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EU Demands Compensation for US Steel Tariffs at WTO

The European Union is seeking compensation from the United States for U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, despite Washington’s assertion that they are not subject to World Trade Organization rules, a WTO filing showed Monday.

In a step already taken by China, the EU said it did not accept the “national security” justification for the U.S. tariffs but said they had been imposed just to protect U.S. industry.

“Notwithstanding the United States’ characterization of these measures as security measures, they are in essence safeguard measures,” the EU statement said.

Safeguard tariffs can be imposed on imports of a particular product if a country’s own industry is at risk of serious damage from a sudden surge of imports. In the U.S. case, critics of Trump’s policy say there is no such threat.

The EU said it wanted to hold consultations with the United States as soon as possible.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced the tariffs last month, causing a global outcry because the penalties were seen as unjustified and populist.

Countries can claim exemption from many international trade rules if they can show they are imposing tariffs to protect their national security. But those exemptions do not apply for safeguard sanctions.

The EU and other U.S. allies are not only worried the tariffs will limit the amount of their goods getting into the United States. They also fear steel barred from the United States will flood back into their markets, causing a glut.

China had said it will retaliate by putting duties on up to $3 billion of U.S. imports including fruit, nuts and wine.

The EU is drawing up its own list of duties.


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China Eyes Australian Donkey Exports

The Northern Territory government in Australia says it has been approached by nearly 50 Chinese companies looking to buy land to start donkey farms. Demand for donkey products, especially donkey-hide gelatin is increasing in China, while global supplies are falling.

The Northern Territory government has bought a small herd of wild donkeys for its research station near the outback town of Katherine. Earlier this a month of delegation of Chinese business people visited the facility, and up to 50 companies from China have expressed interest in buying land to set up donkey farms.

It is estimated there are up to 60,000 wild donkeys in the Northern Territory. Donkeys were brought to Australia from Africa as pack animals in the 1860s, and many were released when they were no longer needed. For years feral donkeys have been considered a major pest by farmers.The animals trample native vegetation, spread weeds and compete with domestic cattle for food and water.

Now the authorities believe there are economic benefits in captive donkey herds.

Alister Trier, the head of the Northern Territory’s department of primary industry believes the donkey trade has a bright future.

“My feel[ing] is the industry will develop but it will not displace the cattle industry, for example, I just do not think that will happen.What it will do is add some diversification opportunities for the use of pastoral land and Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory,” said Trier.

In China, donkey skins are boiled down to make gelatin, which is then used in alternative Chinese medicines and cosmetics.

Animal rights campaigners are pressuring the authorities not to allow the live export of donkeys to China, claiming that conditions in transit would be cruel and unacceptable.

Activists also insist that donkeys’ health suffers when they are kept in large herds.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Australia wants the donkey skin trade stopped altogether because of concerns the animals are being skinned alive overseas and treated with extreme cruelty.


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Full Steam Ahead for Mozambique’s Rail Network

Dozens of passengers line up in single file along the platform in the dead of night, ready to gather their luggage and pile into the ageing railway carriages.

At the small railway station in Nampula, in northeastern Mozambique, the 4:00 a.m. train to Cuamba in the north west is more than full, as it is every day, to the detriment of those slow to board and forced to stand.

In recent years, the government in Maputo has made developing the train network a priority as part of its economic plan.

But mounting public debt has meant that authorities had no choice but to cede control of the project to the private sector.

Seconds before the train — six passenger coaches coupled between two elderly US-made locomotives — leaves Nampula station, the platforms are already entirely empty.

No one can afford to be late.

Inside, the carriages remain pitch dark until the sun rises as the operator has not installed any lighting.

A blast of the horn and the sound of grinding metal marks the train’s stately progress along the 350-kilometre (220-mile) line to Cuamba — more than 10 hours away.

Five or six passengers cram onto benches intended for four without a murmur of complaint.

“The train is always full,” said Argentina Armendo, his son kneeling down nearby.

“Lots of people stay standing. Even those who have a ticket can’t be sure of getting on. They should add some coaches!”

‘Enormous growth potential’

“Yes, but it’s not expensive,” insists the conductor Edson Fortes, cooly. “It’s the most competitive means of transport for the poor. With the train, they are able to travel.”

Sitting in a vast, ferociously air-conditioned office Mario Moura da Silva, the rail operations manager for CDN, the company operating the line, appears more concerned about passenger numbers as a measure of success than perhaps their comfort.

In 2017, its trains carried almost 500,000 — a 265-percent increase on a year earlier.

“Passenger traffic isn’t profitable but it’s a requirement of the contract with the government,” said Moura da Silva.

“It’s not that which earns us money, it’s more the retail,” he added, referring to the company’s commercial operation, which has grown by 65 percent in a year.

Brazilian mining giant Vale, which owns CDN along with Japanese conglomerate Mitsui, began its Mozambican rail venture in 2005.

Having won a contract to run the concession from the government, it restored the former colonial line, which linked its inland coal mines with the port at Nacala.

It now operates a network of 1,350 kilometres (840 miles) following an investment of nearly $5 billion (around 4 billion euros).

“The growth potential is enormous,” said Moura da Silva.

Rail corridors

Mozambique’s government is eyeing the project as a bellwether for the industry.

“We have made infrastructure one of our four investment priorities,” said Transport Minister Carlos Fortes Mesquita.

“Thanks to this investment, the country recorded a strong growth in the railway sector.”

Eight new “rail corridor” projects are now under way in Mozambique, all funded with private capital, as the state grapples with a long-standing cash shortage.

The government has been engulfed in a scandal linked to secret borrowing by the treasury, which is juggling debt amounting to 112 percent of GDP.

As a result, a handful of large companies, attracted by Mozambique’s vast mineral wealth, have taken the lead in developing the country’s rail infrastructure.

But it is unclear if their interest in the sector will continue in the long-term.

Until the coal runs out?

“Today the Nacala line only exists because of coal. But once the mine closes, who will be able to justify continuing operations?” asked Benjamin Pequenino, an economist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

“The private sector won’t continue to invest if it knows it will lose money,” he said.

But in the absence of any alternative, former parliament speaker Abdul Carimo accepts that public-private partnerships are the least worst option.

Carimo, who remains close to the ruling party, now heads up the “Zambezi Development Corridor”.

The scheme is managed by Thai group, ITD, and plans to build 480 kilometres of track between Macuse port and the coal mines at Moatize for a price tag of $2.3 billion.

Carimo, who closely follows developments on the project, has vowed that “his” line will not only be used to carry minerals but will stimulate activity across the region it serves.

“I hate coal but I want this infrastructure to relaunch agriculture in Zambezi province,” he said, adding that the region was “one of the richest in the country in the 1970s.”

 

 

 


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Pence Says NAFTA Deal Possible in Several Weeks

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday that he was leaving a summit of Latin American countries in Peru very hopeful that the United States, Mexico and Canada were close to a deal on a renegotiated NAFTA trade pact.

Pence told reporters it was possible that a deal would be reached in the next several weeks.

The vice president also said that the topic of funding for U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico did not come up in Pence’s meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.


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India’s Federal Police File Case Against Former UCO Bank Chairman

India’s federal police said Saturday that they had filed a case against a former chairman of state-run UCO Bank and several business executives alleging criminal conspiracy that caused a loss of 6.21 billion rupees ($95.17 million).

Police said officials at the bank had colluded with private infrastructure firm Era Engineering Infra Ltd. and investment banking firm Altius Finserve Pvt. Ltd. to siphon bank loans.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said in a statement that Arun Kaul, the bank’s chairman from 2010 to 2015, had helped clear the loan.

Kaul did not respond to Reuters’ calls for comment. Era Engineering and Altius Finserve did not respond to calls outside regular business hours.

The case revealed yet another case of alleged bank fraud in India since February, when two jewelry groups were accused of using nearly

$2 billion of fraudulent bank guarantees in what has been dubbed the biggest fraud in India’s banking history.

That case put the banking sector under a cloud, with the CBI unearthing a string of other bank frauds since then.

In the UCO Bank case, it charged Kaul and several officials and accountants at the two companies with criminal conspiracy with intent to defraud the bank of about 6.21 billion rupees by diverting and siphoning loans, according to the

statement.

“The loan was not utilized for the sanctioned purpose and was secured by producing false end use certificates issued by the chartered accountant and by fabricating business data,” the CBI said.

The offices of the companies, accountants and the residences of the accused are being searched, the CBI said.


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Trump Task Force to Study Postal System Finances

After weeks of railing against online shopping giant Amazon, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday creating a task force to study the United States Postal System.

In the surprise move, Trump said that USPS is on “an unsustainable financial path” and “must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

The task force will be assigned to study factors including its pricing in the package delivery market and will have 120 days to submit a report with recommendations.

The order does not specifically mention Amazon or it owner, Jeff Bezos. But Trump has been criticizing the company for months, accusing it of not paying its fair share of taxes, harming the postal service, and putting brick-and-mortar stores out of business. Trump has also gone after Bezos personally and accused The Washington Post, which he owns, of being Amazon’s “chief lobbyist.”

The U.S. Postal Service has indeed lost money for years, but package delivery has actually been a bright spot for the service.

Boosted by e-commerce, the Postal Service has enjoyed double-digit revenue increases from delivering packages. That just hasn’t been enough to offset pension and health care costs as well as declines in first-class letters and marketing mail, which together make up more than two-thirds of postal revenue.

Still, Trump’s claim the service could be charging more may not be entirely far-fetched. A 2017 analysis by Citigroup concluded that the Postal Service, which does not use taxpayer money for its operations, was charging below market rates as a whole on parcels. Still, federal regulators have reviewed the Amazon contract with the Postal Service each year, and deemed it to be profitable.

 


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China Trade Deficit in March, Surplus with US for Quarter

China’s exports growth unexpectedly fell in March, raising questions about the health of one of the economy’s key growth drivers even as trade tensions rapidly escalate with the United States.

March import growth beat expectations, however, suggesting its domestic demand may still be solid enough to cushion the blow from any trade shocks.

That left China with a rare trade deficit for the month, also the first drop since last February.

The latest readings on the health of China’s trade sector follow weeks of tit-for-tat tariff threats by Washington and Beijing, sparked by U.S. frustration with China’s massive bilateral trade surplus and intellectual property policies, that have fueled fears of a global trade war.

China’s March exports fell 2.7 percent from a year earlier, lagging analysts’ forecasts for a 10 percent increase, and down from a sharper-than-expected 44.5 percent jump in February, which economists believe was heavily distorted by seasonal factors.

For the first quarter as a whole, exports still grew a hefty 14.1 percent.

Stronger currency

Some analysts had expected a pullback in March exports following an unusually strong start to the year, when firms stepped up shipments before the long Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February. That scenario did not alter their view that global demand remains robust.

But a stronger currency could also be starting to erode Chinese exporters’ competitiveness. The yuan appreciated around 3.7 percent against the U.S. dollar in the first quarter this year, on top of a 6.6 percent gain last year.

No hard timeline has been set by either Washington or Beijing for the actual imposition of tariffs, which leaves the door open to negotiations and a possible compromise that could limit the damage to both sides.

But with the threat of tariffs hanging over nearly a third of China’s exports to the United States, analysts say its companies and their U.S. customers may try to front-load shipments before any measures kick in.

China’s exports to the U.S. rose 14.8 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, while imports rose 8.9 percent.

That sent its quarterly trade surplus with the U.S. surging 19.4 percent to $58.25 billion, though the March reading narrowed to $15.43 billion from $20.96 billion in February.

China’s total aluminum exports in March rose to their highest since June, just as the United States imposed a 10 percent tariff on imports of the metal on March 23 along with a 25 percent duty on steel imports.

Outlook cloudy

China’s exports rode a global trade boom last year, expanding at the fastest pace since 2013 and serving as one of the key drivers behind the economy’s forecast-beating expansion.

But the sudden spike in trade tensions with the United States is clouding the outlook for both China’s “old economy” heavy industries and “new economy” tech firms.

Washington says China’s $375 billion trade surplus with the United States is unacceptable, and has demanded Beijing reduce it by $100 billion immediately.

In a move to further force China to lower the trade surplus running with the U.S., Trump unveiled tariff representing about $50 billion of technology, transport and medical products early this month, drawing an immediate threat of retaliatory action from Beijing.

China’s tech sector, which is key part of Beijing’s longer-term “Made in China 2025” strategy to move from cheap goods to higher-value manufacturing, may be particularly vulnerable.

High-tech products have been among its fastest growing export segments. China exported $137.8 billion worth of high-tech products in the first quarter, up 20.5 percent on-year.


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