US President Trump’s tariffs set to dominate final day of NAFTA talks

Above, group of workers, disguised as US President Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, protest against Trump’s economic policies and the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico City. (AFP)
Updated 05 March 2018
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US President Trump’s tariffs set to dominate final day of NAFTA talks

MEXICO CITY: Ministers from the US, Canada and Mexico meet on Monday to wrap up the latest round of NAFTA talks under the shadow of US President Donald Trump’s proposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Trump is expected to finalize the tariffs — 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum — later in the week, posing a tough challenge for US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo.
The Mexican and Canadian ministers are likely to press Trump’s trade envoy on whether their countries will be excluded from the blanket tariffs.
“I expect it to be front and center” at the meeting, said Kevin Brady, the Republican chairman of the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, which oversees US trade policy.
Officials have so far been evasive when asked how the three nations can continue trying to update the North American Free Trade Agreement at a time when the US president is about to take a highly protectionist measure.
Brady led a delegation of US lawmakers to Mexico City to press officials on the need to conclude the talks, which have unnerved financial markets worried about the possibility that the North American supply chain could be disrupted.
Speaking on Sunday, Brady said all fairly-traded steel should be excluded from the tariffs. US stocks fell sharply on Thursday on fears of a looming trade war after Trump, a Republican, announced the planned tariffs.
The NAFTA talks are going slowly and the Mexico City round — the seventh of eight planned sets of negotiations — produced little of substance.
Eight days of talks in Mexico’s capital failed to make headway on new rules governing the content of products made in North America, which has been one of the most contentious issues in the talks.
The US negotiator charged with overseeing the so-called rules of origin unexpectedly returned to Washington for consultations early on and did not return. Talks on the matter will be rescheduled before the expected next proper NAFTA round in Washington in early April.
Still, Brady said he was impressed with the progress made during the week, emphasizing it was important to finish negotiating a modern, pro-growth agreement that would boost manufacturing and jobs.
US Representative Roger Marshall, a Republican who traveled with Brady to Mexico, said meetings during the week had closed chapters related to chemicals, communications and anti-corruption efforts.
“I am very optimistic,” Marshall told reporters after briefings from US trade officials.
Canada’s chief negotiator Steve Verheul said: “For the week we do have successes we can point (to), but we still have got a bit more to do.”
Dave Solverson, a former president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said the NAFTA region could not afford a trade war, especially when attempting to renegotiate the 24-year-old trade deal.


Crisis at India’s Jet worsens as it grounds planes, faces strike

The debt-laden carrier has delayed payments to banks, suppliers, pilots and lessors. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Crisis at India’s Jet worsens as it grounds planes, faces strike

  • More than 20,000 people are employed in the company
  • The company had to stop more than 50% of their aircraft due to insufficient funds

MUMBAI: India's Jet Airways was fighting multiple crises Wednesday after grounding six planes, leaving it with only a third of its fleet flying, while pilots have threatened to walk out and a major shareholder is reportedly looking to offload its huge stake.

The problems at India's number-two carrier come as other airlines struggle to turn a profit despite the sector rapidly expanding in the country over recent years.

Jet, which employs more than 20,000 people, is gasping under debts of more than $1 billion and has now been forced to ground a total of 78 of its 119 aircraft after failing to pay lenders and aircraft lessors.

In a statement late Tuesday announcing its latest grounding, the firm it said it was "actively engaging" with lenders to secure fresh liquidity and wanted to "minimise disruption".

But with hundreds of customers left stranded, Jet's social media accounts have been flooded with often suddenly stranded passengers demanding information, new flight tickets and refunds.

"@jetairways We book our flights in advance so that we save on travel cost and you are sending cancellation (message) now?", read one irate tweet on Wednesday.

"I have sent a DM (direct message) regarding my ticket details. Please respond!", said Sachin Deshpande, according to his Twitter profile a design engineer.

Another, Ankit Maloo, wrote: "Received an email for all together cancellation of flight days before departure without any prior intimation or communication over phone!"

The firm is also facing pressure from its many pilots who have not been paid on time, with unions threatening they will walk off the job if salaries do not arrive soon.

"Pilots will stop flying jet planes from 1st April 2019 if the company does not disburse due salaries and take concrete decisions," a spokesperson for the National Aviator's Guild, a pilots union, told AFP.

India's aviation regulator on Tuesday warned Jet Airways to ensure that staffers facing stress are not forced to operate flights.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates has offered to sell its 24 percent stake in Jet to State Bank of India (SBI).

A collapse would deal a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pragmatic pro-business reputation ahead of elections starting on April 11.

India's passenger numbers have rocketed six-fold over the past decade with its middle-class taking advantage of better connectivity and cheaper flights.

The country's aviation sector is projected to become the world's third-largest by 2025.

But like other carries, Mumbai-based Jet has been badly hit by fluctuating global crude prices, a weak rupee and fierce competition from budget rivals.

Alarm bells for Jet first rang in August when it failed to report its quarterly earnings or pay its staff, including pilots, on time. It then later reported a loss of $85 million.

In February, it secured a $1.19 billion bailout from lenders including SBI to bridge a funding gap, but the crisis has since deepened.

"Jet Airways is rapidly reaching a point of no return and running out of assets to keep itself afloat," Devesh Agarwal, editor of the Bangalore Aviation website, told AFP.

"The only solution is equity expansion by diluting its stakes but Jet is just trying to cut losses and running out of options," Agarwal said.

Shares in Jet Airways were down more than five percent on Wednesday.