Trump orders stiff trade tariffs, unswayed by grim warnings

US President Donald Trump poses as he signs a presidential proclamation placing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. (Reuters)
Updated 09 March 2018
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Trump orders stiff trade tariffs, unswayed by grim warnings

WASHINGTON: Unswayed by Republican warnings of a trade war, President Donald Trump ordered steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the US on Thursday, vowing to fight back against an “assault on our country” by foreign competitors. The president said he would exempt Canada and Mexico as “a special case” while negotiating for changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The new tariffs will take effect in 15 days, with America’s neighbors indefinitely spared “to see if we can make the deal,” Trump said. He suggested in an earlier meeting with his Cabinet that Australia and “other countries” might be spared, a shift that could soften the international blow amid threats of retaliation by trading partners.
Those “other countries” can try to negotiate their way out of the tariffs, he indicated, by ensuring their trade actions do not harm America’s security.
Surrounded by steel and aluminum workers holding hard hats, Trump cast his action as necessary to protect industries “ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices. It’s really an assault on our country. It’s been an assault.”
His move, an assertive step for his “America First” agenda, has rattled allies across the globe and raised questions at home about whether protectionism will impede US economic growth. The president made his announcement the same day that officials from 11 other Pacific Rim countries signed a sweeping trade agreement that came together after he pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership last year.
Though he focused on workers and their companies in his announcement, Trump’s legal proclamation made a major point that weakened steel and aluminum industries represent a major threat to America’s military strength and national security.
The former real estate developer said US politicians had for years lamented the decline in the steel and aluminum industries but no one before him was willing to take action.
Despite a week of furious lobbying against his plan by Republican lawmakers and some of his own advisers, Trump said he would go ahead with penalty tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. But he also said the penalties could “go up or down depending on the country, and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries. I just want fairness.”
Century Aluminum Chief Executive Michael Bless said the tariffs would allow his company, which produces high-purity aluminum used in military aircraft, to recall about 300 workers and restart idled production lines at its smelter in eastern Kentucky by early 2019. And Trump took note of US Steel’s announcement that it planned to ramp up activity at its plant in Granite City, Illinois, and recall about 500 employees because of the new tariffs.
But there was political criticism aplenty, especially from Trump’s own Republican Party.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, appearing with Home Depot employees in Atlanta, warned of “unintended consequences.” And Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called the tariffs “a very risky action” that could put agricultural and manufacturing jobs at risk.
“I’m not sure there are any winners in trade wars,” said Johnson, who once ran a plastics manufacturing business in his home state.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said Trump’s action was “like dropping a bomb on a flea” and could carry “huge unintended consequences for American manufacturers who depend on imported materials.”
Business leaders, too, sounded their alarm about the potential economic fallout, warning that American consumers would be hurt by higher prices. They noted that steel-consuming companies said tariffs imposed in 2002 by President George W. Bush ended up wiping out 200,000 US jobs.
“Tariffs are taxes, and the American taxpayer will pay the cost of a trade war,” said Cody Lusk, president and CEO of the American International Automobile Dealers Association. “Even with limited exemptions, tariffs will raise the sale prices of new vehicles.”
Stocks ended the day higher after the announcement, with investors relieved by the carved out exceptions for key allies.
At the White House, an upbeat Trump chatted with the steelworkers, invited them to the Oval Office and autographed a hard hat. He invited some of the workers to speak from the presidential podium, and several said that excessive “dumping” of foreign steel and aluminum had negatively affected their jobs and families.
The European Union warned before the announcement that it was ready to retaliate with counter-measures against iconic US products such as Harley Davidson motorcycles, Levi’s jeans and bourbon.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom tweeted after Trump’s announcement that “the EU should be excluded from these measures.” Malmstrom said she would be meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Brussels on Saturday.
The British government said tariffs “are not the right way to address the global problem of overcapacity” and said it would work with EU partners “to consider the scope for exemptions outlined today.”
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, meanwhile, called the announcement a “step forward” and said Canadian officials had exerted tremendous efforts to get the exemption. “That Canada could be seen as a threat to US security is inconceivable,” she said.
The exemptions for Canada and Mexico could be ended if talks to renegotiate NAFTA stall, the White House said. The talks are expected to resume early next month.
The run-up to Thursday’s announcement included intense debate within the White House, pitting hard-liners against free trade advocates such as outgoing economic adviser Gary Cohn. Recent weeks have seen other departures and negative news stories that have left Trump increasingly isolated, according to senior officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.


To fight off unemployment, Iraqi youth plant start-up seeds

Updated 17 February 2019
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To fight off unemployment, Iraqi youth plant start-up seeds

  • Iraqi entrepreneurs are taking on staggering unemployment by establishing their own start-ups
  • Under current legislation, private sector employees are not offered the same labor protections or social benefits as those in the public sector

BAGHDAD: Stuck between an endless waitlist for a government job and a frail private sector, Iraqi entrepreneurs are taking on staggering unemployment by establishing their own start-ups.
The first murmurs of this creative spirit were felt in 2013, but the Daesh group’s sweep across a third of the country the following year put many projects on hold.
Now, with Daesh defeated, co-working spaces and incubators are flourishing in a country whose unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent but whose public sector is too bloated to hire.
Many self-starters begin their journey at an aptly named glass building in central Baghdad: The Station.
There, they sip on coffee, peruse floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for ideas and grab a seat at clusters of desks where other stylish Iraqis click away at their laptops.
“We’re trying to create a new generation with a different state of mind,” said executive director Haidar Hamzoz.
“We want to tell youth that they can start their own project, achieve their dreams and not just be happy in a government job they didn’t even want,” he said.
Youth make up around 60 percent of Iraq’s nearly 40 million people.
After graduating from university, many spend years waiting to be appointed to a job in the government, Iraq’s biggest employer.
Four out of five jobs created in Iraq in recent years are in the public sector, according to the World Bank.
And in its 2019 budget, the government proposed $52 billion in salaries, pensions, and social security for its workers — a 15 percent jump from 2018 and more than half the total budget.
But with graduates entering the workforce faster than jobs are created, many still wait indefinitely for work.
Among youth, 17 percent of men and a whopping 27 percent of women are unemployed, the World Bank says.
When Daesh declared Mosul its seat of power in Iraq back in 2014, resident Saleh Mahmud was forced to shutter the city’s incubator for would-be entrepreneurs.
With Mosul now cautiously rebuilding after the militants were ousted in 2017, Mahmud is back in business.
“Around 600-700 youth have already passed by Mosul Space” to attend a seminar or seek out resources as they start their own ventures, said the 23-year-old.
He was inspired after watching fellow Mosul University graduates hopelessly “try to hunt down a connection to get a job in the public sphere.”
“A university education isn’t something that gets you a fulfilling job,” he said.
Another start-up, Dakkakena, is capitalizing on Mosul’s rebuilding spirit, too.
The online shopping service delivers a lorry-full of home goods every day to at least a dozen families refurnishing after the war.
“On the web, we can sell things for cheaper than stores because we have fewer costs, like no showrooms,” said founder Yussef Al-Noaime, 27.
Noaime fled Daesh to the Netherlands, where he was introduced to e-commerce. When he returned home, the computer engineer partnered with another local to found their venture.
A similar service, Miswag, was set-up in the capital Baghdad in 2014 and last year reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits.
On an autumn day, some 70 young Iraqi innovators converged for a three-day workshop in Baghdad on founding start-ups.
They flitted among round tables planning projects, their Arabic conversations sprinkled with English terms.
“What we’re doing is showing youth what entrepreneurship is — not necessarily so they succeed, but so they at least try,” said organizer Ibrahim Al-Zarari.
He said attendees should understand two things: first, that the public sector is saturated. And second, that oil isn’t the only resource on which Iraq — OPEC’s second-largest producer — should capitalize.
More than 65 percent of Iraq’s GDP and nearly 90 percent of state revenues hail from the oil sector. Many youths turn to it for work, but it only employs one percent of the workforce.
Widespread corruption and bureaucracy also weaken Iraq’s appeal for private investors. The World Bank ranks it 168th out of 190 for states with a good business environment.
Under current legislation, private sector employees are not offered the same labor protections or social benefits as those in the public sector.
And Iraq’s stuttering banking industry appears too cautious to dive in, said Tamara Raad, 26, who researches start-ups.
“The banks have a role to play. They must make loans without interest and help young entrepreneurs,” she said.
Banks or no banks, Mahmud in Mosul is already planning how he’ll grow his business in 2019.
“We will open a new, larger space for new gatherings,” he said excitedly, to bring together returning designers, developers and other inventors.