G20 financial leaders seek “free trade” pledge amid US tariffs concern

The main focus of the G20 talks is the threat of a trade war between the US and its trading partners, particularly China and the European Union. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
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G20 financial leaders seek “free trade” pledge amid US tariffs concern

BUENOS AIRES: The world’s financial leaders were seeking on Monday to clearly endorse free trade and renounce protectionism amid concern that US tariffs on steel and aluminum and looming actions against China could trigger a trade war that would hurt global growth.
Finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s 20 biggest economies are meeting in Buenos Aires to discuss the economic outlook, capital flows, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and how to prevent tax avoidance by international companies.
But since the unilateral decision by US President Donald Trump on March 8 to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, trade has become the focal point of the meeting.
“I am seriously concerned that the foundation of our prosperity — free trade — is being put at risk,” German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told German mass-selling daily Bild.
“Protectionism is not the answer to the difficulties of our time. The situation is serious,” he said, adding he would be cautious yet about using the term trade “war.”
On Sunday Scholz said he would seek to dissuade Washington from imposing the planned punitive steel and aluminum tariffs which only come into effect on March 23.
Others at the G20 meeting, which will conclude on Tuesday with a joint communique, shared Germany’s concern.
“There is a solid understanding among the global community that free trade is important,” Japanese central bank governor Haruhiko Kuroda told reporters upon arrival for the talks. Brazilian Central Bank governor Ilan Goldfajn also called on the G20 to work to keep global trade flows open.
The US import tariffs on steel and aluminum have raised alarms among trading partners that Trump is following through on his threats to dismantle the decades-old trading system based around World Trade Organization rules in favor of unilateral US actions.
Potentially broader anti-China tariffs and investment restrictions under consideration as part of a US intellectual property probe have raised concerns that retaliation could seriously diminish global trade and choke off the strongest global growth since the G20 was formed during the 2008 financial crisis.
Morgan Stanley economists said in a report to clients late on Sunday that a broad-based application of US “Section 301” remedies resulting in a 20 percent tariff on Chinese manufactured goods, coupled with a commensurate response from China, would slash annual growth rates in both countries by a full percentage point within a year.
An early draft of the G20 communique seen by Reuters contained the phrase “international trade and investment are important engines of growth.”
It also said that G20 finance ministers stood by an agreement reached by their leaders in July last year in Hamburg.
A G20 official said discussions now centered on whether that language on trade would remain in the communique, which has to be endorsed unanimously, including by the United States.
The agreement from Hamburg, to which the Buenos Aires draft referred, said: “We note the importance of bilateral, regional and plurilateral agreements being open, transparent, inclusive and WTO-consistent, and commit to working to ensure they complement the multilateral trade agreements.”
Unilateral decisions by the United States to impose tariffs are seen as going against negotiated, or “multilateral” measures that would be part of the WTO.
The draft G20 communique also said that while the global economic outlook has been improving, “a retreat to inward looking policies” — suggesting protectionist trade practices — was a risk to growth.


Google puts up $1B to ease housing headaches it helped cause

In this May 1, 2019, file photo, a woman walks past a Google sign in San Francisco. Google is making a $1 billion commitment to address the soaring price of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, a problem that the internet company and its Silicon Valley peers helped create as the technology industry hired tens of thousands of high-paid workers. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2019
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Google puts up $1B to ease housing headaches it helped cause

  • A report by Working Partnerships called upon Google to build more than 17,000 homes in the area to help offset the anticipated price increases caused by the new campus

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is pouring $1 billion into easing the high-priced housing headaches that it and its Silicon Valley peers helped give the San Francisco Bay Area.
The pledge announced Tuesday by Google CEO Sundar Pichai consists of a $250 million investment fund and $750 million of company-owned land. It will be used to build at least 15,000 homes that will include low- and mid-income housing.
Google’s commitment eclipsed a recent $500 million pledge made by Microsoft to combat housing shortages in the Seattle area and a $500 million housing fund created by a consortium including Facebook.
Google is extending a helping hand as it draws up plans to expand into sprawling offices beyond its headquarters in Mountain View, California. That suburban city of roughly 80,000 people has been swamped with affluent tech workers since Google moved there shortly after its 1998 inception.
Since then, Google’s payroll has swelled from a few dozen workers to the more than 103,000 people now working for it and its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc. Nearly half of those workers are based in the Bay Area.
While Google has been expanding, so have a wide variety of other technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, Oracle, Salesforce and Netflix — all of whom also lavish their workers with six-figure salaries and stock options that can yield multimillion-dollar windfalls.
The high incomes have resulted in bidding wars for the limited supply of homes in the Bay Area that can only be afforded by the affluent, a group increasingly dominated by tech workers, while people employed in other lines of work struggle to make ends meet on more modest incomes.
That is making it impossible for people on the lower end of the economic spectrum to buy a home in the Bay Area, where a mid-priced house sold for $990,000 in April, according to the California Association of Realtors, a trade group. In 1999, a mid-priced home sold for $308,000.
It’s even worse in San Francisco, a city from which many tech workers ride company buses to the Silicon Valley suburbs. A mid-priced house in San Francisco sold for nearly $1.7 million in April, according to the realtors’ group, quadruple the price of 20 years ago.
Google’s next big project will be in the Bay Area’s most populous city, San Jose, where it plans to build a corporate campus consisting of offices and housing where 15,000 to 20,000 of its employees will work and live.
The project faced resistance from community activists worried about its effect on housing prices. Last week, a report by Working Partnerships called upon Google to build more than 17,000 homes in the area to help offset the anticipated price increases caused by the new campus. The report by the labor-union backed labor group envisions apartment rent increases of $235 million by 2030 if action isn’t taken.
“For several months, we have encouraged Google to make a bold commitment to address our region’s affordable housing challenge,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement applauding the company’s $1 billion pledge.