Trump signs order punishing China on trade

Donald Trump speaks after he signed a presidential memorandum imposing tariffs and investment restrictions on China in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo)
Updated 22 March 2018

Trump signs order punishing China on trade

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump signed an order Thursday that paves the way for imposing tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese imports to punish Beijing for what he said is the theft of American technology and Chinese pressure on US companies to hand it over.
“It is the largest deficit of any country in the history of our world,” Trump said of the US-China trade imbalance, blaming it for lost American jobs.
He said his action would make the country stronger and richer.
China has already warned that it will take “all necessary measures” to defend itself, raising the prospect of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.
The White House said Thursday that Trump would direct the Office of the US Trade Representative to publish a list of proposed tariffs for public comment within 15 days. USTR has already identified potential targets: 1,300 product lines worth about $48 billion. The president is also asking Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to come up with a list of restrictions on Chinese investment.
Financial markets skidded Thursday on the risk of growing commercial conflict between the US and China and the possibility that China will impose retaliatory tariffs on US products. Dozens of industry groups sent a letter last weekend to Trump warning that “the imposition of sweeping tariffs would trigger a chain reaction of negative consequences for the US economy, provoking retaliation; stifling US agriculture, goods, and services exports, and raising costs for businesses and consumers.”
The administration moves on Thursday mark the end of a seven-month US investigation into the hardball tactics China has used to challenge US supremacy in technology, including, the US says, dispatching hackers to steal commercial secrets and demanding that US companies hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The administration argues that years of negotiations with China have failed to produce results.
“It could be a watershed moment,” said Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank. “The Trump administration’s decision to go down this path is illustrative that previous strategies have not borne the hoped-for fruit.”
Business groups mostly agree that something needs to be done about China’s aggressive push in technology — but they worry that China will retaliate by targeting US exports of aircraft, soybeans and other products and start a tit-for-tat trade war of escalating sanctions between the world’s two biggest economies.
“The sanctions are a very big deal,” says Mary Lovely, a Syracuse University economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “The Chinese see them as a major threat and do not want a costly trade war.”

China will not sit idly to see its legitimate rights damaged and must take all necessary measures to resolutely defend its legitimate rights.

China's Commerce Ministry

Chinese officials warned of potential retaliation and expressed hopes that the US would avoid taking actions that would hurt both countries.
“China will not sit idly to see its legitimate rights damaged and must take all necessary measures to resolutely defend its legitimate rights,” the Commerce Ministry in Beijing said in a statement on its website.
The move against China comes just as the United States prepares to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum — sanctions that are meant to hit China for flooding the world with cheap steel and aluminum but will likely fall hardest on US allies like South Korea and Brazil because they ship more of the metals to the United States.
Trump campaigned on promises to bring down America’s massive trade deficit — $566 billion last year — by rewriting trade agreements and cracking down on what he called abusive commercial practices by US trading partners. But he was slow to turn rhetoric to action. In January, he imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines. Then he unveiled the steel and aluminum tariffs, saying reliance on imported metals jeopardizes US national security.
To target China, Trump has dusted off a Cold War weapon for trade disputes: Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974, which lets the president unilaterally impose tariffs. It was meant for a world in which large swaths of global commerce were not covered by trade agreements. With the arrival in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, which polices global trade, Section 301 fell largely into disuse.
At first it looked like Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were going to get along fine. They enjoyed an amiable summit nearly a year ago at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. But America’s longstanding complaints about Chinese economic practices continued to simmer, and it became more and more apparent that the US investigation into China’s technology policies was going to end in trade sanctions.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang this week urged Washington to act “rationally” and promised to open China up to more foreign products and investment. “China has been trying to cool things down for weeks. They have offered concessions,” Lovely says. “Nothing seems to cool the fire. I fear they will take a hard line now that their efforts have been rebuffed. China cannot appear subservient to the US.”


INTERVIEW: CEO Maaz Sheikh sees business soar as Saudi viewers turn to streaming services

Updated 05 July 2020

INTERVIEW: CEO Maaz Sheikh sees business soar as Saudi viewers turn to streaming services

  • All eyes on Starzplay as lockdown reaps rewards

Maaz Sheikh has had a good lockdown.

The founder and CEO of Starzplay, the Middle East’s leading entertainment streaming channel, saw his business soar as curfews, social distancing and travel restrictions left people with little to do apart from slump in front of a TV and binge watch for hours on end.

“I think when the whole situation was unfolding, we were trying to think which way is up and which was down, both on a personal level and also as a company — what it means for our subscribers. It was nerve-wracking in the beginning,” Maaz Sheikh told Arab News.

In the region, it was Starzplay subscribers chose to watch, rather than Netflix or other streaming services, in English and in Arabic.

“What we benefited from, of course, was all the people staying home, but one of the things that worked in our favor was that we are an organization based and headquartered here, and we were able to adapt and localize our services much faster than anyone else,” he said.

“In Saudi Arabia, you can sign up for Starzplay via STC, Mobily or any of the other services. You can sign up with your mobile phone number. Netflix came to this region with a very US-centric mindset, thinking that everyone had a credit card and that having a credit card is a norm in the world. In fact, the reality is different, especially in Saudi. Not everyone has a credit card,” he added.

“So, through one bill where you pay your landline and your broadband, you can also have access to Starzplay on the same bill. You can just download onto your smart TV,” he added.

Starzplay has been in business for five years, and while it is probably not as well known as Netflix, it has been making big inroads into the region, especially Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom accounts for 40 percent of total revenue, while almost half of all consumption in the Middle East and North Africa region comes from Saudi viewers.

And what have they been watching during the long weeks of lockdown? 

Lots of “Vikings,” “The Office” and Turkish-made romantic soap “Jusoor Wal Jamila.” 

Saudis on average watched more than 18 hours of Starzplay in May, compared with less than 12 a year before.


BIO

BORN: Islamabad 1970.

EDUCATION

  • Schooling in Dubai, UAE.
  • Oklahoma State University, US.
  • University of Kansas, MBA.

CAREER

  • Various executive roles in media and communications, US.
  • Chief sales and operations officer, OSN, Dubai.
  • CEO and founder, Starzplay.

“The beauty is that everyone has a mobile phone. We were there in the market with the right product, the right content, but also the right distribution so the masses can actually sign up for our service. It really benefited us.

“It was not just that we were a streaming service. The whole category benefited from the lockdown, but we were the only one in the market that had this kind of distribution and payment arrangements. We were the only one available to the masses,” Sheikh said.

It is not just the distribution platform that is different from Netflix. Starzplay takes a distinct stance on content, too, as Sheikh explained.

“Our industry is evolving in a simple and predictable way. What is happening is that the more Netflix has gone into its own originals, the more studios see them as a competitor. So studios have been pulling their content away from Netflix.

“Until now, with what comes out of Hollywood and the UK, 95 percent of English-language content was produced by seven or eight studios. In the UK it’s the likes of the BBC and ITV, while in the US it’s Warner, Disney, Sony, Showtime, CBS, all the major studios,” he said.

“So, the way the industry is evolving is that if you want Netflix originals, you go to Netflix, if you want anything else you go to Starzplay,” he said.

Sheikh reeled off an impressive list of top shows on his platform. “Big Bang Theory,” “Billions,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Britannia” are among them, while younger viewers soak up “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and other DC titles made by Warner Studios.

Starzplay has also made its first foray into original content, tailored for a Middle East audience, with the series “Baghdad Central.”

“Data is the new oil, they say, and ‘Baghdad Central’ was the result of our experience over five years of consumption history, with billions and billions of minutes consumed. So based on what people were consuming in our key markets and with those insights, we produced our first original,” Sheikh said.

“Baghdad Central” was launched in March with a big name Hollywood actor — Corey Stoll from the award-winning series “House of Cards” — as well as top British and Arab actors.

“We wanted to bring a show to the region that combined the best of the three. It was shot in Morocco in partnership with UK and US producers,” he explained.

That kind of content has pulled in the viewers during lockdown. The figures show Starzplay hit a peak of 6.5 million daily minutes of consumption in Saudi Arabia in the middle of April, compared with about 2 million before the pandemic lockdowns.

Existing viewers are also watching more. The average Saudi spent 28 minutes daily in front of a Starzplay show before the lockdown. That more than doubled to one hour as movement outside the home was restricted.

“To put that into perspective, it took us five years to go from zero to 2 million minutes a day, and it took us six weeks to go from 2 million to 6.5 million. We did more consumption growth in six weeks than we did in the first five years,” Sheikh said.

He is reluctant to forecast how many of these consumers will stay with Starzplay as the lockdowns are eased around the world and the region. 

“I’m expecting some churn, so it’s tough to predict what the base will look like later in the year. We saw tremendous growth, but as the lockdown eases I think we’ll see some churn on those subscribers,” he said.

But even as the lockdown are eased significantly in the region, consumers are not going back to pre-pandemic levels. There is likely to be a permanent shift in demand for Starzplay in the “new normal” environment.

“Unlike Netflix, one of the challenges we had in the region is that the brand awareness and content awareness of our service was comparatively low. One of the things that has happened is that because of increasing demand and awareness, people got to find out about Starzplay. People experienced that and connected the content to our brand.

“That is going to be an enduring and lasting benefit for our company. You cannot unlearn it. I’m expecting some churn in high sign-ups and reduced consumption volumes, but the lasting benefit we’re hoping for is the brand awareness and content awareness that was created,” he said.

That kind of growth is likely to accelerate Starzplay’s evolution from a privately funded startup to a listed public company. It has raised $125 million over its five years, from some pretty impressive investors, including US media giant Lionsgate, the big financial firm State Street Global Advisers, and Nordic investment firm SEQ, which backed Starzplay from the beginning.

With profitability just around the corner, Sheikh does not see the need for further funding, especially as investment sources have dried up during the uncertainty of the pandemic period.

“During COVID times, when consumption and new subscribers were going through the roof, the flip side was that we realized that capital markets were going to be out for 2020. Lucky for us, we are well capitalized, and we are not in a situation where we need to use funds. This is not a good time to be out there raising money,” he said.

“The goal is to serve our customers and also create shareholder value. There are multiple ways of doing that. One is that you generate cash and shareholders benefit from cash dividends. That’s the traditional model. The more high-growth model that is more applicable to companies like us is shareholders push for more growth and expansion to increase the enterprise value of the company,” he said.

Sheikh has set his medium-term sights on a public listing. “In the long run the goal is to continue to grow the business, and in the next three to five years to get into a position where we can list the company on the London Stock Exchange.

“We haven’t absolutely decided that, as it’s so far out. I’d say what we’re looking to do is list ourselves, and if not in London, then other markets, local or London. That’s the ambition, to look to IPO on London or other markets. We’re not there yet. We’re still two to three years away from a decision, but that’s our ambition,” he said.