Trump, EU chief set to meet in Davos as US digital tariffs loom

US President Donald Trump is likely to meet with EU leader, Ursula von der Leyen, in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum. (AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

Trump, EU chief set to meet in Davos as US digital tariffs loom

  • Pair have previously sparred over NATO spending, with Iran high on agenda

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump is expected to meet with EU leader Ursula von der Leyen in Davos, Switzerland, next week, three sources said on Friday, as tensions mount over tariff threats, and the US president faces an impeachment trial at home.

Just days after Trump scored big victories by inking a partial trade deal with China and passing a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement, he will travel to the World Economic Forum where he is expected to discuss deepening trade disputes with the European Commission president.

The White House and the European Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Among the raft of trade issues dividing the allies, Washington’s most immediate concern is France’s plan to impose a 3 percent digital services tax, which the US government believes would harm US technology giants like Google and Amazon, with a host of other countries poised to follow suit.

In retaliation, the US trade representative last month threatened to impose a 100 percent tariff on champagne, handbags, cheese and other goods and services. Trade experts say those tariffs could hit as soon as late January, given the lack of progress in negotiations.

“Things are not really going anywhere,” said a European official, despite frequent talks between French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and top US trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer. “The US is not really ready to compromise in terms of having some sort of digital services tax.”

FASTFACT

Among the major trade issues is France’s plan to impose a 3 percent digital services tax, which the US government believes would harm US technology giants like Google and Amazon.

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan ended a round of talks with senior US officials in Washington on Thursday, saying that negotiations were off to a “good start” but there was more work to do.

Iran will also be high on the agenda, after the UK, France and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear pact, following Tehran’s decision to begin scaling back compliance.

The pact offered Iran sanctions relief, but Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, saying he wanted a tougher deal.

Tensions in the region heightened after the US killed powerful military commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, canceled plans to attend the forum.

Trump and von der Leyen, Germany’s former defense minister, previously sparred over Berlin’s failure to reach NATO’s 2 percent defense spending target.

In December 2016, von der Leyen defended her shocked reaction to Trump’s election, saying, “I am not a political machine, but a human being ... and I heard exactly what he said during the campaign, also as a woman.” 


Dubai counts on pent-up demand for tourism return

Updated 11 July 2020

Dubai counts on pent-up demand for tourism return

DUBAI: After a painful four-month tourism shutdown that ended this week, Dubai is betting pent-up demand will see the industry quickly bounce back, billing itself as a safe destination with the resources to ward off coronavirus.

The emirate, which had more than 16.7 million visitors last year, opened its doors to tourists despite global travel restrictions and the onset of the scorching Gulf summer in the hopes the sector will reboot before high season begins in the last quarter of 2020.

Embarking from Emirates flights, where cabin crew work in gowns and face shields, the first visitors arrived on Tuesday to be greeted by temperature checks and nasal swabs, in a city better known for skyscrapers, luxury resorts and over-the-top attractions.

Tourism chief Helal Al-Marri said that people may still be reluctant to travel right now, but that data shows they are already looking at destinations and preparing to come out of their shells.

“When you look at the indicators, and who is trying to buy travel, 10 weeks ago, six weeks ago and today look extremely different,” he said in an interview.

“People were worried (but) people today are really searching heavily for their next holiday and that is a very positive sign and I see a very strong comeback.”

The crisis crushed Dubai’s goal to push arrivals to 20 million this year and forced flag carrier Emirates, the largest airline in the Middle East, to cut its sprawling network and lay off an undisclosed number of staff.

But Al-Marri, director-general of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, said that unlike the gloom after the 2008 global financial crisis, the downturn is a one-off “shock event.”

“Once we do get to the other side, as we start to talk about next year and later on, we see very much a quick uptick. Because once things normalize, people will go back to travel again,” he said.

The reopening comes as the UAE battles stubbornly high coronavirus infection rates that have climbed to more than 53,500 with 328 deaths.

And as swathes of the world emerge from lockdown, for many travelers their holiday wish lists have shifted from free breakfasts and room upgrades to more pressing issues like hotel sanitation and hospital capacity.

With its advanced medical facilities and infrastructure, Dubai is betting it will be an attractive option for tourists.

“The first thing I’m thinking is — how is the health-care system, do they have it under control? Do I trust the government there?” Al-Marri said. “Yes they expect the airline to have precautionary measures, they expect it at the airport. But are they going to a city where everything from the taxi, to the restaurant, to the mall, to the beach has these measures in place?”

Tourists arriving in Dubai are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight. If not, they can take the test on arrival, but must self-isolate until they receive the all-clear.

While social distancing and face masks are widely enforced, many restaurants and attractions have reopened with business as usual, even if wait staff wear protective gear and menus have been replaced with QR codes.

“When it comes to Dubai, I think it’s really great to see the fun returning to the city. As you’ve seen, everything’s opened up,” Al-Marri said.