Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma said Wednesday that the Chinese e-commerce giant had canceled plans to create 1 million jobs in the U.S., blaming the ongoing trade war for the decision, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.
“This commitment is based on friendly China-U.S. cooperation and the rational and objective premise of bilateral trade,” Ma told Xinhua. “The current situation has already destroyed the original premise. There is no way to deliver the promise.”
Ma originally pledged to spur job growth by letting American small businesses and farmers sell their goods on Alibaba, which is one of the world’s largest online retailers, when he visited then-President-elect Donald Trump early 2017.
Trump imposed 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports on Monday, threatening to place taxes on an additional $267 billion worth of Chinese imports if China attempts to retaliate.
China placed tariffs on about $60 billion worth of U.S. products the next day as previously planned, though it reduced the size of the tariffs.
At an Alibaba investor conference Tuesday, Ma described the state of economic relations between the two countries as a “mess” with consequences that could last for decades.
Some experts said Ma’s plan to bring 1 million jobs to the U.S. might have been overly ambitious in the first place.
Canada said on Wednesday that it would need to see movement from the United States if the two sides are to reach a deal on renewing NAFTA, which Washington insists must be finished by the end of the month.
Although the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and its allies are increasing pressure on Canada to make the concessions they say are needed for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear he also wanted to see flexibility.
“We’re interested in what could be a good deal for Canada but we’re going to need to see a certain amount of movement in order to get there and that’s certainly what we’re hoping for,” he told reporters in Ottawa.
Shortly afterwards, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for their fourth set of talks in four weeks with the two sides still disagreeing on major issues.
Trump has already wrapped up a side deal with Mexico and is threatening to exclude Canada if necessary. Canadian officials say they do not believe the U.S. Congress would agree to turn NAFTA into a bilateral treaty.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said it would be extremely complicated, if not impossible, for the administration to pull off a Mexico-only agreement.
“If Canada doesn’t come into the deal there is no deal,” Donohue told a media breakfast in Washington.
Donohue said he believed that if the administration wanted to end the current NAFTA, such a move would be subject to a vote in Congress, which would be difficult to get.
The Chamber, the most influential U.S. business lobby, wants NAFTA to be renegotiated as a tri-lateral agreement, citing how highly integrated the three member nations’ economies have become since the pact came into force in 1994.
Negotiators are arguing over cultural protections, dispute resolution, and a U.S. demand for more access to Canada’s protected dairy market. Sources say Ottawa has made clear it is prepared to make concessions, which would anger the influential dairy lobby.
“For American farmers the Canadian market is a drop in the bucket. For us it’s our livelihood,” Dairy Farmers of Canada vice president David Wiens told reporters in Ottawa. Concessions in past trade deals had already hurt Canadian farmers, he said.
“The dairy sector cannot be negatively impacted again by a new trade agreement,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
Kenya’s Finance Minister Henry Rotich has cut the government’s spending budget by 55.1 billion shillings ($546.90 million), or 1.8 percent, for the fiscal year from July this year, a Treasury document showed on Wednesday.
The government is facing a tough balancing act after a public outcry over a new 16 percent value added tax on all petroleum products forced President Uhuru Kenyatta to suggest to parliament to keep the VAT and cut if by half.
In the document detailing the new spending estimates, Rotich said the budget had to be adjusted because of the amendments to tax measures brought by lawmakers when they first debated it and passed it last month.
The proposed halving of the VAT rate on fuel has left the government with a funding shortfall, hence the cuts in spending.
Parliament will vote on a raft of proposals, including the 1.8 percent cut on spending, in a special sitting on Thursday.
Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by 6 percent this year, recovering from a drought, slowdown in lending and election-related worries that cut growth in 2017, but investors and the IMF have expressed concerns over growing public debt.
While the next election is still four years away, the government’s economic policies are chafing with citizens angered by increasing costs of living. Fuel dealers protested when the VAT on fuel kicked in this month and citizen groups have gone to court to try to block new or higher taxes.
Separate documents sent by Kenyatta to parliament ahead of Thursday’s sitting underscored the debate in government over how to boost revenues without hurting the poor.
His government has to reduce a gaping fiscal deficit while boosting spending on priority areas such as healthcare and affordable housing.
In order to balance the government’s books after the reduction of the fuel tax, he is trying to reinstate several tax measures struck out by parliament, including a 2 percentage hike on excise duty for mobile phone money transfers to 12 percent.
Kenya’s biggest mobile phone operator Safaricom said in June it was opposed to any tax rise on mobile phone-based transfers, arguing that it would mainly hurt the poor, most of whom do not have bank accounts and rely on services such as its M-Pesa platform.
The president also asked parliament to double the excise duty on the fees charged by banks, money transfer services, and other financial institutions to 20 percent.
Parliament in August threw out an earlier version of proposed fees on bank transfers, a so-called “Robin Hood” tax of 0.05 percent on transfers of more than 500,000 shillings.
The president has not yet signed the budget due to the dispute over the planned tax hikes. Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and its allies have a comfortable majority in parliament.
The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry this month said the government should widen the tax base. It also urged the state to cut expenditure, reduce wastage of public funds and deal with corruption, which some studies have found lose the government about a third of its annual budget.
EU regulators are quizzing merchants and others on U.S. online retailer Amazon’s use of their data to discover whether there is a need for action, Europe’s antitrust chief said on Wednesday.
The comments by European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager came as the world’s largest online retailer faces calls for more regulatory intervention and even its potential break-up because of its sheer size.
Vestager said the issue was about a company hosting merchants on its site and at the same time competing with these same retailers by using their data for its own sales.
“We are gathering information on the issue and we have sent quite a number of questionnaires to market participants in order to understand this issue in full,” Vestager told a news conference.
“These are very early days and we haven’t formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture.”
Seattle-based Amazon had no immediate comment.
Vestager has the power to fine companies up to 10 percent of their global turnover for breaching EU antitrust rules.
Фонд державного майна станом на вересень отримав обсяг доходів від оренди майна, який планували отримати протягом року. Про це повідомив виконувач обов’язків голови Фонду Віталій Трубаров.
За його словами, ФДМ вже отримав один мільярд гривень від оренди підзвітних йому об’єктів державної власності. Трубаров прогнозує, що до кінця року загальна сума сягне майже 1,5 мільярди гривень.
Втім, голова Фонду звернув увагу на те, що чимало державних об’єктів досі не задіяні для оренди.
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«На сьогодні ще існує величезна кількість об’єктів, які перебувають на балансі різних міністерств і відомств, котрі не використовуються, пустують, а могли би приносити гроші до бюджету. І Фонд державного майна вкотре закликає балансоутримувачів більш активно передавати такі об’єкти для оренди», – заявив чиновник.
Сума надходжень від оренди державного майна, закладена в проект бюджету 2018 року, становила один мільярд гривень. Надходження від приватизації мають сягнути 21,3 мільярди гривень.
Компанія з виробництва електромобілів Tesla стала об’єктом уваги Міністерства юстиції Сполучених Штатів через публічні заяви свого засновника та директора Ілона Маска, повідомляє американське видання Bloomberg.
Федеральні прокурори почали розслідування про ймовірне шахрайство після того, як Ілон Маск минулого місяця заявив, що думає, чи не викупити компанію Tesla в акціонерів.
«Міркую над тим, щоб зробити Tesla приватною за ціною 420 доларів (за акцію – ред). Гроші є», – написав він тоді».
Після цієї заяви акції компанії стрімко зросли.
В Tesla підтвердили, що Мін’юст зв’язувався з нею.
«Минулого місяця, після заяви Ілона, що він думає над купівлею компанії, Tesla отримала запит від Міністерства юстиції на добровільне надання документів, і у своїй відповіді ми пішли на співпрацю. Нам не надсилали судових повісток, запитів на дачу свідчень чи будь-яких інших формальних документів. Ми поважаємо бажання Міністерства юстиції отримати інформацію про справу і віримо, що вона буде швидко вирішена, коли вони ознайомляться з отриманими даними», – заявили в компанії.
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Однак розслідування прокуратури в Північному судовому окрузі штату Каліфорнія все ж вилилося в повістку, яку Комісія з цінних паперів і бірж надіслала компанії щодо планів Маска її викупити, від яких він згодом відмовився.
Акції Tesla 18 вересня впали на 3,4%. Загальне падіння протягом 2018 року – 8,5%.
In Kenya, a new taxi hailing app developed by local taxi drivers is in its fourth month of operation in Nairobi. Dubbed BebaBeba by the Drivers and Partners Association of Kenya (DPAK), it was created to compete with Uber and other ride hailing apps. Rael Ombuor reports from Nairobi.
How to communicate with someone who speaks a different language? It’s an age-old problem. But now with an explosion of translation apps and devices, Michelle Quinn reports that overcoming language barriers is becoming easier.
Videos of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro feasting on steaks at an upscale restaurant have sparked worldwide outrage on behalf of the poverty-stricken people of his country.
One video show celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, also known as “Salt Bae,” carving meat for the president and his wife, Cilia Flores, at the Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul, where each cut of meat can cost hundreds of dollars.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio slammed the chef who was filmed with the “dictator,” who was shown eating “a five-star gourmet meal, smoking fine cigars while the people of Venezuela are literally starving.”
“It’s an outrage, disgusting … this is a man starving human beings and [Salt Bae] is celebrating him as some sort of hero – I got pissed,” Rubio told the Miami Herald on Tuesday.
“I don’t know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of #Venezuela. He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition,” Rubio tweeted Tuesday.
The senator also tweeted the address and phone number of the chef’s restaurant in Miami, which is home to scores of Venzeulan-Americans and Cuban-Americans who despise the socialist leader.
Opposition leader Julio Borges, who lives in exile in Colombia, tweeted: “While Venezuelans suffer and die of hunger, Nicolas Maduro and Cilia Flores have a good time in one of the most expensive restaurants in the world, all with money stolen from the Venezuelan people.”
The once-wealthy oil-producing nation has been in an economic crisis for the past five years. The turmoil has left many Venezuelans struggling to find food and medicine and driven masses to flee to other South American countries.
According to the United Nations, more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014.
A Meganalisis poll published in the Miami Herald last month found more then 30 percent of Venezuelans say they only ate one meal a day, nearly the same number report eating “nothing or close to nothing” at least one day a week and a staggering 78 percent said they had trouble finding enough food.
Mexico’s incoming financial intelligence chief said it was “shameful” how little had been done about bribes that Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht executives said were paid to secure Mexican public works contracts, and vowed to reexamine the case once in office.
Santiago Nieto will head the finance ministry’s Financial Intelligence Unit, which analyzes suspicious financial records, once the new leftist government takes office on Dec. 1. He said in an interview last week that the unit had been misused for political ends, without elaborating.
“It’s shameful that Mexico and Venezuela are the only countries in Latin America that haven’t sanctioned anyone,” he said of the Odebrecht case, which is at the heart of Brazil’s Lava Jato, or Car Wash, corruption investigation that has reverberated across the region in recent years.
“In the case of Odebrecht, and in any other case, the first thing we would have to do is review what there is in the Financial Intelligence Unit related to the case,” he said. Nieto does not yet have access to files and records kept by the unit.
In Brazil, Odebrecht executives admitted to paying bribes within Mexico. Prosecutors in Mexico have said they are probing business between the Brazilian conglomerate and state oil company Pemex.
Pemex has declined to comment on issues related to Odebrecht, citing the ongoing investigation. The office of Mexico’s attorney general, the finance ministry and the Financial Intelligence Unit all declined to comment for this story. Odebrecht acknowledged receipt of an emailed request for comment, but did not respond further.
Anger at widespread corruption scandals, including the alleged bribes from Odebrecht, a lucrative house deal involving the family of President Enrique Pena Nieto, and hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned from government coffers through fake contracts, helped leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador win a landslide presidential victory in July.
Lopez Obrador pledged in his manifesto to clamp down on financial crime, and tighten money laundering, banking and tax regulations. He has given few details of how he will achieve this, but promises to set an example of probity from the presidency.
Tasked with helping to prevent and fight money laundering and terrorism financing, the financial intelligence unit receives and analyzes information that it should then pass on to prosecutors to investigate and construct a case.
A former lead prosecutor for electoral crimes, Nieto was dismissed in 2017 on the grounds that he broke a code of conduct when he gave an interview about his investigation into Odebrecht bribery during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Nieto has admitted his mistake, but denies breaking rules or revealing sensitive information. He said his firing was illegal.
Last month, two incoming administration officials told Reuters that Odebrecht may be blocked from participating in public works projects under the new government.
Odebrecht responded that wrongdoing at the company should not be used to impose sanctions against it in Mexico.
Nieto said he would press for more information sharing between federal departments that investigate tax, electoral and organized crime, and investigate possible corruption within the system.
“I have the impression that there is a factor of internal corruption,” he said, without providing specifics.
The Financial Action Task Force, an international organization that sets global standards for fighting illicit finance, said earlier this year that in Mexico “financial intelligence does not often lead to investigations of money laundering, underlying crimes, and terrorist financing.”
Following the report, Mexico’s finance ministry and the attorney general’s office issued a joint statement recognizing shortcomings and promising to improve efforts.
However, the Mexican government seized just 871 million pesos ($46.3 million) and $14.7 million between September 2017 and June 2018, and began just one criminal proceeding, according to official statistics.
Nieto, who called the outcomes “terrible,” pointed to the financial intelligence unit and attorney general’s office as the two “bottlenecks” holding back cases.
“It is a matter of impunity, a complicit government, and a lack of political will to fight corruption,” Nieto said.
When Pearl Jam led 50,000 people in a chant of “Save the Showbox” in a Seattle stadium last month, the rockers confronted a question facing many cities: When do the cultural costs of a property boom become too high?
The Showbox is an 1,100-person venue across the street from Pike Place Market, Seattle’s top tourist attraction. It opened in 1939 and has hosted acts from Duke Ellington to Prince, as well as the hometown grunge pioneers Pearl Jam.
The venue now risks becoming the latest casualty of the Pacific Northwest city’s real estate rush – and many in the community are saying enough is enough.
“Today one of our great cathedrals is at risk of being leveled,” said Ben Gibbard, lead singer of indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie, at a Seattle City Council hearing in August. “It’s not just a music venue, but a cornerstone of our cultural heritage. We cannot allow this vital piece of our rapidly changing city to be snuffed out.”
Historic venues are being crushed by real estate development in cities across Britain and the United States.
London has lost 35 percent of its independent music venues since 2007, according to the mayor’s office.
In 2014, The New York Observer documented eight significant music venues the city lost over the previous decade, beginning with punk icon venue CBGB and ending with the Roseland Ballroom, another pre-World War II concert hall.
Experts say that the trend affects more than just music fans, bands, and others in the industry.
“Music venues are an early canary in the coal mine,” said Shain Shapiro, head of Sound Diplomacy, a Britain-based consultancy firm on music in cities.
“It’s not just about developing our music industry and providing a great night out,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from London. “It improves the quality of life in increasingly denser and denser cities.”
Music or Housing
Interventions by city governments to save historic venues are rare, but the past few years have seen a few – usually in response to public pressure.
Fans of the Showbox were outraged in July when the Onni Group, a real estate developer headquartered in neighboring Vancouver, Canada, filed plans to build a 44-story building where the venue now sits.
A “Save the Showbox” online petition has garnered about 100,000 signatures. They include members of R.E.M., Jamie xx, The English Beat, and other musicians who have performed there.
Supporters packed the city hall hearing in August waving “Save the Showbox” signs.
Last month, the municipal government approved an extension of the Pike Place Market Historic District’s boundaries to incorporate the Showbox, which will be valid for 10 months.
The legislative move means additional scrutiny will apply to any proposed real estate development on the site, even though it is zoned to accommodate a 44-story building.
In response, the owners of the building housing the Showbox filed a $40 million lawsuit against the city of Seattle earlier this month.
The lawsuit noted that halting the project would mean losing $5 million in fees from the developer, which would go towards funding affordable housing.
Showbox supporters argue that the amount of money raised by the project would be paltry and could come from elsewhere.
“What we would be losing culturally is far more valuable than the amount of money that would go toward affordable housing,” Gibbard said in an interview.
City council member Lorena Gonzalez said she intends to submit a plan this month to permanently protect the building housing The Showbox.
Onni Group, the developer, did not reply to a request for comment.
Authorities in Britain have acted to preserve some well-loved venues, as well as spurring the growth of new ones.
Under British law, developers must sign “Section 106 agreements” before gaining permission to proceed with projects.
Shapiro of Sound Diplomacy said that local governments have leveraged the law to push developers into incorporating live music spaces into their plans.
He pointed to Vicarage Field, a new shopping center in the London district of Barking that will host a music venue.
In Cardiff, Shapiro said, a public outcry last year saved a haven for Welsh-language music called Clwb Ifor Bach.
Developers planned plan to build flats in the live music district, but the City of Cardiff Council eventually purchased the land parcel and leased it to the venue.
“Clwb Ifor Bach is one of the best examples of a direct action that a council has taken,” Shapiro said.
German luxury car brand Audi this week staged the global launch of a new electric sport utility vehicle on the home turf of rival Tesla, and highlighted a deal with Amazon.com Inc. to make recharging its forthcoming e-tron models easier.
The Audi e-tron midsize SUV will be offered in the United States next year at a starting price of $75,795 before a $7,500 tax credit. It is one of a volley of electric vehicles coming from Volkswagen AG brands, as well as other European premium brands including Daimler-owned Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volvo Cars and Jaguar Land Rover.
All aim to expand the market for premium electric vehicles and also to grab a share of that market from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla, which has had the niche largely to itself.
“I want Audi to be the No. 1 electric vehicle seller in America over the long term,” Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
Audi dealers, particularly those from California, where Tesla has made significant inroads, cheered the e-tron at Monday night’s crowded event.
Analysts on Tuesday expressed concern that the vehicle’s driving range may not measure up to that of the Tesla Model X. Audi officials said they do not have official range estimates for the e-tron SUV under U.S. testing procedures. They said the vehicle should achieve a range under less rigorous European testing standards of roughly 250 miles or 400 kilometers.
Keogh told attendees at Monday’s event that an e-tron had made a 175-mile journey over the mountains east of San Francisco with range to spare. He also emphasized that the e-tron is designed to recharge more rapidly than rival electric vehicles.
UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said in a note on Tuesday that the e-tron “fails to set new benchmarks in the premium EV segment, even though we consider it better than the Mercedes EQC.” The EQC is a rival electric SUV the Daimler AG brand plans to launch in 2020.
The e-tron’s 95 kWh battery has less capacity than the 100 kWh battery used in the Tesla Model X 100D model, but more than the base Model X 75D.
The Model X 100D is rated at 295 miles (475 km) of range by the U.S. government.
Audi and Volkswagen are using the U.S. launch of the e-tron SUV in mid-2019 to take aim at one obstacle to expanding electric vehicle sales: the lack of convenient ways to recharge their batteries.
Audi will partner with online retailer Amazon to sell and install home electric vehicle charging systems to buyers of the e-tron, the companies said on Monday. Amazon will deliver the hardware and hire electricians to install them through its Amazon Home Services operation.
Amazon’s partnership with Audi marks the first time the online retailer has struck such a deal with an automaker, and signals a new front in Amazon’s drive to expand its reach into consumers’ homes beyond the presence of its Alexa smart speakers in living rooms and kitchens.
“We see charging installation as a very important business,” Pat Bigatel, director of Amazon Home Services, told Reuters at Audi’s launch event in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Center.
Audi executives said home charging stations would cost about $1,000, depending on the home’s electrical system.
Tesla offers wall connectors for home charging at a $500 list price, and will arrange for installation, according to the company.
At the same time, Electrify America, a company funded by Volkswagen as part of its settlement of U.S. diesel emission cheating litigation, plans to launch next year the next round of installations of public charging stations, Electrify America executives told Reuters.
Tesla has developed its own network of Supercharger charging stations with more than 11,000 chargers in North America.
Electrify America plans to have 2,000 chargers installed by mid-June next year. Those will be open to any vehicle, and customers can swipe a credit card to recharge.
“We want to work with all” automotive brands, said Giovanni Palazzo, Electrify America’s chief executive.
Lifting the curtain
Audi has been heralding the launch of the e-tron SUV for some time, but until Monday it had not shared many details of the vehicle.
The e-tron is electric, and has two electric motors — one in the front and one in the rear — driving all four wheels. The Hungarian factory building motors for the e-tron will start with a production pace equivalent to 200 vehicles a day, Audi officials said.
In Europe, the vehicle will use cameras instead of conventional mirrors to give drivers a view to the rear. That feature is still not approved by U.S. regulators.
However, in many other respects the e-tron is a conventional, mainstream luxury SUV. It offers seating for five, and its length and wheelbase position it in the center of the market for midsize, five-passenger luxury SUVs such as the BMW X5. The e-tron is 5 inches (13 cm) shorter than the Tesla Model X, and it has conventional doors. The Model X uses vertically opening “falcon wing” doors.
The e-tron will have an advanced cruise-control system that can keep the car within a lane and maintain a set distance behind another vehicle, but the system will be designed so that drivers must keep hands on the wheel.
A volunteer medic and the man whose life he saved. A lawmaker whose Facebook post calling for protests in Kyiv’s Maidan square helped bring down a president.
These are some of the characters featured in a virtual reality reconstruction of the bloodiest day in the 2013-14 street demonstrations in Ukraine, when dozens of protesters were killed in the final moments of Viktor Yanukovich’s rule.
Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the protests, a group of 14 journalists, designers and information technology engineers developed a program that lets a user to walk through the area around Maidan square.
Videos of people who were there on Feb. 20 — the bloodiest day of violence — pop up to relate their experiences and explain the significance of particular spots. A transparent blue wall marks where Yanukovich’s forces lined up to repel the protesters.
For Alexey Furman, co-founder of New Cave Media, who covered the protests as a photojournalist, the experience of re-creating the event was cathartic.
“It was a very traumatic morning [for me], as it was for hundreds of other people,” he said. “I saw people getting killed.”
“I think the project actually helped fight the PTSD that I had because I’d been on Maidan dozens of times in 2013 and 2014,” he said in an interview, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.
He used to avoid Instytutska Street, which runs on a hill down to Maidan and was the scene of much of the bloodshed, because of the painful memories.
“But now to be honest, I come to Instytutska and go like, ‘Oh, we still don’t have that 3-D-model. We have to work on it.’ ”
The team said it took around 200,000 images to build the virtual reality model, a project funded in part with a $20,000 grant from Google Labs.
More than 100 people were killed during the protests, and they came to be known locally as the ‘Heavenly Hundred.” A small strip of Instytutska was subsequently renamed after them.
From exile in Russia, Yanukovich has denied Ukrainians’ widespread belief that he ordered his special forces to open fire.
At the end of the experience, the user meets two people whom fate threw together on Feb. 20 — a wounded protester and a medical volunteer who held his hand over the wound “for a good 20 minutes maybe even more,” New Cave Media co-founder Sergiy Polezhaka said in an interview.
“Hiding in a tiny place under the tree … waiting for danger to calm down a little bit, to save this protester’s life — this is the iconic image from that morning for me,” Polezhaka said.
The user will also meet the journalist-turned-lawmaker Mustafa Nayyem, whose Facebook post in November 2013, calling for demonstrations against Yanukovich’s decision to pull out of a deal with the European Union, triggered the Maidan revolt.
The protests in turn lit the fuse Russia’s seizing and annexing of Crimea in March 2014 and the outbreak of Russian-backed separatist fighting in the Donbass region that has killed more than 10,000 despite a notional cease-fire.
Electric drones booked through smartphones pick people up from office rooftops, shortening travel time by hours, reducing the need for parking and clearing smog from the air.
This vision of the future is driving the Japanese government’s “flying car” project. Major carrier All Nippon Airways, electronics company NEC Corp. and more than a dozen other companies and academic experts hope to have a road map ready by the year’s end.
“This is such a totally new sector Japan has a good chance for not falling behind,” said Fumiaki Ebihara, the government official in charge of the project.
Nobody believes people are going to be zipping around in flying cars any time soon. Many hurdles remain, such as battery life, the need for regulations and, of course, safety concerns. But dozens of similar projects are popping up around the world. The prototypes so far are less like traditional cars and more like drones big enough to hold people.
A flying car is defined as an aircraft that’s electric, or hybrid electric, with driverless capabilities, that can land and takeoff vertically.
They are often called EVtol, which stands for “electric vertical takeoff and landing” aircraft.
The flying car concepts promise to be better than helicopters, which are expensive to maintain, noisy to fly and require trained pilots, Ebihara and other proponents say.
“You may think of ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Gundam,’ or ’Doraemon,’” Ebihara said, referring to vehicles of flight in a Hollywood film and in Japanese cartoons featuring robots. “Up to now, it was just a dream, but with innovations in motors and batteries, it’s time for it to become real.”
Google, drone company Ehang and car manufacturer Geely in China, and Volkswagen AG of Germany have invested in flying car technology.
Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. said they had nothing to say about flying cars, but Toyota Motor Corp. recently invested $500 million in working with Uber on self-driving technology for the ride-hailing service. Toyota group companies have also invested 42.5 million yen ($375,000) in a Japanese startup, Cartivator, that is working on a flying car.
The hope is to fly up and light the torch at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but it’s unclear it will meet that goal: At a demonstration last year, the device crashed after it rose to slightly higher than eye level. A video of a more recent demonstration suggests it’s now flying more stably, though it’s being tested indoors, unmanned and chained so it won’t fly away.
There are plenty of skeptics.
Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc., says even toy drones are noisy and blow a lot of air, which means anything that would be “1,000 times heavier” isn’t practical.
“If you want a flying car, just put wheels on a helicopter,” he said in a recent interview with podcast host and comedian Joe Rogan on YouTube. “Your neighbors are not going to be happy if you land a flying car in your backyard or on your rooftop.”
Though the Japanese government has resisted Uber’s efforts to offer ride-hailing services in Japan, limiting it to partnerships with taxi companies, it has eagerly embraced the U.S. company’s work on EVtol machines.
Uber says it is considering Tokyo as its first launch city for affordable flights via its UberAir service. It says Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas, and locations in Australia, Brazil, France and India are other possible locations.
Unlike regular airplanes, with their aerodynamic design and two wings, Uber’s “Elevate” structures look like small jets with several propellers on top. The company says it plans flight demonstrations as soon as 2020 and a commercial service by 2023.
Uber’s vision calls for using heliports on rooftops, but new multi-floored construction similar to parking lots for cars will likely be needed to accommodate EVtol aircraft if the service takes off.
Unmanned drones are legal in Japan, the U.S. and other countries, but there are restrictions on where they can be flown and requirements for getting approval in advance. In Japan, drone flyers can be licensed if they take classes. There is no requirement like drivers licenses for cars.
Flying passengers over populated areas would take a quantum leap in technology, overhauling aviation regulations and air traffic safety controls, along with major efforts both to ensure safety and convince people it’s safe.
Uber said at a recent presentation in Tokyo that it envisions a route between the city’s two international airports, among others.
“This is not a rich person’s toy. This is a mass market solution,” said Adam Warmoth, product manager at Uber Elevate.
Concepts for flying cars vary greatly. Some resemble vehicles with several propellers on top while others look more like a boat with a seat over the propellers.
Ebihara, the flying-car chief at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, says Japan is on board for “Blade Runner” style travel — despite its plentiful, efficient and well developed public transportation.
Japan’s auto and electronics industries have the technology and ability to produce super-light materials that could give the nation an edge in the flying car business, he said.
Just as the automobile vanquished horse-drawn carriages, moving short-distance transport into the air could in theory bring a sea change in how people live, Ebihara said, pointing to the sky outside the ministry building to stress how empty it was compared to the streets below.
Flying also has the allure of a bird’s eye view, the stuff of drone videos increasingly used in filmmaking, tourism promotion and journalism.
Atsushi Taguchi, a “drone grapher,” as specialists in drone video are called, expects test flights can be carried out even if flying cars won’t become a reality for years since the basic technology for stable flying already exists with recent advances in sensors, robotics and digital cameras.
A growing labor shortage in deliveries in Japan is adding to the pressures to realize such technology, though there are risks, said Taguchi, who teaches at the Tokyo film school Digital Hollywood.
The propellers on commercially sold drones today are dangerous, and some of his students have lost fingers with improper flying. The bigger propellers needed for vertical flight would increase the hazards and might need to be covered.
The devices might need parachutes to soften crash landings, or might have to explode into small bits to ensure pieces hitting the ground would be smaller.
“I think one of the biggest hurdles is safety,” said Taguchi. “And anything that flies will by definition crash.”
China says it has no choice but to retaliate to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods, risking a further escalation of trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.
In a brief statement posted online Tuesday, China’s Commerce Ministry said, “To protect its legitimate rights and interests and order in international free trade, China is left with no choice but to retaliate simultaneously.”
The statement did not say how China might respond. China has previously said it would respond with a list of tariffs that includes products from liquified natural gas to aircraft. On Monday, the Communist Party backed Global Times newspaper warned that if Trump went ahead with the tariffs, China would not just play defense.
At about the same time the Commerce Ministry statement was released, a research director for North America and the Pacific at the Commerce Ministry also delivered a commentary on China’s state-run CCTV news network.
The official said the latest round of tariffs have brought uncertainty to ongoing efforts for representatives from both countries to meet again and hold trade talks.
“Under the party’s strong central leadership, China has the resolve and confidence to press ahead and use deeper reforms and deeper opening up as well as the development of our domestic market to counter United States unilateralism,” Li Wei said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing Tuesday in Beijing that talks are the only correct way to resolve the issue and accused the United States of being insincere. Last week, the United States extended an invitation to China’s top negotiator, Liu He, to resume talks later this month in Washington.
“As for what measures China may take in response, that will be announced at an appropriate time,” Geng said.
The $200 billion in U.S. tariffs go into effect in less than a week, on September 24, leaving the two sides little time to sit down.
On Monday, President Trump warned, in a statement announcing his move, if China retaliates against U.S. farmers or other industries, Washington “will immediately pursue phase three, which is tariffs on approximately $267 billion in additional imports.”
The additional $267 billion in tariffs is expected to cover all Chinese imports to the United States.
American and European businesses operating in China say that if Washington presses ahead with more and more tariffs, it is likely to only add to the challenges businesses are already facing.
According to surveys conducted by the American Chamber of Commerce in China and the European Chamber of Commerce, trade tensions are already hitting and hurting supply chains of foreign businesses. Some companies have begun to move manufacturing away from China and the United States to avoid the impact of growing trade tensions, the European Chamber said.
European Chamber President Mats Harborn said engagement on the part of Washington and Beijing is the answer.
He said that what the United States is doing now is “economic madness” that risks creating a vicious cycle for business that could have an impact in China and elsewhere. But the root of the trade dispute is that China’s reform is lagging behind its development, creating a “reform deficit.”
“Closing the reform gap will create better private companies in China, foreign companies,” Harborn said. “And reducing the reform deficit should also help reduce tensions in the ongoing trade war.”
In its annual position paper on European business in China, the chamber lists 828 recommendations for Chinese authorities to address that deficit.
One of the key hurdles both private Chinese enterprises and foreign companies face is the dominant position state owned enterprises (SOEs) enjoy. State owned enterprises account for around 30 percent of the economy and yet enjoy nearly 70 percent of all financing, the report said.
Unfair trade practices and the way SOEs contribute to an unbalanced playing field in China are key elements of the investigation the Trump administration carried out prior to launching its first round of tariffs.
But how far China is willing to go to change is uncertain. Later this month, a meeting on SOEs will be held that many are expecting will be an indicator of the future course China’s Communist Party leaders plan to chart.
“We hear that there is a move to make the SOEs stronger, bigger and better,” Harborn said. “Such ambitions are hindering the further opening and development of the vibrant private Chinese sector.”
If reform of SOEs is not on the agenda at the meeting, that would be seen as a clear provocation, given the current climate, he said.
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