U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faced tough questions during a Senate hearing Wednesday on the Trump administration’s tariff proposals and actions. Senators on both sides of the aisle criticized the administration’s rollout of proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff has more on the fallout from Washington.
China’s commerce ministry on Thursday accused the United States of being “capricious” over bilateral trade issues and warned that the interests of U.S. workers and farmers ultimately will be hurt by Washington’s penchant for brandishing “big sticks.”
Previous trade negotiations with the United States had been constructive, but because the U.S. government is being unpredictable and challenging, Beijing has had to respond in a strong manner, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said in a regular briefing in Beijing.
President Donald Trump threatened Monday to hit $200 billion of Chinese imports with 10 percent tariffs if Beijing retaliates against his previous announcement to target $50 billion in imports. The United States has alleged that China is stealing U.S. intellectual property, a charge denied by Beijing.
Washington’s accusations of forced tech transfers are a distortion of reality, and China is fully prepared to respond with “quantitative” and “qualitative” tools if the U.S. releases a new list of tariffs, Gao said.
“It is deeply regrettable that the U.S. has been capricious, escalated the tensions, and provoked a trade war,” he said. “The U.S. is accustomed to holding ‘big sticks’ for negotiations, but this approach does not apply to China.”
Financial markets are worried about an open trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies after three rounds of high-level talks since early May failed to reach a compromise on U.S. complaints over Chinese practices and a $375 billion trade deficit with China.
A Sino-U.S. trade war could disrupt global supply chains for the tech and auto industries, sectors heavily reliant on outsourced components, and derail world growth.
“It will not be easy for the U.S. to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese imports that it can levy tariffs on without hurting U.S. companies and/or consumers, given the strong involvement of U.S. companies in a large share of China’s exports to the U.S.,” British forecaster Oxford Economics said in a recent note.
‘Cannot be soft’
China said it will impose additional tariffs on 659 U.S. goods, with duties on 545 of them to kick in July 6, after Trump said Washington will impose tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products.
The U.S. goods affected July 6 include soybeans, fruit, meat products such as pork, autos, as well as marine products.
Beijing has yet to announce an activation date for its tariffs on the remaining 114 U.S. products, which include crude oil, coal and a range of refined fuel products.
“We cannot be soft with Trump. He is using his ‘irrationality’ as a tactic and he is trying to confuse us,” said Chen Fengying, an economics expert at state-backed China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. “But if we could accomplish some of the things that he wants us to do, such as IP, market reforms, he’d be helping us. Of course there are risks, those would depend on how we handle those reforms.”
China could hit back at U.S. firms listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average if Trump keeps exacerbating tensions with China over trade, state-controlled Chinese tabloid The Global Times said Thursday.
The Dow, which counts Boeing, Apple and Nike among its constituents, ended down 0.17 percent Wednesday. The 30-stock share index has declined 0.25 percent year-to-date.
“U.S. unilateral protection measures will ultimately harm the interests of U.S. companies, workers, and farmers,” Gao told reporters.
He said the two sides are to negotiate on issues around the manufacturing and service industries “in the near future.”
War of words
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who views China as a hostile economic and military power, said Tuesday that Beijing had more to lose from a trade war.
“Jobs for the Chinese are just as precious as those for the Americans,” Zha Daojiong, professor of international political economy at the School of International Studies at Peking University, told Reuters in an email. “It will be wise for the two sides to come back to the negotiation table, abide by a temporary agreement and turn down the rhetoric.”
China imported $129.89 billion of U.S. goods last year, while the United States purchased $505.47 billion of Chinese products, according to U.S. data.
Social media app Instagram announced Wednesday that it would be increasing its time limit for videos posted on its platform from one minute to 10 minutes, as part of a general expansion of the app’s video capabilities.
The photo-sharing app also announced it would be launching a stand-alone app called IGTV to host these long-form videos. The app will be available this week, according to technology website, The Verge.
“When you watch longer video, you need a different context,” Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told The Verge. “We really wanted to separate those two, so you could choose which adventure you wanted to go down.”
The longer videos will also be available through a tab in the original Instagram application. Accounts with wide audiences will be able to post videos of up to an hour.
The update comes as Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012 for $1 billion — is looking to compete with fellow video platform YouTube for young users.
Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. Since then, the video-sharing website has ballooned to a user base of 1.8 billion, becoming a platform for aspiring content creators looking to strike it big.
Systrom told The Associated Press he hoped his app would gain similar success with the IGTV update. At a release event for the app Wednesday, the company announced IGTV now had over 1 billion users.
The IGTV app will function similar to television. Videos will begin playing as soon as the user opens the app and will fill be full-screen vertically — contrasting with YouTube, which requires users to turn their phones horizontally for full-screen capabilities.
Facebook announced Tuesday it would be launching a series of interactive shows on its own video outlet, Facebook Watch.
A decent rating from Fitch this month has Vietnam riding high on the small victory, despite some of the less favorable economic trends connected to this first-of-its-kind rating.
The state monopoly Vietnam Electricity, or EVN, clinched a “BB” score June 6 from Fitch Ratings, which until then had never officially assessed the credit of a non-financial company owned by the Hanoi government. That prompted a cross-section of officials in the southeast Asian country to gush about the promise in store for one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
“This positive rating enables EVN to issue international bonds, diversify our financing sources, and reassure domestic and foreign institutional investors,” said Dinh Quang Tri, the acting CEO of EVN. “We are now on a stronger footing to deliver more reliable electricity to Vietnam.”
The ebullience, however, is tempered by two questions: Will this be enough for investors to trust EVN? And how much should government become involved in business?
EVN underscores the mixed sentiments that analysts express about Vietnam, a communist country transitioning to capitalism. The fact that the government runs EVN contributed to Fitch’s confidence in its report card.
“We believe the company can secure adequate funding in light of its position as an entity closely linked to the sovereign,” it said in a media release.
Yet businesses want even more promises from the government. Vietnam has spent years courting investment in renewable power, for example, but with limited success. That is in part because businesses that generate wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources can sell it only to EVN, and they are afraid of losing money if the company does not buy their electricity.
For renewables, “there is no provision for any form of government guarantee, assurance, or support to enhance the creditworthiness of EVN as the sole off-taker/purchaser,” corporate law firm Baker McKenzie said in a September report.
State vs. free market
Some would like to see more government involvement in general, especially to bail out companies in trouble. Others would like to see less involvement, as evidenced in the push for Vietnam to privatize further by selling stakes in its many state-owned enterprises. The country has not settled on a balance between the free market and the government.
Hanoi used to give iron-clad pledges that it would pay up in case of default at one of its state firms or public works projects. The government is doing that less often now because it is moving away from a centrally-planned economy, as well as reducing its sovereign debt.
Public anxiety mounted in recent years as Vietnam approached its debt ceiling of 65 percent of gross domestic product, though the country has made progress in reining in the debt.
That means EVN must tread lightly. Now that the power company has a Fitch Rating, it is eyeing international bonds to borrow money from investors around the world.
Going through this financing process is “helping EVN benefit from the discipline that comes with access to capital markets,” said Jordan Schwartz, who is the director of the World Bank group overseeing infrastructure, guarantees, and public-private partnerships.
The World Bank gave EVN funds and technical assistance to prepare for the Fitch assessment. Its credit rating shows how tightly EVN’s fate correlates with that of the government. Electricity prices, for example, will have to increase for the utility to make profits and improve its rating. Big increases, however, require approval from Hanoi, which also wants to keep power affordable for citizens.
The correlation is even blunter in Fitch’s analysis. The overall credit rating for Vietnam’s government itself also is BB. If that improves, so could the score for EVN, Fitch said, “provided EVN’s linkages with the state do not deteriorate significantly.”
Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway have picked well-known author and Harvard professor Dr. Atul Gawande to transform the health care they give their employees.
The three corporate titans said Wednesday that Gawande will lead an independent company focused on a mission they announced earlier this year: figure out ways to improve a broken and often inefficient system for delivering care.
Health care researchers have said any possible solutions produced by this new venture will be felt well beyond the estimated 1 million workers the three companies employ in the United States. Other businesses that provide employee health coverage are eager to find solutions for health care costs that often rise faster than inflation and squeeze their budgets in the process.
Berkshire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett has described health costs as a “hungry tapeworm on the American economy.”
Leaders of the three companies have said little about how their Boston-based venture plans to tackle this problem, but they have noted that it will take time to figure out solutions, a point they emphasized again on Wednesday.
“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert’s knowledge, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a prepared statement. “[Gawande] embodies all three, and we’re starting strong as we move forward in this challenging and worthwhile endeavor.”
Employer-sponsored insurance covers about 157 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly half the total U.S. population and the biggest slice of the country’s patchwork health insurance market.
Neither companies nor many of their employees are happy with how the system currently works. Employers have reacted in part to rising expenses by raising deductibles and other costs, asking their workers to pay more of the bill and to shop around for better deals. Many patients, especially the sickest, struggle with that.
Gawande is surgeon and professor at both Harvard’s Medical School and its T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He said in a statement Wednesday that he has devoted his career in public health to building solutions for better care delivery, and that while the current system is broken, “better is possible.”
The consortium’s leaders have said they aren’t looking for a quick fix. JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said during an appearance on CNBC earlier this month that fraud in the system, high administrative costs and the overuse and underuse of some drugs are among the many complications that must be improved.
The three companies said in late January that their new venture will focus on technology that provides simplified, high-quality and transparent care.
Amazon’s participation and customer-first focus will be crucial, according to Brian Marcotte, CEO of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit that represents large employers.
He noted that employers already offer ways to help patients shop for care or see a doctor remotely through telemedicine. But people don’t use this technology unless they need it, so they haven’t grown comfortable with it.
That could change if they go through a well-known platform like Amazon, which could then reach into its vast trove of customer data to personalize the shopping, Marcotte said. If, for instance, you are a runner considering knee surgery, Amazon could lay out the best or common practices for your condition and maybe show that surgery isn’t your only option.
“It’s not only reaching people in the moment, it’s the possibility to reach people with relevant personalized messaging that will engage them,” Marcotte said.
На міжбанківському валютному ринку 20 червня триває зростання котирувань американського долара. Як повідомляє профільний сайт «Мінфін», який відстежує перебіг торгів, надлишок ліквідності в банківській системі «створює додаткові ресурси для спекулятивних атак на гривню».
«На ранок середи коррахунки банків перевищують рівень в 55,8 мільярда гривень, що створило суттєвий навіс над валютним ринком і загрожує продовженням зростання котирувань протягом сесії», – писали фахівці перед початком торгів.
«Торги по долару розпочалися зі зростання попиту на валюту, що призвело до зростання котирувань. Продавці не поспішають продавати валюту, вичікуючи максимальних котирувань. Нацбанк вийшов з продажами долара в «анонімному» форматі. За нашими даними – продає за ціною від 26,50 гривень і закрив (угод – ред.) уже не менш як на 10 мільйонів доларів», – повідомило видання про перебіг сесії на міжбанківському ринку.
Також читайте: Курс долара: що буде з гривнею перед сезоном відпусток
Котирування на рівні 26 гривень 50 копійок за долар є найвищими за останні три місяці. 29 березня Національний банк України встановив курс гривні до долара США на рівні понад 26 гривень 50 копійок за одиницю американської валюти. Офіційний курс на 30 березня становив 26 гривень 54 копійки за долар. Після цього національна валюта міцнішала до рівня близько 26 гривень за долар.
Barely six months after inaugurating a tiny software-coding boot camp in a basement in Tokyo, Silicon Valley transplant Kani Munidasa stood before some of Japan’s top business leaders in February with a warning: software was threatening their future.
A Sri Lankan native with a Japanese mother and wife, Munidasa was speaking at the invitation of Nobuyuki Idei, a former chief executive of Sony.
Idei had offered to become an adviser to the boot camp, called Code Chrysalis, whose mission of bringing Japan’s software engineering up to global standards and helping its companies transform aligned with his own.
“Idei-san told me, ‘Tell it as it is; don’t sugar-coat anything. They need to hear that change has to happen,'” Munidasa said, recalling how he showed up at the executives’ meeting in a T-shirt and hoodie.
Long known as a “monozukuri” – or manufacturing – powerhouse, Japan is in danger of getting left behind as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning sweep through industries from cars to banking, Idei and others say.
Japanese companies have traditionally treated software as a means to cut costs rather than add value, and code-writers as second-class citizens. Entry-level software engineers in Japan make about $40,000 on average – less than half their U.S. counterparts.
Programs like Code Chrysalis are trying to change that by injecting Silicon Valley training methods into Japan’s slow-to-change corporate culture.
Coding, “soft skills” like public speaking and even physical fitness are all on the agenda. Since Code Chrysalis opened last July, a dozen students have graduated from its 12-week course, with six more in the pipeline. The camp currently accepts up to eight applicants per session.
For the students, the benefits are clear: their salaries increased by an average of nearly 80 percent after graduation, according to Code Chrysalis.
Japanese companies are desperate for skilled developers, with top IT recruiter Computer Futures seeing 2.3 job openings for every applicant so far this year, and most positions being filled by foreigners.
Educators and industry leaders hope programs such as Code Chrysalis will be transformative for Japan.
“Even if the numbers are small, I think (Code Chrysalis) can have a big impact,” Idei told Reuters, noting that Japan had focused too much on “physical goods” in the post-Internet age.
“The United States has Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon,” said Idei, now CEO of his consultancy, Quantum Leaps. “China’s got Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Japan doesn’t have a single platform company. That’s the No. 1 difference.”
A textbook problem
Japan’s English-language education, notoriously focused on standardised testing, has hindered the development of good programmers, industry insiders say.
Without a good grasp of the language, programmers are always a step behind, waiting for translations to access cutting-edge tools and methods.
Toyota is making English the common language for the 1,000 software engineers it plans to employ at a new automated-driving unit launching in Tokyo next month.
James Kuffner, CEO of the unit, Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD), said Japan’s computer science education was also overly based on textbook learning.
Recalling the “horrible and boring” lectures he sat through at the prestigious University of Tokyo as a post-doctoral research fellow in 1999, Kuffner said the classes did little to prepare students for the real world. Coding boot camps are a step in the right direction, he said.
“I want to figure out a way to fix the education system because it’s also important for our company,” said Kuffner, who still serves as an adjunct associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. “I would love to make a university where (everything) you did was project-based.”
Rebooting the system
Munidasa and his co-founder, Yan Fan, tailored their course around project-based learning, teaching exclusively in English.
Just one other English-language coding boot camp exists in Japan, run by French chain Le Wagon since late 2016, with 75 graduates so far. That program, which costs 790,000 yen ($7,200) for a nine-week course, targets beginners looking for a job in software development, who want to freelance, or who are launching their own start-ups.
“The positioning is very different because we work with beginners to bring them to a junior-developer level,” said Paul Gaumer, co-founder of Le Wagon Japan.
Munidasa and Fan’s program, which is aimed at higher-level training, has so far rejected nearly 80 percent of applicants, some of whom couldn’t meet the English requirement. To help, they added a four-week English-communication course.
During Code Chrysalis’ 1.03 million yen ($9,390), full-time course, students learn to become “full-stack” engineers, covering servers, user interfaces, and everything in between.
Beyond coding, they get unconventional instruction: voice training from an opera singer, squats challenges, and assignments requiring intense teamwork.
Code Chrysalis has already caught the attention of some big Japanese firms, including information technology giant NTT Data.
Its applied software engineering centre is using Code Chrysalis for part of its training and has placed an engineer in the current cohort.
“Our customers are increasingly looking for faster and cheaper software development, and we need to be able to meet those demands,” said human resources manager Kotaro Kimura.
Masataka Shintoku, an engineer in NTT Data’s sales and planning group who found Code Chrysalis on his own and graduated in March, says he’s already putting his new skills to work.
“I’m now able to create an app on my own and show prospective clients what we can do,” he said.
Kuffner said he hopes to emulate the storied Toyota Production System to create the software world’s “best process for writing bug-free software” as automated cars incorporate millions of lines of code.
“Japanese people are hard-working, very dedicated,” he said. “I have no question in my mind that with the right training they could be some of the best software engineers in the world.”
Національний банк вирішив відкликати банківську ліцензію та ліквідувати банк «Юнісон».
Як повідомила 19 червня прес-служба НБУ, ліквідувати установу запропонував Фонд гарантування вкладів фізичних осіб.
У квітні 2016 року банк «Юнісон» віднесли до категорії неплатоспроможних. У НБУ зауважили, що банк «Юнісон» став другим банком (після банку «ТК Кредит»), виведеним з ринку через непрозорість структури власності.
Регулятор неодноразово попереджав, що банки, які не приведуть свою структуру власності у відповідність до вимог щодо її прозорості, виводитимуться з ринку.
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Станом на квітень 2016 року акціонерами банку «Юнісон» були 11 компаній, зареєстрованих у Республіці Кіпр, жодна з яких не володіла часткою 10% або більше статутного капіталу банку. У кожній компанії був один кінцевий бенефіціарний власник – фізична особа.
Іран відкинув запропонований Росією та Саудівською Аравією план збільшення видобутку нафти. Дві провідні нафтовидобувні країни запропонували обговорити цей план на найближчому саміті Організації країн-експортерів нафти (ОПЕК) 22 червня, а наступного дня узгодити спільні дії між членами ОПЕК і тими країнами, які не входять до картеля, як Росія.
«Я не вірю, що на цій зустрічі ми можемо досягти згоди», – заявив міністр нафтової промисловості Ірану Біджан Зангане 19 червня після прибуття до Відня, де розташований головний офіс ОПЕК. Він звинуватив президента США Дональда Трампа в тому, що запровадження санкцій проти Венесуели та Ірану, спричинило зниження виробництва та підвищення цін.
«І зараз він (Трамп – ред.) сподівається, що ОПЕК дещо змінить. Це несправедливо. ОПЕК – це незалежна організація, а не така, яка отримує інструкції від президента Трампа. ОПЕК не є частиною міністерства енергетики Сполучених Штатів», – відзначив Зангане.
Москва та Ер-Ріяд пропонують повернути на ринок більшу частину з обсягу 1,8 мільйона барелів на день, щодо якого ОПЕК та інші великі виробники погодились на скорочення у 2016 році. Останнім часом Сполучені Штати, Китай та інші великі споживачі нафти закликали ОПЕК вдатися до таких дій.
Іран узгодив свою опозицію збільшенню постачання нафти разом із трьома іншими впливовими членами ОПЕК – Іраком, Алжиром та Венесуелою.
Sameera Al Salam folds a discarded piece of newspaper into a long strip then loops it round her finger to form a tight circle, the first stage of making the upcycled handbags, trays and bowls the Syrian refugee hopes will help her earn a living.
Al Salam, 55, was a hairdresser with a passion for “art and making things” before she fled her war-torn homeland for Irbid in northern Jordan with her family in 2012.
Now she has two teenagers and a husband left paralyzed by a stroke to support in a country where she has no automatic legal right to work, and they are three months behind on their rent.
“We were living a really happy life. I had a garden where I grew everything,” Al Salam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We had to leave because of the airstrikes. We were always trying to put things in front of the door to protect the children. Whenever I remember, it breaks my heart.”
Like most of the more than 655,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan — and many Jordanians — poverty, debt and unemployment dominate the family’s existence.
Al Salam hopes her involvement in a new rubbish collection and recycling plan that aims to alleviate the poverty of both refugees and locals and bring the two communities closer will help turn things around.
The project, managed by charity Action Against Hunger, employs 1,200 people to collect and sort waste from the streets and provides temporary work permits to refugees who take part.
Nearly half the participants are female in a country where women can face cultural and family obstacles to employment, including a culture of shame around going out to work.
One in three Syrian refugee households in Jordan is headed by women and more and more are now seeking jobs in an already crowded market.
More than 80 percent of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line, according to Care International.
Awsaf Qaddah, a 39-year-old Syrian widow, said working as a rubbish collector initially felt like “a kind of shame,” but she now feels only pride.
“The job took me out of this atmosphere I was living in at home. Women can and should go out and work, especially with the circumstances we’re facing,” she said. “I have no husband or father or brother to help — I’m proud to do it.”
Fellow worker Berwen Misterihi, who is Jordanian, was forced to earn after her husband left her and their four children.
“Women and men would make comments about me picking up waste,” she said.
“I said to one man, ‘I’d rather work than come to you for the money’ and he apologized.”
The project workers were given 50-day contracts paying 12 Jordanian Dinar ($16.90) a day, plus training and social security provisions. Some of the waste was sold to scrap dealers for extra cash.
Al Salam was among a group of women who started an upcycling project, turning the waste paper and plastic they collected into objects to sell.
Action Against Hunger, which has managed the waste project since 2017 with German government funding, is now setting up a second phase focusing on equipping cooperatives and workers to continue waste processing and upcycling unaided.
“First there was a focus on breaking the culture of shame for women. Then we wanted ideas of how they could benefit from waste,” said Sajeda Saqallah, programme manager with Action Against Hunger. “Upcycling is a new concept here, so we took them to Amman to learn about it.”
Al Salam said her husband did not object to her taking part in the project. She now hopes she will get training on marketing and trademarking and win one of a number of new contracts Action Against Hunger is providing to carry on upcycling for wages.
The women in her upcycling group meet regularly and share ideas and news in a WhatsApp group.
At a workshop filled with their creations – from handbags to light shades to side tables, all made from recycled newspaper and cardboard – Sahira Zoubi, a Syrian refugee and mother of five excitedly points to the gold handbag she made.
Zoubi, who has not seen her husband since the Syrian army captured him in 2012, has made close friends through the project from both Syria and Jordan who she says are “like siblings.”
“Doing this project is so joyful because you come here and forget about your problems,” she said.
Al Salam breaks down as she tells how the project has allowed her to overcome her fears of being a refugee in a strange country.
“I never really mixed with people before this. I was afraid to go outside, I wasn’t involved in the community,” she said. “I was from a different country. I didn’t know what people were going to do to me or what they would say. Now I like to mingle.”
($1 = 0.7100 Jordanian dinars)
Travel for this story was covered by Action Against Hunger.
Two men on motorbikes approached a broken-down vehicle in Caracas one day earlier this month in what could have been a nightmare scenario in one of the world’s most dangerous cities where roadside robberies and murders are an everyday occurrence.
The men took up positions either side of the green four-wheel-drive vehicle, with a 33-year-old female schoolteacher behind the wheel, and guarded it until a tow truck arrived two hours later to cart it off to a garage.
The two guards are employees of a new mobile application called “Pana” – “Buddy” in Venezuelan slang – which dispatches security crews to stranded drivers who request help.
It’s a reflection of how Venezuelans are turning to technology to overcome the dangers and nuisances of living in the crisis-hit country. Mobile payment apps, for example, attract customers who do not have enough paper money, which is in short supply due to hyperinflation.
Domingo Coronil who started Pana with his brother Juan Cristobal last September said they have carried out more than 5,000 successful driver rescues on the streets of the capital.
“People’s reactions have been amazing. Some start crying, while others take selfies,” the 46-year-old security consultant said in an interview.
Violence in Venezuela has shot up during the oil-wealthy country’s spiral into a five-year economic crisis and political meltdown. Many Caracas residents refuse to go out at night due to security fears, and wealthier Venezuelans often travel in bullet-proof cars with bodyguards.
There were almost 27,000 violent deaths in the country last year, with Venezuela having the second highest murder rate in the world after El Salvador, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local crime monitoring group.
National homicide rates rose each year from 67 murders per 100,000 people in 2011 to 92 in 2016, before dipping to 89 last year, according to the group.
The homicide rate in Caracas alone was 104 per 100,000 people in 2017, the group said. New York, in contrast, had a homicide rate of 3 per 100,000 last year and most European cities had less than 1.
A recent Gallup study placed Venezuela at the bottom of its 2018 Law and Order index, with 42 percent of surveyed Venezuelans reporting they had been robbed the previous year and one-quarter saying they had been assaulted.
“The fear people have isn’t you’ll be robbed in your car, but that you’ll be killed or kidnapped,” said Roberto Briceno Leon, the observatory’s director.
Venezuelan authorities say nongovernmental groups inflate crime figures to create paranoia and tarnish President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government. But even the most recent official national murder rate – 58 per 100,000 inhabitants for 2015 – was still among the world’s highest.
About 700 people have joined Pana because of the high crime rate, Coronil said, each paying an annual fee of 4,800,000 bolivars, or about $2 to $4 on the black market, to request help as many times as they want at any hour day or night.
The company receives a customer’s geo-locations at its headquarters and dispatches two of its 28 security guards to the breakdown. Coronil hopes to expand coverage to roads outside Caracas and offer corporate plans.
Vanessa Mikuski, the schoolteacher in the van, tapped the button in Pana’s smartphone app when her car broke down without warning that June morning in the east of Caracas. A friend had recommended she download it last year.
The two Pana security guards, who were not armed and wear jackets with the app’s logo, kept pedestrians and drivers away while Mikuski waited and arranged for her children to be picked up from school.
“You feel much more secure … And at that price, it’s great,” she said.
When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.
The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.
“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”
“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.
Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.
Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.
Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.
“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”
But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.
“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.
Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.
Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.
“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.
“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”
The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.
“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.
India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.
“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.
“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”
Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.
“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”
The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.
Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.
“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.”
China calls President Donald Trump’s threat to slap more tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. “extreme pressure and blackmail” and threatens to retaliate.
Beijing reacted Tuesday to Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods “if China refuses to change its practices.”
“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology,” a presidential statement said late Monday. “Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong.”
The president has ordered Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to identify a list of $200 billion in additional Chinese goods subject to a 10 percent tariff — a move that would bring on another round of Chinese penalties on American products.
Trump has already ordered 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese products. Those penalties are scheduled to take effect next month and will likely be followed by Chinese countermeasures.
The U.S. has long accused China of stealing U.S. technology secrets, requiring U.S. firms to share intellectual property as a condition for doing business in joint ventures in China. China denies such theft and accuses Washington of “deviating from the consensus reached by both parties.”
The Director of White House National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, told reporters Tuesday the White House has given China every opportunity to change its “aggressive behavior.”
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit last year at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. But that meeting and several rounds of trade talks between high-level officials in the past year have not yielded any progress.
“It is important to note here that the actions President Trump has taken are purely defensive in nature. They are designed to defend the crown jewels of American technology from China’s aggressive behavior,” Navarro contended.
U.S. stock market tumbled on Tuesday following the latest salvos between Washington and Beijing. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 1.1 percent at the close of trading and other major indexes posted losses as well.
But Navarro dismissed concerns about how the administration’s trade policy would affect the financial markets and global economy, saying it will have only a “relatively small effect.” He argued the U.S. steps will ultimately benefit the country and global trading system.
Navarro did not reveal plans for further trade talks between Washington and Beijing, but added, “our phone lines are open, they have always been open.”
Trump has said he has an excellent relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but has also said “the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”
He has imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union and is feuding over trade with some of the United States’ closest allies.
Is this what a trade war looks like?
The Trump administration and China’s leadership have threatened to impose tariffs on $50 billion of each other’s goods. Trump has proposed imposing duties on $400 billion more if China doesn’t further open its markets to U.S. companies and reduce its trade surplus with the United States. China, in turn, says it will retaliate.
In recent years, tariffs had been losing favor as a tool of national trade policy. They were largely a relic of 19th and early 20th centuries that most experts viewed as mutually harmful to all nations involved. But President Donald Trump has restored tariffs to a prominent place in his self-described America First approach.
Trump enraged U.S. allies Canada, Mexico and the European Union earlier this month by slapping tariffs on their steel and aluminum shipments to the United States. The tariffs have been in place on most other countries since March.
Trump has also asked the U.S. Commerce Department to look into imposing tariffs on imported cars, trucks and auto parts, arguing that they pose a threat to U.S. national security.
Here is a look at what tariffs are, how they work, how they’ve been used in the past and what to expect now.
Are we in a trade war?
Economists have no set definition of a trade war. But with the world’s two largest economies aggressively threatening each other with punishing tariffs, such a war appears perilously close. All told, the White House has threatened to hit $450 billion of China’s exports to the U.S. with punitive tariffs. That’s equivalent to 90 percent of the goods that China shipped to the United States last year.
It’s not uncommon for countries — even close allies — to fight over trade in specific products. The United States and Canada, for example, have squabbled for decades over softwood lumber.
But the U.S. and China are fighting over much broader issues, such as China’s requirements that American companies share advanced technology to access China’s market, and the overall trade deficit the U.S. has with China. So far, neither side has shown any sign of bending.
What are tariffs?
Tariffs are a tax on imports. They’re typically charged as a percentage of the transaction price that a buyer pays a foreign seller. Say an American retailer buys 100 garden umbrellas from China for $5 apiece, or $500. The U.S. tariff rate for the umbrellas is 6.5 percent. The retailer would have to pay a $32.50 tariff on the shipment, raising the total price from $500 to $532.50.
In the United States, tariffs — also called duties or levies — are collected by Customs and Border Protection agents at 328 ports of entry across the country. Proceeds go to the Treasury. The tariff rates are published by the U.S. International Trade Commission in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, which lists U.S. tariffs on everything from dried plantains (1.4 percent) to parachutes (3 percent).
Sometimes, the U.S. will impose additional duties on foreign imports that it determines are being sold at unfairly low prices or are being supported by foreign government subsidies.
Do other countries have higher tariffs than the United States?
Most key U.S. trading partners do not have significantly higher average tariffs. According to an analysis by Greg Daco at Oxford Economics, U.S. tariffs, adjusted for trade volumes, on goods from around the world average 2.4 percent, above Japan’s 2 percent and just below the 3 percent for the European Union and 3.1 percent for Canada.
The comparable figures for Mexico and China are higher: Both have higher duties that top 4 percent.
Trump has complained about the 270 percent duty that Canada imposes on dairy products. But the United States has its own ultra-high tariffs — 168 percent on peanuts and 350 percent on tobacco.
What are tariffs supposed to accomplish?
Two things: Raise government revenue and protect domestic industries from foreign competition. Before the establishment of the federal income tax in 1913, tariffs were a big money raiser for the U.S. government. From 1790 to 1860, for example, they produced 90 percent of federal revenue, according to Clashing Over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy by Douglas Irwin, an economist at Dartmouth College. By contrast, last year tariffs accounted for only about 1 percent of federal revenue.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the U.S. government collected $34.6 billion in customs duties and fees. The White House Office of Management and Budget expects tariffs to fetch $40.4 billion this year.
Those tariffs are meant to increase the price of imports or to punish foreign countries for committing unfair trade practices, like subsidizing their exporters and dumping their products at unfairly low prices. Tariffs discourage imports by making them more expensive. They also reduce competitive pressure on domestic competitors and can allow them to raise prices.
Tariffs fell out of favor as global trade expanded after World War II.
The formation of the World Trade Organization and the advent of trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada reduced tariffs or eliminated them altogether.
Why are tariffs making a comeback?
After years of trade agreements that bound the countries of the world more closely and erased restrictions on trade, a populist backlash has grown against globalization. This was evident in Trump’s 2016 election and the British vote that year to leave the European Union — both surprise setbacks for the free-trade establishment.
Critics note that big corporations in rich countries exploited looser rules to move factories to China and other low-wage countries, then shipped goods back to their wealthy home countries while paying low tariffs or none at all. Since China joined the WTO in 2001, the United States has shed 3.1 million factory jobs, though many economists attribute much of that loss not to trade but to robots and other technologies that replace human workers.
Trump campaigned on a pledge to rewrite trade agreements and crack down on China, Mexico and other countries. He blames what he calls their abusive trade policies for America’s persistent trade deficits — $566 billion last year. Most economists, by contrast, say the deficit simply reflects the reality that the United States spends more than it saves. By imposing tariffs, he is beginning to turn his hard-line campaign rhetoric into action.
Are tariffs a wise policy?
Most economists — Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro is a notable exception — say no. The tariffs drive up the cost of imports. And by reducing competitive pressure, they give U.S. producers leeway to raise their prices, too. That’s good for those producers — but bad for almost everyone else.
Rising costs especially hurt consumers and companies that rely on imported components. Some U.S. companies that buy steel are complaining that Trump’s tariffs put them at a competitive disadvantage. Their foreign rivals can buy steel more cheaply and offer their products at lower prices.
More broadly, economists say trade restrictions make the economy less efficient. Facing less competition from abroad, domestic companies lose the incentive to increase efficiency or to focus on what they do best.
Russia has announced retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. move to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum.
Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin said a statement on Tuesday Moscow has decided to apply retaliatory measures in line with the World Trade Organization’s rules to compensate for damage incurred by the U.S. tariffs.
Oreshkin said that additional tariffs will be applied to a range of U.S. imports, but he declined to immediately name them. He added that the tariffs will be applied to the U.S. goods that have domestic equivalents to avoid hurting the national economy.
The European Union, India, China and Russia all have applied to the WTO to challenge the tariffs that took effect March 23. Washington argued they were for national security reasons.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faced tough questions during a Senate hearing Wednesday on the Trump administration’s tariff proposals and actions. Senators on both sides of the aisle criticized the administration’s rollout of proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff has more on the fallout from Washington….
China’s commerce ministry on Thursday accused the United States of being “capricious” over bilateral trade issues and warned that the interests of U.S. workers and farmers ultimately will be hurt by Washington’s penchant for brandishing “big sticks.” Previous trade negotiations with the United States had been constructive, but because the…
Social media app Instagram announced Wednesday that it would be increasing its time limit for videos posted on its platform from one minute to 10 minutes, as part of a general expansion of the app’s video capabilities. The photo-sharing app also announced it would be launching a stand-alone app called…