Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Monday, February 27, 2017
Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross is expected to be easily confirmed as U.S. Commerce Secretary on Monday, clearing President Donald Trump's top trade official to start work on renegotiating trade relationships with China and Mexico.
The vote will insert a major new voice into Trump's economic team, one that strongly influenced his criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement and a now-scrapped Asia-Pacific trade deal.
Ross' nomination is scheduled for a vote on Monday at around 7 p.m. (0000 GMT). It was advanced by the Senate in a 66-31 procedural vote on Feb. 17, signaling solid support from Democrats.
Part of that support stems from praise that Ross has drawn from the United Steelworkers union for his efforts in restructuring several bankrupt steel companies in the early 2000s, saving numerous plants and thousands of jobs.
But he also has come under criticism from some left-wing groups as another billionaire in a Trump cabinet that claims to be focused on the working class, and for being a "vulture" investor who has eliminated jobs. Reuters reported last month that Ross's companies have shipped some 2,700 jobs overseas since 2004.
The 79-year-old investor will oversee a sprawling agency with nearly 44,000 employees responsible for combating the dumping of imports below cost into U.S. markets, collecting census and critical economic data, weather forecasting, fisheries management, promoting the United States to foreign investors and regulating the export of sensitive technologies.
While Commerce secretaries rarely take the spotlight in Washington, Ross is expected to play an outsize role in pursuing Trump's campaign pledge to slash U.S. trade deficits and bring manufacturing jobs back to America.
Trump has designated Ross to lead the renegotiation of NAFTA with Mexico and Canada, a job that in past administrations would have been left to the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
Ross will join other major players on the economic team, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council.
Some experts said Ross could serve as a counterweight to advisers such as Peter Navarro, the University of California-Irvine economics professor who heads Trump's newly created White House National Trade Council. Navarro has advocated a controversial 45 percent across-the-board tariff on imports from China that Trump threatened during his ca"I expect that Ross will quickly become the administration’s chief trade spokesman, and that Navarro’s influence will be felt indirectly, rather than through public statements or testimony," said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
At his confirmation hearing, Ross downplayed chances of a trade war with China, while calling it the "most protectionist" large economy. He vowed to level the playing field for U.S. companies competing with Chinese imports and those trying to do business in China's highly restricted economy.
Ross, estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.9 billion, built his fortune in the late 1990s and early 2000s by investing in distressed companies in steel, coal, textiles and auto parts, restructuring them and often benefiting from tariff protections put in place by the Commerce Department.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
Friday, February 24, 2017
By Maha El Dahan | DUBAI
Syria's state grain buyer has signed contracts with local traders for 1.2 million tonnes of Russian wheat, a government source said, the country's second attempt at a huge wheat deal since October as it tries to secure supplies of the food staple.
"We have signed six contracts each for 200,000 tonnes. These are local firms who will source the Russian wheat for us," the government source close to the deal told Reuters, declining to name the firms involved.
The government has allocated 52 billion Syrian pounds ($101 million) for a portion of the deals, the source said.
Russia's agriculture ministry declined to comment.
Flat bread is a subsidized staple for Syrians, who have suffered under a conflict estimated to have killed several hundred thousand people and forced millions to flee their homes.
Syria's state buyer, the General Establishment for Cereal Processing and Trade (Hoboob), had struck a deal in October to buy one million tonnes of wheat from its ally Russia to feed government held areas and prevent bread shortages after a sharp drop in the country's wheat production last season.
"This new arrangement doesn't cancel out the previous deal, we are still trying to get procedures moving for that one," the source said.
The October deal, struck with a little known firm called Zernomir, has so far not been fulfilled and may never be, according to Syrian and Russian government sources.
One European trader was more optimistic the new deal with Syrian firms would be fulfilled.
"Two or three Syrian companies seem to have been awarded this volume and are trying to buy 11.5 percent protein wheat in the Russian market," he said.
"It is a surprise to hear they are trying to buy 1.2 million tonnes. They have been trying to disguise how much they need and buy spot supplies."
President Bashar al-Assad's government managed to collect only around 400,000 tonnes of the 1.3 million tonnes of wheat that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimated Syria produced last year.
The Syrian government source declined to give a figure to the country's strategic stock.
($1 = 515.0000 Syrian pounds)
(Reporting by Maha El Dahan; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Michael Hogan in Hamburg; Writing by Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Jane Merriman and David Evans)