Mexico President Talks US Investment With Trump Son-in-Law

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says talks with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner have led to advances toward an agreement that would have the U.S. government guarantee some $10 billion in development investments for Mexico and Central America.

Lopez Obrador said Wednesday that the investments would aim to reduce immigration from Mexico and Central America by providing more opportunities in those countries. Roughly half of the sum would go to Mexico while the remainder would be divided among Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

 

Lopez Obrador and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law dined Tuesday in the Mexico City home of Bernardo Gomez, co-executive president of Grupo Televisa.

 

The Mexican leader says they also discussed the pending ratification of the new trade agreement dubbed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

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Starbucks to Test Recyclable Cups, Redesign Stores

Starbucks says it plans to test both recyclable and compostable cups over the next year.

 

Customers in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, London and Vancouver, British Colombia, will help test the cups, which use fiber, paper and other materials in place of plastic liners.

 

Seattle-based Starbucks was expected to announcement the test program Wednesday at its annual shareholders meeting.

The company also said it plans to redesign its stores as it adapts to increasing mobile pick-up and delivery orders.

 

Changes will vary by location. For example, in a neighborhood with three Starbucks cafes, one might be changed to an express format while another offers delivery.

 

Starbucks’ U.S. mobile orders more than doubled between 2016 and 2018, to 12 percent of orders. But there have been complaints about congestion in stores.

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GM to Invest $2.7B in Sao Paulo, Brazil Factories Over 5 Years

General Motors said on Tuesday it would invest $2.7 billion in two Brazilian factories over the next five years, sparing them from a shakeup of the automaker’s operations, a decision hailed by the governor of Brazil’s largest state.

Sao Paolo state Governor Joao Doria told a joint news conference with GM executives that the plants in Sao Caetano do Sul and Sao Jose dos Campos had been slated for closure last December, and said he convinced GM to reverse the decision, saving jobs.

Last November, GM said it would slash thousands of jobs around the world and would close two unspecified plants outside of North America by the end of 2019.

The company declined to say whether its restructuring plans had referred to the two Brazilian factories, and declined to comment on whether the two plants had been slated for closure as Doria claimed.

Sitting next to Doria at the news conference, GM’s CEO for South America, Carlos Zarlenga, also did not directly address Doria’s recounting of the negotiations with GM.

Doria, a former businessman and reality TV show host, took office in January and became a vocal advocate for the state’s auto industry. Earlier this year, he said he would find a buyer for a Ford Motor Co. plant that is slated to close, after the U.S. automaker said it had tried and failed to find one.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Doria said GM told him in a call days before his inauguration that it planned to close the plants.

“I thought it was going to be good news,” Doria said. “But to my surprise I was told that the next day GM CEO Mary Barra would announce the closing of two factories in Sao Paulo. I fell off my chair.”

He said he dispatched his future state finance minister to fix the situation and landed a meeting in Miami with GM executives. He said 65,000 workers employed directly and indirectly by GM would have lost their jobs without his intervention.

Earlier this month, Doria announced an incentive plan granting automakers a 25 percent reduction in value added taxes if they created at least 400 jobs and invested at least 1 billion reais. At the news conference, GM announced it was creating 400 new jobs.

Zarlenga said the future of its Sao Paulo factories had presented GM “a really serious problem,” but did not confirm that the automaker had considered closing them down.

GM, the sales leader in Brazil, South America’s largest market, had warned local employees it was dealing with heavy losses and “sacrifices” would be necessary.

As announced, the plan pales in comparison to GM’s most recent investment plan in Brazil in 2014, which totaled $4 billion. However, the announcement does not include potential future investments in the automaker’s plants elsewhere in the country.

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Saudi Arabia Invests $23 Billion to Improve Living in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it would spend 86 billion riyals ($23 billion) to boost the quality of life in the capital Riyadh, increasing green space and recreational areas and installing 1,000 works of art across the city.

The four projects unveiled are part of efforts to open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles, encourage physical activity and make life more fun in the conservative kingdom, alongside reforms to diversify the economy away from oil.

They are the latest in a series of planned development investments that King Salman has launched at the side of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after a global outcry over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October tarnished the crown prince’s image.

Park, cycling track planned

State media showed the pair touring a diorama of the plans, which include a park four times the size of Central Park and 135 kilometers (84 miles) of cycling track. The king also ordered that one of the capital’s main roads be renamed after his son.

The murder of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked international criticism of the crown prince, who had won Western plaudits for easing social strictures. The CIA and some Western countries suspect him of ordering the killing, which Saudi authorities vehemently deny.

The kingdom, and the crown prince, have also been criticized for a crackdown on dissent, including putting 10 prominent women’s rights activists on trial last week.

King stands by son

While some critics abroad have called for the crown prince’s removal, the king has stood by his favorite son and heir apparent as Riyadh tries to move on from the murder and refocus attention on reform plans that require huge foreign investment.

Work on the four new projects will start in the second half of the year and come on line gradually between 2023 and 2030. They will create 70,000 jobs and offer investment opportunities worth 50 billion riyals to local and foreign investors, state news agency SPA said.

One initiative aims to increase six-fold the percentage of green areas in Riyadh, notorious for its multi-lane highways and concrete block buildings, by planting 7.5 million trees. Seven museums, an open art fair, pedestrian bridges and community gardens are also called for.

Life in capital more relaxed

Such features were unimaginable in Riyadh just a few years ago when religious police patrolled the streets enforcing strict social codes like gender segregation and bans on public music.

But life in the capital has become more relaxed in recent years after the crown prince clipped the wings of the religious police, ended a ban on cinemas and began organizing public concerts. He has won the support of many young Saudis.

Saudi citizens have no vote and falling oil income could affect their living standards in coming years. As a result, improving quality of life is seen as important for ensuring political stability.

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Exclusive: US Vows to Pursue Ship Owners Who Violate Iran Oil Sanctions

A senior U.S. official says Washington is monitoring ships involved in clandestine transfers of Iranian oil and will hold anyone involved in such transfers responsible for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

“We are closely tracking ship-to-ship transfers of [Iranian] oil to evade our oil sanctions,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions David Peyman in an exclusive interview with VOA Persian recently at the State Department. “And we’re working closely with foreign governments to ensure they are monitoring ship-to-ship transfers off their coasts.”

One of the few companies monitoring global oil shipments, TankerTrackers.com, reported last week that it identified in February two cases of clandestine ship-to-ship transfers of Iranian oil with the transponders of the vessels involved being disabled. In an email sent Friday to VOA Persian, TankerTrackers.com co-founder Samir Madani said in both cases, a ship transferred Iranian oil to another ship before a third ship picked up the oil from the second ship and delivered it to a port.

“One transfer took around three months to complete, while the other happened during the span of a month or so,” Madani said.

TankerTrackers.com has said Iranian crude oil tankers have been trying to hide their activities since August by switching off the Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders that reveal their position and other information.

President Donald Trump re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports, Tehran’s top revenue source, in November as part of his withdrawal from what he viewed as a flawed 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The sanctions unilaterally barred Iran from exporting oil to all but eight governments who were given six months to reduce their Iranian oil purchases to zero.

Peyman said U.S. authorities will act against ship owners, managers, insurance providers and mortgagees linked to vessels involved in the clandestine transfers of Iranian oil at sea. “If you are engaged in evasive action, which is really the worst kind of violation when it comes to U.S. sanctions, we will hold you accountable,” Peyman said.

Flying their flags

In another U.S. step aimed at cracking down on Iranian efforts to evade oil sanctions, Peyman said Washington has secured pledges from several nations to avoid putting their flags on Iranian oil tankers.

Last month, a State Department news site said Panama stripped 59 Iranian-linked ships of their right to fly the Panamanian flag, in a move aimed at supporting U.S. sanctions. It said Panama’s purge of the tankers from its ship registry, one of the world’s largest, will make it harder for Iran to deliver oil to ports around the world.

“Panama really led the way for other countries to follow suit by pulling their own flags and for other countries to commit to the U.S. that they will not reflag those ships that the Panamanians withdrew their flag from,” Peyman said.

The State Department declined to provide examples to VOA Persian of countries that committed not to reflag Iranian vessels that have been de-flagged by Panama.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has said Tehran will not comply with what it considers to be “illegal” U.S. sanctions. Speaking on a Jan. 10 visit to Baghdad, Zanganeh also said Iran will not discuss the volume or destination of its oil exports while it remained under U.S. sanctions.

Bypassing sanctions

Peyman said Washington also will take action against any company that uses a new European financial mechanism to engage Iran in transactions that violate U.S. sanctions. Britain, France and Germany launched the Institute in Support of Trade Exchanges, or INSTEX, in January to enable European companies to conduct business with Iran using barter techniques that bypass the U.S. financial system.

INSTEX’s EU sponsors initially intend for it to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran, but its scope could be expanded to other types of business. U.S. sanctions on Iran contain exemptions for the provision of humanitarian aid, food and medicine to the Iranian people.

Iran has called on EU leaders to ensure that it continues to receive international trade benefits promised under the 2015 nuclear deal that EU nations have sought to uphold following the U.S. pullout. But Iranian officials in recent weeks have expressed disappointment with what they view as the EU’s slow rollout of INSTEX.

Tehran has good reason to be disappointed, according to Peyman.

“I’ve been to several countries in Europe, I’ve spoken with very large industry groups and businesses in the private sector … and every indication that I’m receiving is that there is absolutely no interest to utilize a European financial mechanism to do business with Iran,” he said.

Peyman, who was born in Iran, said no “responsible” European businesses want to trade with an Iranian government they perceive as responsible for killing Americans and sponsoring terrorism on European soil. He said European companies also make an independent business decision, based on a cost-benefit analysis, to do business with the United States and use the U.S. financial system rather than to maintain a relationship with Iran.

Tehran sees itself as a victim, rather than a perpetrator, of terrorism.

“To the extent that there is any appetite by [companies] to use [INSTEX], we’ll be tracking it very, very closely,” Peyman said. “Those companies’ ties to the U.S. financial system will be looked at, their use of U.S. banks will be looked at, and their use of non-U.S. banks that have ties to U.S. banks will be looked at. And we will look at any potential violations, direct or indirect, knowing or unknowing, of U.S. sanctions laws and will vigorously enforce [them].”

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

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Ethiopia and Indonesia Crash Parallels Heap Pressure on Boeing

Investigators into the Boeing 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia have found striking similarities in a vital flight angle with an airplane that came down off Indonesia, a source said, piling pressure on the world’s biggest planemaker.

The Ethiopian Airlines disaster eight days ago killed 157 people, led to the grounding of Boeing’s marquee MAX fleet globally and sparked a high-stakes inquiry for the aviation industry.

Analysis of the cockpit recorder showed its “angle of attack” data was “very, very similar” to that of the Lion Air jet that went down off Jakarta in October, killing 189 people, a person familiar with the investigation said.

The angle of attack is a fundamental parameter of flight, measuring the degrees between the air flow and the wing. If it is too high, it can throw the plane into an aerodynamic stall.

“If that’s the case, that does raise the possibility that there is a similar occurrence between the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents,” said Clint Balog, a Montana-based professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Even then, it was too early to draw firm conclusions, he added.

A flight deck computer’s response to an apparently faulty angle-of-attack sensor is at the heart of the ongoing probe into the Lion Air crash.

Ethiopia’s Transport Ministry, France’s BEA air accident authority and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have all pointed to similarities between the two disasters, but safety officials stress the investigation is at an early stage.

“Everything will be investigated,” Ethiopian Transport Ministry spokesman Musie Yehyies told Reuters.

Both planes were 737 MAX 8s and crashed minutes after takeoff with pilots reporting flight control problems.

Under scrutiny is a new automated system in the 737 MAX model that guides the nose lower to avoid stalling, while Boeing has raised questions in the Lion Air case about whether crew used the correct procedures.

Lawmakers and safety experts are asking how thoroughly regulators vetted the system and how well pilots around the world were trained for it when their airlines bought new planes.

Boeing Plans New Software

Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg, facing the biggest crisis of his tenure, said on Monday the company understands that “lives depend on the work we do.”

Muilenburg also said a software upgrade for its 737 MAX aircraft that the planemaker started in the aftermath of the Lion Air deadly plane crash was coming “soon.”

The fix was developed when regulators suggested false sensor data could cause a system known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) to overreact and make the jet hard to control.

Canada is re-examining the validation it gave Boeing’s 737 MAX jets, following reports of a U.S. probe into the aircraft’s certification by the FAA, Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said on Monday.

Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell said on Wednesday in a call with reporters that he was “absolutely” confident in the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX 8. The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Canada’s action.

The FAA finds itself in the hot seat, especially over its decision to certify the 737 MAX without demanding additional training. FAA and Boeing will face congressional questions about why the software upgrade took so long to complete and whether Boeing had too great a role in the certification process.

With the prestige of one of the United States’ biggest exporters at stake, Boeing has halted deliveries of its best-selling model that was intended to be the industry standard but is now under a shadow. Developed in response to the successful launch of the Airbus A320neo, some 370 MAX jets were in operation at the time of the Ethiopian crash, and nearly 5,000 more on order.

After a 10 percent drop last week that wiped nearly $25 billion off its market share, Boeing stock slid about 1.8 percent on Monday.

Weekend media reports intensified pressure on Boeing and its domestic U.S. regulator following a call last week by a U.S. flight attendants union for a “certification review.”

The Seattle Times said the company’s safety analysis of the MCAS system had crucial flaws, including understating power.

The Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Transportation were scrutinizing the FAA’s approval of the MAX series, while a jury had issued a subpoena to at least one person involved in its development.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment on that.

Last week, sources told Reuters that investigators found a piece of a stabilizer in the Ethiopian wreckage set in an unusual position similar to that of the Lion Air plane.

Future Orders at Stake

Ethiopia is leading the probe, although the black boxes were sent to France and U.S. experts are also participating.

Investigators were expected to select a handful of the roughly 1,800 parameters of flight data in their initial review, including those thrown up by the Lion Air investigation, before analyzing the rest in coming weeks and months.

Norwegian Airlines has already said it will seek compensation after grounding its MAX aircraft, and various companies are reconsidering orders.

Boeing’s main rival, Airbus, has seen its stock rise 5 percent since the crash, but cannot simply pick up the slack given the complicated logistics of plane-building.

For now, Boeing continues to build planes while keeping them parked.

Some airlines are revising financial forecasts, too, given the MAX had been factored in as providing around 15 percent maintenance and fuel savings.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. on Monday became the second Canadian carrier to suspend its 2019 financial projections, following Air Canada in light of the 737 MAX groundings.

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Paris Catches Asian Tigers in Most Expensive City Race

Paris and Hong Kong for the first time joined Singapore as the world’s most expensive cities to live in, a study revealed on Tuesday, with utilities and transport driving up the cost of living.

Zurich, Geneva and Japan’s Osaka trailed closely, with emerging market cities like Istanbul and Moscow plummeting down the ranking due to high inflation and currency depreciation, said the Economist Intelligence Unit’s bi-annual survey of 133 cities.

It was the first time in more than 30 years that three cities shared the top spot, a sign that pricey global cities are growing more alike, said the report’s author, Roxana Slavcheva.

“Converging costs in traditionally more expensive cities … is a testament to globalization and the similarity of tastes and shopping patterns,” she said in a statement.

“Even in locations where shopping for groceries may be relatively cheaper, utilities or transportation prices drive up overall cost of living,” she said.

Rising costs in cities are often driven by a vibrant job market attracting skilled workers with high wages, said Anthony Breach, an analyst with the British think tank Center for Cities — which was not involved in the study.

Urban planners need to plan ahead and build more housing to keep prices affordable and overall costs down, Breach told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For the EIU survey researchers compared the cost of more than 150 items such as cars, food, rent, transport and clothing in 133 cities.

A woman’s haircut was about $15 in Bangalore, India, compared to $210 in New York, for example, while a bottle of beer was about half a dollar in Lagos, Nigeria, and more than $3 in Zurich.

British cities recovered a few positions a year after reaching the cheapest level in more than two decades due to Brexit uncertainty, with London ranking 22nd and Manchester 51st, up eight and five spots respectively.

Political turmoil in Venezuela plummeted Caracas to the bottom of the ranking, followed by Damascus, Syria, with Karachi, Pakistan, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and New Delhi also featuring among the 10 cheapest cities.

But a city’s drop in the index does not necessarily mean life automatically gets cheaper for people living there, as prices adjust to inflation often quicker than wages, said Gunes Cansiz of the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think tank.

“The cost of living in Istanbul, for example, might seem to have decreased, but since household expenses have increased, this has no positive reflection on the daily life of Istanbulites,” said Cansiz, director at WRI’s Turkey Sustainable Cities program.

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NATO to Receive First Northrop Surveillance Drone, Years Late

NATO is to receive the first of five Northrop Grumman high-altitude drones in the third quarter after years of delays, giving the alliance its own spy drones for the first time, the German government told lawmakers.

Thomas Silberhorn, state secretary in the German Defense Ministry, said the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone would be delivered to an air base in Sigonella, Italy, followed by four additional systems, including drones and ground stations built by Airbus, later in the year.

NATO plans to use the aircraft, a derivative of Northrop’s Global Hawk drone, to carry out missions ranging from protection of ground troops to border control and counter-terrorism. The drones will be able to fly for up to 30 hours at a time in all weather, providing near real-time surveillance data.

Northrop first won the contract for the AGS system from NATO in May, 2012, with delivery of the first aircraft slated for 52 months later. However, technical issues and flight test delays have delayed the program, Silberhorn said.

Andrej Hunko, a member of the radical Left opposition party, called for Germany to scrap its participation in the program, warning of spiraling costs and the risk that it could escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“The drones are closely linked to a new form of warfare,” he said. “They stand for an arms race that will see existing surveillance and spy systems replaced with new platforms.”

Silberhorn, in a previously unreported response to a parliamentary query from Hunko, said NATO had capped the cost of the program at 1.3 billion euros ($1.47 billion) in 2007.

Germany, which is funding about a third of system, scrapped plans to buy its own Global Hawk drones amid spiraling costs and certification problems, and is now negotiating with Northrop to buy several of its newer model Triton surveillance drones.

Fifteen NATO countries, led by the United States, will pay for the AGS system, but all 29 alliance nations are due to participate in its long-term support.

Germany has sent 76 soldiers to Sigonella to operate the surveillance system and analyze its findings, Silberhorn said.

He said a total of 132 German soldiers would eventually be assigned to AGS, of whom 122 would be stationed in Sigonella.

NATO officials had no immediate comment on the program’s status or whether Northrop faced penalties for the delayed delivery.

No comment was available from Northrop.

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