$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

China Investment Law Fails to Deliver, Raises Concerns

China’s top legislature is expected to pass the country’s first Foreign Investment Law this week at a time when negotiators from Beijing and Washington work to hammer out a trade deal.

Analysts and business groups say the legislation is a step in the right direction, but still falls short. In some ways, they add, it even raises new concerns that negotiators need to address before the two sides reach a deal.

For decades, China has been grappling with the question of just how far and how fast it should open up its state directed economy, and steps — while always welcome — have long lagged behind expectations. The Foreign Investment Law is not different.

In a statement, the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China) said it welcomes the law and appreciates the effort to improve the investment environment.

“We are concerned, however, that such an important and potentially far-reaching piece of legislation will be enacted without extensive consultation and input from industry stakeholders, including Foreign Invested Enterprises,” the statement said.

An earlier version of the law was put together in 2015, but later stalled during the review process, only to resurface more recently. When it did, the wording was more general and more vague, analysts note. By contrast, the first version had 171 articles, the new one has 41.

This some argue, helped pave the way for the bills speedy passage. NPC Observer, a website that closely follows China’s legislature or National People’s Congress, notes that by keeping the legislation vague, the government will have more room and time to craft implementing regulations after the law is enacted.

“The law is phrased and drafted with very general provisions. There are a number of things that are not covered in there, such as what percentage of foreign investment qualifies as foreign invested,” said Lester Ross, who heads AmCham China’s policy committee. “Another major concern is the requirement for security assessments even for non-mergers and acquisitions, even for greenfield investments, which seems unnecessary.”

Subsidies still an issue

The newer version of the law was fast-tracked as Washington and Beijing work to hammer out a trade deal. While the provisions in the legislation address some persistent concerns, such as forced technology transfers, equal access to government procurement and national treatment, it does not address other issues, such as subsidies for state owned enterprises.

Clearly though, the legislation was pushed through the system in part to address what is being discussed at the negotiation table, said Mats Harborn, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

“It is more than a law, it is a document that states principles and it is a document that states principles that we [foreign investors] would like to hear. And it also states the principles that U.S. negotiators want to have on paper from China,” Harborn said. “But the proof in the pudding will be the implementation.”

National security concerns

And while the law echoes concerns that are part of what trade negotiators are discussing, issues such as the broad application of national security reviews and the mention of national security in the law are cause for concern, argues Austin Lowe, a Washington D.C.-based consultant and analyst.

In a recent article on the legal and national security website Lawfare, Lowe highlighted provisions in the legislation that foreign companies should not “harm national security or the public interest” and that businesses that affect national security should be subject to a review.

“Together, these provisions essentially give the state — and, in turn, the Chinese Communist Party — free rein to intervene in a wide range of investment activity, signaling to foreign investors that they are better off avoiding any investment in an area that may be construed as politically sensitive or threatening,” he wrote.

Ross notes that while security reviews have been in place since 2011, they have, so far, been used very selectively and largely for mergers and acquisitions.

“Now it looks like this is an additional hurdle that will apply across the board,” he said.

While it doesn’t mean that every investment could face such scrutiny, there are no bounds to how it can be applied, and in some cases that would require revealing a company’s intellectual property, Ross added.

“When you put national security into any document it creates a great deal of arbitrary judgement on what is national security and what is not,” notes the EU Chamber of Commerce’s Mats Harborn. “It is a very wide definition that creates uncertainty.”

Not only does it create uncertainty, but the questions the new law raises will add to the issues negotiators will need to resolve going forward, Ross said.

“While on the one hand it is a good thing that they are showing some significant degree of intention to reduce barriers to foreign investment and actually making some substantive changes, once the law is in place it may actually be more difficult to make departures from that in the course of the negotiations,” he said.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Trump Says He is in No Rush to Complete China Trade Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was in no rush to complete a trade pact with China and insisted that any deal include protection for intellectual property, a major sticking point between the two sides during months of negotiations.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had been expected to hold a summit at the president’s Mar-a-Lago property in Florida later this month, but no date has been set for a meeting and no in-person talks between their trade teams have been held in more than two weeks.

The president, speaking to reporters at the White House, said he thought there was a good chance a deal would be made, in part because China wanted one after suffering from U.S. tariffs on its goods.

But he acknowledged Xi may be wary of coming to a summit without an agreement in hand after seeing Trump end a separate summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without a peace deal.

“I think President Xi saw that I’m somebody that believes in walking when the deal is not done, and you know there’s always a chance it could happen and he probably wouldn’t want that,” Trump said.

China has not made any public comment confirming Xi is considering going to meet Trump in Florida or elsewhere.

The president, who likes to emphasize his own deal-making abilities, said an agreement to end a months-long trade war could be finished ahead of a presidential meeting or completed in-person with his counterpart.

“We could do it either way. We could have the deal completed and come and sign, or we could get the deal almost completed and negotiate some of the final points. I would prefer that,” he said.

Trump decided last month not to increase tariffs on Chinese goods at the beginning of March, giving a nod to the success of negotiations so far.

But hurdles remain, and intellectual property is one of them. Washington accuses Beijing of forcing U.S. companies to share their intellectual property and transfer their technology to local partners in order to do business in China. Beijing denies it engages in such practices.

Asked on Wednesday if intellectual property had to be included in a trade deal, Trump said: “Yes it does.”

He indicated that from his perspective, a meeting with Xi was still likely.

“I think things are going along very well – we’ll just see what the date is,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“I’m in no rush. I want the deal to be right. … I am not in a rush whatsoever. It’s got to be the right deal. It’s got to be a good deal for us and if it’s not, we’re not going to make that deal.”

‘Maintaining contact’

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Xi had previously told Trump that he is willing to “maintain contacts” with the U.S. president.

Over the weekend, Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen, who has been deeply involved in the trade talks with the United States, did not answer questions from reporters on whether Xi would go to Mar-a-Lago.

Two Beijing-based diplomatic sources, familiar with the situation, told Reuters that Xi would not be going to Mar-a-Lago, at least in the near term.

One said there had been no formal approach from the United States to China about such a trip, while the second said the problem was that China had realized a trade agreement was not going to be as easy to reach as they had initially thought.

“This is media hype,” said the first source, of reports Xi and Trump could meet this month in Florida.

Though Trump said he is not in a hurry, a trade deal this spring would give him a win to cite as an economic accomplishment as he advances his 2020 re-election campaign. The trade war has hurt the global economy and hung over stock markets, which would likely benefit from an end to the tensions.

In addition to smoothing over sticking points on content, the United States is eager to include a strong enforcement mechanism in a deal to ensure that Beijing can be held accountable if it breaks any of its terms.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who has spearheaded the talks from the American side, said on Tuesday that U.S. officials hoped they were in the final weeks of their talks with China but that major issues remained to be resolved.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Trump Says He is in No Rush to Complete China Trade Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was in no rush to complete a trade pact with China and insisted that any deal include protection for intellectual property, a major sticking point between the two sides during months of negotiations.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had been expected to hold a summit at the president’s Mar-a-Lago property in Florida later this month, but no date has been set for a meeting and no in-person talks between their trade teams have been held in more than two weeks.

The president, speaking to reporters at the White House, said he thought there was a good chance a deal would be made, in part because China wanted one after suffering from U.S. tariffs on its goods.

But he acknowledged Xi may be wary of coming to a summit without an agreement in hand after seeing Trump end a separate summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without a peace deal.

“I think President Xi saw that I’m somebody that believes in walking when the deal is not done, and you know there’s always a chance it could happen and he probably wouldn’t want that,” Trump said.

China has not made any public comment confirming Xi is considering going to meet Trump in Florida or elsewhere.

The president, who likes to emphasize his own deal-making abilities, said an agreement to end a months-long trade war could be finished ahead of a presidential meeting or completed in-person with his counterpart.

“We could do it either way. We could have the deal completed and come and sign, or we could get the deal almost completed and negotiate some of the final points. I would prefer that,” he said.

Trump decided last month not to increase tariffs on Chinese goods at the beginning of March, giving a nod to the success of negotiations so far.

But hurdles remain, and intellectual property is one of them. Washington accuses Beijing of forcing U.S. companies to share their intellectual property and transfer their technology to local partners in order to do business in China. Beijing denies it engages in such practices.

Asked on Wednesday if intellectual property had to be included in a trade deal, Trump said: “Yes it does.”

He indicated that from his perspective, a meeting with Xi was still likely.

“I think things are going along very well – we’ll just see what the date is,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“I’m in no rush. I want the deal to be right. … I am not in a rush whatsoever. It’s got to be the right deal. It’s got to be a good deal for us and if it’s not, we’re not going to make that deal.”

‘Maintaining contact’

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Xi had previously told Trump that he is willing to “maintain contacts” with the U.S. president.

Over the weekend, Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen, who has been deeply involved in the trade talks with the United States, did not answer questions from reporters on whether Xi would go to Mar-a-Lago.

Two Beijing-based diplomatic sources, familiar with the situation, told Reuters that Xi would not be going to Mar-a-Lago, at least in the near term.

One said there had been no formal approach from the United States to China about such a trip, while the second said the problem was that China had realized a trade agreement was not going to be as easy to reach as they had initially thought.

“This is media hype,” said the first source, of reports Xi and Trump could meet this month in Florida.

Though Trump said he is not in a hurry, a trade deal this spring would give him a win to cite as an economic accomplishment as he advances his 2020 re-election campaign. The trade war has hurt the global economy and hung over stock markets, which would likely benefit from an end to the tensions.

In addition to smoothing over sticking points on content, the United States is eager to include a strong enforcement mechanism in a deal to ensure that Beijing can be held accountable if it breaks any of its terms.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who has spearheaded the talks from the American side, said on Tuesday that U.S. officials hoped they were in the final weeks of their talks with China but that major issues remained to be resolved.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Democrats Cool Toward NAFTA Replacement, Question Labor Standards

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives gave a cool reception to the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement on Wednesday as the top U.S. trade negotiator opened a  campaign to win broad support for the accord in Congress.

Several Democrats said a closed-door meeting between United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and their caucus failed to ease their concerns about the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s (USMCA) provisions on labor, biologic drugs and some other issues.

A USTR spokeswoman declined to comment on the meeting.

The support of Democrats, who control the House, is considered important to passage of the USMCA, and Wednesday’s meeting at the U.S. Capitol signaled that the Trump administration has a lot of work to do to address the party’s concerns.

Democrats questioned whether new labor standards aimed at ensuring workers have the right to organize can be adequately enforced, as this depends partly on Mexico passing new labor laws.

“What you’re hearing is that a lot of people don’t think it’s good enough,” Representative Pramila Jayapal said of USMCA after the meeting, adding that she was concerned the new pact would not solve the biggest shortcoming of NAFTA, which allowed Mexican wages to stagnate.

“We know that when you don’t have strong enforcement provisions, you are essentially facilitating the outsourcing of jobs and bad worker protections and undercutting of U.S. workers,” said Jayapal.

NAFTA dealt with labor provisions in an unenforceable side-letter, allowing unions in Mexico to remain weak and wages low, drawing factories from the United States and Canada.

While USMCA’s labor chapter is part of the trade agreement itself and requires Mexico to adhere to International Labor Organization standards, Democrats questioned whether this could be adequately enforced through a state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism.

The Mexican government expects its Congress to pass a labor bill by the end of April that it says will strengthen the rights of unionized workers and fulfill its commitments under USMCA. Mexico “could say they passed the laws, but the laws could be very weak,” said Representative Judy Chu, a Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

She said Lighthizer told Democrats that he believed that Mexico’s labor law would meet the terms of the agreement and that any enforcement issues could be resolved through a subsequent agreement following ratification. Jayapal added that Lighthizer said this could be addressed through implementing legislation.

Some Democrats said that Lighthizer listened closely to their concerns and that he would work to address them. 

“He understands the concerns of our caucus and he knows we’re not there yet,” said Representative Bill Pascrell.

Other Democrats raised concerns about the prospect for higher drug prices resulting from the USMCA’s provision for 10 years of data exclusivity for biologic drugs. The United States allows 12 years currently and negotiated a five-year exclusivity period in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which President Donald Trump declined to join in 2017.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat who opposed several previous trade deals, called this an “absolutely unbelievable giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, whose panel will handle the USMCA legislation, said the meeting did not provide any further clarity on the timing of the Trump administration’s submission of implementing legislation to Congress, or when a vote might occur.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Trade Chief: US Working on Steel, Aluminum Tariff Relief for Mexico, Canada

The United States is working on a plan to lift tariffs from Mexican and Canadian steel and aluminum but preserve the gains that domestic producers have received from the duties so far, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Tuesday.

“What I’m trying to do is a have a practical solution to a real problem … get rid of tariffs on these two, let them maintain their historic access to the U.S. market which I think will allow us to still maintain the benefit of the steel and aluminum program,” he told the U.S. Senate Finance Committee at a hearing about the World Trade Organization.

The United States imposed the “Section 232” tariffs on steel and aluminum nearly a year ago to protect domestic producers on national security grounds. A plan to lift tariffs on the metals from Canada and Mexico was once linked to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement but ultimately was excluded from that deal.

Since then, a number of U.S. lawmakers have said they did not believe the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) could win approval in Congress if the metals tariffs — along with and retaliatory duties on U.S. farm and other products — were left in place.

Members of the New Democrat Coalition in the House of Representatives echoed a similar message in a meeting with Lighthizer later on Tuesday.

“Some of us impressed the need to resolve 232 before we have a chance to move forward” on consideration of USMCA, said Representative Ron Kind, a pro-trade Democrat from Wisconsin.

Kind added that Lighthizer expected to meet with Mexican and Canadian counterparts on the issue this week.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office declined to comment, saying there were no scheduling announcements on the 232 issue.

The United States has sought quotas on steel and aluminum in lieu of tariffs, but Canada and Mexico have resisted such restrictions, arguing that they pose no threat to U.S. national security.

A Mexican official said talks were continuing.

“Our position is that we should not have tariffs or quotas.

We have to help the U.S. construct the narrative of why exclusion for Mexico is valid,” added the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and requested anonymity.

Kind cautioned that the Trump administration would need to submit the USMCA enabling legislation soon to Congress so it could be considered before the August recess. After that, it could become caught up in another border wall funding fight in the fall and later the 2020 presidential election campaign, which would diminish its approval chances.

“There’s a lot of work and the clock’s ticking,” Kind added.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Lopez Obrador Rebuts Finance Ministry over $2.5B Mexico Refinery Funding

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday denied any delay to a flagship refinery project in his home state after the deputy finance minister was quoted as saying $2.5 billion for its construction will be moved to state oil firm Pemex.

The planned investment for the Dos Bocas refinery “can go to exploration and production” for Pemex, Arturo Herrera told the Financial Times in an interview during a trip to London for meetings with investors.

However, Lopez Obrador stood by his plan to build the refinery within three years, saying the tender could be unveiled next week. In answer to a question about whether the $2.5 billion would be spent this year on the refinery, said “Yes.”

The president’s plans to fast-track construction of the new refinery in Tabasco, his home state, have concerned investors that it would take away much-needed resources from Pemex, which is creaking under $106 billion of debt.

His energy minister, Rocio Nahle, said she understood Herrera’s budget concerns but said the project was on track.

“The faster we do this project, the cheaper it will be,” she said on Mexican radio.

The conflicting statements appeared to confuse investors.

Mexico’s benchmark stock index reversed gains and weakened 0.7 percent after Lopez Obrador’s rebuttal of Herrera’s comments, while the peso pared gains.

“Contradictions within the federal government do not help financial markets,” said James Salazar, an economist at bank CI Banco.

The government is under growing pressure to dispel doubts Pemex can successfully manage more than $16 billion of debt payments due by the end of next year, halt the firm’s extended oil output slide and avert a threatened credit rating downgrade to “junk.”

Finance minister Carlos Urzua said last week the government would announce new measures to support the ailing company, after unveiling a $3.9 billion bailout in February that failed to impress ratings agencies.

Herrera said the government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral organizations about structuring a fresh capital injection for Pemex, though he noted that those discussions were technical and no borrowing was involved, according to the Financial Times.

Lopez Obrador said it was very likely the government would make an announcement about tenders for the refinery on March 18, a national holiday that celebrates the 1938 nationalization of Mexico’s oil industry.

He also predicted Pemex would reverse its output decline by next year, with “new wells” coming on line by December under a production plan that allows Pemex to hire service companies to help explore mature fields.

He repeated that the refinery would cost between $6 billion and $8 billion, and said that work for now was focused on preparing the ground at the refinery site and readying the framework for the tender.

The refinery has already hit obstacles after the proposed construction site was cleared of protected mangrove without the correct environmental permits. The government has yet to present an environmental impact assessment for the wildlife-rich site.

Herrera said the tender framework was being prepared, but said the finance ministry needed to see a solid financial plan before releasing funds.

“We will not authorize (construction) until we have a final figure that is not very different from the original $8 billion,” said Herrera.

($1 = 19.3083 Mexican pesos)

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Official: US Plans ‘Very Significant’ Additional Venezuela Sanctions

The United States is preparing to impose “very significant” Venezuela-related sanctions against financial institutions in the coming days, U.S. special envoy Elliott Abrams said on Tuesday.

Abrams did not elaborate on the fresh measures but his warning came a day after the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank for helping Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA evade U.S. financial restrictions.

Abrams said Washington was also preparing to withdraw more U.S. visas from Venezuelans with close ties to President Nicolas Maduro.

Washington has taken the lead in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president after the 35-year-old Congress chief declared Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud and announced an interim presidency in January. Most countries in Europe and Latin America have followed suit.

Abrams’ comments came as Venezuela ordered American diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours.

Washington said it had decided to withdraw the remaining diplomats due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela, which has been plunged into its worst blackout on record.

Abrams emphasized that the withdrawal of diplomats was not a change in U.S. policy.

“This does not represent any change in U.S. policy toward Venezuela, nor does it represent any reduction in the commitment we have to the people of Venezuela and to their struggle for democracy,” he said, adding that the U.S. intended to keep up pressure on Maduro through sanctions.

“You will see very soon a significant number of additional visa revocations. You will see in the coming days some very significant additional sanctions,” Abrams added.

He said the United States was in talks with other countries that could act as its “protecting power” in Venezuela to ensure the safety of the U.S. embassy’s premises and provide assistance to Americans in trouble.

A “protecting power” is a country that represents another in cases where two countries have broken off diplomatic relations.

Washington, for example, has appointed Switzerland as its “protecting power” in Iran.

“We are trying to decide on a protecting power,” Abrams said.

He said the safety of U.S. diplomats was a key factor in the withdrawal decision reached by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the late hours of Monday night.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Venezuela’s Blackout Halts Oil Exports from Primary Port

Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA has been unable to resume crude exports from its primary port since last week’s massive power outage, essentially crippling the OPEC nation’s principal industry, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Power remained patchy in most of the country after a blackout on Thursday that the government of President Nicolas Maduro claimed was a U.S.-backed act of “sabotage” on the country’s principal hydroelectric dam.

His critics insist it is the result of more than a decade of corruption and mismanagement.

Authorities have given few explanations about why the blackout occurred and how long it might take to resolve, spurring fears it could be indefinite.

PDVSA has launched a contingency plan to restore power to the Jose port, according to one source. The state of Anzoategui, where the port is located, has had only intermittent electricity since Friday, the source added.

The port has its own generator, but depends on the grid for 65 percent of its power, a PDVSA source said. The generator is not currently working and efforts are underway to restart it in order to maintain a minimum level of operation.

“It has been totally halted since the blackout. It has affected all of Jose’s oil installations,” another source said, adding that a restart would be costly and require power lines to be replaced.

PDVSA did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

No oil export tankers have left Jose since March 7, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. There were a few shipments between domestic ports on Saturday, when power briefly returned, but another outage that lasted through Sunday halted operations again, according to the data.

The power outage also affected the Puerto la Cruz refinery in Anzoategui, which was already operating at minimum levels.

Rationing

Blackouts are not unusual in Venezuela.

Incidents stemming from problems at the Guri hydroelectric dam have briefly disrupted oil activities at fields that depend on the grid, which are mainly located in western Zulia State, rather than the Orinoco belt. Many fields, refineries and ports generate their own power.

The country’s crude upgraders, which can convert up to 700,000 barrels per day of Orinoco Belt heavy oil into exportable grades, also operated at minimum levels due to the lack of power, the sources said.

But the current outage has been much more widespread and prolonged than those in the past. The status of the generators that PDVSA and its private partners use in upstream activities was unclear, though the PDVSA source said many were “re-circulating” the same product to avoid having to shut down.

The source added that the government had decided to ration what little electricity was available until the grid was back operating at 100 percent, in order to allow the Jose terminal – which includes the port and the Pequiven petrochemical complex – to consume the power it needed from the grid.

“Shipments of crude, sulfur and Pequiven are all paralyzed,” the PDVSA source said.

Even as PDVSA struggles to restart exports, it is having trouble delivering shipments it has already dispatched from its ports due to U.S. sanctions slapped on the company in January in an effort to reduce Venezuela’s government’s cash flow and drive Maduro from power.

The top U.S. buyers of Venezuelan oil are trying to return millions of barrels of crude they need but cannot accept due to the sanctions, leaving the barrels in limbo as demurrage fees accumulate, according to an internal PDVSA document seen by Reuters.

The blackout has also hit domestic fuel supply. PDVSA has said it has activated a contingency plan for its gas stations that do not have their own power generation, but has not provided a general update on domestic fuel supply.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Eurozone Delays Greece Debt Relief Over Reforms

Eurozone ministers on Monday held back granting Greece debt relief because the government failed to implement reforms promised during the massive bailout that ended last year, officials said.

Greece exited its third and final international bailout in August, a turning point in its progress out of the catastrophe that engulfed the country during the financial crisis.

The Greek government has still failed to complete housing insolvency rules that have raised fears in Greece for families threatened with foreclosure on their homes.

European officials, however, played down the delay, not wanting to rekindle memories of the eurozone debt crisis that nearly destroyed Europe’s single currency.

“It’s too early to decide formally on the disbursement today,” said EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici ahead of a Eurogroup meeting of eurozone finance ministers.

“The signal given to the markets is decisive, the message of today’s Eurogroup will be and must be positive,” he added.

The debt relief measures are mainly profits made by the European Central Bank (ECB) and other EU central banks on Greek government bonds during the bailout period.

Greece could receive just short of one billion euros from its eurozone partners in the debt relief scheme.

The delay comes days after Greece issued a 10-year bond, the country’s first since its 2010 debt crisis.

The bond was hailed as a major milestone marking Greece’s return to normalcy after almost a decade of being avoided by the markets.

The country hopes to raise a total of around nine billion euros in the markets this year to boost investor confidence in the Greek economy.

Growth is expected to reach 2.4 percent in 2019 after an estimated 2.1 percent in 2018, according to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.


Iran’s Rouhani Signs Trade Pacts in Iraq to Help Offset US Sanctions

Iraq and Iran signed several preliminary trade deals on Monday, Iraqi officials said, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani began his first visit seeking to bolster Tehran’s influence and expand commercial ties to help offset renewed U.S. sanctions.

The deals, among them a plan to build a railway linking the neighbors, emerged soon after the start of Rouhani’s visit, meant to underline that Tehran still plays a dominant role in Iraq despite U.S. efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic.

Iran and Iraq fought a devastating 1980-88 war but the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that ousted Saddam Hussein prompted a long Sunni Islamist insurgency during which Iran’s regional sway rose at the expense of the United States.

Rouhani and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Mahdi signed several memorandums of understanding, Abdul Mahdi’s office said in a statement. They included agreements on oil, trade, health, and a railway linking the southern Iraqi oil city of Basra and the Iranian border town of Shalamcheh. 

They had also agreed on measures to make it easier for businessmen and investors to obtain visas, Abdul Mahdi’s office said. The Iranian state news agency IRNA said it was agreed that travel visas would now be free of charge.

Prior to his departure, Rouhani said Shi’ite Muslim Iran was determined to strengthen ties with its Shi’ite-led Arab neighbor, Iranian state television reported.

Those ties “cannot be compared to Iraq’s relations with an occupying country like America, which is hated in the region,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Rouhani as saying before he flew to Baghdad. “One cannot forget the bombs that Americans dropped on Iraq, Syria and other regional countries.”

Rouhani was due to visit the Shi’ite holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. He will meet top Iraqi Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iranian state media said.

A senior Iranian official accompanying Rouhani told Reuters that Iraq was “another channel for Iran to bypass America’s unjust sanctions … this trip will provide opportunities for Iran’s economy.”

Iraq relies on Iranian gas imports to feed its power grid and has asked for extensions to a U.S. waiver to continue importing Iranian gas since U.S. President Donald Trump restored sanctions on Iran’s vital energy sector in November.

Iranian economy suffering 

The slump in Iran’s economy since Trump’s decision last May to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers has pushed the Islamic Republic to try to expand commercial ties with neighbors.

The 2015 agreement lifted sanctions that had been imposed by the United States, European Union and United Nations in return for Iran curbing aspects of its nuclear program.

The Trump administration said the accord was too generous and failed to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities and its involvement in regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Other signatories to the deal have been trying to salvage the pact, but U.S. sanctions have largely scared off European companies from doing business with Iran.

The Europeans have promised to help firms do business with Iran as long as it abides by the deal. Iran has itself threatened to pull out of the agreement unless EU powers demonstrably protect its economic benefits.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.