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Vietnam Businesses Push for Green Economy

Liz Hung supports a lot of the imaginative concepts being discussed to make Vietnam “greener” economically and in terms of urban planning.

 

Consider traffic lights. Hung described how government authorities could collect smartphone data to see which streets are crowded, and then calibrate the stoplights to optimize traffic flow.

 

Hung and others in the private sector are giving Vietnamese officials their wish list for a green economy, from more renewable energy to buildings that collect rain water for use.

 

“Road congestion costs us at least 2 to 5% of our [gross domestic product] growth every year because of the time we lost or the high transportation cost, so that is why being smart [in] mobility is very crucial,” said Hung, who is CBRE associate director of Asia Pacific Research.

 

Hung’s comment highlights the link between good city planning and economic benefits.

Emulating China, Australia

 

There is also a larger debate about whether the economic benefits outweigh the costs of going green.

 

There is a financial cost of technology to make Vietnam more efficient. But there also is a security cost, as “smart devices,” like lights connected to the internet, have looser security settings that make them easier to hack.

 

In looking for inspiration for Vietnam’s future, Hung looked at places from Hangzhou, China, where she heard about the traffic data, to Adelaide, Australia, where authorities installed smart sensors in trash bins, which alert garbage collectors when the bins are nearly full.

 

If the idea is to increase efficiency, Vietnam should think about energy use, said Tomaso Andreatta, vice chair at the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.

 

Last month, the chamber held a forum on sustainable cities. In addition to rooftop solar panels and wind turbines, some cities are exploring ways to create energy from things that would otherwise be tossed out.

 

Trash can be burned, for example, to boil water for steam generators that produce electricity, a process known as waste-to-energy. This does risk increasing carbon emissions or decreasing incentives for recycling, however.

Aiming for zero waste

 

“More and more we realize that resources are limited, and producing waste destroys the quality of life,” Andreatta said. “Therefore, there’s been a movement worldwide to reducing waste to an absolute minimum, ideally zero.”

 

He went on to say, “The rapid development of the middle class and its lifestyle, which includes intensive air conditioning use, accounts for a considerable proportion of energy consumption growth.”

 

It may be the middle class that benefits most from a greener Vietnam, where the private sector steps in to create greater efficiencies, when the government is not involved.

 

Property developers are building enclosed communities where sustainability is part of the design, whether it’s motion-detecting lights, or insulation that keeps indoor temperatures manageable. One developer introduced pollution warnings. Another made a transportation app just for its residents.

 

But what about those who are not lucky enough to live in a gated community?

 

Government officials say they are listening to proposals across all sectors. They say that as Vietnam faces a major threat from climate change, it needs to make greater efforts at green planning.

 

“Climate change will have a big impact on the region,” said Huynh Xuan Thu, deputy chief officer of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Architecture and Urban Planning.

 

Some of the ideas, such as a country full of electric cars, may be a pipe dream or years down the road. But Vietnam is getting started on some of the proposals.

 

In Ho Chi Minh City, officials are looking at traffic sensors and gathering data on congestion, which they hope to reduce through technology in the near future.

 

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In Double Whammy, Fitch Downgrades Mexico and Moody’s Lowers Outlook

In a double blow for Mexico, credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded the nation’s sovereign debt rating on Wednesday, citing risks posed by heavily indebted oil company Pemex and trade tensions, while Moody’s lowered its outlook to negative.

The Mexican peso weakened as much as 1.3% on the news.

Cutting Mexico’s rating to BBB, nearing junk status, Fitch said the financial woes of state oil company Pemex were taking a toll on the nation’s prospects.

Fitch said mounting trade tensions influenced its view, according to a statement issued shortly after the end of a meeting in the White House in which Mexican officials tried to stave off tariffs U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to impose next week.

Following a surge in mostly Central American migrants arriving at the U.S. border, Trump threatened blanket tariffs on Mexican imports if it did not do more to stem the flow.

“Growth continues to underperform, and downside risks are magnified by threats by U.S. President Trump,” Fitch said.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in December with ambitious plans to build a $8 billion refinery, a decision ratings agencies and investors warned would divert funds from its more profitable production and exploration business.

“Further evidence that medium-term growth is in decline, whether as a result of policies that actively undermine growth or because of continued policy unpredictability, would put downward pressure,” Moody’s said in a statement.

Mexico’s finance ministry declined to comment.

Lopez Obrador has said the ratings agencies were punishing Mexico for the “neo-liberal” policies of previous administrations.

A Reuters analysis of Pemex accounts from the past decade shows debt increased by 75% during the term of Lopez Obrador’s predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, amid a landmark energy reform.

Pemex

Moody’s highlighted the risks posed by Pemex, formally known as Petroleos Mexicanos, the world’s most indebted oil company.

“The impact of the contingent liability represented by Pemex weighs increasingly heavily on the sovereign credit profile,” Fitch said in a statement.

The latest moves by the ratings agencies on Mexico’s sovereign rating could also ratchet up pressure on the oil company’s own rating, which is teetering on the brink being downgraded from investment grade.

In March, S&P cut its stand-alone assessment of Pemex by three notches, following Fitch’s move to downgrade its credit in January. S&P pegs the rating of Pemex to that of the sovereign rating and the stand-alone assessment does not equal a rating.

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US Refiners to Trump: Tariffs on Mexico Could Raise Gas Prices

U.S. refiners warned the Trump administration that tariffs on imports from Mexico could deliver a punishing blow to refiners and raise the cost of gasoline just as the U.S. driving season kicks into high gear, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Trump surprised Mexico last week with a threat to impose 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States unless the Mexican government took measures to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.

The United States imports more than 650,000 barrels of crude per day from Mexico, about 10% of total crude imports, according to U.S. government data. Refiners are also worried that Mexico could retaliate with tariffs on its imports of U.S. fuel, a major source of revenue for the U.S. industry.

“If these tariffs take hold, particularly if they’re able to get up to 25%, that could really impact the overall competitiveness of the U.S. refining industry,” said Chet Thompson, chief executive of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association. The group has had discussions with the administration and Congress on the issue, Thompson said.

​Mexico oil complements US oil

Mexico’s oil is heavy and refiners need it to blend with lighter U.S. oil to produce diesel fuel, gasoline and other products. Tariffs would drive up the cost of those imports — and Trump has said he would increase levies by 5% monthly until they reach 25% in October.

Mexico is a prime supplier of heavy crude, which has been harder to come by since the United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela in January.

Gasoline prices have remained subdued as global oil prices have declined because of worries about worldwide economic demand. But without enough heavy crude, U.S. refineries could run plants at lower rates to save money if heavy crude feedstock becomes too costly, lobbyists said.

“The heavy crude market is tight and it’s only Mexico at the moment. The tariff would essentially make the crude uneconomical and we may have no choice but to consider run cuts,” said one Washington-based refinery lobbyist.

Refiners have said that could drive up the price of gasoline at the pump, just as American drivers take to the road in the period of the highest gasoline demand in the United States.

Texas lawmakers alarmed

International crude prices are near a six-month low, so any rise in gasoline prices is unlikely to be prohibitive.

Right now a regular gallon of gasoline in the United States averages $2.80, according to the American Automobile Association, but it tends to rise in the summer months.

“We are trying to educate the administration on what this means for gas prices,” the lobbyist said. The potential for tariffs has alarmed lawmakers of both major U.S. parties, including members of Congress from Texas, a reliably Republican state that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but depends on the oil industry and cross-border trade with Mexico, which accounts for 39 percent of the state’s exports, according to the Texas-Mexico Trade Coalition.

“We shouldn’t be imposing tariffs on Mexico,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. He told Reuters that Republican senators “had a vigorous and frank discussion” with White House officials on the issue.

Texas has 5.7 million barrels of daily refining capacity, more than any other state.

U.S. refiners are also concerned about retaliatory actions by Mexico, which buys about one-quarter of U.S. refined product exports. In March, Mexico bought about 1.3 million bpd of oil products from the United States, according to U.S. Energy Department data.

“It would be pretty devastating to us,” a second Washington-based lobbyist said.

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Trump’s Cruise Ban Hits Cuba’s Private-Sector Workers

Lazaro Hernandez, who has made a good living showing U.S. cruise ship passengers around Havana in his pink 1950s Chevrolet, says the new U.S. ban on cruises to Cuba will wipe out 90% of his business overnight.

Hernandez is one of thousands of Cubans who benefited from the boom in American visitors to the Caribbean’s largest island following the loosening of travel restrictions under former U.S. President Barack Obama during the short-lived 2014-2016 detente between the Cold War foes.

Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump, aims to punish Cuba’s Communist government, especially for its alliance with Venezuela, by tightening the rules once more. Yet Cubans say those who will really suffer are the people, including the private-sector workers the United States purports to support.

“This is a fatal blow for us,” said Hernandez, 27, who makes $30 an hour — the equivalent of the average monthly state salary — doing tours of Havana. “If there’s no tourism, we don’t have work.”

​Second-biggest group of tourists

U.S. travelers excluding Cuban-Americans became the second-biggest group of tourists on the island in recent years after Canadians, with cruise travelers making up half of those.

Although they typically contributed less to the economy as they stayed on ships rather than in hotels or bed-and-breakfasts, they hired drivers and tour guides and spent at private shops, bars and restaurants.

“We bought T-shirts as souvenirs and bags,” said Sarah Freeman, 42, one of the passengers on the last U.S. cruise ship to sail from Havana, using a handcrafted wooden Cuban fan to fend off the Caribbean heat.

The new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba also include the elimination of so-called group people-to-people educational travel, one of the most popular exemptions to the overall ban on U.S. tourism to Cuba.

‘Negative perceptions’

William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington, estimated the measures could reduce the number of non-Cuban-American U.S. visitors by two-thirds or more.

That could cut overall tourist arrivals in Cuba by about 10%, he said. Another expert, John Kavulich, said the drop could be as much as 20%.

“Optically, not having Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean in the marketplace will recreate negative perceptions about Cuba,” said Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc., referring to the three main cruise lines forced to cancel service.

Earlier restrictions cut revenues

Tourism revenues, the country’s second-biggest source of hard currency, already slumped nearly 5% last year, according to official data.

That was partly the result of an earlier round of Trump administration restrictions.

Washington says it is pressuring Cuba to reform and tamp down its support for socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom Trump has been seeking to force out in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is backed by most Western countries.

Critics say Trump is seeking to drum up support from the Cuban-American community in the swing state of Florida ahead of next year’s election.

Starting Thursday, many Cubans will be feeling the sudden absence in revenue from cruise passengers.

“For me, it will have a domino effect,” said Nichdaly Gonzalez, who earns her living posing for photos, dressed up in her colorful colonial garb, adding she expected to have to rein in her spending. As such, it will have a trickle-down impact on the local economy, especially in the ports of Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos that received the U.S. cruise ships.

The Cuban government has said it is aiming for tourism income to increase 5.8% this year, but it is hard to see how it can reach that goal now.

“We’ve lived with U.S. hostility now for 60 years, since the revolution, so we’ll get by,” said Abel Amador, 46, selling sketches to tourists on a cobbled street. “But this new move will still affect us.”

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IMF Warns US-China Trade War Could Cut Global Economic Growth

The trade war between the United States and China could cut world economic growth next year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Wednesday.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to tax all trade between the two countries would shrink the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by one-half of one percent.

This amounts to a loss of about about $455 billion, larger than the size of South Africa’s economy,” Lagarde said in a briefing note for the Group of Twenty (G-20), a collection of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies. “These are self-inflicted wounds that must be avoided… by removing the recently implemented traded barriers and by avoiding further barriers in whatever form,” she added.

The warning came as G-20 finance ministers and central bankers prepare to meet in Japan this weekend. They will gather just weeks after U.S.-China talks collapsed amid claims of broken promises and another round of punishing tariffs.

Lagarde urged governments to adopt policies that support economic growth to avoid a global economic decline. “Should growth substantially disappoint,” she wrote, policymakers must do more, including “making use of conventional and unconventional monetary policy and fiscal stimulus.”

The GDP is a monetary measure of the value of all goods and services produced in an economy during a specific period of time.

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Experts: US-China Trade Tensions Could Impact Pyongyang Sanctions Support

Christy Lee of VOA’s Korean Service contributed to this report.

The escalating trade dispute between the United States and China could distract Beijing from dealing with nuclear North Korea and undermine its efforts to enforce international sanctions, potentially hampering the U.S. attempt to denuclearize the country, experts said.

Even as the Trump administration pursues its “maximum pressure” campaign to push North Korea to denuclearize, Washington has engaged in rounds of talks with China that have turned into a bitter tit-for-tat trade war. 

With the aim of making American-made goods competitive in the United States relative to cheaper Chinese imports, the U.S. launched an investigation into Chinese trade policies in 2017. Washington imposed tariffs on more than $250 billion out of total $539 billion worth of Chinese goods the United States imported in 2018.

Beijing retaliated by raising tariffs on $110 billion of a total $120 billion U.S. goods imported last year. 

The latest hike came earlier in May when the Trump administration raised U.S. tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports from 10% to 24%. Trump threatened to add a 24% tariff on the remaining $325 billion worth of imports from China.

This was followed by Beijing’s retaliatory tariff hike on American goods as high as 25% from 10%, affecting $60 billion in American imported goods starting June 1. 

China has accused the United States of starting what it called “the largest war in economic history” and an “economic terrorism.” On Sunday, China said it will “not back down’ in the escalating trade war with the United States.

Tension between Beijing and Washington over a trade deal has caused concern among North Korean watchers wondering if the dispute will affect the U.S. effort to denuclearize North Korea. 

China, as North Korea’s largest trading partner, is responsible for approximately 90% of its imports and exports. As such, Beijing could play a pivotal role in denuclearizing the nation on its southeastern border, because according to William Overholt, a senior research fellow and Asia expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “China is very determined to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”

The consuming battles in the U.S.-China bilateral trade agreements could distract China from the North Korean nuclear issue, said Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council of Foreign Relations.

“The main impact of trade tensions between the U.S. and China is (lowering) the priority of North Korea as an issue on the agenda of U.S.-China relations,” said Snyder. “And so, it’s going to be harder to get China to cooperate as much as the United States would like because they’re focused on other issues in the relationship.”

The biggest role China could play in denuclearizing North Korea is enforcing international sanctions issued since 2016. Targeting Pyongyang’s key export commodities such as coal and seafood, the sanctions were designed to cut off foreign income that could be used to support its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Joseph DeTrani, a former U.S. special envoy for nuclear talks with North Korea, emphasized China’s role in enforcing sanctions, saying, “Failure to work in concert (with China) in sanctions implementation would weaken our efforts to succeed with North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs.”

But a drawn-out trade war could make Beijing do less to enforce the sanctions, according to Ryan Hass, who served as the director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia at the National Security Council from 2013 to 2017. 

“The level of rigor that sanctions are enforced (with) depends upon the level of manpower and the level of resources that are devoted to the task,” said Hass.“It isn’t necessarily the case that China would turn its back on the sanctions, but it may just choose to allocate its resources and its manpower to other priorities.”

After all, Beijing is more concerned with achieving its chief objective of stability than it is with sanctions, said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“While the sour climate and rising tensions in U.S.-China relations complicates U.S. diplomacy on North Korea, China’s cooperation was never a favor to the U.S.,” said Manning. “Beijing’s interests on the Korean Peninsula toward North Korea (have) been based on a sober assessment of China’s desire to see a non-nuclear Korea and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

China, as one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), joined the rest of the UNSC members in issuing stronger sanctions on North Korea in response to multiple missile and nuclear tests it conducted in 2016 and 2017. 

When Washington and Pyongyang began engaging diplomatically in 2018, culminating in their first historical summit in Singapore in June 2018, Beijing suggested international sanctions on North Korea be eased. Several months after the Singapore summit, a report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission came out indicating China has relaxed enforcing sanctions on North Korea.

Diplomatic efforts have been stalled since the breakdown of their second summit in Hanoi in February. At issue were conflicting demands and expectations: Pyongyang wanted all sanctions lifted before undertaking a step-by-step denuclearization process, while Washington wanted full denuclearization before lifting sanctions. Given that, the trade disagreements between Washington and Beijing could push China to truncate its support on sanctions, said Stapleton Roy, former U.S. ambassador to China during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

“Under those circumstances, it’s not clear whether China will be as willing as it was before to support very strong sanctions on North Korea,” said Roy.

Bruce Klingner, former CIA deputy division chief for Korea and current senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Beijing could not threaten outright to refuse to implement sanctions as a trade negotiations tactic since doing so would be defying the U.N. But “Beijing could, however, be less vigilant in implementing and enforcing U.N. sanctions,” said Klingner.

Complicating the matter, Snyder said if Beijing views Washington attempting to prevent China’s economic ascendency over the U.S. while engaged in the trade war, its interpretation of the U.S. attitude could induce it to curtail “the amount of cooperation that (it could) provide the United States on North Korea.”

 

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How Vietnam Will Avoid Currency ‘Manipulator’ Label, Save its Economy

Vietnam is likely to make concessions to the United States so it can escape a U.S. watch list of possible currency manipulators and head off a hit to its fast-growing economy led by exchange rate-sensitive exports, analysts who follow the country say.

The Southeast Asian country, they forecast, will probably talk to the U.S. side over the next six to nine months, consider approving fewer changes in its foreign exchange rate and accept more high-value American imports.

Those measures would help Vietnam get off the U.S. Treasury’s list of nine countries that Washington will examine further for whether those states are currency “manipulators.” Manipulation implies deliberate state-driven currency rate changes that favor a country’s own exporters and make trade more costly for importers. The U.S. list released in late May added Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

The policy changes might place a speed bump in the economy, which has grown around 6% every year since 2012, but a “manipulator” label could lead to tariffs on Vietnamese goods shipped to the United States and choke economic expansion.

“I think they’ll definitely (take action), because they’re extremely worried about this matter, so they’ll carry out some necessary communications and make some adjustments,” said Tai Wan-ping, Southeast Asia-specialized international business professor at Cheng Shiu University in Taiwan. “If they keep going, to be on this list is disadvantageous for Vietnam.”

Exports and the local currency

Vietnam, a growing manufacturing powerhouse that reels in factory investors from around Asia for its lost costs, posted a $39.5 billion surplus in trade with the United States last year and a $13.5 billion surplus in the first quarter this year.

The same country also adjusts its dong currency exchange rate within a band but trending toward weakness versus the U.S. dollar. That trend favors exporters, a majority of the $238 billion Vietnamese economy.

“The reality is, it’s what we call in economics a dirty float currency. It’s not grossly manipulated — it basically reflects market rate for the dong,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi. 

“But it’s sort of controlled to stop big fluctuations, so that the change in the exchange rate month to month is rather small, but it’s always been slowly and steadily in the direction of depreciation of the Vietnamese dong,” McCarty said.

​Inflows of “hot money” into Vietnam, which could hurt exports eventually, sometimes require the country to adjust its foreign exchange rate, Tai said.

Measures to get off the list

Vietnam’s limiting of any further fluctuations would put the U.S. government more at ease, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the market research firm IHS Markit.

“The U.S. Treasury did say that Vietnam should reduce its intervention in the exchange rate and let the currency move in line with economic fundamentals,” Biswas said. “If you’re not intervening in your currency, that automatically reduces the risk of being named a currency manipulator.”

But Vietnamese net purchases of foreign currency last year came to just 1.7% of GDP, below the 2% that Washington uses to define “persistent one-sided intervention in the foreign exchange market,” Hanoi-based SSI Research said in a note Monday. Governments can adjust exchange rates by buying or selling foreign currency.

Vietnam, where many of the top companies are state-invested, could reduce the trade balance by buying more “capital intensive equipment” and aerospace goods such as aircraft from the United States, Biswas said.

India left the U.S. list in May after easing a trade surplus, though China – in the thick of a trade dispute with Washington – was kept on it.

There are few other “policy levers” Vietnam can use to answer the U.S. Treasury concerns, said Gene Fang, an associate managing director with Moody’s Investors Service in Singapore.

Negotiations with Washington

Vietnam will probably remain on the U.S. list over at least the next half a year, when the document is due for an update, analysts believe. The two sides are likely to discuss the currency rate and the trade imbalance as Vietnam deliberates its response measures, they say.

Eventually the U.S. government could seek negotiations with Vietnam and place tariffs on Vietnamese exports if it sees fit, Fang said.

“I guess one of the things we could see as a result would be that the U.S. places higher tariffs on Vietnamese exports to the U.S., and that would be certainly negative from a growth perspective,” he said.

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Trump: ‘More Likely’ Tariffs Will Be Imposed on Mexican Products

VOA’s Michael Bowman contributed to this story.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is “more likely” than not to impose a new 5% tariff on imported products from Mexico next week.

Trump offered his assessment at a London news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

He made his comments even as U.S. and Mexican officials were in Washington talking about tariffs and the surge of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico to reach the United States.

“Mexico should step up and stop this invasion into our country,” Trump said, contending that “millions and millions” of undocumented migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are entering the U.S. to escape poverty and violence in their homelands.

“I think Mexico will step up and do what they need to,” Trump said. “I want to see security at our border and great trade. We are going to see if we can do something, but I think it’s more likely the tariffs go on, and we will probably be talking during the time that the tariffs are on.” 

Trump has threatened to increase the tariffs monthly in 5% increments if the migration is not curbed.

Some Republican lawmakers, normally political allies of Trump, are wondering whether to try to pass legislation to block his imposition of the tariff. They fear the extra taxation would be passed on to U.S. consumers in the form of higher retail prices on an array of goods, including automobiles and farm produce.

But Trump said, “I think if they do that, it’s foolish,” citing his high political standing among Republican voters, even as surveys in the U.S. show that overall, American voters disapprove of his performance as president.

Bob Carter, Toyota’s head of sales for North America, said in a letter sent to news agencies that the new tariffs on Mexico could cost the U.S. car industry billions.

Sixty-five percent of the popular Tacoma pickup truck that Toyota plans to sell in the United States is imported from a Mexican plant.

Talks between the U.S. and Mexico started Monday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Wednesday at the White House. 

Ebrard says he believes a deal can be reached to avoid tariffs, but if not, Mexico plans to announce its response Thursday. It is unclear exactly what the Trump administration considers sufficient migration control to cancel the tariffs. 

Mexican officials say they could only go so far in meeting Trump’s demand to block migrants’ passage through Mexico. The officials specifically ruled out a “third safe country” agreement requiring U.S. asylum-seekers to first apply for refuge in Mexico.

“There is a clear limit to what we can negotiate, and the limit is Mexican dignity,”said Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena.

U.S. lawmakers sharply criticized Trump’s latest tariff tactic aimed at a major U.S. trading partner.

“This [tariffs] is not a popular concept,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, adding that his state is Mexico’s biggest export market.

Another Republican, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, expressed concerns that trade friction could harm a newly negotiated free trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“I’m not a big advocate of tariffs, and I’d like to get the USMCA agreement approved. I don’t see how the addition of a tariff [on Mexican goods] right now helps make that happen,” Blunt told VOA.

“Mexico is a critical trading partner of the United States,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said. “You put up barriers, it’s going to end up costing us jobs, and it’s going to cost consumers.”

Cardin added that Trump’s threatened tariff “would be counterproductive,” as far as boosting U.S. border security.

“If we need cooperation on the southern border, they [Mexican officials] are not going to give us cooperation. Why bother if we’re going to have an antagonistic relationship?” Cardin said.

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World’s Biggest Nutella Factory Blocked by French Workers

No more Nutella?! French workers are threatening as much, bringing the world’s biggest Nutella factory to a near-standstill in a showdown over salary negotiations.

Tensions have been mounting at the site in Villers-Ecalles in Normandy, where activists from the Workers’ Force union have been barring trucks from entering or leaving the factory for a week.

The plant produces a staggering 600,000 jars of the chocolate and hazelnut spread every day — a quarter of the world’s production of a product cherished by children and adults alike.

After six days of failed efforts to end the standoff, Nutella owner Ferrero on Monday started threatening fines for workers involved in the blockade, according to a company statement.

But that didn’t deter unions. Workers’ Force says 160 of the factory’s 350 workers are taking part in a walkout to demand 4.5% salary increases, one-time 900-euro bonuses and better working conditions.

“It’s war, anger is mounting,” union activist Fabien Lacabanne said in a statement.

He said the company agreed to a 1.7% raise for the lowest paid workers, and one-time bonuses between zero and 400 euros, which unions say isn’t enough given rising living costs. Unions also complain of deteriorating factory conditions and increasing pressure to be more productive.

Italian-owned Ferrero said it is trying to protect workers who aren’t on strike, and wants to resume dialogue — but not until the workers stop blocking the factory.

The next negotiation meeting is scheduled for June 13.

French workers frequently go on strike during salary negotiations and occasionally resort to more dramatic methods. The last strike to hit the Villers-Ecalles factory was in 2011.

The action comes amid anger among many low-income French workers at pro-business policies by President Emmanuel Macron seen as favoring the rich — and that prompted the yellow vest protest movement.

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Mexico Warns US Tariff Would Hurt Both Nations

Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

Mexico warned Monday that President Donald Trump’s threatened new tariff on its exports to the United States would hurt both countries’ economies and cause even more Central American migrants to travel through Mexico to reach the United States.

At the start of talks in Washington, Mexican officials said they could only go so far in meeting Trump’s demand to block migrants’ passage through Mexico to avert Trump’s imposition of a 5% tariff next week. The officials specifically ruled out a “third safe country” agreement requiring U.S. asylum-seekers to first apply for refuge in Mexico.

​”There is a clear limit to what we can negotiate, and the limit is Mexican dignity,” Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Barcena, said.

Barcena added that U.S. tariffs “could cause financial and economic instability,” reducing Mexico’s capacity to address the flow of migrants and “offer alternatives” to people fleeing Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Mexican officials contended that an additional quarter million migrants could try to reach the U.S. if the tariff is imposed, on top of the tens of thousands already reaching the southern U.S. border each month.

Trump showed no sign of softening his demand as he tweeted during a visit to London.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador remained confident the two sides would reach an agreement, telling reporters Monday that he was optimistic.

He said his government would not engage in confrontation, and would always defend those who migrate out of necessity due to violence or a lack of food or job opportunities. He also remained positive that no matter what happens in the dispute with the United States, Mexico has “exception, extraordinary,” people and can push through any adversity.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard are due to hold further talks about the dispute on Wednesday.

U.S. lawmakers returning to Washington after a weeklong congressional recess sharply criticized Trump’s latest tariff tactic aimed at a major U.S. trading partner.

“This (tariffs) is not a popular concept,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn said of public opinion in Texas, which he represents. “Mexico is our biggest export market.”

Another Republican, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, expressed concerns that trade friction could harm a newly negotiated free trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“I’m not a big advocate of tariffs, and I’d like to get the USMCA agreement approved,” Blunt told VOA. “I don’t see how the addition of a tariff (on Mexican goods) right now helps make that happen.”

“Mexico is a critical trading partner of the United States,” Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said. “You put up barriers, it’s going to end up costing us jobs, and it’s going to cost consumers.”

Cardin added that Trump’s threatened tariff “would be counterproductive,” as far as boosting U.S. border security.

“If we need cooperation on the southern border, they (Mexican officials) are not going to give us cooperation. Why bother if we’re going to have an antagonistic relationship?” Cardin said.

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