$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with 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.


White House: Trump Wants $8.6 Billion for Border Wall in 2020 Budget

President Donald Trump plans to seek another $8.6 billion for a border wall in his new budget to be released Monday, White House officials say.

This new request would be on top of the nearly $7 billion Trump has ordered to be used to build a wall under his state of emergency declaration.

The budget also calls for a big boost for the Pentagon and a 5 percent cut in nonmilitary programs.

Trump’s third budget proposal during his presidency, for the year starting in October, is expected to draw wide opposition from Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans, setting off months of debate just weeks after a record 35-day government shutdown over government spending in the current year was ended.

“It will be a tough budget,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox Television Sunday. “We’re going to do our own (spending) caps this year and I think it’s long overdue. … Some of these recent budget deals have not been favorable towards spending. So, I think it’s exactly the right prescription.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Sunday they hoped the president had “learned his lesson” from the shutdown, caused partly by Congress’ refusal in December to pay $5 billion toward Trump’s border wall.

​Trump “hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall,” the joint statement said. “Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson.”

Kudlow said he expects a new fight over border wall funding.

But he contends Trump has justified his call for the wall’s construction, even though polls show a majority of voters oppose it.

“I would just say that the whole issue of the wall, of border security, is of paramount importance,” Kudlow said. “We have a crisis down there. I think the president has made that case effectively. It’s a crisis of economics, it’s a crisis of crime and drugs, it’s a crisis of humanity.”

The White House will release Trump’s budget the same week the Senate will likely vote to throw out his emergency declaration. The House already voted it down. Trump has said he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

U.S. presidents and Congress have traditionally squabbled over budgets, which spell out how to spend taxpayer dollars and the size of annual deficits.

The current budget is more than $4.4 trillion, with a deficit of about $1 trillion expected, largely because of Trump’s 2017 tax cuts.

There are signs the U.S. economy, which grew at a 2.9 percent pace last year, is slowing.

But Kudlow said he was not worried by some predictions the American economy will only advance a little more than 2 percent this year.

“I’m not going to score it just yet,” Kudlow said. “I’ll take the over on that forecast. As long as we keep our policies intact, low tax rates for individuals and businesses, across the board deregulation, lighten the paperwork, let small businesses breathe and get a good rate of return. … Our policies are strong and I think the growth rate this coming year will exceed these estimates just as they have last year.”

Kudlow said the U.S. is “making good progress” in ongoing trade talks with China, although an agreement has not yet been reached.

“As the president said, across the board, the deal has to be good for the United States, for our workers and our farmers, and our manufacturers, got to be good,” Kudlow said. “It’s got be fair and reciprocal. It has to be enforceable. That’s an important point.”

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


White House: Trump Wants $8.6 Billion for Border Wall in 2020 Budget

President Donald Trump plans to seek another $8.6 billion for a border wall in his new budget to be released Monday, White House officials say.

This new request would be on top of the nearly $7 billion Trump has ordered to be used to build a wall under his state of emergency declaration.

The budget also calls for a big boost for the Pentagon and a 5 percent cut in nonmilitary programs.

Trump’s third budget proposal during his presidency, for the year starting in October, is expected to draw wide opposition from Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans, setting off months of debate just weeks after a record 35-day government shutdown over government spending in the current year was ended.

“It will be a tough budget,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox Television Sunday. “We’re going to do our own (spending) caps this year and I think it’s long overdue. … Some of these recent budget deals have not been favorable towards spending. So, I think it’s exactly the right prescription.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Sunday they hoped the president had “learned his lesson” from the shutdown, caused partly by Congress’ refusal in December to pay $5 billion toward Trump’s border wall.

​Trump “hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall,” the joint statement said. “Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson.”

Kudlow said he expects a new fight over border wall funding.

But he contends Trump has justified his call for the wall’s construction, even though polls show a majority of voters oppose it.

“I would just say that the whole issue of the wall, of border security, is of paramount importance,” Kudlow said. “We have a crisis down there. I think the president has made that case effectively. It’s a crisis of economics, it’s a crisis of crime and drugs, it’s a crisis of humanity.”

The White House will release Trump’s budget the same week the Senate will likely vote to throw out his emergency declaration. The House already voted it down. Trump has said he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

U.S. presidents and Congress have traditionally squabbled over budgets, which spell out how to spend taxpayer dollars and the size of annual deficits.

The current budget is more than $4.4 trillion, with a deficit of about $1 trillion expected, largely because of Trump’s 2017 tax cuts.

There are signs the U.S. economy, which grew at a 2.9 percent pace last year, is slowing.

But Kudlow said he was not worried by some predictions the American economy will only advance a little more than 2 percent this year.

“I’m not going to score it just yet,” Kudlow said. “I’ll take the over on that forecast. As long as we keep our policies intact, low tax rates for individuals and businesses, across the board deregulation, lighten the paperwork, let small businesses breathe and get a good rate of return. … Our policies are strong and I think the growth rate this coming year will exceed these estimates just as they have last year.”

Kudlow said the U.S. is “making good progress” in ongoing trade talks with China, although an agreement has not yet been reached.

“As the president said, across the board, the deal has to be good for the United States, for our workers and our farmers, and our manufacturers, got to be good,” Kudlow said. “It’s got be fair and reciprocal. It has to be enforceable. That’s an important point.”

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


White House: Trump Wants 5% Cut in 2020 Domestic Spending

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says that President Donald Trump will call for a 5 percent “across the board” cut in domestic government spending in 2020 when he proposes his new budget on Monday.

“It will be a tough budget,” Kudlow told the Fox News Sunday show. “We’re going to do our own caps this year and I think it’s long overdue.”

Kudlow said that “some of these recent budget deals have not been favorable towards spending. So, I think it’s exactly the right prescription.”

Trump’s third budget proposal during his presidency, for the year starting in October, is expected to draw wide opposition from Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans, setting off months of debate just weeks after a record 35-day government shutdown over government spending in the current year was ended.

The recent dispute centered on Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart illegal immigration. When Congress rejected Trump’s request, he declared a national emergency to bypass congressional authorization to tap money allocated for other projects to build the wall. Congress is now considering whether to revoke the emergency declaration and 16 states have sued to overturn it.

U.S. news outlets reported Trump will seek at least another $8.6 billion in new wall funding in the 2020 budget. The reports said the budget cuts will not affect popular programs providing health care funding and pensions for older Americans, but will pare other funding for domestic programs while boosting defense outlays.

Kudlow said he expects a new fight over border wall funding.

But he contended that Trump has justified his call for the wall’s construction even though surveys in the U.S. show that a majority of voters oppose it.

“I would just say that the whole issue of the wall and border security is a paramount of importance,” Kudlow said. “We have a crisis down there. I think the president has made that case effectively. It’s a crisis of economics, it’s a crisis of crime and drugs, it’s a crisis of just of humanity.”

For years, U.S. presidents and Congress have squabbled over the budgets, what to spend taxpayer dollars on and the size of the annual deficits, often hundreds of billions of dollars that add to the country’s long-term debt of more than $22 trillion. The current budget is more than $4.4 trillion, with a deficit of about $1 trillion expected, largely because of tax cuts Congress approved a year ago at Trump’s behest.

There are signs the U.S. economy, which grew at a 2.9 percent pace last year, is slowing, but Kudlow said he was not worried by some predictions that say the American economy, the world’s largest, will only advance between 1 and 2 percent in the first three months of the year and that the overall advance for 2019 will be just above 2 percent.

“I’m not going to score it just yet,” Kudlow said. “I’ll take the over on that forecast. As long as we keep our policies intact, low tax rates for individuals and businesses, across the board deregulation, lighten the paperwork, let small businesses breathe and get a good rate of return. The president has ended the war on business. The president has provided incentives for economic growth. we’ve opened up the energy sector. Our policies are strong and I think the growth rate this coming year will exceed these estimates just as they have last year.”

He added, “If the markets were overwhelmingly worried about our budgets and our spending and our deficits, you would see that interest rate rise and be a greater penalty. I don’t see it right now. Long run, we do want to reduce the burden of spending and borrowing, absolutely.”

The U.S. added just 20,000 new jobs in February, but Kudlow described the figure as “a very fluky number,” attributing the weak hiring to the partial government shutdown that ended in late January.

Kudlow said the U.S. is “making good progress” in ongoing trade talks with China although an agreement has not yet been reached.

“As the president said,  across the board, the deal has to be good for the United States, for our workers and our farmers and our manufacturers, got to be good,” Kudlow said. “It’s got be fair and reciprocal. It has to be enforceable. That’s an important point.”

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