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The White House on Wednesday condemned Turkey for boosting tariffs on U.S. imports, the latest confrontation between the two NATO allies.

Ankara imposed stiffer levies on U.S. cars, alcohol, coal and other products — $533 million in new tariffs — in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s imposition of doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exported to the United States.

The tit-for-tat tariffs came amid Turkey’s rejection of a U.S. demand that it release American pastor Andrew Brunson, detained on espionage and terrorism-related charges.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “the tariffs from Turkey are certainly regrettable and a step in the wrong direction. The tariffs that the United States placed on Turkey were out of national security interest. Theirs are out of retaliation.”

Sanders said even if Brunson is released, U.S. tariffs on steel would remain.

She said Turkey had treated Brunson “who we know to be a very good person and a strong Christian who has done nothing wrong, very unfairly, very badly, and it’s something that we won’t forget.”

With the dispute between the U.S. and Turkey seeming to escalate by the day, the value of Turkey’s lira currency against the dollar has plummeted, but Sanders rejected any blame on the U.S.’s part.

She said the U.S. was “monitoring the situation.” But she added that Turkey’s economic problems “are a part of a long-term trend, something of its own making and not the result of any actions the United States has taken.”

The new Turkish tariffs came a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would boycott U.S. electronic goods, singling out Apple’s iPhones. Erdogan has blamed the U.S. for the fall of the lira, but refused to budge on Trump’s demand for Brunson’s release.

Meanwhile, Qatar said it would make a $15 billion investment in Turkey to help the country’s ailing economy.

The investment, which will be directed to Turkey’s banks and financial markets, was announced after Qatar’s Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani held talks in Ankara with Erdogan.

Erdogan’s economic role

Turkey’s lira has plummeted nearly 40 percent this year due to concerns over Erdogan’s growing influence on the economy. The lira has recovered somewhat from recent lows as the government cut the daily limit in the exchange of currencies with foreign countries.

Turkey and Qatar historically have been good diplomatic partners. Turkey supported Qatar after Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries cut diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar last year. The Arab states accused Qatar of financing terrorism, a charge Qatar denies.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has sent subpoenas to Tesla Inc. regarding Chief Executive Elon Musk’s plans to take the company private and his statement that funding was “secured,” Fox Business Network reported on Wednesday, citing sources.

Subpoenas typically indicate the SEC has opened a formal investigation into a matter. Tesla and the SEC declined to comment.

Musk stunned investors and sent Tesla’s shares soaring 11 percent when he tweeted early last week that he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 per share and that he had secured funding for the potential deal.

The electric carmaker’s shares were last down 1.9 percent at $341.00 on Wednesday. They have erased all their gains following Musk’s tweet last week.

Musk provided no details of his funding until Monday, when he said in a blog on Tesla’s website that he was in discussions with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and other potential backers but that financing was not yet nailed down.

The CEO’s tweet may have violated U.S. securities law if he misled investors. On Monday, lawyers told Reuters Musk’s statement indicated he had good reason to believe he had funding but seemed to have overstated its status by saying it was secured.

The SEC has opened an inquiry into Musk’s tweets, according to one person with direct knowledge of the matter. Reuters was not immediately able to ascertain if this had escalated into a full-blown investigation on Wednesday.

This source said Tesla’s independent board members had hired law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to help handle the SEC inquiry and other fiduciary duties with respect to a potential deal.

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Corey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, touted on Wednesday benefits he sees in federal government approval of T-Mobile US Inc’s bid to acquire Sprint Corp, while also denying that he has worked directly for the company.

Lewandowski said he remains in regular contact with the president and has daily contact with Trump’s new campaign manager Brad Parscale. He has said he does not lobby on behalf of companies, but said he does consult with some corporations about navigating the federal government.

“If the T-Mobile deal is going to move forward because it’s going to create better 5G coverage in rural areas and create more jobs in the marketplace and help grow and compete with a competitive China, then without any hesitation I say we should have more jobs, we should be more competitive,” Lewandowski said on Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “I have no idea what the Justice Department does on it. I haven’t spoken to anyone at the Justice Department on it.”

U.S. antitrust enforcers have started reviewing T-Mobile’s plan to buy Sprint for $26 billion, and have reached no conclusions on how many wireless carriers the country needs. The two companies compete against AT&T and Verizon to provide U.S. wireless service.

Lewandowski is among those advising the No. 3 wireless company on its deal as it prepares for what should be a tough regulatory review process, the mobile provider said in a statement in May.

Lobbying by former Trump officials has received increased attention after it was made public that Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney, was paid $1.2 million by Novartis and $600,000 by AT&T to consult about the administration.

It is not uncommon for former political officials to lobby and consult with corporations after leaving the employment of an elected official.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman declined to comment on Lewandowski.

Lewandowski insisted he simply shares office space with a lobbying shop, Turnberry Solutions LLC, which is advising T-Mobile. Lobbying disclosure reports show T-Mobile has paid Turnberry Solutions LLC $170,000 since September 2017. T-Mobile said in May that Lewandowski “is now affiliated with [Turnberry] and they have offered perspective to T-Mobile on a variety of topics, including the pending transaction.”

“T-Mobile hired Jason Osborne and Mike Rubino, which is a firm that is also housed at the same office space that I am, and I talk to these guys all the time,” Lewandowski said when asked why T-Mobile said he was consulting with them. “I haven’t made a phone call. I’ve never called a government employee or a person and asked them to look at, help, solicit, move forward, pass any transaction, and I would challenge anybody in the room to find someone in the government who said I called and asked for a favor because I’ve never done it.”

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Turkey on Wednesday announced tariff hikes on a range of U.S. goods in the latest back-and-forth move amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries.

The extra tariffs apply to imports of vehicles, alcohol, coal, rice and cosmetics.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter the increases were being done “within the framework of the principle of reciprocity in retaliation for the conscious economic attacks by the United States.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accusing the United States of waging a targeted economic war on his country, and on Tuesday he proposed a boycott of U.S. electronic goods.

“If they have the iPhone, there is Samsung elsewhere. In our own country we have Vestel,” said Erdogan.

Asked how U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration would react to any such Turkish boycott, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied during Tuesday afternoon’s briefing, “I certainly don’t have a policy announcement on that at this point.” 

Trump administration sources say further sanctions against Turkey are under active consideration. But Sanders declined to say how the U.S. government plans to apply more pressure on Ankara, which repeatedly has ignored calls from Trump and others to free Christian pastor Andrew Brunson. 

Turkey accuses Brunson of espionage and is holding him under house arrest pending his trial. 

The chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Turkey, Jeffrey Hovenier, visited Brunson on Tuesday and called for his case — and those of others detained in Turkey — to be resolved “without delay” and in a “fair and transparent manner.”

National Security Adviser John Bolton met at the White House on Monday with Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic, but the discussion reportedly did not result in any substantive progress.

Trump, who has called Brunson’s detention a “total disgrace,” last Friday doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum exports in order to increase pressure on Erdogan. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Turkey’s ministers of Justice and Interior in response to the continued detention of the pastor, who has lived in the country for 20 years and heads an evangelical congregation of about two dozen people in the port city of Izmir. 

The escalating dispute between the two countries has exacerbated Turkey’s economic crisis, pushing the lira to record lows. The Turkish currency has lost about 40 percent of its value this year against the U.S. dollar.

Erdogan has called on Turks to exchange their dollars for lira in order to shore up the domestic currency.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Turkish business groups called on the government to institute tighter monetary policy in order to combat the currency crisis. They also said Turkey should work to resolve the situation with the United States diplomatically while also improving relations with another major trading partner, the European Union.

The Turkish central bank has pledged to take “all necessary measures” to stabilize the country’s economy to make sure the banks have all the money they need. But world stock traders were dismayed the bank did not raise interest rates, which is what many economists believe is necessary to ease the crisis.

The United States and Turkey also have diverging interests over Syria, which is enmeshed in a protracted civil war. 

The differences are drawing Turkey closer to Russia, they key adversary of NATO but a country supplying more than half of Turkey’s gas.

Turkey has agreed to buy S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, an unprecedented move by a NATO member, which has raised objections from members of both parties of the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration. 

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, voiced support for Turkey during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Tuesday, stating both countries plan to switch from dollars to national currencies for their mutual trade.

“We view the policy of sanctions as unlawful and illegitimate, driven mostly by a desire to dominate everywhere and in everything, dictate policies and call shots in international affairs,” said Lavrov, predicting “such a policy can’t be a basis for normal dialogue and can’t last long.

Lavrov, alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, also declared, “We are at a turning point, without exaggeration, in world history” from dominance by a single power toward a multipolar environment. 

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New Zealand school teachers went on strike on Wednesday for the first time in more than 20 years, challenging the Labor government’s plans to balance promised fiscal responsibility against growing demands to increase public sector salaries.

The government’s first budget in May was stretched to fulfill its promise to juggle investing in much-needed infrastructure with a self-imposed rule to pay down debt and insulate the economy from potential shocks.

Almost 30,000 primary school teachers did not turn up to work on Wednesday and held protests across the country, leaving parents of children aged 5 to 13 at public schools scrambling to find childcare.

“Teachers and principals voted for a full day strike…to send a strong message to the Government that the current collective agreement offers from the Ministry of Education would not fix the crisis in teaching,” said Louise Green, lead negotiator at NZEI, the union that represents teachers, in a statement.

NZEI said it has asked for a 16 percent pay increase for teachers over two years, whereas the government has offered between 6.1 and 14.7 percent pay rises, depending on experience, over three years.

“Our view is that we need to have those discussions around the negotiating table but…there isn’t an endless amount that we have available to us in order to meet those expectations,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at her weekly news conference on Monday.

​The action comes in the wake of a one-day nationwide nurses’ strike in July and a series of smaller actions by government workers, challenging Ardern’s center-left government, which ended almost a decade of center-right National Party rule in October.

The stand-off with its traditional union support base comes nine months after Labor formed a coalition government, promising to pour money into social services and rein in inequality, which has increased despite years of strong growth.

Wage growth has remained sluggish in the island nation for years, despite soaring housing costs, which labour groups and economists say has left workers struggling despite robust growth.

The government is also struggling with gloomy business confidence, which has sunk to decade lows and contributed to a surprise signal from the central bank on Thursday that it planned to keep rates on hold into 2020 and saw downside risks to its growth forecasts.

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Tonga Prime Minister Akalisi Pohiva has called for China to write-off debts owed by Pacific island countries, warning that repayments impose a huge burden on the impoverished nations.

Chinese aid in the Pacific has ballooned in recent years with much of the funds coming in the form of loans from Beijing’s state-run Exim Bank.

Tonga has run-up enormous debts to China, estimated at more than US$100 million by Australia’s Lowy Institute think tank, and Pohiva said his country would struggle to repay them.

He said the situation was common in the Oceania region and needed to be addressed at next month’s Pacific Island Forum summit in Nauru.

“We need to discuss the issue,” he told the Samoa Observer in an interview published on Tuesday.

“All the Pacific Island countries should sign this submission asking the Chinese government to forgive their debts.”

“To me, that is the only way we can all move forward, if we just can’t pay off our debts.”

Tonga took out the Chinese loans to rebuild in the wake of deadly 2006 riots that razed the center of the capital Nuku’alofa.

Beijing has previously refused to write-off the loans by turning them into aid grants but did give Tonga an amnesty on repayments.

Pohiva said China now wanted the debts repaid.

“By September 2018, we anticipate to pay $14 million, which cuts away a huge part of our budget,” he said.

Tonga’s ability to pay has been further dented this year by another massive rebuilding effort in Nuku’alofa, this time after a category five cyclone slammed into the capital in February.

“If we fail to pay, the Chinese may come and take our assets, which are our buildings,” Pohiva said.

“That is why the only option is to sign a submission asking the Chinese government to forgive our debts.”

His comments come as Australia and New Zealand ramp up aid efforts in the Pacific to counter China’s growing presence in the region.

Australia has raised fears in recent months Pacific nations’ debts to China leaves them susceptible to Beijing’s influence.

It has resulted in a race to win hearts and minds in the region.

Canberra recently announced plans to negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu, while also funding and building an underseas communications cable to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Meanwhile, Chinese company Huawei has agreed to build PNG’s domestic internet network with funds supplied by Exim Bank.

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Vienna has dislodged Melbourne for the first time at the top of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index, strengthening the Austrian capital’s claim to being the world’s most pleasant city to live in.

The two metropolises have been neck and neck in the annual survey of 140 urban centers for years, with Melbourne clinching the title for the past seven editions. This year, a downgraded threat of militant attacks in western Europe as well as the city’s low crime rate helped nudge Vienna into first place.

Vienna regularly tops a larger ranking of cities by quality of life compiled by consulting firm Mercer. It is the first time it has topped the EIU survey, which began in its current form in 2004.

At the other end of the table, Damascus retained last place, followed by the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, and Lagos in Nigeria.

The survey does not include several of the world’s most dangerous capitals, such as Baghdad and Kabul.

“While in the past couple of years cities in Europe were affected by the spreading perceived threat of terrorism in the region, which caused heightened security measures, the past year has seen a return to normalcy,” the EIU said in a statement about the report published on Tuesday.

“A long-running contender to the title, Vienna has succeeded in displacing Melbourne from the top spot due to increases in the Austrian capital’s stability category ratings,” it said, referring to one of the index’s five headline components.

Vienna and Melbourne scored maximum points in the healthcare, education and infrastructure categories. But while Melbourne extended its lead in the culture and environment component, that was outweighed by Vienna’s improved stability ranking.

Osaka, Calgary and Sydney completed the top five in the survey, which the EIU says tends to favor medium-sized cities in wealthy countries, often with relatively low population densities. Much larger and more crowded cities tend to have higher crime rates and more strained infrastructure, it said.

London for instance ranks 48th.

Vienna, once the capital of a large empire rather than today’s small Alpine republic, has yet to match its pre-World War I population of 2.1 million. Its many green spaces include lakes with popular beaches and vineyards with sweeping views of the capital. Public transport is cheap and efficient.

In addition to the generally improved security outlook for western Europe, Vienna benefited from its low crime rate, the survey’s editor Roxana Slavcheva said.

“One of the sub-categories that Vienna does really well in is the prevalence of petty crime … It’s proven to be one of the safest cities in Europe,” she said.

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Venezuela’s heavily subsidized domestic gasoline prices should rise to international levels to avoid billions of dollars in annual losses due to fuel smuggling, President Nicolas Maduro said in a televised address on Monday.

“Gasoline must be sold at an international price to stop smuggling to Colombia and the Caribbean,” Maduro said in a televised address.

Venezuela, like most oil-producing countries, has for decades subsidized fuel as a benefit to consumers. But its fuel prices have remained nearly flat for years despite hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund has projected would reach 1,000,000 percent this year.

That means that for the price of a cup of coffee, a driver can now fill the tank of a small SUV nearly 9,000 times.

Recently, the average price of a coffee with milk was 2.2 million bolivars, or about 50 cents, local media has reported.

Smugglers do brisk business reselling fuel in neighboring countries.

Maduro said the government would still provide “direct subsidies” to citizens holding the “fatherland card,” a state-issued identification card that the government uses to provide bonuses and track use of social services.

He said the subsidy was only available to those who registered their cars in a vehicle census being conducted by the state.

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Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday his administration will invest more than $11 billion to boost refining capacity in order to curb growing fuel imports.

Lopez Obrador, who will take office on Dec. 1, told reporters his government plans to invest $2.6 billion to modernize existing domestic refineries owned and operated by national oil company Pemex, and spend another $8.4 billion to build a new one within three years.

The $8.4-billion figure is higher than a $6 billion estimate provided by a key energy advisor during the campaign.

Lopez Obrador, set to become Mexico’s first leftist president in decades, did not detail how the projects would be financed or whether private capital would be involved, but he has often said he will not raise taxes or grow government debt.

Mexico is among Latin America’s largest crude exporters, but is also the biggest importer of U.S. refined products. The country’s next president has pledged to lift refining capacity, which he says has declined due to corruption and neglect.

Pemex, formally known as Petroleos Mexicanos, has six domestic refineries with a total processing capacity of some 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd), but the facilities are only operating at about 40 percent of capacity so far this year.

Meanwhile, gasoline and diesel imports have sky-rocketed in recent months amid planned and unplanned refinery stoppages.

Pemex has posted losses in its refining division for years but Lopez Obrador aims to boost crude processing enough to halt imports within three years.

Lopez Obrador also said he plans to invest another $4 billion to drill new onshore and shallow-water oil wells in the states of Veracruz, Tabasco and Chiapas.

Pemex production has consistently declined in recent years to fall below 2 million bpd after hitting peak output of 3.4 million bpd in 2004.

President Enrique Pena Nieto passed a reform to open up Mexico’s state-run energy industry to private producers, which has led to a series of competitive auctions that have awarded more than 100 oil exploration and production contracts.

Lopez Obrador has said he will respect those contracts as long as an ongoing review does not find signs of corruption. He is widely expected to slow down the process of offering more contracts to private players.

($1 = 19.1100 Mexican pesos)

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The Turkish lira has fallen more than 40 percent since the start of the year, 20 percent just last week, amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, and international investors’ concerns over the economy.  For Turkey, the dramatic collapse of the currency signal fears for the future, as Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

Fruit and vegetable sellers, along with fishmongers, try to drum up business in Istanbul’s old Kadikoy market.  But trade is slow. Most people just look and walk on.

Organic shopkeeper Meltem worries for the future.

She says she is pessimistic about the future because prices will rise and the ability of people to purchase will decrease. She adds that as money in their pockets decreases, people in hardship will buy much less than before.

The fear of plummeting currency values, which continued on markets Monday, will stoke Turkey’s already double-digit inflation, which appears to be the top concern among shoppers.  Turkey relies heavily on imports, especially for energy.

Thirty-year-old Tariq, a teacher doing his weekly shopping, says he is cutting back on spending as he prepares for difficult times ahead.

He says the lira has fallen heavily and predicts unbelievable inflation because Turkey imports so much.  He says everybody in Turkey is afraid the coming inflation, especially for heating bills, will make this winter hard.

Across the street, fishmonger Huseyin proudly displays what he claims is the finest turbot in Istanbul and tries to be more positive. He acknowledges there will be problems. 

He says he does not have much to do with dollars, because if more fish are caught, they are cheaper, if less they are more expensive. But he says buyers may be affected if they are having economic difficulties.  He says if there is a good quantity of fish, then he will keep selling.

Shopkeeper Meltem warns of economic uncertainty ahead.

She says the future does not look good, because when people are hungry, they will be tempted to steal and may choose illegal means to survive.  She said things will not be any good. Many stores are closing because there is no trade anymore.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday an international conspiracy is responsible for undermining the currency, but says the financial fundamentals of the economy remain strong, and order will soon return to the markets.  

Such claims have been met with skepticism by international investors, while many economists warn the damage may have already been done to the economy, and difficult times lie ahead. 

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