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Zimbabwe could run out of bread in a week after flour stocks dwindled due to the country’s failure to pay for imported wheat, according to a confidential letter written to bakers by the country’s grain millers’ group on Monday.

The southern African nation is in the grip of a severe shortage of U.S. dollars that has sapped supplies of fuel and drugs, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa struggles to live up to pre-election promises to quickly revive the troubled economy.

Zimbabwe imports wheat, which it blends with its local crop to make flour for bread, the country’s second major staple after maize meal.

The Grain Millers Association (GMAZ) general manager Lynette Veremu wrote to the National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe (NBAZ) to tell them the country not pay for 55,000 tons of wheat in bonded warehouses in Mozambique and Harare.

“We regret to advise that the current stocks for foreign wheat for bread flour have depleted to 5,800 tonnes and… we are left with less than eight days of national bread flour supplies,” the letter said.

GMAZ spokesman Garikai Chaunza confirmed the letter, saying “this is the situation we are faced with.”

Ngoni Mazango, the president of the bakers’ group, was not immediately available to comment.

The central bank lists wheat among priority imports like fuel and drugs, but has struggled to pay suppliers in the past.

GMAZ said in December it owed foreign suppliers $80 million for past wheat imports.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya did not answer calls to his mobile phone.

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Germany and France on Tuesday launched a drive to overhaul the European Union’s competition rules to facilitate the creation of world-leading companies. They pushed forward a project to create a car battery consortium aimed at catching up with Asian rivals.

A German-French “manifesto for a European industrial policy fit for the 21st century” agreed on by the countries’ economy ministers reflects worries that the continent risks falling far behind in the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and electric mobility.

It also reflects anger in Berlin and Paris after EU antitrust authorities blocked the creation of a rail giant that could compete with China.

Speaking at a separate event earlier Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the EU’s stance on competition “leaves me in doubt about whether we can really produce global players this way.”

The German-French manifesto states that “the choice is simple when it comes to industrial policy: unite our forces or allow our industrial base and capacity to gradually disappear.” It advocates a European strategy for technology funding and calls for becoming “world leaders” on artificial intelligence.

After the EU blocked the merger of the rail businesses of Germany’s Siemens and France’s Alstom, Germany and France are suggesting that EU guidelines be updated to take greater account of global competition. They also advocate discussing whether the European Council — which brings together EU members’ governments — should be given a right to appeal against and override decisions on mergers by the EU’s executive Commission.

As a first step toward a European industrial policy, Germany plans to invest 1 billion euros ($1.13 billion) and France another 700 million euros in backing a drive to set up a European car battery manufacturing operation.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and French counterpart Bruno Le Maire said it would be led by their two countries but open to other EU countries that want to join. They said it would benefit both Germany and France, but it’s too early to say where factories might be built.

Altmaier said there are no plans at present for either state to take a direct stake, and both ministers said companies are interested — but wouldn’t name them, citing ongoing talks.

“China and South Korea have taken a big lead on electric batteries,” Le Maire said. “The question that arises is whether we want to be sovereign or not.”

He added that, if Europe abandons two “critical technologies” — batteries and self-driving cars — “you abandon your auto industry, because you depend on your foreign supplies who can increase prices or deprive you of this technology.”

“Germany and France created the automobile,” Le Maire said.

The two countries are seeking decisions in the coming weeks on setting up the consortium and whether government aid is allowed.





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India’s thermal coal imports could rise by about 10 percent in 2019 due to rail transport problems and other logistical bottlenecks, an executive at the country’s largest coal trader Adani Enterprises said on Tuesday.

Thermal coal imports rose in 2018 after two years of decline, despite moves by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to cut the country’s imports in a bid to reduce the trade deficit.

Rajendra Singh, chief operating officer for coal trading at Adani Enterprises, said thermal coal imports this year could total 174 million-177 million tons.

“We expect a 10 percent increase in imported coal because of an immediate gap in supply from Coal India and power demand and demand from other sectors,” Singh said at the Coaltrans conference.

Coal is among the top five commodities imported by India, and over three-fifths of its thermal coal imports come from Indonesia, while over a fifth is imported from South Africa.

India’s 2018 thermal coal imports rose at the fastest pace in four years, adding to India’s trade deficit and hurting the valuation of the rupee, the worst performing major Asian currency in 2018.

The Adani Group, which handles about a third of India’s imported coal, expects “rail transportation challenges” to lead to a “reasonable rise in imports” until fiscal year 2021 when they will stabilize.

Singh said he expects small and medium scale industries such as the sponge iron industry, tile manufacturers, cement producers and textiles to contribute to higher demand for seaborne coal, adding that an industrial shift from petcoke to coal was fueling higher imports.

Petcoke, or petroleum coke, is a refinery byproduct which is a dirtier alternative to coal. Its usage has been banned in some parts of the country, and policy flip-flops over its usage have led to a fall in demand for the fuel.

State-run Coal India Ltd, which accounts for four-fifths of India’s coal production, supplies largely to power plants rather than small and medium-scale industries.

Smaller scale industries have used imported coal in a big way, and while higher coal imports may be bad news for India’s trade deficit, they are a boon for international miners and global commodity merchants.

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Glen Libby looks back fondly on his days as a Maine shrimp trawler, but he’s concerned about what seafood lovers will think if the shuttered fishery ever reopens.


“Shrimp? What are those?” he said. “There will be a market. But it depends how big of a market you’re talking about.”


Maine’s historic shrimp industry has been closed since 2013 due to a loss in population of shrimp off of New England that is tied in large part to warming oceans. And with a reopening likely several years away — if it ever happens at all — Libby and others who formerly worked in the business are grappling with how much of the industry they’ll be able to salvage if the time ever comes.


The state’s shrimp fishery was traditionally a winter industry, but it’s in the midst of its sixth straight season with no participation because of a government-imposed moratorium. Fishermen, wholesalers, distributors and others in the seafood business lament the industry wouldn’t be in a good position to return right away even if fishing for the little, sweet pink shrimp was allowed.


The region’s shrimp are much smaller than those caught in the Gulf of Mexico, which has a much more extensive fishery. Maine’s shrimp were essentially a specialty item available fresh only in the winter, though widely available in New England grocery stores.

Maine lacks processing infrastructure for the shrimp now, because that went away when the fishery closed down. The shrimp are largely absent from restaurants and stores, save for some imports from Canada. And the shrimp’s brand as a local, wintertime New England delicacy has taken a hit due to years off the market.


If Maine shrimping does come back, it will likely be at a smaller scale, centered on local retail as opposed to freezing the product for export around the country and internationally, said Bert Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange auction house.


“I mean, I think people would remember it. But you couldn’t be dumping millions of pounds of shrimp into the market expecting to get rid of it,” Jongerden said. “It would have to be a slow build up.”


There is no clear timeline for the return of the fishery, because its future is tied to the status of the shrimp population, which looks grim off of New England. Decisions about the future of the fishery are made by an arm of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate body that regulates fisheries. The panel voted in November to extend the fishing moratorium for another three years.


Scientific reports that guide the commission have consistently portrayed the shrimp population as depleted and with poor prospects for the future. The shrimp, which were also brought to land in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, were primarily fished from the Gulf of Maine, a body of water that is warming faster than most of the world’s oceans.


Maine shrimpers were mostly fishermen who harvested other fisheries, such as lobsters, scallops and cod, during other parts of the year. The lack of a shrimp season has caused them to lose income or try their luck in other fisheries.


If the fishery does return, part of its appeal could be selling the story of a local New England shrimp fishery to consumers, said Ben Martens, executive director of Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, a fishing advocacy group.


“We would have this slow ramp up where we’d have this delicious, local and highly prized resource, that restaurants, customers and especially local consumers really want,” he said.


In the meantime, Canada’s shrimp fishery for the same species is still active, but it lacks the brand of the New England-caught product, which long held cachet in Maine and beyond. And Canada’s catch has also declined. The country harvested less than 168 million pounds (76 million kilograms) of the shrimp in 2017, less than half the 2010 total and the lowest haul in at least a decade.


Stephenie Pinkham, who was executive director of the Maine Shrimp Trappers Association when it was active, is hopeful. She hears from Mainers that they miss the product, and is confident they’ll buy it if the fishery ever reopens.


“A shrimp market is definitely out there,” Pinkham said.

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Brazil’s government on Monday banned new upstream mining dams and ordered the decommissioning of all such dams by 2021, targeting the type of structure that burst last month in the town of Brumadinho, killing hundreds of people.

Those dams, which hold mining byproducts, are cheaper to build but present higher security risks because their walls are constructed over a base of muddy mining waste rather than on solid ground.

50 mines impacted due to upstream dams

In January, one such dam operated by miner Vale SA, the world’s largest iron ore miner, collapsed, unleashing a wave of mud that bulldozed nearby structures and has likely killed more than 300 people.

The move by Brazil’s mining regulator, which would impact some 50 upstream mining dams in Brazil’s mining heartland of Minas Gerais state alone, is the strongest governmental response yet to the disaster.

The new regulation orders mining companies to present independently-produced decommission plans by August and ensure that those plans are executed by 2021.

The death toll rose to 169 people as of Sunday night, with 141 people yet to be located.

Executives arrested

Several mid-level company executives have been arrested in the wake of the disaster, which comes less than four years after a similar deadly collapse at another upstream dam co-owned by Vale and BHP Group.

While Vale has said it considered the Brumadinho dam to be safe, an October 2018 report showed that the company classified the dam as being two times more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines.

Around 200 residents were evacuated from an area near another dam operated by Vale late on Saturday, amid fears that it was structurally weak and could also collapse.

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The U.S. auto industry urged President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday not to saddle imported cars and auto parts with steep tariffs, after the U.S. Commerce Department sent a confidential report to the White House late on Sunday with its recommendations for how to proceed.

Some trade organizations also blasted the Commerce Department for keeping the details of its “Section 232” national security report shrouded in secrecy, which will make it much harder for the industry to react during the next 90 days Trump will have to review it.

“Secrecy around the report only increases the uncertainty and concern across the industry created by the threat of tariffs,” the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association said in a statement, adding that it was “alarmed and dismayed.”

“It is critical that our industry have the opportunity to review the recommendations and advise the White House on how proposed tariffs, if they are recommended, will put jobs at risk, impact consumers, and trigger a reduction in U.S. investments that could set us back decades.”

Representatives from the White House and the Commerce Department could not immediately be reached.

The industry has warned that possible tariffs of up to 25 percent on millions of imported cars and parts would add thousands of dollars to vehicle costs and potentially devastate the U.S economy by slashing jobs.

Administration officials have said tariff threats on autos are a way to win concessions from Japan and the EU. Last year, Trump agreed not to impose tariffs as long as talks with the two trading partners were proceeding in a productive manner.

“We believe the imposition of higher import tariffs on automotive products under Section 232 and the likely retaliatory tariffs against U.S. auto exports would undermine – and not help – the economic and employment contributions that FCA, US, Ford Motor Company and General Motors make to the U.S. economy,” said former Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, the president of the American Automotive Policy Council.

Some Republican lawmakers have also said they share the industry’s concerns.

In a statement issued on Monday, Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski said she fears the Commerce Department’s report could “set the stage for costly tariffs on cars and auto parts.”

“President Trump is right to seek a level playing field for American businesses and workers, but the best way to do that is with a scalpel, not an axe,” she added.

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President Donald Trump said Sunday “big progress” is being made in U.S. trade talks with China on what he calls “so many different fronts.”

“Our country has such fantastic potential for future growth and greatness on an even higher level,” the president tweeted.

Trump said last week he might put off the March 1 deadline to increase tariffs on China if a trade deal is close.

But a China trade expert who served in the Obama administration says he has only seen “incremental progress” toward a trade deal with China.

“The realistic approach is that the deadline gets extended and the negotiations possibly go into the end of this year, I would suspect,” former Assistant Trade representative for China Jeff Moon tells VOA.

Moon believes negotiators on both sides are failing to address the real reason the U.S. imposed stiff sanctions on China in the first place — allegations that it is stealing U.S. intellectual property, and China’s demands that U.S. firms turn over trade secrets if they want to keep doing business in China.

“It’s not possible to resolve those issues in two weeks. Those are very complex issues that require longer talks…so a quick settlement is not a good settlement. It just glosses things over,” Moon said.

He forecast things getting “messy” over the long run if those matters are not settled.

He also said Trump has “muddied” the negotiations by letting politics creep into the trade talks with such issues as North Korea.

Trump has threatened to hike tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports to the U.S. from 10 to 25 percent if there is no trade deal reached by March 1.

China has accused the U.S. of violating global trade rules, saying it is preventing the Chinese economy from thriving.

Current U.S. sanctions on China were met with retaliation from Beijing by sanctions on U.S. goods.

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It’s billed as North America’s largest and longest-running auto show, now in its 111th year. The 2019 Chicago Auto Show offers a lineup of nearly 1,000 vehicles occupying nearly 1 million-square-feet of space at the McCormick Place Convention Center.

A special preview for members of the media at the annual show is a chance for manufacturers to show off their latest and greatest products about to enter the market.

What is notable about this year’s event is what some manufacturers aren’t showing off — new sedans.

Customers want trucks, SUVs

“Over 10 years, there has been a consistent movement of customers in the United States and around the world, but even more so in the United States, moving away from sedans and more traditional passenger sedans into more utility vehicles,” said Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford Motor Co.’s Global Operations.

“Nearly 7 out of 10 vehicles sold today are trucks or SUVs in the U.S. market. They like the ride high, the seating height, the utility of the vehicle. And now, we can give them the fuel efficiency that they used to get out of sedans. So, that’s where customers are going.”

All reasons Ford is going the extra mile and planning to invest $1 billion to upgrade its Chicago manufacturing facility, which produces the popular Explorer Sport Utility Vehicle, or SUV — also used as a law enforcement vehicle — and the new Lincoln Mariner luxury SUV.

But while Ford is offering new options for consumers, it is also discontinuing models of the Focus, Fiesta and Fusion cars, ending production later this year.

“We’ve been planning our business to incorporate the expectation that some of those cars will go away,” Hinrichs said. “Then bring in new products to enter the market to supplement some of that volume that was lost so that we can keep our plants full.”

The new family car

“We have the debate a lot about is the compact SUV the new family sedan, and in many instances, you can say yes,” said Steve Majuros, marketing director for cars and crossovers for the General Motors Chevrolet brand. He introduced two new trucks in Chevy’s popular Silverado lineup to media at the auto show.

The prominence, and choices, of SUVs, crossovers and trucks in GM’s current lineup promoted at the auto show stands in contrast to its perennial attraction in recent years, the Chevrolet Volt. Even though it is the top-selling electric plug-in vehicle of all time, sagging sales have led GM to cease production in March.

“Volt was a great product for us,” said Majuros. “(It) had a great run — two generations. But what has happened is as the ability to produce pure electric and the kind of cost configuration and range of what people are looking for, Volt had its time, but was a great stepping stone for us to lead us to the future, which was pure electrification.”

Joining the Volt on the chopping block is the Cruze, a compact car manufactured at GM’s Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio. Chevrolet does plan to keep making the Malibu midsize sedan and the Bolt all-electric vehicle, among a few other options.

“We’re not abandoning the car market completely,” Majuros assured. “We’re right-sizing our portfolio. We’re reacting to what the consumers are looking for.”

What they are looking for are trucks and SUVs, which made up about 70 percent of the 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2018, a trend expected to continue this year.

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The store checkout line may be a thing of the past sooner than we think. A year after Amazon opened its first store without a cashier, retailers and start-ups are competing to get similar technology in other stores worldwide, so shoppers do not have to stand in line. VOAs Deborah Block has a report.

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President Donald Trump received an update on trade talks with China on Saturday at his Florida retreat after discussions in Beijing saw progress ahead of a March 1 deadline for reaching a deal.

Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago club, was briefed in person by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and trade expert Peter Navarro, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and other aides joined by phone. 

The White House offered no additional detail. 

Both the United States and China reported progress in five days of negotiations in Beijing this week, but the White House said much work remained to be done to force changes in Chinese trade behavior. 

Shortly after the meeting with his trade team, Trump said on Twitter the talks in Beijing were “very productive.” 

At a White House press conference on Friday, he said the talks with China were “very complicated” and that he might extend the March 1 deadline and keep tariffs on Chinese goods from rising. 

U.S. duties on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are set to rise from 10 percent to 25 percent if no deal is reached by March 1 to address U.S. demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights. 

China’s vice premier and chief trade negotiator, Liu He, and Lighthizer are to lead the next round of talks next week in Washington. 

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