• World
    South China Morning Post

    Hong Kong warned WTO challenge to potential US trade sanctions could be 'counterproductive'

    In a statement released late on Thursday, hours after China's National People's Congress approved the proposal for the controversial legislation, the Hong Kong government said that as a full member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), "we expect to be fairly treated by our trading partners".Should the US revoke Hong Kong's special trading status, the special administrative region could be subjected to the same trade war tariffs imposed on Chinese exports to the US, or even unilateral tariffs against Hong Kong specifically, as well as export controls and potentially greater scrutiny of its financial and payments landscapes, experts said.In the case of tariffs, analysts said it is "factually possible and legally correct" that Hong Kong could bring a WTO case against the US, given that it retains its own WTO membership and should be treated on a "most-favoured nation" basis, which punitive tariffs would violate.But analysts believe any such future action would be "counterproductive", since even if Hong Kong was to win a case, it could be permitted to introduce retaliatory tariffs on the US, which would harm Hong Kong's economy and image as a beacon of free trade.Furthermore, it is unlikely that a WTO case, which would take years to process, would resonate in a White House which is openly scornful of the Geneva-based trade body."Hong Kong is really limited in what it can do. Taking a WTO case would be symbolic, and even if Hong Kong prevails, the damages would be very low. So if Hong Kong decides to put tariffs on the US " which would be a first " what does it target? Consumer products or food? What kind of message does that send about Hong Kong? Who is that really hurting?" said Bryan Mercurio, a professor covering the WTO at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.Hong Kong is a free port, with zero tariffs on goods shipped in and out, however, it has very little direct trade of its own. As a entrepot for trade with China, the vast majority of goods passing through are re-exported to and from the mainland.While Hong Kong was the world's sixth largest exporter in 2018, according to WTO statistics, just US$13 billion of its US$556 billion in shipments were domestic exports. For imports, just US$155 billion of US$628 billion were consumed domestically."Removing from US law the commitment to Hong Kong's non-discriminatory trade treatment would make it easier for the US Trade Representative to defend unilaterally slapping tariffs on the city's exports. This would most likely violate WTO rules, but this has not deterred the US from placing tariffs on imports from the mainland," read a Capital Economics research note."If this happened, shipments to the US would suffer. Gross exports from Hong Kong to the US are worth 13 per cent of [gross domestic product]. But the vast majority of products are being reshipped through the city. US-bound goods exports, generate under 3 per cent of [gross domestic product], mainly in logistics and postal services rather than manufacturing."Hong Kong has been a member of the WTO since January 1995, but it has only brought a single case " a complaint against the Turkish garment trade in 1996 that was "largely a matter of principle" rather than economic wrongdoing, said Julien Chaisse, a trade professor at the City University of Hong Kong.However, Chaisse said that Hong Kong could learn from another historical precedent of a smaller WTO member successfully bringing a case against a more powerful member, but eventually being left dissatisfied with the spoils of victory.In 2003, tiny Antigua and Barbuda accused the US of discrimination after it was frozen out of the world's largest gambling market after the Caribbean nation had built up a giant online betting market designed to replace its struggling tourism sector.WTO judges eventually ruled in its favour, awarding compensation of US$21 million per year, but the US refused to pay. Antigua and Barbuda therefore had the right to impose tariffs on the US, but declined to do so, thinking that it would be an act of economic self-harm."Why would a place like Hong Kong or Antigua impose tariffs on the US?" Chaisse added. "Who would hurt from such action, apart from the domestic middle class?"Chaisse added that should the national security law lead to an erosion in the "one country, two systems" model under which city is supposed to be governed until 2047, Hong Kong could also find itself on the receiving end of investor disputes and trade lawsuits, especially if the goalposts are moved for investors in the city.Hong Kong has 20 bilateral investment treaties, more than half of which were signed with developed nations in the run up to the handover from Britain to China in 1997, a means of assuaging fears of changing business conditions."I would not exclude the possibility of, in the future, investors from these places using investment protection courts to sue Hong Kong," Chaisse said.This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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  • U.S.
    The Daily Beast

    Laura Ingraham to Black Americans: Trump Understands Police Violence Because of Russia Probe

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham attempted to explain to African-Americans on Thursday night that President Donald Trump can empathize with inequality and police brutality due to his “own experience” with federal investigators during the Russia probe.With protests raging across the nation over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis police custody, Ingraham lectured protesters over the demonstrations devolving into violence and looting. After chastising the non-Fox media for supposedly fanning racial flames over the police killing and subsequent protests, Ingraham then decided to address the black community as a whole to tell them how they should properly protest the killing of George Floyd.“Now, I’m not going to pretend for a millisecond to know what it’s like to be a black person in America,” she said. “I don’t. But the only thing I do know is that we all need to do better.”Reiterating that we need to “do better,” the conservative Fox News host—who once told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble”—said the “real change agents in America are those who stay in their communities and build them up, not burn them down” before invoking a civil rights icon.“Rosa Parks is a beloved, global symbol of freedom and justice because of the determination and dignity to which she carried out her civil disobedience,” she said. “Would burning a store have been more powerful and transformative? I don’t think so.”Without skipping a beat, the pro-Trump Fox star then referenced the president’s anger at the FBI and Justice Department during the Russia investigation to let black people know Trump understands their experience.“And to our African-American fellow citizens, I say this: Given his own experience with an out-of-control FBI and unfair investigation, given all the work on criminal justice reform, President Trump knows how poisonous and out-of-control law enforcement process can be,” Ingraham proudly declared, concluding her mini-monologue.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

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  • U.S.
    The Independent

    ‘If you can say you can’t breathe, you’re breathing’: Mississippi mayor faces backlash over George Floyd comments

    A mayor in Mississippi is facing fierce backlash and calls to resign after saying that he “didn’t see anything unreasonable” about the death of George Floyd.Mr Floyd, who was black, died while in police custody in Minneapolis after a white officer was filmed pinned him to the ground by his neck for a prolonged period of time.

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  • Business
    Bloomberg

    Every Single Worker Has Covid at One U.S. Farm on Eve of Harvest

    (Bloomberg) -- One farm in Tennessee distributed Covid-19 tests to all of its workers after an employee came down with the virus. It turned out that every single one of its roughly 200 employees had been infected.In New Jersey, more than 50 workers had the virus at a farm in Gloucester County, adding to nearly 60 who fell ill in neighboring Salem County. Washington state’s Yakima County, an agricultural area that produces apples, cherries, pears and most of the nation’s hops, has the highest per capita infection rate of any county on the West Coast.The outbreaks underscore the latest pandemic threat to food supply: Farm workers are getting sick and spreading the illness just as the U.S. heads into the peak of the summer produce season. In all likelihood, the cases will keep climbing as more than half a million seasonal employees crowd onto buses to move among farms across the country and get housed together in cramped bunkhouse-style dormitories.The early outbreaks are already starting to draw comparisons to the infections that plunged the U.S. meat industry into crisis over the past few months. Analysts and experts are warning that thousands of farm workers are vulnerable to contracting the disease.Aside from the most immediate concern -- the grave danger that farmhands face -- the outbreaks could also create labor shortages at the worst possible time. Produce crops such as berries have a short life span, with only a couple of weeks during which they can be harvested. If a farm doesn’t have enough workers to collect crops in that window, they’re done for the season and the fruit will rot. A spike in virus cases among workers may mean shortages of some fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, along with higher prices.“We’re watching very, very nervously -- the agricultural harvest season is only starting now,” said Michael Dale, executive director of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project in Portland, Oregon, and a lawyer who has represented farm workers for 40 years. “I don’t think we’re ready. I don’t think we’re prepared.”Unlike grain crops that rely on machinery, America’s fruits and vegetables are mostly picked and packed by hand, in long shifts out in the open -- a typically undesirable job in major economies. So the position typically goes to immigrants, who make up about three quarters of U.S. farm workers.A workforce of seasonal migrants travels across the nation, following harvest patterns. Most come from Mexico and Latin America through key entry points like southern California, and go further by bus, often for hours, sometimes for days.There are as many as 2.7 million hired farm workers in the U.S., including migrant, seasonal, year-round and guest-program workers, according to the Migrant Clinicians Network. While many migrants have their permanent residence in the U.S., moving from location to location during the warmer months, others enter through the federal H2A visa program. Still, roughly half of hired crop farmworkers lack legal immigration status, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.These are some of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S., subjected to tough working conditions for little pay and meager benefits. Most don’t have access to adequate health care. Many don’t speak English.Without them, it would be nearly impossible to keep America’s produce aisles filled. And yet, there’s no one collecting national numbers on how many are falling sick.“There is woefully inadequate surveillance of what’s happening with Covid-19 and farm workers,” said Erik Nicholson, a national vice president for the United Farm Workers. “There is no central reporting, which is crazy because these are essential businesses.”At Henderson Farms in Evensville, Tennessee, where all the workers caught the virus, the employees are now all in isolation at the farm, where they live and work.“We take our responsibility to protect the essential workers feeding the nation through the pandemic seriously,” Henderson Farms Co. said in a statement. “In addition to continuing our policy of providing free healthcare, we have implemented additional measures to support workers directly impacted by Covid-19, including those in isolation as per the latest public health guidelines. We are working closely with public health officials in Rhea County, Tennessee, to ensure we can continue to deliver our high standard of care as we support our workers and our community through these unprecedented times.”One migrant worker from Mexico said seven employees at the Georgia produce farm where he works had fallen ill with the virus. The sick were asked to quarantine in a dormitory unpaid, but others who share the sleeping quarters, full of bunk beds about 3 feet (1 meter) apart, were still going into the fields, he said. He said he was afraid of getting infected, which would mean he wouldn’t be able to send money back to his family.Critical MonthsMay and June mark the start of a critical few months when migrant workers head to fields in North America and Europe to plant and gather crops. Travel restrictions amid the pandemic are already creating a labor squeeze. In Russia, the government is calling on convicts and students to fill in the labor gap on berry and vegetable farms. In the U.K., Prince Charles took to Twitter to encourage residents to PickForBritain. Farmers in western Europe usually rely on seasonal workers from eastern Europe or northern Africa.In Canada, migrant workers often come from Jamaica, Guatemala and Mexico. They’re typically housed on farms, with two or four people sharing a room, depending on if there are bunk-beds, said Colin Chapdelaine, president of BC Hot House, a greenhouse farming company that grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in Surrey, British Columbia.All the houses are audited and approved by regulators with guidelines for how much kitchen and bathroom space to provide, but “Covid has kind of turned that on its head,” he said.“It’s a precarious situation if something happens and it flows through a greenhouse and you can’t pick your crop,” Chapdelaine said. “We’re taking huge precautions to make sure everyone comes in suited and masked up. You have to do all the right things and still hope for the best.”In the U.S., migrant farm workers primarily come from Mexico and Latin America.President Donald Trump has sought to maintain the flow of foreign workers to U.S. farms during the pandemic, waiving interview requirements for some guest workers when consular offices shut down and exempting them from a temporary immigration ban. But so far, the administration hasn’t created rules to protect the workers. Democratic Representative Jimmy Panetta of California and 71 other members of Congress urged in a letter last week that the next coronavirus relief package include funding dedicated to combating spread of the virus among farm workers.Even before infections started to creep up, there weren’t enough workers, causing harvest issues in parts of the U.S. Some prices started to move up. A 2-pound package of strawberries is fetching about 17% more than it was last year, and a pint of cherry tomatoes is 52% higher, USDA data as of May 22 show.So far, though, the price impact has been limited. As restaurants shuttered during virus lockdowns, many farmers lost a key source of produce demand, creating some supply gluts.Now, stay-at-home restrictions are easing in all 50 states, and some restaurants are opening back up. Meanwhile, labor shortages could get worse as illness among farm workers deepens.“The cost will go up, and there will be a little bit less available,” said Kevin Kenny, chief operating officer of Decernis, an expert in global food safety and supply chains. “You really will see some supply issues coming.”Perishable crops that require more hands on labor to pick are the most at-risk of disruptions, including olives and oranges, Kenny said.In Florida, oranges are “literally dying on the vines” as not enough migrants can get into the country to pick the crops and things like processed juice will probably cost more in the coming months, he said.When the virus spread among America’s meat workers, plants were forced to shutter as infections rates topped 50% in some facilities. Prices surged, with wholesale beef and pork more than doubling, and grocers including Kroger Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. rationed customer purchases. Even Wendy’s Co. dropped burgers from some menus. After an executive order from Trump, plants have reopened, but worker absenteeism is restraining output. Hog and cattle slaughter rates are still down more than 10% from last year.The produce industry could see similar problems because workers face some of the same issues. They sometimes work shoulder to shoulder. They are transported to and from job sites in crowded buses or vans. They often come from low-income families and can’t afford to call in sick or are afraid of losing their jobs, so they end up showing up to work even if they have symptoms.“A lot of people are concerned that the summer for farm workers will be like the spring for meat packers,” said David Seligman, director of Towards Justice, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization based in Denver.There’s “a lot of worker fear because of the asymmetry of power in this industry,” Seligman said. “We’re hearing anecdotal reports. Gathering information about farm workers is very hard because of how scared and how isolated they are.”There are some key differences between the two industries. For one, farm workers spend most of their time outside, and some research has shown that the virus is less likely to be spread outdoors. Meanwhile, meat workers are piled into cold, damp factories where infectious diseases are particularly hard to control.In other ways, farm workers are more exposed. Living conditions can be even more cramped, with close-together bunks and communal cooking and bathroom facilities that make physical distancing extremely difficult.Plus, the workers move around so much, meaning increased chances of exposure for themselves and more chances that sick individuals can spread the illness to other communities.In Oregon, a farm worker often may move a half dozen times during the summer, working for new growers and housed in new labor camps as they shift from harvesting cherries to strawberries to blueberries to pears, said Dale of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project.Nely Rodriguez is a former farm worker who is now an organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Florida, a major tomato growing area. She said that some farms are taking steps to protect migrants, such as having buses make more trips so workers won’t be as cramped and requiring them to wear masks, as well as providing more hand-washing stations and sanitizer.Lisa Lochridge, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, also pointed to increased measures to protect workers and said some employers even set aside separate housing to be used for a quarantine area if necessary. Cory Lunde, of the Western Growers Association, said farm owners are staggering start times, disinfecting buses and increasing distances between workers, both in the field and in packing facilities and offices.But protection measures can be spotty, said Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. There aren’t yet any farm specific Covid-19 safety protocols from the federal government.Developing GuidanceThe USDA is “diligently working” with the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “to develop guidance that will assist farmworkers and employers during this time,” the agency said in an emailed statement.“Additionally, considering the seasonal and migratory nature of the workforce, we are working to identify housing resources that may be available to help control any spread of Covid-19,” the USDA said.Harvests take place at different times across the country, depending on the weather and the crop. That means when gathering finishes in an early state like Florida, workers will travel into areas such as Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana and New Jersey, said Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They’ll often make the journey on old school buses rented by employers, sitting for 7 or 8 hours at a time with 45 people crammed in.“If there is a bunch of farm workers here that are sick, they can essentially spread this virus to other rural communities,” Rodriguez said.Many farm workers come from indigenous communities in southern Mexico and don’t speak English or Spanish as their first language, so they don’t have adequate information on the pandemic in a language they can understand, said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy group.They typically don’t have easy access to coronavirus tests, and many are undocumented so they are concerned about reporting illnesses, he said.“They’re marginalized in Mexico. They’re similarly marginalized here,” Goldstein said. “People like that are incredibly vulnerable to Covid-19.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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  • U.S.
    NBC News

    Thirteen years later, mother of Fort Drum soldier found dead after disappearing from bar seeks answers

    Patrick Rust, 24, was last seen on March 16, 2007, at a bar in Watertown, New York, called “Clueless.” The soldier had just finished two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was stationed in New York at Fort Drum and had just received news he was being assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he'd be trained to become a staff sergeant. Six months later, a farmer found Patrick’s skeletal remains in a field about five miles from the bar. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is inves

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