August 6, 2021

China Divides European Union in Fight Against Tariffs

HONG KONG — Adroitly alternating between threats of a trade war and promises of increased purchases of imports, China’s leaders appear to have succeeded in driving a deep wedge between Germany and the rest of the European Union.

For half a century, Germany has been one of the most loyal and enthusiastic supporters of making the European Union ever larger in geographic terms and ever more ambitious in the scope of issues that it handles. But with Chinese and European Union trade officials trying to stare each other down in the world’s largest anti-dumping and anti-subsidy case ever, Germany has weighed in on China’s side.

Germany’s economics minister, Philipp Rösler, said Monday that Germany had told the European Commission in Brussels that it was voting against the imposition of preliminary tariffs on the $27 billion worth of solar panels that China sells to Europe each year. While the European Commission routinely consults member countries on preliminary tariffs, this has tended to be more of a formality in the past, and opposition to them has been infrequent.

But on Tuesday, a trade official in Europe with direct knowledge of the matter said it appeared that a majority of European governments were officially opposed to preliminary tariffs on Chinese solar imports. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the details were not yet public, the trade official noted that despite such opposition, Brussels would be able to go ahead with imposing preliminary tariffs because the national governments play only an advisory role at the preliminary stage.

The preliminary tariffs last only six months and have tended to be a negotiating ploy aimed at securing a compromise before the Commission must decide whether to impose so-called final tariffs that last for five years. But if Germany is confirmed to have rallied enough other countries to oppose the tariffs — Britain has already indicated sympathy with Germany on the issue — then it could take away the negotiating tool.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had vowed to lobby against the tariffs, telling reporters Sunday after meeting with Prime Minister Li Keqiang of China that the situation with the European Commission was “rather complicated.”

“Germany will do everything possible to resolve the conflicts that we have in trade, for example in solar industry or the telecoms industry, through as many discussions as possible to prevent it from falling into a sort of conflict that ends in the raising of tariffs from both sides,” Ms. Merkel said.

German companies, many of which rely more heavily than other European companies on China as a key market for their exports, have feared the dispute over solar panels could lead to an all-out trade war with China, which would be disastrous for their businesses.

Mr. Li is clearly aware of the power of the largest economy within the European economic bloc. Germany was the only E.U. member country Mr. Li visited during his first tour to Europe since taking office in March, spending three days in Berlin before heading to Brussels.

During his visit, Mr. Li said China was willing to offer preferential treatment to German investors in its fast-growing logistics, education and health care sectors.

“China and Germany have a shared position of opposition to trade protectionism, and we have expectations that Germany will play an active role and promote a resolution of the frictions through dialogue and consultation between the European Union and China,” Mr. Li said.

Zhong Shan, China’s vice minister of commerce and chief international trade representative, issued a strong warning to Brussels late Monday after his latest trade talks there with European officials failed to produce a deal.

If the European Union proceeded with anti-dumping duties on solar panels, “the Chinese government would not sit on the sideline, but would rather take necessary steps to defend its national interest,” Mr. Zhong said in a statement.

“Despite the heightened risk of the China-E.U. bilateral trade disputes widening and escalating, the Chinese government would nevertheless make a best effort for hope of reaching a consensus and avoiding a trade war, but this would require restraint and cooperation on the E.U.’s part,” he said.

Article source:

Bucks Blog: Telemarketer That Aimed at the Elderly Is Shut Down

The federal government recently acted to halt a telemarketing ploy that tried to trick frail elderly people across the country into paying for medical alert services they didn’t order.

The Federal Trade Commission filed suit in Federal District Court in Brooklyn against Instant Response Systems, a firm in Brooklyn that is alleged to have made calls to elderly people nationally to trick them into buying the devices. The agency estimates that “tens of thousands” of consumers received the calls, including people who had placed their phone numbers on the agency’s “do not call” list. The company operated under several different names, the complaint says.

Most of the consumers aimed at were over 70, in poor health and living alone on fixed incomes, according to the complaint. Many relied on family members or health aides for care.

The complaint also names Jason Abraham, also known as Yaakov Abraham, as the “organizer” of the company and its calls. The court temporarily halted the firm’s operation pending further investigation, according to the F.T.C. Mr. Abraham’s lawyer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The complaint asserts the company’s practices violated federal laws including the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act.

Typically, the complaint says, Instant Response Systems callers would say they were contacting the victim at the request of a friend or family member. Then, they would ask questions to make the victim nervous about their health, like, “Have you ever fallen down?” and “What would happen if you were not found quickly?”

They then promoted the medical alert system — a pendant that consumers could push around the clock to reach a monitoring service — at a cost of as much as $1,602, and demanded checking account information to arrange payment.

Often the company would mail invoices for the system or even mail the devices, even though customers hadn’t agreed to the sale, and demand payment.

When consumers called to complain, they often couldn’t get a person on the phone. But when they did, it was often someone called “Ruby Wilson” who shouted at them to pay, or the company would sue them. Friends and family members who tried to intervene reported that “Ruby Wilson” “rudely” refused to speak to them.

When consumers they tried to return the merchandise by mail or complained in writing, they sometimes received fake invoices and threatening letters that tried to coerce payment in return. In one case, a woman who had refused to give her financial information over the phone, despite being harassed by the callers, got a letter that stated in part:

“You gave us your banking information by telephone and authorized us to use it to collect your promised payment. However, when we submitted the payment to your bank, it “bounced.”
“You have embarrassed us and damaged our reputation. We had to pay the bank fees, in addition to accounting, manpower and other costs. We will NOT absorb these costs or pass them on to our paying subscribers.
“We suggest that you consult an attorney and ask about the criminal and civil consequences of bouncing checks.”

Another consumer got a letter with a fake police report, telling her that she had stolen the device by not paying for it.

The case is another example of how the elderly may be targeted for fraud, an area of concern to regulators, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Have you or an elderly family member been targeted for telemarketing fraud?

Article source:

House G.O.P. Agrees to Lift Debt Ceiling for 3 Months

The agreement, reached in closed-door negotiations at a party retreat in Williamsburg, Va., was a tactical retreat for House Republicans, who were increasingly isolated in their refusal to lift the debt ceiling. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio had previously said he would raise it only if paired with immediate spending cuts of equivalent value.

The decision by Republicans seemed to significantly reduce the threat of a federal government default in coming weeks and was welcomed by Senate Democrats. The House will consider the plan next week.

“It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader. “If the House can pass a clean debt ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it. As President Obama has said, this issue is too important to middle-class families’ economic security to use as a ploy for collecting a ransom. We have an obligation to pay the bills we have already incurred — bills for which many House Republicans voted.”

The Republicans’ new tack is designed to start a more orderly negotiation with Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats on bipartisan ways to shrink the government’s trillion-dollar deficit. To add muscle to their efforts to bring Senate Democrats to the table, House Republicans will include a provision in the debt ceiling legislation that says lawmakers will not be paid if they do not pass a budget blueprint.

“The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to pass a budget for four years. That is a shameful run that needs to end, this year,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement from Williamsburg. “We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem.”

The decision represents a victory — at least for now — for Mr. Obama, who has said for months that he will not negotiate budget cuts under the threat of a debt default. By punting that threat into the spring, budget negotiations instead will center on two other points of leverage: March 1, when $1 trillion in across-the-board military and domestic cuts are set to begin, and March 27, when a stopgap law financing the government will expire.

Mr. Obama will unveil his own 10-year budget plan in February, laying out his tax and spending plans for his second term. But Senate Democrats, for the past four years, have refused to move a budget blueprint to the Senate floor, in violation of the 1974 budget act that laid out new rules for controlling federal deficits.

House Republicans, for the past two years, have approved sweeping budget plans that would fundamentally remake Medicare and Medicaid, sharply reduce domestic spending, increase defense spending and order a wholesale rewriting of the federal tax code. But without Senate negotiating partners, those plans, written by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republicans’ last vice-presidential nominee, have been more political statement than legislative program.

House Republican leadership aides said Friday that by trying to force Senate Democrats’ hands, Mr. Boehner hoped to move budget talks from ad hoc negotiations between Congressional leaders and the White House to a more orderly process.

“This is the first step to get on the right track, reduce our deficit and get focused on creating better living conditions for our families and children. It’s time to come together and get to work,” said Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader.

But the proposal marks a significant retreat as well. In recent weeks, conservatives from the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal to the Tea Party-aligned Americans for Prosperity had called on House Republicans to drop their conditions for raising the debt ceiling. Business groups had joined in, and Republican Party elders were growing nervous about how House leaders were approaching the debt ceiling, as well as the deadlines for automatic spending cuts and refinancing the government.

“House leadership by and large understands this series of fiscal inflection points we face present a dire threat the Republican brand, which is already in big trouble,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican House member from Minnesota who remains close to the leadership. “If they’re seen as responsible for actions that further undermine the United States’ credibility in the world, and pushes us closer to falling into recession, Republicans could take a bath in the midterm election, which would be devastating.”

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat, said Republicans could not hold their ground.

“What I think it shows is they realize the debt limit is an untenable position,” he said.

Article source: