Report: China Appears to Ease North Korea Sanctions

A U.S. congressional commission said Wednesday that China appears to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on North Korea and called on the Treasury Department to provide a report on Chinese compliance within 180 days.

In its annual report, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the Treasury report should include a classified list of Chinese financial institutions, businesses and officials involved in trading with North Korea that could be subject to future sanctions.

The bipartisan commission said China had appeared to enforce sanctions on North Korea more thoroughly than in the past in 2017 and in early 2018.

But this effort appeared to have relaxed since a thaw in relations between China and North Korea as the long-time ally of Beijing began to engage with the United States this year.

Key lifelines

“China appears to have eased off sanctions enforcement, despite its promises to keep sanctions intact until North Korea gets rid of its nuclear weapons,” the report said.

“North Korean workers have returned to jobs in northeast China, economic activity and tourism have picked up in border towns, flights in both directions have resumed, and the two countries have conducted high-profile official exchanges to discuss economic development,” it said.

It said China always left “key lifelines” in place for North Korea and there were “holes” in enforcement that included “ship to ship” transfers of goods.

The report said the Treasury Department, in recommending Chinese sanctions targets, should also “explain the potential broader impacts of sanctioning those entities.”

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for its weapons programs. The United States has imposed sanctions in the past on Chinese and other foreign firms for violating those steps.

Reward Pyongyang?

China and Russia have said the Security Council should reward Pyongyang for “positive developments” after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.

China’s top diplomat and politburo member Yang Jiechi said after talks in Washington last week that China would “continue to enforce strictly relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Trump has suggested China may be exerting negative pressure on U.S. efforts to press North Korea to denuclearize in response to U.S. trade measures on Beijing.

The U.S. Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the commission report, but the State Department said it expected all U.N. states to implement sanctions resolutions until North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons.

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Poll: Safety, Time Are Women’s Biggest Transportation Concerns

Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport in five of the world’s biggest commuter cities, according to a global poll released Thursday as improving city access for women becomes a major focus globally. 

A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of 1,000 women in London, New York, Mexico City, Tokyo and Cairo found 52 percent of respondents overall cited safety as their main worry, with women in Mexico City the most fearful about safety. 

Almost three in every four women in Mexico City lacked confidence they could travel without facing sexual harassment and abuse or sexual violence, with Cairo coming a close second. 

The ratio was one in four women in the other three cities. 

The time it took to travel around the city — with studies showing women often take more complex routes with more stops than men because of household and child care duties — was named as the second-biggest concern, cited by 33 percent of women. 

Time was the biggest worry for women in New York, with two-thirds saying it influenced their decision to take or stay in a job, while the cost of transport concerned women in London most, with nearly three in four women saying it was expensive. 

The poll came as city authorities have been looking at ways to ensure women have safe, efficient transport to reach jobs, education and health care. The cities are seeking to tackle inequality and poverty and boost their economies by getting more women into the workforce. 

The poll also came amid growing concern in the #MeToo climate that transport networks are magnets for sexual predators who use rush-hour crushes to hide behavior and as an excuse if caught. 

“It is very rare to find a group of women in any city who don’t have concerns about safety, and it is important for planners to think about that when designing a transport system,” said Jemilah Magnusson, spokeswoman for the U.S.-based Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. 

“Most transport systems focus on the solo male commuter traveling at peak hours from home and work, but women have different trip patterns. … Women must be involved in planning transit to meet their needs.” 

Laws and smartphones 

The survey, conducted Aug. 13-24 and supported by Uber, asked 200 women in each of five of the world’s largest commuter cities with underground train networks in different cultural regions about safety, time spent traveling and cost, among other issues. 

A recent International Labor Organization study said limited access to and safety of transport were estimated to be the greatest obstacles to women’s role in the labor force in developing countries, reducing probable participation by 16.5 percent. 

Transport authorities and experts said moves to improve transport for women had become a major issue in recent years because of safety concerns and congestion. 

World Bank reports have stressed that improving transport can have immediate positive results on women’s lives, be it through adding safety laws, including women in planning, or offering alternative transport, such as ride-hailing apps or bikes. 

The World Bank introduced gender as an issue for the first time this year at an annual conference on transforming transportation. 

Magnusson said including the issue of women and transport exploded into a major issue after the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi shocked the world. 

“This was one story that brought out lots of other horror stories from women and really galvanized people,” said Magnusson, whose group promotes environmental and livable transport. 

This has led to a surge in women-only train carriages and taxi services, but just 47 percent of the women in the poll said this would improve women’s safety. 

Maria Jose Bermudez, 45, a cook who commutes three hours a day using public transport in Mexico City, said more needs to be done instead to educate men about women’s rights generally. 

“Women-only carriages don’t really solve the problem because the issue has to do with Mexico’s culture and how men treat women,” Bermudez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Coping with congestion 

Steve Swasey, spokesman for public transit app Moovit, said smartphones had triggered a “revolution” in mass transit with the emergence of ride-hailing apps and apps to use transport more efficiently by cutting wait times and avoiding bottlenecks. 

The Inter-American Development Bank found the higher the compliance with a transport schedule or the less congested, the lower the probability that a woman will be a crime victim. 

The Thomson Reuters Foundation poll found that 56 percent of women globally said ride-hailing apps had improved their ability to get around their cities. More than half of women in every city but Tokyo said these new forms of transport were helpful. 

“City roads are at full capacity, and there is not one major city where congestion is not a major concern,” Swasey said. “You can’t easily or quickly put more lanes on a bridge or rails in a tunnel … but you can use data to regulate the influx of traffic and change the way people use transport.” 

Magnusson said most cities were aware they should make transport more efficient and faster — but this could be a very politically unpopular move as it means cutting back on cars. 

“Taking lanes from cars to make bus lanes and bike lanes, and introducing new parking and restriction schemes, can stop cars going into cities and help speed up transport,” she said. 

 

“It is not about just one thing, but it is about creating a transport system that is fair and allows women to fully participate in society, but that in itself can be very threatening to many people.” 

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Draft Brexit Deal Ends Britain’s Easy Access to EU Financial Markets 

The United Kingdom and the European Union have agreed on a deal that will give London’s vast financial center only a basic level of access to the bloc’s markets after Brexit. 

The agreement will be based on the EU’s existing system of financial market access known as equivalence — a watered-down relationship that officials in Brussels have said all along is the best arrangement that Britain can expect. 

The EU grants equivalence to many countries and has so far not agreed to Britain’s demands for major concessions such as offering broader access and safeguards on withdrawing access, neither of which is mentioned in the draft deal. 

“It is appalling,” said Graham Bishop, a former banker and consultant who has advised EU institutions on financial services. The draft text “is particularly vague but emphasizes the EU’s ability to take decisions in its own interests. … This is code for the UK being a pure rule taker.” 

Britain’s decision to leave the EU has undermined London’s position as the leading international finance hub. Britain’s financial services sector, the biggest source of its exports and tax revenue, has been struggling to find a way to preserve the existing flow of trading after it leaves the EU. 

Many top bankers fear Brexit will slowly undermine London’s position. Global banks have already reorganized some operations ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union, due on March 29. 

Currently, inside the EU, banks and insurers in Britain enjoy unfettered access to customers across the bloc in all financial activities. 

No commercial bank lending

Equivalence, however, covers a more limited range of business and excludes major activities such as commercial bank lending. Law firm Hogan Lovells has estimated that equivalence rules cover just a quarter of all EU cross-border financial services business. 

Such an arrangement would give Britain a similar level of access to the EU as major U.S. and Japanese firms, while tying it to many EU finance rules for years to come. 

Many bankers and politicians have been hoping London could secure a preferential deal giving it deep access to the bloc’s markets. 

Under current equivalence rules, access is patchy and can be cut off by the EU within 30 days in some cases. Britain had called for a far longer notice period. 

The draft deal is likely to persuade banks, insurers and asset managers to stick with plans to move some activities to the EU to ensure they maintain access to the bloc’s markets. 

Britain is currently home to the world’s largest number of banks, and about 6 trillion euros ($6.79 trillion) or 37 percent of Europe’s financial assets are managed in the U.K. capital, almost twice the amount of its nearest rival, Paris. 

London also dominates Europe’s 5.2 trillion-euro investment banking industry. 

Rachel Kent, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells who has advised companies on future trading relations with the EU, said the draft deal did not rule out improved equivalence in the future. 

“I don’t see that any doors have been closed,” she said. “It is probably as much as we could hope for at this stage.” 

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Slave-Free Jeans Get Boost from ‘Markle Sparkle’ But Can Companies Back Ethical Vows?

When Meghan Markle wore a pair of “slave-free” jeans on a royal tour of Australia last month, she sparked a sales stampede and shone a spotlight on the growing number of companies aiming to meet public demand for products untainted by modern-day slavery.

Australia-based Outland Denim employs dozens of survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery and other vulnerable women in Cambodia to make its $200 (150 pounds) jeans that are stamped as ethically sourced and produced, and environmentally friendly.

Founder James Bartle said his social enterprise — a business seeking to make profit while doing good — set out from day one in 2011 to know exactly where their materials and workforce came from — which had meant limited quantities and higher prices.

But he said today’s more educated and demanding consumers were happy to spend more on goods that were not damaging the planet or fueling slavery, and the unexpected publicity from Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, could hugely boost this trend.

He said the company was totally surprised when the duchess stepped off a plane in the rural Australian city of Dubbo wearing their jeans which all contain a written thank-you message from the seamstress on an internal pocket.

“[She] made it OK to wear an ethically-made brand to the world … we can’t put a value on that,” Bartle said at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference on Wednesday.

“Every brand must stand for something. The public are sick and tired of marketing,” he said. “We wanted to create a sustainable model — to give genuine power to people to change their future through employment.”

Hard to prove

More companies are not only striving to clean up their supply chains but stamping their goods as slave-free.

Yet labor activists and academics say it is very difficult for any company to prove that its supply chain is entirely free of forced labor or abuses, and the public should be wary.

Dutch chocolate-maker Tony’s Chocolonely, stamps its goods with the slogan “100 percent slave-free” — despite sourcing cocoa beans from West Africa where two million children are estimated to work and reports of forced labor are rife.

The firm said it deals directly with local farming groups rather than international traders, and traces its supply chain fully, from the beans it buys to the finished product on sale.

“Unfortunately, too many companies only pay lip service in their strife to end abuses in their supply chain, instead of really making it part of their core business” said Arjen Boekhold, a “cocoa game changer” at Tony’s Chocolonely.

“Consumers will not pay extra for products which are not genuine in quality … or in efforts to end abuses or slavery,” added Boekhold, also a speaker at the London-based conference.

“People try to push us into an ethical corner … but we are the new normal,” he told a panel discussion on slave-free goods.

‘Seismic shift’ needed

About 25 million people are estimated to be trapped in forced labor, according to the United Nations, which in 2015 agreed to a global target of ending slavery in all forms by 2030.

While more companies are going public with their anti-slavery efforts, few can categorically say their products are untainted, said Andrew Crane, an academic at Bath University.

“This is very hard to prove, any such claims cannot be trusted by consumers,” the labor issues expert added. “Maybe we don’t need companies to say they are slave-free … but that they are trying to be and doing everything they can to achieve that.”

Many companies sign up to anti-slavery schemes or codes of conduct instead of directly dealing with their workers, yet such initiatives often fail to stop abuses, experts say.

A study by Sheffield University, revealed exclusively by Reuters in May, found some Indian tea plantations stamped slavery-free by groups including Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance were abusing and underpaying workers.

“There is no doubt that low prices and cheap products are driving a race to the bottom on labor standards,” said Cindy Berman of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an alliance of trade unions, companies and charities promoting workers’ rights.

“But getting consumers to pay more for products will only scratch the surface of the problem unless it’s part of a seismic shift in the way goods and services are traded globally.”

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Postal Service Reports Financial Loss for 12th Year Straight

The U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday reported a financial loss for the 12th straight year, citing declines in mail volume and the costs of its pension and health care obligations, as the agency braces for an upcoming report ordered by President Donald Trump to address its “unsustainable financial path.”

Postal officials said they expected next year’s finances to be helped by a strong holiday season of package deliveries and a just-approved increase to the price of its first-class stamp, from 50 cents to 55 cents. It takes effect in January.

But they pleaded anew for help from Congress to relieve the Postal Service of onerous health and pension prepayments and for help from regulators to grant the agency more flexibility to increase prices so it can return to profitability.

“Absent legislative and regulatory change, we cannot generate enough revenue or cut enough costs to pay off our bills,” said Postmaster General and CEO Megan J. Brennan. “The flawed business model imposed by law continues to be the root cause of our financial instability.”

The Postal Service reported a loss of $3.9 billion for the budget year that ended September 30, compared with a $2.7 billion loss the year before.

A nearly 7 percent increase in package delivery was unable to offset drop-offs in letter mail, which makes up more than 70 percent of total revenue. First-class mail volume fell by roughly 2.1 billion pieces, or 3.6 percent, as people in the digital age rely more on email for online bill payments.

Revenue was $70.7 billion, compared with $69.6 billion last year, but there were higher transportation and labor costs from delivering more packages.

Trump in recent months has asserted without evidence that the Postal Service is “losing a fortune” and reporting annual losses because it is not charging higher shipping rates for online retailers such as Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.

In April, Trump issued an executive order demanding a review of the Postal Service’s finances. That report, led by the Treasury Department and originally due in August, was expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Trump has often labeled the Post “fake news” after the newspaper reported unfavorable developments during his campaign and presidency and highlighted the Bezos connection by calling it the “Amazon Washington Post.”

On Sunday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the expected next chairman of the House intelligence committee, told Axios Democrats will seek to investigate whether Trump sought to punish Bezos by pressuring the Postal Service to raise Amazon’s rates.

Package delivery has been a bright spot for the service, although its growth is slowing, and regulators have found its contract with Amazon to be profitable.

The Postal Service, an independent agency, is trying to stay financially afloat as it seeks to invest billions in new delivery trucks to get packages more nimbly to American homes.

Regulators this week approved the Postal Service’s request to increase the price of its first-class stamp by 5 cents. The 10 percent increase to the cost of mailing a 1-ounce letter is the biggest since 1991. The price of each additional ounce will drop from 21 cents to 15 cents. The rate increase takes effect on January 27.

To become financially stable, the Postal Service has been urging Congress to provide it relief from the mandate to prefund retiree health benefits. Legislation in 2006 required the Postal Service to fund 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits, something that neither the government nor private companies are required to do. It is also seeking flexibility from regulators to increase stamp rates above the rate of inflation.

To avert bankruptcy, the post office has defaulted on the multibillion-dollar health prepayments each year since 2012.

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May’s Brexit ‘Moment of Truth’

Britain’s Theresa May scrambled Wednesday to sell to her Cabinet a draft Brexit divorce agreement British negotiators concluded after months of wrangling with their European Union counterparts.

But the 500-page draft remains a source of deep dispute within Britain’s ruling Conservative party and also in the country’s parliament, which will have the final say on whether to approve it.

As news emerged Tuesday that a text had been agreed, hardline Brexiteers lined up to attack the proposed agreement with former British foreign minister Boris Johnson, who resigned earlier this year, urging other ministers to join him in opposing the terms of the deal. Britain’s main opposition parties also announced their disapproval of the deal, which has not even been published yet. 

The agreement, if approved by the Cabinet and subsequently the British parliament, would see Britain remaining in a customs union for several years with the EU after it formally exits the bloc in March, but with an unclear legal path to quitting the customs arrangement while a fuller trade deal is negotiating.

Remaining in a customs union allows Britain and the EU to avoid introducing customs checks along the border separating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and would also allow “frictionless trade” between Britain and its erstwhile partners in the EU.

Tough sell

But critics say it would reduce Britain to the status of a “vassal state” by requiring it to accept EU rules and regulations without having any say about them. It would also block Britain from signing trade deals with other countries while a trade agreement is concluded with the EU, which itself could take three or four years or even longer. Reaching trade deals independently with non-EU countries was a key selling point of Brexit for many who voted nearly two years ago in a referendum to relinquish EU membership.

“This is just about as bad as it could possibly be,” Johnson fumed Tuesday to reporters in the corridors of the British House of Commons. Other Brexiteers joined him to denounce the proposed deal, one they are determined to sabotage and which runs, they say, contrary to the Conservative Party manifesto they fought an election on a year.

“For the first time in a thousand years this place, this parliament will not have a say over the laws which govern this country. It is quite an incredible state of affairs,” Johnson added.

“She hasn’t so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels… the UK will be a slave state,” said Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Conservatives’ future at stake

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Theresa May. The draft agreement, May’s fate as Prime Minister and the longevity of the Conservative government are all hanging in the balance. The consequences of the process to get the draft agreement approved are difficult to guess and could end up sinking May, the Conservative government and even Brexit itself. “I don’t think anyone knows, to be truthful,” said Labour lawmaker Chuka Umunna.

May’s minority government relies on the votes in the House of Commons on a handful of lawmakers from a quirky Protestant-based Unionist party, which is also opposed to the draft deal.

Without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, and faced with an inevitable revolt by dozen of Conservative lawmakers, May will need to persuade opposition lawmakers to break with their party leaderships by arguing her deal is the best Britain can get.

Second vote?

But an increasing number of opposition lawmakers are jumping on the bandwagon of the People’s Vote movement, which is calling for a second Brexit referendum. Recent opinion polls suggest a majority of voters now, especially in traditional Labour heartlands, many of which voted in June 2016 for Brexit, now want Britain to retain EU membership, fearing the economic fallout from departure.

But even before seeking next month parliamentary backing for the draft customs union deal, May has to persuade her cabinet to back her — and that is not even a sure thing. On Tuesday — ahead of a full cabinet meeting called for Wednesday afternoon — May took a leaf out of the playbook of her Conservative predecessor Margaret Thatcher, who in 1990 called in ministers one by one to place them on the spot and demand their support. However, the tactic backfired on Thatcher and she was forced to resign. 

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith predicts May’s days will be numbered if she fails to reverse course and decides not to pursue a cleaner break from the EU. “If the cabinet agrees it, the party certainly won’t,” he said. Conservative lawmakers who want Britain to remain in the EU are also publicly opposing the draft agreement, placing May in a tight political vice.

Leave-supporting ministers were coming under intense pressure from hardline Brexiteers in the hours leading up to the cabinet meeting to reject the deal. They pointed to a leaked EU document outlining a strategy to force Britain to accept an almost permanent alignment with its rules and regulations governing state aid, environmental protection and workers’ rights.

In a note to EU ambassadors, Sabine Weyand, a deputy EU negotiator, said the customs union will form the basis for Britain’s future trade deal with the bloc. “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. UK wants a lot more from the future relationship, so EU retains leverage,” she wrote. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Новий посол Угорщини почав працювати в Україні

Новий посол Угорщини в Україні Іштван Ійдярто вручив копії вірчих грамот заступникові міністра закордонних справ України Василю Боднару.

«Сьогодні прийняв копії вірчих грамот у нового посла Угорщини в Україні Іштвана Ійдярто (István Íjgyártó). Домовилися працювати над позитивним порядком денного двосторонніх відносин. Пан Посол вивчає українську мову, яка, безсумнівно, допоможе йому у професійній діяльності», – написав Боднар у Twitter.

На початку листопада завершив дипмісію в Києві Ерно Кешкень, попередній посол Угорщини.

Відносини між Угорщиною і Україною останнім часом різко загострилися через низку подій, зокрема, ухвалення українського закону про освіту, що визначає мовою освіти державну українську. Угорщина заявила, що це порушує права угорської меншини, Україна відкинула звинувачення, проте Будапешт на знак невдоволення нині блокує зближення України з НАТО, де всі рішення ухвалюються тільки консенсусом.

Крім того, відносини загострила поява в інтернеті відеозапису видачі угорського громадянства громадянам України в одному з консульств Угорщини на Закарпатті, при чому нових угорських громадян інструктували приховувати це від української влади. Це викликало дипломатичний скандал зі взаємним висиланням дипломатичних працівників двох країн.

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