Britain to United States: We want a trade deal and a digital tax

Britain to United States: We want a trade deal and a digital tax
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain wants a trade deal with the United States but will impose a digital service tax on the revenue of companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, business minister Andrea Leadsom said on Thursday.

“The United States and the United Kingdom are committed to entering into a trade deal with each other and we have a very strong relationship that goes back centuries so some of the disagreements that we might have over particular issues don’t in any way damage the excellent and strong and deep relationship between the U.S. and the UK,” Leadsom told Talk Radio.

“There are always tough negotiations and tough talk but I think where the tech tax is concerned it’s absolutely vital that these huge multinationals who are making incredible amounts of income and profit should be taxed and what we want to do is to work internationally with the rest of the world to cover with a proper regime that ensures that they’re paying their fair share.”

Under the British plan, tech companies that generate at least 500 million pounds ($657 million) a year in global revenue will pay a levy of 2% of the money they make from UK users from April 2020.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft; writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton)

Putin proposes 2020 summit with leaders of Russia, France, China, U.S. and UK

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday proposed holding a summit between the leaders of Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain in 2020 to discuss the conflict in Libya and other global problems.

Putin, who was speaking during a trip to Israel, said Moscow was ready for a “serious conversation” with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, that there was much to discuss and that the summit could happen anywhere in the world.

“In any country, at any point of the world that is convenient for our colleagues. Russia is ready for this kind of serious conversation,” he said.

“There are many tasks before us. We discussed one of them very recently in Berlin…That is Libya. And we need to return to this problem at the Security Council and adopt the corresponding resolution,” he said.

Putin, who was in Israel on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, said holding such a summit would be an important symbolic step ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

“We discussed (this) with several colleagues and as far as I understand in general we saw a positive reaction to holding a meeting of the heads of the permanent members of the UN Security Council…” he said.

(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alex Richardson)

UK police under fire over children trafficked into drug trade

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Police efforts to crack down on drug gangs that traffic children in Britain are being hampered by a lack of coordination and inconsistent treatment of victims, a watchdog said on Friday.

Thousands of children in Britain are estimated to be used by gangs to carry drugs from cities to rural areas, according to police who consider the crime a growing form of modern slavery.

Yet investigations into the drug trade are disjointed and often “less effective than they should be” due to limited police cooperation and competing priorities, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said.

The number of suspected British child slaves referred to the government in 2018 for support more than doubled to 1,421 from 676 in 2017, with many feared to be victims of the so-called county lines trade. Such data for last year was not available.

“Our inspection revealed that policing is currently too fragmented to best tackle county lines offending,” Phil Gormley, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said in a statement.

Children caught with drugs who are arrested then released from policy custody often do not have ready access to support services, and in some cases are put on train journeys home unsupervised after their release, according to the report.

Responding to the watchdog, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for county lines Graham McNulty said there was room to improve, but the police could not solve the issue alone.

“Schools, health and social care services, charities and others have a critical role in ending this evil practice and we will continue to work closely with them,” McNulty said.

Britain’s interior ministry said it was investing 20 million pounds ($26 million) to tackle the crime, and that a national coordination centre established in 2018 had made at least 2,500 arrests and protected more than 3,000 vulnerable people.

Phil Brewer, the ex-head of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-slavery squad, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in October that police faced a challenge in trying to judge whether a child found dealing drugs should be treated as a suspect or a victim. [L5N26O4PA]

Gangs are luring some children into selling drugs by telling them they will not be punished if they say they were coerced, citing a defence intended for trafficking victims in Britain’s 2015 anti-slavery law, prosecutors told lawmakers last year.

The HMICFRS report said the government should launch a review into the legal defence and establish whether the legislation should be amended, a recommendation supported by Britain’s independent anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton.

“It is essential that police and prosecutors recognise county lines offenders who force their victims to carry drugs – often under the threat of extreme violence and intimidation – as perpetrators of modern slavery,” Thornton said in a statement.

($1 = 0.7652 pounds)

(Writing by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Wanted: Weirdos and misfits – aide to UK’s Johnson is hiring

LONDON (Reuters) – The senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who plotted Brexit and steered his boss to last month’s election triumph, is on the lookout for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to help bring new ideas to Britain’s government.

“We want to improve performance and make me much less important — and within a year largely redundant,” Dominic Cummings said in a post on his blog on Thursday.

“We do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed. This must change fast so we can properly serve the public.”

Cummings, who has made no secret of his disdain for much of the way Britain’s civil service operates, said he had been lucky to have worked with some fantastic officials in recent months.

“But there are also some profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions,” he said.

Cummings was one of the senior campaigners behind the Vote Leave victory in the 2016 Brexit referendum and was described by former Prime Minister John Major as “political anarchist.”

In his blog, Cummings said rapid progress could now be made on long-term problems thanks to the combination of policy upheaval after Brexit, an appetite for risk among some officials in the new government and Johnson’s big majority in parliament.

The government was looking to hire data scientists and software developers, economists, policy experts, project managers, communication experts and junior researchers as well as “weirdos and misfits with odd skills,” he said.

“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole,” Cummings said.

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Take Five: What’s the deal?

LONDON (Reuters) –

1/AFTER PHASE ONE COMES PHASE TWO

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese officials have agreed to a “phase one” trade deal that includes cutting U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

Washington has agreed to suspend tariffs on $160 billion in Chinese goods due to go into effect on Dec. 15, Trump said, and cut existing tariffs to 7.5%.

The agreement covers intellectual property, technology transfer, agriculture, financial services, currency, and foreign exchange, according to Washington’s Trade Representative.

Neither side offered specific details on the amount of U.S. agricultural goods Beijing had agreed to buy – a key sticking point of the lengthy deal negotiations. News of the trade deal saw U.S. stocks romp to fresh record levels. But few doubt that the rollercoaster is over yet.

While Trump announced that “phase two” trade talks would start immediately, Beijing made it clear that moving to the next stage of the trade negotiations would depend on implementing phase one first. While markets cheered the December rally, few expect the trade deal rollercoaster ride to be quite over yet.

 

2/MORE NICE SURPRISES, PLEASE!

First clues as to whether euro zone powerhouse Germany can avoid a fourth quarter recession emerge on Monday when advance PMI readings for November are released globally.

The economic activity surveys, a key barometer of economic health, come after Citi’s economic surprise index showed euro zone economic data beating consensus expectations at the fastest pace since February 2018. The latest surprise was a 1.2% rise in German exports in October, defying forecasts of a contraction.

Hopes are high that exports and private consumption, which helped Germany skirt recession, will hold up. Last month’s PMI data showed manufacturing remained in deep contraction across the bloc.

A Reuters poll showed expectations of a modestly higher 46.0 manufacturing reading in the euro zone but that’s still far below the 50-mark which separates growth from contraction. Services, which have held up better so far, are expected to grow modestly from November, at 52.0.

Graphic: Citi surprise index most positive since Feb 2018, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/12/9901/9813/Citi%20index.png

3/BEWARE THE BOJ

Japan’s central bank meets on Thursday with the global economic outlook “relatively bright,” according to Governor Haruhiko Kuroda.

Growth green shoots, a possible U.S.-China trade deal and something nearing certainty on Brexit has got almost everyone expecting the BOJ will do very little: Interest rates are at -0.1% and the bank has eased off bond buying – even though the bank’s balance sheet is bursting with negative-yielding paper.

The government has flagged a gigantic $122 billion stimulus package to keep things moving after next year’s Olympics. Yet the business mood is dire with Friday’s “tankan” survey at its lowest reading since 2013. Big manufacturers – especially automakers – are gloomiest, as the trade war takes its toll.

The Bank of Japan has justified standing pat on the view that robust domestic demand will cushion the hit. It blames the weather and a sales tax for recent patchy data. But another week of dollar weakness will not have gone unnoticed in Tokyo, where a cheaper yen is much desired. A surprise on Tuesday export data forecast to show further contraction and Thursday’s inflation reading could jolt yen longs out of their slumber.

4/JOHNSON, AND MORE JOHNSON

A thumping election win for Prime Minister Boris Johnson has raised hopes that 3-1/2 years of Brexit-fuelled chaos will finally end.

Expectations that he may swing slightly nearer the centre of his Conservative Party, sidelining the fiercest eurosceptics, and ease the path towards a free-trade deal with the European Union have sent sterling and British shares surging.

Yet there are signs of caution, with sterling stalling around $1.35. Further gains will hinge on Johnson’s new cabinet, how the global growth and trade war backdrop pans out and what the Bank of England might do.

At the central bank’s Dec. 19 meeting, markets will watch for any shifts in its views on inflation, the UK economy and the interest rate outlook for 2020. While policymakers have skewed dovish of late amid a torrent of dismal data and sub-target inflation, the election result – and a hoped-for growth recovery – have seen money markets halve the probability of an end-2020 cut to 25%.

Without more clarity, investors might just be wary of chasing sterling much higher.

Graphic: UK economic indicators, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/12/9958/9869/GB.png

5/SWEDEN RETURNS TO ZERO?

While most central banks are busy pondering whether to hold or cut interest rates, Sweden may swim against the tide and deliver a 25 basis-point rate hike on Dec. 19. That will end half a decade of negative interest rates in the country and make it the first in Europe to pull borrowing costs from sub-zero territory.

Policymakers flagged a rate hike in October and recent data showing inflation rising to 1.7% — just off the 2% target — cemented those expectations. The crown’s rallied to eight-month highs versus the euro, up almost 5% since October.

The proposed interest rate increase has its critics, who cite still-sluggish inflation and factory activity at its weakest since 2012.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Norway’s policy meeting, scheduled for the same day, may be less exciting as no change is expected. Investors remain baffled by the Norwegian crown’s weakness – despite policy makers delivering four rate hikes since Sept 2018, it’s at near record lows to the euro.

Graphic: Swedish crown , https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/12/9961/9872/crown.png

(Reporting by Alden Bentley in New York, Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Sujata Rao, Elizabeth Howcroft and Yoruk Bahceli in London, compiled by Karin Strohecker; edited by Philippa Fletcher)

Kim Jong Un rides again as North Korea warns U.S. against using military force

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said it would take “prompt corresponding actions” if the United States resorts to military force, state media reported on Wednesday, as tensions rise ahead of Pyongyang’s year-end deadline for stalled denuclearization talks.

The statement came just hours after North Korea announced it would convene a rare gathering of top ruling-party officials later this month, and state media showed photos of leader Kim Jong Un taking a second symbolic horse ride on the country’s sacred Mt. Paektu.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in Britain for a NATO summit, said on Tuesday that Washington could use military force against North Korea “if we have to”, though he added he still hoped for talks.

Kim was “displeased to hear” those comments, Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, said in a statement carried by North Korea’s state news agency KCNA.

“I clearly state here that if the U.S. uses any armed forces against the DPRK, we will also take prompt corresponding actions at any level,” Pak said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The use of armed forces against the DPRK will be a horrible thing for the U.S.”

North Korea and the United States are still technically at war and the state of truce could turn into an “all-out armed conflict any moment” even by accident, Pak said.

For the second time in two months, Kim visited Mt Paektu on horseback, this time accompanied by senior military officers, aimed at instilling the mountain’s “indefatigable revolutionary spirit” in the people, KCNA reported.

Kim has warned the United States it has until the end of the year to offer more concessions or North Korea will pursue an unspecified “new path”. Analysts believe that may include a resumption of intercontinental ballistic missile launches or nuclear tests.

Washington has urged North Korea to give up significant portions of its nuclear arsenal before punishing international sanctions are eased, while Pyongyang has accused the United States of “gangster-like” demands for unilateral disarmament.

U.S. officials have called for more talks, while playing down the deadline as “artificial” and warning that it would be a “huge mistake and a missed opportunity” for North Korea to take any provocative steps.

But North Korean state media have carried a steady chorus of statements in recent weeks, saying Washington should not ignore the warning and dismissing U.S. calls for talks as a stalling tactic.

SENIOR LEADERS TO MEET

North Korea announced that a Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea would meet sometime in late December.

KCNA said the plenum would discuss and decide on “crucial issues” in light of the “changed situation at home and abroad”.

The timing of this plenum is unusual because it comes before the year-end deadline, as well as before Kim’s expected New Year’s address, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News, a website that monitors North Korea.

“That Pyongyang is opting to hold this meeting before the end of the year indicates its strong resolve,” she said. “Taking the party plenum announcement and the Mount Paektu visit together, the ‘resolve’ seems to be that North Korea will not cave in to the U.S., and that it will keep charging on despite the difficulties.”

Kim has often visited Mt. Paektu around the time of major developments in North Korea, including missile launches.

Kim said there was a need to prepare for “the harshness and protracted character of our revolution,” according to KCNA.

Lee said the fact that Kim was accompanied by senior army officers rather than party officials, combined with other recent military-related announcements by state media, suggests North Korea “will likely transition to a more militaristic line”.

While Kim’s plans are still unclear, the signals suggest the window for diplomacy is closing fast, if it is not already shut, said John Delury of Seoul’s Yonsei University.

“The message is ‘buckle up, it’s going to be a big year for us next year’,” he said. “And not a year of diplomacy and summitry, but rather of national strength.”

(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gareth Jones)

Facebook, Instagram experience outage on Thanksgiving Day

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc’s family of apps including Instagram experienced a major outage on Thanksgivings Day, prompting a flurry of tweets on the social media platform.

“We’re aware that some people are currently having trouble accessing Facebook’s family of apps, including Instagram. We’re working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. #InstagramDown,” Instagram said in a tweet.

According to outage monitoring website DownDetector, about 8,000 Facebook users were affected in various parts of the world including the United States and Britain.

Several users reported issues like not being able to post pictures and videos on their main feeds and an error message saying “Facebook Will Be Back Soon” appeared on log in attempts.

Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)

U.S. accuses Russia of helping Syria cover up chemical weapons use

By Anthony Deutsch

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday accused Russia of helping Syria conceal the use of banned toxic munitions in the civil war by undermining the work of the global chemical weapons agency trying to identify those responsible.

The comments by the U.S. representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Kenneth Ward, drew a rapid denial from Moscow and came as Western powers and Russia clashed at the agency’s annual conference in The Hague.

Moscow has for months cited dissent by two former OPCW employees who leaked a document and an email as evidence that the OPCW doctored the conclusions of a March 1 report which found that a toxic chemical containing chlorine was used in a 2018 attack near Damascus.

More than 40 people were killed in that attack in Douma, a town on the outskirts of the capital then held by rebels, on April 7, 2018.

The United States, Britain and France retaliated a week later by firing missiles at Syrian government targets, the biggest Western military action against the Damascus authorities of the eight-year-old war.

Syria and Russia deny there ever was a chemical attack in Douma, saying the event was staged using bodies brought from elsewhere, and that the OPCW’s report on Douma was doctored to justify Western military intervention.

The OPCW has become the battleground for a diplomatic clash on Syria after Russia in 2017 vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of the U.N.-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which concluded in a series of reports that the Syrian military used both nerve agent sarin and chlorine as weapons.

The OPCW’s own Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which was established by a clear majority vote by its member states in June 2018, is looking into who was responsible for the Douma attack, among several other incidents.

Its first report is expected next year.

Russian Ambassador to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, repeated objections to the creation of the IIT, saying it was illegal and politicized. Syria’s representative to the OPCW on Thursday vowed not to cooperate with the IIT’s investigations.

Ward said Russia and Syria were merely seeking to cover up the use of chemical weapons by undermining the OPCW.

“Unfortunately the Russian Federation has played a central role in this cover-up,” Ward told delegates. “Russia and Syria may sit with us here, but they stand apart from us in a fundamental way. They continue to embrace chemical weapons.”

Shulgin rejected the U.S. claim that Russia was helping Syria cover up chemical crimes carried out by the Syrian regime.

“It is exquisite rhetoric… But these assertions do not hold water. We disagree,” Shulgin said.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch, Editing by William Maclean)

BT will maintain ties with skills group if it drops Prince Andrew as patron

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s BT has told a company promoting digital skills it would continue working with it if it dropped Prince Andrew as a patron.

The British royal has been engulfed in a growing scandal since he gave a TV interview on Saturday to discuss his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in a U.S. prison in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Andrew denied an allegation that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured for him by Epstein but said he did not regret the friendship. He has also been criticized for not showing compassion for his victims.

BT, one of Britain’s oldest companies and its largest broadband provider, said it was reviewing its relationship with iDEA, a programme that helps develop digital, enterprise and employability skills. Prince Andrew, also known as the Duke of York, is the company’s patron.

“In light of recent developments we are reviewing our relationship with the organisation and hope that we might be able to work further with them, in the event of a change in their patronage.”

Several major companies have also sought to distance themselves from the British royal. Bank Standard Chartered said it would not renew its sponsorship of Andrew’s Pitch@Palace charity while AstraZeneca said its three-year partnership was under review.

In Britain, royal patronage is usually considered an honor and a boost for charities.

(Reporting by Kate Holton, editing by Estelle Shirbon)

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece

Police find 41 migrants alive in truck in northern Greece
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police found 41 migrants, mostly Afghans, hiding in a refrigerated truck at a motorway in northern Greece on Monday, officials said.

The discovery came 10 days after 39 bodies, all believed to be Vietnamese migrants, were discovered in the back of a refrigerated truck near London. Two people have been charged in Britain and eight in Vietnam over the deaths.

The refrigeration system in the truck where the migrants were found in northern Greece had not been turned on, and none of the migrants was injured, though some asked for medical assistance, a Greek police official said.

Police had stopped the truck near the city of Xanthi for a routine check, arresting the driver and taking him and the migrants to a nearby police station for identification.

Greece is currently struggling with the biggest resurgence in arrivals of migrants and refugees since 2015, when more than a million crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece.

Most of them are reaching Greek Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast via boats but a large number also come overland, using a river border crossing with Turkey.

Road accidents, mainly in northern Greece, involving migrants trying to cross into other countries have become more frequent in recent years. Police have arrested dozens of people believed to be involved in human trafficking so far in 2019.

About 34,000 asylum seekers and refugees are being held in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands under conditions which human rights groups have slammed as appalling.

The conservative government that came to power in July has vowed to move up to 20,000 off the islands and deport 10,000 people who do not qualify for asylum by the end of 2020.

Arrivals of unaccompanied children have also increased. About 1,000 minors have arrived since July, the Greek labor ministry said, with the total number estimated at over 5,000.

A fifth of them are now missing, the ministry said, pledging to build more facilities and shelters for migrant children.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Mark Heinrich)