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China trade steps seen as good start but leave core U.S. demands untouched

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(This story dated December 17 corrects Scott Kennedy’s title and organization in 21st paragraph)

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a working dinner after the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has welcomed Chinese concessions since the two declared a trade war truce in early December, but trade experts and people familiar with negotiations say Beijing needs to do far more to meet U.S. demands for long-term change in how China does business.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed on Dec. 1 in Buenos Aires to stop escalating tit-for-tat tariffs that have disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods between the world’s two biggest economies.

Since then, Beijing has resumed buying U.S. soybeans, the single largest agricultural export between the two countries. China has also cut tariffs on imports of cars from the United States, dialed back on an industrial development plan known as “Made in China 2025,” and told its state refiners to buy more U.S. oil.

Trump took those as signs that “China wants to make a big and very comprehensive deal.”

But they only start to bring Beijing and Washington back to their pre-trade-war status quo, experts said, and do little to resolve core U.S. demands for structural changes in China to end policies that subsidize large state-owned enterprises and effectively force the transfer of American technology to Chinese firms.

“I think these are goodwill gestures, but they don’t go beyond offers that were on the table before Trump launched his trade war,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow and trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“Much more will have to be offered by China to reach an interim agreement in March 2019,” Hufbauer said, adding that structural changes would be far harder to agree on, much less achieve, by then.

Trump and Xi agreed on Dec. 1 to launch new talks while the United States delayed a planned Jan. 1 tariff increase until March 2.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is leading talks from the American side, did not respond to queries about the significance of China’s trade steps.

No schedule for face-to-face talks between U.S. and Chinese officials has been announced since Trump and Xi met, but a person familiar with the discussions said meetings would likely take place in early January and that the two sides were in frequent contact.

NO ‘TREMENDOUS’ PURCHASES YET

The first signal that China had resumed purchases of U.S. soybeans came in a Reuters interview last week with Trump, who said Beijing was buying “tremendous” amounts of soybeans.. China had stopped importing the oilseed from the United States in July, when the two countries unleashed new tariffs on each other’s goods.

But the initial purchases of 1.5 million tonnes disappointed traders and were only a fraction of the 30 million to 35 million tonnes China buys from U.S. farmers in a typical year, with 2017 purchases of $12 billion.

“We’re glad to have it, and we hope there is more,” a person familiar with the U.S. negotiating strategy said of China’s initial soybean purchases.

“Remember, even with the tariffs, the expectations were still for $7 billion worth of soybeans going to China. And we haven’t seen that.”

The concession that most captivated Trump was China’s suspension of a punitive 25 percent tariff on U.S.-built vehicles, cutting its tariff rate back to the 15 percent global rate it put in place in May..

Derek Scissors, a China scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a business-oriented think tank in Washington, said the move was a “reasonable trade step,” but taken years too late. He added China would not likely increase imports from the United States because of a slowing market and excess domestic production capacity.

“Trump is right to say it’s a positive move, but in a year he’s going to be angry because auto exports to China aren’t going to have budged,” Scissors added.

China also issued guidance to local governments dropping references to its “Made in China 2025” high-tech industrial development goals amid reports it was looking to replace the program aimed at rivaling U.S. dominance in industries such as aerospace, robotics, semiconductors, new energy vehicles and artificial intelligence.

U.S.-China trade watchers expressed the most skepticism about that move, because state control of China’s economy has increased under Xi and few see China agreeing to abandon its industrial policy goals of developing national champions in future industries.

SIGNALS FROM XI

Signals of further concrete steps could come from Xi on Tuesday in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of China’s 1978 economic opening under late leader Deng Xiaoping and a major Communist Party conclave on economic policy. Some Chinese government advisers have called for accelerated reforms on the anniversary.

Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it was essential that Xi send “unequivocal signals about the broad direction of greater liberalization.”

“The next step would be to see a series of substantial reforms taken on their own, and all of that would lay the groundwork for renewed U.S.-China negotiations early in the new year,” Kennedy added.

Slideshow (4 Images)

One of the people familiar with the talks said Lighthizer would insist on commitments and evidence that China is changing laws on competition policy, joint ventures, intellectual property rights and market access and enforcing the changes.

“It would be great if Xi Jinping, in the name of achieving competitive neutrality, pledges to take very concrete steps that would strip immunity and special treatment from state-owned enterprises in Chinese law,” the person said.

“They’ve got to go considerably past the old status quo on a lot of difficult issues to be able to claim that they’ve done something really significant.”

Reporting by David Lawder; Additional reporting by Chris Prentice in Washington; Editing by Simon Webb and and Peter Cooney

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5 ways to pay off a loan faster

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Gaining access to a loan has gotten easier and easier, but borrowers must still navigate a system that offers both good and bad loans. With so many options and hidden clauses, finding the right strategy for paying off a loan faster can seem complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Borrowers can still achieve financial freedom quickly while remaining Zen.

Here are five ways to pay off a loan faster:

1. Increasing the monthly payment

Yes, this is an obvious strategy and might seem difficult to do at first glance. However, you’d be surprised at what you can really do when you use a loan payment calculator to determine how much you’ll save on interest payments if the loan is closed ahead of schedule.

Before calculating the amount to increase the monthly payment, borrowers need to contact their bank to find out:

  • how early repayment takes place;
  • what hidden fees and penalties exist for early repayment;
  • whether it is necessary to write an application;
  • when the payments can be made.

All these factors can significantly affect the final amount due. Often, the contract contains hidden payments and sanctions for early full or partial repayment of the loan. It is less profitable for a bank to allow their client to close a loan or credit account ahead of time. For this reason, many companies resort to all sorts of tricks to prevent clients from paying off their loans early.

2. Finding an additional source of income

Another perhaps overlooked approach to paying off a loan is to simply increase your income. Some options for doing this might include

  • getting a part-time job;
  • working additional shifts;
  • looking for temporary seasonal openings;
  • engaging in a one-time project;
  • selling unnecessary or unused household items.

Whatever the activity, it does not have to be related to the borrower’s main profile and specialization. In spring and summer, unskilled workers are constantly required for cleaning summer cottages, harvesting crops, or pruning bushes. In the winter, it can be tutoring, cleaning apartments, construction and repair work, tailoring, and freelancing.

3. Minimizing expenses

Many borrowers find it impossible to pay off their loans without cutting costs.

So, it is a good idea to analyze your income and expenses, leaving room for only the essentials.

Borrowers need to be as honest as possible with themselves and clearly define what they can temporarily refuse in favor of quick loan repayment.

During this period, borrowers should avoid unnecessary expenses or online shopping, and develop a rational but economical meal plan.

Cutting costs should also include getting rid of expensive habits like alcohol, cigarettes, morning lattes on the way to work, lunch with employees in a cafe, or Friday evenings out with friends. However, borrowers should have in mind that these are only temporary harsh measures to shorten the loan term that will help them get out of debt.

4. Rounding up the Payments

Rounding up the payments is an interesting strategy to reduce the time it will take to pay off the loan. For example, a borrower owing $425 a month can decide to be paying $500 a month. This little commitment adds up to an extra 75$ in repayment every month. Over time, that adds up to a significant amount, saving interest payments and getting the borrowers out of debt ahead of schedule.

5. Speeding up the loan repayment

Another clever strategy is to make a bi-weekly payment rather than just one monthly payment. Which is better: paying $1000 per month or $500 every two weeks? The second strategy wins.

To really speed up the loan repayment, borrowers could divide their monthly payment in half and pay that amount every two weeks. This means making 26 half-payments in one year, which is the equivalent of a whole additional monthly payment. This 13th payment is called the accelerator. It allows borrowers to pay off their loans faster.

The bottom line

Paying off the loan faster decreases the overall term of the loan and helps borrowers get out of debt ahead of schedule.

In addition to adopting the strategies above, borrowers may be able to help themselves by adopting good financial habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Borrowers who spend less than what they earn can reduce their debt and even start saving for other projects. They can do this by revising their monthly budget. This allows them to control their game plan and quickly see where they need to adjust.

These good habits will not only help people take control of their debt, but also take control of their general finances.

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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert

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Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards

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The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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