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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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Ottawa education workers still teaching special-ed students at schools want safety checks

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Some Ottawa educators say they are concerned about the safety of classrooms that remain open in schools for special-education students.

Ontario elementary and secondary students have been sent home to study virtually because of the dangers posed by rising rates of COVID-19. However, special-education classes are still operating at many bricks-and-mortar schools.

The special-education classes include students with physical and developmental disabilities, autism and behaviour problems. Some don’t wear masks and require close physical care.

Two unions representing teachers and educational assistants at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have sent letters to Ottawa Public Health expressing their concerns.

It’s urgent that public health officials inspect classrooms to assess the safety of the special-ed classes, said a letter from the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which also represents the educational assistants who work with special-needs children.

“In the absence of reasons based on medical evidence to keep specialized systems classes open, we are unsure as to the safety of staff and students in these programs,” said the letter signed by president Stephanie Kirkey and other union executives.

The letter said staff agreed that students in specialized classes had difficulty with remote education and benefited most from in-person instruction.

“Our members care deeply about the students they work with and are not only concerned about their own health and safety, but also about that of their students, as they are often unable to abide by COVID safety protocols that include masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene, thus making it more likely that they could transmit the virus to one another,” the letter said.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has 1,286 elementary and secondary students in special-education classes attending in person at 87 schools, said spokesperson Darcy Knoll.

While final numbers were not available, Knoll said the board believed a large number of the special-education students were back in class on Friday at schools.

In-person classes for other elementary and secondary students are scheduled to resume Jan. 25.

The school boards provide PPE for educators in special-education classes as required, including surgical masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.

Several educators interviewed said they don’t understand why it has been deemed unsafe for students in mainstream classes to attend class, but not special-ed students.

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Ottawa sets record of 210 new COVID-19 cases following lag in data reporting

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Ottawa has now broken its daily record for new COVID-19 cases twice in 2021, with 210 new cases added on Friday amid a lag in data reports from earlier in the week.

The nation’s capital has now seen 10,960 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard reports 977 active cases of the virus in Ottawa, a jump of more than 100 over Thursday’s figures.

One additional person has died in relation to COVID-19 in Ottawa, raising the city’s death toll in the pandemic to 395.

The record-setting case count comes a day after Ottawa reported a relatively low increase of 68 cases. Ontario’s COVID-19 system had meanwhile reported 164 new cases on Thursday.

OPH said Thursday that due to a large number of case reports coming in late Wednesday, the local system did not account for a large portion of cases. The health unit said it expects the discrepancy to be filled in the subsequent days.

Taken together, Thursday and Friday’s reports add 278 cases to Ottawa’s total, a daily average of 139 cases.

The new single-day record surpasses a benchmark set this past Sunday, when the city recorded 184 new cases.

Ontario also reported a new record of 4,249 cases on Friday, with roughly 450 of those cases added due to a lag in reporting in Toronto.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also continues to climb in Ottawa. OPH’s dashboard shows there are currently 24 people in hospital with COVID-19, seven of whom are in the intensive care unit.

Three new coronavirus outbreaks were added to OPH’s dashboard on Friday. One outbreak affects a local shelter where one resident has tested positive for the virus, while the other two are traced to workplaces and private settings in the community.

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Ottawa family dealing with mould issue in apartment grateful for support

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa family, who has been dealing with mould in their south Ottawa apartment, is grateful for the support they have received from the community.

“I would like to say big very mighty, big thank you to everyone,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

Adeniyi lives with her three sons in a South Keys apartment. Her son Desmond turned to social media on Sunday to seek help for the family, saying they’ve been dealing with mould in their unit and it has taken too long to fix.

“I see my mom go through a struggle everyday; with three kids, it’s not easy,” says 16-year-old Desmond Adeniyi.

He setup a GoFundMe page to help the family raise money to move out. After gaining online attention and the story, which originally aired CTV News Ottawa on Tuesday, they have been able to raise over $30,000.

“Yes! I was surprised, a big surprise!” says Nofisat Adeniyi, “We are free from the mess that we’ve been going through.”

The family was so touched, they decided to pay it forward and donated $5,000 to another family in need, “A lady my son told me about,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

The recipient wants to remain anonymous, but when she found out from Adeniyi, “She was crying, she has three kids; I remember when I was, I can feel what she’s feeling – because I was once in those shoes.”

CTV News Ottawa did reach out to the property management company for an update on the mould. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for COGIR Realty wrote:

“We respect the privacy of our residents and are unable to disclose any specific information regarding any of our residents. We can, however, let you know that we are working with the residents and are making every effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” said Cogir Real Estate

The giving did not stop at just cash donations. “When I saw the segment, the thing that struck me the most was how easily the situation can be resolved,” says mould removal expert Charlie Leduc with Mold Busters in Ottawa.

Leduc is not involved in the case, but appeared in the original story, and after seeing the mould on TV wanted to help.

“This isn’t something that we typically do, but given the circumstance and given the fact that this has gone on way too long, our company is willing to go in and do this work for free,” said Leduc.

The Adeniyi family may now have some options, and are grateful to the community for the support.

“Yes, It’s great news — you can see me smiling,” says Nofisat.

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