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China says direct trade talks with U.S. in January, pledges more opening

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BEIJING (Reuters) – China and the United States have made plans for face-to-face consultations over trade in January, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, as the world’s two biggest economies advanced efforts to resolve a months-long trade war.

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

Consultations through “intensive” telephone calls will continue in the meantime, Gao Feng, spokesman at the commerce ministry, told reporters, adding that talks have been steadily moving forward despite the Christmas break in the United States.

“Even as the U.S side is in the Christmas holiday period, China and U.S. economic and trade teams have been in close communication, and the consultations are progressing in an orderly manner as scheduled,” Gao said, when asked about progress on negotiations.

Gao did not comment directly when asked to confirm a media report on a U.S. trade delegation visit scheduled for the week of Jan. 7.

“The two sides have indeed made specific arrangements for face-to-face consultations in January in addition to continuing intensive telephone consultations,” he said, without elaborating.

U.S. and Chinese officials have spoken by phone in recent weeks, but a meeting next month would be the first in-person talks since U.S. President Donald Trump met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Buenos Aires on Dec. 1.

Trump and Xi agreed to stop escalating tit-for-tat tariffs that have disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods between the two countries.

The leaders also agreed to launch new talks while the United States delayed a planned Jan. 1 tariff increase until March.

In response, China has resumed purchases of U.S. soybeans for the first time in six months, even though hefty tariffs on U.S. cargoes remain in place.

TARIFF SUSPENSIONS

China has also said it will suspend additional tariffs on U.S.-made vehicles and auto parts for three months starting on Jan. 1, adding that it hopes both sides can speed up negotiations to remove all additional tariffs on each other’s goods.

Bloomberg, citing two people familiar with the matter, reported on Wednesday that a U.S. trade team will travel to Beijing the week of Jan. 7 for talks.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters last week that talks were likely in early January.

In yet another reconciliatory sign, China issued on Tuesday a so-called negative list that specifies industries where investors – domestic or foreign – are either restricted or prohibited.

The unified list is seen as another effort to address concern among Western investors that there is no level-playing field in China. Investment in key Chinese sectors, however, is still prohibited.

Gao said China would “comprehensively” remove all market access restrictions for foreign investors by the end of March, in areas not included in a foreign investment “negative” list published in June.

MORE OPENING AND PROTECTION

China has pledged to open its vast domestic market further to foreign investors and better protect their rights in the face of growing complaints and reduced foreign investment.

The commerce ministry is working on improving market access to foreign investors in the telecommunications, education, medical and culture sectors, Gao said, when asked about areas that could see curbs eased.

In particular, the equity cap on foreign investment in the education and medical sectors, which are of “great interest to foreign investors with a large gap in domestic supply”, would be relaxed, he said, without giving a timeline.

On Wednesday, China unveiled the draft of a foreign investment law containing a proposed ban on forced technology transfer and illegal government “interference” in foreign business operations, practices that have come under the spotlight during the trade war.

In an apparent move to emphasize reciprocity, the draft law reserves the right to retaliate against countries that discriminate against Chinese investment with “corresponding measures”.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The draft will likely go through several readings before being submitted to parliament for formal approval, which could take another year or more.

Heaping some uncertainty in the way of the trade talks was the recent arrest of the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] in Canada at the request of the United States.

U.S. prosecutors accuse Meng Wanzhou of misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions, putting the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions. Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei’s founder, has said she is innocent.

Reporting by Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Richard Borsuk, Robert Birsel

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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