Archive Month: August 2017

Chilean Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes and two other senior economic officials resigned on Thursday in a blow to President Michelle Bachelet’s center-left coalition months before presidential and parliamentary elections.

Valdes, an economist who has led the finance ministry for two years, told a press conference some members of the government did not share his sense of urgency to promote growth.

This week he had criticized a controversial decision by the government to reject a $2.5-billion copper and iron project on environmental grounds, a decision Bachelet backed.

“To advance sustainably toward greater growth requires discipline and the conviction of the government to open spaces so that the private sector can roll out its initiatives with clear rules,” Valdes said, adding: “But I believe I wasn’t able to make everybody share this conviction.”

Bachelet said she had accepted the resignations of Economy Minister Luis Felipe Cespedes and Finance Undersecretary Alejandro Micco shortly after Valdes resigned. She said Valdes will be replaced by Nicolas Eyzaguirre, an economist in charge of legislative affairs for the president, while Cespedes will be replaced by Jorge Rodriguez, president of Banco del Estado de Chile.

“I don’t think development is something to be done with your back to the people, where only the numbers matter and not what’s happening to families,” said Bachelet.

The president did not give a reason for the resignations for Cespedes and Micco, though both had been critical of the government’s decision to cancel the Dominga copper and iron project, owned by Andes Iron.

Eyzaguirre and Rodriguez, both centrists, served under Ricardo Lagos, a moderate who was president from 2000 to 2006.

Valdes’ resignation, ahead of the November elections, was seen by some as a blow to the center-left and its candidate Alejandro Guillier, who is generally supportive of Bachelet, and a boost for conservative frontrunner Sebastian Pinera.

Bachelet has faced criticism that her government is poorly organized and lacks unity. Her approval rating has risen slowly in recent months after a series of legislative wins but remains in the low 30s.

“She showed a bit of momentum, but this is something of a reversal,” said Kenneth Bunker, head of an elections unit at the Universidad Central de Chile.

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In the coming weeks, as Houston turns its attention to rebuilding areas devastated by Tropical Storm Harvey, people like Jay De Leon are likely to play an outsized role — if they stay around.

De Leon, 47, owns a small construction business in Houston, and he and his 10 employees do exactly the kind of demolition and refurbishing the city will need. But like a large number of construction workers in Texas, De Leon and most of his workers live in the United States illegally, and that could make things complicated.

The Pew Research Center estimated last year that 28 percent of Texas’s construction workforce is undocumented, while other studies have put the number as high as 50 percent. Construction employed 23 percent of working undocumented adults in Texas at the end of 2014, higher than any other sector, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Undocumented immigrants nervous

However, undocumented immigrants are growing increasingly nervous in Texas because of an immigration crackdown by the Trump administration that has cast a wide net.

In addition, a new Texas law that would have taken effect later this week bars cities from embracing so-called sanctuary policies, where they offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants, and allows local police to inquire about a person’s immigration status. A federal judge Wednesday temporarily blocked most of the law from taking effect.

De Leon, who has lived in the country for 20 years and has two citizen children, says the changes have spooked the city’s migrant workforce. In recent weeks, he said, one of his employees left the state and another returned to Mexico. Both feared that if they stayed they risked arrest.

Departing workers, he says, pose a problem for Houston in the wake of Harvey, which has caused flood damage to commercial buildings, houses, roads and bridges expected to run into tens of billions of dollars.

“The situation that Houston is going through now with the hurricane is going to be the trial by fire for the Republicans and the governor that approved these radical laws,” De Leon said. “They will need our migrant labor to rebuild the city. I believe that without us it will be impossible.”

Undocumented workers perform a wide range of construction jobs, from framing and dry-walling to plumbing and wiring.

Shortage of U.S. trained workers

Stan Marek, chief executive of Marek Construction in Texas, said his company doesn’t hire undocumented immigrants and has long had difficulty finding enough trained U.S. workers.

“It’s a crisis,” Marek said. “We are looking at several thousand homes that have flood damage. There is no way the existing (legal) workforce can make a dent in it.”

Marek would like to see the federal government grant emergency work authorization for undocumented workers in the rebuilding effort, he said. Otherwise, those immigrants are likely to be hired by firms that do not pay payroll taxes or provide benefits like workers’ compensation and legally mandated overtime.

It isn’t yet possible to estimate how many construction jobs will be added in Texas as it rebuilds, but in the 12 months after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Louisiana added 14,800 jobs in the sector, U.S. government data shows.

About 25 percent of the construction workers involved in the cleanup of New Orleans were undocumented, according to a study by researchers at Tulane and UC Berkeley universities. Those without papers were “especially at risk of exploitation,” the study found.

Worker exodus

The labor shortages are likely to grow worse, many builders warn. Earlier this year, a group of Hispanic contractors sent a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott warning that the pending ban on sanctuary city policies would make it “difficult to find and retain experienced workers.”

Javier Arrias, chairman of the Hispanic Contractors Association de Tejas and one of the letter’s signers, told Reuters that “many construction workers are already moving to other states.”

Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the role undocumented workers might play in the recovery.

Elizabeth Theiss, president of Houston-based anti-immigration group Stop the Magnet, sees another option besides looking to workers in the country illegally. She says the rebuilding effort should be used to help train U.S. veterans and other citizens who need jobs.

Theiss acknowledged that reconstruction might proceed more slowly, at least initially, if immigrants without work documents are not part of the effort, but she noted that rebuilding would be slow under any scenario.

Personal hardships

Whatever role undocumented people play in rebuilding Houston, they could face hardships rebuilding their own lives.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides emergency food, water and medicine to anyone, regardless of immigration status, cash assistance and other longer term aid is only available to citizens and immigrants in households where at least one family member has legal status.

Immigrant advocates are launching private fundraising drives to help fill the void.

“It is deeply tragic and un-American that so many of those working men and women who will be rebuilding Houston and the rest of the state will be doing so while facing tragedy in their own lives,” said Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project.

De Leon said his family was lucky and did not suffer flood damage. He is now busy rounding up supplies for immigrant families stuck at shelters who are afraid to seek out more help from authorities.

In the end, he says, President Donald Trump has to know “it’s going to be impossible to rebuild Houston without the labor force of immigrants. It is illogical, what he says with his words and what really has to happen.”

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Michigan is likely to be the state most hurt by changes to the NAFTA trade agreement, according to a Fitch Ratings report released Wednesday, as U.S. President Donald Trump renewed threats to scrap the deal.

Trump has threatened three times in the past week to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement, revisiting his view that the United States would probably have to start the process of exiting the accord to reach a fair deal for his country.

A second round of talks starts Friday in Mexico City to renegotiate the 1994 accord binding the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Business groups have largely praised NAFTA and hope to persuade all three governments to make minimal changes to the pact. U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade has quadrupled since NAFTA took effect in 1994, surpassing $1 trillion in 2015.

Michigan’s auto sector

While several other states export a significant amount of products to Canada and Mexico, Michigan is an outlier in Fitch’s analysis because of the state’s global role in the automotive sector and proximity to Canada, the report said.

Sixty-five percent of the Michigan’s exports went to Canada and Mexico in 2016, totaling 7.4 percent of its gross state product, it said.

“Any state that is particularly export dependent or exposed to trade, if there’s a falloff in trade it’s going to hit income and sales taxes and that’s going to weaken state revenues,” said Michael D’Arcy, a director of U.S. public finance at Fitch. “Cuts would have to be made.”

Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Republican Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, said in a statement to Reuters that Canada, Michigan’s No.1 trading partner, has been important to the state’s economic recovery but he understands that sometimes policies need to change.

11 states trade heavily with Canada

According to the report, 11 U.S. states send at least 30 percent of their exports to Canada. By merchandise value, 82 percent of North Dakota’s exports went to Canada in 2016. Forty-three percent of New Mexico’s exports were sent to Mexico.

Several states also import a substantial amount of Canadian goods.

“A unilateral U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA would sharply increase import tariffs overnight, entailing potentially substantial costs for U.S. importers and consumers,” the report said.

Major metropolitan areas could also be affected by U.S. trade policy changes, with Texas’s El Paso MSA, or metropolitan statistical area, left vulnerable to NAFTA changes, the report said. Exports to Canada and Mexico accounted for 91 percent of the MSA’s exports.

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An abattoir located among herding communities in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region, known more for droughts and famine than business opportunities, is an unusual stop for a U.S. aid administrator.

But USAID chief Mark Green stopped at the Jijiga Export Slaughter House (JESH) during a visit to the town of Jijiga on Wednesday to see the effects of a crippling drought that has pushed some areas to the south to the brink of famine.

The abattoir buys goats, sheep, cows and camels for slaughter from herders for export to the Middle East, giving families cash to buy food during the drought.

A $1.5-million loan from Feed the Future, a $1 billion-a-year agricultural program launched during U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidency in 2010, helped purchase refrigerators and trucks for the facility, which employs 100 people from local villages.

To Green, the slaughterhouse represents what USAID can do to help attract private-sector money into investments that boost the productivity of small farmers in developing countries.

While at the abattoir, Green announced 12 countries that will benefit from Feed The Future investments in 2017, signaling that the program will survive proposed deep cuts to USAID’s budget this year.

The 12 countries are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mali, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.

Green said investments like the Jijinga slaughterhouse not only created markets for American businesses but helped communities out of poverty. Herders can earn as much as $80 per goat when they sell to the slaughterhouse.

“I’m under no illusions; the development journey in many places in the world is a long one, but I want us to always be thinking what we can do that nudges something towards a day when people get to take care of themselves,” he said.

“This is a place where we see some of the benefits and the potential for Feed the Future,” Green added.

JESH Chief Executive Faisal Guhad said the abattoir had been open for a year but was forced to close for three months last year because of the drought.

The facility currently processes about 10,000 animals a month. Guhad said he hoped to quadruple that in the second year of operation.

Demand for Ethiopian goat meat was currently high because of the annual haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, said Guhad.

“We opened at the wrong time. El Nino happened to us and we started again after it rained,” said Guhad. “We’re now in the second month of starting again.”

The facility employs about 108 people from the community and plans to increase hiring to 200, said Guhad.

In the Jijinga area, planting for the March to May rains, known as the belg, is already delayed, and aid workers say they have seen a growing number of women and children at food distribution centers. The hunger crisis is predicted to worsen until the harvest begins in September.

Many parts of the Ethiopian highlands are still recovering from the 2016 drought, which was attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

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A flood of Indian business in fast-growing Vietnam has solidified commercial ties to help Hanoi upgrade an alliance with a powerful Asian neighbor and offset dependence on its historic rival, the more massive China.

Indian investment in Vietnam has reached $2 billion and bilateral trade hit $10 billion over the year ending in March on its way to $15 billion by 2020, said Radha Krishnan, vice chairman of the Indian Business Chamber of Vietnam.

“As of now that is very easily achievable,” Krishnan said. “The last three … years exports from Vietnam to India have picked up momentum.”

Vietnam has many trade partners

Last year the two countries agreed to upgrade a “strategic partnership,” giving Vietnam more Indian market access, and they will drop import tariffs in 2022 as part of a trade deal with a bloc of Southeast Asian countries.

Those totals hardly match those of Vietnam’s long-time investment sources such as Taiwan, South Korea and China. But their growth offers Vietnam a line to the world’s second-largest country, helping to reduce dependence on China, which is the world’s second-largest economy and Vietnam’s biggest trading partner.

China-Vietnam set a trade target of $100 billion in 2016, but the pair disputes a swathe of the South China Sea. Their dispute sparked clashes in 1974, 1988 and 2014.

“The Vietnamese government, they don’t want to get an unbalanced investment portfolio where any particular country or region is dominant, because then it just unbalances everything else — foreign policy, domestic politics and everything,” said Frederick Burke, partner with the international law firm Baker McKenzie in Ho Chi Minh City.

“As far as people who think about strategic issues are concerned, they would like the Indians to be probably more present in the market, because they’re probably behind mainland China in particular,” he said. “Everybody wants to balance the two out, be friends with both. That’s the ideal situation.”

Robust trade but also continuing disputes with China

Vietnam depends on China for cheap mass market goods, as well as raw materials for export manufacturing. The two Communist countries fought a border war in the 1970s shortly after what was then South Vietnam lost the Paracel Islands to China. That archipelago is part of the South China Sea.

In 2014, the placement of a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea east of Vietnam touched off a boat-ramming incident and deadly anti-China riots on land. In June, a Chinese military official cut short his Vietnam visit as the host drilled for oil offshore.

Over the past two decades, Indian farming, garment and pharmaceutical investment have reached Vietnam because of its eager partners, Krishnan said. Low-cost but advanced Indian technology has helped Vietnam farm in dry weather, produce sugar and process cashews, he said. Tata Power of India runs a $1.8 billion thermal power plant in Vietnam.

For the past three years, the overseas subsidiary of India’s government-run ONGC has worked with PetroVietnam Exploration Production Corporation to search for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

About 80,000 Indians visit Vietnam every year, often as tourists looking for business opportunities, and 20,000 go the other way, sometimes as travelers to Buddhist landmarks, Krishnan said.

India has its own reasons for strengthening trade with Vietnam

India, for its part, is keen to resist China’s expansion in Asia. The two Asian powers are easing just this week a more than two-month-old military standoff in Bhutan. China claims the area in question, and Bhutan called on India to help when the Chinese came to work on a highway project.

Countries that build trade, investment and economic ties do not always become political allies, but in the India-Vietnam case, that fate is “natural,” said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. China, he added, is unlikely to flinch at India because Vietnam is chasing stronger ties with other powerful countries, as well.

“You don’t need to be a grand strategist to think of diversifying your market,” Huang said. “Of course it will have some kind of impact, but so far I do not see one to the degree that will fundamentally change the Chinese perception over Vietnam, because the United States is improving relationships with Vietnam, Japan is improving relationships with Vietnam.”

A need to resist continued Chinese expansion

Beijing’s “belligerence” and escalation of territorial disputes in the seas to the Bhutan border have “served to bring a coalition of China-wary states closer,” said Mohan Malik,professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.

Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines have also tried to balance foreign policies between China and the West, often through trade and investment.

China is expected to keep a special eye out for India’s maritime ties with Vietnam. The Indian oil company could work again in the waters off Vietnam, Krishnan said. Officials in Hanoi, he said, would try to protect that investment and others.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem per se,” said Krishnan. “We are very, very positive that both governments will be able to handle that very, very positively. I don’t think investments made in Vietnam by a foreign country or company will be at risk.”

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Two weeks before Harvey’s floodwaters engulfed much of Houston, President Donald Trump quietly rolled back an order by his predecessor that would have made it easier for storm-ravaged communities to use federal emergency aid to rebuild bridges, roads and other structures so they can better withstand future disasters.

Now, with much of the nation’s fourth-largest city under water, Trump’s move has new resonance. Critics note the president’s order could force Houston and other cities to rebuild hospitals and highways in the same way and in the same flood-prone areas.

“Rebuilding while ignoring future flood events is like treating someone for lung cancer and then giving him a carton of cigarettes on the way out the door,” said Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental and climate change law at Columbia University. “If you’re going to rebuild after a bad event, you don’t want to expose yourself to the same thing all over again.”

Trump’s action is one of several ways the president, who has called climate change a hoax, has tried to wipe away former President Barack Obama’s efforts to make the United States more resilient to threats posed by the changing climate.

Consideration of climate predictions

The order Trump revoked would have permitted the rebuilding to take into account climate scientists’ predictions of stronger storms and more frequent flooding.

Bridges and highways, for example, could be rebuilt higher, or with better drainage. The foundation of a new fire station or hospital might be elevated an extra 3 feet (1 meter).

While scientists caution against blaming specific weather events like Harvey on climate change, warmer air and warmer water linked to global warming have long been projected to make such storms wetter and more intense. Houston, for example, has experienced three floods in three years that statistically were once considered 1-in-500-year events.

The government was still in the process of implementing Obama’s 2015 order when it was rescinded. That means the old standard — rebuilding storm-ravaged facilities in the same way they had been built before — is still in place.

Trump revoked Obama’s order as part of an executive order of his own that he touted at an August 15 news conference at Trump Tower. That news conference was supposed to focus on infrastructure, but it was dominated by Trump’s comments on the previous weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump didn’t specifically mention the revocation, but he said he was making the federal permitting process for the construction of transportation and other infrastructure projects faster and more cost-efficient without harming the environment.

“It’s going to be quick, it’s going to be a very streamlined process,” Trump said.

Asked about the revocation, the White House said in a statement that Obama’s order didn’t consider potential impacts on the economy and was “applied broadly to the whole country, leaving little room or flexibility for designers to exercise professional judgment or incorporate the particular context” of a project’s location.

Construction curbs

Obama’s now-defunct order also revamped Federal Flood Risk Management Standards, calling for tighter restrictions on new construction in flood-prone areas. Republicans, including Senator John Cornyn of Texas, opposed the measure, saying it would impede land development and economic growth.

Revoking that order was only the latest step by Trump to undo Obama’s actions on climate change.

In March, Trump rescinded a 2013 order that directed federal agencies to encourage states and local communities to build new infrastructure and facilities “smarter and stronger” in anticipation of more frequent extreme weather.

Trump revoked a 2015 Obama memo directing agencies developing national security policies to consider the potential impact of climate change.

The president also disbanded two advisory groups created by Obama: the interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

Obama’s 2015 order was prompted in part by concerns raised by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper after severe flooding in his state two years earlier. Hickenlooper was dismayed to learn that federal disaster aid rules were preventing state officials from rebuilding “better and smarter than what we had built before.”

The “requirements essentially said you had to build it back exactly the way it was, that you couldn’t take into consideration improvements in resiliency,” Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said Tuesday. “We want to be more prepared for the next event, not less prepared.”

Bud Wright, the Federal Highway Administration’s executive director during George W. Bush’s administration, said this has long been a concern of federal officials.

He recalled a South Dakota road that was “almost perpetually flooded” but was repeatedly rebuilt to the same standard using federal aid because the state didn’t have the extra money to pay for enhancements.

“It seemed a little ridiculous that we kept doing that,” said Wright, now the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ executive director.

Big federal ‘checkbook’

But Kirk Steudle, director of Michigan’s Department of Transportation, said states can build more resilient infrastructure than what they had before a disaster by using state or nonemergency federal funds to make up the cost difference.

“That makes sense, otherwise FEMA would be the big checkbook,” he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everybody would be hoping for some disaster so FEMA could come in and build them a brand-new road to the 2020 standard instead of the 1970 standard.”

Even though Obama’s order has been revoked, federal officials have some wiggle room that might allow them to rebuild to higher standards, said Jessica Grannis, who manages the adaptation program at the Georgetown Climate Center.

If local building codes in place before the storm call for new construction to be more resilient to flooding, then federal money can still be used to pay the additional costs.

For example, in Houston regulations require structures to be rebuilt 1 foot (30 centimeters) above the level designated for a 1-in-100-year storm. And in the wake of prior disasters, FEMA has moved to remap floodplains, setting the line for the 1-in-100-year flood higher than it was before.

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In Texas, rebuilding efforts in areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey’s winds and floods face higher costs and some delays because the construction industry has a critical shortage of skilled workers. VOA’s Jim Randle reports.

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The Peruvian attorney general’s office has opened a criminal probe into opposition leader Keiko Fujimori for allegedly laundering money for scandal-plagued Brazilian builder Odebrecht, Fujimori’s attorney said on Tuesday.

The twice-defeated right-wing presidential candidate and eldest daughter of Peru’s imprisoned former leader Alberto Fujimori denied that she or her political party ever took money from Odebrecht.

“I’m certain the investigation will confirm that Odebrecht did not give us any money,” Fujimori said on Twitter. “I’ve always collaborated with all investigations and this will not be an exception.”

Fujimori’s lawyer, Edward Garcia, told Reuters the preliminary probe was opened in connection with notes that mention Fujimori by name that were taken by Odebrecht’s jailed former chief executive, Marcelo Odebrecht.

The attorney general’s office, which declined to comment, said on Monday it had received the contents of notes made on the cellphone of Odebrecht, but did not detail them.

Fujimori is already the subject of a money-laundering investigation related to 2016 campaign donations, but a probe in connection with Odebrecht might do more to hurt support for her and her Popular Force party, which controls a majority of seats in Congress.

Odebrecht is at the center of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal and is reviled by many in Peru since admitting late last year to having bribed local officials over a decade-long period.

News website IDL Reporteros has published what it says are  notes taken by Odebrecht and confiscated by Brazilian authorities that include the phrase: “Raise Keiko to 500 and pay her a visit.”

Prosecutor German Juarez will lead the investigation into Fujimori, Garcia said.

Juarez recently persuaded local courts to jail former President Ollanta Humala for up to 18 months before trial while he is investigated for accusations of taking undeclared campaign donations from Odebrecht.

Humala narrowly defeated Fujimori during her first presidential bid in 2011. He is now sharing a prison with her father, who is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations and graft.

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South Texas ranchers are scrambling to relocate cattle from massive flooding spawned by Tropical Storm Harvey, with many hauling livestock up to the north of the state while others rush to move the animals to higher ground nearby.

About 1.2 million cattle are located in a 54-county disaster area drenched by Harvey, which made landfall as a hurricane last weekend. With more torrential rain in the forecast, ranchers are expressing worry that some animals could perish despite efforts to save them.

State is top producer of cattle, cotton   

Texas leads U.S. states in cattle and cotton production. An estimated $150 million worth of cotton has been lost as the storms ripped the bolls off plants and left white fiber strewn across fields.

Texas Gulf Coast export terminals that handle about a quarter of U.S. wheat exports also remained shuttered.

Of immediate concern to ranchers were cattle stranded by high water infested with venomous snakes, fire ants and alligators, said Hollis “Peanut” Gilfillian, a cattle rancher in Winnie, Texas, about 60 miles (96 km) east of hard-hit Houston.

“We’re in gator country … period,” said Gilfillian, adding that nearly every pond on the ranches in his area contain alligators.

“It’s not unusual to see an alligator in my backyard or road ditch,” he said, but added, “There’s plenty other animals that they (alligators) would much rather eat, such as fish, as opposed to trying to go after cattle.”

Ranchers had tried to prepare for the storm last week by moving cattle to the nearest hills or trucking them to safety in the north of the state, cattle industry groups said.

Chuck Kiker, who raises cattle on his farm near Beaumont, about 60 miles (96 km) northeast of Houston, opted to leave his animals in place but was caught off guard by the storm’s severity.

“You can’t move animals at this point, so you’re kind of stuck because of high water everywhere. There’s really no place to move them,” he said.

Disaster area declared

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has declared 54 counties a disaster area. About 27 percent of the state’s 4.46 million-head beef cow herd is in those 54 counties, according to Texas A&M University livestock economist David Anderson.

“Given that it’s August, I’m not sure that we would’ve seen a lot of the calves already sold. So you’ve a lot of young calves out there too that are in that disaster area,” Anderson said.

Grain terminals closed

Longer-term concerns for the cattle include foot rot from standing in water or muddy fields for long periods and the risk of disease from mosquitoes.

Heavy rains and flooding closed bulk grain terminals along the Texas Gulf Coast owned by major exporters including Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, although the companies say the facilities were not severely damaged.

BNSF Railway and Union Pacific suspended service to the flood-ravaged region, depriving exporters of a fresh supply of grain. The U.S. Coast Guard closed Texas Gulf ports including Houston, Galveston and Corpus Christi.

“With additional flooding likely during the next few days, normal train flows in the area may not resume for an extended period,” BNSF said in a customer service advisory.

Cotton blown away

On cotton farms, more than 300,000 bales have likely been lost, between cotton yet to be harvested and bales sitting on fields awaiting ginning, according to John Robinson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University.

The loss, though a small part of the total U.S. cotton crop of about 20 million bales a year, was devastating for individual farmers.

“The cotton that was where the hurricane hit was affected by the winds, it was blown right off the plant. Some of those fields are obliterated,” Robinson said.

“Some of the cotton will still be on the plant but strung out like someone papered your field with toilet paper,” he said.

Record crop lost

South Texas and Coastal Bend cotton farmers were expecting a record crop this year. Thirteen of the counties in the disaster area are major cotton producers.

“The South Texas Cotton and Grain Association has preliminary crop losses projected at $150 million. That’s just devastating to all of farmers down there,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement.

Monday’s Intercontinental Commodity Exchange benchmark cotton price spiked 2.5 percent as a portion of the unharvested crop in Texas was destroyed or damaged by rain and high winds, traders said.

“The cooperative’s growers still have a lot of cotton in the field, maybe like 50 percent still out there. A lot of that will be lost because of the wind and rain,” said Jimmy Roppolo, general manager of United Agricultural Cooperative Inc in El Campo, Texas.

“It was the best cotton crop we ever raised. We really needed it this year to make up for other years,” Roppolo said.


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Food and beverage companies face the risk of forced labor in countries where they obtain sugarcane but most fall short in efforts to tackle the problem that threatens millions of workers, according to a study released on Tuesday.

Most of 10 companies studied offered only limited details of how they assess and monitor risks of forced labor in specific countries, and most of grievance procedures for workers are weak, said KnowTheChain (KTC), a partnership founded by U.S.-based Humanity United.

Sugarcane, a major agricultural commodity, can be found in a list of household foods and beverages from cereals to sauces and is often harvested by rural migrant workers with machetes who work long hours for low wages in hazardous conditions.

KTC said there is often little law enforcement and those workers are vulnerable to becoming victims of forced labor, especially by recruiters who deceive them about work and wages in other regions or countries.

“It is possible that the sugar in the cereal you ate for breakfast or the soda you drank at lunch was produced with forced labor,” said Kilian Moote, KnowTheChain project director, in a statement.

“Agricultural workers, particularly migrants, are at most risk of abuse.”

Sugarcane produced by forced labor has been found in Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Myanmar and Pakistan, according to a list published in 2016 by the U.S. government.

Risk Assessment?

Verite, a KTC partner, also found reports of debt bondage of sugarcane workers in India and found sugarcane workers in Guatemala at a high risk of trafficking.

Globally, about 21 million people are victims of forced labor, made to work for free after falling into debt or forced to work due to deception, coercion or threat of violence, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

In Brazil, the world’s largest producer of sugarcane, roughly a half million people work cutting the crop, according to industry statistics.

The companies studied were Coca-Cola, Fomento Economico Mexicano S.A.B (FEMSA), Monster Beverage, PepsiCo, The Hershey Co., Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Archer Daniels Midland, Associated British Foods (ABF) and Wilmar International.

PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and ABF were the only four companies to undertake forced labor risk assessments of sugarcane supply chains in specific countries, the study said.

Coca-Cola has committed to conduct 28 country-level studies on child labor, forced labor, and land rights for its sugar supply chains by 2020, it said.

Most companies were lacking in revealing details of their risk assessment, monitoring and grievance procedures, it said.

“Few companies disclose information explaining how they address forced labor risks in specific countries, and, where they do, the information is typically focused on understanding and assessing risks, with limited information on concrete follow-up steps,” the researchers said.

Asked for a response, a Coca-Cola spokesman said the company provided detailed information to KTC.

“We believe the report speaks for itself,” a spokesman said, citing Coca-Cola’s policies on human and workplace rights posted on its website.

Contacted by email, none of other nine companies responded immediately to requests for comment.

The study compared policies and practices and used a questionnaire, to which eight of the 10 companies responded. ADM supplied only limited answers and Monster Beverage, a U.S. maker of energy drinks, did not respond, it said.

Coco-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé listed the countries they sourced from most, while Hershey, Mondelēz and Monster Beverage disclosed just one of their sugarcane-sourcing countries, it said.

ADM and Monster Beverage disclosed nothing about if or how they monitor working conditions in their sugarcane supply chains, it said.

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Oil traders were scrambling Tuesday to move crude and fuel supplies through ports in Louisiana as Tropical Storm Harvey barreled toward the state, threatening to close the last major oil terminals still operating on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Harvey pummeled the heart of the U.S. energy industry in Texas, dumping a record amount of rain and triggering catastrophic flooding in Houston. Harvey was the strongest storm to hit the state in more than 50 years, forcing operators to shut refineries, pipelines and ports.

Harvey was forecast to come ashore in western Louisiana near the Texas border on Wednesday. The region includes the St. James trading hub, with more than 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity. It is also home of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the largest privately owned U.S. crude storage terminal.

Louisiana had become the last exit and entry point into refinery row on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Its ports import and export millions of bpd of crude and fuel. Texas and Louisiana are home to 45 percent of total U.S. refining capacity.

“Louisiana is open and being used as much as possible to discharge fuel and load exports,” a trader at a refinery said.

Prices spike

Other traders also said they were hurrying to take advantage of the closing window to import fuel into the U.S. Gulf as prices skyrocket. Prices in the region have risen as supply falls because of refinery closures.

According to Eikon shipping data, the Ridgebury Julia, a tanker carrying oil products, was diverted earlier this week. It was originally going to Corpus Christi, Texas. As of Tuesday, it changed its destination to New Orleans.

Buyers for Latin America, where many countries are heavily reliant on U.S. supplies, are trying to buy cargoes. Asian refiners are also keen to buy U.S. cargoes and concerned about delays of those they have already bought, shipping sources said.

The window for shipping is closing as conditions deteriorate and Harvey moves east toward refineries and ports in the state.

The prices in spot markets for gasoline in the Gulf have soared above benchmark prices in New York Harbor, according to Reuters data.

U.S. crude prices have fallen because refiners are processing less oil. That has pushed U.S. crude prices below prices for crude elsewhere, making it cheap for international refiners if they can still get a cargo out.

U.S. crude’s discount to London’s Brent futures grew Tuesday, touching the contract’s widest level of $5.90 a barrel.


A spokeswoman for LOOP declined to comment when asked about the level of interest in using the port in recent days.

In Texas, Shell was assessing the impact of Harvey, but a spokesman did not respond to a question about the status of its Sugarland terminal in St. James, used for crude exports.

On Monday, the Port of Corpus Christi Authority said it had restored power to several facilities and was working to return to normal operations next week. Transfers from one ship to another near the port have also been delayed, sources said.

Vessels moving in and out of Energy Transfer Partners’ Nederland terminal in Texas have been delayed, sources said.

An ETP spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the terminal.

The Houston Ship Channel was shut, and the Port of Houston will remain closed Wednesday.

The backlog in unexported refined products will be a challenge to Texas Gulf Coast refiners, according to Sandy Fielden, an analyst at Morningstar.

Damage to roads and fuel stations may delay some refinery restarts, he said, because they would quickly run out of storage for fuel produced.

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У Державній фіскальній службі заявляють, що у ході перевірки виявили 1,6 тисячі найманих працівників, які не оформили трудові відносини з роботодавцем.

Як повідомляє прес-служба ДФС, з початку 2017 року під час перевірки суб’єктів господарювання порушення податкового законодавства виявлені в 61 відсотка перевірених платників.

Крім того, за даними служби, за результатами роз’яснювальної роботи роботодавці додатково уклали близько 23 тисяч трудових угод з найманими працівниками.

У ДФС також додають, що у січні – липні 2017 року погашено заборгованість із заробітної плати у сумі близько мільярда гривень, надійшло 118,2 мільйона гривень податку на доходи фізичних осіб та 375,2 мільйона гривень єдиного внеску.

До прокуратури спрямували матеріали щодо 40 юридичних осіб, які мали довготривалу заборгованість із виплати заробітної плати, зауважують у фіскальній службі.

З 2017 року в Україні вдвічі зросла мінімальна зарплата. Тепер де-юре роботодавці не можуть платити своїм працівникам менше ніж 3200 гривень.

Водночас у липні економісти в ефірі Радіо Свобода заявили, що номінальне підвищення рівня зарплати на сьогодні не є відчутним для громадян, оскільки реальні доходи українців є значно меншими. Тенденція до зростання зарплат є, однак в Україні вони досі лишаються значно меншими, ніж у сусідніх європейських країнах.

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In Cambodia, the issue of land rights is a constant source of tension. The country’s biggest dam to date is set to go online in just weeks, adding 400 megawatts of power to the country’s critically overstretched grid. But the social and environmental costs of the project are huge, especially for minority villagers facing displacement. In rural Stung Treng province, some members of an indigenous group are taking a stand. David Boyle has this report.

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Japan leads the world in the number of robots per person that are used in the workplace. Instead of being wary, people apparently like them. VOA’s Deborah Block takes us to a hotel and a beer factory where droids are doing just about everything.

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Angolans have elected their first new president in nearly four decades and now they say he must address the glaring gap between rich and poor. Despite being Africa’s second largest oil producer, Angola ranks consistently in the bottom quarter of U.N. Human Development Index. VOA’s Anita Powell reports

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