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U.S., North Korea agree to second Trump-Kim summit

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to arrange a second summit “as soon as possible,” and discussed potential U.S. inspections of North Korean nuclear sites, South Korea’s presidential office said Sunday.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in held talks with Pompeo in Seoul after the top U.S. diplomat met with Kim for more than three hours during a short trip to Pyongyang that was aimed at breaking a gridlock in the nuclear talks.

Pompeo told Moon that he and Kim discussed denuclearization steps to be taken by the North and the issue of U.S. government inspection of those actions, which Washington has been calling for, as well as the measures the United States would conduct in return, according to Moon’s press secretary Yoon Young-chan.

Pompeo and Kim also agreed to form a working group “at an early date” to discuss the denuclearization process and the second summit, which Kim proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter last month, Yoon said.

“Secretary Pompeo said he and Chairman Kim concurred that they will hold the second U.S.-North Korea summit as soon as possible,” Yoon said in a statement.

“The two sides also agreed to continue discussions to decide on the detailed timing and location of the second summit.”

While Seoul sounded upbeat, Pompeo struck a more cautious tone.

He said his latest, fourth trip to the North was “another step forward” to denuclearization and he had a “good, productive conversation” with Kim, but more needed to be done.

“As President Trump said, there are many steps along the way and we took one of them today,” Pompeo told Moon. “It was another step forward. So this is, I think, a good outcome for all of us.”

Moon expressed hopes that Pompeo’s trip and the proposed second meeting between Kim and Trump would make “irreversible, decisive progress in terms of denuclearization as well as the peace process.”

US, Canada, Mexico reach new trade pact

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

The United States, Canada and Mexico have reached a new trade pact that President Donald Trump has hailed as “a great deal” for all three countries.

The agreement has been rebranded from NAFTA to USMCA, to the satisfaction of Trump, who had railed against NAFTA and threatened to cancel it.

The new pact known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) “solves the many deficiencies and mistakes” in the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement it replaces, Trump said after accomplishing one of his signature policy initiatives.

USMCA “greatly opens markets to our Farmers and Manufacturers” while reducing trade barriers “and will bring all three Great Nations closer together in competition with the rest of the world. The USMCA is a historic transaction!” the president said.

The rewritten deal “will result in freer markets, fairer trade and robust economic growth in our region,” a joint statement from US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said late Sunday after six weeks of intense talks and more than a year of fraught, broader negotiations.

In the end, Canada and the United States overcame their differences after both sides conceded some ground to reach a deal covering a region of 500 million inhabitants and which conducts about $1 trillion in trade a year.

“It’s a good day for Canada,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday night.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray tweeted that the deal was good for his country “and for North America”.

The political stakes were high.

Trump, who pursues an “America First” policy on trade, needs to look strong heading into the November midterm elections where his Republican Party is fighting to keep control of Congress.

Trudeau, for his part, did not want to be seen as caving in before next year’s general election in Canada. But on the other hand, it risked being frozen out of a US-Mexican deal reached in August.

The Canadian dollar jumped to a five-month high in Asian trade after initial reports of the agreement, which also helped Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei index touch a 27-year high on Monday.

“The news about NAFTA gave an extra boost to the market,” said Toshikazu Horiuchi, a broker at IwaiCosmo Securities.

Early Monday a copy of the deal’s 34 chapters was posted on the US Trade Representative’s website.

The pact can now be signed before Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto leaves office December 1, the date that caused the last-minute flurry of activity.

US law requires the White House to submit the text to Congress 60 days before signing — and officials barely made it by the midnight deadline.

In order to reach the deal Canada agreed to open its dairy market further to US producers, and — in return — Washington left unchanged the dispute settlement provisions.

China vows countermeasures to new US tariffs

By News Desk,

China said on Tuesday that it will take countermeasures to the United States President Donald Trump’s decision to impose new tariffs on 200 billion dollars  worth of Chinese imports.

Trump said on Monday that the 10 per cent tariff will be implemented on September 24 and would rise to 25 per cent on January 1.

China’s Ministry of Commerce regretted the move, saying it disregarded “international and domestic trending opposition”.

“China will be forced to take synchronous countermeasures to safeguard our legitimate rights and interests as well as the global free trade order,” the ministry’s spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson did not specify what these countermeasures would be but warned that the U.S.’ insistence on increasing tariffs brings new uncertainties for bilateral negotiations.

Beijing had earlier said it would impose tariffs on 60 billion dollars worth of U.S. imports if Washington imposes this latest round of import levies.

Trump warned yesterday that if China retaliates, he would “immediately pursue” tariffs on another 267 billion dollars of Chinese imports.

The latest U.S. tariffs follow mutual tariffs imposed by both sides on 50 billion  dollars worth of imports from each other.

While the U.S. imported 500 billion worth of goods from China last year, China only imported 130 billion dollars worth American products.

This means that China’s countermeasures would likely be “qualitative” in nature, as suggested by the Chinese commerce ministry in June.

It remains unclear whether trade talks between the two countries will resume after the U.S. decision to again hike tariffs. The U.S. side last week invited Chinese officials to negotiations in Washington later this month.

Brexit deal possible by November – Minister

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth said on Tuesday he believed talks over Britain’s exit from the European Union should produce a solution by November.

He sais the talks are going in the right direction, according to the minister. 

“I feel that the proposals of the EU… are an excellent basis for a compromise,” Roth said on arrival for a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels.

 “No one wants to punish the United Kingdom,” Reuters quoted the minister as saying.

“We remain fully behind Ireland. We need a clear, acceptable solution for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and we are optimistic that we can find a sensible solution by November,” he said.

Mom surrenders son involved in robbery to police

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

A woman in Malaysia has surrendered her son, involved in some robbery incidents to the police.

The 21-year old man was one of the two suspects involved in the robberies at a launderette and a 24-hour convenient store in Bandar Puteri Jaya in Sungai Petani, in the capital of Kuala Lumpur.

According to New Straitstimes of Malaysia, Kedah Crime Investigation Department chief Senior Assistant Commissioner Mior Faridalathrash Wahid said the suspect from Nibong Tebal was believed to be the one who brandished the machete at the woman in the incident.

“The suspect was arrested at 1.30pm today after his mother brought him in and based on initial investigation, the suspect admitted to the robbery.

“We also arrested the suspect’s wife, in her 30s, to facilitate the investigation as his wife was also there in the car while the robbery took place. Both of them will be remanded starting tomorrow.

“We will continue to search for another suspect, in his 20s, believed to be his friend,” he said when met after the Kedah Traffic Contingent Investigation and Enforcement department chief task handover ceremony here today.

He added that there were actually three premises that the suspect robbed – the launderette and two 24-hour convenient stores.

“The third one occurred about one to one-and-half hour after the robbery at the launderette and the convenient store. The suspects escaped with some amount of cash from the second convenient store.

“Reports have been lodged and no injury was reported. The suspect and his wife were also tested positive for drugs,” he said.

NSTP reported yesterday that two men armed with machetes robbed a launderette and a 24-hour convenient store in a span of 15 minutes in Bandar Puteri Jaya and Taman Ria. In the first robbery, which occurred at about 7am, a woman was robbed of her valuables while she was doing her laundry alone in Bandar Puteri Jaya.

The robbery was caught on the CCTV at the launderette and had since gone viral. The suspects then robbed two 24-hour convenient stores in Taman Ria.

The case was being investigated under Sections 395 and 397 of the Penal Code for gang robbery and armed robbery.

No pressure to make a trade deal with China – Trump

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

President Donald Trump contended Thursday that he faces no pressure to strike a trade deal with China as Washington and Beijing exchange shots in a mounting trade conflict.

The comment followed reports saying the U.S. is in the early stages of proposing a new round of trade talks with China. The two sides aim to strike an agreement and stop a trade war threatening to stifle growth in the world’s two largest economies.

In a tweet Thursday, Trump played down the need for discussions, saying “we are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us.” He wrote that the U.S. “will soon be taking in Billions in Tariffs & making products at home.”

The reports of potential talks come as an escalating tariff fight threatens to ensnare more American companies, including behemoth Apple. The U.S. and China have already slapped tariffs on $50 billion worth of goods coming from the other trading partner.

Trump is considering whether to put duties on an additional $200 billion in Chinese products. He recently said he is “ready to go” on additional tariffs on $267 billion in goods. China has threatened to retaliate in kind.

Trump won the White House in 2016 partly on his pledges to crack down on abusive trade practices and renegotiate agreements to secure American jobs and boost wages. While Republicans and Democrats alike have cheered Trump’s efforts to go after alleged intellectual property theft by Chinese companies, bipartisan lawmakers have raised fears about a trade war damaging the U.S. economy and farmers in particular.

Businesses concerned about Trump’s trade policies have also mounted opposition to them.

Tariffs also pose political risks for Trump ahead of November’s critical midterm elections, as his Republican Party tries to hold its majorities in the House and Senate. Tariffs are unpopular in multiple states where key races will take place in November.

Jailed Pakistani ex-PM released for wife’s funeral

By News Desk,

Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been temporarily released from jail so that he can attend his wife’s funeral, officials and family members said Wednesday.

His daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband were also released overnight Tuesday to accompany the former leader to the eastern city of Lahore for the funeral, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said.

Sharif’s wife Begum Kulsoom Nawaz died at a clinic in London on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.

She was 68.

Sharif’s political secretary Asif Kirmani said that her body was scheduled to reach Pakistan for burial on Friday.

The three-time prime minister and his daughter are currently serving jail terms in Pakistan following their conviction by a court on corruption charges.

A jail official told dpa that Sharif was released for 12 hours, according to Pakistan’s prison rules, but the duration was likely to be extended until all the rituals are performed.

Sharif was not allowed to return to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia to attend his father’s funeral in 2004.

Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf and his fellow generals were at the time criticized for the decision.

On Pakistani court sentenced Sharif to 10 years in prison for corrupt practices linked to his family’s purchase of upscale London flats, in a major blow to his party ahead of general elections on July 25.

The guilty verdict in absentia against Sharif, ended the career of one of Pakistan’s most high-profile politicians of the last four decades, a political survivor who was prime minister three times.

Sharif’s daughter, Maryam, widely seen as his chosen political heir, was sentenced to seven years in prison and is disqualified from contesting the elections. Maryam’s husband and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker Muhammad Safdar was handed a year in jail.

Chinese Consortium begins work on Mambilla hydro electric power plant soon

By News Desk,

President Muhammadu Buhari has received assurances from the Joint Venture Partners assigned to construct the 3050 Megawatts Mambilla Hydro-electric Power Plant, that all processes leading to the start of work would soon be completed to pave way for the commencement of the project early next year.

At a meeting Thursday in Beijing with Professor Lyu Ze Xiang, the President of CGCC, the construction company, President Buhari asked to be briefed on time lines for the commencement of work, following his highly successful meeting with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

The Nigerian President, who likened the Mambilla to China’s Three Gorges Dam, said given the significance of the project to Nigeria’s socio-economic development, there was a need for its speedy completion.

“I am very pleased with the concern you have shown for the significance of this project,” he told the head of the construction giant, adding, “I would like you to ensure its speedy completion.”

Xiang informed President Buhari that Nigerian officials and the project consultant would meet in two weeks to address the questions raised by President Xi for more detailed and updated feasibility and sustainability studies. He said a team had already been set up to work on the financing aspect.

“We fully understand the importance of this project to the economic and social wellbeing of Nigeria. In two weeks, we will sit down with the parties for the economic and sustainability analysis. It would take about four weeks to conclude the update,” he assured.

According to the lead contractor, “pre-commencement work,” would thereafter begin, dealing with access to site and putting in place the necessary support infrastructure such as power, water and transportation.

“Our target is to commence the project early next year,” he told President Buhari shortly before the Nigerian leader’s departure at the conclusion of his six-day official trip to China

UK reveals two Russians wanted over Salisbury poison attack

By News Desk, with Agency Report,

British prosecutors on Wednesday identified two Russians who they said tried to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade nerve agent in England.

Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, and his daughter Yulia, were found unconscious on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Britain blamed Russia for the poisonings and identified the poison as Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.

A European arrest warrant has been issued for the two Russians, who were named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the prosecutors said. Police released two images of the men.

“We will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of these men as the Russian constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals,” said Sue Hemming, director of Legal Services at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Neil Basu, Head of Counter Terrorism policing, said the two suspects were travelling under aliases but were around 40 years old and had genuine Russian passports.

Basu said traces of Novichok contamination were found in the London hotel room where the two men had stayed. He said they arrived in Britain on March 2 and left on March 4.

“Tests were carried out in the hotel room where the suspects had stayed. Two swabs showed contamination of Novichok of levels below that which would cause concern for public health,” Basu said.

We are helping Africa develop, not accumulate debt – Chinese Envoy

By News Desk,

As the government pushes back against criticism it is loading the continent with an unsustainable burden during a major summit in Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday pledged funds of $60 billion to African nations at the opening of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation, matching the size of the financing package offered at the last summit in Johannesburg in 2015.

A wave of African nations seeking to restructure their debt with China has served as a reality check for Beijing’s relationship with the continent, though most countries still see Chinese lending as the best bet to develop their economies.

“If we take a closer look at these African countries that are heavily in debt, China is not their main creditor,” China’s special envoy for Africa, Xu Jinghu, told a news conference.

“It’s senseless and baseless to shift the blame onto China for debt problems.”

China would carefully choose projects that avoid causing debt problems when pushing forward with Xi’s pledges to Africa, she added.

“When we cooperate with African countries we will conscientiously and fully carry out feasibility studies, to choose which projects can go ahead. These projects will take into account their development prospects so as to help African countries achieve sustainable development and avoid debt or financial problems.”

China is helping African countries achieve development not accumulate debt, Xu added, describing debt overall as a burden that has built up over a long period of time.

“We need to take into account the fluctuations of the international economic situation which has raised the cost of financing for these African countries and most of them depend on exporting raw materials, the price of which on the international market has been falling,” she said.

“All these have added to the debt problem of African countries.”

China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy, and Xi also said that government debt from Chinese interest free loans due by the end of 2018 would be written off for the poorest African nations.

Though the total value of Xi’s pledge this year is the same as 2015, the package includes a smaller portion of loans and a higher portion of concessionary assistance than previously, Deborah Brautigam, an expert on China-Africa relations at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said in a note.

“(China’s) debt relief polices have not changed,” she said, adding that the write-off was limited to a relatively modest part of Chinese finance in Africa.

Holding the summit as the United States is trying to constrain China, and vilifying it as the new colonizer of Africa, shows that China will rely more on trade with the continent, China’s former deputy commerce minister Wei Jianguo wrote on Tuesday for the China Going Global Thinktank.

“I hope that in the next five years China-Africa economic and trade cooperation will overtake China-U.S. trade,” he said. “This is totally achievable.”

China and the United States are currently involved in an increasingly bitter trade war.

Separately, China’s official Xinhua news agency said China and Mauritius had completed talks on a free-trade deal, meaning the island-nation would be the first African country to conclude such an agreement with Beijing.