The Latest: WTO chief says debate over trade rules will last

International

The World Economic Forum logo is seen in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. The 50th annual meeting of the forum will take place in Davos from Jan. 21 until Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

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DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The Latest on the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (all times local):

7:25 p.m.

The head of the World Trade Organization says an ongoing debate over special exemptions granted to China and India because they are still considered developing countries “is not going to disappear” at the Geneva-based trade body.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo made the comments to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, shortly after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump has accused the trade body of “unfair” treatment against the United States and has slapped billions of dollars of tariffs on Chinese goods over China’s allegedly unfair trade tactics.

Azevedo said he received an unexpected invitation from Trump during their meeting to visit Washington in coming weeks. It comes at a time when the United States has single-handedly blocked appointment to the WTO’s appeals body, the top rung of the world’s biggest system to resolve international trade disputes.

India and China are considered “developing countries” under WTO rules — supposedly not yet competitive with advanced economies, and thus get more time to open their economies, more leeway to subsidize exports and some procedural advantages in trade disputes.

Talk about removing such exemptions “is a very sensitive conversation,” Azevedo said.

“And this is ongoing: For quite some time now, at almost every meeting of the General Council in Geneva, this issue is raised,” he said, referring to the WTO’s highest-level meeting of member states. “Concerns are expressed, and I think this issue is not going to disappear.”

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4:05 p.m.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who is facing multiple crises back home, has made an appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to talk about the Asian financial center’s future.

She said the semiautonomous Chinese city had put in place a “highly vigilant system” to deal with the coronavirus that first appeared on the mainland and is now spreading elsewhere, including a suspected case in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has also been gripped by seven months of often-violent pro-democracy protest movement that’s pushed the city into an economic slump. Lam said the protesters have failed to understand the “one country, two systems” blueprint under which Beijing’s communist leaders have agreed to let the city retain its freedoms and rule of law.

A controversial China extradition bill sparked the protests but the deeply unpopular Lam deflected blame for the backlash.

“I confess that it has now proven to be a political failure partly because of the … very obsolete PR machinery of the Hong Kong government, especially faced with world class propaganda to challenge us,” she said, suggesting later that the U.S. stirred up the movement, without providing specific evidence.

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2:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the director of the World Trade Organization will be visiting Washington in the next couple of weeks for talks to resolve the U.S. dispute with the WTO.

WTO Director Roberto Azevedo says the organization has not been “functioning properly in many areas.” He says that for the WTO to perform its role, it has to be “updated,” “changed” and “reformed.”

Azevedo spoke at a news conference alongside Trump on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Trump says that he’s had a “running dispute” with the WTO, partly because it views China and India as developing nations. He says if they are, then so is the United States.

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2:30 p.m.

The head of JP Morgan Chase bank says “beating up” on oil companies and banks won’t solve man-made climate change, after Greenpeace issued a report criticizing financial firms like his for pumping $1.4 trillion into the fossil fuel industry between the 2015 signing of the Paris climate accord and the end of 2018.

Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon told The Associated Press at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that everyone is responsible for trying to reduce carbon dioxide in the air – a surplus of which scientists say contributes to global warming.

But like Greenpeace, he agrees governments need to push those efforts along.

“We need business working with government. If you don’t have real government policy, you won’t solve the problem,” he said. “So beating up on fossil fuel companies and banks will not solve the problem. We need a long-term, thoughtful transition.”

“We need CO2 taxes … those things will start working. But other than that, all of us are trying very hard to be as clean and responsible as possible,” Dimon added.

A day earlier, Greenpeace issued a report called “It’s the finance sector, stupid” – which counted JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Bank of America, RBC Royal Bank and Barclays among 10 banks who account for $1 trillion in fossil fuel finance.

It said banks and pension funds with CEOs attending the elite Davos event together are exposed to fossil fuel companies to the tune of $1.4 trillion.

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2:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump says the U.S. will soon be adding countries to its much-litigated travel ban.

It’s unclear exactly how many countries will be included in any expansion of the ban, but Trump said Wednesday that he would announce shortly that the U.S. will be adding “a couple” of countries to the ban.

He told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he’s doing it to protect the United States.

The current ban suspends immigrant and non-immigrant visas to applicants from the affected countries, but it allows exceptions, including for students and those who have established “significant contacts” in the U.S.

It represents a significant softening from Trump’s initial order, which had suspended travel from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, blocked refugee admissions for 120 days and suspended travel from Syria.

That order was immediately blocked by the courts, prompting a months-long effort by the administration to develop clear standards and federal review processes to try to withstand legal muster.

Under the current system, restrictions are targeted at countries that the Department of Homeland Security says fail to share sufficient information with the U.S. or haven’t taken necessary security precautions, such as issuing electronic passports with biometric information and sharing information about travelers’ terror-related and criminal histories.

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2:05 p.m.

Britain’s Treasury chief said a trade deal with the European Union is the government’s “first priority” even though it is planning to run discussions with the United States in parallel.

At a panel at the World Economic Forum, Sajid Javid said a “new comprehensive free trade agreement” with the EU can be in place by the end of this year, as planned, and that it can include both goods and services.

Britain is leaving the EU on Jan. 31 and is set to remain within the EU single market and customs union through 2020, during which time the sides will discuss future relations like trade.

Javid said that when Britain leaves the EU’s economic arrangements it will have the right to diverge on its rules and regulations.

“As we leave there’s bound to be change but we have also been clear that there’s no point in leaving the EU but sticking with all its rules and regulations forever,” he said.

Though prioritizing trade talks with the EU, Javid said a trade deal with the U.S. is a “huge priority” too.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said a trade deal with Britain is “a big priority of ours for this year.”

He said he was a “little disappointed” Britain didn’t timetable a trade deal with the U.S. first. “They may be a little harder to deal with than we are anyway,” he quipped.

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1:55 p.m.

President Donald Trump says 17-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg should not focus on the United States, but other continents that are spewing fumes into the atmosphere.

Trump and Thunberg have clashed in the past and did so again this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Trump said Wednesday that he would have loved to have seen the Swedish activist’s speech at the gathering, but also said – without mentioning her name – that some people are “unrealistic” about climate change and seek changes that would interrupt people trying to live their lives.

He noted that other countries have dumped tons of garbage into the Pacific Ocean and is now floating toward the United States. Trump says Thunberg should focus on that.

On Tuesday he described climate activists as “perennial prophets of doom.”

Thunberg, who shot to fame a year ago by staging a regular strike at her school and sparked a global environmental movement, wasted no time in coming back at Trump, saying that she and her supporters will not give up.

He announced that the U.S. will join in an initiative to plant 1 trillion trees worldwide. Thunberg says that’s nice, but it’s “nowhere near enough.”

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1:05 p.m.

President Donald Trump says U.S. economic growth is the buzz at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but reporters are focused on the impeachment trial underway back in Washington.

Trump held a news conference Wednesday before leaving the gathering of top business and political leaders where he rattled off a long list of positive economic statistics, and then took questions about his impeachment.

He says he’ll leave it to the Senate as to whether there will be witnesses called during his impeachment trial.

Trump says in the run-up to the trial, the Democrats talked about the “tremendous case” they had, but “they don’t have a case.”

He again called the impeachment a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” that started right after he was elected.

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12:30 p.m.

The president of the European Union’s executive says the bloc’s move toward a climate neutral continent by 2050 will force its trading partners to put in extra effort if they want to do business with the EU.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum in Davos that “there is no point in only reducing greenhouse gas emissions at home, if we increase the import of CO2 from abroad. It is not only a climate issue; it is also an issue of fairness.”

Von der Leyen wants to avoid a situation where EU countries reduce emissions as part of their ambition to make the continent carbon neutral by 2050, but at the same time import CO2 imbedded in goods.

She said in its attempt to pursue a cleaner and climate neutral economy, the EU also needs to protect its industries and workers. She says a carbon border tax on imports could be necessary, but she would instead prefer that the bloc’s global partners match the EU commitments.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been promoting the idea of a carbon tax at the bloc’s borders for countries that did not sign up to the 2015 Paris climate deal agreement and do not regulate CO2 emissions as strictly as the EU does.

12:10 p.m.

A French government official says that France agreed to delay implementation of its tech tax until November as a gesture of goodwill ahead of Wednesday’s discussions in exchange for an American promise to drop threats of new tariffs.

The official says France is not shelving or suspending the tax, and that digital companies will still pay some kind of tax on their 2020 French revenues. The official says it will either be the French tax or a new international one brokered by the OECD.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because a public announcement has not been made yet on the move.

___By Jamey Keaten.

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12 noon

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin downplayed talk that trade discussions with China will be wrapped up by this November’s U.S. presidential election.

Speaking at a panel at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, Mnuchin said there is “no deadline” to the so-called Phase 2 discussions.

Last week, the U.S. and China signed off a Phase 1 agreement, which eases some sanctions on China while Beijing has agreed to step up its purchases of U.S. farm products and other goods. However, many issues remain unresolved and tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump over the past couple of years remain in place.

Mnuchin said “we couldn’t be more pleased” with both the Phase 1 agreement and the conclusion of trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico. He said “a lot of important issues” were dealt with in Phase 1, which “gives us a great advantage in Phase 2.”

He said there was “no question” that tariffs and the threat of tariffs have been a “big incentive” in the trade agreements.

He also hinted that a grand trade agreement with China may not come in one go and that there may be a series of smaller agreements.

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11:35 a.m.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday Russia has the responsibility to halt the Syrian government’s attacks a day after airstrikes on rebel-held parts of northwestern Syria killed at least 17 people.

The airstrikes and shelling were part of a Syrian government offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country, and the rebel-held parts of nearby Aleppo province.

The strikes came amid continued violence despite a new cessation of hostilities agreement between Russia and Turkey went into effect earlier this month.

“Russia is the guarantor of the (Syrian) regime,” Cavusoglu told a panel at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland. “Russia is obliged to stop this aggression.”

The government offensive has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom fled to areas closer to the border with Turkey. Dozens of fighters have been killed on both sides in recent days as clashes intensified.

Cavusoglu said: “The situation in Idlib is our main focus because the regime has been increasing its aggression… Already, 400,000 people have been displaced and moved toward our border.”

The Turkish minister said Turkey will continue to work with Russia in Syria, despite standing on opposing sides of the conflict.

Idlib province is dominated by al-Qaida-linked militants. It’s also home to 3 million civilians and the United Nations has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border.

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9:55 a.m.

Hopes are rising that a breakthrough in discussions on how to tax digital companies will emerge at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday.

José Ángel Gurría, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development group of leading industrial nations, told The Associated Press that he expects there to be a solution as “there is no plan B.”

The OECD has been seeking to come up with a framework that would allow France to suspend its plans to tax companies like Amazon and Facebook. In return, the U.S. is expected to agree to a multilateral approach.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are both set to meet in the gathering of the elites in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

“We just need to continue to work on the multilateral solution and then deliver an option to the whole of the world, produced by the whole of the world and therefore hopefully that is accepted by the whole of the world,” Gurría said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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